Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Obama meets S Korean president in White House

A Hindu hell on earth: Families are being torn apart by their desperation to flee persecution in Pakistan

They had waited for years. So when the opportunity came they took it, even if it meant leaving behind friends and neighbours, brothers and husbands. Even a three-day-old baby boy. Seven weeks ago, almost 500 Hindus from Pakistan crossed into India on the pretence of visiting a religious festival. In reality, they had come to escape religious persecution and poverty. Some said they would rather commit suicide than go back. “Pakistan is worse than hell for Hindus,” said one of those who managed to flee, Laxman Das, a fruit trader from Hyderabad. Though Pakistan was established as a state for Muslims, the original vision of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was of a place of tolerance and inclusion. “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state,” he said in speech in August 1947. Yet Jinnah’s vision has steadily been eroded. Today, as Pakistan prepares for a historic election on 11 May, its Christians and Hindus, which together comprise perhaps 3 per cent of the population, face persecution and assault. Some have fled. “If people have any resources, they want to leave here,” Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said from Karachi. The Pakistanis who have made their way to the village of Bijwasan, not far from Delhi’s international airport, all belong to the same low Hindu caste and come from the same part of Sindh province. They have applied unsuccessfully for visas to India for years and hit upon the idea of asking to visit the Kumbh Mela festival, the most auspicious date in the Hindu calendar. Though the festival is held every three years, it is only every 12 years that it is held at the confluence of the sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers in Allahabad. This year the festival was held in February and March. “Getting a passport is not so difficult. But getting a visa is very hard,” said 35-year-old Hanuman Prashad, another fruit trader from Hyderabad, explaining how they told the Indian authorities they wished to attend the festival. The Hindus, who came in three groups, said their biggest motivation to leave was the challenge of educating their children. There was discrimination in government schools, where they were referred to as “kafirs”, told to go and work in the fields and obliged to recite the six kalimas, or tenets, of Islam. For girls, it was even more difficult, so much so that few of the families bothered sending their daughters to school. “For the wealthy Hindus it is easier – they can send their children to better schools or else abroad,” Mr Das said. They said the situation had become worse since the rule of the military leader General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977 and for the next decade oversaw an increased Islamisation of Pakistan. Following the notorious destruction of India’s Babri mosque by a Hindu mob in 1992, the Hindus of Pakistan were often the victims of revenge attacks. While hundreds of Hindus received visas to attend the festival, not everyone did. Almost everyone at Bijwasan – where they are squeezed more than 20 to a room in a former school, the air filled with flies – can tell a story of leaving someone behind. Hanuman Prashad, who came to India with his wife and six children, said his parents had not been successful. When it came to leaving, with the knowledge he would not return, everyone wept. But his parents were insistent. “Whatever happens to us, go and save your life. Take your kids,” they told him. Bharti Sulanki had travelled to the crossing at the Pakistani border town Khokhrapar with her husband and seven children, the youngest being only three-days old. She said the Pakistani authorities demanded a passport and visa for the newborn, too young even to have been named. She said she pleaded with the guards to let her cross with the boy she was still breastfeeding but they refused. Dazed and tear-stained, Ms Sulanki said she believed she had no alternative but to hand the child to a relative who had come to the border with them. Since then she has been unable to make contact to discover what has happened to her baby. She said she had prayed they would get their visas earlier so she could have given birth in India. “I had no option,” she sobbed. “I sacrificed the baby for the sake of the other six children, so they can have an education.” A 30-year-old pregnant woman called Laran Keswari was equally distraught. She had crossed with her five children but her husband, who is disabled, had not obtained a visa. She told him she did not want to go without him but he insisted she go ahead for the sake of their children. “God is on your side,” he told her. Ms Keswari is anxious about how she will manage by herself with her children, hoping against hope that her husband will be able to join them. “We speak on the phone but we are both always crying,” she said. An irony of the group’s exodus from Pakistan, a journey to escape discrimination, is that it was made possible by people with fundamental and, in some cases, extremist views. Their host in Bijwasan was Naher Singh, a former customs officer and policeman, who accommodated another smaller group of refugees in 2011. He asked his rent-paying tenants to leave his property and housed the Pakistanis instead. “These people are my God and Goddess. I worship them,” he said. Mr Singh said the cost of feeding and housing the 483 people was met by various hardline Hindu groups, including the Vishva Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Some of their members have been linked to confrontations with minority groups across India. Mr Singh, who has been rousing his refugee guests at 3am to lead them in yoga and religious chants, said he wanted to forcibly drive Muslims from India. He made a series of inflammatory remarks. Mr Singh was accompanied by a Hindu priest. Asked if Mr Singh was not displaying the sort of bigotry from which he claimed to be saving the refugees, the priest replied: “This is God talking through him. And I agree with him.” The government of India has yet to publicly comment on the refugees or its plans for them. Sending them back to Pakistan would be politically fraught. Pakistan has not commented on the matter. Mr Singh said he would fight any attempt to repatriate the refugees and claimed they would be accepted by the local community. He said: “We will find jobs for them here in the villages.”

