Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama Nowruz message: Iran must 'reduce nuclear tension'

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered Iran a "practical solution" if it truly seeks peaceful nuclear capabilities rather than weapons. In a video to the Iranian people, Mr Obama urged Iran to take "immediate and meaningful steps" to reduce tension with the international community. He said Iranians had paid a "high and unnecessary price" for Tehran's "unwillingness" to satisfy concerns. Mr Obama's message marked the Persian new year, Nowruz. International powers suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons - a charge Iran strongly denies. Iran insists its purposes are purely civilian, asserting it needs enriched uranium to make medical isotopes. "Iran's leaders say that their nuclear program is for medical research and electricity," Mr Obama said. "To date, however, they have been unable to convince the international community that their nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes. "Now is the time for the Iranian government to take immediate and meaningful steps to reduce tensions and work toward an enduring, long-term settlement of the nuclear issue." He said increased trade and better ties with other nations would benefit the Iranian people, but warned proceeding on the current path would result in deeper isolation. The president's annual Nowruz message comes ahead of a visit to the Middle East on Wednesday. In Mr Obama's upcoming visit to Israel and Jordan - his first trip there as president - Iran is expected to be high on the agenda. His closely-watched visit could set the tone of foreign policy in the region for his second term, analysts say. Last month, the US tightened its sanctions on Iran, restricting the country's access to its own oil revenues and imposing financial restrictions against Iran's state-run media.

Bahrain: 30 days in jail for one tweet
Human rights activist Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha had no idea who followed him on Twitter. That is, until he was arrested one afternoon. As the acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Yousif — as he’s known to friends — regularly witnesses demonstrations in Bahrain and documents actions by protesters and police. Demonstrations are illegal here. The government has arrested Shia Muslim leaders. Thirteen have been sentenced to long jail terms for advocating democratic reform. Others had their citizenship revoked, making it almost impossible to find work. Opposition TV and radio don’t exist. That leaves Twitter, the social network of choice for young Bahrainis. In November last year, Yousif had just tweeted a photo of an injured demonstrator when five men in plain clothes surrounded him. They refused to identify themselves and put him in an unmarked car. But Yousif said he knew he was under arrest. After one minute, the officer told me, ‘You just tweeted. Give me your telephone.’ He took my iPhone. Luckily, I also have a Samsung.” Yousif was later charged with “disseminating false news” under a law aimed at stifling dissent. Yousif ended up spending 30 days in jail. “I’m very fast,” he said. “I tweeted, ‘I’m arrested.’”“They kept me in jail for one month for a tweet, while police who have killed protestors go free,” he said. Through a month in detention, assigned an immigrant roommate who spoke neither English nor Arabic, Yousif was left with plenty of time to think about how complicated Sunni-Shia relations have become since the start of his country’s Arab Spring uprising in February 2011. About 70 percent of Bahraini citizens are Shia. They face discrimination in jobs, housing and education. “They are the poor people,” he said. “For sure they are the majority protesting in the streets.” But many Sunnis also opposed the government and joined the early demonstrations, he noted.“Although the government tried to divide Sunni and Shia, the majority of all Bahrainis still have problems with the government. We all want democracy. For the past 42 years, we’ve had the same, unelected prime minister.” Demanding an end to the monarchy has landed dissidents in jail for years. So far the government has dealt less harshly with Yousif. He was allowed weekly family visits. That’s how he learned that international media and human rights groups were protesting his detention. “My family printed out all the articles and statements about my case by international organizations,” he said. “I knew I was not alone.” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, speaking about Yousif’s case, said Bahraini police have supposedly undergone human rights training. “If Bahraini officials believe that an activist is inciting violence by tweeting a picture of an injured demonstrator, then it’s clear that all the human rights training sessions they’ve attended have been wasted,” Whitson said at a recent press conference in Manama.
 Yousif said his detention was political, aimed at warning him and others to stay away from demonstrations. “They want me off the streets,” he said. “They want to commit crimes without any witnesses.” A few days after his release from detention, Yousif was back on the streets documenting Bahraini police actions. On March 11 he was acquitted of all charges.

