Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pakistan: Conspiracy to bring pro-Taliban PM

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar has said that attempts were being made to hijack May 11 elections, Geo News reported. Addressing a press conference along with Awami National Party (ANP) leader Shahi Syed and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Rehman Malik, Farooq Sattar said Pakistani and international establishment was part of the conspiracy to hijack polls. MQM leader said Pakistan was being led to impartial elections. He demanded equal opportunities for all political parties to contest polls. He demanded of the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and the caretaker government to ensure free, fair and transparent elections, adding Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the interim government should fulfill their responsibilities. ANP leader Shahi Syed said Taliban were hitting only three political parties. He said they would render any sacrifice for Pakistan. Former interior minister Rehman Malik said terrorists want to disintegrate the country. He said MQM chief Altaf Hussain had warned about Talibanization a year ago. Malik said President Zardari, Altaf Hussain and Asfandyar Wali had vowed to fight terrorism. PPP, ANP and MQM will have to chalk out joint strategy to fight this menace, he added. He warned that conspiracy was being hatched to bring pro-Taliban prime minister in Pakistan.

Musharraf banned from politics for 'life'

A Pakistani court has imposed a lifetime ban on former president Pervez Musharraf from contesting elections, the latest blow since he returned from exile to make a political comeback. The Peshawar High Court handed down the lifetime ban Tuesday after hearing an appeal by Musharraf's lawyer to allow him to run in the upcoming election. "The former dictator [Musharraf] had ordered senior judges and their families be put under house arrest and twice abrogated the country's constitution," Court Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan said when reading out the order. Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March, planning to stand in May 11 vote after four years in self-imposed exile. But, judges barred him from running and put him under house arrest in connection with a pair of court cases against him. One involves his decision to fire senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, while in power. The other relates to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Government prosecutors have accused Musharraf of being involved - allegations he has denied. Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 when he was serving as army chief and ruled for nearly a decade. He stepped down in 2008 because of growing discontent with his rule.
Appeal expected
One of Musharraf's lawyers, Saad Shibli, said he would go to the Supreme Court to challenge Tuesday's ruling, claiming the former leader should not be singled out for punishment for his actions while in power since others were involved. "About 500 officials at different levels and institutions were part of Musharraf's actions, and if those actions come under scrutiny, all those people should be involved in this matter,'' Shibli said. It was the first time a court in Pakistan had declared a citizen ineligible from running for public office for life. On April 20, a court remanded the former president in custody for two weeks, a deadline set to expire on May 4, as judges pushed ahead with plans to put Musharraf on trial for a crackdown on the judiciary during his time in office. On Tuesday, an anti-terrorism court in the garrison city of Rawalpindi put Musharraf on a 14-day judicial remand for charges of failing to provide adequate security for Bhutto before her assassination. The new deadline of May 14 means Musharraf will be in detention on election day. The elections are seen as a key moment in Pakistan's attempts to shake off a legacy of decades of military rule as they represent the first time a democratically elected civilian government has completed a term in office. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, is seen as the front runner.

President Zardari for talks to resolve Syrian crisis

President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday reiterated that Pakistan supported all efforts to facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive solution meeting the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue involving both the government and opposition. The president said this while speaking to Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, who called on him at the Bilawal House. The meeting was attended among others by Ghassan Dallah, Dr Ali Muhra, Senator Farhatullah Babar and Jalil Abbas Jilani. He said Pakistan believed that Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must be respected and that any outside interference would only complicate a complex situation and would have serious consequences for the neighboring countries. The drive for peace in Syria must be led and owned by the Syrian people, he said and offered Pakistan’s readiness to play its role in finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Senator Babar said the president while expressing concerns at the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Syria appreciated the efforts being made by Lakhdar Brahimi, joint representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, and expressed the hope that he would convince the protagonists to resolve their differences through negotiations. The president said Pakistan enjoyed friendly and fraternal relations with Syria. The Syrian deputy foreign minister said Syria valued its friendly relations with Pakistan and was keen to further strengthen its bilateral ties in various fields. The president hosted lunch for the Syrian delegation.

Ill-Considered Advice on Syria

To hear Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tell it, the way forward on Syria is clear. The United States should be doing more — directly arming the rebels seeking overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, establishing a no-fly zone. This is not a new line for these two legislators and others in Congress who share their views. But it has gathered force since the Obama administration disclosed last week that it believes Mr. Assad’s forces have used sarin gas against Syrians. For all their exhortations, what the senators and like-minded critics have not offered is a coherent argument for how a more muscular approach might be accomplished without dragging the United States into another extended and costly war and how it might yield the kind of influence and good will for this country that the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have not. Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain to the contrary, the administration has not adopted a hands-off approach to Syria. Early on, it collaborated with the Europeans on a political solution, which failed. It is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syrians ($400 million), and it just doubled its nonlethal aid to the opposition to $250 million. With mixed success, Washington has also worked to organize fractious rebel groups into a more cohesive and effective whole, while delegitimizing Mr. Assad. Unlike Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, who have also faulted President Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq and tried to goad him into a more militaristic position on Iran, the president has been trying to disentangle the United States from overseas conflicts and, as a result, has been very cautious about military involvement in Syria. That may have to change now that Mr. Assad’s forces are accused of using chemical weapons. Mr. Obama backed himself into a corner when he warned the Syrian leader that using chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” and be a “game changer,” suggesting strongly and perhaps unwisely that crossing that line would trigger some kind of American action. The failure to act now could be misread by Mr. Assad as well as leaders in Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear programs are on America’s radar. But Mr. Obama should only act if he has compelling documentation that the sarin gas was used in an attack by Syrian forces and was not the result of an accident or fertilizer. The Financial Times reported the evidence is based on two separate samples taken from victims of the attacks. With the civil war in Syria now in its third year and the death toll at more than 70,000, the situation has deteriorated. Mr. Assad remains in power, sectarian divisions have intensified and fleeing refugees are destabilizing neighboring countries. Most worrisome, jihadis linked to Al Qaeda have become the dominant fighting force and, as Ben Hubbard reported in The Times, there are few rebel groups that both share the political vision of the United States and have the military might to push it forward. There have never been easy options for the United States in Syria; they have not improved with time. And Russia and Iran, both enablers of Mr. Assad, deserve particular condemnation. Without their support, Mr. Assad would not have lasted this long. Still, the country is important to regional stability. Mr. Obama must soon provide a clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria.