Michelle Obama reflects on her time in the White House

Pakistan: Political violence claims 2,670 lives: Report

The Express Tribune
The data suggests that some 2,674 people lost their lives in 1,108 incidents of violence across the country
Pakistan witnessed an average of 600 monthly casualties as a result of political violence from January to April this year, a research study has found. The data suggests that some 2,674 people lost their lives in 1,108 incidents of violence across the country. Violent clashes also left 2,386 people injured in the four months under review. According to Pakistan Conflict Tracker’s quadrilateral report compiled by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), the first four months of the year witnessed an unprecedented surge in political violence. Accompanied by an unusual escalation in attacks on political parties’ offices and their candidates in the month of April, the ethno-political violence in Karachi, religio-political terrorism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and nationalist-separatist violence in Balochistan continued to surge. The data indicates that Sindh witnessed major loss of life during the last four months. After Sindh, KP turned out to be the second major hub of violence with the death toll of 418. Balochistan came in a close third with almost 403 people dead during the four months. Meanwhile, violence across Fata subsided significantly during the period in question. A closer look into the casualty figures underlines that civilians bore the greatest brunt of violent acts with 1,542 fatalities. Moreover, militants fighting against the state constitute the second largest group of casualties, with the toll pegged at 856, according to the data. Clashes with militants, target-killings or ambushes of military convoys also left 276 security forces personnel dead, mostly recorded in the insurgency-infested areas of Fata, Karachi and Balochistan. Furthermore, during the four-month review, as many as 12 Central Intelligence Agency-operated drone strikes were reported in different areas of North Waziristan Agency, leaving about 71 suspected militants dead. Between March 2012 and February 2013, 51 drone attacks had killed over 351 suspected militants. Meanwhile, continuing their sabotage campaign against state infrastructure, militants blew up 39 state-run and private schools in different parts of Fata, Balochistan and KP during the course of four months. Major causes of violence On the whole, target shooting topped as the major cause of deaths. Some 45 percent of all the violent incidents were of target killing in nature. Karachi suffered the greatest loss of life as a result of target killing. The deadly wave claimed over 701 lives in Sindh. Meanwhile, bomb blasts were the second major cause of deaths with 405 persons perishing, including 343 civilians, 7 militants and 55 security forces personnel across the country. The third major cause of fatalities were military operations. In total, 356 persons including 339 militants and 11 security operatives perished in these forms of attacks. Meanwhile, from January to April 2013, 241 dead bodies were recovered from different parts of Pakistan. Most of them were found in Karachi, Peshawar, Fata and Balochistan. Likewise, 25 suicide attacks left 168 civilians dead. Moreover, the sporadic waves of sectarian and religio-political violence continued to pile misery on the country, with Shia Muslims based in Quetta and Karachi becoming frequent targets of sectarian terrorism. Shias belonging to the Hazara community in Quetta continue to live under the deadly spate of violence unleashed by Lashkar-e-Jhangivi this year. A precise look into the trends of violence across the country highlights the fact that the law and order situation across Pakistan continues to deteriorate.

