Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tunisian Newspaper: 2000 Tunisians Are Fighting in Syria
The Tunisian e-newspaper 'Al-Jarida' revealed that around 2000 Tunisians are fighting among the armed terrorist groups in Syria. Abo Qusai, a Tunisian who fought in Syria, told the newspaper that the Tunisian fighters are of various ages and include students, workers and jobless people. Abo Qusai revealed that there is a direct line through which those terrorists go to Syria which is that of Libya/Benghazi. He referred to a terrorist group called 'al-Darneh Battalions' which arrived in Syria from Libya two weeks before he fled Syria. The Tunisian terrorist said that he and his Tunisian colleagues are being treated as slaves by the armed terrorist groups in which ranks they are fighting, which made him flee Syria and return to Tunisia.

To pivot to Asia or peace?

As U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in the Middle East Tuesday, he is presented with an opportunity to reflect on and re-adjust his country's overall diplomacy. During his first term, Obama, upholding the banner of "Asia pivot," invested much of attention and a great number of resources in the Asia-Pacific region. Washington, in the past few years, strengthened military alliance with a few Asian nations and announced a plan to shift 60 percent of its fleet to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. These policies have done nothing to improve stability in the region. On the contrary, they emboldened a few of its Asian allies to be more assertive in territorial disputes with China and triggered speculation from Chinese experts that an "Asia pivoting" Washington actually takes aim at China, creating strategic mistrust between the world's two largest economies. Meanwhile, the Obama administration's strategic rebalancing towards Asia is at the expense of its input in the Middle East, probably the most politically volatile patch of land on earth. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are in stagnation and there are no new plans to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table, while the crisis of Syria, which had just passed its two-year anniversary, saw no signs of improvement. Besides, the prolonged nuclear issue of Iran worried more and more regional countries. The oil-rich and politically-turbulent Middle East is of great significance to the world, whose peace and stability affects people living in almost every corner of the earth, including the United States. Washington cannot afford to overlook the Middle East especially after the region saw overthrown of several long-time rulers and is filled with uncertainties, and needs more than ever the helping hands from a responsible and constructive super power. On economy, the United States became more reliant on the Middle East for its oil imports last year, according to data from the U.S. energy department. When there is instability and insecurity in the oil-rich region, it would likely drive up oil prices and raise costs of business of the world's largest economy. On security, the United States has been a victim of terrorists and Islamist extremists resulted largely from conflicts and turbulence of the Middle East. These attacks revealed deep mistrust between the United State and the region. Only by holding genuine concern for the well-being of the region's peoples and playing an active and constructive role in solving the regional issues, can Washington uproot the mistrust and restore credibility in the Middle East. Meanwhile, development and economic prosperity, rather than any other factors, are keys to solve the problems of the Middle East. As permanent members of the UN Security Council and world's two largest economies, the United States and China could join hands in safeguarding peace and stability and increasing trade and investment in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabian Female Driving Activist Manal al-Sharif Calls John Kerry’s Visit Useless
Anna Breslaw
Saudi Arabian former computer security consultant Manal al-Sharif, arguably the most public face of those who oppose the Saudi female driving ban, got behind the wheel of a car in May of 2011 when she realized that nobody was taking action against the ban. al-Sharif's friend filmed that drive with an iPhone, put it on YouTube and watched it go viral almost immediately.She speaks to the Wall Street Journal: "'You know when you have a bird, and it's been in a cage all its life? When you open the cage door, it doesn't want to leave. It was that moment. [...] The opponents were saying that 'there are wolves in the street, and they will rape you if you drive.' There needed to be one person who could break that wall, to make the others understand that 'it's OK, you can drive in the street. No one will rape you.'" Less than a week later, she drove again and was arrested by the an officer by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. She asked the arresting officer what law she broke. "You didn't break any law, you violated orf. (Custom.) "Women's rights are nothing but a part of the bigger picture, which is human rights. Women are trusted with the lives of their kids, even serve as teachers and doctors, but they aren't trusted with their own lives." During her childhood in a conservative Muslim family, al-Sharif saw the oppressive culture consume the lives of the adults around her: her aunt, who used to wear bright clothes and jewelry until she began to "listen to these fundamentalist lectures and cry, saying 'it's haram to show your face.' She cried and changed everything about herself." "When I was a kid they sent brochures all around the country, with the names of the women and their house numbers, encouraging people to call them and tell them to come back to Islam. "They said these women had sex with American troops. They said they took off their hijabs and burned them." Despite al-Sharif and her peers' efforts, not much of the big picture has changed. A visit to Saudi and Gulf officials by John Kerry earlier this month left al-Sharif frustrated. "He just praised Saudi Arabia for appointing 30 women to the unelected Shura council [which is] a fake body anyway, a powerless body. You can't praise something that's not tangible, that's merely a cosmetic change." And back in November a tracking device on the kingdom's women was instituted to ensure that their husbands know if they attempt to leave the country.

