Monday, March 4, 2013

Terror strikes switch to Karachi

By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
At least 45 people including women and children were killed and 150 others wounded as twin blasts on Sunday evening ripped through a densely populated area near Abbas Town, a Shi'ite-dominated area in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi. The attack came two days after the country's major political parties urged the government to take immediate steps to initiate peace talks with Taliban militants. Shops and businesses in the country's commercial capital were to remain closed on Monday, as Karachi mourns those killed in the terror attack. The blasts, which were fueled by at least 150 kilograms of explosives, destroyed two apartment buildings and damaging dozens of shops. A blast near a Shi'ite mosque in the same area in November killed two people and injured more than a dozen. Karachi is emerging as another "sectarian flashpoint" after Quetta, where the minority Hazara Shi'ite community is bearing the brunt of repeated attacks by Sunni militants, which this year saw blasts on February 16 and January 10 in the southwestern city kill 200 people. The surge in attacks is fueling speculation that violence could mar a general election scheduled to take place by mid-May. Commentators are already saying that the coming campaign season could become a "gory exercise", while political parties and tribal leaders have called for a grand tribal gathering with the Taliban to try to secure more peaceful conditions for the vote. Two Sunni clerics and a madrassah (religious seminary) student were shot dead last month in broad daylight in Karachi. The port city has already been hit by violence on ethnic, political, criminal and sectarian lines. Last year, 2,200 people were killed in violence in Karachi, while only in first two months of this year more than 450 people lost their lives in targeted killings. The extortionists single out businessmen and traders who refuse to pay extortion money. The government and its law enforcers have blatantly failed to protect the lives of citizens. Local bomb experts suggested that a remote-detonated improvised explosive device used in the Abbas Town attack was planted at an entrance to the area, with another low intensity blast reported to have followed the main one. Their findings suggest that a car was used to to transport the devices. Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the largest political party in Karachi and the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, an alliance of Shi'ite parties, called for a day of mourning. Of the anti-Shi'ite groups that could be responsible for Sunday's strike, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has not come forward to accept responsibility. The TTP last week warned that terror attacks would continue until a peace deal was finalized. Many believe that the banned Sunni outfits might be might be involved, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which is linked to both al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban and had claimed responsibility for this year's deadly attacks on Hazaras. Last year, more than 400 Shi'ite Muslims were killed in the country. Pakistani authorities on February 22 arrested Malik Ishaq, the LeJ chief from his home at Rahim Yar Khan town in the eastern Punjab province, where the LeJ is believed to have roots. Hazaras demanded the government put him on trial for Shi'ite killings in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province. Ishaq's arrest came a day after the Pakistani army denied any links to LeJ. Human rights activists have accused the army and its intelligence agencies of maintaining links with the outlawed militant group. Critics say that Ishaq was released as a result of a deal after he negotiated with terrorists who attacked the military headquarters in Rawalpindi city in October 2009. "The armed forces were not in contact with any militant organization, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi," Dawn reported inter-services public relations chief Major-General Asim Bajwa as saying. "There is no reason to think about army's involvement with LJ [LeJ]." Ishaq was not detained for the first time but he spent 14 years in jail for his alleged involvement in dozens of cases of terrorism before being released in July 2011. He was arrested last year and held for a few days for fueling sectarian disharmony. He was also accused of masterminding the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, in which eight Pakistani citizens were killed and several players were wounded. Ishaq last year called Shi'ite as "greatest infidels on earth" in an interview with Reuters. Ishaq is also the vice president of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which was formerly known Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. He was released every time because no witness dared speak against him in court and hence charges could not be proved. Punjab government is blamed by political rivals for having links with the banned Sunni outfit. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has repeatedly pointed out that LeJ has safe havens in Punjab and asked the Punjab government to take action against the group. Malik has already stated the explosive material used in the February 16 Quetta bombing had been procured in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly denies any links with the banned LeJ, dismissing accusations as baseless propaganda against the Punjab government. The Australian government on humanitarian grounds has reportedly offered asylum to 2,500 Hazara families affected by terrorism. The Hazara Shi'ite community has lost hope in civilian administrations, as its leaders repeatedly demand the handover of Quetta to the control of Pakistan army in the belief that only the military can protect them and take stern action against the terrorists.
The Express Tribune in a recent editorial said: No political force of the country can combat such non-state actors; not even the police or Rangers because they are trained very differently from the existing civilian forces Our army's special combat units are trained so that they are the only ones which can respond to the present type of warfare. Besides, the Pakistan Army has had winning experience in Swat, South Waziristan and, to some extent, in North Waziristan. If our army does not intervene this time to stop the decimation of Shias, then we can forget about the presence of the Shia population in Pakistan. They could request for refuge in Iran, Iraq or any western country. This is the last and only chance for Pakistan. It is time for our sectarian extremist outfits to pack up from the country and leave, before the citizens of this country are forced to do so.

Pakistan Authorities Under Attack for Failing to Protect Shiite Minority

Authorities in Pakistan are being severely criticized for failing to stop a wave of deadly attacks on the country's minority Shi'ite Muslims that has left nearly 250 people dead since early January. The latest sectarian assault came on Sunday, when a massive bombing in the nation's largest city, Karachi, left at least 45 people, mostly Shi'ites, dead, and wounded scores of others. As in previous attacks, outlawed militants from Pakistan's majority Sunni population are the prime suspects in Sunday's deadly bombing in Karachi. The attack targeted a Shi'ite-dominated neighborhood in the violent southern port city, and most of the deaths happened instantly. This was the third major assault on Shi'ite Muslims in the country since the beginning of the year. The previous two bombings took place in the southwestern city of Quetta. Sunni extremists do not regard Shi'ites as true Muslims. The government observed a day of morning on Monday and offered financial compensation for the lives lost and property damaged in Karachi's carnage. Critics, however, have rejected these measures, demanding authorities arrest the culprits in order to end the deadly sectarian attacks. Pakistani security forces have been battling domestic Taliban insurgents in the country's northwestern tribal regions on the Afghan border. However, the rise in sectarian attacks has now become a major concern for the authorities. Imran Khan, the head of a major Pakistani opposition party and a harsh critic of the ruling coalition, says the violence is the result of the lack of an official strategy to deal with the situation. “They have failed to stop terrorism, but specifically sectarian terrorism, which should be relatively much easier to handle than the border insurgency going on in the tribal areas," said Khan. Lawmaker Bushra Gohar, a member of a junior partner in the governing coalition, criticized the security establishment and intelligence agencies for failing to protect Pakistani citizens. "We need a critical review of our security setup," said Gohar. "There is a lack of coordination, there is a lack of will to do anything. And there is this fear amongst the public that maybe the security agencies are also involved in many of these incidents. We need to clarify these perceptions that are growing within our public that have lost faith in our security setup." Local and foreign human rights groups say more than 400 Shi'ites were killed in Pakistan last year, while this year's toll has already reached nearly 250. A Sunni militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has claimed responsibility for attacks on Shi'ites in Pakistan. The banned outfit is known to have links to al-Qaida and the Taliban. In an apparent attempt to deflect criticism, federal authorities have repeatedly lashed out at government officials in Punjab province, where the militant group is based. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is alleged to have ties to the ruling party there. Presidential spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar says the central government is taking all possible steps to deal with the "menace of terrorism." "The government is doing as best as it can," said Babar. "Of course there is room for doing more. Pakistan, being in a state of war, is a victim of this (terrorism), but the important thing is that we have not lost our determination and our will (to fight terrorism)." Terrorist and sectarian attacks, particularly the ongoing violence in Pakistan's commercial center Karachi, are seen as a major reason for the rapid decline in foreign investment in the country. Federal Finance Minister Saleem Mandviwalla tells VOA that violence and street agitation are undermining business activity in Karachi, which handles more than 95 percent of Pakistan's foreign trade. "Obviously, when these type of things happen, these terrorist activities, so business shuts down and things don't function. So there is an economic loss to the country and that goes in billions of rupees of loss (per) day, that the production does not take place and business don't run," said Mandviwalla. Karachi has also been the scene of politically-motivated violence involving the city's major political forces. That turf war left more than 2,000 people dead last year, and the violence continues in the run-up to national elections scheduled for May.

