Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bangladesh: '' 'Why I support Shahbagh''

Taslima Nasrin, Hindustan Times
Having keenly observed the Tahrir Square revolution and the eventual victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in Egypt, I no longer get easily impressed by crowd-sourced movements. So when crowds gathered at Shahbagh in Dhaka, I was apprehensive. Since February 5, protesters at Shahbagh have been demanding the death penalty for Abdul Qader Mollah, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes committed during the 1971 War of Liberation. The protesters fear that Mollah would be released if the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), an ally of the Jamaat-e-Islami of which Mollah is a senior leader, were to win the elections due in early 2014. As a campaigner against the death penalty, I could not support this demand for death. Most people protesting at Shahbagh were born long after the 1971 war. But after Islamisation started in earnest in Bangladesh during the mid-80s, many witnessed how Islamists murdered progressive people, violated people's human rights, oppressed women and tortured non-Muslims in the name of Islam. After decades of maintaining silence, the patience of those protesting had been worn thin and they finally rebelled against the status quo. I became more interested in the Shahbagh movement when some protesters started demanding a ban on the Jamaat, as well as on the religious schools, banks, clinics and other institutions created with funds from West Asian Islamist sources, whose express desire is to turn secular Bangladesh into an Islamist nation. I am not in favour of banning and censorship in general. But I supported the ban on the Jamaat because in Bangladesh, this political party is nothing more than a terrorist organisation led by known war criminals who raped, maimed and killed thousands in 1971. In the last 40 years, the Jamaat has been committing an even more serious crime by systematically destroying the country through Islamisation. And yet, driven by the necessities of realpolitik, they have been pardoned, favoured, accorded respect, honoured, and empowered by the politicians and military since 1971. Some of these war criminals who were stoutly against the independence of Bangladesh were made members of Parliament, ministers, and once even president. The Islamists have gained unbelievable strength in Bangladesh over the years. They have been showing off their strength by harassing, abusing, stabbing and murdering any dissenters. Islamists stabbed Asif Mohiuddin, an atheist blogger, in January. On February 15, they murdered Ahmed Rajib Haider, another atheist blogger and one of the organisers of the Shahbagh movement. Islamists have also taken to the tactic of calling all bloggers and protesters 'atheists'. This has scared many at Shahbagh. Most of them are practising Muslims and they had cast their lot with the Shahbagh crowd with no other agenda than to demand the hanging of war criminals and seeking a closure for '1971'. Now that the Islamists have called them atheists, many of them are now falling over themselves trying to prove themselves to be pious Muslims. Instead of saying, 'They are atheists and have the right to criticise religion, but 'no one' has the right to kill them', the 'liberal', 'secular' protesters at Shahbagh are bleating placatory statements: "Jamaat-e-Islami goons are trying to prove that bloggers are atheists, but they are not atheists; they are good people." As if atheists can't be good people! Liberal Bangladeshis must realise that Islam should not be exempt from the critical scrutiny that applies to other religions as well. They must understand that Islam has to go through an enlightenment process similar to what other world religions have already gone through - by questioning the inhuman, unequal, unscientific and irrational aspects of religion. If the Shahbagh movement can't make people understand this simple but necessary idea, then real change will not happen, even if some old criminals are hanged. I know that even the atheists at Shahbagh will say that the time for this idea has not arrived yet. However, I earnestly hope that people will be enlightened enough to realise that there is no real difference between the Islam of the 7th century and the Islam the Jamaat-e-Islami practises to this day. Sadly, the very nature of Bangladesh has changed greatly. Ordinary people have been alarmingly indoctrinated into the ways of Islamists. I lost the hopes I had for Bangladesh many years ago. But some of them were rekindled by the Shahbagh movement. I truly hope that the movement will turn into a positive political movement for a true democracy and a secular State, a State that affirms a strict separation between religion and the State, maintains a uniform civil code, a set of secular laws that are not based on religion, but on equality, and an education system that is secular, scientific and enlightened. A war is needed in Bangladesh, a war between two diametrically opposite ideas - between secularism and fundamentalism; between rational thinking and irrational blind faith; between those who strive to move forward and those who strain to push themselves backward; between modernism and barbarism; between humanism and Islamism; between those who value freedom and those who do not. Every sane person should support the Shahbagh movement since it is a rare and difficult movement in an Islamised country. I also hope that if the Shahbagh movement, in its present form, fails to achieve its goals now, the brave and enlightened people associated with it will not be permanently disillusioned, and will renew their efforts until their dreams come true. A trend must be set. People need to get angry.
Taslima Nasreen is an award-winning Bengali writer and human rights activist. Some of her books are banned in Bangladesh where she has been prevented from returning since 1994. She lives in New Delhi.

Video: Assad Hits Out At UK Government

Kim Jong-un wants to talk to Barack Obama about basketball
Speaking on his return from North Korea, the unlikely diplomat said: "He loves basketball. ... I said Obama loves basketball. Let's start there" as a way to warm up relations between the US and North Korea. "He asked me to give Obama something to say and do one thing. He wants Obama to do one thing, call him," Rodman told ABC's This Week. The State Department criticised North Korea last week for "wining and dining" Rodman while its own people go hungry. Rodman also said Mr Kim told him, "I don't want to do war. I don't want to do war." Yet in January, after the UN Security Council voted to condemn the North's successful rocket launch in December and expand penalties against Kim's government, his National Defence Commission said in a statement that "settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words." The statement also promised "a new phase of the anti-US struggle that has lasted century after century."North Korea and the US fought on opposite sides of the three-year Korean War, which ended in a truce in 1953. The foes technically remain at war. They never signed a peace treaty and do not have diplomatic relations. Rodman was the highest-profile American to meet Mr Kim since he inherited power from his father Kim Jong-il in 2011. He travelled to the secretive state with several members of the Harlem Globetrotters team for a new HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television. The visit took place amid rising tensions between the countries. North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy toward the North. Rodman said he was aware of North Korea's human rights record, which the State Department has characterised as one of the worst in the world, but said he wasn't apologising for Kim. "He's a good guy to me," Rodman said, adding, that "as a person to person, he's my friend. I don't condone what he does." Basketball is popular in North Korea, and Thursday's exhibition game with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans ended in a 110-110 tie. Following the game Kim threw an "epic feast" for the group, plying them with food and drinks and making round after round of toasts. Rodman said he planned to go back to North Korea to "find out more what's really going on."

