Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When Will Justice Be Served in Bahrain?

The second anniversary of Bahrain’s uprising on February 14 was marked by street protests, tear gas, shotguns and Molotov cocktails. Two protesters and a policeman were killed and dozens of people arrested. The scenes were not unfamiliar in Bahrain, which has gone through two years of upheaval since demonstrators first took to the streets in early 2011 to call for major political reforms.Since the uprising began, more than eighty people have been killed and hundreds more wounded. Scores of people have been arrested and sentenced before military courts—many of them human rights advocates, political opposition figures and physicians who treated wounded protesters. Reports of systematic prisoner abuse and torture are widespread. The Obama administration has been relatively low-key in condemning human rights violations by the Bahraini government over the past two years and has largely looked the other way as the monarchy has sought to quash the uprising. Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf, through which much of the world’s oil passes. In January, ProPublica revealed new details of the weaponry sold to the Bahraini government by the US over the past two years, including ammunition, Black Hawk helicopters and a missile system. “The US says they support democracy but under the table they do something else entirely. This is America’s politics, they look to their interests and that’s it,” says Taimoor Karimi, a 55 year-old lawyer who was arrested in March 2011 and spent nearly six months in jail—where he says he was tortured—on charges of “spreading false news” and “participating in [an] illegal gathering.” “Our hope is in the American people. They can pressure their government to pull their hand away from under dictatorship,” he says. Karimi is among thirty-one Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked by the Interior Ministry in November for “damaging the security of the state,” in a move widely condemned by international human rights groups. Like most of those named, Karimi has no other citizenship. He is Bahraini but is, in effect, stateless. “I don’t know what it means or why they did this, all I know is that it is illegal,” Karimi says calmly. “They jailed me, tortured me and then took my citizenship. Now I can’t work, I can’t travel, I just sit hand over hand. This is a revolution of rights, of demands for representation.” Bahrain’s uprising is commonly portrayed as a sectarian struggle, pitting a disenfranchised Shiite majority against a ruling Sunni monarchy. Sectarian discord undoubtedly exists in the country, where many Shia—who comprise roughy 70 percent of the population—claim to be victims of systematic political and economic discrimination on religious grounds. This is perhaps most glaringly evident in the limited number of Shia who serve in key government agencies such as the army, police and security forces. The easy narrative of a stark Sunni-Shia divide in Bahrain is often echoed in international media coverage, and the unrest is often snubbed in the Arab world as a sectarian conflict. Yet the reality on the ground is more nuanced than that of a neatly cleaved dichotomous society. As noted in an independent inquiry commissioned by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in 2011: “Bahraini society is not divided into two monolithic sects. Within the Shia and Sunni communities, there exists a diversity of religious views and political opinions. Broad generalizations about the positions or allegiances of either sect misrepresent the social reality of Bahrain.” Many protesters and opposition figures blame the government for using sectarian language and trying to stoke sectarianism in a bid to discredit what they see as a rights-based pro-democracy movement. Most notably, the regime destroyed dozens of Shia mosques and other religious structures in the months after the 2011 uprising began, a move that further inflamed inter-sectarian tensions. The Bahraini government and state media often portray the opposition as being funded and backed by Iran, pointing to “terrorist acts,” and in February directly accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of setting up a militant cell to assassinate public figures and attack government buildings. “The regime tries to say we are driven by Iran but we don’t want the dictatorship Iran has,” says Nader al-Salatna, the vice president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. “We want our rights, we want democracy. They are trying to turn this into a sectarian problem.” The 2011 uprising in Bahrain comes in the wake of a long history of struggle and protest in the island nation, dating back to the late nineteenth century and a popular revolt against the British-backed ruling Khalifa family, to demonstrations against the suspension of the constitution by the emir in the 1970s and a sustained uprising in the 1990s to demand democratic reforms that took a violent turn and was met with a brutal crackdown by the regime. “We have been in revolt for more than a century,” says Salatna. The 1990s uprising culminated with Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ascending to power and implementing a spate of historic reforms. The reforms—such as releasing political prisoners and allowing exiled dissidents to return to the country and establish political parties—were included in a National Action Charter (NAC) that tackled issues like socioeconomic policies, citizenship rights and a system of governance based on a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary. The NAC was approved in a February 2001 national referendum with 98 percent of the vote.Yet in 2002 the king unilaterally imposed a new constitution, which set up a bicameral parliament with an elected lower house and an upper house appointed by the king. All draft legislation must be approved by the upper house, giving the appointed chamber an effective veto over the legislative process. Meanwhile, the king has the power to appoint all ministers and the prime minister, a position that has been held by the king’s uncle since 1971. In 2011, inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, organizers called for protests on February 14 to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the NAC referendum. “This uprising marks the death of the national charter a decade later,” says Salatna. For the past two years, an underground group known as the February 14 Coalition has organized frequent demonstrations, many of which involve heading toward Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, the symbolic heart of the 2011 uprising and a major landmark in the city that was razed by the regime after a Saudi-led Gulf intervention force helped crush a peaceful sit-in at the square. Activists say protesters remained overwhelmingly nonviolent in the face of a government brutal crackdown until last year, when they took to using Molotov cocktails against police. Meanwhile, the more established political opposition organizes marches and peaceful demonstrations on a mass scale. The day after the second anniversary of the uprising, the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society—the largest political opposition group—organized a march on a main thoroughfare west of the capital. The turnout was massive, with tens of thousands marching and chanting against the regime, an impressive display of dissent in a country of just 600,000. “Al Wefaq is the biggest mover of peaceful demonstrations but it is not the only one,” says Majid Malid, a member of Al Wefaq’s General Secretariat and chair of the Manama Municipal Council. Yet the February 14 Coalition, and the many youth who associate with it, are calling for an outright toppling of the regime, dismissing opposition groups like Al Wefaq as being politically opportunistic. On the morning of the planned march, a group of teenagers in the village of Sanabis all shrugged and said they would rather head to the Pearl Roundabout than take part in the organized demonstration. “Al Wefaq doesn’t represent us, they are just trying to ride the wave of the revolution to get some power,” says Yousif, an 18-year-old protester. Al Wefaq has joined with five other opposition groups to take part in a National Dialogue called for by the king involving government and pro-government representatives, the first attempt at talks in eighteen months. “There is no ceiling for the dialogue. Whatever the participants can achieve it will be passed for implementation. Everything is on the table,” says Isa Abdulrahman, the official spokesperson for the talks, which had their first session on February 10. “I see the dialogue as the only solution moving forward.” Yet there is widespread mistrust of the government two years into the uprising amid a continued crackdown on dissent. A group of opposition leaders arrested in 2011 known as the “Bahrain 13” remain behind bars, as do human rights defenders, most notably Nabeel Rajab, the outspoken president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, all of whom Amnesty International has adopted as “prisoners of conscience” in a recent report. “I don’t think the National Dialogue is useful. If the government was serious about sitting down to negotiate they would free the political prisoners, they would stop raiding houses and they would stop killing people,” says Jihan Kazerooni, a former government supporter who turned to human rights work after witnessing firsthand the regime’s crackdown on protesters in the Pearl Roundabout and the public hospital in the first weeks of the uprising. “The choice of Al Wefaq to participate in the talks is strategic. We don’t see a way to solve the crisis in Bahrain except through dialogue,” Malid says in response to criticism from some quarters for taking part in the talks. The group says it does not aim to topple the monarchy and is instead calling for a proper constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister to replace the King’s uncle, who has been in office since 1971. “If we get a real constitutional monarchy I think a large portion of the opposition would accept that. If the talks fail, the regime bears the responsibility because it means it doesn’t want to fulfill the demands of the people.” Despite the ongoing talks, the protests in Bahrain seem to have only intensified this month. “If we can continue this for two years, we can continue for ten,” says Husain al-Bahrani, a protester and freelance photographer who has been jailed twice since the uprising began. “It’s only a matter of time.”