In Saudi Arabia, Shiite Muslims Challenge Ban On Protests
Editor's note: When Arab Spring protests broke out in Saudi Arabia in 2011, the government reacted quickly, pumping $130 billion into the economy and cracking down on dissent. While this approach has worked in some cities, the Shiite Muslims in the Eastern Province continued to demonstrate. Reese Erlich, on assignment for GlobalPost and NPR, managed to get into the city of Qatif and meet with protest leaders. Night has fallen as the car rumbles down back roads to avoid the Saudi Army's special anti-riot units. To be stopped at any of the numerous checkpoints leading into Qatif would mean police detention for a Western journalist and far worse for the Saudi activists in the car. They would likely spend a lot of time in jail for spreading what Saudi authorities deem "propaganda" to the foreign media. Demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia, but here in Qatif, residents have defied the ban for many months. At least once a week the mostly young demonstrators march down a street renamed "Revolution Road," calling for the release of political prisoners and for democratic rights. The anti-riot units deploy armored vehicles at strategic locations downtown. The word on this night is that if demonstrators stay off the main road, the troops may not attack. Suddenly, young Shiite Muslim men wearing balaclavas appear, directing traffic away from Revolution Road. All the motorists obey the gesticulations of these self-appointed traffic cops. Minutes later several hundred men march down the street, most with their faces covered to avoid police identification. Shiite women wearing black chadors, which also hide their faces, follow closely behind, chanting even louder than the men. One of their banners reads, "For 100 years we have lived in fear, injustice and intimidation."
Recurring Protests
Despite two years of repression by the Saudi royal family, Shiite protests against the government have continued here in the Eastern Province. Though Shiites are a small fraction of Saudi Arabia's 27 million people, they are the majority here. Most of the country's 14 oil fields are located in the Eastern Province, making it of strategic importance to the government. Shiites have protested against discrimination and for political rights for decades. But the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 gave new impetus to the movement. Saudi Arabia is home to two of Islam's most holy cities, and the government sees itself as a protector of the faith. But its political alliances with the U.S. and conservative, Sunni monarchies have angered many other Muslims, including the arc of Shiites stretching from Iran to Lebanon. Saudi officials claim they are under attack from Shiite Iran and have cracked down hard on domestic dissent. Saudi authorities are responsible for the death of 15 people since February 2011, according to Waleed Sulais of the Adala Center for Human Rights, the leading human rights group in the Eastern Province. He says another 60 people have been injured in that time and that 179 detainees remain in jail, including 19 children under the age of 18. The government finds new ways to stifle dissent, according to Sulais. Several months ago the government required all mobile phone users to register their SIM cards, which means text messaging about demonstrations is no longer anonymous.
Spreading The Word
Abu Zaki, who uses a pseudonym to prevent government retaliation, says demonstrators now rely on Facebook and Twitter, along with good old word of mouth. Practically everyone at the recent Qatif protest march carried iPhones. Some broadcast the demo in near real time by uploading to YouTube. Organizers hope their sheer numbers, along with government incompetence, will keep them from being discovered. "The government cannot follow everybody's Twitter user name," says Abu Zaki. "The authorities have to be selective and, hopefully, they don't select my name." When protests began, demonstrators called for reforms. But now, younger militants demand elimination of the monarchy and an end to the U.S. policy of supporting the king. Abu Zaki and several other militant activists gather in an apartment in Awamiyah, a poor, Shiite village neighboring Qatif. In this part of the world a village is really a small town, usually abutting a larger city. Awamiyah is one such town, chock full of auto repair shops, one-room storefronts, and potholed streets. It is noticeably poorer than Sunni towns of comparable size. Strong, black tea is served along with weak, greenish Saudi coffee. The protest movement in Qatif, they observe, resembles the tea more than the coffee. Abu Mohammad, another activist who uses a pseudonym, tells me protests have remained strong because residents are fighting for both political rights as Saudis, and against religious and social discrimination as Shiites.
