Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Armed Groups in Syria Recruit Children for Fighting, Save the Children Says

Increasing numbers of children are being recruited by the armed groups in Syria, the international 'Save the Children' Organization said in a report . BBC quoted the London-based organization as saying in its report ''Childhood Under Fire" that " some children are being forcibly recruited into military activities, and in some cases, children as young as eight have been used as human shields." The report also said that ''One group has documented the deaths of at least 17 children associated with armed groups since the start of the conflict,'' adding that ''many others have been severely injured and in some cases permanently disabled.'' The report echoes similar reports made public by the UN, as the UN official Radhika Kumaraswamy accused in a report last June the armed opposition of using children as fighters in violation of the international agreements banning children recruitment. The armed terrorist groups include mercenaries trained by Turkey and the US and funded by oil-rich countries. Turkey provides shelter to terrorists at the Syrian-Turkish borders before smuggling them into Syria to carry out acts of terrorism there.

Analysis: Afghan security vacuum feared along "gateway to Kabul"

The Afghan policeman manning a checkpoint glances at the snow-covered mountains that are home to Taliban fighters and predicts what would happen if elite U.S. forces leave Wardak province, seen as the gateway to the capital of Kabul. "The Taliban will take over in one day," Mohammad Jamil says. "They are nearby." Ever since President Hamid Karzai announced late last month that U.S. forces would be barred from the strategic province because of alleged abuses against civilians, Afghan forces who will be left to provide security without them have grown more anxious by the day. Wardak, just a 40-minute drive from Kabul, is a prime example of what could happen in other parts of Afghanistan as the United States winds down an increasingly unpopular war, now in its 12th year. U.S. special forces are expected to play a major role after most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014, and Karzai's decision could complicate negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan over the scope of U.S. operations after the pull-out. "It's special forces who go usually on the front lines and fight with Taliban," said a second Afghan policeman, Mir Hussain. "If we make them leave this province than there won't be anybody to fight them. It's obvious that as soon as they leave our province the Taliban will return to power here." Strategically located astride the Western approach to Kabul, Wardak is ideally placed for the insurgents who control nearby mountain villages to use as a staging ground for suicide operations into the city, home to nearly 5 million people and dozens of diplomatic missions. Militants already carry out ambushes, shooting attacks and suicide bombings on American and Afghan forces there. Fears that the departures of U.S. special forces will embolden the insurgents are heightened by the arrival of spring, which traditionally marks the start of Afghanistan's "fighting season" as the snow melts. Earlier this week, two U.S. soldiers, reported to be special forces, were killed in an attack in the province.
Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave after residents complained that they, and Afghans working with them, were torturing and killing civilians, an allegation strongly denied by the Americans. Even after the deadline for U.S. special forces to withdraw passed on Sunday, General Abdul Razaq, a senior police detective, told Reuters they were still in Wardak, a collection of mostly apple and apricot farms surrounded by mountains. U.S. forces have refused to comment on their deployment. Razaq said local officials had urged the Interior Ministry to provide strong support if the American forces leave, including artillery and reinforcements. Some residents speak with hatred about the elite U.S. forces and believe allegations that they committed atrocities. "Every day they kill our innocent people," said Abdul Ghafoor, 54, without offering any evidence to back the accusations, as his companions nodded in agreement. But others seem far more worried about the security vacuum the province may face. Many remember how Wardak was the launching pad for the Taliban when they took over Kabul and much of the country in 1996. They don't have to look far. Collapsed buildings, including one that served as a coordination center for security forces, are a potent reminder of the devastation wreaked by Taliban suicide bombings. "A small number of people from Wardak province had complained to President Karzai about special forces but now they also know that their decision wasn't right," said Hameeda Akbari, a member of parliament from Wardak. "They want to find a way to solve the problem and keep special forces for some more time. If special forces leave Wardak, the security situation will get worse."
Some fear the dangers could reach far beyond the provincial capital of Maidan Shahr, where Afghan policemen speed past a children's playground called Peace Park in jeeps mounted with machine guns. "As soon as these forces leave this province not only Wardak, but even some parts of Kabul, will be occupied by Taliban and Kabul security will be in danger," said Haji Rokai, a tribal elder. "So I hope that the government takes a better decision and keep these forces here for longer period." Afghan Army Chief of Staff Sher Mohammad Karimi recently told Reuters most of the suicide attacks in Kabul were planned just 25 km (15 miles) away in Wardak. "It is one of our biggest concerns," he said. Jittery Afghan forces have set up a multitude of checkpoints along Maidan Shahr's two paved roads. Intelligence agents, police and soldiers stop and question motorists travelling on potholed, dusty streets. "We got a tip-off that the Taliban were sending a suicide bomber here today to carry out a mission," said an Afghan intelligence agent who checked vehicles.
It is not only the Taliban who are waiting to attack. The al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, believed to be the United States' deadliest foe in Afghanistan, and other insurgent groups like Hizb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are also active. In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, a truck bomb in Wardak wounded 77 American soldiers. A month earlier, the Taliban shot down a transport helicopter in Wardak, killing all 38 people on board, including 25 U.S. special forces. The Taliban haven't lost their edge despite the presence of U.S. special forces and their intimidating Afghan partners, who ride off-road motorbikes and cover their faces with balaclavas and dark sunglasses. Afghan security forces, already at a disadvantage because they lack training and equipment, could become less effective if the Americans leave. "We have five PK light machine guns in our whole district, but the Taliban has more than five in a small checkpoint. So how can we fight with them or protect our people from their atrocities?" asked the policeman Jamil. He recalls the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from a nearby district, Sayedabad. "The Taliban captured that valley. Now it's a training camp for them where they learn how to attack Afghan and foreign forces." Provincial officials are not taking any chances. Many of them refuse to spend the night in Wardak for fear of attacks by militants. "It is a 15-minute drive from my office to my house but I cannot go there," said Esmatullah Asem, head of Maidan Shahr Hospital. "The last time I went home was two years ago. I live in Kabul."