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: ''Bangabandhu’s finest hour''

It was his finest hour. It was the afternoon of 7 March 1971. It was but the beginning of what would turn out to be a twilight struggle for national self-expression, for eventual liberation from colonial rule. It was the weight of the world Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, undisputed leader of the Bangalee nation, chief of the Awami League and majority leader in the newly elected Pakistan national assembly, carried on his shoulders as he stepped up to the dais at the Race Course (today’s Suhrawardy Udyan), ready to sketch his guidelines for his people to follow in the developing confrontation with the civil-military-political combine of West Pakistan. There were many who expected Bangabandhu to go for a unilateral declaration of independence for Bangladesh. There were others who waited to see what his political wisdom, garnered over years of experience, would bring forth for the seventy five million people of what was yet a province of the state of Pakistan. In the event, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman demonstrated his mettle in no uncertain terms. He would not go for UDI, for that would leave him open to charges of political adventurism. And he would not, under any circumstances, give Pakistan’s ruling classes any reason to think that he was about to come round to their expectations of a compromise he would agree to. Most significantly, he would let his people know that sovereignty was the goal, but it would be sovereignty arrived at on strong constitutional foundations. If constitutionalism did not work, the nation would find other, necessarily radical means to wage its war for freedom. The oratory was superb. His opening words were a sign of the burden of responsibility he carried: “My brothers, I come before you today with a heavy heart. All of you know hard we have tried. But it is a matter of sadness that the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rangpur and Rajshahi are today being spattered with the blood of my brothers . . . … With great sadness in my heart, I look back on the past twenty three years of our history and see nothing but a history of the shedding of the blood of the Bangalee people. Ours has been a history of continual sadness, repeated bloodshed and innocent tears.” It was a tale of exploitation Bangabandhu related to that million-strong crowd on the day. And yet there was the conciliatory in his approach to the state of Pakistan: “I even went to the extent of saying that we, despite our majority, would still listen to any sound ideas from the minority, even if it were a lone voice. I committed myself to supporting any measure that would lead to the restoration of a constitutional government.” Mujib listed the meetings he had thus far had with politicians from West Pakistan and then moved to matter of the sudden postponement of the national assembly session on 1 March and Yahya Khan’s invitation to him to join a round table conference in Rawalpindi on March 10: “Now Yahya Khan says that I had agreed to a round table conference on the 10th. I had said, ‘Mr. Yahya Khan, you are the president of this country. Come to Dhaka, come and see how our poor Bangalee people have been mown down by your bullets, how the laps of our mothers and sisters have been robbed and left empty and bereft of children, how my helpless people have been slaughtered’. Earlier, I had told him there could be no round table conference. What round table conference? Whose round table conference? Mujibur Rahman cannot step on the blood of the martyrs and join a round table conference.” The oratory reaches a crescendo. He tells the junta in no ambiguous terms: “You have called the national assembly into session, but you must first agree to meet my demands. Martial law must be withdrawn; all soldiers must go back to the barracks; an inquiry into the killings must be initiated; and, power must be transferred to the elected representatives of the people. Only then can we consider if we can or cannot join the round table conference.” Bangabandhu then proceeded to outline a series of steps as part of his non-violent non-cooperation movement, warning the Bangalees that they needed to be on alert against the enemy: “I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress against their onslaught. Use whatever means you have to confront the enemy . . . Even if I am not around to give you directives, I ask you to continue your movement in a ceaseless manner.” And then came the decisive moment, the words that defined the road to the future: “Since we have given blood, we will give more of it. Insha’Allah, we will free the people of this land. The struggle this time is for emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence. Joy Bangla!”

Bangladesh: Jamaat makes AL men ‘Muslim’

The Daily Star
They were born and raised as Muslims. Yet, according to Jamaat leaders, they are not Muslim enough because they are not involved with Jamaat politics. Instead, they are with Awami League politics. So to make them sufficiently Muslim, the Jamaat men in Panchbibi upazila of Joypurhat caught 16 AL activists, forced them into a mosque and then administered “tauba” (oath of penance). “We’ve become non-Muslim for supporting Awami League. We’re now promising to be Jamaat to become Muslim again. Those who support Awami League are Jewish and if we breach this oath, we will become non-Muslim again. Ameen,” the 16 men, aged between 22 and 45, said after the imam. The “tauba” took place at Bharahuta Jame Mosque around 11:30am on Monday in front of some 300 villagers, witnesses said, adding that the victims were all from Bharahuta village. Moiz Uddin, an imam of another mosque of the same area, administered the rare oath when local Jamaat leader Zafir Uddin and a BNP activist Abdul Khaleque were present. Zafir Uddin is locally known as Razakar. Many AL supporters left the area following the incident. Locals said Abdur Rahim, known to be an influential BNP figure, two Jamaat leaders Abdul Malek Master and Siddique and Ashraf Ali, an office assistant at Ali Mostafabia Fazil madrasa of the area, oversaw the oath. Despite repeated attempts none of these men could be reached over the phone except for Ashraf. He dismissed his connection with the incident and went on to deny that the forcible “tauba” ever took place. But district superintendent of police Hamidul Alam confirmed the incident to The Daily Star yesterday.