In Bahrain, British diplomacy is an insult to real democrats

Without taking definite steps to promote democracy in Bahrain, Britain will, to all intents and purposes, have sided with the oppressor.
Exactly two years ago, a huge and overwhelmingly peaceful pro-democracy movement was being violently crushed by the government of Bahrain, with the help from mid-March 2011 of a Saudi-led intervention force from the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. So a panel discussion held in London a few days ago featuring Sir Tom Phillips, UK ambassador in Riyadh at the time, seemed like a good opportunity to challenge Britain’s close alliances with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But then a better idea occurred to me: instead of asking a question myself in the Q&A, why not see if a Bahraini activist of my acquaintance would like me to put a question on her behalf? I met Maryam al-Khawaja - Acting President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights - last year while she was in the UK raising awareness about the situation in her country. Her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja , is a leading Bahraini human rights activist who has been tortured by the regime and jailed for life as a political dissident. The question she sent to me to ask Phillips was a simple one: “Are they [the British government] going to continue with silent diplomacy after two years of utter failure? Or will they actually promote human rights [in Bahrain]?” Phillips’ answer had three elements. First, he objected to my saying that the Saudis had helped crush the uprising. In fact, they had responded to a request from an ally, under a treaty obligation, and relieved Bahraini troops at their bases rather than become involved in the clashes themselves. This is a line previously used by William Hague when giving evidence to Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee . In effect, Britain’s diplomats have been reduced to claiming that the GCC sending reinforcements cannot be regarded as them giving assistance to Bahrain’s security forces. Indeed, the fact that the Saudi-led intervention happened at the same time as the crushing of the protests was perhaps nothing more than a sort of strange coincidence. Second, Phillips argued that contrary to the characterisation of British “silent diplomacy”, the UK had been highly outspoken about the spring 2011 crackdown, to the consternation of the various Gulf monarchies. Doubtless Phillips and his colleagues are to be congratulated for inviting the displeasure of the GCC autocrats, although to put this diplomatic triumph in context, these are of course states which are thick-skinned enough to treat an insult to the monarch as a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. In fact, Britain’s response to the savage repression of thousands of peaceful protestors was to urge “all sides” to show restraint, and to welcome the King of Bahrain’s proposals for “dialogue”, while noting the “long friendship between Bahrain and the UK”. Britain’s “strong disapproval of the use of live ammunition against protesters”, and other abuses, was severely diluted when couched in this broader narrative, which contrasted sharply with the UK’s unequivocal response to the early stages of the crackdown in Syria. Third, Phillips said that the situation in Bahrain is very complicated and can only be resolved through political negotiation. He welcomed the Bahraini regime’s current "National Dialogue", and expressed puzzlement at what Britain could be expected to do other than support that process. This seemed an odd response to a question asked on behalf of a woman whose father is serving a life sentence for his non-violent calls for democratic reform, and who says he has been tortured and threatened with sexual assault while in custody. Last Friday, Maryam’s sister Zainab was jailed for three months for her political activism . Perhaps she and her father should join the former ambassador in welcoming their jailers’ commitment to political discourse? As Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has asked : "How can you have a dialogue if representatives of the groups you mean to dialogue with are in prison?" “What more Britain can do” in these circumstances seems reasonably obvious. Rather than talking up the regime’s “National Dialogue”, Britain should publically acknowledge that, as Amnesty International says, talks will be an “empty exercise” unless all prisoners of conscience are unconditionally released, and all restrictions on freedom of expression are lifted. Instead of welcoming regime pledges of reform, and disingenuously saying as Phillips did to me that the extent of those reforms is “something we can debate”, Britain should acknowledge the fact that (to quote Human Rights Watch ), “no progress” has been made, and that “all [the regime’s] talk of national dialogue and reform mean nothing”. In short, Britain could stop parroting its ally’s obfuscatory narrative . If the monarchy does not change course, the British government should cancel the UK-Bahrain defence agreement (with its reported focus on "internal stability" ) that was signed with minimal coverage last October. It should put an immediate and complete end to all arms sales and any continuing training of Bahraini security forces . And it should reverse the contemptible decision to rename the Mons Hall at Sandhurst military academy after the King of Bahrain, following a £3m donation. The hall was originally named after a First World War battle that claimed the lives of 1,600 British troops, the betrayal of whose memory speaks volumes about the squalid relationship between the British state and the Bahraini royal family. In the absence of such measures, Britain will not merely have failed to promote democracy in Bahrain but will to all intents and purposes have sided with the oppressor. As Maryam al-Khawaja told me in response to Phillips’ comments, “the UK needs to hold its allies accountable for human rights violations. As long as the international state of immunity for the Bahraini regime continues, the human rights situation will continue to deteriorate”.

Pakistan is sliding from terrorism to sheer barbarism!

On Sunday twin bomb blasts rocked the Shia neighbourhood of Abbas Town in Karachi. Over forty people died and another hundred were injured, many of them severely. Dozens of the flats and households in this low income area were completely burnt down with tens of families losing not only their loved ones but also their homes and entire possessions, which formed almost their complete material wherewithal. Nabi Haider, whose nephew was killed in the blast as the blast destroyed his brother’s apartment and left his brother and nephew writhing in their blood on the kitchen floor, said he feels like Pakistan has abandoned its Shias. Nabi Haider said he was visiting his brother’s house and while he was on the floor after the explosion, he couldn’t see or move. He could barely breathe and hear. A few minutes later, help arrived from the people in the neighbourhood. “I tried to get up, but they pushed me back down,” he said. “I was bleeding. I couldn’t see anything, and it was hard for me to breathe, so I was kind of panicky.” He asked someone what was going on, and he was told that there have been two bomb blasts targeting this Shia locality. “I was soon able to figure out that I was not severely injured – I just felt it was hard for me to breathe, very hard,” he said. About thirty minutes later, paramedics arrived at the scene and took Nabi Haider’s brother and his nephew to the hospital, where his nephew had been pronounced dead while his brother continued to fight for his life, when we talked, several hours after the blast. Mr Haider admits that before the blast today he was never serious about his faith and hardly ever talked about it. “I was just born into it. I never did anything special. I was just living my life,” Nabi Haider said. “I never really thought about it.” After the bombing, that has all changed, he said. “I ask myself, ‘where do I stand?’ We have to start taking things seriously, because things are getting serious, very serious.” Nabi Haider was dejected how people who kill Shias are not only not apprehended but are also not held responsible despite their overtly owning up to killing Shias. He does not understand what prevents the State from moving against LeJ and SSP, which are unmistakably ‘criminally responsible’ for the shootings and bombings against Shias. “You are not going to have a change of heart from them; you have to stamp them out” Mr Haider added. Nabi Haider said that he and his family will never be able to move beyond this attack and the trauma and loss it has wreaked on their lives. Scars and emotional damage will be with him for the rest of his life, but Mr Haider sees the bombing as a defining moment in his life in that Pakistan now refuses to identify and let define who he is. He now feels that that his identity, which no one seems ready to acknowledge, is emblazoned on his body in the form of scar tissue and residual metal fragments. He feels no Shia in Pakistan can any longer take his faith in stride. Faiza Batool, while witnessing her house being gutted down in front of her own eyes and still looking for her son who was down in the street at the time of the blast, lamented that no help from the police or the administration was forthcoming for at least a couple of hours following the blasts. She also deplored the manner in which the country’s media misleads people about the frequent episodes of this absolutely one-sided carnage and the identity of both the victims and the perpetrators of this mindless violence. She said her family had already lost one member in a blast in the locality during last Moharram and now she fears more dead. She said that the victims of Shia Genocide by SSP and LeJ have been abandoned to suffer in isolation. “Even the moderates and liberals are trying to ignore us”, said Faiza. People like Nabi Haider and Faiza Batool are bracing themselves for the persecution they see happening and coming in increasing proportions. They feel that it is the start of the kind of persecution that the subjects of many other genocides have previously suffered in many parts of the world. “We know from the history and common sense it’s going to get much worse. Persecution of a higher level will come. Not five years, not ten years – much sooner. It’s not far.” Said Nabi Haider. Akber Ahmed, a Sunni from across the road, was one of the first rescuers to reach the scene of the blast without caring for his life as the dwellings collapsed around him. Akber says at first he was utterly paralysed by the scenes of bodies and blood splattered all over the area. “I felt an overwhelming sense of grief and hopelessness as the injured children and women around me desperately cried for help” said Akber. Akber lamented the fact that nobody seems serious to stop the militants..”Our government and army must halt Pakistan from sliding from terrorism to sheer barbarism. Government must demonstrate it is government of all regardless of one’s faith or ethnicity. A terror attack on one is a terror attack on all our humanity.” Added Akber, as he hastened to return to the site of the blast to join the rescue work that still continued many long hours after the blast.