The families fleeing Pakistan's militant infighting

By M Ilyas Khan
Mohammad Saeed and Mumtaz Gul from Pakistan's north-western Khyber tribal region are the latest statistics on Pakistan's swelling chart of internally displaced persons (IDPs). But their stories, like many others, are sadly human and poignant. They are among approximately 3,000 people who have fled the latest militant infighting in Khyber. They are now fighting a frustrating battle to secure government help for food and shelter. I met them outside the registration office of Jalozai camp for IDPs, some 30km (19 miles) east of Peshawar city, the regional capital. "The officials here say they haven't been notified about our displacement, and so we can't be entitled to life-saving assistance," says 36-year-old Mohammad Saeed. "They say we will be registered as IDPs by the Khyber tribal administration. But I was at the Khyber offices in Peshawar yesterday, and they told us we'll be registered by the Jalozai camp officials." Thus caught in the bureaucratic red-tape, he has rented a ramshackle house in a village some 15km (9 miles) north of Peshawar for $20 (£13) a month, in order to provide shelter for his family. For the likes of Mr Saeed, this is a case of double jeopardy - first you scurry for safety, then you shuttle between government departments to find out which one will certify you as a displaced person.
Bombshells across the valley
We drive to his house, and sitting on open ground outside, he gives me an account of his escape. In the first week of February, his native Takhtakai valley - located in Khyber's picturesque Tirah region - was simultaneously hit by heavy snowfall and fierce battles between four different militant groups vying for control. Takhtakai's strategic value is obvious to those who know the area. It is one of the highest human settlements in Tirah, overlooking both a Pakistani military supply route to the border with Afghanistan in the north, and the Taliban-infested Orakzai region in the south. The local tribe held back the militants for four long years, until the fighters of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group of Taliban joined forces with an erstwhile rival militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Islam, and stormed the posts of the tribal defenders. "Bombshells flew across the valley for a day, and by the evening there were reports about the outer posts having fallen and most local fighters having been killed," Mr Saeed recalls. Fearing Taliban reprisals, people started to flee, leaving their cattle and their winter food stocks behind. "I herded 13 members of my family - among them three women and eight children - down the winding mountain trails for four days, and reached Peshawar without losing a single one of them," he says. Not everybody was as lucky though. Mumtaz Gul, 50, who fled Takhtakai with 25 members of his family, speaks of children and older people having died or gone missing. "Among several other families fleeing the fighting, there was one woman who had not had time to properly dress her 18-month-old son," Mr Gul says. The child caught pneumonia and died on the second day of their flight. "We made a stop for about two hours to hold a funeral and dig a grave for the child. The mother seemed devastated. "She had tried to cover the boy with her shawl, but couldn't keep him warm and walk through three feet of snow at the same time," he says. Mr Saeed says he also had an early scare when a couple of hours after leaving their village, his sister-in-law slipped and broke an ankle. For the next three days, Mr Saeed and his 18-year-old nephew took turns carrying her on their back. They covered the entire distance from Takhtakai to Peshawar on foot, except for two brief truck rides.
Threat to 'crucial' services
Back at the Jalozai camp, the IDPs pushing wheelbarrows queue up in front of a food distribution centre to receive their monthly supplies, which have been dwindling in recent months. "What we get is just enough for four or five days, because I have 17 mouths to feed," complains 62-year-old Abdul Hameed. Officials at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (Ocha) in Islamabad admit there have been ration cuts and also a complete stoppage of reproductive health and newborn services. This is because last year Ocha received only 76% of its $289m (£190m) appeal for funds. Officials now say they will need to bridge a $70m (£46m) funding gap to continue "crucial" services over the next year. The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, which chipped in with $900,000 (£590,000) of funding support last year despite a financial crunch, is afraid that adding more people to the camp population in the wake of diminishing resources may spark unrest there. "There is donor fatigue, because this problem has gone on for several years, and there is no end in sight," says one provinical official. Since the first large scale displacement in 2008, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's government has handled more than 298,000 IDP families, he says. About 163,000 of them still remain displaced, living either in one of the three designated IDP camps or with what the aid fraternity call "host communities" - communities living on the fringes of the war zones that have tribal links to the displaced people. Meanwhile, the Islamist insurgency continues to fan across the mountains, displacing more people either because of militant infighting or counter-insurgency operations by the military.