PPP doesn't believe in political victimization as PML-N

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira has urged the politicians to follow the ideological politics and avoid to change their loyalties for political gains. In an interview‚ he said interim setup would have limited power and would not influence the coming general elections at any cost. He said PPP did not believe in political victimization as PML (N) had used law enforcement agencies in Punjab to victimize their opponents. Kaira said the PPP initiated the reconciliatory politics‚ which benefited PML (N) leadership‚ which came back from exile and was able to participate in country's politics.

Raisanis and Balochistan

In an unexpected turn of events, one of the most prominent members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Balochistan, Nawabzada Lashkari Raisani, has announced his decision to part ways with the party and join the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The meeting with the head of the PML-N, Mian Nawaz Sharif, which has been hailed as another ‘triumph’ for this party in the wake of growing resentment towards the incumbent PPP, underlines a number of factors that are the hallmark of mainstream politics in Pakistan. Raisani is the younger brother of the former chief minister of Balochistan, Nawabzada Aslam Raisani, who after his dismissal following the bomb blasts in Quetta and the imposition of Governor’s rule in the province, remains abroad (his extended private visit since January). Laskhari Raisani served as the provincial president of the PPP since 2003, and the reason for his decision to resign from the post and departure from the party is his ‘disillusionment’ with the PPP-led government in the province. According to him, the vision of the late Benazir Bhutto seems to have been lost by the PPP. Realistically speaking, the five-year record of governance of the PPP-led government in Balochistan reads like a dismal report card of an errant student, underlined in red. The failure of government to start any development work even after being awarded the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package and the NFC award is a stark reminder of how the distribution of funds in an impoverished province serves as a lucrative business for the few in charge of public funds. The political structure, which at best sees a change of parties and faces, is a cabal of sardars, who in order to keep their draconian hold on the suffering masses, enrich their coffers while plunging the province into more misery. There is an unchecked monopoly of policy in Balochistan by the military and its main tool, the Frontier Corps, which is responsible for the growing lawlessness in the wake of ongoing repression and persecution of the Baloch nationalists, whose missing persons continue to increase despite even the Supreme Court’s efforts as there is no accountability of the military-dictated system. The two bomb blasts in Quetta targeting the Shia Hazaras and culminating in more than 200 deaths has left a huge question mark on the governance of the PPP. The cyclical blame game continues, and Balochistan continues to suffer in the tug-of-power between the army and the civilian authorities. The latest development of one Raisani leaving the PPP to join the PML-N — as it seems to be gaining a foothold in areas where hitherto it had limited electoral power — while the other brother, the man held responsible for the mismanagement of Balochistan remains abroad, is odd, to say the least. How the ‘lost’ manifesto of the PPP will be redefined by Raisani while being in the PML-N, only time will tell. The Balochistan Assembly, which had 61 of its 62 members on the treasury benches in an ‘unholy’ alliance bound together to reap the full monetary and other benefits of incumbency, brought forth a reign of failed policies, chaotic governance, abysmal law and order and almost non-existent development. In addition, the allegation on the Raisanis of being the masterminds of a ‘mafia’ of kidnapping for ransom in Balochistan leaves an even bigger question on the credibility of those who control the power reins of the province. To leave one party to join another may be a mere opportunistic move, practised in Pakistani politics without accountability, but the fate of Balochistan hangs in uncertainty as one group of apathetic rulers is replaced by an almost identical one, and the misery of Balochistan remains unchanged.

Chavez demonized by Western opinion

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday after succumbing to his battle with cancer. The national strength of Venezuela is limited, but the personal influence wielded by Chavez far exceeded support of his country. The death of Chavez, considered a left-wing populist and anti-US fighter in Latin America, has captured global attention. He is as equally censured as praised. Chavez had been in office for 14 years, making him the longest-serving president in Venezuelan history. His authoritarian leadership style was fostered by constant success in elections, as well as huge support from his people. But the West often saw him as a "dictator," a title that triggered Chavez to famously return fire by calling former US president George W. Bush a "devil." In the international community, Chavez undoubtedly suffered because Western opinions were more influential than those from elsewhere. Denounced as a "dictator" repeatedly, he inevitably became viewed in such an unflattering light. Chavez's reputation proved that a leader's standing on the world stage is closely linked to their relationship with the US. Kings who hold absolute power in ruling their countries can be best defined as "dictators" in a political sense, but they avoid such a label in Western eyes if they are allies of the US. Latin American countries have a love-hate relationship with the US. The popularity of leftist leaders in Latin America can be attributed to the strong anti-US sentiment shared among their people. However, economic development cannot take place without US support. Ordinary Latin Americans admire the lifestyles of their US counterparts, but they don't want to be controlled by Washington. Such complicated mindsets have offered room for competition between leftists and rightists in Latin America. Latin American countries have accused the Central Intelligence Agency of planning to topple their regimes. With the exception of Cuba, conflicts between the US and leftist Latin American regimes haven't spiraled out of control. The fact Latin America is in the US' backyard hasn't changed over time. Subtle relations between Latin America and the US may offer a lesson for China. China is not like the US, which has the great desire and capability to control others. China should work more positively with Latin America, which is in accordance with the region's wishes and offers an alternative to the US having the final say. Trade volume between China and Latin America reached $250 billion last year, but cooperation between the two sides is not deep enough. More in-depth cooperation will lead to a much closer relationship. Chavez was an old friend of the Chinese people. His rocky relationship with the US will be judged in history by the Americas.

