Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pakistan: Rabid mullah mob attacks Ahamadiyya MUSLIM property in Punjab
An Ahmadiyya prayers centre in Gulshan-e Ravi, Lahore, is attacked by some 200 Islamist clerics, it has been reported. Gulshan-e Ravi is an area in Lahore situated at the corner of the city near the Ravi River. According to the social media reports a few Ahmadis were gathered for worship at the prayer center when a gang of Islamist thugs broke into the place and threatened the lives and property of the Ahmadis. Witnesses say the police was called in to protect the Ahmadis, however, according to the Ahmadiyya spokesperson, Saleem ud Din, police arrested the Ahamdis for failing to honor the mob’s demands of ceasing the worship activity. No action has been taken against the intruders who broke into the Ahmadis private property, it was further asserted. Ahmadiyya spokesperson repeated that the Islamists are given protection by the state in vandalizing of the private property and harassment of the religious minorities. “The double standard of administration under the leadership of our dear caretaker chief minister @NajamSethi continues as it was in past,” wrote Saleem ud Din in his social media post. According to many media reports, the Islamist mob is backed by the brother of Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council. Reportedly, Ashrafi and his brother are at the forefront of the current wave of witch-hunt against Ahmadis in Lahore and Ashrafi brother is the routine complainant in many cases registered against the Ahmadis in Lahore, including the recently reported case against Ahmadiyya publication, Al-Fzal. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission of Pakistan mulla Hasan Muawiya is known to have fabricated complaints against the Ahmadis. Tahir Ashrafi, usually touted as a ‘moderate’ mullah is the darling of a select group of liberals in Pakistan. Cleric's well-wishers have claimed that Ashrafi is 'a brave' moderate, "but ... a sinister campaign against him was launched to delegitimize him." Ashrafi gained notoriety as a moderate when he issued a statement condemning the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, Pakistan who was killed for defending a christian women on death row. Some say Ashrafi has a highly selective sense of 'moderation,' but "liberals were only happy to have found a mullah they could stand in their corner to hang their hats on." “This is the real face of such moderate voices in Pakistan who endorse & openly condone hatred, vandalism & threats to innocent Ahmadis,” wrote Saleem ud Din. Saleem ud Din demanded that Caretaker CM Najam Sethi should look into the matter and provide adequate protection for Ahamdis. “We expect better from you, because we know you are not like the rest; so please do something & stop this witch hunt,” Saleem ud Din asked Caretaker CM Najam Sethi. “We know you are very busy but as per your own statement providing security is your responsibility; so is this what is provided?” “We understand you are very busy & don't have time to meet a community of peaceful citizens but you could provide security,” Saleem ud Din said.

Terrorising Pakistan’s secular parties

The Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) announced in December, officially, that they would specifically target Pakistan’s secular parties: Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Since then, many have died, many have been injured, much infrastructure lost, and election campaigns damaged if not wrapped up altogether. In the last four days in Karachi alone, there have been three attacks – two on ANP (the blast and an attempt on the life of ANP candidate Abdul Rehman Khan) and one on the MQM. In Peshawar last week, an attack tried unsuccessfully to claim the life of the slain Bashir Bilour’s son, Haroon Bilour. Ghulam Bilour, Bashir’s brother and former railways minister, narrowly escaped with his life. Several other attacks have taken place on small rallies, corner meetings, and prominent and local party leaders, as well as party offices. In the meanwhile, while these parties shout themselves hoarse condemning the attacks and calling for security in the wake of a devastating onslaught on their electoral aspirations, other parties remain ominously silent. Punjab has managed to avoid the kind of violence Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have faced over the last month or two – and so, it appears, the province’s mainstream parties have decided to stay quiet and not raise a hue and cry over what can only be called systematic and strategic terrorism. There are a number of consequences to be considered as a result of this violence. The idea of ‘free and fair’ elections is slowly being eroded – if certain parties are not being allowed to campaign as they please out of fear for their lives, they are not playing on a level playing field. Moreover, Pakistan’s voting population is now being forced to think along the lines of ‘secular vs non-secular’ although this was not necessarily an important voting consideration for a large section of the population. Whether this is becoming an increasingly important criterion is yet to be seen. What do you think can be done to ensure the security of candidates and voters in the run-up to elections? Is there any short-term solution? Is the silence of other parties justified as a survival tactic or does their silence make them indirectly complicit? Will the wave of terror unleashed seriously erode the votes of these parties or will sympathy votes be able to somewhat compensate in terms of numbers lost and won?

Repression is Unlikely to Make Baloch Proud Pakistani Citizens: Dr. Frederic Grare