Pakistan: Christians of Jehlem city under threat of Muslim attack like Lahore
Lahore too to streets of Jehlum City on March 12, 2013, chanting slogans "Repeal Blasphemy law" "Blasphemy law is Black Law" The Islamists announced on mosque loudspeakers to gather to punish those Christians who called Blasphemy Law to be a Black law during protest. A group of Muslims pressured area police station to lodge FIR under 295 C PPC under blasphemy law against Christians who chanted slogans against blasphemy law. The elders of Christian contacted Mr. Joseph Francis, Chief of CLAAS, based in Lahore and to help them. According to press release issued by Joseph Francis said that we are grieved to inform you about another growing tense situation for Christians in Jehlem a big city in Punjab. CLAAS was informing through a phone call by the local Christians that they were on severe threats by the Muslims to burn their houses like Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh Lahore. This morning on March 13, 2013 at 10 a m. CLAAS team headed by Mr. M.A Joseph Francis National Director CLAAS, including Huma Lucas Assistant Legal In-charge, Asher Sarfraz Field Officer, Asif Raza Assistant Field Officer and John Paul rushed to Jehlem to make sure the safety of Christian brothers and sisters in area about 120 miles from Lahore. Mr. Francis made a call to the Governor Punjab and urged for proper security to the Christians in Jehlem. About 26 Christian families are living among the Muslim masses at Ahata Machine no. 2 in Jehlem City from their forefathers. There are 9 big centers of Islamic Tabligh Jamatt (Islam Preachers) in this area, and one Centre is close to Christian houses. This morning there was a message from the local mosque and Islamic centre that Christians has commit blasphemy as they said in the rally (that Blasphemy is a black law, it should be repeal because it is misused) which was conducted by George Masih a local Christian yesterday on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 in solidarity with affected Christians at Badami Bagh Lahore, with the permission of Dar Ali Khan Khatak, District Police Officer (DPO) who provided security to Christians for rally. There were about 250 Christians participated in the rally and chanted the slogans in the favor of providing Justice to the affected Christians. Muslim extremists are pressurizing police for the registration of FIR under blasphemy sections against George Masih, they demanded the arrest of George Masih and gave time to the local police till Friday. There is an open threat that if police will not arrest George Masih the public will take law in their own hands. The situation is tense in Jehlem city and any incident can happen any moment like other cities of Punjab where violence erupted against christians on pretext to blasphemy.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws: Christians Come Under Attack in Lahore

