Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Morsi considers martial law as Port Said chaos enters third day

Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, was reportedly mulling a plan to hand over security in the city of Port Said to the military as clashes between protesters and police there escalated for a third straight day.Lawlessness and violence have wracked the normally serene city on the Suez Canal since January, when a court ordered the death sentence for 21 defendants in a trial over a football riot in 2012 where 74 people were stabbed and trampled to death. Port Said had seen some security restored as of last week, but a surprise decision by security officials to move the defendants in the football riot case to a prison in another city set off new clashes. At least five people were killed in fighting on Sunday, including police and protester victims, with dozens more injured. "The police are thugs," some protesters chanted yesterday. "We'll give our blood and souls for you, Port Said." Photos posted on social networking sites yesterday showed plumes of smoke rising from several locations where protesters threw molotov cocktails on security buildings, setting them aflame. The army attempted to negotiate an stop to the fighting on Sunday, sending its armoured personnel carries in between police and protesters, but troops were hit by live ammunition and tear gas canisters, according to military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali. The ministry of interior and military said there was no friction between their forces, with the head of the police saying "unknown elements" had fired on the police to escalate a confrontation. Mr Morsi met with his security chief and top military officers yesterday to discuss pulling police out of Port Said and putting the military in charge of security in the streets on hopes of bringing calm, officials from the military and the president's office said. The government's inability to regain control of Port Said is a sign of how deeply divided Egypt has become two years after an uprising toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Mr Morsi's deliberations over declaring martial law in Port Said had echoes of Mubarak's decision during the 18-day uprising to order the military into the streets to restore security. Port Said's protesters largely see the military positively - particularly after troops on Sunday fired over the heads of police in an attempt to push them back from clashes with protesters outside police headquarters. Still, it is not clear protesters would stop their rallies if the army took control. "It is like a civil war right now," said Mohammed Youssef, a member of April 6, one of the youth groups that helped engineer the uprising that Mubarak. "We can't tell what would be like in the coming days because every day is getting worse than the day before." The move by the government comes at a time when some in the opposition against Mr Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood have called on the military to take back power in order to end the unrest that first erupted in November and has spiraled out of control since. The mainly liberal and secular opposition accuse the Brotherhood of dominating power and say the unrest shows Mr Morsi and the group are incapable of dealing with the country's multiple woes. Mr Morsi's supporters have accused the opposition of trying to use street violence to overturn their successive victories in elections since Mubarak's fall. Port Said could present "a new model for civilian-military relations in the comeback of the military to political life and Morsi surely will keep an eye on it," said Galal Nasser, chief editor of Al Ahram Weekly and a fellow at the Nasser Military Academy. "Morsi is forced to bring the military because he has no other option. But he hopes the military fails in its mission," he said. The judges in the Port Said football riot case are scheduled to reveal verdicts for the remaining 52 defendants on March 9, a date that will likely lead to more protests and clashes. The death sentences for the 21 men are not final until the grand mufti, a leading religious authority, makes a final decision. The tenuous security situation along the Suez Canal has also raised questions about what tools Mr Morsi has left to gain enough stability to forge ahead with new parliamentary elections scheduled to begin at the end of April. The National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition forces, is planning a boycott unless the president replaces his cabinet and takes steps to make the political environment more inclusive. Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/morsi-considers-martial-law-as-port-said-chaos-enters-third-day#ixzz2MjBaNgpf Follow us: @TheNationalUAE on Twitter | thenational.ae on Facebook