ANP expresses reservations over election security

ANP said that it was not provided a level playing field for election campaigns.
Awami National Party (ANP) in a letter sent to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) expressed reservations over not being provided equal opportunity for its election campaign. ANP also stated that 25 attacks were carried out during March 30 to May 4, resulting in the death of 50 party workers and over 100 suffered injuries. It further said that four attacks were made on April 28 and three each on April 29 and May 1.

Bilawal Bhutto : '' Zia’s legacy still lives ''

Military dictator Ziaul Haq’s legacy still casts a shadow on the country’s politics, but his influence must be weeded out completely, said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in a video message. The young party leader said that conspiracies were afoot by some elements to convert Pakistan into a “country like Zia’s”, but the PPP leadership and its supporters would not let these “nefarious designs” succeed. Bilawal appealed to people living in Pakistan and the workers of his party to foil the conspiracies by voting for his party candidates. “Sometimes, these elements, working in the guise of political forces, emerge as terrorists and kill our leaders.” “But we will save this country and oppose Zia’s remnants,” he said, assuring people that the PPP candidates will fulfill the voters’ demands. The PPP leader added that he wanted to see a Pakistan, which was free from hunger and where everyone enjoyed equal opportunity without any discrimination. “PPP is the only party, which can promote democratic values, while extremists are trying to push this country into darkness,” he added. Moreover, in different video messages directed at each district, Bilawal appealed for votes. While talking to The Express Tribune, PPP sources said that Bilawal would continue campaigning for the party and may cast his vote in either Larkana or Benazirabad. “Bilawal frequently travels to Dubai, but may surprise us by casting his vote in Pakistan,” revealed a senior PPP leader, while adding that Bilawal’s activities were kept a secret owing to security concerns.

AFPAK: ''Durand Line is a settled issue''

Reacting sharply to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's statement that Kabul will never recognise the Durand Line - the 2,640 kilometers long porous border between the two countries, Pakistan on Monday declared that Durand Line was a settled issue and opening debate on the matter was a distraction from the more pressing issues requiring mutual co-operation. "Durand Line is a settled issue. Opening discussions on this issue is a distraction from the more pressing issues requiring the priority attention and co-operation of Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry while reacting to President Karzai's Saturday press conference in which he also called on the Taliban to "turn their weapons" against those who "plot" against Afghanistan. To the portion to Karzai's statement in which he urged the militants to "stand with" Muhammad Qasim, an Afghan border policeman reportedly killed in a clash between Afghan and Pakistan troops on the border earlier this week and to turn their guns against those who are hostile against Afghanistan, the spokesman said that the continuing fight against terrorism and extremism warrants Pakistan, Afghanistan, and all other stakeholders to work together in a spirit of co-operation and harmony. Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry recalled that President Karzai had in the past asked Pakistan to use its influence on the Taliban to enter into dialogue for reconciliation process. Pakistan had responded positively to that call, he said, adding that Pakistan will continue its support for the Afghan reconciliation process, rather than focus on the negatives. Referring to President Karzai's remark that he visited Pakistan 19 times, the spokesperson said that Pakistan's leadership has also travelled to Afghanistan several times to help build trust and strengthen bilateral relations. "Pakistan remains fully committed to assist in all sincerity to peace and sustainable economic development in Afghanistan, which we believe is in the vital interest of Pakistan and our region," he added. About President Karzai's remarks regarding Pakistani posts on the border, the spokesperson recalled that Pakistani post in Gursal had come under attack from Afghan forces and there had been several threatening and provocative statements made by Afghan leadership in this regard. He reiterated that the posts on Pakistan-Afghanistan border were serving a useful and mutually beneficial purpose of better border management, which is crucial for interdicting cross border undesirable activity. He reaffirmed the need to use bilateral channels including military to military contacts to resolve the issues relating to posts. In several high level interactions in recent past, the spokesman recalled that the leadership of the two countries is agreed on the imperatives of a mechanism for an effective border management for the mutual benefit of the two countries. The Foreign Office response came in the wake of the second clash between Afghan and Pakistani troops in less than a week on the border in Nangarhar province on Monday morning, which is the latest indication of a sharp deterioration in relations between the two neighbours. Reports claimed that three Afghan soldiers were injured as a result of the exchange of fire. Meanwhile, according to a statement available at the official website of Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Afghan Director-General of the First Political Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Azizuddin Ahmadzada met with the Pakistani Charge d'Affaires in Kabul Shah Nazar Afridi on Monday at the Foreign Ministry. Ahmadzada lodged the Afghan government's strong protest with Afridi about the unprovoked attack by Pakistani forces, who used both heavy and light weapons, against Afghan forces near the Durand Line in Goshta district, Nangarhar province this morning. The statement added that the Pakistani attack, which occurred at 8:20 am. Monday morning, did not result in any casualties to Afghan forces. "Ahmadzada clarified to Afridi that in case of Pakistani forces' continued refusal to remove all Pakistani installations at Goshta and other areas and any further unprovoked attacks by Pakistani forces, Pakistan will bear responsibility for any consequences," the statement added.