By Saba Imtiaz
“Come in, come in, Mass is at 10 am… but can I check your bag please? The conditions these days…” says the caretaker at the Presbyterian ARP Church in Karachi. The ‘conditions these days’ is perhaps an obtuse way to describe what Christians in Pakistan are facing, and what transpired in Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore, last weekend. On Friday, Christian families in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore were forced to flee their homes after a 26-year-old Christian man was accused of committing blasphemy. The next day, over a hundred houses belonging to Christian families were burnt by a mob, venting their rage at the community over the alleged case. Images of angry men dragging possessions—including a cross—from the homes of horrified Christian families and setting them on fire dominated Pakistani television channels on Saturday. Over 100 suspects have been arrested by the police in connection with the attacks and several were presented in a court designated for terrorism cases on Monday. The account of how the allegation of blasphemy last weekend turned into a fiery pogrom is eerily reminiscent of similar cases across the country, evoking in particular the 2009 carnage in the village of Korian and neighboring town of Gojra in Punjab. Eight Christians were killed and scores of houses were burned down in a similar fashion after clerics instigated mobs to attack Christians, claiming that there had been an episode of blasphemy in Korian. The Gojra rioters were never brought to justice, and it appears unlikely – despite government assurances – that the prosecution of the Lahore attacks will be any different. Whether the 26-year-old, identified as Savan Masih, even committed blasphemy is entirely questionable. According to the Dawn newspaper, Savan and Imran Shahid, a Muslim barber, had argued recently. One resident claimed the two had been dealing in liquor and had fought, after which Imran accused Savan of blasphemy. The Pakistan Christian Post website says that Savan and a Muslim boy had quarreled over a snooker game. In Pakistan, it only takes a whisper, a rumor or one angrily raised voice crying ‘blasphemy’ to make an entire neighborhood the target of a violent mob, or for a public lynching of the accused. The numbers of blasphemy cases being filed in Pakistan – often on flimsy charges that cannot be proved – are racking up, dragging Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and Muslims of rival sects into their net. Pakistan’s current blasphemy law is an extension of the laws in place during the colonial British government. Austin Dacey has documented how the law was developed and enacted, and notes that “Its language still survives in the infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan, where it was fused together with Islamist and anti-Ahmadiyya content under military dictatorship in the 1980s. There, the nineteenth-century quasi-secular standard of personal blasphemy could be readily enlisted into the service of one highly contested notion of what it means to practice Islam and respect the honor of the Prophet.” According to the Pakistani constitution, people can be charged with blasphemy for defiling a place of worship, carrying out a ‘deliberate and malicious act’ – whether verbal or written – to insult a religion, defiling the Quran or using derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammad. It is the latter that has been the most contentious and has led to vigilante mobs lynching anyone accused, since this offence carries the death sentence. Calling for a reform or repeal of the law, or preventing its misuse, has led to the undoing of a number of prominent Pakistanis. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in January 2011 by a member of his security guard who was enraged at Taseer’s comments about the misuse of the law. Two months later, prominent Christian activist and the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead. On Sunday, the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council Allama Tahir Ashrafi warned ‘some NGOs’ against using the attack on Christians as a way to criticize the section of the blasphemy law that comprises the offence about Prophet Mohammad. The attack has resonated throughout Pakistan, including Karachi, where there is a sizeable Christian population of all denominations, including 166,000 Catholics. And while the textbook blasphemy cases that have engulfed the Punjab province haven’t been as prevalent in the city, the sense in the community is that Karachi is gravitating the same way. “If this (attack) happened to so many people today, tomorrow it can happen to us too,” said Amos Kaleem, a young man in his 20s. Rev. Naveed Asif at the ARP Church says this has been more evident in the last five years. “Now if a Christian steps up, he is threatened that ‘we’ll charge you with blasphemy,” Rev. Asif said. “There used to be a space for dialogue, to talk about religion,” said Fr. Saleh Diego, who is also the Diocese Director for the National Commission for Justice and Peace. “Now people just keep their mouths shut when religion comes up in a conversation.” “You do feel this sense of insecurity,” Alishba, a Catholic, said. “Other sects and religions are also being targeted similarly.” The Christian community in Karachi is in the midst of a fundraising drive for the victims of those who died in a bomb blast at a Shia neighborhood last Sunday. On this Sunday, they were praying for their own in Lahore. At St. Peter’s Catholic Church, worshippers at Sunday Mass – a majority of whom are migrants from Punjab – bowed their head in prayer, and listened intently as Fr. Saleh Diego moved away from scripture to sadness. “We are with our brothers and sisters with whom this injustice has happened,” Fr. Diego told the congregation. “They have been tortured and teased. We are in solidarity with them in their pain.” Emanuel, who attended the service, said that these episodes of persecution were ‘foretold’ in the Bible and warned that conditions would worsen. “This is a sign of the worse things to come for Christians,” Rev. Asif said. “We have to go through many more difficulties.” “This thing that people keep saying, that the attackers ‘were not one of us’. What does this mean? Is our God or Allah happy at this? My God is not happy at these attacks,” says Fr. Diego. “Was there no blasphemy when they (the rioters) defiled the Bibles in the people’s houses?” “We are Pakistanis, we love our country,” he says, in response to a question on whether Christians can live safely in Pakistan. “Have we not given sacrifices for Pakistan? Is this how we are being repaid, that we are being treated this way?”

Lahore arson: Badami Bagh incident

Czech women tourists kidnapped in Balochistan

The Express Tribune
Unidentified gunmen on Wednesday kidnapped two women tourists from the Czech Republic in Balochistan, officials said. Local government officials said the women entered the province from Iran as tourists and were abducted from an area some 550 kilometres west of Quetta. “Both the women were from Czech Republic and entered in Pakistan as tourists,” provincial home secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told AFP. “Gunmen stopped their bus in the Nok Kundi area of Chaghi district and abducted both of them.” Durrani said women were being escorted by a tribal policeman when they were abducted. The guard was also taken captive but was later freed. Nobody from the Czech embassy was available to comment late Wednesday but Qambar Dashti, a senior government official in Quetta, confirmed the incident.

Barack Obama invites first black Miss Israel to dinner

It will be one of the hottest tickets in town. When the US president, Barack Obama, arrives in Israel on an official visit next week, one of the highlights for the country's dignatries will be a dinner hosted at Israeli president Shimon Peres's home. And among those set to dine with the two presidents is the first black Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw. When the president's staff called to invite her to the dinnerAynaw, who was crowned just a few weeks ago, was understandably taken aback. "I didn't believe this was happening," she told the Jerusalem Post. Aynaw arrived in Israel from Ethiopia when she was 12 years old. The beauty queen, who has worked as a sales assistant since leaving the army, has admitted that it was initially difficult for her to assimilate into Israeli society. Despite being 100,000 strong, the Ethiopian Jewish community is marginalised in Israel, where some rabbis have questioned the authenticity of their Jewish faith. In the course of the Miss Israel competition, Aynaw told the panel of judges: "It's important that a member of the Ethiopian community win the competition for the first time. There are many different communities of many different colours in Israel, and it's important to show that to the world." On learning that she would be dining with the US president alongside the Israeli leadership, Aynaw admitted that as a young immigrant, she would not have believed "such a thing could happen" to her. Once the news sunk in, however, the 21 year-old former Israeli army officer declared herself "excited" and reasoned: "The first black Miss Israel to be chosen and [Obama] is the first black American President. These goes together." Obama, she said, has had a "notable influence in her life". Shortly after winning the title, Aynaw named assassinated US civil rights leader Martin Luther King as one of her heroes: "He fought for justice and equality, and that's one of the reasons I'm here: I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren't always represented in the media." While she may have embraced her life in Israel, Aynaw has refused to adopt a Hebrew name as many of African immigrants have done. "I was born sick but my mum believed I had a future," she told Jewish publication The Tablet, explaining that her name in Amharic, the second most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic, means "looking towards the future". "I'd never change my name," she said. "Ever". With African roots and controversial names in common, Miss Israel and President Obama have ample mutual ground to break the ice.