Afghanistan: young woman shot dead by her father in front of 300 people for 'dishonouring' family

The killing of a young Afghan woman by her father in front of a large crowd last week - on the grounds that she had “dishonoured” the family - is further proof that the authorities are failing to tackle shocking levels of gender-based violence in the country, Amnesty International said today. The woman, who has two children, was shot dead last Monday (22 April) by her father in front of a crowd of about 300 people in the village of Kookchaheel, in the Aabkamari district of Badghis province in north-western Afghanistan. The woman, named Halima, who was believed to be between 18 and 20 years old, was accused of running away with a male cousin while her husband was in Iran. Her cousin returned Halima to her relatives ten days after running away with her. His whereabouts are unknown. The killing came after three of the village’s religious leaders, allegedly linked to the Taliban, issued a fatwa (religious edict) that Halima should be killed publicly, after her father sought their advice about his daughter’s elopement. Halima’s father and the three religious council members who issued the fatwa have reportedly gone into hiding. The local police say they are investigating the case, but no one has yet been arrested in connection with the killing. Amnesty International’s Afghanistan researcher Horia Mosadiq said: “The deeply shocking practice of women being subjected to violent ‘punishments’, including killing, publicly or privately, must end. “The authorities across Afghanistan must ensure that perpetrators of violence against women are brought to justice. “Violence against women continues to be endemic in Afghanistan and those responsible very rarely face justice. “Not only do women face violence at the hands of family members for reasons of preserving so-called ‘honour’, but frequently women face human rights abuses resulting from verdicts issued by traditional, informal justice systems. These systems must be reformed and the police must prevent such verdicts being carried out.” The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) documented more than 4,000 cases of violence against women in a six-month period last year (21 March-21 October 2012) - a rise of 28% compared with the same period in the previous year. The AIHRC has also criticised the Afghan police in Baghdis for recruiting suspected perpetrators of such violence, including a Taliban commander and his 20 men implicated in the stoning to death of 45-year-old widow Bibi Sanuber for alleged adultery in 2010. In August 2009, Afghanistan passed the Elimination of Violence against Women Law, which criminalises forced marriage, rape, beatings and other acts of violence against women. “Afghanistan’s law for the elimination of violence against women is a very positive step, but it will not be useful unless it is properly enforced - something we haven’t seen so far,” said Horia Mosadiq.

Bangladesh defends rejection of foreign aid for collapse

Bangladesh has defended its decision to turn down foreign help following Wednesday's collapse of a building near Dhaka that killed at least 382 people. Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told the BBC authorities were confident they could deal with the crisis and emergency services did "a good job". Hundreds are thought to be trapped but hope of finding more alive is fading. Most victims are thought to be garment factory workers. The building's owner has been arrested. Mohammed Sohel Rana is one of eight people detained, along with at least two garment factory owners.They face allegations of negligence, illegal construction and persuading workers to enter the building in Savar - a day after visible cracks appeared. Separately two companies whose suppliers were based in the building, Britain's Primark and Canada's Loblaw, said on Monday they would pay compensation and offer emergency food aid to victims who worked for their suppliers. 'Proud' Mr Alamgir said that the Bangladeshi authorities "were confident we could manage it ourselves" in the rescue operation and had "enough people" involved in the rescue operation. He pointed out that nearly 2,430 of at least 3,000 people who had been in the building survived. The minister said this figure was "better than the average international effort in such cases". "We did a good job and I am proud of my people - the firemen, the military, the police, the local volunteers who all came in to help." Mr Alamgir added that foreign countries had not provided a list of specialist equipment Bangladesh had asked for. Both the UK government and the United Nations have said they had teams of experts ready to head out to Bangladesh, but their offer of help was turned down. 'No-one seen alive' Anger at the building's collapse has triggered days of violent protests in Dhaka demanding those responsible be punished and for an improvement in factory conditions. Garment industry workers across the country were given the weekend off, in the hope that the anger would fade. But on Monday, thousands of workers walked out of factories in the Ashulia and Gazipur industrial districts shortly after they opened, and staged a protest march, reportedly setting fire to an ambulance. Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing cheap clothing for major Western retailers that benefit from its widespread low-cost labour. But the industry has been widely criticised for its low pay and limited rights given to workers and for the often dangerous working conditions in garment factories.