Israelis welcome President Obama
1,618 people submit slogans to US embassy’s Facebook page, 20 best will get tickets to president’s Jerusalem speech
More than 1,600 Israelis submitted slogans to a US embassy contest for tickets to President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem. According to the embassy’s Facebook page, 1,618 people answered a post promising tickets for 20 of the most “original and creative” comments and posted them by March 14.Winners will attend Obama’s address next week at the International Convention Center Jerusalem during his first presidential visit to Israel, Army Radio reported. One of the contenders, Nathan Bachrach, wrote: “As a grandfather of three girls in Houston, Texas, I hope one of them will one day replace you and become the first woman president in the US.” Another contender, Eitan Friedman, was one of several dozen who said they wanted to attend the speech to ask Obama to free Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who in 1987 received a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Europe and the Arab Spring

BY: Ziad Akl
In January 2011, those who were protesting in Tahrir Square kept a careful eye on world leaders, hoping to hear a message of support for the revolution or a message of pressure to the Mubarak regime. The United States and Western Europe found themselves in a very difficult position. On one hand, their long-time ally Hosni Mubarak has been more than useful and has safely guarded Western interests in the region. On the other hand, the young voices that chanted from the square represented all the principles that the West tries to promote. The call was indeed difficult and Western countries had to make it one case at a time. There were three main types of Western response: open support of the revolution, open support of the regime, and a third model that conservatively waited till things were clear before declaring its support. That’s why the Western response was so different from one place to the other. In Libya it was open support of the revolution from day one. In Bahrain, it was open support for the regime refusing the idea of change in the Gulf. And finally in Egypt, the West waited till it was clear that Mubarak is stepping out of the picture. The West did not respond to the Arab Spring based on the principles the West believes in or the pursuit of democracy and equality; the case of Bahrain proves that the West responded on the basis of its interests and the best way to protect them. And on this basis the response to the Egyptian revolution was made and the West supported the revolution after 18 days of skepticism towards the extent of change the youth in Tahrir were capable of. Europe was a lot faster than America in showing their support to Egypt. European interests in Egypt remain the same and have not changed. Europe is interested in a stable regional order in the Middle East that respects the status quo, which Egypt has worked hard to maintain. Europe is also interested in fighting radical Islam, which has threatened the security of Europe more than once since 9/11. It is indeed in the European interest to ensure that Muslim radicals are kept far from decision-making positions. Finally, Europe has a clear interest in combating illegal immigration. European parliaments discussed their immigration laws over and over again. In fact, the position on immigration has been one of the issues that influenced election results in Europe. Europeans believe that due to the terrible living conditions in North Africa, a lot of Arabs and Africans decide to immigrate to Europe. Egypt and Libya were the main ports for illegal immigration in the Arab World. Therefore, Europe has decided to aid in democratising the Arab World to try and reduce the yearly waves of immigrants that pour into Europe from North Africa. Americans, on the other hand, have a completely different set of interests in Egypt and in the region. The U.S sees Egypt as a necessary element of Israel’s security; therefore, whatever regime is ruling Egypt, Americans would always ensure that the regime does not jeopardise Israel’s security. In addition to Israel, the U.S has an interest in fighting radical Islam that breeds terrorism. But unlike the Europeans, Americans would rather have the Islamists normalised instead of kept away from decision-making processes. The U.S rationale is that Islamists turn violent because they cannot find an opening in the system to allow them to exist in a non-violent way. Hence, Islamists need to be empowered to avoid radicalisation. Therefore, Europe has an interest in implementing democracy in the Arab World while the U.S simply wants to ensure the status quo and prevent Islamists from turning into terrorists. The extent of democratisation does not matter to the U.S as long as American interests are kept safe. Since February 2011, I have participated in many workshops and conferences in different European countries. Wherever I go I am asked the same question: what can Europe do to support Egypt? Financial grants and direct investment are definitely of great help, but mere financial support is not enough. European interests in a democratic Egypt need to be demonstrated through supporting new political institutions. Empowering political parties and movements is necessary. At the same time, financing think tanks and research centres is very important. The chances for democracy are enhanced with more production of knowledge. Finally, all this aid must be linked to the actual process of change on the ground. There is absolutely no reason to support and finance a country with an authoritarian dictatorship-like regime. The more steps Egypt takes towards democratisation, the more aid it will receive from Europe. However, with President Morsi’s performance and the Muslim Brotherhood’s power monopoly, there is little hope that democratisation will actually take place. Europe will eventually turn its back on Egypt, and it will be the responsibility of the Muslim Brotherhood to obtain the same resources Europe used to contribute through the United States or Qatar. The Brotherhood does not turn down money, but what it can offer in return is not democratic change, but a promise to maintain the status quo.