President Hugo Chavez was a maker of dreams

By Eva Golinger,Eva Golinger is an attorney and writer from New York, living in Caracas, Venezuela, since 2005 and author of "The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela" (2006 Olive Branch Press) and "Bush vs. Chávez: Washington's War on Venezuela" (2007, Monthly Review Press). She is Editor-in-Chief of Venezuelan newspaper, the Correo del Orinoco International, and hosts a weekly show on RT Spanish, Detrás de la noticia. She blogs at Most of what you read or hear in mass media about President Hugo Chavez is always negative, his faults exaggerated, his discourse distorted and his achievements ignored. The reality is quite different. Hugo Chavez was beloved by millions around the world. He changed the course of a continent and led a collective awakening of a people once silenced, once exploited and ignored. Chavez was a grandiose visionary and a maker of dreams. An honest man from a humble background who lived in a mud hut as a child and sold candies on the streets to make money for his family, Chavez dreamed of building a strong, sovereign nation, independent of foreign influence and dignified on the world scene. He dreamed of improving the lives of his people, of eradicating the misery of poverty and of offering everyone the chance of a better life -- the "good life" (el buenvivir), as he called it.President Chavez made those dreams come true. During his nearly 14 years of governance, elected to three full six-year terms but only serving two due to his untimely death, Chavez's policies reduced extreme poverty in Venezuela by more than 75%, from 25% to less than 7% in a decade, according to statistics from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And overall poverty was reduced by more than 50%, from 60% in 1998 when Chavez first won office to 27% by 2008. This is not just numbers, this translates into profound changes in the lives of millions of Venezuelans who today eat three meals a day, own their homes and have jobs or access to financial aid. But the dreams don't stop there. Chavez dreamed of a nation filled with educated, healthy people, and so he established free, quality public education from preschool through doctoral studies, accessible to all. In fact, for those in remote areas or places without educational facilities, schools were built and mobile educational facilities were created to bring education to the people. Chavez also created a national public health system offering universal, free health care to all, with the help and solidarity of Cuba, which sent thousands of doctors and medical workers to provide quality services to the Venezuelan people, many who had never received medical care in their lives. To strengthen and empower communities, Chavez propelled policies of inclusion and participatory governance, giving voice to those previously excluded from politics. He created grassroots community councils and networks to attend to local needs in neighborhoods across the nation, placing the power to govern in the joint hands of community groups. His vision of diversifying his nation and developing its full potential transformed into railways, new industries, satellite cities and innovative transport, such as MetroCable Cars soaring high into the mountains of Caracas to connect people in their steep hillside homes with the bustling city. The centuries-old dream of Independence hero Simon Bolivar to build a unified "Patria Grande" (Grand Homeland) in South America became Chavez's guiding light and he held it high, illuminating the path he paved. Chavez was a driving force in unifying Latin America, creating new regional organizations like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). These entities have embraced integration, cooperation and solidarity as their principal method of exchange, rejecting competition, exploitation and domination, the main principles of U.S. and western foreign policy. Chavez inspired a 21st century world to fight for justice, to stand with dignity before bullying powers that seek to impose their will on others. He raised his voice when no others would and had no fear of consequence, because he knew that truth was on his side. Chavez was a maker of dreams. He recognized the rights of the disabled, of indigenous peoples, all genders and sexualities. He broke down barriers of racism and classism and declared himself a socialist feminist. He not only made his own dreams come true, but he inspired us all to achieve our fullest potential. Don't get me wrong, things are not perfect in Venezuela by any stretch, but no one can honestly deny that they are much better than before Hugo Chavez became president. And no one could deny that President Hugo Chavez was larger than life. The first time I flew on President Chavez's airplane, he invited me to breakfast in his private room. It was just me and him. I was nervous and felt anxious and rushed to tell him about the results of my investigations into the United States government's role in the coup d'etat against him in 2002. After all, that's why I was on the plane in the first place. I had been invited to participate in his regular Sunday television show, Alo Presidente (Hello Mr. President) to present the hundreds of declassified documents I had obtained from U.S. government agencies through the Freedom of Information Act that exposed U.S. funding of coup participants. The date was April 11, 2004, exactly two years after the coup that nearly killed him and sent the nation into spiraling chaos. (Editor's Note: The U.S. government denied involvement in the 2002 coup.) As I began pulling out papers and spreading documents on the table that separated us, he stopped me. "Have you had breakfast yet?" he asked. "No," I said, and continued fiddling with the revealing paper before me. "We can discuss that later," he said. "For now, tell me about yourself. How is your mother?" he asked me, as though we were old friends. A flight attendant came through the door of his private room with two trays and placed them on the table. I quickly gathered up the documents. "Let's eat," he said. I started to protest, trying to explain that his time was so limited I wanted to take advantage of every minute. He stopped me and said: "This is a humble breakfast, a breakfast from the barracks, what I most love." I looked at the tray for the first time. On it was a small plate with an arepa, a typical Venezuelan corn patty, a few shreads of white cheese, a couple of pieces of canteloupe and some anchovies. Beside the plate was a small cup of black coffee. No frills and not what you would expect on a presidential airplane. "After all, I am just a soldier," he added. Yes, Chavez, you are a soldier, a glorious soldier of a dignified, proud and kind people. And you are a maker of dreams for millions around the world.

Hugo Chávez : ''The passing of a giant''

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who died of cancer in Caracas on Tuesday, was not just a visionary committed to improving the lives of the great majority of his people but a masterly politician who knew how to achieve that end. First elected in 1998 and then surviving a right-wing putsch in 2002 which collapsed in the face of huge public support for him, Mr. Chávez turned his nation of 29 million into a pivot for the political and economic renewal of an entire continent. With a clear commitment to his country’s and to Latin America’s sovereignty, the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that Mr. Chávez set in motion sought to reassert the independence of a region that the Libertador Simón Bolivar had set out to unify in the 19th century. Mr. Chávez started by nationalising the biggest domestic oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), and negotiating vastly improved terms with the foreign oil companies which had been making colossal sums out of the world’s greatest known hydrocarbon reserves while paying a pittance in royalties. Mr. Chávez put the revenues to good use, raising social spending by over 60 per cent to $772 billion in a decade and reducing extreme poverty from 40 per cent to 7.3, in addition to expanding healthcare services; furthermore, one in three Venezuelans now gets free education up to and including university level. As for the rest of the region, soon after assuming office, Mr. Chávez accepted the services of Cuban doctors in exchange for oil supplies to a country victimised by U.S. sanctions for over 40 years. Other countries too benefited from his acts of solidarity. Chávismo, as this approach came to be called, infuriated the United States, which had long dominated Latin America through brutal dictatorships and oligarchical democracies. Washington all but publicly welcomed the 2002 coup against President Chávez and spent the better part of the decade which followed seeking to undermine his government in one way or the other. Will his death now produce the outcome that his enemies in Venezuela and North America sought all these years? One of the weaknesses of the Chávez model was the central role that the President himself played in the system. But its strength lay in the active involvement of dozens of social movements, some of which coalesced with the socialist party he built while others remained supportive from the outside. His choice of Nicolás Maduro as Vice President was also one calculated to energise the rank and file of this extraordinary coalition. However, it is the better life which millions of Venezuelans enjoy today that will serve as the first line of defence for Chávismo as the U.S. and its allies try to turn the clock back.