How Democracy Kills in Indonesia and Pakistan
By Pankaj Mishra
The recent slaughter of Shiites in Pakistan is another grisly reminder of the perilous condition of its minorities. Indeed, in Pakistan and Indonesia, the two largest Muslim countries, both of which are in the midst of a fraught experiment with electoral democracy after decades of military rule, murderous assaults on Shiites, Christians and Ahmadis by majoritarian Sunni fanatics have become routine. As a report last week by Human Right Watch claimed, the Indonesian government has shown a “deadly indifference to the growing plight of Indonesia’s religious minorities.” Political leaders in Pakistan, too, are guilty of the same.Successful mass mobilizations against autocratic rule in Indonesia and Pakistan, followed by free elections, raised hopes of a new civil society. So why have both countries witnessed the opposite phenomenon -- the rise of uncivil society? The exponential rise in violence and bigotry is often blamed on the deep -- and very nasty -- state within the two countries: army and intelligence officials who helped set up extremist groups and now use them to wield power. Islam is also held culpable, even though its conservative varieties, denoted superficially by the proliferation of veils and long beards, have long been apparent in both countries, partly as the result of urbanization and the loss of traditionalist Sufi-inflected faiths favored by a majority in the multicultural pasts of both Indonesia and Pakistan. Radical Politics However, the obsession with the deep state’s incurable malignity or Islam’s menacing sociopolitical manifestations, which actually range from Wahhabi blowhards to relatively sagacious televangelists, obscures how elected politicians, in the absence of substantive democracy, cynically deploy radical groups to practice power politics. The government in Pakistan’s Punjab province, which is run by the Pakistan Muslim League (N), one of Pakistan’s two main parties, reportedly paid a monthly stipend to Malik Ishaq, who was just detained in connection with a bombing that killed almost 90 people. PML (N)’s arrangements with Ishaq’s banned Shiite-killing outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, are in place for the elections due this year; and, as a likely harvester of votes, Ishaq enjoys near-perfect immunity. Mainstream politics in Indonesia, as in Pakistan, were free of murderous Islamic extremists well after independence in the late 1940s. It was an insecure dictator, Suharto, who inaugurated the Islamization of Indonesia, a constitutionally secular state, in an attempt to give himself legitimacy and redirect the growing appeal of political Islam, part of a worldwide trend in the 1980s. But the lifting of restrictions on political activity since Suharto’s fall in 1998 brought other actors on stage, including: the now-suppressed terrorist outfit Jemaah Islamiyah, which was involved in the Bali bombings in 2002; the Islamic Defenders Front, a militia that tries to regulate the morals of Indonesians by attacking massage parlors and nightclubs; and the Justice and Prosperity Party, which won 9 percent of the popular vote in national elections in 2009. Most importantly, many mainstream parties with secular traditions have gone garishly Islamic in a desperate attempt to distract voters. Local governments have enacted harsh sharia laws while the central government turns a blind eye to attacks by thugs on churches. One reason for the growing tolerance of intolerance is political fragmentation in both Indonesia and Pakistan. No party enjoys a broad enough base to govern confidently. All are forced to rely on a variety of formulas and gimmicks, including populist welfare programs, promises of regional autonomy and crooked deals with extremists, in a dash for electoral majorities. Bartering Votes It doesn’t help that political parties are basically patronage-dispensing machines for old and new elites, with the capture of state power as their main aim. Ideologies and principles rarely matter in what is seen as a zero-sum game in which votes are aggressively bartered -- when not literally bought. In this dog-eat-dog world, standing up politically for the Shiites and Ahmadis can be more trouble than it’s worth; and it’s easier to bet on the possibility that the rabid anti- Shiites might just bring in a few votes in places traditionally dominated by Shiite landlords. Illiberal politics pays -- and not just in an Islamic country. A purely formal democracy, one not underpinned by institutions and notions of justice and fairness, can breed monsters anywhere. Indeed, India’s prime minister-in-waiting Narendra Modi, whose alleged complicity in the deaths of almost 2,000 Muslims in his state in 2002 seems to help rather than hinder him, is South Asia’s true master of the brutal calculus of sectarian politics; his perfectly calibrated callousness toward religious minorities and the poor is now matched by brimming business- friendliness that endears him to big Indian conglomerates. Democracy is undermined not so much by Islam, or for that matter Hindu extremism, as by ruthlessly self-interested elites who hijack the political process, using all available means to secure their dominance. Their old axis of violence, cronyism and corruption is susceptible to challenge by a genuinely social-democratic party or movement. But essential ingredients for such a challenge seem to be in short supply in Indonesia and Pakistan. For decades their ruling class systematically destroyed all progressive opposition and even the conception of political life, in which nongovernmental organizations, women’s groups, peasant associations, trade unions or empowered local governments patiently create democracy from below. In their place, the two countries have populist parties and individuals vending miracles, like the Justice and Prosperity Party or Pakistan’s Movement for Justice, led by the famous ex- cricketer Imran Khan, which present themselves as anti- establishment and profess to offer instantly honest and truly Islamic government to both the harried middle class and the militantly disaffected poor. Seeking Recourse They are soon compromised by their apparent proximity to the venal establishment. Nevertheless, there are always enough people who, recoiling from everyday experiences of predatory capitalism, graft-ridden political institutions, harsh poverty and joblessness, seek recourse in the practice of “true” Islam. This would be unremarkable -- Islam will never cease to signify an alternative moral and political order -- if growing rage over a grossly iniquitous system wasn’t channelled so frequently into savage assaults on various infidels. As leaked cables from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan 2009 pointed out, “poor and underdeveloped regions” in rural Punjab and Sindh are “increasingly the recruiting and training ground for extremism and militancy.” “Unlike in the recent past, the poor and jobless youth are no longer cut off from the outside world”; they can see “the wealth and corruption that exist outside their immediate circles.” One day, this dyad of dupes and extremists may well be regarded as a byproduct of a particularly unstable and grim phase in the evolution of democracy. But that day will come only if democracy amounts to something more than adult franchise and ceases to be a way of further empowering the rich and the powerful. In the meantime, the working relationship between politicians and communities of sectarian hate can only grow stronger.