British military commanders acted like 'myopic dinosaurs' during Iraq war
British military commanders acted like "myopic dinosaurs" during the Iraq war with no plan and little understanding of the situation, Colonel Tim Collins, who delivered a key eve-of-battle speech in 2003, has said. The former army officer said his award-winning speech, in which he told troops "We go to liberate not to conquer", before the start of the conflict did not reflect an official plan and was simply his own interpretation of how the Iraq war would play out. "It was down to me to tell my men what I believed was the justification for what was to happen because, with hindsight, it is clear that there was simply no plan," he wrote today in The Daily Mirror on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the conflict. In the March 2003 speech in Kuwait, he told troops the Iraqi people would be grateful for the British intervention and that the Iraqis were their allies. He also warned against UK soldiers flying "our flags in their country". Col Collins later received an OBE for his "inspiring" delivery and a copy of his address was hung in the Oval office by then US President George W Bush. Col Collins, who was born in Belfast and served in Bosnia and Kosovo, claimed that military chiefs acted with "arrogance" over the invasion, leaving the previously "religiously and ethnically rich" country economically ravaged in a matter of months."It was just the fact that we were there and those in command wanted it done their way, even if they had no plan. We were in the way and, like a myopic dinosaur, it was all they could see," he said. British MPs were also unable to foresee the consequences of their actions with nativity "worthy of a small child", he added, calling the system "incompetent and spiteful". Col Collins, who stood as a Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Kent in 2011, was accused of war crimes during the battle but was later acquitted. The war in Iraq claimed more than 116,000 civilian lives in the space of eight years and cost the US about £530 billion, according to the Lancet. The conflict cost the lives of 179 British service personnel.

Pakistan:Textbook biases show when Muslim students ask non-Muslim high achievers to convert

The Express Tribune
Intellectuals from a number of fields came together to point out the horrifying prejudices found in text books in Pakistan at a talk on ‘Biases in Textbooks and Education Policy’ organised by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) on Monday. “I have heard of cases where Muslim students ask non-Muslim high achievers: Why don’t you convert to our religion,” recalled Karamat Ali, the executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research. “And it is not just Muslims and Hindus, but also Shias who are given this treatment. This is because of the horrifying myths about people of other faiths that we fill our children with.” Ali criticised political parties for having a narrow vision. “Every party says that they’ll bring ‘roti, kapra and makaan’. What about the freedom to practice your religion?” Dr Bernadette Dean, the principal of St Joseph’s College for Women, spoke about the religious and gender biases found in text books in Pakistan. “In the curriculum, Islamiat was included in the ‘general knowledge’ taught to children and was made compulsory for students in classes one, two and three,” she pointed out. “This goes against Article 22 of the Constitution, which states that no person will be forced to attain religious education.” Dean found religious biases in textbooks written for English, Urdu, Pakistan studies and social studies. “Teachers have to teach these textbooks because students are tested on them in the examinations. They don’t have the choice of breaking out of the system,” she said, adding that the cherry on top is the system of rote learning. “Imagine thousands of students all over Pakistan rote learning biases against people of other religions by heart and then regurgitating them.” Quoting acclaimed works, such as K. K. Aziz’s ‘Murder of History of Pakistan’ and Nayyar and Salim’s ‘A Subtle Subversion’, she went on to explain how Pakistan’s history is subverted by “omissions and additions”. “Our students aren’t taught that the first chief justice of Pakistan was a Christian,” she said. “Neither are they told that there were more Hindus than Muslims in Karachi at the time of partition.”The partition is a tricky topic. “When I asked my students to write about the problems faced by Pakistan during partition, they said: Hindus are bad because they didn’t want to give us the Rs200 million promised to us at partition,” she said. She then spoke about how textbooks fail to represent gender in a fair manner. “Our text books are full of great men,” she explained. “You hardly ever come across any great women and when they do turn up, you find them in stereotypical roles, as mothers and housewives.” Dean stressed that textbooks need to be rewritten to reflect the changing times. The executive director of NCJP, Peter Jacob, also wondered that if the study of religion is so important as to be included at every stage in the curriculum, then why does it only focus on Islam. “Why not include other religions as well.” Sharing her views with The Express Tribune, Dr Nuzhat, the former principal of Government College, Karachi, felt the discussion was particularly saddening if the history of education in Pakistan, and Sindh in particular, was kept in mind. “Why do we forget that all great schools in Karachi, including Karachi Grammar School and Mama Parsi, were built by non-Muslims? Muslim parents have been dying to get their children admitted into these schools ever since they were built around 100 years ago.”

Could a Nobel Prize for Malala Yousafzai Inspire Pakistan to Stand Up to Extremism?