Egypt does not allow screening of film on Egyptian Jews

REUTERS.COM Egyptian authorities have failed to issue a permit to screen a historical documentary about the country's Jewish community, the film's producer said on Wednesday, one of a series of disputes over freedom of expression under the Islamist government. Egypt already had restrictions on film makers under president Hosni Mubarak, requiring them to seek approval from the Censorship Bureau to screen their work. After his overthrow in 2011, film makers were hoping for more artistic freedom, but critics of the government say little has changed. Producer Haitham al-Khamissi said Censorship Bureau officials had told him State Security had requested to view his film "The Jews of Egypt" before it could be cleared to be shown in cinemas. But a security source denied State Security was blocking the film, saying permits were granted by the Censorship Bureau. Officials at the Censorship Bureau were however not immediately available to comment. Khamissi said renewing the permit for the film, which was first shown with official permission at a film festival in Egypt in 2012, would normally take a matter of hours, but he said he had been waiting for a week. The film depicts changes in Egyptian society's acceptance of its ancient Jewish minority in the first half of the 20th century. Most Jews fled the country due to attacks on their community, particularly after the 1956 war, when Israel invaded Egypt along with Britain and France, which were trying to regain control of the Suez Canal. "The authorities had already approved my film ... I'm only asking for a renewal of the permission but until now I haven't received it," Khamissi said. "They are worried about us, the people who think ... The content is controversial, politically." "After the creation of Israel in 1948, the world view of Jews changed," he said. "There were worries that any Jewish Egyptian could be an Israeli spy." Last month Egyptian prosecutors questioned an award-winning novelist over accusations that he had insulted religion, in the latest of a string of cases to cause concern over freedom of expression. Khamissi said the screening last year lasted only one day and was for a limited audience, whereas the permission he is seeking now is to show the film to the public for several days.

Bahrain detains 6 over anti-government tweets

The public prosecutor's office in Bahrain says six people have been detained for allegedly defaming the country's ruler on Twitter. The six, who were not identified, join a growing list of anti-government activists caught up in an Internet crackdown by authorities in the Sunni-ruled Gulf nation. Bahrain has seen nearly two years of unrest over demands by the country's majority Shiites for a greater political voice. The six were detained over the past couple of days and the prosecutor's statement Wednesday said they will be charged with misusing Twitter and insulting King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The arrests come two days after a court acquitted rights activist Yousef al-Muhafedha of spreading false news on Twitter. He is one of dozens to face charges for posting comments on social media.

Saudi Arabia: execution of seven men today 'an act of sheer brutality'

The execution earlier today of seven men in Saudi Arabia after they were allegedly forced to “confess” to charges of armed robbery is an act of sheer brutality, Amnesty International said. The men were shot by a firing squad this morning in the city of Abha, in the south of the country. All of them reported that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated while held in custody and that were forced to “confess” to the alleged crime. They also claimed their relatives were threatened with torture if they withdrew their “confessions”. Two of the men repeated these claims in a telephone call to an Amnesty researcher just nine hours before their scheduled executions. One of them explains that the men only discovered they were about to be executed when friends and relatives told them that they’d seen the market square in Abha “being prepared” for their executions. “There are now seven spots in the square”, says one of the men in the interview, “for seven people to be shot”. “It’s going to be in public”, says the man. The seven men were arrested in 2005 and 2006 on charges of armed robbery. In a trial only lasting a few hours all the men were denied legal representation and were refused the opportunity to appeal. Two of the men are believed to have been juveniles at the time of the alleged crime: Ali bin Muhammad bin Hazam al-Shihri and Sa’id bin Nasser bin Muhammad al-Shahrani. The Saudi Arabian authorities had recently postponed the executions after an international outcry. Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: “We are outraged by the execution of seven men in Saudi Arabia this morning. “It is a bloody day when a government executes seven people on the grounds of ‘confessions’ obtained under torture, submitted at a trial where they had no legal representation or recourse to appeal. “We oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, but this case has been particularly shocking. “The death penalty is a violation of a fundamental human right - the right to life - and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, whatever form it takes.”

Clerics angry Ahmadinejad hugged woman

Karzai complains of delay in US prison handover

Afghanistan's president is warning that any further delay turning over a key U.S.-run detention facility to full Afghan control would harm relations. Hamid Karzai's statement comes after he and U.S. commander Gen. Joseph Dunford met Wednesday but failed to resolve the impasse that derailed a scheduled handover last Saturday. NATO released a statement after the meeting saying both parties pledged to continue constructive dialogue to resolve the remaining issues. The facility has an Afghan administrator but is still U.S.-run. The Americans also have the power to veto the release of detainees they feel present a continuing threat — a right they want to keep. Karzai pledges that even after Afghans take over, they will keep anyone who is a security threat in custody.