U.S. baby's cure from HIV raises hope, new questions

The remarkable case of a baby being cured of HIV infection in the United States using readily available drugs has raised new hope for eradicating the infection in infants worldwide, but scientists say it will take a lot more research and much more sensitive diagnostics before this hope becomes a reality. In a medical first for an infant, the Mississippi toddler was born in July 2010 infected with HIV, treated within 30 hours of delivery with aggressive HIV therapy, which continued for 18 months. She is now considered cured of her infection, a team of researchers led by Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said in a news conference at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on Sunday. "From a clinical perspective, this means that if you can get an infected baby on to antiretroviral drugs immediately after delivery, it's going to be possible to prevent or reverse the infection - essentially cure the baby," said Dr. Steven Deeks, an HIV/AIDS researcher at the University of California at San Francisco who is attending the conference, where the case was presented to researchers on Monday. Deeks and others hailed the findings as a great advance in the search for a cure in babies born infected with HIV. But the researchers said they also suggest the need for better ways to diagnose HIV infection, a process that typically takes up to six weeks. "This could have a profound effect on how we approach babies born to HIV-infected moms," Deeks said. Treatment of HIV-infected mothers before delivery is the best way to prevent HIV infection of infants, experts say, but even in resource-rich countries such as the United States, 100 to 200 babies are born each year infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. Worldwide, especially in developing countries, as many as 1,000 babies are born infected each day. For these children, the findings could have a major impact on the "terrible burden of HIV infection throughout the world," Fauci said. Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, said the news "gives us great hope that a cure for HIV in children is possible," but it also underscores the need for research and innovation, "especially in the area of early diagnostics." Fauci said the child's case was an important "proof of concept," but he cautioned that it was only one case and it needs to be further validated. "The real question is will this be broadly applicable to other infants?" he said. Fauci said there is a risk that without better diagnostics, children who were never infected in the first place could be exposed to toxic drugs with very early treatment. In the case of the Mississippi girl, Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, made the call to treat the child with HIV drugs even before her infection was confirmed because she believed the child was at such great risk of infection. Had she been wrong, the therapy would have been stopped. "Since the mother had really been at such high risk of transmitting to the baby, they decided to treat on square one," said Fauci, as opposed to giving the child a lower, preventative dose of drugs until test results confirm an infection. "The approach of treating really, really early needs to be pursued," he said. "When we get better diagnostics where we can tell within the first day or so whether the baby is infected, an approach like this looks like it might be a reasonable thing to pursue with the appropriate clinical trials." Fauci said it is not time to change treatment protocols for infants who are born infected. "It's a single case. We've got to be careful about that."

Balochistan: '' Hunting for some integrity ''

The legal heirs of the Nawab of Kharan — the rightful owners of large tracts of agricultural and hunting land in the Kharan and Washak districts of Balochistan — have taken issue with the federal government over a matter that has now made its way to the Balochistan High Court (BHC). They have filed a constitutional petition in the BHC against the allotment of their lands by the federal government to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. They complain that they are never asked for their permission for this generosity and when the rich and powerful Arabs come to play in what is literally their backyard, they are denied the right to visit their lands. Even their employees are denied their bread and butter as shepherds and farmers are barred from entering and tending to the lands. The land that gets allotted time and again includes forests, water channels, orchards and pastures. One cannot blame the nawab’s heirs for raising a storm. The federal government seems to think it is okay to allow the Arabs unfettered access to someone else’s land each year without fail due to which the space is occupied with the UAE sheikh’s troupe of personal guards, dignitaries, footmen and what have you. This does not surprise. Balochistan has always been treated like that one poor, downtrodden relative everyone seems to think it is acceptable to take advantage of. The citizens, be they nawabs or ordinary citizens, have been deprived of basic rights such as access to quality healthcare, education, royalties for resources, and the list goes on. The Baloch have also been dealt a very harsh hand by the security and military forces, which have been suspected of abducting and killing Baloch ctizens. While this petition may seem trivial in these upsetting, violent times, it is just another example of how disregarded the Baloch are. By their very nature, Arab sheikhs are arrogant and self-absorbed. If the government shows them that the Baloch can be mistreated with such abandon then how will they ever see the province and its people as anything but fair game? If we cannot treat our own with some respect and national dignity, why would anyone else?

Obama Vows to Manage Sequester ‘As Best We Can’

President Obama today vowed to continue working with Republicans to develop a long-term deficit reduction plan, while making it clear that the sequester — the automatic government spending cuts that kicked in over the weekend – would not prevent him from pursuing his broader second-term agenda. “I will continue to seek out partners on the other side of the aisle so that we can create the kind of balanced approach of spending cuts, revenues, entitlement reform that everybody knows is the right way to do things,” Obama told reporters at the first cabinet meeting of his second term. “It is an area of deep concern, and I think everybody knows where I stand on this issue. We are going to manage it as best we can, try to minimize the impacts on American families, but it’s not the right way for us to go about deficit reduction,” he said. The president said his administration will “do whatever it is that we need to get done to help America’s families” suffering as a result of the spending cuts. “We’re going to do our best to make sure that our agencies have the support they need to try to make some very difficult decisions, understanding that there are going to be families and communities that are hurt, and that this will slow our growth,” he said. The president reiterated that his agenda is “broader than just the sequester,” and that he would continue to push his legislative priorities, including immigration reform, universal preschool and reducing gun violence. “One of the things that I’ve instructed not just my White House but every agency is to make sure that, regardless of some of the challenges that they may face because of sequestration, we’re not going to stop working on behalf of the American people to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to continue to grow this economy and improve people’s prospects,” he said. Today’s meeting was the first for several new members of the president’s cabinet. “We’ve got some familiar faces, we have some new faces, we have some familiar faces in new positions,” he said, noting Jack Lew, his former chief of staff and new Treasury secretary, and Chuck Hagel, his new defense secretary.

Obama to name O'Connor new Secret Service chief
President Barack Obama has chosen a veteran Secret Service official who oversaw criminal investigations to head the agency, which last year became embroiled in a prostitution scandal in Colombia, a government source said. In the next few days, Obama will appoint David O'Connor, a former assistant director of investigations who retired last year, as director of the agency that protects the president and other top officials. The White House had no comment and the Department of Homeland Security would not confirm that he was to be appointed. O'Connor will replace Mark Sullivan, who retired last month after almost three decades with the agency. The post of Secret Service director does not require Senate confirmation. Sullivan was in charge of the Secret Service when it became embroiled in a scandal involving agents taking prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Colombia ahead of a visit by Obama to Cartagena in April 2012. Sullivan was generally credited with acting aggressively in response to one of the biggest scandals to hit the agency. O'Connor, who was with the Secret Service for more than 25 years, oversaw all criminal investigations and was in charge of agents in the field. Previously he was in charge of dignitary protection, which included the 2008 Democratic National Convention where Obama was selected as the party's presidential candidate. According to a blog post on during the Denver convention, O'Connor spoke to a group about his experiences when he was assigned to presidential candidate Al Gore, Pat Buchanan's campaign, first daughter Chelsea Clinton, and a U.S. visit by Pope Benedict, who stepped down last month. Earlier in his Secret Service career O'Connor was special agent in charge of the Newark, N.J., office.

Shahbag protests: For a secular Bangladesh

Dhaka: "Joi Bangla!", "Mulla barir Rajakar, ei muhurtey Bangla char (Islamists leave Bangladesh)" , "Jamaat mandir jalachchey, Hinduder ghor bhangchey.. aita ki hotey debo? (Can we allow Hindu temples and homes to be burnt and destroyed?)". The chants are kept up on a mike as the large group of young protesters swells with the approach of evening at Shahbag intersection - dubbed Bangladesh's Tahrir Square. Hundreds of protesters, mostly youth, both men and women, gather everyday to demand death penalty for those who committed war crimes during the 1971 war of independence. And, like the protesters in Egypt's Tahrir Square, the ground zero of its popular upsurge for democracy that became the global metaphor for such mass protests, the Shahbag protesters are a connected lot - on Facebook, Twitter and blogging forums. They are demanding a Bangladesh free of Razakars, the Islamists who sided with the Pakistani army during the 1971 Liberation War in identifying and killings hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis fighting for creation of a new country. Thousands of women were raped by the Pakistani Army men and Razakars. The Razakars were mainly members of the Muslim league, Jamat-e-Islami and other Islamic groups and factions. The Jamaat-e-Islami called a two-day strike in Bangladesh - a nation of 150 milllion people that was carved out of Pakistan after a wounding India-Pakistan war in 1971 - from March 3, coinciding with the visit here of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. They are protesting last Thursday's death sentence handed down to their leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee by the war crimes tribunal and a life term slapped on Abdul Qader Mollah. "Agami kaler hartal, garir chaka cholbey (The strike tomorrow will see cars moving)," the Shahbag protesters chanted on Sunday evening, to tell people not to obey the Jamaat-called bandh which has left shops shut and roads mostly deserted. "These people are burning down temples and the homes of Hindus.. Should we let this happen?" asked Imran Sarker, the fiery leader of the Shahbag protesters. "Na, na (no, no)," the crowd shouted back. 'Sarker is spokesperson of Ganajagaran Mancha and convener of Blogger and Online Activist Network. The Shahbag protests were triggered by the Feb 5 war crime tribunal judgement, convicting 65-year-old Mollah, known as the Butcher of Mirpur, to life imprisonment. Mollah, secretary general of the Jamaat, smiled and gave a victory sign to waiting journalists after the sentence was handed down to him Feb 4, triggering a groundswell of anger among people who were hoping he would be hanged. He was convicted of beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and shooting 344 people during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence. Online anger spread, and quickly rallied thousands to Shahbag to demand death for Mollah and other Jamaat accused of war crimes. A Facebook page dedicated to ridding Bangladesh of Razakar's is called "Rajakar Mukto Desh Gorai Shobai Egiye Ashun (Come forward to make our country free of Razakars). The dislike for the Islamists grew after a young blogger, Rajib Haldar, was killed - his throat slit Feb 15 for his anti-Islamist blogging. With the media, especially electronic media, beaming the protests live, and the online networking among the youth, thousands turned up at Shahbag intersection, dubbed Shahbag Square, to demand the war crimes accused be hanged. The intersection is located close to Dhaka University. The protests are the largest the country has seen in two decades. On Sunday, the demonstrators held a rally at Shahbag, also called Projonmo Chattar, to protest the Jamaat-sponsored countrywide hartal. In a pointer to the secular nature of the Shahbag protests, one of the prominent slogans is "Surja Sener Bangla, shahider Bangla, razakarer nei kaaj (In a Bangladesh belonging to Surja Sen and other martrys, the Razakars have no place)". Surya Sen was an Indian freedom fighter against British rule who led the famous 1930 Chittagong armoury raid The Shahbag protests, seen to be supported by the ruling Awami League, has dented the opposition Bangladesh National Party's clout among people to a large extent. The Jamaat is a part of the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance. The Islamist party was part of the ruling alliance when the BNP came to power in 2001. BNP chief Khaleda Zia called off her scheduled meeting with the Indian president. Her party has called a hartal on Tuesday. "The people are angry with the Jamaat, they want justice (for the war crimes). The Shahbag protests have helped to turn the people's attention away from other issues, like price rise and corruption," said Mujibur, a driver, echoing popular sentiments.