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl-turned-icon of resistance to the Taliban, has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize and could possibly become the youngest recipient of the storied honor. Yousafzai was thrust into the global spotlight last October, after she was brutally attacked by a Taliban gunman while traveling home from school in Pakistan's Swat valley. The gunman boarded the van and asked for her by name before firing three shots at her — singling her out for writing a blog that criticized the Taliban for preventing girls from getting an education. The shooting shocked the world and sparked rare public outrage against Islamist militants in Pakistan. According to Shahzeb Jillani, the BBC World Service South Asia Editor, the wave of revulsion seemed like a "turning point" for a country whose state institutions appeared ambivalent towards rising extremism. On the face of it, the brazen attack on Malala attracted widespread condemnation by the international community as well as Pakistani leaders. However, as the days passed, Pakistani public opinion began to fracture along historically divisive ideological and political lines. The religious right accused Malala's supporters of "hijacking" the assassination attempt to further the objectives of Pakistan’s security establishment and their Western backers — declaring it a ploy to justify a possible army offensive in the Taliban-controlled tribal region of North Waziristan. On the political front, opposition parliamentarians said they would resist any government move to launch a fresh military operation in Pakistan's tribal areas — as this could be used as an excuse to postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections. With that, Pakistan's so-called "Malala moment" faded away as quickly as it had seemingly emerged, drowned out amid the day-to-day bickering of Pakistani politicians. Six months down the road, everything could potentially change if Yousafzai wins a Nobel Peace Prize, resurrecting another "Malala moment” by galvanizing Pakistani public opinion against the rising tide of extremism. Interestingly, many Pakistanis appear to be confident about Yousafzai's chances of winning. "If Obama can win the Nobel Peace Prize," quipped Anam Baig, a university student in Karachi, “I don’t see why Malala can't win." This confidence doesn't necessarily translate into a consensus about what happens in Pakistan if Yousafzai actually wins the Prize. "Nothing will change," argues Moiz Muhammed, a 21-year-old student in Karachi. "People will see (the Nobel Prize) as a conspiracy against Islam… these are the same people who had called Malala a Jewish agent (earlier)." A more nuanced view comes from Shozab Naqvi, a Pakistani banker and blogger, who argues that "a Nobel Prize will boost the morale of Malala's supporters and rally some support against extremism. However, the religious right will continue to see this Prize as a proof of their conspiracy-driven narrative and the Nobel will end up polarizing both sides even further." Unfortunately for Pakistan, it appears that even a Nobel Peace Prize for Yousafzai is unlikely serve as a catalyst that could inspire the country to take a united stand against violent extremism.

Top US commander in Afghanistan says he’s working on issues that anger Karzai

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says he’s working quickly to resolve issues that have infuriated Afghan President Hamid Karzai, including the delayed handover of a U.S.-run detention center and the withdrawal of U.S. special operations forces from a province outside Kabul. In his first interview since taking command, Gen. Joseph Dunford told The Associated Press on Monday that there is no new deadline for handing over the detention center despite an Afghan official statement saying the U.S. had promised a resolution by the end of the week. Dunford also says he is working with Afghan officials to hand over security in Wardak province where Karzai says there have been complaints that the U.S. forces or Afghans working with them have mistreated citizens. The U.S. has denied any wrongdoing. Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Afghanistan's Forests A Casualty Of Timber Smuggling

Despite Afghanistan's fierce winter, it's rare to find a house with insulation or a modern heating system. So Afghans rely on bukharis, stoves that look like an oil drum with a big rusty pipe growing out of the top that bends off into a hole in the wall. That fact keeps the hundreds of wood vendors around Kabul quite happy. This winter, NPR staff fed several tons of firewood into their bukhari — and that's just one house in a city of about 5 million people. The United Nations Environmental Program estimates that over the past three decades, Afghanistan's forest cover has decreased by about 50 percent. Wali Modaqiq, deputy director of Afghanistan's environmental protection agency, says that today forests cover only about 2 percent of Afghanistan. He says years of war and drought have felled more trees than wood stoves, which generally burn scrap wood. The big killer of trees, though, is economics. "There is a huge demand for Afghan timber in the international market," Modaqiq says. Commercial timber harvesting is illegal in Afghanistan — which leaves a massive smuggling industry to satisfy international demand. The remaining forest is in places like Kunar province bordering Pakistan, which is the main outlet for Afghan timber now.
A Limited Economy
There is no business in Kunar but the timber business, says Haji Hamidullah, a businessman there. "It's called Kunar, which means the homeland of mountains," he says. "Once upon a time when there was anarchy in here, people started cutting down the forest to make money." That was during the 1980s war with the Soviets and the subsequent civil war. Now there is law — but law in Afghanistan often doesn't translate from paper to practice, and that applies to the timber business. "There's a big business running [timber] during the night," Hamidullah says. "All top officials, including the governor, police chief and head of the provincial council, are involved and are paid their share." Hamidullah knows, because he used to be in the business. "When I was caught, all of my timber was put on sale by the government despite the fact that I paid a lot of money in bribes to many officials," he says.
A Well-Developed System
Ashaqullah, who goes by one name, is from Asadabad, the capital of Kunar. He is the head of the Youth Provincial Council, but even he acknowledges that he smuggles on the side. He says there is a clear system. "A specific amount of tax is levied on each truckload of timber. The deal is made during the day between the officials and the smugglers," he says. "The cutting and transportation goes on at night." He says dozens of trucks carry hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of timber to Pakistan each night. Not surprisingly, Fazelullah Wahidi, the governor of Kunar, says this is all bunk. "Smuggling is not possible now," he says. "This is a very old story because this was happening in war time," he explains. "But now we have a strong military, we have strong border police, and we have strong national police." But according to smugglers and residents of Kunar, those policemen are on the take. The governor was about the only person in Kunar who denied that timber is being illegally harvested and smuggled. Modaqiq, with the national environmental protection agency, points out a Catch-22 that makes it difficult to stop the smuggling. "Official policy is to involve the local communities to manage the natural resources, especially the forest," he says. But the local people of Kunar have few ways to earn money other than working for smugglers. "They are providing job opportunities for those people," Modaqiq says. So the very people empowered to protect the forests have a strong economic incentive to cut them down. And with law enforcement officials complicit in the business, the remaining forest covering 2 percent of the country may not be standing for long. .