Complaints Of Discrimination
Shia face discrimination in jobs, housing and religious practices. Damman, the largest city in the area, has no Shia cemetery, for example. Only six Shia sit on the country's 150-member Shura Council, the appointed legislature that advises the king. "As Shia, we can't get jobs in the military," says Abu Mohammad. "And we face the same political repression as all Saudis. We live under an absolute monarchy that gives us no rights and steals the wealth of the country." The government denies those claims of discrimination and repression. In the capital Riyadh, Maj. Gen. Mansour al Turki, spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, is the point man who often meets with foreign journalists. Al Turki is smooth and affable and practiced at the art of being interviewed by Westerners. He dismisses Shiite charges of discrimination as simply untrue. "These people making demonstrations are very few," he tells me. "They only represent themselves. The majority [of Shiites] are living at a very high level."
A Popular Cleric
Such assertions, however, don't account for the frequent and sizable Eastern Province demonstrations supporting Sheik Nemer al Nemer. The charismatic Shiite cleric has long been a thorn in the government's side. His willingness to speak out against discrimination and call for militant action endeared him to the younger generation of activists. For months he avoided arrest by shifting residences and only appearing in public during large rallies. Then in July 2012 authorities made an arrest while he was briefly visiting his house in Qatif. He was shot and seriously wounded. Police claim it was an armed shootout in which they fired in self defense. The sheik was unarmed, according to his brother, Mohammad al Nemer. He says his brother hasn't been publicly charged, but has been told that he faces a long jail term for instigating unrest against the king and organizing illegal demonstrations. Four police bullets shattered his brother's thigh bone, says al Nemer. "If he doesn't receive proper medical care, he will have a lame leg for the rest of his life." Al Nemer's popularity has grown exponentially since his arrest, with graffiti demanding his release sprouting up throughout the area and marchers regularly chanting his name. Shiite leader Sheik Mohammed Hassan al Habib offers understanding of the continuing protests. The cleric lives in a modest home on a side street outside Qatif. Al Habib adds something special to the usual proffering of tea and coffee: Swiss chocolate. Al Habib tells me that the Eastern Province movement seeks democratic reforms while maintaining the power of the monarchy. "We need to give real power to the parliament," he says. "The government should allow establishment of political parties, freedom of speech and assembly." But the king would still have final authority, he concedes. "We don't want toppling or removal of the regime," he emphasizes.
Different Goals
He acknowledges, however, that many younger protesters have given up on reform. For example, activist Abu Mohammad says, "People now want the overthrow of the ruling family as a reaction to the escalation of repression in Qatif. I think the best form of government for Saudi Arabia is constitutional monarchy like they have in Britain." While calling for a U.K.-style constitutional monarchy is rather tame by Western standards, it's treasonous in Saudi Arabia. "People must complain through the legal process," argues the Ministry of Interior's al Turki. The legal process does not include calling for an end to the monarchy. But neither government spending nor harsh crackdown have so far deterred the protesters in Qatif. The demonstrators see themselves waging a political battle in which popular support can overcome the government's repressive apparatus. The Shiites of the Eastern Province are the only Saudis regularly holding protest marches, but as Shiite cleric al Habib tells me, Sunnis in other parts of the country also call for reform. "We work with reformers who don't care about your sect," he tells me. "They look only for reforms. We hope Sunni and Shia will get together one day to pursue this goal." After a sip of black tea and a final piece of chocolate, we say goodbye to the cleric and head out to that night's demonstration. Somehow we manage to avoid the checkpoints. And for that night, at least, there was no violence.