Tributes to Hugo Chávez flow from South American leaders

Jonathan Watts
Tributes and condolences after the death of Hugo Chávez have flowed in from South America, where many saw the Venezuelan president as the inspiration behind increased regional intergration and the remarkable political gains of leftwing parties since the Venezuelan president began his "Bolivarian revolution". Bolivia announced seven days of mourning. The presidents of Brazil and Argentina cancelled a summit. In Colombia Chávez was hailed as the decisive figure in that country's ongoing peace process; in Ecuador as a revolutionary figurehead; and in Chile – which has taken a different political path – as a key figure in regional intergration. In capitals throughout the region people thronged to Venezuelan embassies to express their solidarity. "The loss is irreparable. He was a great leader and friend of Brazil," said Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff. "President Chávez will live on in the empty space that he filled in the heart of history and the struggle of Latin America." Rousseff has cancelled a planned visit to Patagonia where she had been due to hold a summit with Argentina's president, Cristina Kirchner. The two leaders are among a throng of leftist politicians who came to power in the wake of Chávez's first election victory in 1998 and were influenced by the style and policies of the charismatic Venezuelan. They are almost certain to attend the state funeral, which is expected to take place in the coming days. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia and a close ally, departed for Caracas soon after hearing the news, according to the Spanish news agency EFE. "We are hurt. We are devasted," Morales said. "We feel Hugo Chávez is more alive than ever. He will continue being an inspiration for people who fight for liberty." The government of Ecuador – another Andean neighbour that has followed a similar path – said it felt Venezuela's loss as its own. "Chávez will continue lighting the Latin America revolution with his vision, his commitment, his brightness and his love of the people. We will keep him in our hearts," said the minister of foreign affairs, Ricardo Patiño. The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, said the death of Chávez was a loss not just for Venezuela but for the region and his country. With assistance from its neighbours Colombia has seen some recent steps towards peace after a decades-long conflict between the government and Farc armed rebels. "If we are moving towards peace it's due to the unlimited dedication of Chávez and the government of Venezuela," Santos said in an interview with local television. Even leaders who have been politically distant from Bolivarian socialism expressed condolences and recognised the role Chávez played in strengthening regional ties. Sebastián Piñera described the Venezuelan as a man who helped intergrate Latin America. He said the death – coming after Chávez was moved from a hospital in Cuba back to Caracas – was in a manner that Chávez anticipated. "He once told me in a private dialogue in Santiago that he wanted to die in his country. I remembered that when he went back to Venezuela on 18 February," said Piñera. Luiz Felipe Lampreia, who was Brazilian foreign minister from 1995 to 2001, agreed that it would be difficult to replace Chávez. "He reinvented the concept of the Latin American left, like Perón before him," Lampreia said. "All the others lack the power and qualities to fill the gap. I guess that there will be a loss of energy in Venezuela's leadership." In Buenos Aires hundreds of young supporters gathered outside the Venezuelan embassy within hours of the news. Some waved political banners. Others wrote messages of condolence and promises to fight on. "Long live the revolution!" said one. On streets, at home and in bars supporters and admirers expressed dismay and – despite Chávez' long hospitalisation – shock at his death. Opponents – and the divisive political icon had many – were quietly relieved that such a dominant political figure had departed the world stage. Some said they would remember the moment as vividly as a generation of their US counterparts could recall exactly where they were on hearing the news that President Kennedy had been shot. Many have already been turning their attention to what comes next for Chávez's chosen successor: the vice-president, Nicolas Maduro. "I will recall the cafeteria where I heard this news," said Agustin D'Attelis, a senior economic adviser to the Argentinian government, who was being interviewed by the Guardian when the news broke. "This will be a big change for the region and for Argentina. We have built up close commercial and political ties. The cultural battle against neoliberalism will be difficult without Chávez."

Bangladesh: Youngsters ask politicians to learn from their demonstrations

Bangladesh Today
The protesting youngsters of Shahbagh on Tuesday urged the political parties to take lessons from their protracted non-violent street demonstrations and join their hands to resolve outstanding national issues, reports BSS. "Learn a lesson from our movement . . . different student organizations which previously even declined to see each others face but now we are united on a platform on the Ganojagaran Mancha on identical demands," youngsters' spokesman Dr Imran H Sarker told a rally in Jatrabari area in the city. He urged the political parties to overcome narrow political attitude in the greater national interest. Imran said evil efforts were made exploit people religious sentiments with particular quarters calling it a "movement of atheists" and propagated that it was a partisan campaign, threats were issued to kill its organizers and several of them were murdered also. "But we are spearheading our campaign and it will be continued until our demands (capital punishment for 1971 war criminals and banning Jamaat-e-Islami) are met," he said. He castigated the counter protests to thwart the war crimes trial setting ablaze the mosques, temples, pagodas, torching and vendalising buses ad trains and attacking people including policemen. We want to give our next generation a rajakar free, secular, democratic and beautiful Bangladesh where religious minority, militancy, communalism words will be vanished," imran said. He urged the people to join the pre-announced rally at Suhrawardy Udyan on March 7 recalling the historic fiery speech of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on that day. He also urged the women community to join the pre-announced Nari Jagarani Samabesh (Women Resurgence Rally) on March 8 marking the World Woman Day to show that they are also doing movement for the six-pint demand. Earlier, leaders of different students' organizations addressed the rally began with the recitation of national anthem while Shahbagh Agnikanya little 7-yeared girl Ipsita chanted slogans to press home their demands.

Bangladesh: 75 citizens condemns Jamaat-Shibir violence

Seventy-five noted citizens yesterday expressed grave concern over the recent spate of violence and anarchy instigated by Jamaat-Shibir activists across the country. As soon as the verdict against war criminals began, Jamaat-Shibir men went on rampage and attacked the minority communities to wage a civil war, they said in a press statement. Such violence of the anti-liberation forces was similar to the “treason” against the state, they observed. They demanded quick arrest of those who were involved in vandalising the shaheed minars and statues of war heroes, committing arson, attacking police stations, destroying temples and homes of minority communities. The noted citizens, including teachers, social and cultural activists and lawyers, called for banning all activities of Jamaat-Shibir, said the statement. They urged the main opposition BNP to refrain from supporting the causes of Jamaat-e-Islami to show respect to the spirit of Liberation War and express solidarity with the people of Bangladesh. They demanded quick completion of the ongoing war crimes trial and urged all to unitedly build up resistance against the violence and lies of Jamaat-Shibir activists. Prof Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Kamal Lohani, Aly Zaker, Ramendu Majumdar and Dr Abul Barkat, among others, signed the statement.