Venezuela's Maduro: from bus driver to Chavez's successor

Former bus driver and union leader Nicolas Maduro followed a simple strategy when he filled in for cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez over the past three months: copy his boss's policies, his style and even his fierce rhetoric. Now that Chavez is dead, Maduro will almost certainly stick with the same approach as he tries to win a presidential election and inherit Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution. Maduro rose to the job of vice president precisely because he was a firm Chavez loyalist and he has so far given no hints that he might make significant policy changes if he is elected. Knowing he might not recover, Chavez named the burly, mustachioed Maduro as his heir apparent in early December before flying to Cuba for his fourth cancer operation in 18 months. The move turned Maduro, who had served for six years as foreign minister but was named vice president only a few weeks earlier, into the OPEC nation's de facto leader. Although unable to come anywhere near to matching Chavez's famous charisma, Maduro has copied his hectoring style, grand historical references and vitriolic attacks on "treacherous" opponents. "Chavez has shown us a superior human state: socialism," Maduro, 50, said in adoring comments during one of dozens of appearances on state television. "We are absolutely firm on the goals, plans and spirit of this program ... Our people want to continue consolidating a socially inclusive model that gives protection to all, economic stability and progress, and true democracy." Like Chavez, Maduro has accused foes of plotting to assassinate him and blamed private businesses for causing Venezuela's economic problems with hoarding and what he denounces as "speculative attacks" on the bolivar currency. Hours before Chavez's death, Maduro accused "imperialist" enemies of infecting Chavez with cancer - the kind of headline-grabbing allegations against powerful foes that Chavez often used to whip up supporters during his 14 years of tumultuous rule. As foreign minister, Maduro had a fairly dull image as a loyalist who never diverted from Chavez's line, although some saw him as an affable potential moderate who could use his talents as a union negotiator turned globe-trotting diplomat to build bridges with critics at home and abroad. At times he has softened his rhetoric - for example, saying that it was only a "small number" of opposition figures who were "conspiring against the fatherland" - but he has taken a tough line more often than not. If Maduro wins the election, he is expected to broadly continue the radical policies of the Chavez era, including nationalizations, tight state control of the economy and financial support for allies such as communist-led Cuba. There is plenty of speculation that he might at some point try to ease tensions with business groups and the U.S. government, but so far there is no firm evidence. Still, his first priority is to win the election and that means marshalling support from across Chavez's coalition, which ranges from leftist ideologues to businessmen, and military officers to hardline armed groups called "colectivos." It would be much more difficult if he openly proposed a new direction. TWO DECADES BESIDE CHAVEZ Opposition critics have lampooned Maduro as a poor imitation of Chavez, saying he parrots his boss's words and ideas without the same charm or independent thought. "The job is too big for Mr. Maduro. He keeps shouting to cover up his incompetence," mocked opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the last election in October but won 44 percent support and will likely be Maduro's challenger. One recent poll showed Maduro ahead of Capriles, in part because of Chavez's personal endorsement. Within the ruling Socialist Party, Maduro faces pressure, from ideological hardliners as well as profiteers who enriched themselves under Chavez, to extend the state's grip over the economy and private enterprise. Other than campaigning heavily on Chavez's blessing and his position as guarantor of revolutionary continuity, it is hard to see how Maduro's own policy plans might develop. "Maduro remains an enigma," said Alberto Barrera Tyszka, who co-wrote a 2004 biography of Chavez called "Without Uniform." "In these early days, he has tried to imitate Chavez in style, though without his grace and charisma." In 1992, when Chavez was jailed for a failed coup that made him famous, Maduro took to the streets to demand his release and visited him in prison. Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores, led the legal team that helped get Chavez freed within two years, and she is also a former leader of the National Assembly. The two have long been seen as a power couple in the government. One of Maduro's offices features a large portrait of the late Indian spiritual guru Sai Baba, whom he and Flores visited in 2005. A rabble-rousing legislator who was on the front line of the successful effort to defeat a brief coup against Chavez in 2002, Maduro rose to head the National Assembly, swapping the blue jeans and plaid shirts of a union leader for sharp suits. Even in his smarter attire, Maduro used to elbow through reporters to get to the appetizer table before presidential news conferences. As foreign minister, Maduro traveled widely, denouncing U.S. foreign policy and cultivating allies in emerging markets such as Russia and China, which would become a key financier. "He has always followed Chavez unconditionally but not because he's not smart enough to do otherwise," said Vladimir Villegas, Venezuela's former ambassador to Mexico. ANALYTICAL APPROACH Alberto Vivas, a school friend of Maduro's, played baseball with the future vice president when they were teenagers, and then they worked together on the Caracas metro system. "Nicolas is very analytical and particularly intelligent," Vivas said. Jose Albornoz, who worked alongside him as a legislator, praised his common touch: "Nicolas is a person who can talk to anyone ... His work with unions taught him to communicate with his adversary. I think he could open a dialogue with (opposition leaders) to make sure his government is successful." If he wins the election, Maduro will face a testing economic scenario after last month's devaluation of the bolivar currency, which followed heavy state spending ahead of Chavez's re-election last year. Inflation is above 20 percent a year and oil production has stagnated even though Venezuela has the world's biggest reserves of crude. The idea of a transition from Chavez to Maduro may have come from Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez's mentor who six years ago handed over power to his younger brother Raul after falling ill himself. The younger Castro has since begun a slow transition away from centrally planned communism. More pragmatism from Maduro could help tackle problems like violent crime, inflation and unemployment that critics say went unchecked because of Chavez's focus on more ideological themes. It is unclear what measures Maduro might be prepared to take if the economy took a turn for the worse. While Chavez had a reputation for choosing top officials on the basis of loyalty and political views, people who have worked with Maduro say he looks for credentials and hard work. "He's a real man of the people," said Ramon Torres, Ecuador's former ambassador to Venezuela. Whatever his long-term plans, Maduro is sure to drop Chavez's name at every turn along the campaign trail, eulogizing him in gushing and quasi-messianic terms. During the president's absence after his last surgery, Maduro peppered speeches with references to a state-backed campaign called "I am Chavez," and he once opened his shirt to show a T-shirt underneath bearing an image of his boss's eyes. At the inauguration of one public transport project he strayed into an awkward metaphor: "Chavez is the cable car."