The Baloch Hal
''Dr. Frederic Grare is the author of the recently published report Balochistan: The State Versus the Nation published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington DC-based think-tank where he is the Director and Senior Associate of the South Asia Program. Dr. Grare had previously written another important report on Balochistan, Pakistan: The Resurgence of Baluch Nationalism. The Baloch Hal editor-in-chief Malik Siraj Akbar spoke to Dr. Grare exclusively about his report on Balochistan and the future of the conflict. Excerpts.''
What is the significance of your report on Balochistan for the international community, particularly for an American audience?
The conflict began in 2005 and was expected to last only for a few weeks but it has now entered its seventh year. The Americans do not want to cause more diplomatic and military confrontation with Pakistan at a time when they are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan. Moreover a good deal of logistics for American troops stationed in Afghanistan still passes through Balochistan. Balochistan is a real problem with a local background and history but its current incarnation seems absurd to many. The current outburst of violence was not something inevitable. The turmoil in Balochistan illustrates poor conflict management on the part of the Pakistani military. In fact, the military runs the whole country in a similar fashion by creating issues out of non-issues and eventually failing to resolve them once they become too hard to manage.
What is the difference between the current Baloch uprising and the past insurgencies?
It is true that Balochistan has had a troubled relationship with Pakistan since the country’s creation. But in many ways today’s conflict seems artificial. The socio-economic grievances could have been addressed through negotiations rather than by force. The army launched an operation against a so-called separatist insurgency with no separatist claims (although such claims existed in parts of the movement). As a result, today, the issue is real because the most radical elements among the Balochs have gained prominence in Balochistan, and the most moderate organizations have themselves been radicalized.
Why do you believe that the Baloch movement does not have the capability to succeed in terms of breaking away from Pakistan?
I certainly do not see the capability in the Baloch movement to break away. The Baloch nationalist movement is weak and divided. It is divided between radicals and moderate. Radicals are divided among themselves. The movement does not seem to have a clear strategy either. On the one hand, if the Baloch nationalists are unable to gain independence the army is also unable to stabilize the province. Currently, it is lose-lose situation which should logically lead to negotiations between the two sides. However, there are no foreseeable signs of negotiations between the Baloch and the army. In your report, you have proposed the formation of a permanent U.N. observer mission in Balochistan. Islamabad would not appreciate such recommendations as it would view it as a clear violation of its sovereignty. The Pakistani establishment talks about sovereignty whenever it suits its own interests. With sovereignty comes responsibility and Pakistan has not demonstrated that responsibility while dealing with Balochistan. There is obviously no trust between the Baloch and the army. If the Pakistani government denies its involvement in what the Baloch nationalists blame it for, such as enforced disappearances and targeted killings of political opponents, then it should not be afraid of the proposed U.N. mission in Balochistan. If the establishment admits that such a policy existed in the past but has now been stopped, Islamabad should accept a U.N. permanent mission as a way to rebuild confidence building and pave the way for future negotiations with the Baloch. But even the appointment of a U.N. observer mission will not necessarily lead to bringing peace to Balochistan. This is just one of the many measures that need to be taken to re-establish trust. You have also argued that most of the Baloch seek maximum provincial autonomy over absolute independence. If you look at the origin of the current conflict, it was all about the Baloch demand for increasing the gas royalty, ensuring greater Baloch representation in the mega projects and ending the construction of military cantonments. Today, we have gone far away from those initial demands and no one is talking about them anymore. Independence may be a dream for a number of Baloch but polls seem to demonstrate that the majority of them would accept more autonomy within the Pakistani confederation. It is unclear to me whether Baloch really believe independence is achievable and a number of Baloch leaders believe that freedom it is not. One of the consequences of the current conflict is that the only voices that can be heard are the Baloch who want independence and among them, the voices of the most radicals. This situation paradoxically serves the army.
How do you evaluate the role of the Supreme Court (S.C.) of Pakistan in taking up the issue of enforced disappearances?
So far, no institution has been able to correctly deal with the situation in Balochistan. However, the Supreme Court played an important role in bringing the Balochistan issue in public attention. At the same time, I was struck by the fact that Mr. Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary, the Chief Justice, refused to meet with a United Nations delegation that visited Balochistan to investigate the cases of enforced disappearance. His behavior was similar to that of the intelligence chiefs. The S.C. has an ambivalent behavior toward Balochistan. To be fair, I think the S.C. should be credited for at least speaking up about Balochistan. Whether or not the S.C. interventions led to the recovery of the missing persons and the improvement of the situation is debatable.
During your research, you must have spoken to the Pakistani civil and military leadership. What is their stance on Balochistan? How do they interpret and justify their Balochistan policy?
Islamabad has always blamed what it calls a handful of greedy tribal chiefs for the unrest in Balochistan. The tribal chiefs’ issue is a part of the problem but it does not explain the causes of the whole conflict. The uprising has been quite intense on the Mekran coast which was in fact not a tribal area. Tribal system in central Balochistan is also not as strong as it is in Kohlu and Dera Bugti districts but there too, the resistance to Islamabad’s policy was quite strong. Many people outside Balochistan agree that Balochistan had not been treated fairly and they are willing to compromise on socio-economic issues even if they oppose the idea of Balochistan’s separation. Until 2005, there was not a single Baloch demand which was not negotiable.
Do you now see a change in the behavior of most Pakistanis toward Balochistan?
If you read Pakistan’s English press, you realize that Balochistan is much more popular outside Balochistan than it was in the past. There is more empathy for the Baloch today as compared to the past. Part of this change in behavior is because of the people’s rejection of the army’s policies. Besides the Balochistan issue, there is generally a change in public perception of the Pakistan military. The people have begun to openly criticize the military, holding it responsible for many of Pakistan’s problems. Since the nationalist movement does not show the promise and the capability to achieve independence, this fact has increased the level of empathy for the Baloch elsewhere in Pakistan.
Pakistan often blames foreign countries, such as India, for creating unrest in Balochistan. Did you come across any such evidence while conducting your research?
Well, the claim of foreign involvement in Balochistan has been there since the beginning. The Pakistani government officials have not had a consistent stance on Balochistan. For instance, in 2004, the then Balochistan governor, Awais Ahmed Ghani, said there was no problem in the province but the next month he said that there were several training camps in Balochistan which were allegedly run with the assistance of the Indians. The Pakistani government has never publicized any evidence of Indian involvement in Balochistan. Even if there is foreign involvement, it does not negate the fact that Pakistan kept Balochistan under development for several decades. Foreign powers are not responsible for Balochistan’s backwardness and bad treatment by the central government. There had always been ample genuine reasons for Balochistan to revolt.
What were some of the biggest surprises while researching your paper?
The blindness of the military. I can understand their willingness to keep Balochistan within the Federation. No country accepts easily separatist tendencies. But I don’t think there was any reason to push the situation to the extent it has gone. As already said, all the initial motivations of the conflicts were negotiable. Military action and excessive use of force has given prominence and undue credit to the most radicals among the Baloch. Pakistan has succeeded in dividing the Balochs to the extent that Islamabad no longer seriously worries about Balochistan’s break-up but the fact of the matter is that the risk of separation did not exist in the first place. It was created because of imprudent policies. The call for separation has come only in the wake of Pakistan’s blind use of force against the Baloch. Now, Balochistan has become such a mess that the Pakistani authorities do not know what to do with it. The military created the mess and now expects the civilian government to deal with it. The government, on its part, sees it beyond its control to manage the conflict. The problem with the Pakistani elite is their failure to give the country a positive sense of nationalism. You cannot convince people to be proud Pakistanis through repression.
Where do you see Balochistan five to ten years down the line?
I think Balochistan risks becoming a complete power vacuum if it is not already. Some areas of Balochistan will be totally out of control. In order to reestablish trust, the Baloch nationalists have to be included in the provincial government. But this will produce the desired effect only if they can deliver something to the population, in the form of greater autonomy, within the federal framework for example. It remains to be seen whether this year’s elections will produce the desired outcome.