Indonesia: Religious violence rising

Ahmadiyya Times
Indonesia’s government, security forces and courts must do more to protect religious minorities from growing episodes of intolerance and violence, an international rights group said in a report on Thursday. Human Rights Watch cited a steady increase in brutal attacks over the past few years due to the government’s failure to confront thuggish harassment against Christians, Shia Muslims and the Ahmadiyah, an Islamic sect. It also noted that discriminatory regulations have not only affected those minorities, but also Sunni Muslim communities in some Christian-dominated areas of eastern Indonesia. Indonesia, a secular country, is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. The majority of its 210 million Muslims are Sunni and most practice a moderate form of faith. The New York-based organization called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination and violence against religious minorities. The government responded to the report by saying religious harmony remains strong in Indonesia, and it was unfair to generalize all attacks on minorities as being linked to intolerance. The report alleged building permits for houses of worship have been denied; police have failed to stop violent attacks; prosecutors have sought weak punishment; and, in two cases, local authorities refused to honor Supreme Court decisions allowing religious minorities to build places of worship. The 107-page report was based on research between August 2011 and December 2012, interviewing 115 people, including 71 victims in 10 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces. “The Indonesian government’s failure to take decisive action to protect religious minorities from threats and violence is undermining its claims to being a rights-respecting democracy,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. The watchdog organization also cited reports from the Jakarta-based nonprofit Setara Institute, which recorded 264 attacks last year, up from 244 cases the previous year and 216 in 2010. However, Bahrul Hayat, secretary-general of Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry, said a government survey completed at the end of last year indicated that religious harmony in Indonesia is still very strong. “We noted that a few violations happened, but please don’t generalize that intolerance has increased in Indonesia,” he said, adding that in some cases religion is blamed as the cause of conflicts, when instead some disputes are actually motivated by social, political, economic or even cultural or family issues. He said most religious issues involve the closing or building of places of worship, but it is not an issue unique to minority religions. “Not only churches are having problems in gaining construction approval, but also mosques in some areas,” he said. “If they don’t meet the requirements of a permit to build the house of worship, the government’s permit will not granted.... This should be understood by people of all faiths.” In the Human Rights Watch report, the hardline Islamic People’s Forum and the Islamic Defenders Front were singled out as seeking to justify violence by labeling Ahmadiyahs and Shiites as “blasphemers” and most non-Muslims as “infidels.” The report insisted on the need to enforce national laws and to map out a comprehensive strategy to combat rising religious intolerance. It also criticized the government for not disciplining Cabinet members, including Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who encouraged abuses with discriminatory statements such as calling for the Ahmadiyah to be banned in 2011 and proposing one year later that Shia Muslims convert to Sunni Islam.

Washington : Focus on Effects of Automatic Spending Cuts
The U.S. government has begun a crash diet of automatic spending cuts in pursuit of better fiscal health. In the days and weeks ahead, politicians in Washington will be monitoring the effects of those cuts and the public’s reaction as federal services are reduced.

Songs, paintings and protest at Dhaka's Shahbagh
The blood red poster "one nation, one roar, hang the bloody razakars" screams at you much before you reach Shahbagh square. However, even as parts of Bangladesh burn in violence with 22 people being killed in the latest round of clashes, the protesters at Shahbagh remain calm. Much like protests at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan, young students, executives, men and women sing songs, paint their anguish on walls, and continue to get signatures for their movement. On Sunday afternoon, the protestors went on a rally to oppose the two-day hartal called by Jamaat-e-Islami. Asked why he was spending so much time at Shahbagh, TV actor, MBA student and one of the main organizers Sayeed Zakir Ahmed said it was never planned. "I don't even remember which friend suggested we come to the protest site, it was a message on my Facebook page and I like many others just went. Within 24 hours, the numbers started building up," he said. Ahmed and his friends have not been home for the last 20-odd days after a fellow activist and blogger Ahmed Rajib Mollah was killed by fundamentalists. So far, they have collected 3.5 lakh signatures. Kamreozzaman Sagar, a filmmaker, plans to produce a documentary soon called 'Projonmo 71'. Sagar, whose grandfather and three uncles were killed in the Liberation War, said, "When the first verdict was given ... we went online and before I knew it ... everyone was feeling the same as me." Referring to the protests, President Pranab Mukherjee told a Bangladeshi TV channel in an interview, "I have great respect for the people of Bangladesh and their sense of patriotism, courage and independence. Above all, they have shown their belief in democracy and participative politics. We have recently seen a reawakening of the youth who recall the extraordinary sacrifices that led to the birth of the nation. The youth of this country will determine its future."

Zardari dismisses U.S. opposition to Iran-Pak pipeline project
No power in the world can halt the 7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, President Asif Ali Zardari has said, dismissing mounting U.S. opposition to the venture that will be formally inaugurated on March 11. “Nobody has the power to halt this project,” Mr. Zardari said during an interaction with senior editors and TV anchors at his private residence in Lahore late last night. Pakistan, he said, is a sovereign and independent country that it acting in its national interests by going ahead with the pipeline. The pipeline will be formally inaugurated on March 11 in Iranian city of Chahbahar and dignitaries from regional countries have been invited to the event, Mr. Zardari said. Asked about U.S. opposition to the project, Mr. Zardari said Pakistan can make decisions independently and sign an agreement with any country to tackle its energy crisis. He expressed the hope that with time, critics of the project will appreciate Pakistan’s growing energy needs and the requirement of the pipeline. “Pakistan does not want confrontation with anyone and firmly believes that negotiations and dialogue are the best tools to create greater understanding of issues,” he said. The U.S. State Department warned last week that the pipeline could attract sanctions. “It’s in their (Pakistan’s) best interests to avoid any sanctionable activity, and we think that we provide and are providing...a better way to meet their energy needs,” said spokesman Patrick Ventrell. Mr. Zardari said he intended to take up the issue of the pipeline with the U.S. administration. During his recent visit to Tehren, he met his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenaei and both sides agreed on the need to expeditiously complete all mega projects, including the gas pipeline. The President also defended Pakistan’s decision to hand over the operation of the Gwadar deep sea port to China and dismissed India’s concerns in this regard. During the interaction, Mr. Zardari also spoke on the upcoming general election and said “some political parties” were dependent on and lenient with “non-state actors”. Democracy is in strong hands and the non-state actors would weaken as political parties became stronger, he said. Though Mr. Zardari did not name the non-state actors or their supporters, his remarks were apparently aimed at the PML-N, which rules Punjab province and has been criticised for its reluctance to crack down on the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that has claimed several recent attacks on Shia Hazaras. Reports have said that the PML-N has reached an understanding with the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, considered a front for the LeJ, for the upcoming polls. Mr. Zardari said the general election would be fair and free and held on time. He said the party that wins most seats in parliament will be invited to form the next government. The implementation of constitutional articles for clearing candidates will ensure that “clean” persons contest the polls, he added. “I will transfer power to the party that wins a majority in the National Assembly. I hope the Pakistan People’s Party will perform well in the elections,” he said. Referring to one of his predecessors who has been criticised for his controversial decisions, Mr. Zardari said, “The presidency was a base for conspiracies during the period of Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the 1990s but let me tell you that I will not become the Ghulam Ishaq Khan of 2013. I’ll swear in any government formed as a result of the elections.” Former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani will lead the PPP’s campaign and address rallies and meetings, Mr. Zardari said. The PPP-led government will complete its five-year term on March 16 and leaders of the ruling party have said that the general election is expected to be held by mid-May.