President Obama React To Chavez’s Death

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died Tuesday afternoon after more than a decade in office and a lengthy fight with cancer. The death of Chavez, who has been virulently anti-American, was greeted with hope for the future from local politicians. President Barack Obama: At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

President Obama Holds First Cabinet Meeting of Second Term

President Obama today welcomed two new members to his Cabinet, as he held the 17th Cabinet meeting of his Presidency, and the first in 2013. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the former White House Chief of Staff and OMB Director, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a former Congressman from Nebraska, joined the President and other Cabinet members in the West Wing to discuss the potential impact of the sequester on all the agencies and missions, and ways to minimize the impacts on American families. But the President made clear that while budget issues are a deep concern, he has confidence in the Cabinet leadership to steer all government agencies in making the best possible decisions to help American families. In his remarks before the meeting, President Obama laid out the other topics that were on his agenda --
growing the economy and helping families thrive:
We’re going to have the opportunity to talk about initiatives like early childhood education that can have an enormous impact on our kids and, ultimately, our growth and productivity. We’ll have a chance to hear from Joe and other members of the Cabinet about progress in reducing gun violence in this country. So 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.

US backs TAPI, not Pak-Iran gasline: Olson

US ambassador in Pakistan Richard Olson has said his country supports Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India Gas Pipeline Project (TAPI), but not Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project. "As far as Pakistan, Iran Gas Pipeline Project is concerned, US does not lend support to it and rather we support TAPI. We are alive to the challenges facing Pakistan in energy sector and we are assisting Pakistan in this respect. Pakistan can exercise alternate energy option to overcome energy crisis and US will extend full support to it", he said this while talking to media men Tuesday during his visit to Tarbela dam along with chairman Wapda. Replying a question, he said "we recognize the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in war on terror and we laud these sacrifices". He went on to say Pakistan played role of a key ally in war against terrorism and rendered lots of sacrifices. The international community would have to take unified steps to counter this menace. US Ambassador Richard Olson joined WAPDA Chairman Syed Raghib Abbas Shah to recognize the completion of the US-funded Tarbela Dam restoration project. The restoration of three generators at Tarbela adds 128 megawatts of power to the national grid. "The United States understands that Pakistan is facing an energy crisis and we are committed to doing our part," he said, adding, the work completed here at Tarbela contributes enough electricity to supply two million customers, and helps provide relief to those suffering from extensive power shortages. WAPDA Chairman Syed Raghib Abbas Shah said he appreciates the support of the United States to the energy sector in Pakistan. To increase production of electricity at Tarbela, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $16.5 million to the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to repair three power generation units and to train Tarbela's staff to operate the upgraded equipment. In addition to Tarbela, the United States is also funding other high impact projects, such as the rehabilitation of the Mangla Dam, and renovation of thermal plants at Jamshoro, Guddu, and Muzaffargarh, which have already added over 650 megawatts since October 2009. The US government is also co-financing the completion of the Gomal Zam and Satpara dams which will add another 35 megawatts and irrigate more than 200,000 acres. Finally, the US is helping to replace thousands of highly inefficient agricultural and municipal water pumps throughout the country to save additional megawatts. These projects are expected to add 900 megawatts to the national power grid by the end of 2013 -- enough energy to power two million households and businesses. The US is opposing Pakistan, Iran gas pipeline project and it has threatened Pakistan in this respect in covert tone. However, President Asif Ali Zardari has announced Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project will be inaugurated on March 11. He had also asked international community that it should have perception about the problems being confronted by Pakistan. Muqaddam Khan adds from Swabi: American ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson said that the US government would initially provide $ 25 million for the fourth extension hydropower project of the Tarbela Dam. The US ambassador visited Tarbela Dam along with the Chairman Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), Syed Raghib Abbas Shah and other distinguished officers on Tuesday. A detailed briefing was given to them about the power generating capacity, especially the rehabilitation process and expected initiation and completion of the fourth extension project. Muhammad Iqbal, Chief Engineer of Tarbela Dam and Ghazi Barotha Hydro Project, General Manager Muhammad Umer and others were also present on the occasion.