Pakistan: Child killed in roadside bomb targeting ANP rally in Swabi

A seven-year-old boy was killed and more than five wounded in an explosion that occurred in an Awami National Party (ANP) rally in Swabi on Sunday. The remote-controlled bomb exploded as ANP candidate for PK-32 Swabi, Amir Rahman, concluded his address to the rally. Mukhtiar Khan, an official of Parmoli Police, said that Rahman had left the rally when the blast took place but party workers were still present. The injured were shifted to hospitals in Swabi. According to an AFP tally, the number of injured people was 16, and the blast took place as Rahman drove past in a convoy of dozens of vehicles after addressing the rally. Earlier on Sunday, three people were killed and 19 others injured in a bomb blast at an election office in the Maqsoodabad area of Peshawar. Another bomb attack on Sunday targeting an election candidate’s office in Kohat killed at least five people and wounded 22. ANP candidates and party workers have been targeted heavily in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. On Arpil 11, a blast near senior ANP member Arbab Ayub Jan’s car in Peshawar injured one of his guards. April 16 was the bloodiest day yet on the campaign trail as a bomb blast targeting ANP’s senior leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour in the Yakatot area of Peshawar left at least 20 people killed and dozens injured. On the following date of April 17, ANP member Farooq Khan’s residence was targeted in a bomb attack in Charsadda, but no casualties or serious injuries were reported. The Taliban have directly threatened the three main parties in the outgoing government, the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the ANP, which are often described as secular.

Russia heard US Boston bomb suspect 'jihad' call
Russian authorities secretly recorded a telephone conversation in 2011 in which one of the Boston bombing suspects vaguely discussed jihad with his mother, officials say. In another conversation, the mother of now-dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case. It was not immediately clear why Russian authorities didn't share more information at the time. Had the conversations been revealed earlier, they might have been enough evidence for the FBI to initiate a more thorough investigation of the Tsarnaev family.Russian authorities told the FBI only that they had concerns that Tamerlan and his mother were religious extremists. Advertisement With no additional information, the FBI conducted a limited inquiry and closed the case in June 2011. Two years later, authorities say Tamerlan and his brother, Dzhohkar, detonated two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 260. Tamerlan was killed in a police shootout and Dzhohkar is under arrest. In the past week, Russian authorities turned over to the United States information it had on 26-year-old Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, ethnic Chechens who emigrated from southern Russia to the Boston area over the past 11 years. In early 2011, the Russian FSB internal security service intercepted a conversation between Tamerlan and his mother vaguely discussing jihad, according to US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The two discussed the possibility of Tamerlan going to Palestine, but he told his mother he didn't speak the language there, according to the officials, who reviewed the information Russia shared with the US. In a second call, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva spoke with a man in the Caucasus region of Russia who was under FBI investigation. Nothing in the conversation suggested a plot inside the US, officials said. It was not immediately clear why Russian authorities didn't share more information at the time. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva has denied that she or her sons were involved in terrorism. She believes her sons have been framed by US authorities.