Bombing hits sports event in Afghanistan, 7 killed

Associated Press
A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Afghans watching the traditional sport of buzkashi on Wednesday, killing seven people in the north of the country, officials said. Among the seven killed in the bombing in the remote village of Basos were several family members of the Afghan speaker of parliament, said regional police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai. Another eight people were wounded. The parliament speaker, Abdul Raouf Ibrahimi, was born in Basos. Ahmadzai said the dead include his father, two brothers and one nephew. The bomber hit around 6 p.m. local time, just as fans were gathering around the players as they came off the field at the end of the match, said Kunduz province police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini. Buzkashi is akin to polo, but players on horseback use a headless goat carcass instead of a ball. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombers for attacking Afghan civilians. "There was no foreign soldier or individual there, yet this was carried out by those terrorists who claim they are the enemies of foreign forces," Karzai said in a statement.

Pakistan Parliament OKs Bill Banning Corporal Punishment
Pakistan's parliament has passed a bill prohibiting the corporal punishment of children. The bill was adopted unanimously by the National Assembly on March 12. It states that the infliction of corporal punishment on a child is punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and/or a fine up to 50,000 rupees ($507). The bill also says that the punishment would be in addition to any others under existing laws in connection with the infliction of pain or injury. The issue of corporal punishment of children in Pakistan was highlighted by a television program that prompted resolutions by regional parliaments in Pakistan's eastern Punjab and southern Sindh provinces. To become a national law, the bill must also be passed by the Pakistani Senate and then signed by the country's president.

Pakistan: Are five years of democracy enough?

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is Pakistan's first democratically elected government to stay in office for a full five-year term. How effective it has been in bringing democracy to the country will soon be seen. Democracy has remained a frail institution since the inception of the Pakistani state in 1947. In its 66 years of existence, Pakistan has been mostly ruled by military dictatorships - four, to be exact. Despite a number of controversies, the present Pakistani People's Party (PPP) government will be the first in Pakistan to complete its full term in office, which ends on March 16, 2013. Yousuf Raza Gilani took the oath as the 17th prime minister of Pakistan in 2008. He is the first prime minister in Pakistani history to see five budget proposals passed by the House.
Pakistan's struggles
Gilani's term in office began at a critical time in Pakistan's history. The country was in turmoil from within and without. Rising prices of basic commodities, power shortages and a worsening law and order situation were the main problems affecting both the lives of the common people and the economy. The party itself was in the middle of a leadership vacuum after the assassination of its leader, Benazir Bhutto, at the end of 2007, while the death of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in Balochistan had been strengthening separatist sentiments in the province. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, known until 2010 as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), was practically lost to militants, with the government's reputation at its lowest ever in Pakistani history. The Pakistani army and other security forces were literally in a state of war against the Pakistani people in their war on terror. The judiciary was struggling for its rights as an institution while many judges were incarcerated. The media, on the other hand, struggled to maintain its freedom in a country with a history of intolerance towards free thought and expression. In an interview with DW, Gilani spoke about the achievements of his party during its five years in office. The Supreme Court of Pakistan convicted Gilani of contempt of court in April 2012 and he had to leave office after being disqualified from parliament.
War on terror
Gilani cited the completion of the five-year term, the search for solutions to provincial problems, the empowerment of women and other related issues, as the major achievements of his government. "The biggest achievement of the Pakistan People's Party is that it is the first democratic government in 65 years of Pakistani history that will be completing its tenure. The world is anxiously waiting that we should transfer power to the next government and the transition should be smooth and in a democratic manner," Gilani said. The former prime minister named examples of his government's struggle to deal with important national issues like estrangement of the constituent units from the federation and law and order made worst through Taliban militancy. Pakistan's contribution to the war on terror and the rehabilitation of the internally displaced people of Swat Valley within 90 days of the inception of the government are two of the examples. "We made tremendous sacrifices for the peace and prosperity of the entire world, fighting against extremism and terrorism," he said.
PPP successes
The former prime minister also spoke about his party's struggle to empower the country's women during his government. The murder of Benazir Bhutto has yet to be fully explained When asked how his government sees itself after its five-year term, he said that despite the numerous problems it had inherited from the previous government, there were enough initiatives in place to show that things have changed for the best. But he also said that the people of the country were not patient enough to see these initiatives grow to their full potential. "We have given food security to the people of Pakistan through the Benazir Income Support Program. We have given a lot of incentives to people who are poor," he said. Experts in and on Pakistan see things differently, though. Britta Petersen, director of the Islamabad office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBS), said the PPP was a "mixed bag." She said it was a "great victory for democracy in Pakistan" that the government will have completed its term in office, and agreed the government had made progress regarding initiatives for women rights, climate change and even food security. "But the problem for all these pages of legislation is that they are waiting for implementation," Petersen told DW. "And here the problem really starts. The security situation has rather declined; sectarian violence has risen considerably." Bleak outlook In addition, Petersen pointed out that the PPP did not enjoy a particularly good reputation among the people of Pakistan: "According to the study of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, 53 percent of people who were asked believe that the PPP is the most corrupt party in Pakistan. People have lost confidence in this government on a large scale and I haven't even mentioned the rampaging economic and energy crises." Summing up the PPP's achievements and failures raises the question of what comes next. The PPP leader said he was unsure how the elections would turn out and avoided the question. Petersen, on the other hand, did have an answer. She said she was not very optimistic about the outcome of the election and the political atmosphere she expects will come of it. To her, like many other experts on Pakistani politics, "looking into the crystal ball" was not easy in the case of Pakistan. A recent survey conducted by the HBS found that the PPP was still the most popular political party, despite the fact that most of the respondents considered it the most corrupt. None of the major parties are likely to win a clear majority in the elections, according to the report. The PPP is likely to be in the forefront, closely followed by the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and then by former cricketer Imran Khan's reformist Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Even if the results ultimately differ, there is no doubt Pakistan could end up with an even weaker government than before - at a time in its history when it badly needs a strong government. The country's present situation is far worse than it was five years ago before the PPP started its term. The economic crisis is worse, law and order has deteriorated further and the upcoming withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014 will most definitely have an effect on Pakistan's security as well. "The next Pakistani government will definitely be a weak government because it will depend on other coalition partners," Petersen said, adding that the problem with potential coalition partners is that they will be likely to act in their own interest. "It is very unlikely Pakistan will get a strong government. It will get a weak government and that is definitely a worry."