Afghanistan opposition parties in talks with Taliban, claim leaders

Afghan political parties united against the president, Hamid Karzai, are in talks with the Taliban and Islamist groups, hoping to broker peace before next year's exit of international combat troops and a presidential race that will determine Karzai's successor, leaders of the factions have said. This is the first confirmation that the opposition has opened its own, new channel of discussions to try to find a political resolution to the war, now in its 12th year. And the Taliban too seem to want to move things forward, even contemplating replacing their top negotiator, two senior Taliban officials told the Associated Press. Reaching an understanding with both the Taliban and the militant group, Hezb-e-Islami – headed by the US-declared terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – would give the opposition, which expects to field a consensus candidate in next year's election, a better chance at cobbling together a post-Karzai government. The alternative to a multiparty government after the 2014 elections, many fear, could signal a return to the internecine fighting of the early 1990s that devastated Kabul. But with ongoing back-channel discussions and private meetings being held with Taliban interlocutors around the world, it is difficult to know exactly who is talking to whom. Early last year, Karzai, who demands that any talks be led by his government, said that his administration, the US and the Taliban had held three-way talks aimed at moving towards a political settlement of the war. The US and the Taliban, however, both deny that such talks took place. Hekmatyar's group has held talks with both the Karzai government and Washington officials, and a senior US official said the Taliban were talking to representatives of more than 30 countries, and indirectly with the US. The Taliban broke off formal discussions with the US last year and have steadfastly rejected negotiations with the Karzai government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers. News about the opposition group's new avenue of talks comes amid Karzai's latest round of verbal attacks on the US, which have infuriated some of his allies in Washington and confused some of his senior advisers. In recent weeks, Karzai has accused the US of colluding with the Taliban to keep foreign troops in Afghanistan and has attacked the Taliban for talking to foreigners while killing Afghan civilians in their homeland. The Afghan president also has stepped up his rhetoric against his political opponents, trying to paint them as American pawns in a grand scheme to install a government of its liking when coalition troops leave by the end of 2014. The troop withdrawal and presidential elections are two major events observers fear could bring instability to Afghanistan. Trying to put its stamp on the future, the opposition – united under a single banner called the Council of Co-operation of Political Parties – says it has reached out to both the Taliban and Hekmatyar, a one-time US ally who is now listed as a terrorist by Washington. In addition to getting the blessing of the Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, any peace deal would have to be supported by Hekmatyar, who has thousands of fighters and followers, primarily in the north and east. Omar and Hekmatyar are bitter rivals, but both launch attacks on the Afghan government and foreign forces and both have suspended direct talks with the US, saying they were going nowhere. "We want a solution for Afghanistan … but every step should be a soft one," said Hamid Gailani, a founding member of the united opposition. "We have to start somewhere." The opposition group is full of political heavyweights. There are former presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ali Ahmed Jalali – both of whom were said to be Washington's preferred candidates in the last presidential election in 2009. There is also Rashid Dostum, who leads the minority Uzbek ethnic group, and Mohammed Mohaqiq, the leader of another minority ethnic group, the Hazaras. Also in the group is Ahmed Zia Massoud, a former Afghan vice-president and the brother of the anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, the charismatic leader of the ethnic minority Tajiks and the Northern Alliance, who died in an al-Qaida suicide attack two days before 9/11, which provoked the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Joseph Colony: Blasphemy complainant, arson accused still missing