Bahrain Blocks Marches for Jailed Rights Activist

Security forces in Bahrain have fired tear gas to prevent protesters from reaching the house of a jailed human rights activist who is the focus of an international campaign seeking his release. Riot police clashed with hundreds of marchers trying to gather at the home of Nabeel Rajab, who has been sentenced to two years in prison on charges of backing "illegal" protests. Authorities also set up roadblocks to keep cars from reaching the house. Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is among dozens of activists and political figures jailed during the more than two-year unrest in the Gulf kingdom. Majority Shiites in the Sunni-ruled nation are seeking a greater political voice. International rights groups have called for Bahrain to release Rajab and other jailed activists.

U.S., Afghanistan OK Detention Center Transfer

The U.S. has reached an agreement with the Afghanistan government to transfer the Parwan Detention Facility to Afghan control, the Pentagon said Saturday, two weeks after negotiations broke down over whether the U.S. would have the power to block the release of some detainees. According to a senior U.S. official, a key element to the agreement is that the Afghans can invoke a procedure that insures prisoners considered dangerous would not be released from the detention center. The agreement also includes a provision that allows the two sides to work together to resolve any differences. The official lacked authorization to discuss the details of the agreement publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Transfer of the Parwan detention center on Monday is critical to the ongoing effort to gradually shift control of the country's security to the Afghans as the U.S. and allies move toward the full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. Afghans demanded control of the center, but U.S. officials have worried that the most threatening detainees would be freed once the U.S. transferred control. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Saturday as officials finalized the agreement after days of intense negotiations. The senior official said U.S. and Afghan officials who are familiar with the detainees would meet to assess the potential danger of their release to coalition forces. The official said that more senior level officials could be brought in if there are disagreements but that to date the two sides have been able to agree without bringing in those higher authorities. Disagreements over the detention facility, which also included whether Afghans can be held without trial, had thrown a pall over the ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014. Currently, there is an Afghan administrator of the Parwan prison, but the Americans have power to veto the release of detainees. The prisoners held under American authority do not have the right to a trial because the U.S. considers them part of an ongoing conflict. Pentagon press secretary George Little said Hagel "welcomed President Karzai's commitment that the transfer will be carried out in a way that ensures the safety of the Afghan people and coalition forces by keeping dangerous individuals detained in a secure and humane manner in accordance with Afghan law." Last weekend Hagel spoke with Karzai, and officials said the two men agreed to resolve the thorny issue within a week. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, has also been working to resolve the matter — one of several divisive issues that soured relations between the U.S., its allies and the Afghans in recent weeks. The U.S. had been scheduled to hold a ceremony marking the transfer of control two weeks ago, during Hagel's first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary. That ceremony was called off after negotiations broke down. In addition to disputes over the Parwan facility, the U.S.-led coalition and Afghans have wrangled over several other difficult issues. Last month, Karzai insisted that the coalition forces cease all airstrikes, after a NATO assault caused civilian casualties. More recently, Karzai demanded that U.S. special operations forces leave Wardak province after allegations that U.S. commandos and their Afghan partners abused local citizens. Dunford has denied the charges. Earlier this week, the two sides reached an agreement on the Wardak issue. Dunford agreed to remove a team of commandos from Wardak's Nirkh district and transition security of that area to the Afghans as soon as possible. U.S. special operations forces would remain in other parts of the restive province, while the coalition continues to work to transition those areas also to the Afghans. U.S. officials have made no final decision on how many troops might remain in Afghanistan after 2014, although they have said as many as many as 12,000 U.S. and coalition forces could remain. There currently are 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a 2010 peak of 100,000.