ShiaGenocide in Pakistan: Deobandi militants of ASWJ massacre at least 54 Shia Muslims in Abbas Town Karachi

At least 50 people, most of them Shia Muslims but also some Sunni Muslims have been killed – including women and children – and around 150 wounded after a bomb attack by Deobandi militants in Pakistan’s largest city. The powerful blast in Karachi hit close to an area dominated by minority Shia Muslims. “Women and children were among the dead and injured,” Fayaz Lughari, police chief of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, said. A car containing explosives was detonated at the entrance of Iqra City and demolished two apartment buildings and nearby shops. Bomb Disposal Squad officials determined that a 150kg device was used. Many victims were trapped under the rubble as teams worked to rescue them. The first blast occurred outside an imambargah (Shia prayer hall) in Abbas Town at about 7 pm as people were leaving after prayers. The second explosion went off within 10 minutes, local residents said. Rescue officials said 48 people were killed in the blasts which caused extensive damage to residential buildings and destroyed several shops in the area. Jinnah Hospital alone received 20 bodies and several seriously injured persons. Officials at Patel Hospital said they had received eight bodies and four more people succumbed to injuries in hospital. The toll is expected to increase as some of those injured are critical. “The blasts have caused a crater four feet deep near the main entrance,” Senior Superintendent of Police Mazhar Maswani said. An emergency was declared at hospitals across Karachi and doctors performed emergency surgeries to save victims. Several young children were among the seriously injured, officials said. Police officials said the first blast was caused by explosives hidden in a car that was parked near the entrance of Abbas Town. Residents of Karachi said the explosion was heard from 10 km away. The bomb contained an estimated 150 kg of explosives and was packed with ball bearings, officials said. The blasts caused a power outage and triggered panic in Abbas Town, which has a large Shia population. The first explosion destroyed the facade of two apartment blocks and damaged about 20 shops and several cars. Fires erupted in the apartment blocks and footage on television showed huge flames leaping into the night sky. Local residents used car headlights to help rescuers who searched for survivors in the rubble of apartments and shops destroyed by the blasts. Many people complained that rescue teams and the fire service took an inordinately long time in reaching the site of the blasts. Heavy machinery reached the spot almost two hours after the attack and residents rushed the injured to hospital in private vehicles and auto-rickshaws. Abbas Town has been the target of terrorist attacks in the past too. On November 18 2012, three persons were killed and more than 20 injured when a bomb went off outside an imambargah in the area.At least 1450 Shias were killed by Deobandi militants of banned outfit Ahle Sunnast Wal Jamaat (ASWJ, aka Lashkar-e-Jhangvi LeJ) in 2012 in the deadliest such violence for two decades. Since 1 January 2013, an estimated 300 Shia Muslims have been killed in Quett, Karachi and other parts of the country. On Monday a bomb blast at a Sufi shrine in southern Shikarpur district, some 250 miles northeast of Karachi, killed three Shias and wounded 10 others as devotees gathered to pay homage to a saint buried there. Last month the Supreme Court ordered the authorities to come up with a strategy to protect Shias after a wave of bloody attacks in the southwestern city of Quetta in Balochistan province. Two major bombings in the space of five weeks targeting Shia Hazaras in Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, killed nearly 200 people. Both attacks, the latest on February 16, the previous on January 10, were claimed by the banned extremist Sunni Deobandi group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ aka ASWJ), and have highlighted the government’s and army’s inability to stem anti-Shia violence. Pakistani rescuers gather at the site of the bomb blast in Karachi Shias, who make up around one in five of the mostly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million, are facing a record numbers of attacks. In the last few decades at least 21,000 Shia Muslims have been killed. Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Karachi, said: “What I’m seeing is a scene of carnage and destruction in Abbastown, where these two explosions took place in front of two apartment buildings.” “This is a fairly dense residential area, and between 30 to 40 apartments are reported to be damaged,” our correspondent said. “We also understand is that many people are caught under the rubble.” “The fact that this is a large Shia neighbourhood is already raising alarms, after attacks on Shia communities in neighbouring Balochistan took place last month leaving over 200 dead.” Our correspondent described rescue efforts were still underway, with “many local residents using their bare hands to find anybody underneath the rubble who may have survived the blast.” As of yet no group has claimed responsibility, “but fingers are being pointed at Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the same group who carried out the bombings in Quetta targeting Shia,” he said. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni Deobandi militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (ASWJ-LeJ) in the 1980s and 1990s for cross-border Jihadist operatiosn in India and Afghanistan. In Pakistani and international media, there is general silence on the identity of the target killed group (i.e., Shia Muslims) and the killers, (i.e., Saudi-funded ISI-sponsored Deobandi militants of ASWJ-LeJ). Often pro-establishment analysts try to hijack or obfuscate Shia genocide as Hazara or Muhajir specific ethnic issue. There is also an attempt to portray Shia genocide by Deobandi militants as Sunni-Shia sectarian violence obfuscating the fact that Deobandi militants have also killed thousands of Sunni Barelvis, moderate Deobandis, Ahmadis and Christians. - See more at:

Suicide blast at Shiite mosque kills scores in Pakistan
A suspected suicide bomber has killed scores of people as they were leaving a Shiite Muslim mosque in the southern city of Karachi, according to officials. It is the city's deadliest attack in three years. At least 45 people were killed and around 150 wounded in Sunday's attack, police said, adding that men, women and children were among the dead. The explosion badly damaged two-five story buildings in the Abbas town area, home to many minority Shiites. "It was a powerful blast on a congested Shiite-dominated area," senior police officer Shabir Ahmad Sheikh said.Initial reports indicated that a bomb was rigged to a motorcycle, although a police survey of the damage suggests additional explosions could have been planted at the scene. Police said several nearby buildings had caught fire.
Increase in violence
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militant groups in the past year have increased violence against Shiites, who constitute around 20 percent of Pakistan's 180 million people. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed last year in targeted attacks across the country, making 2012 the worst year on record for anti-Shiite violence in Pakistan. Rights groups have accused the government of not doing enough to protect Shiites. Pakistan intelligence agencies helped foster the growth of Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, a mostly Shiite country. Pakistan outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to attack Shiites. Two violent attacks against a Shiite Hazara community in the southwestern city of Quetta killed nearly 200 people in January, with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claiming responsibility.

The Real Reasons Karzai Wants U.S. Troops Out
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's surprise statement this week kicking U.S. Special Operations forces out of Wardak Province, a strategic region close to Kabul, was a rare burst of headline news from a largely forgotten war. The elite U.S. troops, Karzai said, had been "harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people." Karzai has issued similar demands before, only to quietly back down later. American forces have promised to investigate the situation in Wardak, and it's possible -- and even probable -- that this Karzai edict will last no longer than his previous ones. Karzai, for instance, has repeatedly ordered the U.S. to stop using night raids and airstrikes in civilian areas, but NATO continued to do both. Still, the contretemps highlights a pair of rarely-discussed dynamics that could shape the American endgame in Afghanistan: Karzai's lingering anger over the role played by elite U.S. forces in the past and his clear desire to sharply limit what they can do in the future. It's far from a simple political dispute. The Obama administration says it will withdraw the overwhelming majority of U.S. forces from the country by the end of next year. Most of the remaining troops will help train the Afghan Army and National Police.That's not all the U.S. will be doing, though, which is why this week's blowup may prove to be significant. The White House has made clear that sizable numbers of Special Operations forces will remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. The elite troops will have two main missions: mounting targeted raids against suspected terrorists and training local militias to fight the Taliban in remote areas. The problem is that Karzai doesn't want the U.S. to be doing either, and this week's edict could be a harbinger of a long, bitter fight to come. Karzai believes the raids cause significant cvilian casualties and worries the militias could take part in a future Afghan civil war. Here at home, bearded commandos from units like the Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force are celebrated in best-selling books like "American Sniper" and the popular, if controversial, movie "Zero Dark Thirty." Video games featuring the elite troops have collectively grossed billions of dollars. Americans love heroes, and the men (they are always men) who swoop into fortified compounds at night to kill or capture wanted terrorists seem to fit the bill perfectly. That is not, to put it very mildly, how those troops are seen in Afghanistan, where the commandos are routinely accused of killing or arresting the wrong targets and calling in air strikes which result in significant numbers of civilian deaths. The night raids the elite units use to catch wanted Afghans while they're asleep are particularly hated. Afghans complain that it's a grave cultural insult for male troops to search women or enter a home uninvited. A night raid earlier this month which killed a pregnant woman has made the missions even more unpopular. Karzai has been railing against the night raids for years and periodically demanding that the U.S. and its allies forego them entirely. In November 2011, for instance, he said "all night raids and searches of Afghan homes should stop immediately." American commanders ignored him. Night raids, a U.S. spokesman said at the time, were "an essential part of our operations." Indeed, senior American commanders say the raids get their men nearly every time while rarely requiring the troops to fire a single shot. Wardak is a strategically important province which borders Kabul and is a key route for militants trying to reach the Afghan capital. Karzai said the new edict was prompted by widespread public anger in Wardak over reports that nine local residents disappeared after being taken into custody by "armed individuals named as U.S. special forces" and that the body of a student detained by the Americans was found later with his throat cut and signs he had been tortured. Karzai's allegations are under NATO investigation. The Obama administration has made some concessions since then - having more Afghans participate in planning some raids and taking Afghan commandos on many missions -- but the U.S. continues to mount hundreds of night raids per year, often unilaterally. When Washington and Kabul signed a highly-touted agreement last spring which seemed to suggest that future raids would require warrants from Afghan courts, the two governments glossed over the fact that the U.S. retained the ability to mount raids and get warrants after the fact, if at all. The militias the U.S. is working to set up throughout Afghanistan are equally unpopular with Karzai and many ordinary Afghans, who complain that the fighters have so little American oversight that they are free to routinely rob, rape, and sometimes kill civilians. Karzai and many other Afghans note that militias played a bloody role in the country's last civil war and could do so again if renewed strife breaks out when the U.S. leaves. More prosaically, Karzai sees the fighters - who have little to no connection to the Afghan central government - as a potential threat to his own power. This week's fight will probably blow over, but Karzai is playing with fire. The war is increasingly unpopular among both Democrats and Republicans, and a Karzai overstep could lead the administration to simply pull the plug and withdraw all American forces by the end of 2014. Either way, the U.S. is heading towards the exit. The biggest question going forward is whether Karzai will hold open the door.

Karzai to NATO: Target real terrorists hideouts

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday denounced last week’s NATO airstrike that killed two children in the Charchino district of central Uruzgan province.” The deaths occurred in Dowan area on Thursday, when the troops were conducting an aerial patrol of the village, where the children were tending their cattle. In a statement from his office, Karzai reiterated his stance that terrorists were not hiding in Afghanistan’s rural areas. He once again asked foreign troops to target insurgent hideouts outside the country’s border. Deeply hurt by the deaths of the minors, the president extended his heartfelt condolences to the victims’ relatives and prayed to Almighty Allah to give them the patience to bear the irreparable loss with fortitude. Earlier in the day, the Australian military said it was investigating the incident. Gen. David Hurley, the Australian military chief, said: “We deeply regret that ISAF was responsible for the unintended death of two young Afghan boys during the operation.