The Express Tribune
Police have so far been unable to find Shahid Imran, the complainant in the blasphemy case against a Christian resident of Joseph Colony and an accused in the subsequent arson in the neighbourhood, though they arrested a friend of his on Sunday. Shafiq alias Chiku is alleged to have set fire to a snooker table owned by the blasphemy accused, Sawan Masih, and incited others to sack and burn the homes and properties of Christian residents. Shafiq, son of Jhuggian Sheikhabad resident Muhammad Rafique, told the police that he had not personally heard Sawan making blasphemous remarks, but had been angered by Imran’s account of Sawan’s alleged utterances, sources in Badami Bagh police station told The Express Tribune. SP (Investigation) Amin Bokhari said that police had no clue as to the whereabouts of Imran, but were looking for all the accused nominated in the FIR. Market elections postponed Meanwhile, the election of the body that manages the Misri Shah iron market, located near Joseph Colony, have been postponed from the due date of March 20. Some of those rendered homeless in Joseph Colony have suggested that the expansion of the market was the motive for the March 10 attack. “There is no point in holding elections when more than half the candidates of one of the traders’ groups are on the run after being nominated in the FIR,” said Chaudhry Shahid Hussain, the election commissioner. He said that 18 of the 32 candidates of the Aman Group had been nominated in the FIR of the Joseph Colony attack, while not a single candidate of the rival Ittefaq Group had been nominated. He suggested that this was the result of a “political vendetta”. “It is clear that the FIR was registered to victimise one group to get a political advantage,” Hussain said, adding that the new election date would be decided in consultation with both groups. A member of the Aman Group, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that 20 traders had been nominated among the 83 accused in the FIR, including 18 affiliated with his group. They included presidential candidate Tariq Gujjar, his son Shabbir Gujjar, and vice presidential candidates Usman Butt, Chaudhry Shabbir Asim Shafi and Mian Saleem. “Our opponents have the backing of political bigwigs. They have implicated our candidates to get them out of the elections,” he said. Mian Kabeer Ahmed, a candidate of the Ittehad Group of Traders, said that some of his colleagues had been nominated. Asked to name them, he responded after a while that they were Chaudhry Bashir and Inam Butt. But the FIR, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, does not include any man called Bashir or Inam. The Badami Bagh investigation officer said that the accused included candidates of both groups, but he could not name any. He said that the accused had been identified through video footage. The complainant in the case was the recently-suspended Badami Bagh SHO.

Punjab govt failed to conduct transparent inquiry

The Supreme Court declared that the Punjab Police had “failed to conduct an honest and through investigation” into the Badami Bagh incident in which over 100 houses were ransacked and set alight by a charged mob over an alleged blasphemy incident. A three member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, heard the case over the arson attack in a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore. The court adjourned the hearing to March 25 on assurance by new CCPO Lahore Muhammad Amlish who vowed before the bench that he would uncover the truth. Earlier today, the court had rejected Punjab government’s report on the incident. Expressing deep frustration and anguish, the chief justice expressed the intention to take over the investigation. Shocked and dismayed over the contents of the First Information Report (FIR) read out by the SSP investigation, Chief Justice Iftikhar remarked: “It seems that now the courts will have to take charge of investigations also.” He said although no lives were lost in the incident, the police had failed to protect the “property and dignity” of the residents of Joshep Colony. “This incident has caused an element of trauma that will keep on lingering in the minds of minority Christians living across Pakistan,” Justice Gulzar Ahmed said.

Gunmen kill Shia student in Pakistan

Unknown gunmen have killed a Shia Muslim college student in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, Press TV reports. Pakistani officials said armed men opened fire on the student identified as Sibte Jaffar in Liaquatabad area of the port city of Karachi on Monday. The Monday assault was the latest in a series of attacks on the Shia community in Pakistan over the past few weeks. On March 3, over 45 people were killed and 150 others wounded in a car bomb attack carried out in Karachi. Women and children were among those killed and injured. On February 16, a bomb attack targeting Shia Muslims in the main bazaar of the southwestern city of Quetta killed at least 90 people, including women and children, and injured more than 200 others. Also on January 10, a twin bomb attack at a crowded billiard hall in Quetta, which is the capital of Balochistan Province, killed more than 90 people, mostly Shia Muslims. Reports say the anti-Shia terrorist group of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) was behind most of the attacks on Shia Muslims in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Shias were killed in Pakistan in 2012, which was the deadliest year on record for the Pakistani Shia Muslim community. Shia Muslims in Pakistan say the government must take decisive action against the forces involved in the targeted killings. They also accuse Islamabad of failing to provide security for the Muslim community.