Bangladesh: Righting historical wrongs

The student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami are using children at the front line of procession & violent picketing. One child died last Sunday while Jamaat-e-Islami activist attacked on a Police Station at Bogra. Human Rights organizations must try to keep these children safe.

Bangladesh: Backlash – Analysis

By S. Binodkumar Singh
On February 28, 2013, at least 40 persons, including 17 cadres of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), 18 civilians and five Security Force (SF) personnel died, when JeI-ICS cadres clashed with law enforcers across the country. Of the 15 Districts in which incidents of killing were reported, Rangpur witnessed 7, followed by Gaibandha (6), Satkhira (5), Thakurgaon and Chittagong (4 each). More than 2,000 people were also injured in the clashes. Earlier in the day, the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1), constituted on March 25, 2010, and conducting the War Crimes Trials, in its first verdict, awarded the death sentence to JeI nayeb-e-ameer (deputy chief) Delwar Hossain Sayedee for War Crimes (WC) committed during the course of the 1971 Liberation Struggle. Sayedee (indicted on October 3, 2011) was given the death sentence after eight out of 20 charges, brought against him were held proven. These included murder, abduction, confinement, torture, rape, persecution, abetment of torture, looting, forceful religious conversions and setting homes ablaze. For instance, details of charge number eight indicated that, on May 8, 1971, Sayedee and his accomplices accompanied by a Pakistan Army unit, raided the house of one Manik Posari at Chitholia under Pirojpur Sadar and caught his brother Mofizuddin and one Ibrahim. On the way to the Pakistani Army’s camp, Sayedee instigated the members of the occupation force to kill Ibrahim and dump his body near a bridge. On the other hand, Mofiz was taken to the Army camp and tortured. According to charge number 10, on June 2, 1971, Sayedee’s armed associates under his leadership and accompanied by a Pakistan Army unit, burnt 25 houses of a Hindu Para (neighbourhood) in Umedpur village under Indurkani Police Station. At one stage, a victim, Bisabali, was tied to a coconut tree and was shot dead by Sayedee’s accomplice. In its judgment the Court noted: In our due consideration, the gravity of the offences as listed in charge Nos. 6, 7, 11, 14, 16 and 19 appear to be lesser than that of as listed in charge Nos.8 and 10. Since we have awarded Capital Punishment to the accused for the offences as listed in charge Nos. 8 and 10, we refrain from passing any separate sentence of imprisonment for the offences as listed in the rest charge Nos.6,7,11,14,16 and 19, though those charges have also been proved beyond reasonable doubt. Welcoming the verdict, pro-trial protesters termed it a “people’s victory” and marched out in a celebratory procession in Dhaka city. People from all walks of life, who had gathered at Shahbagh for 24 days in what was being described as “Bangladesh’s Tahrir Square”, shouted ‘Joy Bangla’, as soon as they heard that the tribunal had sentenced Sayedee to death. The Shahbag demonstration began on February 5, 2013, in Dhaka city, after JeI leader Abdul Quader Mollah had been awarded what was considered a ‘lenient’ sentence of life imprisonment. The Shahbag demonstrators demanded capital punishment for Mollah and all others charged for War Crimes before the ICT. Again, on February 21, 2013, the protestors issued an ultimatum to the Government to bring war crimes charges against the JeI as a formation, and to initiate legal processes by March 26, 2013, to ban the party. Similarly, on February 26, 2013, the Democratic Left Alliance (DLA), the alliance of eight Left-leaning political parties, had taken out a procession in Dhaka city, demanding capital punishment for war criminals. DLA coordinator Zonayed Saki noted “JeI is a communal organization and not a political party. JeI and ICS cadres are creating anarchy across the country to foil the ongoing trials of war criminals. They cannot be forgiven for ransacking Shaheed Minar.” The Sylhet Central Shaheed Minar, a memorial to the martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement of 1952, killed by Pakistani Police Forces, had been vandalized on February 22, 2013. DLA leader Saiful Huq also declared that the people would not accept the anarchy of the Islamist parties in the name of religion. Bangladesh has, in fact, been on the boil since January 21, 2013, when the ICT-2, constituted on March 22, 2012, delivered the first War Crimes verdict against JeI leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar (indicted on November 4, 2012), awarding a sentence of death (in absentia) for genocide and crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of 1971. Again, on February 5, 2013, ICT-2, awarded life imprisonment to JeI leader Abdul Quader Mollah (indicted on May 28, 2012) on WC charges. According to partial data collected by theSouth Asia Terrorism Portal(SATP), the country has recorded 103 fatalities in street violence since January 21, 2013, including 46 JeI-ICS cadres, 50 civilians and seven SF personnel (all data till March 3). As many as 4,214 persons, including JeI-ICS cadres, SF personnel and civilians, have also been injured in at least 74 incidents; and 1,554 JeI-ICS cadres have been arrested for their involvement in 53 incidents of violence, while observing hartals (general shut down) across the country. Some of the major acts of violence since January 21 include: March 3: In Bogra District, at least 10 civilians, including three women, were killed in fierce fighting between law enforcers and villagers led by JeI-ICS cadres. February 24: Four civilians were killed and at least 50 persons were injured in clashes between JeI-ICS cadres and the Police in Singair sub-District, Manikganj District, during a dawn-to-duskhartal. February 15: Three JeI-ICS cadres were killed and another 50 were injured during a gun battle between JeI-ICS cadres and Police in Cox’s Bazar town. February 5: In Chittagong District, three persons, including two ICS cadres, were killed during a clash with Police. Police arrested 15 ICS cadres from the District. January 31: In Bogra town of Bogra District, four JeI-ICS cadres were killed in a clash with the Police. As SAIR noted earlier, the Tribunals have indicted 10 high-profile political figures, including eight JeI leaders and two Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) lawmakers. The rising cycle of protests and counter-protests, compounded by escalating violence and threats of greater violence, have created apprehensions that the situation in Bangladesh, which had improved on a wide range of parameters over the past years, may once again hurtle towards instability. The business community – including the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) – on February 23, 2013, expressed their deep concern over frequent hartal calls and requested the political parties concerned to call off countrywide daylong hartals for the greater interest of the national economy. The fear of JeI-ICS as well as other radical Islamist groupings provoking wider destabilization and armed violence, has already triggered a stream of refugees into India through the border District of Malda in West Bengal. Border Security Force (BSF) officials at the Mahadipur (Malda District) Check Post have stated that they had not seen such an exodus in years. Even Awami League (AL) members were among those seeking refuge in India. Evidently, the Islamist extremist forces under the leadership of the JeI-ICS, have no intention to give up without a fight. With election due in December 2013, or at the latest, by mid-January 2014, it is inevitable that a last ditch confrontation will be sought. Another term for Sheikh Hasina Wajed would leave little possibility of the survival of the top Islamist extremist leadership in Bangladesh, most of whom were collaborators and perpetrators in the War Crimes of 1971, and at least ten among whom are currently arraigned before the ICT. It is significant that groups such as the Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) virtually collapsed after their top leaders were sent to the gallows. The JeI-ICS combine has flourished because of significant state protection under past regimes, and was, in fact, a coalition partner in the BNP-led Government that preceded the current AL led administration. The Islamist right in Bangladesh has flourished, essentially, under an umbrella of impunity, and it seeks to restore a regime that would, once again, provide such impunity, recognizing clearly that this is a race against time. It is equally evident that the Sheikh Hasina regime has recognized the imperatives of swift and determined action. On February 17, 2013, Parliament amended the ICT Act of 1973, allowing the Government to prosecute organizations along with individuals for wartime atrocities, thus paving the way for prosecution of political parties such as JeI. On February 19, 2013, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu reiterated, “JeI has no right to carry out their politics as they are opponents of democracy”, and urged the Government to ban JeI-ICS politics and ensures the trial of war criminals. The Government’s efforts to de-radicalize Bangladesh, and to consolidate its secular commitments have already won significant success, reining in Islamist extremist groups such as JeI, ICS, JMB, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), and Hizb-ut-Towhid (HT). The residual capacities of some of these groups – demonstrated in the street violence of the past weeks – are clearly significant. There is a danger, moreover, of armed escalation, potentially backed by foreign terrorist formations. On February 27, 2013, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, thus noted, “Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is active in Bangladesh and law enforcement agencies tracked down their network and kept them under sharp security vigil. It is the moral and legal obligation of the Government to uproot them totally.” ‘Totally uprooting’ Islamist extremist and terrorist formations in Bangladesh cannot be an easy task. These groupings and the ideologies of violence and hatred that they propagate, have been entrenched over decades of implicit or explicit state complicity – or, minimally, in some phases, tolerance. As the AL led Government gears up for a final confrontation, it is natural to expect these formations to rally their fullest forces in a fight that may well be for their very survival. There are many uncertainties in the present confrontation, but the one certainty is that there will be a further escalation of violence in Bangladesh over the coming months, certainly till the next General Elections are accomplished.