Venezuela mourns Chavez

Venezuelans on Wednesday are mourning President Hugo Chavez, who died after a two-year battle with cancer, while government officials make preparations for his funeral and succession. The armed forces fired a 21-gun salute to Chavez at 8:00 a.m. and announced that a cannon would be fired once an hour until the late president was buried on Friday.The order for the continuous salute was given by Defense Minister Adm. Diego Molero, armed forces strategic command chief Gen. Wilmer Barrientos said. "This is one of the top honors for a head of state," the general told VTV. The 58-year-old Chavez died on Tuesday after battling cancer for nearly two years. Chavez's death was announced by a tearful Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who will serve as interim president. Elections will be held within 30 days and Maduro is expected to be the candidate of the governing Venezuelan United Socialist Party. The Venezuelan leader's death made headlines around the world and his funeral is expected to be attended by several world leaders. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Bolivian President Evo Morales have already arrived in Caracas, while other leaders are expected to arrive on Thursday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Wednesday. Chavez had undergone four operations, as well as courses of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, since first being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. The leftist president spent more than two months in Cuba due to complications that followed his Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Havana.

Karzai calls on Afghan troops to clean up act

The Associated Press
The Afghan president on Wednesday called on his security forces to end incidents of torture and abuse of the Afghan people, a shift from past speeches that have solely blamed NATO troops for the violations in the country. In an address to parliament, Hamid Karzai said Afghan forces are also violating their own people’s rights, making it harder for him to raise the issue when abuses are carried out by foreigners. “It’s not forgivable ... Our Afghan people are not safe in their houses,” because of Afghan troops’ treatment, he said. “Why should I blame foreigners?” The Afghan leader said he did not initially want to believe reports that his own security forces had tortured prisoners, for instance, but that now he was calling on Afghan forces to respect human rights. An Afghan government investigation last month found widespread cases of abuse at government-run prisons, backing up the results of a U.N. investigation that Karzai had initially repudiated. Karzai’s speech is likely to be welcomed by diplomats who have called on him to acknowledge his own troops’ responsibility for incidents of abuse. But with the remarks, the Afghan leader also made a veiled reference to his recent calls for the withdrawal of U.S. special operations forces from Wardak province, neighboring Kabul, because of alleged incidents of abuse by U.S. and Afghan forces there. U.S. officials have said they are investigating the allegations. Karzai also called on the Afghan Taliban to acknowledge his offer to open negotiations with them through an official Taliban office, which is due to open in Qatar. The senior Taliban leadership has not responded to the offer. And in a possibly troubling statement for the international community, Karzai criticized the cost of the last presidential elections, saying that paying for international advisers and enablers drove up the price of each vote to between $30 and $40. He said elections next time around should be run solely by the Afghans, calling into question whether his government would welcome international monitoring. The last round of elections was widely criticized for incidents of fraud. “Our election must be an Afghan-led election without the interference of foreigners,” Karzai said, adding that although the law prohibits him from running for another term, he wants to ensure a free and fair election. “A good election would bring to Afghanistan more stability and prosperity,” he said. The progress of Afghan forces, however, has been uneven. A weekend attack on an army convoy in Badakshan province killed 16 soldiers, according to Abdul Marouf Rassekh, a spokesman for the province’s governor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Then on Sunday, Afghan forces thwarted an attempted jailbreak by rioting prisoners at the central jail in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, according to the chief of Afghan prison system, Gen. Amir Mohammad Jamshid. Jamshid said his forces disrupted a complex plot in which Taliban fighters planned to launch suicide attacks outside as rioters attacked guards inside the jail. The rioting prisoners managed to take three guards hostage and at one point controlled large portions of the jail, but when a group of prisoners freed two of the guards, vicious infighting ensued among the rioters and several were injured, Jamshid said. Late Tuesday night, Afghan security forces managed to retake most of the prison and freed the final guard through negotiations, he said. A small group of prisoners was still in a standoff with the police in one section of the prison Wednesday, demanding improved conditions, including weekly visits by family members and more freedom of movement within the prison, Jamshid said. Staff at a nearby hospital said nearly a dozen people — mostly prisoners but also some Afghan security forces — were being treated for injuries sustained during the riot. The medical staff spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential medical records.

Soviet soldier 'missing' since 1980 found in Afghanistan

A former Red Army soldier who went missing in action (MIA) in 1980 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been found alive almost 33 years after he was rescued by Afghan tribesmen. Now living under the name of Sheikh Abdullah and working as a traditional healer in the Shinand District of Afghanistan, the former Soviet soldier Bakhredtin Khakimov, an ethnic Uzbek, was tracked down by a team from Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee, a nonprofit, Moscow-based organization that leads the search for the former Soviet Union's MIAs in Afghanistan. "He received a heavy wound to the head in the course of a battle in Shanind district in September 1980 when he was picked up by local residents," the organization said in a statement posted on its website. "He now leads a semi-nomadic life with the people who sheltered him." The organization said it made contact with the man two weeks ago and, while he had no identity papers, he was able to positively identify photos of other Soviet servicemen who served at the time. "He could understand Russian a little bit, but spoke it poorly, although he remembers his Uzbek language," the organization said. "The effects of his wounds were clearly manifested: His hand trembles and there is a visible tic in his shoulder."The deputy head of the organistation, Alexander Lavrentyev, told a news conference on Monday that Khakimov, originally from Samarkand, was nursed back to health by a village elder, a herbal healer, who taught him his trade. "He was just happy he survived," Lavrentyev, who personally met with Khakimov in the city of Herat in western Afghanistan in late February, was reported as saying by Russia's RIA news agency. But the former soldier -- who married in Afghanistan, but is now a childless widower -- was keen to meet his relatives, something the committee is working to arrange, Lavrentyev told reporters. A local chief of police in Ghor province, Dilwar Dilawar, told CNN Khakimov converted to Islam in 1993. Local reports, however, conflict with the Russian version of events. A local journalist, Sharafudin Stanekzai, who spoke with Khakimov told CNN that Khakimov separated from his unit after stealing a gun and then handed the weapon over to Mujahedeen Islamic guerilla fighters. The Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee is working to track down 263 Soviet soldiers whose fate is unknown following the bloody nine-year campaign in Afghanistan. So far, it says it has tracked down 29 missing Soviet soldiers in the country. Lavrentyev said 22 chose to be repatriated to their homes while seven elected to stay on in Afghanistan. About 15,000 of the 600,000 Soviet soldiers who served in the near decade-long war were killed, according to figures cited by RIA from the Soviet General Staff. Regarded as one of the last Cold War confrontations, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 to protect a Soviet-backed government against the Mujahedeen, who were armed and trained by Western and Islamic countries.