Shahbaz Sharif won Bhakkar MPA seat thanks to ASWJ-LeJ’s Malik Ishaq’s support

Feeling clearly upset over Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N’s changing tone and tenor towards Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan – SSP aka Lashkar-e-Jhangvi LeJ), the central leadership of ASWJ has reminded Shahbaz Sharif that he owes his present chief ministership to none other than the Sunni Deobandi religious party which had withdrawn its candidate in his favour from PP-48 Bhakar-II to ensure his election as a member of the Punjab Assembly in June 2008. Visibly offended over the PML-N spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed’s recent statement that he hardly knew about the existence of a party with the name of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, ASWJ’s central secretary general Dr Khadim Hussain Dhillon has advised him to better check with his boss, Shahbaz Sharif, on whose request Maulana Mohammad Ludhianvi had withdrawn his party’s candidate [Maulana Abdul Hameed Khalid] in Mian Sahib’s favour to pave the way for his unopposed election as a member of the Punjab Assembly in the June 2008 by-election. Shahbaz Sharif was elected unopposed from PP-48 (Bhakar-II) on June 2, 2008 after the remaining 17 candidates in the run were made to withdraw from the race. The Bhakar seat had actually been won by an independent candidate, Saeed Akbar Niwani, in the February 18, 2008 elections. He had retained the PP-49 seat and vacated the PP-48 seat after joining the PML-N. Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who could not take part in the February elections after being disqualified by the Lahore High Court, eventually became the provincial chief executive on the same seat on June 8, 2008. Giving details to The News of the 2008 understanding between ASWJ and the PML-N, Khadim Dhillon said: “Our candidate from PP-48 was Maulana Abdul Hameed Khalid, the president of the Bhakar chapter of the ASWJ. Of the 18 candidates in the run, 16 had been made to withdraw by the local administration [which was under the command of Chief Minister Dost Mohammad Khosa]. Those left in the field were Shahbaz Sharif and Maulana Abdul Hameed Khalid who had refused to withdraw from the race. As the by-election loomed, Shahbaz Sharif approached Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi with a request to withdraw his candidate in his favour. For further talks, a six-member PML-N delegation consisting of Sanaullah Khan Masti Khel, Ikramullah Niazi, Khawaja Ahmed Hassan, Zafarullah Dhada, Afzal Khan Dhada and Najeebullah Khan formally called on Maulana Abdul Hameed Khalid at his seminary (Jamia Siddiqia) in the Panj Garan area of the Bhakar district a day before the by-election. They formally requested Maulana Ludhianvi and Maulana Khalid on behalf of Shahbaz Sharif to pave the way for his unopposed election to ensure the beginning of a new chapter of friendship and amity between PML-N and the ASWJ. Our leadership subsequently decided to oblige Mian Sahib by withdrawing its candidate as a goodwill gesture”. Approached by The News, Maulana Abdul Hameed Khan gave further details of the PML-N and the ASWJ détente which led to his withdrawal in favour of Shahbaz Sharif. “I am extremely hurt for having sacrificed my candidature and facilitated the election of someone who has no regard for his benefactors from the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. One feels sorry to say that the PML-N leadership has not only disowned its benefactors but also launched a tirade against them in the news and print media which is quite painful. Let me tell you frankly that it was actually Shaukat Javed, the then Inspector General of the Punjab Police who had first approached Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi and arranged his meeting with Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore shortly before the Bhakar election. During the meeting, Maulana Ludhianvi had called me and handed over his phone to Shahbaz Sharif. It was then that Mian Sahib made me a personal request for withdrawal in his favour.” Maulana Abdul Hameed Khan continued: “A six-member delegation of PML-N came to see me at Jamia Siddiqia Panj Garan in Bhakar a day before the election where Maulana Ludhianvi and other leaders had finally agreed to support Shahbaz Sharif. Immediately afterwards, the PML-N delegation and the leadership of the ASWJ went to the court of the district and sessions judge (Bhakar) where I formally withdrew my candidature. Sanaullah Khan Masti Khel then called Shahbaz Sharif and congratulated him for his unopposed election. He also made Mian Sahib say thanks to me on telephone. I had met Shahbaz Sharif only once since he became the chief minister. The meeting was held in Lahore where he thanked me for my sacrifice and told me that the leadership of the two parties should constantly stay in touch”. Earlier, PML-N spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed had strongly refuted reports of a possible seat adjustment deal with the ASWJ in the coming general elections, saying his party had neither sought nor seeks the support of any extremist group or party in the polls. Although Pervaiz sticks to his ‘official stance’, Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi had reminded him that besides paving the way for Shahbaz Sharif’s unopposed election from Bhakar, the PML-N and ASWJ had jointly contested the March 2010 by-election on another Punjab Assembly seat PP-82 (Jhang) that was won by PML-N’s Azam Chela. Maulana Ludhianvi added while referring to the PML-N leadership: “They are weak people who can’t stand up to pressures. They lack the ability to stay firm in difficult times. They deem it convenient to change their stance under changing circumstances”. According to Dr Khadim Dhillon, instead of disowning his benefactors in the ASWJ and launching a tirade against the party, Shahbaz Sharif should have been grateful to people like Maulana Ludhianvi and Maulana Hameed for whatever they did for him. “Shahbaz Sharif had given us a commitment at the time of the Bhakar by-election that he would not repeat past mistakes. But it seems that he has not only forgotten his previous mistakes but is bent upon committing more. But let me make it clear to all and the sundry that we are here to exist as a reality. We have thousands of voters in almost every constituency of South and Central Punjab and the PML-N leadership is destined to knock at our doors once again when the elections come”.