Reign of terror - Day 4: Nine killed in Peshawar blast

The Express Tribune
At least nine people were killed and more than 60 injured in a bomb blast on Peshawar’s crowded Arbab Road Monday morning. Two Afghan consulate officials were among those killed in the blast, the Afghan consul general told The Express Tribune. The bomb was attached to a motorcycle that had been parked on a service lane near a bus stop, about 10 feet away from where a police mobile was parked. As a result of the blast, five people were killed on the spot, while dozens, including four policemen, were injured. Two buses packed with passengers were badly damaged in the explosion, while the police mobile was also damaged slightly. The injured victims were shifted to the nearby hospitals, where four of them succumbed to their injuries, pushing the death toll to nine. Five of them are stated to be in critical condition. SP Cantt Faisal Kamran told The Express Tribune that four policemen, who were sitting in the mobile vehicle, were also injured but since the mobile was shielded by the buses it was spared the brunt of the explosion. He did however warn that they were expecting more such attacks in the coming days. Initially, the blast was mistaken to be a suicide attack. However, by evening the BDS team had gathered enough evidence that suggested the bomb was planted on a motorcycle. AIG Special Branch and head of Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) Shafqat Malik said the mistake was made because they had recovered body pieces from the site of the blast, which they initially assumed belonged to a suicide bomber. “The ill-fated person whose body was found in pieces could have been a passerby, but he wasn’t a suicide bomber,” he explained. Afghan consulate officials killed Two of the victims, Idrees Khan and Hilal Ahmad, were employees of the Afghan Commercial Office and Afghan Refugees Office, which is run by the Afghan government and is located on Arbab Road. A spokesperson of the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad, Zardasht Shamus, told The Express Tribune: “Idrees was an employee of the refugee office while Hilal was working for the commercial office. Both were employees of the Afghan government”. He added that Hilal was the son of Qazi Muhammad Amin Waqad, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, an outfit tasked with peace negotiations with Taliban in the war torn country. Afghan Counsul General Syed Muhammad Ibrahim Khel said the two officials had been working in the Afghan consulate in Peshawar and did not have diplomatic status. Khel said that Hilal and Idrees were headed to their office in the University Town area when the blast occurred. Afghan embassy spokesperson Shams Zadasht says that Afghan authorities have requested the Pakistani police to share details of their investigations into the attack. Zardasht told The Express Tribune that he was not sure if the two Afghan consulate employees were the target. ANP targeted in Charsadda, Mardan At least one person was killed while 15 others, including Awami National Party workers, were wounded in a blast targeting a convoy of ANP candidate in Charsadda district Monday evening. DSP Salim Riaz told The Express Tribune said that ANP’s Muhammad Ahmad Khan was leaving his election office when a remote-controlled bomb planted in the middle of the crowded Sardheri Bazaar went off near his vehicle. Meanwhile, a bomb planted by unidentified militants near the hujra of ANP local leader Haji Khan Daraz, detonated in the Katlang area of Mardan early Monday morning. While the hujra was partially damaged, no human loss was reported. Meanwhile, an Awami National Party candidate’s security guard was gunned down by unidentified attackers in the Hakeemabad area of Nowshera district Monday afternoon. Johar Ali, a private security guard for ANP’s Shahid Khattak, was on duty at the candidate’s home when two masked men on a motorcycle opened fire on him, killing him instantly, police said. Meanwhile, two candidates in Karak’s NA-15 and PK-14 constituencies – Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) candidate Moulana Shah Abdul Aziz and Malik Qasim Khan – came under attack in separate incidents on Monday. Both escaped unharmed.

Pakistan: Battle for democracy

Going by the set of candidates, their manipulative electioneering campaigns and the party leaders' largely empty, if not indecorous, rhetoric at the rallies are any indicators the outcome of the May 11 election is not expected to be very different from before. Of course, there are quite a few new entrants - some only for inclusion in the 'also-ran' list - but most of the front-runners are chips off the old block. If they are not close blood relations of the party leaders then they are time-tested cronies or safe bets on their family seats. Even the latest players in the power game have preferred 'electables' over their committed workers. Yet in the fullness of time the outcome of the May 11 election would be recorded as different, very different, from ever before - for the reason that this is taking place despite the stiffest and most prohibiting challenges. Given a high incidence of violence in many parts of the country particularly in provincial capitals of Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar, the forces opposed to this democratic exercise seem to be calling the shots, at least as of now. Three major political parties - PPP, ANP and MQM - have been literally confined to have at best corner meetings instead of public rallies, a situation that is a crass contradiction of the much-hallowed characteristic of impartial and transparent election. No wonder the leaders of the three parties are crying foul, complaining inaccessibility to a level playing field and pre-poll rigging. With only 10 days left for the polls the election wagon is running the endgame lap. The anti-democracy forces will spare no device in order to derail the wagon of democracy; we may have more violence at more places. But whatever cost the democratic forces they cannot afford to abandon the race and thus yield to anti-democratic forces. For all practical purposes for democracy in Pakistan it is 'to be or not to be' question. By derailing the electoral process now under way the anti-democratic forces will have won and the future Pakistan an anachronistic fiefdom runs by extremists. And if some parties now in the field feel safe and un-rattled by violence they are sadly mistaken. Read what the spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman says; he says "we are against the secular and democratic system which is against the ideology of Islam ...and we are not expecting any good from other parties either, who are supportive of the same system". Why they are not being targeted, the spokesman says, that's "our own prerogative". No doubt in the situation that tends to obtain during the next week or so the prospects of an election that would be peaceful, largely participated and rightly reflective of the national will are slim if not dismal. But some of the steps of late taken by the authorities will certainly help restore the balance between the threat posed by the TTP and its genre and the polity's mood to exercise its democratic right to choose its rulers. The most crucial step is the government's decision to deploy forces including troops in all the districts of Balochistan. Some 18,461 teachers had refused to perform polling duties in 11 sensitive districts fearing violence. Not only on the day of election but all along since May 1 the troops and paramilitary forces would be deployed hoping it would give boost to presently nearly stalled electioneering activity. In fact, the threat to timely election in Balochistan is double-edged. Both the TTP and the nationalists are working hand in glove to sabotage the polls, the former out to assert that election is anti-Islam and the latter to establish that the province is beyond the writ of the government of Pakistan. At the same time the political parties have to forge unity in defence of election on time not only by condemning violence but also by desisting use of abusive language against each other, which tends to cast them more as power-hungry gamblers than as national leaders. That they have yet to sit together and think out a united stand against terrorist attacks is indeed disappointing. Perhaps they don't realise the consequences of a failed election. Not only the outcome of the polls held in the absence of level playing field would be controversial it may trigger a replay of 1977 failed election facilitating General Ziaul Haq to take-over. It's heartening that the caretaker government would brook no delay in holding election on May 11. But it's not the government and the candidates that have to secure timely election; the voters too owe a responsibility in that they should turn up at the polling booths in large numbers. A poor turnout is also a negative development that can help the anti-democratic forces claim that the people are also opposed to having a democratic system in Pakistan. We are in the midst of a gigantic battle for the survival of democracy in Pakistan, and it can be won only by putting aside party affiliations and personal reservations.