India's villagers reap visible benefits from solar electricity scheme

India's rush for industrialisation may be stymied by a lack of power for its factories, but, barely noticed, solar electricity is being taken to thousands of villages in one of the most ambitious grassroots projects ever attempted. Five years ago an estimated 400 million people lived with rudimentary, low-quality kerosene lamps, providing poor, polluting and often dangerous light. A further 100m homes were nominally connected to the grid but had intermittent power, often at times when no one wanted it. But in five years, thanks largely to a single NGO that has not sold one lamp, 500,000 more homes have been provided with cheap, decentralised electricity via powerful solar LED lanterns using the latest batteries and panels. Teri, India's leading energy research institute, launched its Lighting One Billion Lives initiative in 2007. After a slow start – only four villages signed up in the first year – it has taken off. More than 2,000 villages now have "charging stations", each offering 50 or so long-lasting, high-quality solar lanterns that double up as mobile phone chargers. Teri does not make, distribute or sell the lamps. Instead, it acts as a combined social, developmental and technical enterprise. Its scientists and designers work closely with more than 20 manufacturers to improve the quality and reliability of the lamps, and bring down their cost, while other teams work with villages, NGOs and banks to identify people to run the charging stations. Teri helps to set up repair shops, trains people and provides technical support. "We are trying to improve the quality of the lamps and build up the chain of local entrepreneurs. We helped seed and catalyse the market," says Ibrahim Rehman, director of Teri's social transformation division. "People were paying about $1 a month for kerosene lamps, so we had to have an economic model which allowed people to pay about the same as they did before. At the start, the lanterns used to cost about $100 each but now they are down to $15-$30. The batteries used to last one year; now they last three." People can buy them on microcredit, but in the villages most rent them for a few pence a day. Teri itself, NGOs, businesses, Bollywood film stars and individuals partly or completely sponsor a village to have lanterns, after which a local villager runs the operation as a business, renting them out for no more than they used to pay for kerosene. Villagers drop the lamps to the charging station in the morning and the lights are charged when they return in the evening. "People were suspicious to start with but now they are queueing to put their names down for them," says Rehman, who estimates that 500,000 homes have now been provided with light, with numbers increasing exponentially. At this rate, in 10 more years, most Indian villages will have light. "The benefits are visible," says Dhairya Dholakia, area convenor for the project. "People have bright, clean, non-polluting light. There's a clear health benefit. Education is also improved – because children can continue their studies later – and so are livelihoods. All these villages now have 'entrepreneurs' running the solar charging stations. They are earning money." The lanterns are welcomed, he says. Craftsmen can work later, shops can stay open longer, births are easier to monitor and people have more possibilities to earn money. "Energy is the missing MDG [millennium development goal]. It is the underlying development goal that fuels so much other development. It has so many co-benefits," says Jarnail Singh, a Teri researcher who visits many of the villages and has seen how clean light raises people's development ambitions. "When people have lighting they realise they can have refrigeration, can keep their food and products long term," he says. Increasingly, Teri is setting up "micro grids", where 10 or more houses or shops may be linked to a single solar array. Each house will then have two power points, making the result similar to being connected to the grid. Here, the entrepreneur pays for the equipment, but householders pay for the connection. India is pursuing electrification remorselessly, but business and the cities are given preference and it is expected to be many years before the grid reaches the remotest places – if it does so at all. Teri is now expanding the scheme to Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan and African countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. "Merely transplanting technological solutions from the developed world … can lead to a mismatch," says Rajendra Pachauri, director general of Teri, who is also the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "However, there are huge benefits from south-south co-operation [like this] because the cultural context and complexity of the challenge across different developing countries have a great deal in common."

Pakistan: Sectarian violence threatens elections
An armless doll, its hair singed with soot, lies next to a bloodstain in Abbas Town, a Shiite district of Karachi where a 150-kilogram bomb exploded on Sunday night. Standing next to the doll, and among the twisted steel rods of two gutted buildings, is Tabassum. The edge of her scarf is in her hands, she dabs the tears running down her face. “Last November, when a bomb went off in this area, my apartment walls cracked apart,” said Tabassum, who used a false name for safety. “My husband said that it would come back to haunt us, so we paid for someone to re-plaster it.” “What was the point? We should have known then that the area had become too dangerous.” At least 45 people were killed in the attack, which took place as worshippers returned home from evening prayer at a nearby Shiite mosque. Among them was Tabassum’s 11-year-old daughter, who died in the attack. Tabassum said that when the walls splintered apart, her daughter was flung into the street below. Tabassum and her family, along with most of the residents in Abbas Town, belong to Pakistan’s Shiite minority. Approximately 20 percent of the country’s 180 million residents are Shiite. Though conflict between Sunni and Shiite in Pakistan has a long history, the violence has become more vicious in the last two years. In 2012, close to 400 Shiites were killed in Pakistan — the highest number in memory, experts said. This year, three large-scale attacks have killed about 200 people already. Analysts said the situation is only getting worse as the country heads into elections. Though no group has taken responsibility for Sunday’s attack, authorities suspect Lashkar e Jhangvi, one of several Sunni militant organizations fighting for the expulsion of Shiite Islam from Pakistan. Lashkar e Jhangvi, which many Pakistanis fear more than the Taliban, is the most notorious of these groups. It was founded in 1996 as a militant offshoot of Sipah e Sahaba, a religious political party that emerged in the 1980s — after the Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran brought Shiites to power there — to counter Shiite influence. The group was funded in part by Saudi Arabia, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. It also initially had the support of the Pakistani government. But 2002 the general-turned-president, Pervez Musharaff, formally banned the organization, succumbing to international pressure. The move did little to stop Lashkar e Jhangvi. The group went underground, becoming more militant and strengthening its ties with the Pakistani Taliban. In the last two years it has resurfaced in a major way, carrying out massive attacks. Lashkar e Jhangvi took responsibility for the last two large-scale attacks on Shiites in Pakistan, both of which took place in the southwestern city of Quetta. After the first attack in January killed almost 100 people, thousands of Shiites took to the streets to demand government action. The president disbanded the provincial civilian government and put the entire province of Balochistan under federal jurisdiction. Despite these moves, Lashkar e Jhangvi managed a second major attack in February, which killed 86 people. After more public protests, the central government ordered the military into the province. Tthe military quickly rounded up 170 suspects. Two days later, the leader of Lashkar e Jhangvi, Malik Ishaq, was also arrested. But security analysts in Pakistan say that the government’s response has been superficial at best. They say this most recent attack in Karachi actually shows an unwillingness by the government to take on Lashkar e Jhangvi, and other terrorist organizations in Pakistan. "The security establishment thinks that these organizations are proxies and can be used against Afghanistan and against India," said Raza Rumi, an Islamabad-based analyst. "That's why there's a high tolerance for these groups." Local activists worry the attacks may force Shiite groups to take up arms themselves, operating as militias in tit-for-tat killings. That kind of escalation in sectarian violence could further destabilize Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and financial capital. Some analysts said the attacks are thinly veiled messages to the country’s politicians, who have traditionally used militant groups to help form electoral alliances and for vote buying. Pakistan’s current administration is scheduled to dissolve in two weeks, allowing a caretaker government to step in before general elections take place in mid-May. One expert at a prominent Pakistani university, who wished to remain anonymous, said Pakistan’s politicians are unlikely to tackle militancy head-on at at time when they’re expected to appear at public rallies for campaign events. Their fears aren't unfounded. Many senior Pakistani politicians have been assasinated or attacked for their policies. Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan in 2007, was assasinated during a rally in Rawalpindi. Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in 1999. The Taliban, which has a strategic alliance with Lashkar e Jhangvi, offered the Pakistan government a ceasefire if it adopts Islamic law and cut ties with the United States. While Pakistan’s leaders have requested immediate negotiations with the Taliban, hoping to stem the violence and pave the way for elections, it’s unlikely to meet the Taliban's demands. Tabassum, and the many victims of the Abbas Town blast, said military law might be the best solution. “In the 1990s, when sectarian violence was really bad, Musharraf’s martial law solved the problem,” said one man. “At least when the military was in control, we didn’t worry about our lives.”