Pakistan election violence forces candidates behind high walls

Mian Hussain is fighting for his political life from a deserted party headquarters, where two telephones sit silently beside him and the footsteps of a tea boy echo down the corridor. One of Pakistan's most high-profile anti-Taliban politicians, Hussain hasn't been to a single public event since campaigning for the May 11 election kicked off. A fiery orator who once electrified big rallies, he now makes short speeches by telephone to small huddles of supporters meeting in secret. For the spokesman of the Awami National Party (ANP), it's just too dangerous to go out. Since April, the Pakistani Taliban have killed more than 70 people in attacks targeting three major political parties, preventing many of their most prominent candidates from openly campaigning. Hussain worries the Taliban want to rig the elections in favor of parties that will take a softer line with their determination to stamp a radical brand of Islam on the country. He says that is why the Taliban are targeting the ruling coalition that backed military operations against them - Hussain's ANP, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), whose offices have been repeatedly bombed. The ANP has borne the brunt of the attacks because it is staunchly opposed to the Taliban. As a nationalist party, it competes with the militants for the support of ethnic minority Pashtun people along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The PPP and the MQM see themselves as liberal parties, long opposed to the influence of conservative religious forces and Islamist militancy. The Taliban say they are targeting "secular" parties and that elections only "serve the interests of infidels and enemies of Islam". However, they have not attacked right-wing religious parties that have joined the election race, or former cricketer Imran Khan's party, which advocates shooting down U.S. drones and withdrawing the Pakistani military from insurgency-infested Pashtun areas along the Afghan border. A blast at a rally organized by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam religious party on Monday killed 15 people though it was not clear who was responsible. Nor have the Taliban attacked the main opposition party led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which has courted support from groups accused of supporting sectarian attacks across the country. "It's pre-poll rigging," Hussain says bitterly. The Taliban killed his only son three years ago, just before his wedding. The next day, militants attacked Hussain's home, killing seven. "They will either have to elect the terrorists or elect those who oppose the terrorists," he said, the studious face of his dead son staring up from campaign posters on a nearby table. SECURITY OR THE ECONOMY? But many voters do not see the contest simply as one that pits pro- and anti-Taliban parties against each other. Insecurity worries them, but so does the sluggish economy, endemic corruption and power shortages that have cost millions of jobs over the five years of the last government. Many say it is that legacy, and not the Taliban threat, that makes them inclined to vote for a new guard in Islamabad. The main opposition party is led by two-times prime minister Sharif. It is widely seen as the front-runner for Saturday's polls, portrays itself as business-friendly and has promised to fix the country's serious economic woes. His party denies that it is soft on the Taliban or militancy but says a new approach is needed, including an overhaul of the country's anti-terrorism courts. The PPP and its coalition partners are the first civilian government to complete a full five-year term in a country whose history has been punctuated by military takeovers. Despite power shortages, tax shortfalls and corruption, they blame the shortcomings of their administration squarely on the Taliban. "Terrorism is the biggest problem, it took up so much of our resources," said Zahir Shah, a former health minister and candidate for the PPP in the northwestern provincial capital of Peshawar. "We have done reforms and we will do more." Shah said the Taliban threat meant he has only held small meetings in walled compounds. His sister and party activists are also holding clandestine gatherings. At one recent meeting, 40 women and children garlanded them with marigolds on a rooftop. "Long live Zahir Shah!" they cheered. Two armed police stood guard in the alley below, so narrow that politicians' convoys could barely squeeze past each other without falling into the open drains running with blood from nearby butcher shops. Shah said voters would elect him despite the campaigning restrictions because his party had defied the Taliban and helped the poor get free healthcare. Some of the poor he is counting on for votes are doubtful. A dialysis centre Reuters visited near Peshawar provides quality treatment for free. But at the state-run Khyber Teaching Hospital, grimy walls are crumbling, a mangy cat lurked in the trauma ward and a doctor said the hospital was dangerously short of basic intravenous equipment. This is where the injured and dying were brought after one of Peshawar's recent string of bomb blasts. "No one is secure. There is bloodshed everywhere. The government should do something," said Fazle Hayat, dabbing at an eye injured in the attack. He said he had not decided if he would vote. A short drive away, the remnants of another bombing are displayed in a glass case at Bilour House. They are the shoes and spectacles that Bashir Bilour, an ANP stalwart, was wearing when a Taliban bomb killed him in December. Another Taliban bomber targeted his brother and his son in April. They survived, but 18 others died. Some other parties did not even offer condolences, Bilour said angrily, because they were afraid of offending the Taliban. "The Taliban are targeting us because they want an administration that is soft on terrorism," he said. But parties afraid of offending the Taliban should watch out, he said. "They are targeting us today but they will be targeting them tomorrow."