Pakistan: ''' The silence of the lambs ''

It is the worst of times for the secular parties participating in the elections. They are being targeted for not being in the good books of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The centrist and right wing parties on the orher hand are conducting their election campaigns without any constraints. Of the four provinces in Pakistan, three are awash in blood. Punjab has not been touched as the TTP is tactically concentrating on the other three provinces so as not to disturb their bases in Punjab. This tactical tilt by the TTP has already been dubbed as an attempt to skew the election results. The plan seems very much in place to bring parties of the TTP’s choice into power. The recent statement by PTI chief Imran Khan, requesting the TTP to renounce violence during the elections and allow a new Pakistan to emerge through the ballot, is absurd to say the least. The TTP would rather have their own version of Pakistan, something for which they have split so much blood over the years. And if Imran believes that after coming to power he could turn the extremists around from their so-called desire to build an Islamic emirate in Pakistan to creating an Islamic welfare state, he may be living in a fool’s paradise. The same is true of the PML-N. If they think that having been left to bask freely in the election campaign the TTP would be easy to rein in once PML-N is in power, the party may be better served by giving a second thought to their approach to the TTP. At least 50 people have died since April in election-related attacks. More attacks are in the offing, as declared by the TTP. People are already speculating over the possibility of the elections not taking place. Just as every attack has emboldened the militants’ resistance to the polls, so has it diminished the confidence of the public in the elections. The fear of May 11 being bloodier has been reflected by thousands of teachers in Balochisran who have refused to do polling duty on the day. The caretaker Minister of Law has indicated the possibility of requesting the army to take over security so that the elections can be conducted without hindrance. Any means that guarantee people getting a chance to reach the polling booths in all the provinces should be adopted by the caretaker government to resist the undemocratic forces from establishing their grip on the polity. The TTP are killing, shooting and maiming even the innocent to disrupt the polls. None of the threatened parties — the PPP, the MQM or the ANP has shown cowardice in the face of danger. All these parties have shown solidarity and resolved not to back off from the elections, which are essential for Pakistan. The silence in Punjab over the miscreants’ acts is becoming intolerable. People are questioning the PML-N’s and PTI’s silence over the killings and shootings. Again if the notion is that all will be well once the elections are over, perhaps it would eventually be the centre-right parties bearing the brunt of the TTP’s nefarious designs. Everybody in Pakistan is trying to make a new Pakistan, the TTP, the PTI, and now even the PML-N has joined the chorus. Would it not be a better idea to save Pakistan from the hands of the militants and let it be what it should be, a democratic state?

Pakistan: Bomb-hit political parties see conspiracy against ‘moderates’

Daily Times
Three ‘moderate’ political parties of the country, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) see conspiracy of ‘national and international establishments’ behind continued terrorist attacks against them. The establishments are going to repeat the Afghan Jihad policy of 80s in view of the scheduled withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. The ‘enlightened’ parties of the country joined hands on Monday after facing a series of terrorist attacks on their election offices and public gatherings in Karachi and other parts of the country during the month of April. Speaking at their first-ever joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club, the leaders of the three parties said that terrorists have targeted only the progressive parties during their electioneering. On other hand, they added, the right wing parties have been provided open ground to run their election campaign. “A clear ideological line has been drawn,” said senior PPP leader Taj Haider while addressing the joint press conference. He said that progressive parties are at one side, which strive for the elimination of extremism and terrorism and hence are being attacked and restrained from their election campaign. On other side, he added, some parties, whom the terrorists believe to be their warrantors, have continued electioneering. “The Afghanistan and Pakistan region had been burning for the last 30 years. Do Western powers want to hand it over to fundamental forces again, when they leave?” he asked. He stated that terrorists attacking progressive parties are militant wings of right-wing political parties. “It appears that an international, national and local conspiracy is behind this ideological division,” remarked MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi. He opined that the international forces support this division as the NATO forces have to pass via this route on their withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Do not repeat the mistake again. You had taken the same decision in haste during the previous withdrawal from Afghanistan. The area will go in the hands of religious extremists,” the MQM leader said. He warned that such a policy would cause reoccurrence of incidents like 9/11. The national and international establishments will again be caught due to repetition of their policies, Rizvi said, adding, “They should choose their friends carefully.” ANP leader Bashir Jan said that the three parties are being punished for the bold policies they followed during their last five-year rule.