Nawaz Sharif’s Shariat bill

The Express Tribune
By M Ziauddin
No Muslim, whether in name only or a practising one, would want to be publicly counted among those who do not wish to see Pakistan’s Constitution brought in full conformity with Shariah. Still, all the well-known religo-political parties (the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and all its factions, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and all its factions) committed to rehashing our Constitution in accordance with Shariah could never win enough electoral seats in the elections they had contested in the past to achieve their objective. Even Nawaz Sharif, who won more than enough seats in his second term, could not succeed in getting his 15th constitutional amendment bill through, popularly known as the “Shariat bill”. The amendment was introduced on August 28, 1998 and the bill was passed on October 9, 1998 by a two-third majority. This bill empowered the prime minister to enforce what he thought was right and to prohibit what he considered was wrong in Islam and Shariah, irrespective of what the Constitution or any judgment of the court said. The amendment also added a new article (2B) in the Constitution, which said that the federal government shall be under an obligation to take steps to enforce the Shariah, to establish Salat, to administer Zakat, to promote Amer bil ma’roof and Nahi anil munkar (to prescribe what is right and to forbid what is wrong), to eradicate corruption at all levels and to provide substantial socio-economic justice in accordance with the principles of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah. This bill was opposed by about 16 MNAs, including the JUI and five independents. The ruling party’s main coalition partner, the MQM, abstained from voting. The Senate, where the PML-N was in minority, resolved not to table the bill. Sharif was so angry at this “defiance” of the upper house that he publicly demanded that the senators be forced to pass the bill. Earlier, the Senate, where the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (an alliance opposed to the PPP) was in majority, had passed another Shariah bill called “The Enforcement of Shariat” as a private members bill on May 13, 1990, during the first government of Benazir Bhutto. The bill was moved by Qazi Abdul Latif and Maulana Samiul Haq in the Senate. After its adoption by a two-third majority in the Senate, it was sent to the National Assembly (NA) for adoption. But by the time it could be taken up, the president had dissolved the NA and the bill lapsed. Next, Sharif in his first term introduced the “Enforcement of Shariat Bill” in the two houses, which was adopted by simple majority. The Act sought interpretation of all laws in the light of Shariah and also sought setting up of commissions for Islamisation of educational and economic systems and the media, in addition to elimination of corruption, bribery, obscenity and ensuring an order based on Amr Bil Ma’roof and Nahi Anil Munkar. To cut a long story short, Sharif, who is perceived by his supporters to hold complete political sway over Pakistan’s biggest province and who in the past had almost succeeded in introducing Shariah, would perhaps appear to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other jihadi outfits all yearning for a Shariah-compliant Constitution, as the ideal conduit to play the role of interlocutor — along with the JI and the JUI-F chiefs — in any peace talks with the army. And perhaps, more reassuring for these militant groups is the ambivalent position taken by the provincial government vis-à-vis the Punjab-based jihadi non-state actors during the last five years. Here, it would not be out of place to quote from a recently published book, Punjabi Taliban, by Mujahid Hussain. The author claims that according to information gathered from intelligence sources, there are some 150,000 insurgents belonging to jihadi and fundamentalist organisations active in Punjab and that it is Punjab that provides the majority of the terrorists and suicide bombers to various organisations active in Pakistan’s tribal region, thus negating the existing hypothesis that insurgency in tribal areas is driven by indigenous groups. The book has one chapter each on eight divisions of Punjab and gives a detailed account of the structure of radical, as well as terrorist organisations, infighting among different factions and related activities.

Pakistan ignores US pressure, ready to face sanctions

While setting aside mounting American pressure to abandon its $7.5bn gas pipeline project with Iran, Pakistan has made it clear to the United States that it would complete the venture come what may, even at the cost of US sanctions because the project was really important for Pakistan to meet its energy requirements. The Obama administration has repeatedly warned Islamabad in recent weeks that the project is tantamount to violating American restrictions on major financial deals with Iran that were imposed as part of American efforts to make Tehran abandon its nuclear programme. According to well-informed Foreign Office circles in the federal capital, Pakistan has at last responded to the repeated warnings from the Obama administration about imposition of harsh sanctions if it goes ahead with the project. Pakistan has made it clear to Washington through the highest diplomatic channels that it was least bothered about the US sanctions and would complete the project at all costs mainly because it was in its larger national interest. “We are ready to face economic sanctions for the sake of the people of Pakistan, even though we still believe that the IP project is beyond the scope of relevant UN resolutions which we are obliged to comply with like all other member states,” said a senior Foreign Office official, pleading anonymity. Currently, Iran is under at least three layers of sanctions that include four rounds of United Nations sanctions, the European Union sanctions and bilateral sanctions by the US, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Japan. The US State Department warned last week that the pipeline could attract sanctions. “It’s in Pakistan’s best interests to avoid any sanction able activity, and we think that we provide and are providing a better way to meet their energy needs,” said the State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell. But dismissing the American opposition, President Asif Zardari made it clear on March 2 during an interaction with the mediapersons in Lahore that no power in the world could halt the project. Asked about the US opposition to the project, the president said Pakistan was a sovereign and independent state and that it would go ahead with the project which was originally conceived by Benazir Bhutto in 1993. While Pakistani officials have defended the gas project with Iran on several occasions, it was the first time that President Zardari announced his explicit support to the project. During his meeting with President Zardari in Tehran last week, the Iranian President Ahmadinejad too brushed off the American pressure on the pipeline project, saying the United States cannot affect the project and the gas will reach Pakistan as per the plan. “Pakistan and Iran have held a series of talks on the project for nearly two decades but it was finalised only last week during Asif Zardari’s visit to Tehran. If everything goes well, the pipeline will be completed within 15 months. Significantly, Iran has already completed the pipeline in its territory while the laying of 785-km Pakistani section will start shortly. Pakistan plans to import 21.5mn cubic metres of gas daily from Iran through the pipeline. Advising Pakistan in January 2010 to stay away from the pipeline venture, the Obama administration had offered assistance to Islamabad for a liquefied natural gas terminal besides aiding the import of electricity from Tajikistan through Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. But the PPP government turned down the US offer and decided to go ahead with the IP, which is also known as “the peace pipeline”. According to Foreign Office circles in Islamabad, while leaving behind the mounting US pressure, Pakistan appears to have calculated that its short-term energy needs are too great and the threat of American sanctions not strong enough for it to give up the deal. Thus, Pakistan has told the officials concerned in the Obama administration in plain words that Islamabad would not abandon the project come what may as it was vital to help the country overcome its rising energy crisis which has literally shut the industry down. The Americans were further told that Pakistan could produce just 80% of its own electricity needs and the gas project with Iran would bring the much-needed relief to the energy-starved country. Iran, which has the world’s second-largest gas reserves, is fast developing its production but it can only export a small portion of it due to lack of pipelines and international sanctions. Even otherwise, the sources say, the Americans have been reminded that Pakistan is not the only country trading energy with Iran, as China and India also import substantial amounts of oil from Tehran. Iran is India’s second major oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. Resisting the American pressure to further scale down oil imports from the sanction-hit Iran, India has already made it clear that it has to look at the issue involved beyond the energy trade, as it has crucial security stakes in the Gulf region keeping in view the 6mn Indians who live there. Similarly, Beijing has also refused to bow to the American pressure as far its relations with Iran are concerned which is China’s third-largest supplier of crude after Saudi Arabia and Angola. While citing the examples of India and China, Pakistan has maintained if these two can trade energy with Iran, why should it sit on the sidelines? The Pak-Iran pipeline project has run into problems time and again, mainly because of Pakistan’s inability to arrange funds and Washington’s huge opposition to the project. It was actually in 2010 that Iran and Pakistan agreed that Tehran would supply between 750mn cubic feet (21mn cubic meters) and 1bn cubic feet per day of gas by mid-2015. Iran has already completed a 900-km portion of 56-inch diameter pipeline in its territory and the remaining 200 km up to the Pakistani border is expected to be completed in next two years. But Pakistan could not start construction of 780km of the pipeline on its side, which is to cost $1.5bn. As the sanctions-hit Iran has already agreed to finance one-third of the costs of laying the pipeline through Pakistani territory, the pipeline project is scheduled to be officially launched on March 11. The pipeline construction work will be carried out by an Iranian company Tadbir Energy Costar Iranian Company - which has not been sanctioned by any foreign government. The first gas flow will be available to Pakistan by the end of December 2014.