Energy security: IP pipeline project

That IP gas pipeline project is both an economic and strategic issue is a loud and clear fact. The groundbreaking of Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline ceremony held in Chah Bahar was attended by the Iranian and Pakistan presidents with the joint statement declaring that the project is "in the interest of peace, security and progress of the two countries...and it will also consolidate the economic, political and security ties of the two nations." The Iranian President hailed the project as a sign of resistance against domination (clearly a reference to US opposition to the project and sustained warnings by the State Department to Pakistan to desist or else face sanctions); and the Pakistani President lamented the fact that the international community appeared not to be cognisant of 'appropriate solutions to many issues' with a clear reference to US opposition to the project and Pakistan's acute energy crisis which need no elaboration. The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) is a modified version of the 1995 Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) and was passed by US Congress on 30 September 2006 by voice vote and unanimous consent. The Act requires the US President to impose sanctions on foreign companies/entities that invest more than 20 million dollars in one year in Iran's energy sector. The US has been successful in using diplomacy to limit investment in Iran by "persuading European governments to limit new export credits to Iran and to persuade European banks not to provide letters of credit for exports to Iran or to process dollar transactions for Iranian banks." This accounts for China, South Korea and Japan's announcement that they will trade in their respective currencies with Iran. However subsequent to the passage of new sanctions on Iran by the US in 2012 and which became effective on 6 February 2013, Turkish and Indian trade with Iran has been affected. Turkey had paid for Iranian gas in Turkish liras held in Halkbank which then allowed Iran to purchase Turkish gold which was carried in hand luggage to Dubai where it was either shipped to Iran or sold for hard currency. Halkbank also processed 55 percent of India's payments for Iranian oil with the remainder paid in rupees which Iran used to buy Indian products Latest US sanctions have tightened sales of precious metals to Iran and prevent Halkbank from processing oil payments of other countries including India. Be that as it may it is not clear whether the Pakistan government can be sanctioned or whether the company set up to implement the IP pipeline project will be singled out and sanctioned. In addition the US President has the authority to waive the sanctions if he certifies that doing so is important to US national interest. And there is little argument that till 2014 the US President may deem it in US national interest to continue to engage with Pakistan on current terms which effectively implies meeting the military bill for fighting the war on terror from the Coalition Support Fund, extending civilian assistance to Pakistan under the Kerry Lugar bill of 1.5 billion dollars a year (though to date this amount has been lower than envisaged) and perhaps withdrawing from USAIDs engagement with Pakistan's energy sector. However, a statement made by Dr Asim Hussain the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Petroleum and Natural Resources, needs to be highlighted: "Can America guarantee that they will never make friends with Iran? Will Iran never come to terms with the world order? And if someone can give us that guarantee then we will not build the infrastructure." It is relevant to note in this context that pipelines from Iran are also proposed to be laid for gas exports to Europe and they too are premised on the same principle namely that economic compulsions may temporarily take a back seat to political compulsions but not indefinitely. Last but not least. Independent analysts, however, argue that the countries exporting natural gas can use this commodity as an effective foreign policy weapon. The Turkish-Iranian gas crisis of January 2007 and 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas dispute are cases in point. In the Turkey-Iran gas crisis, Tehran was accused of gradually but drastically reducing its supply in December 2006. Iran's oil minister cited the freezing cold in his country and the need to supply its industry first as reasons behind that big cut. Turkey however did not buy this explanation because, according to it, as the supply had already been interrupted before, in the summer of 2006. Some in Turkey even speculated that the delivery stop was a hidden threat by Iran against its contract partner and should therefore be interpreted politically. From January 2007 onwards, Turkey temporarily met its energy needs by buying liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Malaysia and Trinidad and Tobago, which were obviously more expensive than normal gas. When Iranian supplies were cut off completely, the volume of natural gas imported from Russia was increased, although it is another matter of debate that Turkey, a Nato member, paid back to Russia's crucial help by playing the role of more than a silent spectator in the Russia-Georgia conflict of 2008. Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that the energy imperatives led to the articulation of a new chapter in the bilateral relationship of these two countries that had fought at least one dozen wars in the 19th Century. As far as Pakistan is concerned, this newspaper hopes that our policymakers must have critically evaluated all the pros and cons of entering into this agreement between the two neighbouring countries sharing the same religion and culture. It also hopes that under no circumstances shall the Islamic republic use the shipments of natural gas to Pakistan as a foreign policy weapon because Islamabad - by inking this historic but risky deal - has already risked the US belligerence and hostility that could hit Pakistan in the shape of unilateral sanctions. Remember, Pakistan is not Turkey which has been successfully diversifying its foreign sources of gas supply. Although, Turkmenistan presents itself as another major source of gas through proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, it appears to be a matter of long haul as its name suggests. Moreover, it is not feasible in short- or mid-term even if the project is reduced to Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) mainly because of a highly volatile situation in Afghanistan.