Pakistan: Fears of election delay mount

Having mandated to hold general election on May 11, the caretaker government too has failed to prioritize the issues confronting the country. After assuming the power, like outgoing government of the Pakistan People’s Party, the caretakers mostly relied on press statements, making vows and pledges about holding the election—the quickest of all actions was elevation of the caretaker Prime Minister’s son and things like that, knowingly ignoring the core issue of terrorism. Bodies kept tumbling here and there amidst the bloodshed unleashed by the extremists, nationalists and terrorists. Thus today the fears loom laerge over the much-hyped vows of holding the election especially in Kyber Pakhtunkhawa, Balochitan and Karachi. Despite all-out support of the Pakistan’s armed forces and the superior judiciary, the Interior Ministry never came up with anti-terrorism measures, leaving the electioneering process exposed to terrorists. Army, Rangers, police and intelligence agencies seam either non-existent or are proving too vulnerable to the planning of terrorist-outfits. Frequency with which the terrorists are striking is a testimony to this effect. Deny it if you can. Consequently, first the Teachers Association in Balochistan, fearing risks associated with their election duty, refused to conduct the elections in the restive Balochistan and subsequently, the provincial lecturers on Monday joined the teachers’ boycott. They are not wrong either. So far, after the negotiation with the Balochistan government, the teachers have agreed to perform election duties in only Lasbella and Chagai out of 12 sensitive districts of the province. Realizing the sensitive the development taking place in the country, a meeting of Corp commanders in Army’s General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi has approved the deployment of troops for the security during the upcoming elections throughout the country. Thereafter, the Army and FC began troops’ deployment in the sensitive districts of Balochistan, and the first contingent of the Pakistan Army has departed from Quetta to Mastung. Under the contingency plan, around 50,000 Balochistan Constabulary, Police and Levies along with 22000 military and Para-military troops will be deployed in 30 districts of the province. As a last resort, a similar troops’ deployment is on the cards for the KPK and Sindh. But the details of the plan are being awaited. Considering the risks involved in the election process, the troops deployment should have done a little earlier. Yet the late is better than never. Finally, the Election Commission of Pakistan too has taken notice of frequent incidents violence in various parts of the country and directed the provincial governments to provide protection to candidates and political leaders, taking ‘earnest measures to ensure a highly guarded atmosphere for the elections. Much delayed condemnation of recent killings, firing and bomb blasts on the part of the Election Commission of Pakistan has further eroded the credibility of the Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim and the other members of the ECP. Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan is seen more worried about ransacking of the vehicle of a lady candidate in Lahore instead of the unabated bloodbath being executed in the FATA, the KPK, Quetta and Karachi. The Election Commission must redirect its energies and efforts to conduct the general elections peacefully in all parts of the country rather than guarding the personal images of a few. The people of Pakistan want safety to the human life and property. Political rhetoric in the election run-up does not matter. The Interior Ministry and the Election Commission, leaving aside the rhetoric making headlines, should do some thing serious to take the people into confidence, who are supposed to go to the field to face the consequences thus it should take measures to ensure safety of the election staff. Watching the apathy of the Election Commission and other security staff, today teachers and lecturers of Balochistan have refused to join election duty what if the election staff in other restive areas of the country also says ‘no’ to the election duty. The situation in Peshawar and its adjoining tribal areas is far more dangerous even on Monday morning a bomb blast rocked the University Road resulting in more killings and injuries. Performing election duty under imminent risk and threat to life is a big ask and if some says ‘no’ to it hardly it is a matter of surprise. To win back confidence of the election staff and voters to come out in the greater interest of the country, the security forces must take over the administrative control over the infrastructure, plugging in all the lapses from where the terrorists can sneak in otherwise the mounting fears of delay in the election will turn into a reality.