Video: Obama’s full speech at the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Pakistan politician's office bombed in Kohat

A bomb attack has killed at least five people at a politician's office in the north-west Pakistani city of Kohat, police say. The bomb was planted outside the campaign office of Syed Noor Akbar, who is running as an independent candidate in the 11 May general election. At least 10 people were wounded. No group has said it carried out the attack. A number of candidates have been targeted by the Taliban for backing army offensives against it. Mr Akbar was not at the office at the time of the attack. Police spokesman Fazal Naeem said the blast damaged shops and vehicles and also hit an office of the Awami National Party (ANP), which has previously been targeted by the Taliban. Tanveer Khan, another police official, told AFP news agency: "The election office was open at the time and supporters (of Mr Akbar) were sitting inside. The death toll may rise, the condition of some of the injured is critical." Correspondents say violence has marred the campaign for the landmark election, in which one civilian government is due to be succeeded by another for the first time in the country's history. On Saturday bomb attacks against supporters of the governing Pakistan People's Party and the opposition MQM in Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi, killed at least five people.

Global Voices: Author reflects on thwarted Afghanistan invasions

By Carol J. Williams
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
Nowhere has that admonishment by 18th century statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke been ignored with such disastrous consequences as in Afghanistan. The imperial British army suffered its most inglorious defeat there in 1842, only to have the folly of invasion repeated by the Soviet Union in 1979 and again by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As tens of thousands of U.S. and allied troops prepare to leave Afghanistan after nearly a dozen years, Scottish writer-historian William Dalrymple’s new chronicle of the British debacle more than 170 years ago evokes comparison of the fates that have met foreign invaders. In “Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42” (2013 © Alfred A. Knopf), Dalrymple traces the protagonists of today’s battles for power between U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai and Taliban mullahs to their clansmen of the First Anglo-Afghan War era. Karzai is descended from the same Pashtun sub-tribe of Popalzai as Shah Shuja, the exiled leader who was returned and installed by the British in 1839 to replace the Taliban forebear Dost Mohammed Khan, whom the invaders had ousted. Dalrymple, in California for the next week to present his book in Los Angeles, Pasadena and the Bay Area, talked with The Times about his account of one of history’s most ill-considered occupations, and modern-day leaders’ failure to heed its lessons.
The British experience of invading Afghanistan was repeated by the Soviets 30 years ago and now by the United States and its allies. Why do the major powers not learn from each other’s failed attempts at imposing their development and governing models on this faraway country?
My personal theory is that it’s because it's not impossible to conquer Afghanistan. There have been powers in history that have very successfully ruled the country for years. It helps if you’re from the region and have the same religion. If you’re a Muslim you stir up less resistance. But it’s an extremely expensive place to occupy. In the end what happens isn’t military defeat but the hemorrhaging of money into the country. It happened with the Soviets, and the Indians before them. They did what the Americans are doing now -- they began to cut the troops and train up an Afghan army. They find themselves taking increasing numbers of casualties and, as they try to find a way around that, they give up rather than get defeated. In no way have the Americans been defeated. Had they wished to, they could have hunkered down and hemorrhaged more money and blood. But, at the end of the day, they have decided it’s not worth it.
Didn’t the U.S. invasion in October 2001 have a different impetus from the British intervention in 1839? Wasn’t the original coalition mission aimed at eradicating Al Qaeda’s refuges in the country? Dalrymple: Sept. 11 was such a catastrophic knock to the system, such an astonishing event, that all other years of civil liberties work, lessons from history, careful planning of security operations just got thrown aside in this moment of blind panic and anger. There was very little George Bush could have done otherwise. He had to make a move in response to this catastrophic, life-changing attack. The invasion in 2001 was justified. What we should have done, though, is very clearly demonstrate good intentions. There was an awful lot of goodwill among the Afghans initially. They hated the Taliban. But we should have built hospitals and schools, not impose a puppet on them. We spent millions on security and nothing on the country. Even eight years after the invasion, there was still no proper road from the airport to the capital, Kabul. It was a lost opportunity. It could have been a time when the West and the Afghans made friends.
Do you see any chance of lasting Western influence on Afghanistan once the troops are gone? Will the national government model and recognition of women’s rights endure, or is the country likely to revert to the tribal conflicts and geographic divisions that existed before the invasion?
A lot has changed thanks to the U.S. intervention. There is all sorts of stuff that can never be put in reverse. There’s a whole generation of very wired, Internet-savvy younger people who know of the world and are aware of the situation of Afghanistan. The urban population has doubled in the past decade, and the population of Kabul is up by a factor of three. The Taliban remains an entirely rural movement. It’s very strong and oddly admired in the rural Pashtun south and is the authentic voice of the ultra-orthodox Pashtun villager. But I think it unlikely that the Taliban will be able to sweep out Kabul and Karzai straight away. It’s not at all clear what is going to happen. There’s a good chance Karzai might enhance his stature once the allies have withdrawn, though it may be in Fortress Kabul, with very little power over the south. It’s more likely there will be a messy civil war or some sort of accommodation reached with the Taliban to share power.
In your book, you recount the atrocities committed by the British "army of retribution" [punishing Afghans for the savage 1842 rebellion that forced the foreigners to retreat to India]. Do you see that phenomenon of brutality spawning more brutality in the occasional instances reported in the current war of troops attacking Afghan civilians or desecrating the corpses of enemy dead?
One could make an argument for that parallel. Afghans in the 19th century had a tradition of mutilating the dead. They would cut off the genitals and put them in their victim’s mouth. It was an effective way of warding off enemies. War is a nasty business. Young men with guns and power behave very badly at any point in history. It’s one of the tragic universals of the human character that alongside love, charity and peace there is this darker side of it.
Once the U.S. drawdown is completed next year, will the mission be regarded by future historians as a failure not unlike those of the British and Soviets? Or has the occupying force accomplished the core goals of the invasion?
For [President] Obama, it is a political issue. He made it a central promise of his presidency to pull the troops out. It’s also a cost factor putting an end to it, even though the vow to dismantle the Taliban was not accomplished. The Taliban are back in force. The worst repercussions of the operations in Afghanistan may be felt with the U.S. allies in Pakistan. Pakistan has become a very radicalized country where even the liberal, English-reading class is extremely anti-American thanks to the drone attacks.
Shah Shuja was assassinated after the British left. The Soviets’ last Afghan communist ally, Mohammad Najibullah, was seized from U.N. protection when the Taliban took power in 1996 and castrated, dragged through the streets of Kabul and then hanged. Is Karzai likely to meet a terrible end if the Taliban regain control and see him as an abandoned U.S. puppet?
Karzai really has a large degree of support among the population at the moment. He is as irritated by the U.S. troops as many other Afghans, and he speaks quite authentically about the problems, not like a man installed by U.S. bullets and U.S. blood. Karzai is haunted by the fact that Shah Shuja is regarded as a Quisling and the man who threw him down, Wazir Akbar Khan, is regarded a hero. But Shah Shuja was a more forceful and persevering character than many realize, and he might have survived to rule Afghanistan if not for a domestic conflict that led to his godson assassinating him after the British left. Karzai could survive, at least for a while. Or he may end up living in some equivalent of the Green Zone [the U.S. diplomatic fortress in Baghdad]. I wrote this book because we need to know this history that we are unconsciously repeating. Karzai is a direct descendant of Shah Shuja. Never has history quite repeated itself as in this case.