Bangladesh: ''1971 Genocide : A Creed for Justice''

Dam and other Afghan projects being scaled back as U.S. picks up pace of withdrawal

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
When U.S. Marines surged into southern Afghanistan in 2010, one of their top priorities was to secure a towering dam on the Helmand River so the U.S. Agency for International Development could begin a construction project to provide much-needed electricity to Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city. Simply reaching the outskirts of the Kajaki Dam was perilous. More than 50 U.S. troops were killed in combat operations to evict the Taliban from areas along a 30-mile-road leading to the structure. Now that Marines and Afghan soldiers have seized the dam and the surrounding areas, USAID has decided not to complete the most critical part of the $266-million project. Instead, the agency intends to hand over the challenging task of installing a large hydropower turbine to the Afghan government. The dam is one of many reconstruction projects, once deemed essential, that are being scaled back rapidly and redesigned in the waning days of America’s long war in Afghanistan as troop reductions, declining budgets and public fatigue force a realignment of priorities. But USAID’s decision to walk away from the turbine installation — one of the most important and symbolic development efforts associated with President Obama’s troop surge — is drawing unique scrutiny. Several civilian experts who have served in southern Afghanistan contend the Afghan government lacks the ability to manage the complex project, placing in jeopardy a vital initiative to increase electricity production, which they deem crucial to the region’s long-term stability. The Kajaki Dam was constructed by U.S. engineers in the 1950s, and it has long been regarded by Afghans as a manifestation of American ingenuity and assistance. Should the Afghan-led installation fail, the civilian experts fear that the structure will come to represent American abandonment and weakness. Military officers who lost comrades in the area see it in far more personal terms. “A lot of blood and treasure were wasted just to spike the ball at the 10-yard line,” a senior Marine officer involved in the campaign to secure the dam said on the condition of anonymity. USAID officials insist the U.S. government is not abandoning the turbine project. The agency, they noted, will still pay for the costs of the installation, estimated at about $70 million. But instead of having a U.S. contractor perform to work, USAID intends to give the money directly to the Afghan state-run electricity company, which will be responsible for hiring experts and managing the construction. Larry Sampler, a senior USAID official responsible for Afghanistan programs, said the agency believes the Afghan electricity company, known by the acronym DABS, has developed the skills to take charge of the project. “We’re confident that DABS will be able to meet a timeline comparable to any Western contractor,” Sampler said. At this stage of the war, he said, “everything we do should be done with an eye to getting the Afghans into the driver’s seat as fast as possible.” Concern about security in the area and pressure from Afghan President Hamid Karzai also prompted the shift, according to U.S. officials involved in Afghanistan matters. Obama’s decision to withdraw 34,000 troops over the next 11 months means there will be few, if any, Marines in the area around the dam after this summer. Security responsibility will fall to Afghan soldiers, police officers and government-hired security guards, raising the risks for foreign construction workers at the dam. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long demanded that USAID channel more development assistance through his government instead of relying on foreign contractors. He specifically raised Kajaki Dam in January with senior members of the Obama administration in Washington. “It’s not AID’s preferred choice,” said a U.S. senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But Karzai has been adamant.” The dam, located along the headwaters of the Helmand River, about 100 miles northwest of Kandahar, was built in the early 1950s by the U.S. construction firm Morrison-Knudsen. In 1975, USAID installed two generators in the dam’s spillway, but they fell into disrepair after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. By the time U.S. experts returned to the dam in 2002, it was barely running. The chief engineer cobbled together spare parts from scrap metal and using barbed wire to splice electrical lines. Instead of installing the new turbine in the early years of the war, when the area was relatively safe, USAID waited. The agency eventually hired a state-owned Chinese firm to install the turbine, but the Chinese did not start work in earnest until 2007. By then it was too dangerous to move the turbine parts up the 30-mile road to the dam, which USAID officials dubbed “Hell’s Canyon.” In September 2008, prior to the arrival of U.S. Marines, 4,000 British troops were reassigned to Kajaki to escort a convoy of trucks bearing turbine parts. After the British left, security deteriorated along the road, preventing delivery of the cement needed to install the turbine. The Chinese contractors soon departed. In 2011, once Marines started combat operations along the road, USAID awarded a $266 million contract to Black & Veatch, a large construction firm based in Overland Park, Kan. USAID now plans to reduce the contract, but the firm will continue work on installing new power lines and substations between the dam and the city of Kandahar, which has been a focus of U.S. military operations. American commanders have argued that increasing the electricity supply in Kandahar will build support for the Afghan government among the population. Some civilian experts and military officers question USAID’s assessment that the Afghan electricity company is up to the challenge. In an audit last year, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted that DABS lacked the “technical and operational capacity to properly install and manage” a far less complicated electricity distribution project in Kandahar. The inspector general, John F. Sopko, warned in a speech last month that providing development funds directly to the Afghan government means less accountability for how that money is spent. “I fear many of our programs will be exposed to increased risk of theft and misuse,” he said. But concerns about inefficiency need to be subordinated to the more pressing imperative from the White House to wind down the war and transfer responsibility to the Afghans, said the senior U.S. official. “This decision serves our interests,” the official said. “It allows us to draw back.”

Afghan president lashes out at Pakistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out once again at his supposed ally, Pakistan, saying Monday that a statement by a Pakistani cleric endorsing suicide bombings in Afghanistan shows the neighboring country is not sincere in efforts to fight terrorism. "Afghanistan wants a real struggle against terrorism and wants the Pakistani government to realize that both our nations are burning in the same fire," the Afghan leader said, speaking at a press conference with visiting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "The Pakistani government has an essential and important role in putting out this fire," Karzai added. Karzai made the comment in response to a question about a statement last week by the head of the Pakistani clerics' council who had been scheduled to travel to Afghanistan for a meeting of the two countries' religious leaders. The cleric, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, said in a television interview that suicide attacks in Afghanistan are lawful because NATO troops are invaders that have occupied the country. Karzai noted that Ashrafi was appointed to the delegation by the Pakistani government, implying that the government in Islamabad was backing his views. "We see that practical steps are not being taken to fight terrorism," Karzai said, and added that a series of recent attacks in Pakistan show that the neighboring country is falling into chaos. Ashrafi told The Associated Press that his comments had been taken out of context and that he considered suicide bombings un-Islamic. He said that he was asked in an interview about his views on suicide bombings in Afghanistan and said that it was natural that people would fight back when their homes were occupied but that didn't necessarily mean suicide bombings. Ashrafi said Karzai's statement on Monday had shut the door to the Pakistani clerics taking part in the planned conference of religious leaders. "It will not happen until Karzai and the Afghan government apologize," Ashrafi said over the telephone from Cairo. A spokesman for the Pakistan's foreign affairs ministry noted Ashrafi's denial in a statement, and said that comments by private individuals should not be seen as reflecting the views of the Pakistan government. "Pakistan and the Ulema of this country have repeatedly condemned suicide attacks and consider them repugnant to the teachings of our glorious religion," the foreign ministry statement said. Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been tense friends. Afghanistan has been deeply suspicious of the motives of a government that long backed the Taliban regime and has since seemed unable or unwilling to go after militant leaders taking refuge inside its borders. The killing of al-Qaida chief, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan only strengthened Afghan wariness of the neighboring country "The situation is getting out of control for everyone now. This is not to the benefit of Afghanistan, Pakistan or the region," Karzai said. Fogh Rasmussen also condemned the cleric's statement and called on Pakistan to do more to rein in the extremist militants along its borders. "Nothing can justify terrorist attacks," Fogh Rasmussen said. "We have repeatedly urged the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military to step up the fight against terrorism and extremism in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We need a positive engagement of Pakistan if we are to ensure long-term peace."