Pakistani militants attack court complex; 3 dead

Associated Press
A pair of suicide bombers attacked a court complex in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, killing at least three people and wounding over two dozen, police said. The militants attacked the back of the compound and were confronted by three police guards, said police officer Masood Afridi. The militants shot and wounded the policemen, but not before one of the guards was able to gun down one of the suicide bombers, said Afridi. The other bomber managed to enter the courtroom of a female judge and detonated his explosives, said Afridi. Three people were killed and 30 wounded in the attack, he said. The female judge was among the wounded, said another police officer, Mohammad Arshad Khan. The attackers may have been trying to free militant colleagues jailed on the premises of the compound, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Hussain initially suggested that the attackers may have taken some hostages, but later said the situation was under control, without providing details. Local TV footage showed people running for safety, including wounded people being assisted by others. They included a pair of policemen, a lawyer and other civilians, including one man whose clothes had been torn to shreds. Police commandos and army soldiers rushed toward the complex, as the wounded were shifted to stretchers and taken to the hospital. Peshawar is located on the border of Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal region, the main sanctuary for Taliban militants who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the government. The militants and their allies have carried out scores of bombings in Peshawar. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the latest attack. In the southern port city of Karachi, paramilitary forces arrested a militant leader who was involved in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, said two paramilitary officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Qari Abdul Hayee, a former leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group in southern Sindh province, was arrested on Sunday in Karachi, said the paramilitary officials. He also went by the name Asadullah and was involved in other attacks in Karachi as well, they said. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a radical Sunni Muslim militant group that has carried out many attacks in Pakistan, especially against minority Shiite Muslims. Also in Karachi, gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot to death a Shiite professor, Sibt-e-Jafar, on Monday, said police officer Amir Farooqi. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan: Pre-poll pangs

Many things are happening for the first time in Pakistan and the inexperience of handling new situations is leading to certain pre-poll problems. The Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government completed its five-year tenure for the second time since 1977 but the National Assembly completed its term for the first time. Now that the electorate is preparing to vote for their 14th National Assembly, the question of the caretaker set-up is developing into a deadlock because both the government and the opposition are not giving room to each other.The same is the case with the wish for the dissolution of provincial assemblies on the same day as the government and the opposition are stuck to their stance of rejecting each other’s nominees. The situation regarding holding the elections to the national and provincial legislatures on the same date because the opposition is not agreeing to this federal government’s proposal. After the dissolution of the National Assembly on Saturday night, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, have another three days to reach an agreement on the caretaker prime minister. The two talked to each other by telephone on Friday but there was no formal contact between them or their representatives on Saturday. The prime minister also held a meeting with the four chief ministers on Saturday afternoon to convince them for holding the NA and PA polls on the same day. The objective of the meeting was to make a last-ditch effort to reach consensus on the issues of appointment of the caretaker set-ups and holding of general elections all over the country on the same day. There seems to be differences on these issues; although. the prime minister’s house said that the chief ministers had “agreed in principle that the elections of national and provincial assemblies will be held in the country on the same day for logistical, administrative and financial reasons, which would also promote political harmony in the country”. The official statement, however, did not mention the date on which all the provincial assemblies would be dissolved, indicating that the participants had failed to reach an understanding on simultaneous dissolution of the assemblies. The effort was also made by Prime Minister Ashraf to reach a consensus when he later had a one-to-one meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif but this did not work either. The PML-N took the position that although it desired that the elections for the national and provincial assemblies should be held on the same day, Shahbaz Sharif had given no commitment to the prime minister that the Punjab Assembly would be dissolved simultaneously with other three provincial assemblies. When Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani was quoted by electronic media as stating that all the provincial assemblies would be dissolved on March 19, Mr Sharif immediately responded denying such a decision having taken place. Chaudhry Nisar was even more categorical in elaborating that the Punjab Assembly “will not be dissolved on March 16 if the government continues to play tricks in Sindh and Balochistan”. The Punjab Assembly would be dissolved on March 16 only if a consensus on the caretaker set-ups (in all provinces) was reached before time, otherwise, it would complete its constitutional term ending in April, Nisar added. The establishment of a caretaker set-up at the federal level proved even trickier than other issues because both the government and the opposition were poles apart from accepting each other’s nominees. The government’s nominees for the caretaker prime minister were former finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Husain and Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. The opposition put forward the names of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Sindhi nationalist leader Rasul Bakhsh Palijo for the office while the name of Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan was withdrawn and Nisar informed the PM about his party’s decision by telephone. The PPP is said to have turned down the names of Justice Zahid and Palijo because it believes they would be unfair to the party. More or less the same is the standpoint of the PML-N. If the stalemate continues, and there are chances that it would, they will have to find the solution within the constitution itself. Article 224A of the constitution spells out the procedure for the appointment of the caretaker prime minister and chief ministers in case the government and the opposition parties fail to reach consensus, the issue will have to be taken to an eight-member bi-partisan parliamentary committee - four each from the prime minister and the leader of opposition - which will choose one name from the four nominees within three days. And if this attempt also fails, the Election Commission of Pakistan will select the caretaker prime minister within two days. The good thing, however, is that the constitution provides a deadline and method to get out of the deadlock in spite of the inability of our politicians.

CM Punjab buys youth by providing them laptops

Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan said they will take a big decision at their public meeting on 23rd of this month in Lahore. Addressing students convention in Islamabad this afternoon‚ he criticized the policies of the Federal and Punjab Government. He alleged that Punjab Chief Minister is buying the youth by providing them laptops. Imran Khan said the Punjab government has spent 70 billion rupees development funds of Punjab at the Metro Bus Service in Lahore.