Pakistan’s late Bhutto still leads her party in campaign

The most popular politician in Pakistan’s largest party won’t be staging any rallies or participating in debates as May’s historic national election nears. The reason: She’s dead. Yet Benazir Bhutto, assassinated more than five years ago, is still the standard bearer of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In its TV commercials and banners, she has been pushed to the forefront of the party’s uphill campaign to return to power in Parliament after a widely criticized five-year term. Hers is the face of the party on its official manifesto. She looms over smaller photos of her widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, and their son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who lead the party but are rarely seen in public. The PPP’s campaign in the runup to the May 11 vote has been proscribed by security concerns. The Pakistani Taliban, which asserted responsibility for Bhutto’s murder, has warned the secular party that its candidates and rallies will be attacked. In recent weeks the militants have killed several leaders and workers in the parties that formed the PPP government’s ruling coalition. That may be part of the reason that Bhutto, who served twice as prime minister and was Pakistan’s only woman premier, has become a constant presence in the race. But her embattled party really has no other option but to stress its lineage, analysts say. The newly ended government was marred by an economic meltdown and persistent corruption cases against top officials. Even though the party and its coalition partners made history as the first civilian government in Pakistan’s 65-year history to complete a full term — thereby shepherding a democratic transition of power — that accomplishment has not lowered the price of wheat or gasoline, given people jobs or diminished poverty. Zardari polls miserably. The former prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was drummed from office by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year for refusing to submit to its orders to reopen a money laundering case against Zardari. And the public blames Gilani’s successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former energy minister, for crippling electrical and natural gas shortages. Bhutto Zardari, 24, is too young to run for a seat in the May 11 election — the minimum age in Pakistan is 25. In a video released Tuesday, the party heir reassured voters that he “wanted to launch the election campaign in the streets of my country alongside my workers,” but he said it was too dangerous. “Once again the enemies of peace and prosperity are standing in front of us,” Bhutto Zardari said. So the party is left with only ghosts to burnish its image. In campaign ads and on placards, Benazir Bhutto is always clad in a fashionable headscarf — in some photos merely casting a serene gaze, in others raising an arm forcefully, as if at an eternal rally. The latter image has been paired with one of her son giving a victory sign. In placards hung around the capital, Islamabad, touting one of the party’s National Assembly candidates, Bhutto takes the top position — usually reserved for living prime minister candidates in other parties’ signs. The PPP’s signage and literature also rarely fail to invoke the memory of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded the party and later served as Pakistan’s prime minister and president. Both of them are bestowed the title “shaheed,” or martyr, whenever mentioned in party speeches and materials. “She has got a cult status, and the Bhutto name has got a cult status,” said Usman Khalid, a former Pakistani Army brigadier general. “Martyrdom and martyrs matter.” As the old PPP slogan goes: “Bhutto is still alive today and Bhutto will still be alive tomorrow.”

Will pre-election violence impact Pakistan's elections?

At least eight people were killed and 40 more injured in a suicide bombing this morning in northwest Pakistan. The country has seen scores killed in pre-election violence. At least eight people were killed and 40 more injured in a suicide bombing on a busy road in the Pakistani city of Peshawar Monday morning. The attack capped off a weekend of election-related violence as the country prepares to go to the polls May 11.The bomber missed his ostensible target, a local commissioner, instead crashing his motorcycle into a passenger bus, Pakistan’s News International reports. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the Pakistani Taliban have carried out a range of similar attacks against secular political parties over the past several weeks. Indeed, the explosion came just a day after two Taliban attacks targeting political candidates in northwestern Pakistan killed at least eight and injured dozens more. The Taliban and other groups have been responsible for at least 77 deaths in 44 election-related attacks since the beginning of April, Human Rights Watch told The New York Times."We are not in favor of democracy. Democracy is for Jews and Christians," Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud said in a recent propaganda video, according to CNN. He implored Pakistanis not to participate in the upcoming elections. "We want the implementation of Sharia [law], and for that jihad is necessary,” he said. The May elections will be the first in the country’s checkered political history when one democratically elected government will make way for another, and the uptick in militant violence leading to the historic vote has rattled both domestic and international observers. But they remain divided on whether or not the spate of attacks will have a significant affect on the election’s outcome at the national level, particularly since neither of the two parties leading in polling over the past three months are among those targeted by the attacks. As one analyst writing in the Pakistani daily Dawn argues, the violence, though significant, is too sporadic and narrowly targeted to create the kind of chaos necessarily to significantly sway the election’s results. As for violence making elections impossible, the quantum would have to jump multifold and that too in key urban towns to spread the kind of fear that would result in elections being postponed. The ‘threshold rule’ applies here: the state has virtually no capacity to prevent targeted violence up to a certain threshold; beyond this, the militants have little chance of carrying out a coordinated campaign of major attacks in city centres in a short time. There is little reason to believe this will be upended over the coming fortnight. Two of the frontrunners in the national campaign are the center-right Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and the centrist party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Taliban attacks, on the other hand, have largely targeted left-leaning parties, including the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), and the Awami National Party (ANP). Local candidates for these parties complain that the violence has forced them to dramatically scale back their campaigning activities, leaving the field open for Islamist candidates to win over voters. "If you tie my hands, and you want me to fight, I can’t,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a local candidate for the ANP in the city of Peshawar, told Dawn. Overall, however, there is halting optimism in many quarters for Pakistan’s fragile democratic institutions. As the Monitor reported in March, the Pakistani National Assembly recently completed a five-year term for the first time in the country’s history, a signal that the country is finding new and non-militaristic ways to respond to its political grievances. “These five years we saw many instances of corruption, confrontations with the judiciary, and absence of law and order,” says Rasul Bakhsh Raees, a professor of political science in Lahore, pointing to Karachi and Balochistan. “But the military decided not to intervene, which shows even their attitude is changing.” … “Every phase of democracy in Pakistan has been a battle, but the trend shows it’s [heading] toward improving the overall institutional balance,” [he says]. Violence also cast a shadow over Pakistan’s last election, in 2008. On Dec. 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister and the head of the PPP – then the leading opposition party – was assassinated after a campaign rally. Two months later, however, her party and the PLM-N emerged victorious from the campaign and formed a coalition government. That August, former military leader Pervez Musharraf stepped down as president and went into exile, formally ending his nine-year military rule.