Pakistan Elections 2013: Predictive Results

– by Abdul Nishapuri
Pakistan’s general election on 11 May 2013 will mark the first time a democratically elected government in the country has been succeeded by another. Since independence from Britain in 1947, civilian rule has been repeatedly overturned by military coups, the last led by General Pervez Musharraf who held power from 1999 until 2008, when democracy was restored. The election is also remarkable for its relative unpredictability following a significant constitutional devolution of central government power in 2010 under the presidency of Asif Ali Zardari (of Pakistan Peoples Party PPP), and the linked development of a more open, freer public discourse. Demographic pressures, economic and security worries, the advent of social media and numerous new challenges to the hegemony of the established parties have added to the uncertainty. Generally the elections is being seen as a tough contest between allegedly pro-Taliban parties and anti-Taliban parties. Pakistan’s population totals roughly 190 million, of whom an estimated two-thirds are under 30. About 92 million of the total are adults aged 18 or over, and of them, 84.4 million are registered voters. The issues that may shape the outcome are more clear-cut. Islamist right-wing opposition parties in particular PML-N (led by Nawaz Sharif), PTI (led by cricket turned politician Imran Khan), JUI-F (led by Maulana Fazlur-Rehman Deobandi) are known for their sympathetic and apologist stance towards Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda Deobandi-Wahhabi militants. In contrast, Pakistan Peoples Party and its secular allies Awami National Party and Muhajir Qaumi Movement have taken a clear stance against Takfiri terrorists and their sponsors. Five terrorist attacks by Takfiri Deobandi militants of Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvvi (akas Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat Deobandi or Sipah-e-Sahaba) since 11 April have killed 24 people, including lethal bomb explosions at election rallies of secular parties (ANP, MQM, PPP) in Peshawar, Khuzdar, Karachi, Kohat and other areas. Pakistan’s economy has been battered by three years of successive floods from 2010 to 2012 that damaged the country’s agricultural heartlands. Power cuts are endemic, with some rural areas receiving only four hours of electricity a day. Clean water and food, adequate education and healthcare remain beyond the reach of many Pakistanis. Crime and unemployment are big issues in the cities. However, PPP government has been able to offer some relief through the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and other social welfare and uplift projects. Pakistan’s elections largely follow the Westminster first-past-the post system, although 70 seats are reserved for women and minorities and allocated by PR. Candidates on 11 May will seek seats in the lower chamber of the national assembly and in the four provincial assemblies – Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province). A total of 172 out of 272 directly elected seats is required for a governing majority in the national assembly, although no single party is expected to achieve that. At present a caretaker government is in place. An independent election commission has been created to oversee the polls, and outside organisations such as the EU have agreed to send observers. Most commentators expect the election to produce another coalition government after a possibly prolonged period of wrangling. Based on careful analysis of various opinion surveys as well as historical patterns of voters choice, the following is a summary of predictive results of general elections in Pakistan on 11 May 2013. According to estimates, no single party will be able to gain simple majority in the National Assembly of 272 seats. However, as in most previous elections in Pakistan, Pakistan People Party (PPP) of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will emerge as single largest party (80 seats) followed by right-wing PML-N (70 seats), PML-Q (22), MQM (20), ANP (18), PTI (15), JUI-F (5) and PML-F (4). Other smaller parties and independent candidates are expected to win 38 seats. There is a plus minus variance of 10 per cent anticipated in this estimate.
The following is a tabular and schematic presentation of the expected results.
In summary, PPP will be the single largest party and the Islamist PML-N will be second. PTI will be a tiny player with only 15 seats in the parliament. The end result will be a coalition government led by PPP in coalition with other secular parties including ANP, MQM and other smaller parties. For contextual understanding, here is an overview of results of 2008 general elections:

Pakistan's Minorities Have No Faith in Democracy

In majority Muslim Pakistan, religious minorities say democracy is killing them. Intolerance has been on the rise for the past five years under Pakistan's democratically elected government because of the growing violence of Islamic radicals, who are then courted by political parties, say many in the country's communities of Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other minorities. On Saturday, the country will elect a new parliament, marking the first time one elected government is replaced by another in the history of Pakistan, which over its 66-year existence has repeatedly seen military rule. But minorities are not celebrating. Some of the fiercest Islamic extremists are candidates in the vote, and minorities say even the mainstream political parties pander to radicals to get votes, often campaigning side-by-side with well-known militants. More than a dozen representatives of Pakistan's minorities interviewed by The Associated Press expressed fears the vote will only hand more influence to extremists. Since the 2008 elections, under the outgoing government led by the left-leaning Pakistan People's Party, sectarian attacks have been relentless and minorities have found themselves increasingly targeted by radical Islamic militants. Minorities have little faith the new election will change that. "We are always opposed to martial law (but) during all the military regimes, the law and order was better and there was good security for minorities," said Amar Lal, a lawyer and human rights activist for Pakistan's Hindu community. About 96 percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million is Muslim. Most are Sunni, but according to the CIA Factbook about 10 to 15 percent are members of the Shiite sect. The remaining 4 percent are adherents to other religions such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis — a sect reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics because they believe a prophet came after Muhammad, defying a basic tenet of Islam that Muhammad was the last prophet. Sunni radicals view Shiite Muslims as apostates. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a report last month berated the Pakistani government for its poor record of protecting both its minorities and its majority Sunni Muslims and recommended that Pakistan be put on a list of worst offenders, which could jeopardize billions of dollars in U.S. assistance. "The government of Pakistan continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief," the report said. "Sectarian and religiously motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shiite Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith." Lal said that in the past three years, 11,000 Hindus living in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province have migrated to India because they were worried about security and frustrated by kidnappings and forced conversions of young Hindu girls to Islam. Pakistan's Hindu minority complains that scores of Hindu girls have been kidnapped, forced to marry their abductor and convert to Islam. "In Pakistan's southern Sindh province, from every Hindu house, one member of the family has left either for Karachi or for a foreign land," said Lal, who was once a special adviser to Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party until her assassination in December 2007."We have lost our hope from the democratic forces because they do everything for money" and nothing for minorities, he said. Pakistan's Christian communities have complaints as well. In March, a mob of young Muslims stormed and set fire to nearly 150 homes and shops in the Joseph Christian Colony, a Christian enclave on the outskirts of Lahore, the capital of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, where 