Zardari: Democratic government completing tenure for first time

President Asilf Ali Zardari said Sunday that for the first time in Pakistan’s history, a democratically elected government was completing its tenure. Speaking to the business community here, President Zardari said opponents would claim every six months that the government would be dissolved and it was under these circumstances that the PPP lead coalition government completed its five year tenure. The tenure of the government is set to expire on March 16 which is when the National Assembly would be dissolved. Following this an interim government will be formed and elections will be held within 90 days. - See more at:

Pakistan: Boycotting the Cable News

Editorial: The Baloch Hal
For almost three weeks, cable news service has been suspended in parts of Balochistan particularly in the Mekran region. The cable operators were forced to shut down their services after the Baloch National Front (B.N.F.), a pro-independence group of several Baloch nationalist outfits, complained about the lack of coverage to Balochistan’s affairs on these news channels. While there have been similar short-term boycotts of the cable news in the past, this one appears to be the longest of such radical measures taken by the Baloch nationalists against cable operators. In the past, the nationalists asked the cable operators to shut down all Pakistani news channels but they still allowed Vsh TV, the world’s first Balochi language satellite news channel, to operate. This time, they have also forced the cable operators to suspend Vsh TV as well because they allege that Vsh TV is too pro-Pakistan and insufficiently committed to the coverage of the Baloch nationalist movement. The problems of the cable operators in Mekran have worsened after a pro-government group calling itself as the Lashkar-e-Defa-e-Pakistan (The Pakistan Defense Force) has dictated the cable operators to reopen their services or face ‘dire consequences’. Local people say they have never heard of this group but suspect it is affiliated with the Frontier Corps (F.C.). Hence, the cable operators, after receiving threats from both warring sides, did what anyone else would do if caught up in a similar precarious situation: They announced to temporarily abandon their business. Because they say if they run the cable news, Baloch nationalists will attack them and the prog-government group would also attack them if they continue to shut down the business. This is a serious dilemma for the cable operators in Balochistan. The cable operators have expressed their weariness to such an absurd call by the Baloch nationalists as they say the cable operators merely distribute the programs and they have no enjoy any influence regarding the decisions about the policies of these news channels as to what they include or exclude in their programs. Since the cable business is owned by the local people, the boycott will only increase the economic burden on the local people affiliated to the cable news business. By doing so, the Baloch nationalists are not doing a favor to their own people. No matter how long they will continue this forceful boycott of the cable news service, this is not the right approach to ask for more coverage on the news channels. The cable operators only make a living by distributing programs and it is unwise to deprive them of their livelihood. They are the last people to be helpful to the nationalists in terms of giving them air time on the private news channels. They simply cannot do anything with regard to the nationalist’s complaints. The nationalists are grilling the wrong people. In addition, the very concept of press freedom across the globe is based on unconditional recognition. Whether or not someone likes it, the media organizations make their own decisions about what topics to cover. No matter how legitimate the complaints of a particular political group are, a media outlet, just like any other private business, is free to make its own decisions. Such coercive measures will only alienate the media and tarnish the image of the Baloch nationalists as a movement seeking justice for the oppressed people. The boycott of the news channels has also disconnected the local communities with the rest of the world. People, regardless of their political and religious beliefs, should have free access to information. Feeding them any information that is appreciative of one side or forced upon them is unethical and undemocratic. Instead of forcing the cable operators, the Baloch nationalists should directly talk to the owners and directors news of various news channels in order to convince them to increase the air time for Balochistan’s issues. There is no denying the fact that the Pakistani news channels do not sufficiently cover Balochistan. The best way is to approach the owners of these channels to explore possibilities of cooperation in providing access and information about the conflict-ridden areas of Balochistan. As far as the current boycott is concerned, the nationalists as well as the government should know violence, threats and intimidation is not a solution to every problem.

40 dead in twin Karachi blasts

Twin blasts occurred on Sunday evening in the Shia-dominated Abbas Town, Karachi, which left at least 40 dead and over 135 injured, Express News reported. The injured and deceased included women and children. A car containing explosives was detonated at the entrance of Iqra City and demolished two apartment buildings and nearby shops. Bomb Disposal Squad officials determined that a 150kg device was used. Many victims were trapped under the rubble as teams worked to rescue them. Panicked residents had resorted to aerial firing, which made security officials reluctant to approach the site. A suspect was handed over to Rangers by residents of Abbas Town. He was reported to be from Peshawar and told the police that he had two accomplices on back-up. Police IG Fayyaz Leghari said a suicide bomber may have been behind the attack. Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah announced Rs1.5million in compensation to the families of the victims. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) called for a day of mourning on Monday. The chief minister also announced the same. All markets and schools will be closed on Monday. Public transport will also be suspended. This is the second blast that has shaken Abbas Town in the span of four months. A blast took place in November of last year near an Imambargah in Abbas town, which killed two people and injured over a dozen men, including two Rangers personnel.

Pakistan: ''Another voice muted''

EDITORIAL: Daily Times
Mehmood Afridi, a journalist and President Kalat Press Club was killed on Friday. In four years nearly 30 journalists have been killed in Balochistan. This is the third murder of a journalist in a single week. The reason behind the murder has not been revealed as nobody has taken the responsibility yet. But one thing is now obvious that Pakistan is increasingly becoming unsafe for professional journalists. The message the criminals wanted to put across through this murder could be to limit the boundaries for the freedom of expression that they think is appropriate. And since the state has failed to maintain its writ by letting the criminals and the terrorists get off scot-free, they feel emboldened to kill anybody who does not meet their demands. That explains why the United Nations has designated Pakistan the second most dangerous country for journalists in the world. Only last year 12 journalists were killed while performing their duty. Not a single murder has been followed through. In fact in the Wali Babar case, which did reach court, all the ten witnesses were killed one after the other. Such an intimidating atmosphere could prove poisonous for journalism that could only thrive in a free and open atmosphere. It is the responsibility of the government to give protection and safety to the journalists, more so because they put their life in danger to expose the truth and facts. The issue with our system has been that either the guardians become part of the problem or they are removed if they dare to solve it. Unless the culprits are punished, this wave of muting responsible voices would further destroy the quality of our lives that has already gone many points down. This would also affect news quality by opening more room for compromises with the non-state actors. The media is the watchdog of society and one of the factors to effect change in society. Targeted killing aside, journalists are also getting killed increasingly in terrorist activities such as bomb blasts. Two Pakistani journalists were killed in the January 10 Quetta massacre on Alamdar Road. Many have been disappeared as well. This brings the responsibility of the media houses in question, which have failed to field train reporters in conflict zones so as to avoid injuries, disappearances or death. Awareness to this end is required as well to minimize the intensity of the threat. Understanding the gravity of the situation it is time now for the government to arrest the growing terrorism and lawlessness in the country, where the criminals kill anyone with impunity.