Protests over Pakistan bombing turn deadly

Gunmen shot and killed two people returning from a funeral Monday for Shiite Muslim victims of a massive bombing in Karachi, highlighting escalating sectarian tensions in a city where 48 people were killed the day before. The bomb exploded Sunday evening as people were leaving a mosque, and underlined the increasing threat Shiites face as Sunni militant groups target them in ever-bolder attacks. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Sunni militant groups who do not consider Shiites to be true Muslims have carried out such attacks in the past. Thousands of Shiite Muslims turned out Monday to bury their dead and demanded government protection from militant groups. Some of those attending the funeral set fire to buses in one Karachi neighborhood as they went to the cemetery, said police official Qamar Ahmad. When they moved through the same area after the funeral, gunmen opened fire on the group and wounded several protesters, he said. Two of the men died and 13 were wounded, said Dr. Saleem Memon, who works at the hospital where the wounded were taken. The Sohrab Goth neighborhood where the shooting occurred is home to many ethnic Pashtuns who traditionally live in northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Over the years, many have migrated to the port city of Karachi. Security officials in Karachi have raised concerns that members of the Taliban — also predominantly Pashtun — are taking advantage of the large Pashtun community to hide themselves in Karachi and establish a foothold there. Dr. Jalil Qadir, a Pakistani surgeon, said 48 people were killed and at least 200 wounded in the Sunday attack. Thousands of people thronged a main road in Karachi Monday for the funeral service. Many beat their chests and heads and chanted "Stop the brutal attacks!" They called on the government to take action against militant groups responsible for the attacks. "Terrorists are killing us everywhere, but the state is nowhere to be seen," said Intizar Hussain, whose father died in the bombing. It was the third mass casualty attack since the beginning of the year against Shiites. The first two killed nearly 200 people in the southwestern city of Quetta. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group known for its virulent hatred of Shiite Muslims, claimed responsibility for the two attacks. Last year was one of the most deadly for Shiites in the country's history. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiite Muslims were killed across Pakistan in 2012. This year could be even more dangerous with nearly 250 Shiites already killed in the three attacks. Pakistan's intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to attack Shiites. After the most recent attack in Quetta, the government launched a number of operations against the militant group and detained the founder of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Malik Ishaq. In an apparent attempt to deflect criticism, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has repeatedly lashed out at government officials in Punjab province where the group is based and said they have failed to crack down on militant groups. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf condemned the bombing late Sunday and ordered an inquiry into how the bombing was carried out. But many Pakistanis want more from the government. "Go ask the sleeping government to wake up. Our brothers and sisters are dying every day. But the government is doing nothing," said Shagufta Rasheed, a Karachi resident. The city shut down on Monday for a day of mourning to honor the dead. Markets, gas stations and transportation were closed as security officials patrolled the streets. At the site of the blast, family and friends looked through the rubble for missing family members. "I am here to look for my relative," said Farzana Azfar. "People say he was here. But people say they have no idea about him."

To Run, Or Not To Run -- That Is The Question For Baluch Politicians
As the buzz begins to build ahead of Pakistan's parliamentary elections, expected sometime in May, politicians in that country's restive Balochistan Province are a divided bunch. What to do when faced with warnings from one side to boycott the polls in a sign of solidarity with the Baluch independence movement, and pressure from the other side to take the opportunity to rejoin the provincial and central governments after a five-year absence? Hasil Bizenjo, vice president of the moderate National Party, is ready to begin campaigning for the elections. He believes the polls will successfully be held province-wide despite threats from hard-core separatists to target Baluch leaders who participate. "When they threaten to sabotage the elections, that is an undemocratic process in itself," Bizenjo says. "If you want the people of Balochistan to boycott the elections, you should convince them through peaceful means. If you are threatening them with violence and murder, it means the people are not with you. Even if the separatists try very hard, they can only stop the elections in a couple of constituencies." Baluchis make up a majority in the southwestern province of 9 million, which has seen sustained violence between government troops and Baluch separatists over the last decade. For many involved in Baluchistan's political scene, however, threats by hard-line separatists are not the main consideration. For them, the military's harsh crackdown on residents of the province is their main reason for boycotting the polls. Naseer Dashti, an exiled Balochi author affiliated with the pro-autonomy Balochistan National Party, says that his party is still debating whether to participate in the elections and that a key question is whether the military will allow free elections or manipulate the vote. The party boycotted the last general elections, in 2008. Many members of the Balochistan National Party have been assassinated since the onset of the current insurgency in 2004. Many more members of the party and hundreds of suspected separatists have disappeared. Human rights watchdogs have alleged that the missing are the victims of "enforced disappearances" carried out by the military and its intelligence services. Dashti says his party could be swayed to participate in the polls if Islamabad withdrew its security forces from main population centers, freed disappeared persons, and offered guarantees of free and fair elections. "The parliament can be a tool for the Baluch people to express their opinions and grievances. But it always depends on the military whether they will allow our people to participate in the elections or whether they are allowed to be successful," Dashti says. "It is a war zone, and the military is entrenched in every fabric of our society. So it is not up to us, it is up to the military establishment." There are those, however, who see no role for Baluchis in Pakistani politics. "I believe parliamentary politics is a failed practice. We have done it in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, and parliamentary politics proved to be a failed practice," says Hamal Haider Baloch, spokesman for the separatist Baluch National Movement. "In Balochistan, if you [contest] elections and go to their institutions, still you will not get anything from the state because the state has adopted the policy to exploit and not to give." The election campaign will formally begin and a date will be set for the polls set after the government and opposition agree on a caretaker government, a process that is expected to culminate in mid-March.

Karachi Blasts: ''Irrelevance of innocence''
As the attacks on the Shia in Pakistan continue relentlessly, a sense of fatalism is overtaking demands for accountability and justice
Rabia Flower is an apartment block in the Abbas Town neighbourhood of Karachi, on the road named “Isphahani” after an associate of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The twin-blasts that of Sunday, just as the evening prayers were coming to a close in this Shia residential locality, was the result of a “triggered IED.” More than 150 kg of high explosives were detonated as shoppers filled the market below, and families took in the evening sea breeze in the upper storey balconies. Fifty died and many times that were maimed. Water from broken mains mixed with the blood of innocents. Local youth and ambulances swung to the rescue, while the security personnel took their time to arrive. They probably came late because the mass-murderers have taken to setting off explosions in sequence, meant to kill those who respond to the emergency — local youth, journalists, firefighters, police and rangers. Karachi has become an intensified microcosm of the bloodletting in Pakistan, and earlier politico-ethnic rivalries have transmogrified into deeper, cross-cutting complexities. The city today harbours a frightening brew of militancy, involving drug, arms and real estate mafiosi placed on top of additional layers of communal polarisations. Class-based secular politics, for which Sindh and its capital were celebrated, has its back to the wall. Beyond the tension between the political parties representing the Urdu-speaking Mohajir and the Sindhi indigenes, there are now those claiming to represent Punjabi, Baloch and Pashto interests. In terms of sectarian targeting, the sense of vulnerability now goes beyond the Christians, Hindu or Ahmadiya. What has taken Pakistan by deathly storm is the attacks on the Shia, a somewhat larger minority. There has been Shia-targetting in all parts of the country, from Gilgit-Baltistan, Lahore to Quetta in the north, east and west. And now Karachi in the south. For a while, other issues are forgotten as television brings live reports of the hospital emergency intakes, the family members in shock, and excavators digging into the debris. The nervous wait for the upcoming national and provincial elections slated for May, the fears of how the departure of Nato forces will buffet Pakistan, the threat of U.S. sanctions if Islamabad insists on importing desperately needed natural gas from Iran, the debate over the handing over development of Gwadar port to Chinese contractors — all are forgotten momentarily by the opinion-makers as all eyes are glued on the upper storey of Rabiya Flower that continues to burn.
But, Karachi is a massive city of nearly 20 million, and the regular preoccupations take over as evening turns to night. Other localities, from the violence-prone Lyari township to the humongous “informal settlement” of Orangi, to the posh and secure colonies of Defence and Clifton, go back to their interrupted lives. The wedding reception of up-and-coming Sindh politician Sharmila Farooqi proceeds as planned. Other than in Abbas Town and the nearby Patel and Agha Khan hospitals, the sound of sirens indicates not the arriving ambulance but the ubiquitous signal of “VIP movement.” A well-regarded journalist had told me Sunday afternoon, “The killings in Karachi are now more targeted. Unlike in the past, there are fewer mob killings or random blasts.” By evening he would have changed his mind. The killing of the lay citizenry has become a targeted and continuous exercise, and the sense of fatalism is such that instead of demands for accountability and justice, there is simply the sad wait for the next mayhem. Last month it was Quetta, next month it will be someplace else. Says one IT engineer: “Religion should be a warm cloak, but it has become a shining badge of certitude.” Across the breadth of the subcontinent, in Bangladesh, the perpetrators of 1971 are being brought to book four decades after their crimes. The masterminds of the mayhem at Abbas Town may at least feel threatened if they knew that the sturdy arm of justice will follow them years and decades from now, and hold them accountable for drawing the blood of innocents.