Pakistan's campaign trail politicians use stealth to outwit Taliban threats

In a country where politicians strive to hold vast political rallies with huge crowds of supporters, it is hard to imagine a campaign event more low key than the one held recently in an almost pitch-black backstreet in Dera Ismail Khan. Illuminated only by the headlights of a nearby car, the candidate standing for a seat in Pakistan's parliament made a brief speech to the hundred or so supporters mustered at short notice, before being ushered back to his armoured car by a team of bodyguards wearing white bulletproof vests over their white cotton shalwar kameez. Ever since the Pakistani Taliban declared war on politicians from the country's three mainstream secular parties last month, such "corner meetings" have become the new normal for politicians such as Waqar Ahmed Khan, a sitting senator from the Pakistan People's party (PPP). "He knows he has to be careful," said Mansoor Akbar Kundi, the vice-chancellor of the city's university and a friend of Khan. "The Taliban threat makes activists and candidates like Waqar less active than they would otherwise be. They just can't penetrate among the masses like they could in the past." Khan plays down the threat, saying the shabby city is not as badly hit as other areas in the predominantly Pashtun lands bordering Afghanistan, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). But just a few hours earlier, an activist from another party had been killed when his car was fired at. The incident barely registered in the national media of a country growing used to a relentless campaign of violence against politicians. So far more than 50 people have been killed, including one candidate, and 200 injured. The Pakistani Taliban are determined to use fear and violence to rig historic elections due to be held on 11 May in favour of rightwing religious parties that sympathise with the militants – and many analysts think they are succeeding. Politicians can's say they weren't warned. Last month, the Taliban released a video telling the public to stay away from rallies held by the PPP, the Awami National party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumio Movement (MQM). All three are secular, have shared power during the last tumultuous five years and backed military campaigns against militants. The ANP has been the worst hit so far, with several party workers killed. On 17 April, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a party meeting in Peshawar, killing 16 people. The Taliban said they were targeting Haroon Ahmad Bilour, a party leader whose father was killed by a suicide bombing in December. Party leaders even fear they will be denied a sympathy vote – although it is a secret ballot, polling stations known to be ANP strongholds could be targeted. The onslaught has had a dramatic impact on a campaign that can often feel lacklustre, even in a large town such as Dera Ismail Khan. Secular politicians increasingly have to make do with social media in a country where illiteracy is still rife, while rightwing and Islamist parties have been holding traditional rallies with few security concerns. Instead of rallies and public gatherings, politicians increasingly have to make do with social media in a country where illiteracy is still rife. The ANP has announced it will only hold small, closed-door party gatherings. The ANP, traditionally a secular liberal party that has long taken a tough line against the Taliban, could be wiped out by the blizzard of violence. The attacks have forced it to close dozens of election offices in recent weeks. The party was already thought likely to suffer at the polls after a being widely criticised during its five years heading the provincial government in KPK. "We will never know whether the ANP has lost or gained support because their supporters will be too frightened to vote," said Ijaz Khan, a professor of international relations at Peshawar University. "The elections cannot now be free and fair, and that means the result in KPK and FATA will forever be suspect." Some candidates from parties targeted by the Taliban have opted to contest seats as independents, or have jumped ship to religious parties (although even in normal circumstances Pakistan's ultra-pragmatic politicians often move between parties). Although senior ANP leaders have been issued police protection, the party said not enough had been done to protect its activists and candidates. "Police are a help, but we have seen that suicide bombers are able to cross through all checkpoints and get extremely close to where our candidates are," said Bushra Gohar, a vice-president of the ANP. "It shows there are real weaknesses in their security plan." The Taliban have justified their war saying the secular parties had "committed genocide of our tribal people and Muslims while remaining in power for five years". Analysts say the Taliban are not just seeking revenge, however, but also trying to ensure that the next parliament is as sympathetic as possible to their cause. "If there is a more right-of-centre government it will decrease further the level of co-operation Pakistani will extend to the US in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban," said Khan. Rightwing and religious parties that have called for peace talks with the Taliban have been left largely untouched by suicide bombers. "When you live in the jungle you have to live by the rules of the jungle," smirked Mehmood Bettani, a candidate for a provincial assembly seat with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal, a leading religious party. He moves freely around Dera Ismail Khan with none of the elaborate security of his secular opponents. "Privately we might talk about the problems of the Taliban, but you can't say it publicly or you risk being attacked." The MQM, the dominant force in Karachi, has also suffered. Several party activists and one candidate have been killed from the party, which last year organised a "referendum" inviting the public to denounce the Taliban. And the Taliban threat is a big headache for the PPP, which is widely expected to be punished at the ballot box after five years leading a coalition government that has presided over a faltering economy, electricity crises and persistent Taliban violence. The PPP cancelled a mass gathering planned for the beginning of April that had been intended to kick off their campaign. One of the PPP's few weapons is the star power of the Bhuttos, who established the party in 1967. But after two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by the Taliban on the campaign trail in 2007, the heir to the name of party founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is his inexperienced grandson Bilawal. Officials for the party, which saw one of its provincial assembly candidates, Adnan Aslam, killed in April, have made clear that the 24-year-old Oxford graduate will not be hitting the campaign trail or appearing at events where the Taliban could get close to him. The PPP recently issued a video message from Bilawal, who complained he could not campaign publicly because his mother's murderers were trying to kill him too. "I wanted to contest polls living among you; I wanted to launch the election campaign in the streets of my country alongside my workers … but we are at war against a mindset," he said. Not enough politicians from the right have condemned the violence, critics say. Their rhetoric often appears designed to appeal to the Taliban, or at least to those Pakistanis who have some sympathy for militants and like the idea of pulling out of "America's war" in the region. "They don't realise that although today they are targeting liberal parties tomorrow they will be next," said Gohar, the ANP leader. "The Taliban are attacking the entire democratic process." On Sunday Imran Khan told a huge rally in Dera Ismail Khan, which gathered without incident, that he would withdraw all troops fighting the Taliban in FATA if his party was elected to power. "They don't realise that although today they are targeting liberal parties tomorrow they will be next," said Gohar. "The Taliban are attacking the entire democratic process."
Under attack
24 April Peshawar – bomb outside PPP leader's home kills four; Dera Ismail Khan – bomb hits convoy of independent candidate; Karachi – bomb kills five MQM party activists
18 April Charsadda – ANP leader injured by remote controlled bomb
16 April Peshawar – suicide bomb attack on ANP leaders kills 17, wounds 60
14 April Swat – ANP candidate killed by bomb; Charsadda – ANP candidate wounded by bomb
11 April Hyderabad – MQM candidate gunned down
31 March Bannu – bomb attack kills two, injures six including ANP candidate
30 March Karachi – bomb kills district ANP leader
22 December Peshawar: Bashir Ahmad Bilour, an ANP senior leader, among eight killed and 17 wounded by suicide bomber