60 percent of Pakistanis live and where militant Islamic groups have their headquarters. The mob gathered after one resident was accused of blasphemy, but local people say it was a tiff over money. Most residents fled for their lives, returning the next morning and eventually rebuilding their homes. On April 30, some radicals attacked 25-year-old resident Babar Ilyas. His injured arm and leg wrapped in bandages, Ilyas told the AP that he was beaten by radicals who warned Christians to leave the area and drop charges against at least two people arrested in connection with the earlier attack. "We do not have any hope in elections," said Salim Gabriel, a self-declared social worker for Christians and colony resident. "Dictatorship is better for minorities." Gabriel accused political parties of aligning with radical Islamic groups to get votes, campaigning with well-known militants which he says emboldens radicals among Pakistan's Sunni majority to carry out attacks against minorities with impunity. Minority religious groups fear extremists will piggyback on the backs of mainstream political parties to a position of political power. They most often point to Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League. In an interview with the AP, Sharif's spokesman Siddiq-ul-Farooqi flatly rejected any links to extremist groups. "We are a moderate party and have no relationship with extremists," Farooqi said. Members of the party, however, have been seen on the campaign trail with members of extremist parties like the Ahle Sunat Wal Jamaat, a new name for the outlawed Sunni militant group Sipah-e-Sahabah Pakistan, or SSP. Minority leaders and election monitoring groups say Sharif's party is withdrawing candidates in certain electoral constituencies to give radical religious candidates an unchallenged run for election. Farooqi denied any accommodation with extremist groups. But Pakistani politics is rarely straightforward. Sharif's party has fielded several Shiite candidates, even as it rubbed shoulders with militant Islamists who publicly call Shiites apostates deserving of death. Most of the deadly attacks targeting Shiites in Pakistan have been carried out by a group affiliated with the SSP. Yet the renamed SSP is fighting elections as part of a coalition of six radical religious parties. Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, the leader of the SSP and a candidate, said the coalition has 300 candidates running for election. His party placards often hurl abuses at Shiites, calling them kafirs, or non-believers. The non-believer epitaph is also widely used in reference to Ahmedis, who consider themselves Muslims but have been explicitly declared non-Muslims in Pakistan's constitution. As well as violent attacks on its members, Ahmedi leaders told the AP they have been singled out with a separate electoral roll that identifies them as Ahmedis. The separate list also gives their addresses, making them easy targets. Security was tightened after a brutal attack in 2010 when militants simultaneously hit two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore killing more than 100 people and wounding scores more. Ahmedis rarely vote in elections because to do so they have to declare they are non-Muslims, says Shahid Ataullah, a spokesman for the Ahmedi community in Lahore. So virulent is the abhorrence of Ahmedis by Pakistan's religious right-wing parties that many candidates in Saturday's elections have found it necessary to openly declare their view that Ahmedis are non-Muslims. The country's controversial blasphemy laws are often used to jail Ahmedis for crimes as simple as saying Assalam-o-Allaikum, a traditional greeting among Muslims and often used by non-Muslims living in predominately Muslim countries. It means "May the peace of God be upon you."