Hina Rabbani the most gorgeous woman politician

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar topped the list of most gorgeous women politicians in the world, a survey conducted by India Today said on Wednesday. Khar, who was elected member of national assembly from the seat of Pakistan Peoples Party, is famous for wearing attractive and fashionable outfits. Her handbags and dresses remains the focus of the media during foreign trips. Another Pakistani lawmaker Kashmala Tariq is at number eight on the list. Kashmala, who is also a lawyer and a member of Pakistan Muslim League-Like Minded, is famous for her dressings and outspoken statements. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is placed at number 9 on the list of most gorgeous women politicians. Other women politicians which make place in the top 10 gorgeous women politicians include, Sonia Gandhi, the head of India’s Congress Party, Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Sonia Gandhi, Ruby Dhalla, a Canadian politician and Yulia Tymoshenko, former Prime Minister of Ukraine. However, Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah and United States’ first lady, Michelle Obama were placed at 11 and 12 rank respectively.

Balochistan: Elections in Peril?

The Baloch Hal
The Baloch Liberation Army (B.L.A.) killed the Election Commissioner of Quetta District on Tuesday in the provincial capital. A B.L.A. Spokesman told the media that his organization would disrupt the upcoming general elections in Balochistan. Groups like B.L.A. that call for Balochistan’s absolute and unconditional liberation from Pakistan do not approve of Pakistani parliamentary elections. They view the elections a futile exercise because Pakistan’s parliament barely provides Balochistan with adequate representation, constitutional protection and financial autonomy. These groups also say Pakistani elections are a ploy to undermine their national struggle as it significantly diverts attention from the actual motives behind their struggle. For these armed groups, moderate Baloch nationalist groups such as the Balochistan National Party and the National Party also fall in the category of “traitors” if they choose to participate in the next general elections. The killing of Quetta’s Election Commissioner rings alarm bells for the government. We should step back and reconsider whether or not to trust the analysis of politicians like Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo of the National Party who recently said that the Baloch armed groups were not as strong and active today as they were back in 2008 when the last parliamentary polls were held. Mr. Bizenjo, whose National Party is gearing up to participate in the democratic showdown, said the state of law and order was good enough in Balochistan to hold elections. If the assassination of the Election Commissioner reflects “improvement” and “peace” in Balochistan then we truly live in the fools’ paradise. Most politicians, except the Baloch nationalists, do not want the cancellation or the postponement of the elections but Balochistan has to undergo several harsh processes before the voting day. Besides the B.L.A., the Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.), which is extremely powerful and proactive in the Mekran region, has also called upon the Baloch people to boycott the polls which means the underground organization does not only want the voters to stay home but it also plans to attack election rallies and polling stations in case, which is very likely, some other (pro-Islamabad) parties go ahead a d contest the elections. Armed groups initially spread panic among the people through warnings in the media but when their threats are not taken very seriously and defied, they resort to actual violent assaults in order to show that they are capable of translating their threats into action. The unfortunate killing in Quetta of the District Election Commissioner is apparently the formal inception of the armed groups’ anti- election campaign. If other groups, such as the B.L.F, emulate the B.L.A. then the lives of other district election officers will also be at dire risk elsewhere in Balochistan. The government’s failure to protect a senior election officer in the provincial capital means it will be very easy for the insurgents to carry out similar assaults in other volatile districts such as Khuzdar, Turbat, Panjgur, Gwadar, Awaran, Lasbela, Dera Bugti etc. The B.L.A. says it will intensify its attacks in the coming days on moderate Baloch nationalist parties that will contest elections and government employees (mostly school teachers) who will perform election duties. The success of the elections in Balochistan hinges on a number factors or simply “ifs”. The first and foremost challenge is to end the current governor’s rule and restore the elected government. There are speculations that the federal government may extend the governor’s rule which, if happens so, means blocking the path for a caretaker government. According to the Constitution, the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should jointly nominate the caretaker Chief Minister but right now both the key positions in Balochistan are suspended because of the governor’s rule. Secondly, the future of broad-based and all-inclusive elections depends on the participation of enraged nationalist parties such as the B.N.P. of Sardar Akhtar Mengal. Mengal told B.B.C. Urdu yesterday that he was soon returning to Pakistan where his party’s central committee would finally decided whether or not to contest the polls. However, it remains to be seen what steps the government will take to provide protection to so many people on whose participation and physical safety the future of the elections entirely depends. A single major attack on a political rally, assassination of an election candidate or an attack on a polling staff-designate can easily lead to the cancellation of elections in a certain constituency. Free, fair and transparent elections must take place in Balochistan regardless the existing challenges. The governor’s rule was already a setback to the democratic process. The province cannot afford to push that process two more steps backward through the cancellation of the elections. If the elections are postponed or disrupted, the province’s problems will further increase as all issues then would be addressed on undemocratic platforms mainly through violent means.