Pakistan: Targeting journalists

Yet another journalist, Mahmood Jan Afridi, the president of Kalat Press Club, was killed as a target on Friday two days after Malik Mumtaz Khan from North Waziristan meeting the same fate. This leaves Pakistan one of the most dangerous country for media persons to carry on their professional work. They are target of not militants alone but other pressure groups like sectarian elements, tribal chiefs, feudal lords, law enforcing agencies and even political parties. All provincial governments have failed to ensure media people's safety and security which is their national duty. The Pakistan Press Foundation reported last month that at least 48 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan in last one decade and 35 of them were targeted and murdered because of their work. In 2012 alone, six journalists were killed in the country. For every journalist who has been targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence. They are also unjustly detained, abducted, beaten and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militants, tribal and feudal lords as well as. Of the 48 journalists killed in the line of duty during these 11 years, 14 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 from Balochistan, nine from Sindh, eight from Federally Administrated Tribal Agencies, three from Punjab and two from Islamabad. Because of the Afghanistan war and the so called war on terror, areas bordering Afghanistan are the most dangerous regions for journalists. Those working in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan work under extremely stressful conditions with pressure being wielded by all concerned. Another factor for the undue pressure on media person is the electronic media houses seek the minutest details of the most dreadful incident in competition to get the latest "Breaking News" and advertisements without their proper safety. Pakistani journalists are also often caught between competing power centers. For example, recently the Balochistan High Court directed journalists not to report news of banned organizations; while these banned organizations exert pressure on local media to give them 'proper' coverage. The alarming increase in violence and threats has forced many journalists to migrate from these danger zones. According to some estimates, one-third of FATA journalists have already moved to other areas or gave up the profession. The situation demands that criminal cases should be registered, investigated and prosecuted against the perpetrators of violence against media persons. Also an independent commission comprising professional media organizations, press freedom and human rights organizations and professional bodies of journalists and lawyers should be established for monitoring criminal investigations and legal follow-up of such cases. Besides, local, national and international print, electronic and online media organizations should ensure long-term follow up of cases of assault on media organizations and workers.

Karachi: 24 dead, dozens hurt in Abbas Town blast

At least 24 people including women and children were killed and dozens others sustained injuries after a powerful blast ripped through a densely populated area near Abbas Town, Geo News reported. According to sources, the perpetrators used remote-detonated improvised explosive device (IED) strapped to a motorcycle at the entrance of Abbas Town following which the CNG clyinder of a car exploded few minutes later.Fire broke out in some of the apartment buildings after the explosion while at least a dozen shops and two banks were destroyed.. "Thick black smoke is billowing from the site of the blast. The whole area reeks of detonated explosives", said sources right after the blast. The local residents did not wait for the government officials or the rescue services and started pulling people out of the rubble and rushing them to the hospitals on their own. They complained that no government team or machinery showed up after the blast. In the wake of the blast police personnel did reach the spot but backed off soon after. "Lawmen including Rangers are nowhere near the site of tragedy. They are shy of facing the bereaved and the catastrophe which befell them. We can see them deployed at a distance", they said. According to DSP Sachal Qamar Ahmed, the explosive device was planted inside a motorcycle, which the perpetrators parked in populous residential/commercial area. "There are many teashops and eateries in the area so we fear the casualties might rise", said police. Police added that the target of the bombing were the worshipers coming out of a nearby mosque. The blasts damaged many buildings and dozens of shops, sources said. "So powerful was the explosion that it blew off the facades of several flats facing the explosion site. Windowpanes of most of the surrounding buildings turned into smithereens. Even some doors came off the hinges", they added. Moreover the natural gas leaking profusely from broken the plumbing is also posing a serious threat as people have been warned not to strike matches or smoke in the area, sources warned further. Some of the injured have been shifted to Patel Hospital and while others to Abbasi Shaeed. Sources in Patel Hospital have confirmed seven casualties with women and children among the dead along with seven cases of critical injuries. On the other hand Abbasi Shaheed Hospital authorities say they have received two dead bodies and ten injured. At least two dead bodies and seven injured including three children and a married couple were in Jinnah Hospital emergency room, sources added. Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah condemning the incident in strongest terms announced Rs1.5 million for each bereaved family and Rs1 million per injured. Meanwhile the MQM has announced a day of mourning, while the Jafria Alliance has announced a strike on Monday. Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen has announces 3 days of mourning.

Bomb kills 20 in southern Pakistan

Associated Press
Pakistani officials say a bomb blast has killed at least 20 people in a neighborhood dominated by Shiite Muslims in the southern city of Karachi. Police official Azhar Iqbal says the bomb exploded Sunday outside a Shiite mosque as people were leaving evening prayers. He says initial reports suggest the bomb was rigged to a motorcycle, but a survey of the damage indicates there could have been additional explosives planted at the scene. Several buildings nearby caught fire. A top government official Taha Farooqi says 20 people were killed and others are feared dead. He says more than 50 were wounded. No one has claimed responsibility, but Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban have targeted Shiites in the past, claiming they are heretics.