Pakistan: Hold Musharraf Accountable for Abuses

The Pakistani government should hold the country’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf accountable for human rights abuses when he returns to Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said today. Musharraf announced that he intends to return on March 24, 2013, after over four years in exile to be a candidate in parliamentary elections scheduled for May. Legal proceedings are pending against Musharraf in several human rights cases. In November 2011, Musharraf was charged with involvement in the killing of Akbar Bugti, a Baloch nationalist leader who died under unclear circumstances while hiding in a cave in August 2006, after a long standoff with the Pakistani military. In February 2011, Musharraf was declared an absconder after a court in Rawalpindi accepted the interim charge-sheet from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, which named the former president as one of the accused in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf has also been charged with the illegal removal from office and confinement of much of the country’s judiciary, including the serving chief justice of the Supreme Court, from November 2007 to March 2008. “Musharraf should not be allowed to elude the serious legal proceedings against him on his return to Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director. “Only by ensuring that Musharraf faces the well-documented outstanding charges against him can Pakistan put an end to the military’s impunity for abuses.” Musharraf has the distinction of having suspended constitutional rule twice during his time in office. After declaring a state of emergency in November 2007, he began a violent crackdown and ordered the detention of some 10,000 political opponents –including most of the country’s Supreme Court judges. The fired chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, five other judges, and several leading lawyers remained under house arrest and were released only when the opposition Pakistan Peoples’ Party formed a government and took over the prime minister’s office in March 2008. “Given the personal suffering many judges endured at Musharraf’s hands, it will be a real test for Pakistan’s judiciary, especially the Supreme Court chief justice, to ensure that prosecutions are impartial,” Hasan said. “But this is a test they must face and pass if Pakistan is to send a clear message that it will not allow abusive military leaders to escape accountability.” Under Musharraf’s watch, the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies committed widespread human rights violations, including the enforced disappearances of thousands of political opponents, particularly from Balochistan province, and tortured hundreds of Pakistani terrorism suspects. Political opponents including high-profile opposition politicians were exiled, jailed, tortured, and in some instances murdered. Hundreds of “disappeared,” especially from insurgency-hit Balochistan, remain unaccounted for and are feared dead. “Throughout his years in office, Musharraf maintained that he was fully aware of the behavior of security forces in Balochistan and that they had done no wrong,” Hasan said. “His role in the widespread abuses in Balochistan, including ‘disappearances’ during his rule, needs to be investigated and appropriately prosecuted.” Musharraf persistently undermined the right to free expression and forcibly censored the media during his years in power. During the emergency, he shut down over 30 television channels and passed decrees muzzling the media. Security forces carried out brazen attacks on media offices. Throughout Musharraf’s rule, security forces repeatedly coerced, abducted, arbitrarily detained, beat, and tortured journalists working for both local and international media. Several journalists died in alleged custody of the security forces. Pakistan’s elected parliament has rolled back most of Musharraf’s unlawful decrees and reversed virtually all his self-empowering constitutional measures. However, there has been little progress in holding accountable Musharraf and others in his government responsible for egregious human rights abuses including killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup and ruled Pakistan until his ouster in 2008. His rule was marred by widespread and serious human rights violations. During his time in power Musharraf exiled opposition leaders, including Bhutto and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. When Sharif tried to return to Pakistan in September 2007, Musharraf forcibly exiled him back to Saudi Arabia in violation of international law and Pakistan’s constitution and in defiance of a direct ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. However, Bhutto successfully returned in October 2007 and Sharif in November in the run up to elections. Musharraf was forced to resign in the wake of Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007 and subsequent elections that brought her Pakistan People’s Party to power. Since fleeing Pakistan in 2008, Musharraf has formed his own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, considered electorally and politically marginal by most independent analysts. “It is fortunate for General Musharraf that Pakistan is a democracy today that will neither force him back into exile nor prevent him from participating in the political process as Musharraf did to his opponents,” Hasan said. “But it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that Musharraf is fully investigated and fairly prosecuted for abuses such as torture and disappearances that were widespread under his rule.”