Blast hits election office of NA-39 candidate, 3 killed

A bomb targeted the election office of NA-39 candidate Syed Noor Akbar Alam on Hangu road in Kacha Pakka village in Kohat region leaving at least three people dead and six others injured. Initial reports said the attack was a suicide bombing but officials have not confirmed the nature of the blast yet. The injured persons are being shifted to different hospitals of Kohat while security forces have cordoned off the area and an investigation has been started in this regard.

Peshawar: Blast at independent candidate for NA-46 office kills three

At least three persons were killed and eight wounded in an explosion that occurred at the office of an independent candidate for Bara Khyber Agency NA-46 on Sunday here, Geo News reported. Police said that the explosion took place in the office of an independent candidate, Nasir Khan, which resulted in the death of three persons and eight wounded. However, former senator Nasir Khan and now candidate for NA-46 luckily remained safe in the incident, police said.

Departing French Envoy Has Frank Words on Afghanistan

It is always hard to gauge what diplomats really think unless one of their cables ends up on WikiLeaks, but every once in a while, the barriers fall and a bit of truth slips into public view. That is especially true in Afghanistan, where diplomats painstakingly weigh every word against political goals back home. The positive spin from the Americans has been running especially hard the last few weeks, as Congressional committees in Washington focus on spending bills and the Obama administration, trying to secure money for a few more years here, talks up the country’s progress. The same is going on at the European Union, where the tone has been sterner than in the past, but still glosses predictions of Afghanistan’s future with upbeat words like “promise” and “potential.” Despite that, one of those rare truth-telling moments came at a farewell cocktail party last week hosted by the departing French ambassador to Kabul: Bernard Bajolet, who is leaving to head France’s Direction Génerale de la Sécurité Extérieure, its foreign intelligence service. After the white-coated staff passed the third round of hors d’oeuvres, Mr. Bajolet took the lectern and laid out a picture of how France — a country plagued by a slow economy, waning public support for the Afghan endeavor and demands from other foreign conflicts, including Syria and North Africa — looked at Afghanistan. While it is certainly easier for France to be a critic from the sidelines than countries whose troops are still fighting in Afghanistan, the country can claim to have done its part. It lost more troops than all but three other countries before withdrawing its last combat forces in the fall. The room, filled with diplomats, some senior soldiers and a number of Afghan dignitaries, went deadly quiet. When Mr. Bajolet finished, there was restrained applause — and sober expressions. One diplomat raised his eyebrows and nodded slightly; another said, “No holding back there.” So what did he say? That the Afghan project is on thin ice and that, collectively, the West was responsible for a chunk of what went wrong, though much of the rest the Afghans were responsible for. That the West had done a good job of fighting terrorism, but that most of that was done on Pakistani soil, not on the Afghan side of the border. And that without fundamental changes in how Afghanistan did business, the Afghan government, and by extension the West’s investment in it, would come to little. His tone was neither shrill nor reproachful. It was matter-of-fact. “I still cannot understand how we, the international community, and the Afghan government have managed to arrive at a situation in which everything is coming together in 2014 — elections, new president, economic transition, military transition and all this — whereas the negotiations for the peace process have not really started,” Mr. Bajolet said in his opening comments. He was echoing a point shared privately by other diplomats, that 2014 was likely to be “a perfect storm” of political and military upheaval coinciding with the formal close of the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan. As for the success of the fight on the ground, which American leaders routinely describe now as being “Afghan-led,” Mr. Bajolet sounded dubious. “We do not have enough distance to make an objective assessment,” he said, “but in any case, I think it crucial that the Afghan highest leadership take more visible and obvious ownership for their army.” His tone — the sober, troubled observations of a diplomat closing a chapter — could hardly have been more different from that taken by the new shift of American officials charged with making it work in Afghanistan: in particular, with that of Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the new American commanding general here. This week, General Dunford sent out a news release cheering on Afghanistan’s progress, noting some positive-leaning statistics and praising the Afghan Army’s abilities. “Very soon, the A.N.S.F. will be responsible for security nationwide” General Dunford said, referring to the Afghan National Security Forces. “They are steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment.” At his farewell party, Mr. Bajolet wound up his realpolitik with a brisk analysis of what Afghanistan’s government needed to do: cut corruption, which discourages investment, deal with drugs and become fiscally self-reliant. It must increase its revenues instead of letting politicians divert them, he said. Several diplomats in the room could be seen nodding as he said that drugs caused “more casualties than terrorism” in Russia, Europe and the Balkans and that Western governments would be hard-put to make the case for continued spending on Afghanistan if it remains the world’s largest heroin supplier. The biggest contrast with the American and British line was Mr. Bajolet’s riff on sovereignty, which has become the political watchword of the moment. The Americans and the international community are giving sovereignty back to Afghanistan. Afghanistan argues frequently that it is a sovereign nation. President Hamid Karzai, in the debate over taking charge of the Bagram prison, repeatedly said that Afghanistan had a sovereign responsibility to its prisoners. His implicit question was, what does that really mean? “We should be lucid: a country that depends almost entirely on the international community for the salaries of its soldiers and policemen, for most of its investments and partly on it for its current civil expenditure, cannot be really independent.”