Pakistan: SC interim order in Joseph Colony case holds IGP responsible

The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) on Wednesday issued its interim order in the Joseph Colony suo moto case, saying the Punjab inspector general of police failed to provide security to 220 homes of Christians in Badami Bagh area of Lahore. In its short order, the chief justice said how would culprits be apprehended if such a situation was prevailing. The Supreme Court held the Punjab inspector general of police and the Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) responsible for the Joseph Colony arson. The court said the suspension of the SHO and DPO was not enough and no further negligence would be tolerated in the case. The three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry questioned what steps had been taken to stop such attacks in the future and why residents were displaced and not provided security. Informing the court about the investigation of the incident, the SSP investigation said during initial interrogation, the Christian suspect accused of blasphemy admitted to being intoxicated and did not remember what he had said. The SSP sought time to ascertain the facts. Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry remarked that instead of asking witnesses, police were asking suspects. The CJP said the incident had taken place after Friday prayers and was the reason for people’s provocation being investigated. The Punjab advocate general presented the report on Gojra incident and said the judicial commission report had recommended an amendment in the police order. “This recommendation was sent to concerned officials but there were differences between the Home Department and police over the amendment,” he said. He said the government accepted responsibility for the mob attack and was taking steps to prevent such incidents in the future. Justice Chaudhry asked if the government was so helpless that it could not implement the judicial commission’s report over some differences. The chief justice also asked why no concrete steps had been taken for the implementation of the report. The Punjab AG further informed the court that the trial of those accused in the Gojra incident had begun, but a compromise had been reached. The bench remarked that there was no room for compromise in cases of terrorism. Later, the hearing of the case was adjourned until March 18.

Ahmedis and the elections

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
Even with election time right round the corner, the ugly shadow of bigotry and intolerance has once again made its presence felt in our country. The Supreme Court (SC) has taken notice of amendments made to the election rules by President Pervez Musharraf in the Executive Order of 2002 by which any candidate whose faith was challenged and did not profess his/her faith by signing a declaration of belief in the finality of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) would be declared a ‘non-Muslim’. The matter does not end here. Petitioner Kanwar Idrees argues that a separate electoral list for Ahmedis is an insult aimed at excluding the community from the mainstream. The SC is hearing a petition against these amendments in the light of the constitutional principles laid down in the Zaheeruddin case verdict in in 1993 in which it was declared that Ahmedis could not call their place of worship a mosque and would not be allowed to recite the call for prayer (azaan). The fact that Ahmedis must go through this demeaning process of having to declare something they do not wish to so that they may be eligible to stand for electoral candidacy is bad enough, but to separate Ahmedi voters from the mainstream citizenry because of their beliefs is against the founding principles of the state. When Pakistan was born, its founding father, the Quaid-e-Azam, had a vision — he told the people that faith was a personal matter and that the state had no business interfering with anyone’s beliefs. Fast forward to the Pakistan of today and we see that, far from being free believers of whichever faith they choose, minorities — particularly the Ahmedis — are not even treated as citizens of the state. They have no rights, no safeguards and can be jailed for some of the pettiest ‘offences’ inventive and mischievous minds can think of. It is a welcome move on the SC’s part to have taken up the matter of the separate voters list at a time when Pakistan is shying away from even protecting the lives of any of its minority citizens. The darkness of our discrimination and intolerance towards anything even slightly different from dominant state orthodoxy and mullah might has engulfed this nation. It is time to return to the inclusive worldview and vision of Mr Jinnah and to thereby relieve the agony his spirit must be passing through in these darkening times.

Child soldiers?: Quetta police arrests eleven underage bombers

The Express Tribune
Balochistan Police on Wednesday claimed to have arrested eleven children aged between 11 to 16 years, who were allegedly involved in carrying out the Bacha Khan blast in Quetta, Express News reported. Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Quetta Zubair Mehmood at a press conference in Quetta on Wednesday claimed that the detained children had admitted their role in the bomb blast that shook Bacha Khan chowk in Quetta in January. The convicts apparently worked for the little known United Baloch Army (UBA). The blast at Bacha Khan square in January had killed 12 people and injured many others. Sixteen year-old Sabir, among those detained, was particularly used in that blast. Mehmood said that the children had admitted to receiving Rs3,000 for each of the attacks they carried out. The CCPO said that terrorist organisations exploited the poverty of these children. The CCPO further said that these children were arrested after an exchange of fire between police and militants on Tuesday night. He added that at least eight handlers managed to escape. Police also claimed to have recovered seven rockets, anti-personnel mines, chemicals, safety fuse wires, 10kg of explosive material, and explosive rods. UBA had lured the children, who came from poor families, to leave packages containing home-made bombs in markets, dustbins and on routes used by police and security forces, Mehmood said. Mehmood said the militants chose the youngsters knowing that police would not suspect small children or garbage collectors. “Some of the children said they did not know what the packets contained and what they are doing,” he said. “They said they were happy they would get a small amount of money for dropping the packets.” Some of the boys, aged between 10 and 17, have confessed to involvement in about a dozen blasts in the city including the Bacha Khan blast where a bomb exploded near a vehicle of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), he said. The January 10 bomb blast killed two FC soldiers and nine civilians near the Bacha Khan chowk. Baluchistan has been hit by an insurgency in recent years by Baluch nationalists demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the province’s wealth of natural oil, gas and mineral resources. The province has also been the focus of rising sectarian violence and Quetta has been hit by two huge bombings this year targeting minority Shiite Muslims that have killed nearly 200 people.