Pakistan: TAPI pipedream

President Asif Ali Zardari, while on a visit to Turkmenistan to attend the Nauroz Festival, has stressed the coming together of the Central Asian countries to take advantage of the natural resources the region is blessed with in abundance. The president was clearly pointing at the massive energy resources of Central Asia. Referring to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, the president attached great importance to the immediate implementation of the venture. The $ 7.6 billion project would not only help energy-starved Pakistan but also satiate the ever-growing future energy needs of all partner countries. The TAPI project, initiated in 1995 and agreed upon by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, was thrown in deep freeze with the overthrow of the Taliban government after 9/11. The project was reinitiated in 2010, but a pipeline traversing the Afghanistan war zone made the project daunting, especially since it would require 5-7,000 security personnel to safeguard the pipeline route. Now that President Zardari has revived the demand for completing the project as soon as possible, the risk remains, given the warlike situation in the two most important transit countries of TAPI, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Post-2014 Afghanistan is speculated to be facing a possible intense civil war after the withdrawal of the US-led NATO forces from Afghanistan. Pakistan also being in a precarious situation in terms of terrorism, given its so far weak counterterrorism capabilities, the proposed pipeline has little chance to move beyond the imagination. It is interesting that President Zardari is looking for external energy resources to meet domestic power needs, and has taken a giant leap in this context by pushing the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. However the paradox that emerges from this international energy bargain is the possibility of Pakistan having to face US and UN sanctions in the context of dealings with Iran. According to the recent report issued by the Planning Commission of Pakistan, as the entire power structure of the country is again put under the umbrella of WAPDA to keep it from collapsing entirely because of worn out infrastructure, it is facing losses to the tune of Rs 500 billion per annum. Without putting one’s own house in order, seeking international sources of energy is not a risk-free enterprise and in no way absolves us of putting our own energy house in order. Only then can we persuade the world of the efficacy of Pakistan emerging as the preferred energy (and trade) corridor for the region, a natural advantage geography has bestowed on us.

Shabaz Sharif's good Governance: Adding insult to injury: Government cheques bounce

OFFICIALDOM in Pakistan is quite adept at making a bad situation worse simply through incompetence and insensitive behaviour. As reported, while some of the victims of the recent mob attack on Christian homes in Lahore’s Joseph Colony have received compensation, cheques issued to a number of others by the Punjab government have bounced. Understandably, for those affected by the outrage this amounts to rubbing salt into their wounds. While the Punjab accountant general’s office has termed the mishap an “internal issue”, this cannot be a justification to cover up the administration’s inefficiency when dealing with victims of violence. It is not uncommon in Pakistan for victims of terrorism and their families to have to make their way through red tape just to access state compensation. For example, there have been complaints that families affected by Karachi’s Abbas Town blast also faced obstacles before the Sindh government finally issued their cheques. After having their houses ransacked by a frenzied crowd, as in the Joseph Colony incident, or losing loved ones to a terrorist bombing, as in the Abbas Town tragedy, victims’ families are in a state of shock and depression. The last thing they need is for their rightful compensation to be delayed due to bureaucratic bungling. The Punjab administra-tion should have made sure funds were in the bank before writing the cheques. The core issue remains the state’s lack of empathy for victims of violence, while corruption within the government machinery continues to be a major problem. The state has failed the people by not protecting their lives and property. At least it can try and heal the wounds by making sure funds are disbursed to victims in a respectable manner and within a reasonable time frame.

Pakistan: ''Education fraud''

We have been haunted by the issue of forged and faked educational degrees for months. There have been ministers and parliamentarians who have claimed their certifications come from colleges that simply do not exist or else their papers have been identified as fabricated in one way or the other. The way our political representatives look at this issue was clearly reflected in the way Balochistan’s former CM Raisani spoke about degrees some time back – claiming a degree is a degree, whether real or fake. And it seems this problem is not going to go away any time soon, as we head towards polls and prepare to elect a new government. The outgoing education minister Sheikh Waqas Akram has been found, after a long and detailed investigation by this newspaper, to have very possibly not even completed his intermediate degree qualification. This, of course, puts his BA degree under shadow. Akram, previously a member of the PML-Q, has recently joined the PML-N. He has a history of party hopping, and apart from this he also seems to have considerable expertise in manipulating the system to remain in the assembly without the required educational qualifications. When challenged about his FA degree, Sheikh Waqas Akram claimed that he had in fact done his ‘A’ levels. However, The News has been informed in a letter from Cambridge University that it can find no record of this accomplishment in its files. Unless Sheikh Waqas can produce other evidence to show he did indeed complete this examination, his political career is at stake. His elaborate attempts to cover a trail of deceit by obtaining forged verifications of his foreign certification from local boards only add to the problems, and technically disqualify him under the constitution from sitting in the assembly. As the polls draw nearer and tickets are awarded, the PML-N’s handling of the matter will be watched very closely. In the past the party has been adamant that foul play over the degree issue be punished. We will now need to see if it is ready to take action on its own against the new entrant in its ranks who, it appears, even as education minister – ironically enough – has been hanging on to a whole sheaf of fake educational documentations. How unfortunate that an education minister with fake educational credentials was in control and is still trying to stay in the system. The ECP must take immediate note.