We will continue efforts to bring back Sarabjit: Khurshid
Despite the limitations of a caretaker government in Pakistan, India will continue to make efforts to bring back death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who is in a coma after being assaulted by fellow inmates in a Lahore prison. But for the moment, the matter is out of the purview of politicians and in the domain of doctors and Islamabad has promised the best possible treatment to him, said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who is here to put India-Moscow ties on a firmer footing. “We haven’t been successful in persuading Pakistan to send back Sarabjit. He is in the Intensive Care Unit and our diplomats have had some access to him. We have also been successful in persuading Pakistan to issue visas to his family to visit him in the Lahore hospital. We are still very concerned about his medical condition and are hoping for the best. It is important that he recovers before we decide anything else,” Mr. Khurshid told journalists accompanying him on his visit to Kazakhstan and Russia. Asked why New Delhi appeared not to have pushed for his release vigorously, he pointed out that many efforts were kept outside the media’s purview. But this was not a unilateral matter and New Delhi was not sure if the caretaker government in Pakistan would have the authority to take a decision of this nature. “His situation is still critical. He has suffered injuries to the head, abdomen and other parts of his body. They are giving him the best possible treatment. As for bringing him back, this is a bilateral matter and there has to be a convergence of views. For the present, we are hoping that he is given the best possible attention,” he said while acknowledging that his case had become the focal point of national attention. The Minister declined to speculate whether the brutal assault on Sarabjit, who has been on death row for years, was the handiwork of the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Inter Services Intelligence as is being alleged by a section of Indian media.