The State's Role in Pakistan's Ethnic Violence

BY: Aziz Nayani
Violence against minority groups has become a staple of life in Pakistan these days - a crisis that country's government has been complicit in impelling. The most recent attacks against Shias, the minority Muslim group in the country of 180 million, occurred Sunday evening in Karachi, when two explosions went off outside a prominent Shia Mosque, killing at least 45 people and injuring around 150. Sunday's attacks follow similarly lethal strikes in January and February, which killed close to 200. While the Shia community may be the latest group to be targeted for their religious beliefs, their persecution follows a similar pattern in Pakistan, as terrorist groups, unhindered by the state, have antagonized Hindus, Christians, and other minorities for years. A hostile environment for minorities did not come about in a vacuum, but has instead been harnessed through deliberate politics and inaction on behalf of Pakistan's government. A signature moment in pushing the country into this downward spiral of ethnic and religious violence occurred following the 1977 military coup that instilled General Zia ul-Haq as Pakistan's military dictator. Following General Zia's overthrow of the democratically elected government, he sought the Islamization of Pakistan, establishing a governing structure that was rooted in strict Islamic dogma. While Pakistan had always formally been an Islamic Republic, it was founded on the vision of creating a pluralistic country that was open and welcoming to other cultures and religions, and largely had been up to this point in its history. Zia's policies were a reversal of this vision. The Ahmadi community in particular was singled out by this move towards Islamization. Zia created an ordinance to specify that Ahmadis, who consider themselves followers of Islam, would no longer be classified as Muslims, and were subject to incarceration if they claimed to be. As of 1984, when the amendment was passed, the state sanctioned judgment of what Islam looks like, who can consider themselves followers of Islam, and what is dogmatically acceptable. Such narrow, antagonistic judgment is at the heart of the terrorist attacks that have devastated the Shia community in Pakistan today. Militant groups, such as the Lakshar-e-Jhangvi, have unilaterally decided who is worthy to be considered a true believer, and who deserves to be persecuted and attacked, just as the Pakistani state did 30 years ago. And while the consequences of not following a specific sect of Islam are much more fatal when dealing with militant groups, the concept remains the same. Perhaps equally alarming is that the Pakistani government has been disturbingly absent in protecting persecuted minority groups, whether it is the Ahmadis decades ago, or Shias, Christians, and Hindus today - the state seems completely unable or unwilling to safeguard its citizens. The lack of consideration from the government has drawn widespread protests throughout Pakistan, as thousands of individuals have taken to the streets to demand justice and protection, and in some instances, families of terrorist victims have refused to bury their dead until the government acts out against these terrorist groups. The Hazaras in particular, a group of Shia Muslims who are recognizable by their distinct facial features, have grown especially frustrated from a lack of government support. Last week, the Hazara community, who has been especially victimized by anti-Shia violence, vowed to take up arms on their own to protect themselves, since the government has been unwilling. Pakistan been politically unstable for the majority of its history, but these past few years have been especially trying. Political uncertainty compounded with economic turmoil, a war with insurgents, a butchered relationship with the United States, as well as the ever-pervasive threat of conflict with India has left the country tattered. But the nation's political leaders cannot afford to continue to marginalize segments of their own population. The Pakistani state was instrumental in creating an environment that promoted religious and ethnic discrimination, and it is now guilty of inaction - allowing for persecution and violence to exist without putting up any resistance. This is immoral and unacceptable of any elected government, and the world should take notice. For their part, Pakistani citizens should continue to demand justice and protection from their government, continue their protests, and continue to take to the streets. If this current government cannot fulfill its obligation of security to all Pakistanis, then Pakistanis should demand a new, more capable government in elections later this year.