Pakistan: Killers deserve a matching response

Notwithstanding, Taliban denied responsibility for the blast, the terror strike, at homeless, hapless and the displaced people living in Jalozai Camp, resulted in worst genocide of 17 persons including women and children. Unfathomed sadness is: the inhuman and cruel striker detonated a bomb packed with 35 kilograms of explosives and hundreds of mortar bombs & grenades by a timer near scores of starved people queued for rations. Thereafter, the survivors of the Jalozai Camp were left to witness horrific scenes of devastation with pieces of human flesh and blood littered on the ground next to discarded toys, sandals and twisted metal amidst blazing fire and sky-rising thick black smoke. Bodies lying in a pool of blood, small pieces of human limps spread all around and the people with amputated legs and arms crying in pain were left for bereaved IDPs to recollect and weep over, cursing the terrorists during rest of their lives. Apathy of the civil disaster management was again exposed when refugees from the surrounding tents rescue the wounded, and the political administration once again found wanting of preparedness to meet any eventuality. The act deserves the worst and strong condemnation, and is, indeed, a slap on the face of all those who had done nothing but are engaged in lip-service. It is a slap on face on those who advocated for holding peace talks with these barbaric killers. Alas! The recent act of savagery is neither first nor the last. On Thursday, IDPs were given bloodbath, and on Friday, an explosion near a crowded intersection in Dera Allahyar in Jaffarabad district killed eight persons including two children and injured at least 32 others. Virtually, terrorists have outwitted the civil administration, law enforcing agencies, intelligence agencies and above all Pakistan army. Every time the Army chief goes to press with a resolve to take terrorists head-on. Terrorists strike back mocking the resolve with action. Now the question arises; does Pakistan have answer to repeated acts of carnage unleashed by terrorists. Simple answer is 'no'. The outgoing government miserably failed to cope with terrorists. Most of its functionaries including talkative Rehman Malik were confined to press statements for five years. Now the frequent strikes in every nook and corner of the country and fearsome advances in Tirah, Bur Qamberkhel and its adjoining areas warrant special effort on the part of army to really stand up to uproot the terrorism from the country. The politicians in the Center or the provinces are burning midnight oil to grab the power before and after the election, notwithstanding pain, agony and cries of people falling victim to terrorists. The most worrisome point to ponder is; under the given terrorist reign, can the nation go to polls without facing a huge disaster? Yes! Why not? The task is difficult but not impossible provided the police, across the country that has already faced terrorism in its worst form, stop witch-hunting of innocent citizens in streets for minting money, the intelligence agencies drop lay-back attitude and the Pakistan Army, which had already revised its doctrine, unleashes a matching response to ruthless terrorism. The President Zardari-led PPP government is now part of history that will be remembered for its inability and failure to live up to challenges facing the country. The caretaker setup-no matter who heads-will be pitched against barbaric, inhuman and grossly misled extremists. It has to take terrorism upfront without being driven into any illusion that any peace initiative with terrorists can bear fruit. Now the political parties, particularly ANP and JUI-F, must realize that misled efforts for peace process with the TTP have just proved counter-productive. The TTP has withdrawn their offer for talks after making serious inroads in Khyber Agency especially the Tirah Valley. The political parties must learn a lesson from the outcome of their All Parties Conferences. Political leadership across the country should stand firmly behind the armed forces to wipe out terrorism-be it is based on religion, race or ethnicity. There is no other way around. The merchants or perpetuators of the deaths should be shown the door. Today, the terrorists did not spared worn and torn residents of Tirah who fleeced their homes bare-footed to seek refuge in Jalozai Camp. There must not be any doubt whatsoever that the terrorists can repeat the same any time anywhere if not given matching response.