Sarabjit Singh in deep coma, Pak expedites visas for family
Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh on Saturday slipped into a deep coma, strapped to a ventilator in a Lahore hospital where he was admitted a day earlier after a near fatal attack by fellow inmates. As doctors battled to revive him, Pakistani authorities granted visas to his family in hours, triggering speculation that they too feared the worst for this latest victim of hostile bilateral ties. The 49-year-old Punjab resident, who has languished in Pakistan jail since he was caught as a trespasser and convicted as a terrorist and a spy two decades ago, was bashed up with bricks and blunt objects, leaving him bleeding from the head. Pakistani officials, who have consistently ignored his pleas for greater security in the face of abuses getting shriller following Kasab's and Afzal Guru's hangings, now embarrassed by his condition, allowed India consular access and slapped attempt to murder charges on the assailants. "We have received a call from vice-chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Raj Kumar, informing us that the high commission has given visas to all of us for travelling to Pakistan. Besides, one of our family members has got permission to stay with Sarabjit in hospital," Dalbir Kaur, sister of Sarabjit, told TOI on Saturday. The family members had approached Raj Kumar for help after they were told of Sarabjit's condition in Lahore's Jinnah hospital. He had flown to Delhi on Saturday afternoon with the passports of the family members and rushed to the Pakistan high commission. The family's fears escalated on Saturday after neither jail authorities nor doctors gave any medical updates on Sarabjit's condition. Doctors have refused to speak to the media since Friday when Sarabjit was admitted to the hospital after the attack which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday described as a "sad incident". Agencies quoted a statement of Pak foreign office spokesperson as saying, "As a result of scuffle between prisoners at Kot Lakhpat jail, Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh suffered head injuries which rendered him unconscious. Doctors and medical staff at the hospital are working round-the-clock to revive the prisoner who remains unconscious and on a ventilator." It said hospital's medical staff had updated the two Indian high commission officials, who were allowed to visit Sarabjit on Friday, about his condition. Police have registered a case of attempted murder against two prisoners - Amer Aftab and Mudassar -- after a complaint from jail officials though six inmates are said to have attacked Sarabjit. Dalbir Kaur, along with Sarabjit's wife Sukhpreet Kaur and daughters Swapandeep and Poonam, are to leave for Lahore through Wagah border on Sunday. Dalbir said she would stay with his brother in the hospital. Sarabjit's family members had met him in jail in April 2008 and last in June 2011. Sarabjit had written to family about threat in jail Poonam said three weeks ago they had received a letter from Sarabjit in which he had apprehended an attack from fellow inmates who wanted to take revenge for the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. "We had told about the threat to everyone in the government. I wish they had listened to our pleas," she said. Desperate to leave for Pakistan, Sukhpreet Kaur said, "I want to look after my husband, I hope he recognizes me". Sukhpreet said she had bought food and clothes for her husband. Daughter Swapandeep had also purchased several things for her father but left them in Jalandhar while leaving for Amritsar in a hurry. Meanwhile, shops in Sarabjit's native village Bhikhiwind remained closed in protest against the attack. In Amritsar, prayers were held for the well-being of Sarabjit and the students held a candlelight vigil for his speedy recovery. Sarabjit was convicted for alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks in Punjab province in 1990. His family claims he is a victim of mistaken identity and had inadvertently strayed across the border. Political plot behind assault: Pak human rights activist Ansar Burney, Pakistan's human rights activist and one of Sarabjit Singh's counsels, on Saturday saw a conspiracy behind the attack on the Indian death row prisoner. Burney didn't rule out a "political plot" behind the near fatal attack on Sarabjit as Pakistan goes to polls in two weeks. "There appears to be a deep-rooted conspiracy to attack Sarabjit ahead of polls which should be investigated," he said. Talking to TOI over phone from Karachi, Burney said, "I see some foul play in it. Pakistan government was not releasing Sarabjit and it couldn't hang him due to international pressure. So an attack on him could serve the purpose to gain support from fundamental elements during polls." He said since Friday he had been getting threats from various Taliban groups and fundamentalists, who are inimical to peace with India, forcing him to postpone his visit to Lahore to meet the Indian prisoner. "But I have sent Ansar Burney Trust volunteers to provide all help to Sarabjit Singh," he said. Burney said the Trust had moved a fresh mercy petition before the Pakistan president to commute the death sentence , its 14th petition for Sarabjit. Another human rights activist and advocate from UK Jas Uppal echoed Burney's views. "Pakistan authorities most likely encouraged the attack on Sarabjit as they knew that it could help them during elections," he told TOI over phone from London. Jas had launched a worldwide 'Save Sarabjit' campaign. She said it was difficult to understand how the attackers got bricks and sharp objects in prison and that there was no security around or intervention by the prison wardens. Jas said she had been informed by the Red Cross in Pakistan that they had been refused permission to meet him. "If this is indeed the case, then the Pakistani authorities are in breach of international law," she said. Deepak Kumar, son of Indian prisoner Chamel Singh who was killed in a similar assault by fellow inmates in the same prison on January 15, said, "Who can feel the pain more? I lost my father recently in a similar attack." Talking to TOI from Jammu, he said, "I think now they hate Indians after the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and wanted to take revenge on hapless Indian prisoners." He said attack on Sarabjit reminded him of the torture meted out to his father. "My father was also admitted in the same Jinnah Hospital in Lahore after he was brutally assaulted and he died in the same hospital," he said. Chamel Singh, a resident of Jammu, was arrested in 2010 at Sialkot and was awarded five years' imprisonment for spying. He was brought to Kot Lakhpat jail in June 2012.

Karachi struck by renewed bomb attacks

Deutsche Welle
Blasts have struck Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, the fourth series of attacks in the city in five days. The bombs targeted two political parties and a Shiite religious gathering, killing several people. The first bomb exploded outside the office of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) on Saturday in the Qasba Colony of Orangi Town, a district in the northwestern part of Karachi, according to the Pakistani news website Dawn.Although the MQM office was closed at the time, at least one person was killed and 24 were others were wounded in the blast, local police official Zahid Hussain told the AFP news agency. Hussain said that a hand grenade was then thrown at a Shiite mosque in Orangi Town, injuring 10 people. The third bomb attack targeted a campaign meeting of the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) in Lyari neighborhood, killing at least two people and wounding 15 others, according to police official Muhammad Azim. That bomb had been planted on a motor bike. Bloody week in Karachi Nobody has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attacks. They came one day after the Pakistani Taliban targeted a rally of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi with a car bomb attack, killing at least nine people. On Thursday, a bomb blast struck an MQM election office in Karachi's Nusart Bhutto Colony, leaving at least five people dead and 10 others wounded. On Tuesday, a bomb blast in the district of North Nazimabad killed five people and left 15 wounded. As Pakistan prepares for national elections on May 11, the Pakistani Taliban has said it would target liberal and secular parties, singling out the ANP, MQM and PPP. The threats and attacks have made it difficult for these parties to campaign, which could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. May's polls will mark the first time in Pakistani history that a civilian government has successfully completed a full term in office and then handed over power through an election.

Pakistan: State repression against protesting Unilever workers

On the morning of Monday, 22 April, police attacked the protest camp of Unilever workers outside the factory gate in Rahim Yar Khan. Nine were arrested and tortured. They had been protesting for their reinstatement for the last nine days, a struggle that has been ongoing for the past few years.More than 1600 workers had been working in Unilever Rahim Yar on contract basis for the last few years. These workers were working on very low wages in horrible conditions without any transport facilities, residence, over time, bonus or gratuity allowances. In order to organize and fight for their rights they registered a trade union, the Inqilabi Workers’ Union, in 2010. When they approached management through their union and put forward their demands, they were insulted and the management started victimizing them. They were told that they were not employees of Unilever and that the contractor and the company were not bound to fulfil their demands. After that, the behaviour of management towards contract workers got even worse and they were even denied safety shoes and uniforms, and substandard meals were served to them separately from the permanent workers. In order to make their voice heard, the contract workers organized a sit in at the factory gate on October 26, 2011. In response management fired 767 contract workers, but was forced to reinstate 455 of them as the protests and agitation by the workers grew. The remaining 307 workers have not been reinstated to this date.