Man having links with banned outfit may get PML-N ticket

As the `sufferings’ of old guards at the hands of new entrants to Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) continue in Gujrat, the fresh `casualty’ is party’s district president and ex-MNA Malik Hanif Awan. According to well-placed sources in the PML-N, the party leadership has asked Awan to run for the Punjab Assembly seat PP-114 (Sara-i-Alamgir) instead of NA-107, the seat he won in the December 2012 by-election by bagging over 100,000 votes. Sources say the party wants to accommodate Abid Raza of Kotla group who joined the PML-N after the 2008 general elections. The move is highly surprising for all and sundry in the Gujrat PML-N. Talking to Dawn, a couple of local PML-N leaders regretted that the party hierarchy had neither counted the sacrifices of Mr Awan he rendered for the party in Gujrat since the Oct 12, 1999 coup by Pervez Musharraf nor the fact of bagging of record votes by him a few months ago. When this correspondent approached Awan, he confirmed that the leadership had asked him to contest for the Punjab Assembly seat. Sources quoted Mian Nawaz Sharif as telling Hanif Awan that Hamza Shahbaz Sharif had reportedly made a commitment to awarding PML-N ticket to Chaudhry Abid Raza of Kotla group during the by-elections held in December to appease the Kotlas who had also been demanding a ticket for the by-election. It is learnt that a banned religious outfit that is known for its affiliation with the PML-N in Punjab has also sought the N ticket for Abid Raza due to his strong association with it (the outfit). Chaudhry Abid Raza was convicted in the murder case of six people during an assassination bid on former Gujrat Tehsil Nazim and ex-MPA Ghulam Sarwar Bhooch (late) back in 1998. Mr Bhooch had then survived the bid. Abid Raza was awarded a death sentence under section 7 of Anti Terrorism Act and he remained in the Gujranwala prison where his contacts had reportedly been developed with a key figure of a banned outfit who was also facing jail in the murder case of senior police officer Ashraf Marth. Both the Kotla and Bhooch groups later reconciled after more than three decades of enmity as Sarwar Bhooch had also been awarded death sentence in 2002 in connection with the murder case of Haji Abdul Khaliq, the elder brother of Abid Raza. After the reconciliation between the rival groups, Raza was set free in 2003. A law enforcement agency had also taken Mr Raza into custody in connection with attacks on former president Pervez Musharraf due to Raza’s alleged links with militant groups and he remained in captivity for more than a year but released later on due to the intervention of the PML-Q leadership. The Kotla group had been the part of PPP and its nominee Aamir Usman Raza had won the Punjab Assembly seat PP-115 on PPP ticket in 2002 general elections but soon after the polls, the group had joined the PML-Q whereas in the 2008 elections, the group had to face split as Abid Raza and three of his brothers joined the PML-N and their nominee Irfanuddin contested as an independent candidate and won the PP-115 seat whereas two of Abid Raza’s brothers are still in the PML-Q. Mr Raza used to move in a heavily guarded convoy. AWAN: Ex-MNA Hanif Awan was first elected MPA on the PML-N ticket in 1997 general elections from Sara-i-Alamgir but could not contest the 2002 elections due to the graduation bar. However, he pitched his nephew Dr Ajmal Siddiq Awan on two seats — NA-107 and PP-114– on the PML-N ticket who remained runner-up. In 2008 elections Awan fielded his another nephew Malik Jamil Awan who won on PML-N ticket but later on was disqualified by the Supreme Court in September 2012 for having dual nationality. Awan then contested the December 2012 by-poll and won NA-107 with a huge margin. Sources said when the party leadership asked Hanif Awan to contest from PP-114, he reportedly sought PP-115 as well for another diehard party worker Chaudhry Farrukh Majeed, a senior vice president of PML-N in Gujrat. Awan reportedly sought the party ticket for Mr Majeed as a prerequisite for his (Awan’s) withdrawal from NA-107. It is learnt that Mian Nawaz Sharif accepted his demand but the Kotla group claims that it has gained the party nod for both NA-107 and PP-115. Sources in the party say that the Kotla group will never withdraw from PP-115 even after getting NA-107. In that case, Hanif Awan may also go to contest NA-107 independently besides putting his own independent panel on both the Punjab assembly seats falling under the NA seat, a situation the PML-N can never afford. RAZA: Abid Raza who has launched his campaign as N candidate for NA-107, belongs to the Deobandi sect. The rival Barelvi sect that dominates the population of NA-107 will play a decisive role in the local politics like the last by-elections as a large number of local clerics influenced by Pir Aminul Hasnat Shah of Bhera Sharif, the chief of PML-N religious wing, have unanimously decided at a meeting held here the other day not to support Abid Raza due to his strong affiliation with the other sect.