Four arrested for Abbas Town bombing

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the National Assembly on Tuesday law enforcers had arrested four members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) for their involvement in the Karachi’s Abbas Town bombing. Malik told the NA that the bombing was a replication of the sectarian attacks in Quetta. He claimed that a conspiracy was being hatched to delay general polls. The interior minister said he had visited Karachi on Monday and had held meetings with law-enforcement agencies to stop the recurrence of such incidents. Malik said he would give a detailed statement in the NA on Wednesday (today) on the law and order situation in the country, particularly in Karachi. The minister again urged the Punjab government to take action against LJ in Punjab. Speaking to reporters, Malik said the LJ was conducting its activities through supervision from Punjab. He urged the Supreme Court to inquire from the Punjab chief minister for not taking action against the banned outfit. He said that if the terrorists could be controlled in Punjab, then terrorism could also be curbed in Karachi. He reiterated that a list of suspects belonging to the banned organisation had already been sent to the Punjab government.

Students raise funds for Abbas Town families

Aftermath of the Karachi blasts

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
The country had not quite digested the Quetta sectarian carnage incidents in January and February when we had once again to be subjected to indiscriminate terrorism against innocent citizens in Karachi on Sunday. Although the targeted area, Abbas Town, is predominantly Shia, it also has Sunnis. The result is that even if the terrorists intended only to target Shias, they ended up killing and maiming many from both denominations. The spirit of solidarity displayed by citizens in helping each other after the blasts, while the security and rescue services were nowhere in sight, gladdens the hearts of all who see the sectarian terrorists as the worst of a bad lot. Tragically, as though the loss of life, limb and property were not enough on Sunday, the following day the funeral processions of some of the dead were fired upon and more people killed, as a result of which complete mayhem and chaos broke out, with again the law enforcement agencies conspicuous by their absence. While some diehard critics were wont to blame the deployment of the security forces at the engagement ceremony of a PPP leader on Sunday, it appears more likely that the security agencies took a deliberate decision to stay out of the line of fire until things settled down. Whether this can be described as strategy, dereliction of duty, or just plain cowardice is open to conjecture. Several areas of Karachi soon came under the grip of spreading violence, with no clear idea who was attacking who and why. If this not a state of anarchy, what is? While all friendly countries have condemned the latest incident of sectarian terrorism, the Supreme Court has once again felt constrained to take suo motu notice of the incident and will be hearing the matter at its Karachi Registry today. Ominously, just as in the case of the former Balochistan government, there is more than a hint in the Supreme Court’s formulation that it may examine whether the Sindh government has lost its constitutional validity for being unable to protect the lives and properties of citizens. A heated debate in the Senate has blamed both the government and the intelligence agencies for a manifest failure. Irrepressible Interior Minister Rehman Malik has once again tried to twist the knife in the PML-N’s back by calling the perpetrators ‘Punjabi Taliban’, implying the Punjab government’s ‘soft’ attitude to groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which claimed the Quetta bombings, is to blame. He also wondered aloud whether these activities so close to the elections were meant to sabotage the polls. In the same breath, he also made the laughable claim that the backbone of the terrorists has been broken, citing the arrest of 30 LeJ activists as proof! With due respect Mr Minister, the terrorists are neither Punjabi nor any other nationality, as we have learnt over the last four decades. They are simply terrorists. Admittedly the Punjab government’s equivocation on the LeJ and similar groups has led to a lot of unease, but no one can be absolved of the blame for the situation having reached this pass. The ‘benign neglect’ of sectarian terrorist groups by all governments, federal and provincial, while ostensibly focusing on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-type activist, is now coming home to roost with a vengeance. Karachi is once again emerging as a sectarian flashpoint after Quetta. Last year, sectarian, terror, bhatta (extortion) and other criminal targeting killed 2,200 people in Karachi. Of these, 400 were Shia. In the first two months of the current year, 450 have already died. This seems to suggest an incremental escalation of terror, sectarian and other. We now have the unenviable situation of an incumbent elected government in its last days (i.e. virtually a lame duck), while the caretaker government to replace it is still not decided, making it difficult to hazard a guess what, if anything, it might intend to do about the spreading terror threat, which can not only cause the elections to be sabotaged, even if they are held to deny the terrorists that satisfaction, they could easily turn out to be very bloody. It is time for all the stakeholders to put their heads together on an emergency basis to put in place a centralized, coordinated anti-terror mechanism before the rivers of blood that have started to flow sweep everything good and positive along with them.