'Sense of impunity' surrounds enforced disappearances in Pakistan: UN

The Express Tribune
A “general sense of impunity surrounding” enforced disappearances in Pakistan exists, states a new report by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) . The working group said it was unable to obtain any information on any conviction of state agents in relation to acts of enforced disappearances. At the invitation of the Pakistan government, the working group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had visited the country from September 10-20, 2012. During the visit, the working group had held meetings with high-level authorities, including those in charge of the implementation of international human rights standards, civil society groups and families of victims of enforced disappearance. A number of high-ranking government and security officials including the Chief Justice of Pakistan, chief justices of four high courts, the director general of Inter-services Intelligence and the Inspector General of Frontier Corps in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were met as well. According to the report, the working group transmitted 151 cases of missing persons to the government. Of these cases, nine cases have been clarified on the basis of information provided by the source, 42 cases have been clarified on the basis of information provided by the government, one has been deleted, but 99 remain outstanding. “In Balochistan alone, some sources alleged that more than 14,000 people are still missing, while the provincial Government recognizes less than a hundred. To date, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances still has more than 500 cases on its docket concerning the whole country.” the report stated. Inquiries made by the group found that some concerned families were promised that if they did not file a case, their loved ones would be released. The report states that “Other families were threatened that, if they did file a case, their loved ones would be harmed, or another member of their family would also be abducted.” In a few cases, the report said, the lawyers defending the families were reportedly themselves victims of enforced disappearance. According to the families that spoke to the visiting group, some of the abducted persons were released, while others were never seen again. Those who were returned testified to having been held in unofficial secret places of detention and were allegedly threatened not to speak about their period of disappearance. The same criticism was also made of the Commission of Inquiry, which is said to have limited authority on the various law enforcement or intelligence agencies allegedly involved in the cases of enforced disappearance. The working group received reports that the commission was satisfied with the denial of the accused agency that it had the concerned person in custody. The commission informed the working group that, should its orders not be complied with, it had the power to initiate criminal proceedings against the potential perpetrators. The working group did not, however, receive any report of such criminal proceedings. Shedding light on difficulties, according to various sources, “criminals, terrorists and militants from armed groups enjoyed great impunity because, even when investigations were initiated against them, they managed to evade prosecution by using threats against the police, judges and witnesses.” Victims complained that, even when clearly identified by witnesses, perpetrators were not only never convicted, but never subjected to any effective investigation either. The working group, despite its reiterated requests, received no information relating to the conviction of state agents in relation to acts of enforced disappearance. According to the report, no specific measures have been taken until now to address the issue of reparation of victims of enforced disappearances. The group claimed that the issue cannot be dealt with by “classic court proceedings alone”. It pointed out that there was no law in Pakistan that specifically addressed the matter of enforced disappearances and urged the country to ratify international conventions on the matter.

Pakistan: Senate passes constitutional amendment bill to create new province

Radio Pakistan
The Senate has passed 24th Constitution with some amendments to create new province of Bahawalpur South Punjab. The bill was moved by Law Minister Farooq H. Naek and the opposition parties opposed it and later on walked out of the House. The Law Minister congratulating the members on passage of the bill and hoped it will go a long way in the removing grievances of the people of South Punjab. The Bill will now go to the National Assembly for consideration. Earlier‚ Senator Farhatullah Babar said PPP government after the 2008 elections decided to appoint a Prime Minister from South Punjab in order to give representation to South Punjab. He said any issues arising after the creation of new province could be taken to Council of Common Interests. Leader of the opposition Ishaq Dar said the Punjab Assembly in its resolution last year had expressed no confidence on the parliamentary commission for creation of new provinces. He said if we have to make new provinces‚ we should do it with proper mechanism and due process. Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo said no one is serious in creating the new provinces. He said representation and constitutional make up of the Senate will also suffer with the creation of a new province. Muzaffar Hussain Shah said the proposed bill alter the structure of the constitution. Mushahid Hussain Syed said we should take this step with utmost caution. The Senate was informed today that a proposal is under consideration to sign an agreement with Yemen for exchange of prisoners. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nawabzada Malik Ammad Khan told the House that a two-member Yemeni delegation visited Pakistan this year and held discussions with their counterparts in Ministry of Interior on the draft text of bilateral agreement. To a question Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abbas Khan Afridi said there are no proposals in Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2012-15 to enhance supply of energy‚ electricity and gas to industrial sector. To another question‚ Minister of State Abbas Afridi said the Cabinet in its meeting on 29th February last year accorded approval to a Negative List of 1209 items for imports from India. He said Ministry of Commerce is consulting other ministries and stakeholders to assess and evaluate level playing field enjoyed by Pakistani exports to India. It is also consulting on non-tariff barriers being faced by Pakistani exporters and issues of market access of Pakistani products to India. The House unanimously passed two bills which provides establishment of Global Change Impact Studies Centre and "The Defense Housing Authority in Islamabad. Members belonging to MQM held a token walk out from the House in protest against non-availability of medical facilities to Abbas Town tragedy victims in government hospitals in Karachi. The house will now meet at 4.30 pm on Thursday