Pakistan: Wave of pre-poll attacks continues

Daily Times
At least six people were killed and dozens others injured in explosions on Saturday, as terrorists continue to target political parties across the country in a bid to delay general election. In the latest incident, an explosion near a corner meeting of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the Lyari area of Karachi killed at least four people, including a minor girl, and injured more than 17 others, including women and children. The injured were shifted to Civil Hospital for medical assistance. PPP candidate Adnan Baloch was also injured in the attack. Earlier, a bomb planted near the office of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Qasba Colony killed two people and wounded 25 others, police official Zahid Hussain told AFP. He said the MQM office was the target but it was not open at the time of blast, adding that a hand grenade was also hurled near an imambargah in Liaqatabad, which killed one and injured 10 others. Emergency had been imposed in Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, where some of the victims were in serious condition. The MQM has announced a day of mourning across the province. Earlier, a bomb blast destroyed an election office in the tribal region near the Afghan border, officials said. No deaths were reported following the explosion, which took place late on Friday in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan. The attack came hours after a car bomb exploded outside the election office of a candidate for the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi, killing 11 people and wounding 45 others. “A time device, which was planted near the office of Aqal Khan, an independent candidate contesting the May 11 polls, went off but did not cause any loss of life because it was late in the night,” a local security official told AFP. The blast, however, destroyed Khan’s election office and a few nearby shops. Another official, who confirmed the bombing, said nobody has so far claimed responsibility for the incident. Over in Matiari area of Sindh, unidentified miscreants set ablaze the residence of an independent candidate in PS-44 constituency. Nargis told a private TV channel that her opponents were scared of her popularity and set fire to her home. In Sibi, at least four people were injured when suspected militants lobbed a hand grenade at an election office of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), police said. A police official, who requested not to be named since he was not authorised to speak to the media, said that two militants riding on a motorcycle lobbed a hand grenade on the office situation on Jinnah Road. He said four persons were injured in the attack, adding that the blast also damaged the election office of JI candidate for PB-21, Mumtaz Nazar Abro. The Taliban have directly threatened three main parties in the outgoing government, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the ANP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which are often described as secular. As a result of the threats, there have been few large-scale political rallies leading to a lacklustre campaign for the elections. Amnesty International has also called on Pakistan to investigate the recent wave of attacks and ensure adequate protection for election candidates.

President Obama jokes about radical 2nd term changes

Associated Press
President Barack Obama joked Saturday about his plans for a radical second-term evolution from a "strapping young Muslim Socialist" to retiree golfer, all with a new hairstyle like first lady Michelle's. Obama used this year's annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner to poke fun at himself and some of his political adversaries, asking if it was still possible to be brought down a peg after 4½ years as commander-in-chief. Entering to the rap track "All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled, Obama joked about how re-election would allow him to unleash a radical agenda. But then he showed a picture of himself golfing on a mock magazine cover of "Senior Leisure." "I'm not the strapping young Muslim Socialist that I used to be," the president remarked, and then recounted his recent 2-for-22 basketball shooting performance at the White House Easter Egg hunt. But Obama's most dramatic shift for the next four years appeared to be aesthetic. He presented a montage of shots featuring him with bangs similar to those sometimes sported by his wife. Obama closed by noting the nation's recent tragedies in Massachusetts and Texas, praising Americans of all stripes from first responders to local journalists for serving the public good. Saturday night's banquet not far from the White House attracted the usual assortment of stars from Hollywood and beyond. Actors Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Claire Danes, who play government characters on series, were among the attendees, as was Korean entertainer Psy. Several Cabinet members, governors and members of Congress were present. And despite coming at a somber time, nearly two weeks after the deadly Boston Marathon bombing and 10 days after a devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, the president and political allies and rivals alike took the opportunity to enjoy some humor. Late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien headlined the event. Some of Obama's jokes came at his Republican rivals' expense. He asked that the GOP's minority outreach begin with him as a "trial run" and said he'd take his recent charm offensive with Republicans on the road, including to a book-burning event with Rep. Michele Bachmann. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson would have had better success getting Obama out of office if he simply offered the president $100 million to drop out of last year's race, Obama quipped. And on the 2016 election, the president noted in self-referential irony that potential Republican candidate Sen. Marco Rubio wasn't qualified because he hasn't even served a full term in the Senate. Obama served less than four years of his six-year Senate term before he was elected president in 2008. The gala also was an opportunity for six journalists, including Associated Press White House Correspondent Julie Pace, to be honored for their coverage of the presidency and national issues. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza won the Aldo Beckman Award, which recognizes excellence in the coverage of the presidency. Pace won the Merriman Smith Award for a print journalist for coverage on deadline. ABC's Terry Moran was the winner of the broadcast Merriman Smith Award for deadline reporting. Reporters Jim Morris, Chris Hamby and Ronnie Greene of the Center for Public Integrity won the Edgar A. Poe Award for coverage of issues of national significance.