Hugo Chávez: President of Venezuela Loses Battle With Cancer

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has passed away at the age of 58 following a two-years-long fight against cancer and a severe respiratory infection. His untimely demise raises serious questions about the future of the oil-rich regional power. The president of Venezuela died on Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Nicolas Maduro has announced. "It's a moment of deep pain," he said, accompanied by senior ministers. The country’s military chiefs have appeared live on state television to pledge their loyalty to Vice President Nicolas Maduro, whom Chavez had named as his preferred successor. This comes weeks after his return from Cuba where he underwent a cancer operation. His 'delicate condition' had recently worsened due to complications of a respiratory infection, and official reports said he was breathing through a tracheal tube, unable to speak. One of the world’s best-known socialist leaders and a staunch critic of the United States, Chavez had been battling the disease for nearly two years, undergoing four surgeries and several sessions of chemotherapy in Havana. Despite his ailing health, Chavez was reelected in November to a fourth term. However, he was not able to attend his January 10 inauguration ceremony, which cast doubt on the succession of power in the country. Prior to his death, the Venezuelan opposition called for a new election should Chavez be unfit to take over the office. The Venezuelan president was known as a vocal critic of 'US imperialism.' Chavez began his adult life as an army officer in Venezuela's paratrooper unit; he staged a coup in 1992 along with other disgruntled members of the military in an attempt to overthrow the ruling government of Carlos Andres Perez. The coup failed, and Chavez spent two years in prison until he was pardoned; this marked the beginning of his momentous career in politics. He then founded the revolutionary political party 'Movement of the Fifth Republic' and ran for president in 1998, promising economic reforms and campaigning against government corruption. He won the presidency in 1999 by riding a wave of popular outrage at Venezuela's traditional political elite. Chavez has remained in power continually since then, except for a brief period in April 2002 when he was removed by military leaders over his controversial plan to tighten his personal grip on the state-run oil industry. He returned to power, but a stalemate ensued, which led to referendum in 2004 on whether Chavez should remain president. A majority of voters chose for Chavez to complete his term.
Revolutionary or autocrat?
Mr. Chavez promised Venezuelans 'revolutionary' social policies targeting the 'predatory oligarchs' of the establishment. Since he came to power, most major Venezuelan companies have been nationalized. Since 1998, more than 100,000 state-owned cooperatives – which claim to represent some 1.5 million people – have been formed. His supporters say he speaks for the poor, while his critics argue that he has become increasingly autocratic. In 2010, Amnesty International criticized the Chavez administration for targeting critics following several politically motivated arrests.
A strong regional player
Chavez may have been a source of controversy in foreign policy more than any other area, refocusing Venezuelan policy on economic and social integration in Latin American. He introduced what became known as 'oil diplomacy' on the continent, saying that his country has “a strong oil card to play on the international stage. … It is a card we are going to play with toughness against the toughest country in the world, the United States.” Chavez brokered deals to exchange Venezuelan oil for Brazilian arms, for Cuban expertise and for Argentinian meat and dairy products. He also partnered with Latin American leaders on energy integration, and has vigorously pursued efforts to expand trade integration across the continent. He was a vocal supporter of Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in her long-running dispute with Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
Hostility to the US
Throughout his presidency, Chavez was particularly hostile towards the United States, which he blamed for the failed 2002 coup against him. In December 2011, Chavez also speculated that the United States could be infecting the regions leaders with cancer. He objected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said that he considered George W. Bush to be an 'evil imperialist.' He threatened to stop selling oil to the US in the event of another attempted coup, but also donated heating oil to help the victims of hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which destroyed fuel processing facilities in the US.
Chavez developed strong ties with the government of Iran and introduced industrial, economic and energy cooperation with the Islamic state. Chavez and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly declared their alliance in what the Venezuelan president called an attempt to “liberate themselves from the imperialist yoke,” declaring they were an “axis of unity” against “US imperialism.” Chavez also expressed a favorable view of Iran’s controversial nuclear power program and denied that Iran aims to develop atomic weapons, much to considerable alarm in Washington.
Under Chavez, Venezuela also strengthened relations with Russia. Since 2005, Venezuela has purchased $4 billion worth of arms from Russia, including 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, and the two countries have held joint naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea. In 2010, Chavez announced that Russia would build Venezuela’s first nuclear power station, and that the nation had agreed to a further $1.6 billion in oil contracts with Moscow. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro has argued that “the unipolar world is collapsing and finishing in all aspects, and the alliance with Russia is part of that effort to build a multipolar world.”
While Chavez is regarded as a hero of socialism by many at home and abroad, he leaves behind a country in crisis. His government is widely blamed for mismanaging Venezuela's economy; with inflation running at 18 percent, another credit devaluation is likely. The country's homicide rate is likewise staggering – in 2010, Caracas had the world’s highest murder rate. Corruption is notoriously rampant in virtually every public institution, and consumer goods are scarce. During the November elections, Chavez defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 11 percentage points. Critics accused his government of controlling the media and election apparatus, and of employing bullying tactics to discourage competition. There is now a chance that Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor, could face a steep challenge should he run in the country's forthcoming presidential election.

Hugo Chavez dies

Hugo Chavez, the polarizing president of Venezuela who cast himself as a "21st century socialist" and foe of the United States, died Tuesday, said Vice President Nicolas Maduro.