Pakistan’s dangerous polls

While analysts are speculating that the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Pakistan will be a game changer, there are forces at work trying to coerce people into staying at home on the day of the polls. The electioneering efforts of major political parties — the Pakistan People’s Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party—have been targeted by terrorism in recent weeks. Every day, the Taleban, determined to derail upcoming elections, are bombing offices and conventions of political parties and attacking politicians in Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. Their assault has been brazen and consistent, and have brought life in the country’s busy commercial hub, Karachi, to a near standstill. At the turn of a major historic event in Pakistan’s history — the unprecedented completion of tenure by a democratic government — the attacks on representatives of democracy show the tightening grip of extremism in the country. Persistant attacks by militants during election period is a new phenomenon in Pakistan and bears a disturbing similarity to elections in Afghanistan, where forthcoming presidential elections are bound to face a formidable challenge by the ever-burgeoning militancy. But perhaps even more disturbing than this offensive of bombs and bullets, is the fact that political parties are not making a concerted effort to condemn this assault on democratic politics. For once, Pakistan’s political parties should momentarily forget their myriad ideological difference, and collectively condemn the militants. At this critical point in time, Pakistan’s political forces should be united in declaring Taleban pariahs, who have no place in the country’s future. The religious parties and influential religious leaders must participate in this endeavour, especially since hundreds of clerics have declared a fatwa making voting a religious obligation. If these attacks by militants are not vociferously condemned, it will only adversely affect voter turnout on polling day. Pakistanis, especially the young lot, are desperate to cast their votes and make a change. And it would be most unfortunate if these dastardly attacks result in a low voter turnout.

Pakistan Taliban using violence as election strategy, killing 46 since campaign launch

Pakistan’s latest milestone in its democratic development should be historic national elections on May 11. But already there is concern of prepoll rigging – except not the kind that involves stuffing ballot boxes. The Pakistan Taliban has carried out a deadly wave of explosions, suicide bombings and targeted shootings that has left 46 people dead and more than 190 injured since campaigning officially started on April 21, according to Human Rights Watch. Another attack, in which eight people died, occurred Monday in Peshawar.The target is always the same: a candidate, an activist or an office belonging to one of Pakistan’s secular political parties. “We are against all politicians who are going to become part of any secular, democratic government,” Pakistan Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told the Associated Press on Sunday. Secular liberal parties say the Pakistan Taliban is waging a deliberate election strategy. “Their objective is to create fear among people so that they don’t vote for us in elections,” said Faisal Subzwari, a leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, in an interview with German radio. “They want the right-wing parties to win.” Pakistan finds itself at a crucial crossroads. A country that has spent more than half of its 66 years under military rule has just witnessed a civilian government completing a full five-year term for the first time without being overthrown. But with national and provincial elections less than two weeks away, the country is bracing itself for still more violence. The authorities appear powerless to stop the attacks. Pakistan’s security forces have struggled to thwart Pakistan Taliban attacks since 2008. Raza Rumi, a political analyst and director of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute think-tank, said the violence amounts to campaign manipulation. “What is happening is that the Taliban is basically calling the shots as to who is allowed to contest the elections and who must be discredited in the process.” Leaders of right-wing parties calling for negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban problem have been spared, leading secular politicians to complain that they are campaigning at a disadvantage. “Pakistani democracy, still wobbly on its feet, cannot withstand such a bludgeoning. Violence that continues until polling day could undermine the credibility of election results,” wrote Dawn newspaper columnist Huma Yusuf. In the latest violence since Saturday, the Pakistan Taliban was blamed for attacks on the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Awami National Party all over the country. Secular parties have complained they are risking the lives of their candidates and supporters if they hold rallies in places like Karachi, where the Pakistan Taliban control some neighbourhoods. The divide between secular and right-wing parties during the election campaign period is most stark in the north in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders the tribal areas, and Punjab, the country’s most populous province representing the most number of seats in the national assembly. Both the Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif, who has served as prime minister twice already and is looking to return to power, and former cricket superstar turned politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Movement for Justice is challenging Mr. Sharif’s Punjab power base, have appeared regularly at large political rallies. Both have criticized Pakistan’s foreign policy as being too closely aligned to the United States. They have also called for negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban. In recent days, Mr. Khan has said that, if his party won the election, he would pull back troops from the tribal areas.