23rd March: Birth Anniversary of Madar-e-Jamhuriat Begum Nusrat Bhutto

In order to pay special tribute to the meritorious services of Mohtarma Nusrat Bhutto on her birth anniversary‚ Radio Pakistan is broadcasting special programmes. Begum Nusrat Bhutto was born on 23 March 1929. She was the former first lady of Pakistan‚ widow of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and mother of Ms Sanam Bhutto‚ Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto‚ Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Mir Shahnawaz Bhutto. Begum Nusrat Bhutto got married with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on September 8‚ 1951 in Karachi. As first lady from 1973-1977‚ Mohtarma Nusrat Bhutto functioned as a political hostess and accompanied her husband on a number of overseas visits. In 1979‚ after the trial and execution of her husband‚ she and her daughters were imprisoned and put under house arrest by the new regime of Zia-ul-Haq. However‚ due to health concerns she was later permitted to leave the country for London‚ where she was later joined by her daughters Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Sanam Bhutto. She became leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party during her London exile and she was made chairman of the party for life. After returning to Pakistan in the late 1980s‚ she served several terms as an MP to the National Assembly from the family constituency of Larkana in Sindh. Also‚ during the administrations of her daughter Shaheed Benazir Bhutto‚ she became a Cabinet Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. She outlived 3 of her children Murtaza‚ Benazir and Shahnawaz Bhutto. Of the immediate family‚ only Sanam Bhutto‚ daughter of Mohtarma Nusrat Bhutto and Shaheed Zulikar Ali Bhutto remains. She suffered from the combined effects of a stroke and Alzheimer's Disease . She passed away on October 23‚ 2011. Begum Nusrat Bhutto was 82 years old at the time of her death. The Madar-e-Jamhuriat was victimized and brutalized by forces of dictatorship‚ the scars of which she wore on her mind and body for as long as she lived. These scars will always be remembered as glittering medallion ever worn by a woman in the course of democratic struggle. A woman of great compassion‚ elegance‚ grace and courage she will continue to inspire generations of Party workers and democrats and lift them to higher goals in life. At the time of Independence she soothed the scars of many by actively participating in relief measures for refugees pouring into the new found country that had little or no resources.Messages of the President and the Prime Minister‚ in connection with the birth anniversary of Madar-e-Jamhuriat‚ were aired in Urdu and national languages during morning transmission. Special talk shows regarding Begum Bhutto would also be broadcast. In the morning transmission‚ Radio Pakistan broadcast the messages of Chairman Senate Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari‚ Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza. Telephonic interviews and impressions of the listeners were also included in the programme. NBS network Punjab Online aired a special talk show titled "The Personality of Mohtarma Nusrat Bhutto and her sacrifices for Democracy" at 12:10 p.m. The participants included renowned lawyer Abdul Hafeez Pirzada‚ Intellectual Dr. Mehdi Hassan‚ Former Federal Minister Ahmad Mukhtar Awan‚ Mohtarma Nasreen Anjum Bhatti‚ Senior PPP leader Ch Manzoor‚ and former Director Programs Radio Pakistan Sattar Syed. PBC Karachi aired a special talk show titled "A Tale of Valor and Determination" on national hookup at 01.20. pm. The Participants included Professor ND Khan‚ Taj Haider‚ Dr. Anwar Sajjad‚ Nazeer Laghari‚ and Dr Huma Baqai. National Broadcasting Service of Radio Pakistan will also broadcast interviews and impressions of Senator Farahatullah Babar‚ Mohatarma Nasreen Azhar‚ Dr. Mubashar Hassan‚ Pakistan Ambassador in UK‚ Wajid Shamsul Hassan‚ Mohtarma Sanam Bhutto‚ and renowned journalist Nusrat Javeed in its programme "Naye Uffaq" at 8:05 pm.