Karachi bomb is unlikely to prompt decisive action against militants

BY:Jon Boone :-Analysts say politicians are hamstrung by fear of confronting Sunni militant groups before elections
The powerful bomb used in the latest assault by religious fanatics on Pakistan's embattled Shias left 48 dead, 200 wounded and ripped away the towering facades of two multistorey housing blocks in a street in the sprawling city of Karachi. It was the third such attack on followers of an Islamic sect estimated to form between 10% and 15% of the population in as many months. And despite the nationwide protests and media handwringing provoked on each occasion, few analysts expect decisive action to stop the slaughter. They say key politicians are hamstrung by fear of confronting such groups as they gear up for elections. Once the Sunni militants who regard Shias as apostates worthy of death appeared content with a regular trickle of drive-by shootings, "targeted assassinations" and bombings of holy day processions. Now they have seized on the tactic of detonating massive bombs in Shia neighbourhoods, timed for no particular reason. A bomb used in an attack on 16 February that killed at least 84 in a marketplace in the south-western city of Quetta was so large it had to be towed into position by a tractor (the 80kg of explosives was hidden inside a water tank). The Sunni terror group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for two of the three mass-casualty attacks this year and is strongly suspected of being behind the Karachi bloodshed too, although it has not yet made any comment. For the militia, named after the Punjab district of Jhang to which it is historically linked, huge blasts not only maximise the numbers killed of Shias, who they hope will ultimately leave Pakistan all together. They have also proved a powerful tool of political destabilisation just as the country braces for historic general elections in a couple of months. A double bombing of Quetta on 10 January that killed more than 80 young Shias gathered in a snooker hall forced the government in Islamabad to sack its key political allies in Balochistan, the province of which Quetta is the capital. "Whether or not they had a master plan, they succeeded in overturning a democratic government in Balochistan," said Wajahat Khan, a journalist. "They have managed to tip one government over and it won't be surprising if there are more consequences to follow." The sacking of the provincial government fell a long way short of demands by the city's Shias, who are so disillusioned with civilian rule they have demanded the army take over in the province. Analysts say Pakistan's powerful military already has de facto control of security. Indeed, the spate of attacks has sparked unusually strident criticism of the army, with one popular television journalist saying the military was guilty of creating "private death squads" that had run amok. Also in the line of fire are Pakistan's politicians, who are accused of cynically entering into electoral alliances with mass murderers. "In the last election [the Pakistan People's party] took help from these people to get votes and this time the [Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz] group has already struck a deal for seat adjustment on 16 seats and struck a deal to win those seats," said Amin Shaheedi, deputy secretary general of Majlis Wahdat ul Muslimeen, a Shia party. The claim of a secret voting pact with terrorists is strongly denied by the party concerned, but many experts agree politicians dare not take on militants at a time when campaigning requires them to appear at public rallies. Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, said the recent escalation in terrorist attacks was "an attempt to show they are powerful and can force the government to talk to them on their own terms". In his time Malik Ishaq, the head of LeJ, has been accused of being involved in hundreds of murders and the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. In July 2011 he was released from prison after 14 years' detention on murder and terrorism charges that were ultimately dropped. Last month Ishaq was once again taken into custody, but apparently more for his own protection than out of any desire to put him behind bars. Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on militant groups, said there was no chance of him being brought to justice. "In a couple of months someone will petition the Lahore high court saying there is no evidence to keep him in detention and they will simply let him go", she said.

Husain Haqqani : ''Democracy only panacea to all ills in Pakistan''
Former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani has said democracy is the only panacea to all ills in Pakistan. Haqqani told The Indian Express Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta in Walk the Talk programme on NDTV that Pakistan needs to go beyond its old paradigms to move forward on the road to progress. "Instead of being an ideological state, Pakistan needs to be state that is responsible to its people; a state that makes peace with its neighbours, rather than trying to win wars which we never have been able to win," he said. The former envoy said it was the first time that a civilian government was going to complete its constitutional term. "We have seen five complete years of democratic rule. Pakistan is set to hold general election and, hopefully, hand over power to the next civilian government." Haqqani said everybody in Pakistan is agreed on democracy. "There was a time when Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People's Party used to disagree and one would let the other be toppled. Now, neither one will allow a military intervention," he maintained. The former envoy said the key thing in the last five years of democratic rule is that for the first time a civilian government didn't victimise its opponents. "For the first time, a civilian government didn't arrest its opponents. No case was filed against anyone on political grounds. Nobody was persecuted or prosecuted," he said, and added that if some people were prosecuted, they were within the government and were tried by the judiciary. To a question about allegations against him, Haqqani said no court of law ever charged him for anything. "There are no charges framed against me. Neither any trial was held, nor did any court convict me." Haqqani said he was a better patriot than those accusing him of treason. He said his only fault was that he offered an alternative vision for Pakistan. To a question on jihadism in Pakistan, Haqqani said though Pakistan has a lot of jihadis who use force to try to take over but it never has been a jihadi state. "Jihadis want to grab power. They use force because they can't win elections. It's in fact a sense of insecurity (among them)." He said there should be no lashkar (militia) or sipah (army) in Pakistan. The stage has come where a serious debate on the future course of action must take place in Pakistan. "Jihadism, extremism must be fought out. There should be no foreign interference in Pakistan. No foreign power can make Pakistan a strong nation," he said. Haqqani said Pakistan's national discourse has been hijacked by the extremists. He said Pakistan's national discourse enables people like Abdul Qadeer Khan and Hafiz Saeed to project themselves as heroes. And they are supported by hyper nationalists." The former envoy said any person whom the other world deems an international criminal, must not be projected as a hero. "It isolates a country. Pakistan needs to review this," he added. He said Pakistan needs to be a plural state if it wants to move forward on the road to peace and progress. "Pakistan must be a practical, functional, constitutional state where Islam, being the religion of the majority, is respected and people belonging to different sects live in harmony." He said Muslim can be in danger, but not Islam. "Islam has never been in danger for the last 14 centuries. Many Muslim empires in the world have vanished but Islam is still there. In fact, it has grown. Today, there are more Muslims living in the world," he said, and added that no one should be allowed to use Islam to impose his agenda on the people. The former envoy said the biggest debate the country needs at this juncture is that what is Pakistan's national interest. "Pakistan will only benefit from focusing inward, strengthening itself and allowing democracy to function." Haqqani said though Pakistan has been economically damaged but it has the capacity to stage comeback "But the reversal has to be a very conscious decision. And a very methodical efforts needs to be made," he added. On Pakistan-India relations, Haqqani said people in both countries have negative views about each other. He said the definition of India being an existential enemy of Pakistan is not correct. On relations with US, the former envoy said Pakistan needs to engage US in its own interest. "We must watch our own interests. But, we should also understand America's interests and work out where we have commonality of interests. We must stop just playing America and think that, somehow, we can get some advantage out of it." On his return to Pakistan, Haqqani said he was waiting for the 'media noise' to settle. "I don't want to threaten my own life. Circumstances don't favour my return at this time," he said, and added that he will continue to work for a better Pakistan wherever he lived.

Pakistan: Renovation: Sarhadi Lutheran Church starts picking up its pieces

The Express Tribune
By Baseer Qalandar
Reconstruction of the Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan started last week, nearly five months after it was burnt down by a mob. The construction had been delayed after differences emerged among churchgoers over the formation of the Diocese of Mardan. The dispute was resolved after the dissolution of Mardan’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Rioters protesting the sacrilegious movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ launched a vicious attack on the place of worship on September 21, 2012. They set the church building on fire, and looted the surrounding residential quarters. Built in 1930, the Sarhadi Lutheran Church is situated on approximately 1,518 square metres of land. The premises include a science laboratory and a primary school. According to Awami National Party MNA Himayatullah Mayar, the estimated cost of renovation is Rs34.4 million. This includes the reconstruction of the church building, residential quarters and the house of the school’s principal which is also on the premises. Mayar said the provincial government has also met security measures requested by the church representatives for the prevention of such incidents. “We have intensified security by raising the boundary walls of the building as well,” he maintained. Executive Director Peshawar Diocese Andreas Barkat Masih, who is also responsible for overseeing the repair process, said they asked the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government for the construction of the three residential quarters and nine rooms of the school. “The government has also agreed to expand the church hall, which is also one of our demands,” Masih added. According to Masih, a group of Christians formed the Diocese of Mardan. “The group came into being under the leadership of Ilyas Masih,” he added. The riots uncovered reservations held by some Christians on the supervision of the Sarhadi Lutheran Church by a diocese other than the Diocese of Peshawar, he added. The Diocese of Mardan eventually merged under Peshawar’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction, resolving the doubts held by certain church members, said the director of the Peshawar Diocese. Now the church’s affairs will be supervised by us, he added. “There is no other local diocese across the province. The Peshawar Diocese looks after the affairs of churches across the province,” he added. As far as the renovation is concerned, there are no changes in the architectural layout, with the exception of the expansion of the church hall, Masih explained. He welcomed the government’s approach for redressing their grievances. Sarhadi Lutheran Church Chairman Peter Majid said the place of worship was targeted twice in 2010 during similar protests. Chand Masih, the fourth bishop of the church, appreciated the K-P government’s support in launching the reconstruction work. Mardan, the hometown of Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti, houses around 5,000 Christian families, who moved to the district in 1903 during the British Raj.

Malala, Clinton cited as Nobel peace candidates hit record
Pakistani schoolgirl-turned-icon of Taleban resistance Malala Yousafzai, ex-Eastern bloc activists and former US president Bill Clinton are in the running for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, as the Nobel Institute announced a record 259 nominations on Monday. This year's list of candidates is made up of 209 individuals and 50 organisations, the Nobel Institute said, without disclosing any of the names in line with its rules. The list of nominees is kept secret for 50 years. But thousands of people are eligible to nominate candidates - including former laureates, members of parliament and government around the world, some university professors and members of certain international organisations - and they can reveal the names they have put forward. Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was seriously wounded when she was shot in the head by a Taleban gunman at point blank range on October 9 for promoting girls' education in Pakistan, is known to be on the list and is seen by some experts as a favourite.

Punjabi Taliban behind Karachi attack

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Monday that like Quetta the Punjabi Taliban was behind the attack in Karachi’s Abbas Town on Sunday, DawnNews reported. The interior minister said that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) had its headquarters in Punjab and claimed that the province’s ruling party the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) was in an electoral alliance with the banned organisation. Speaking to media persons at a private hospital after meeting with the victims of the tragic blast that occured in Karachi on Sunday, Rehman Malik said that the same group of terrorists was involved in the Quetta and Karachi attacks. He added said that terrorism in the country would be eliminated only if action was taken against terrorists in Punjab. The federal interior minister said that the terrorist forces wanted to delay the upcoming elections. He claimed that the backbone of terrorists has been broken and that 30 activists of the LeJ were apprehended in Karachi alone. The LeJ had previously claimed responsibility of two attacks in Quetta’s Alamdar road and Kirani road this year. A local daily newspaper had reported the chief of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, as saying that the PML-N was in talks with him for seat adjustments in the general elections. The PML-N on the other hand had denied all links with extremists.

Pakistan: Government borrowings from banks

State Bank has been extremely concerned and raising its voice at various forums about the tendency of the government to borrow excessively from the banking system in the last few years, which in turn, results in contraction of credit to the private sector. During a recent presentation to the Senate's Standing Committee on Finance, the SBP has given ample evidence to prove its case and also indicated the difficulties it faces in implementing a proper monetary policy. The relevant data show that net government borrowing was 56.9 percent of total credit during 2008, which increased to 75.6 percent during 2009. After declining somewhat to 67.3 percent in 2010, it again went up to 78.6 percent in 2011 and reached an alarming level of 92 percent in the fiscal year 2012. As a result of surging government borrowing, private sector credit as a percentage of total credit was squeezed to 17.5 percent in 2012 from 39.8 percent in FY08. In absolute terms, government financing requirements had increased to Rs 1,237 billion, excluding Rs 391 billion for power sector and procurement of commodities, in FY12, up from Rs 584 billion in 2008 while private sector credit was squeezed to Rs 235 billion from Rs 408 billion during the same period. According to the SBP, fiscal gap averaging about 6 percent of GDP in the recent years was largely financed from domestic sources including from the central bank, which was hampering monetary policy formulation. The Senate Standing Committee was also told that scheduled large foreign debt repayments, rising burden of oil imports because of high oil prices in the international market and constrained foreign financial inflows had weakened external sector account of the country. The above trend in public and private sector borrowings from the banking system over the last five years or so is highly disturbing for a number of reasons. Banks, overall, perform a highly useful role in the economy by mobilising deposits from ordinary households throughout the country and place them at the disposal of investors for productive use. Such a function is known as intermediary process between the savers and investors and sharpens the skills of entrepreneurs and enhances the productivity of the economy. However, if the resources of banks are pre-empted by government sector to finance its budget deficit and the private sector is deprived of its due share from bank credit, productive agents of the economy do not get the needed financial support and the economy suffers as a consequence. In Pakistan, the intermediary role of the banking sector has also been further blunted by repeated injections of liquidity by the SBP into the system to indirectly finance the fiscal deficit and keep the payment systems functioning. The designing and implementation of monetary policy has also become hostage to fiscal policy imperatives because credit to the government sector does not usually respond to the monetary policy signals. For instance, while the behaviour of private sector would be guided by the interest rate changes, no such relationship is likely to exist in the case of government borrowings and the money supply continues to increase despite tightening of monetary policy. Another worrying aspect is that the current trend in government and private sector borrowings is not likely to change in the foreseeable future as the ratio of fiscal deficit to GDP this year is not likely to be much different than last year's 8.5 percent and the government, in the absence of other sources of financing, is all set to rely on bank borrowings again for budgetary support. Obviously, if this unhealthy trend is to be arrested or reversed, government has to make extra efforts to consolidate its fiscal position and diversify its sources of financing. In the meantime, the State Bank also needs to be more assertive and tell the government in clear words that the central bank had the necessary powers under the existing SBP Act to regulate the flow of credit to the government sector. All said and done, the present trends in credit disbursements are damaging for the economy and need to be changed in favour of the private sector through bold moves both by the government and the SBP.

Karachi violence claims 4 more lives
Different areas in the metropolis remained in successive grip of violence on Monday when four more persons were ruthlessly gunned down while many others sustained injuries in different incidents of firing and violence. Following the mishaps, the area people preferred it better to remain within the limitations of their homes in the area of Sohrab Goth, Incholi and Indus Plaza. All the roads leading from Rashid Minhas Road to Indus Highway were closed for general traffic while angry people set three buses on fire on National Highway. There is exchange of firing between the angry protestors and Rangers men and both of them are targeting each other intermittently. According to sources, two persons were killed while many others got hurt during exchange of firing. The victims were shifted to hospital where some of them are reportedly suffering from critical situation. On the other hand, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Minister has ordered to impose ban on pillion riding. According to rescue services, at least 16 people got injured by firing near Al-Asif Squire. During riots, angry people set three ambulances on fire. Four members of rescue team are said to have sustained injuries during chaotic situation.

Pak-Iran pipeline project to be formally launched on 11th March

Radio Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari says Iran Pakistan gas pipeline project will be formally launched on 11th of this month. He was speaking after inaugurating 3 separate projects in Lahore today (Monday) including Prem Nagar Dry Port project of Railways and Allai Khwar and Jinnah Hydro power projects. The President said Pakistan-Iran pipeline project is aimed at meeting country's growing energy needs and is not against any other country. He said Pakistan is a sovereign country and has every right to pursue projects in national interest and did not intend to offend anyone. He said Pakistan is contributing to world peace and stability. He said pipeline project should be viewed purely in the context of meeting Pakistan's energy needs and hoped that the critics will appreciate the energy requirements of the country. Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said the President underlined the need for exploiting all available resources to overcome energy shortage. He expressed the confidence that by pursuing people centric policies Pakistan would soon overcome its energy shortages. The President said that addition of dry port at Prem Nagar which was equipped with state-of-the-art facilities will almost double the capacity of existing facility from 4 to 7 million tonnes per annum.