Pakistan: More pre-poll violence claims 16 lives

With less than a week left before general elections on May 11, the electoral process remained under attack with candidates and offices of several political parties attacked and schools to be used as polling stations blown up in violence reported from across the country on Monday.
At least 15 persons were killed and more than 70 others were injured in a deadly bombing at an election rally of a Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) candidate at Saiwaak village in Kurram Agency. The JUI-F candidate and former leader of tribal parliamentarians group, Muneer Orakzai remained safe. Orakzai is contesting from NA-38 constituency of Kurram Agency. A few minutes after the conclusion of the rally, a huge explosion occurred as Orakzai and other JUI-F leaders were exiting the stage. Soon after the explosion, tribesmen started rescue activities and shifted the injured to a hospital in Parachanar. They said that the explosion was so severe that eight people were killed on the spot and over 50 others were critically injured. An official later confirmed death of at least 15 people and said 45 injured had been admitted to local hospitals. About the nature of the explosion, the official said that terrorists had planted the explosives near the stage. He said it was an improvised explosive device (IED). No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, officials believe that Taliban terrorists were involved in the attack.
Unidentified men hurled hand grenades at the convoy of National Party (NP) candidate Dr Abdul Malik Baloch who is contesting for provincial assembly seat PB-48. Sources said a passerby was injured when Dr Malik’s security guard fired shots at the fleeing attackers who managed to escape from the scene. The candidate, however, remained unhurt in the blast.
A bomb blast targeting an election office of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Charsadda’s Shabqadar Mirzai area injured a man. The party’s office was completely destroyed in the attack.
Four buildings, including three polling stations and a health unit, were blown up by unidentified militants across the province .According to details, two girls’ primary schools, which were made polling stations and a dispensary were attacked with bombs and rockets at Nehr Goth in district Barkhan of Balochistan late Sunday night. However, no loss of life was reported. The building was partially damaged, Levies sources said. In another incident, a school was blown up by a bomb in Mastung area of Balochistan.
Security forces foiled a terror bid when two suspected terrorists were arrested and a large quantity of explosives was seized from their custody in Quetta. According to details, after receiving an anonymous tip-off, the security forces raided the Kuchlak area of the city. Two suspects were arrested during the raid and over 100 kilogrammes of explosives, detonators, and remote controls were seized from their custody. The arrested suspects were moved to an unknown location by security forces for interrogation. - See more at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/05/06/news/national/more-pre-poll-violence-claims-16-lives/#sthash.4QnCNPr9.dpuf

IMF: (Pakistan) inevitable crutch

According to a Business Recorder exclusive, the next government would be under considerable pressure to request another International Monetary Fund (IMF) package by November this year as the balance of payment (BoP) position would have deteriorated to dangerous levels by that time premised on several repayments to the IMF scheduled from May onwards. The repayment schedule is as follows: in May 382.34 million dollars, in June 175.5 million dollars, and 1.1 billion dollars during July-November of the current calendar year defined as fiscal year 2013-14. The assessment sourced to the Ministry of Finance that the need go to the IMF would arise in November is no doubt based on certain historically prevalent conditions in Pakistan: the sustained failure to undertake three major fiscal consolidation measures. First, the government needs to reform the tax structure through a constitutional amendment with the specific objective of developing a tax system which is equitable, fair and non-anomalous. This must include compelling the rich landlords sitting in the country's national and provincial assemblies to pay a tax on their farm income commensurate to other income groups including the salaried class, and eliminating exemptions granted to some influential groups. Responsibility of sales tax collection also needs to be given to the provinces for both goods and services while shifting income tax collection on all kinds of income (including on agriculture sector) to the centre. The collection of certain taxes also needs to be in the domain of the local government for improvement in collection such as: a fixed tax on retail and doing away with professional tax. Pakistan needs a total reconstruct and depoliticization of the revenue collection mechanism and reassignment in responsibility. Second, all untargeted subsidies need to be eliminated. Why should the supply of electricity or fuel for its production be subsidised to all and sundry? Direct delivery of targeted cash handouts to the needy through the BISP is now possible. In addition, the federal government has also historically been engaged in extending subsidy towards commodity operations. Even the provincial purchase of wheat is guaranteed by the Federal government against credit provided by banks. What has been particularly galling for economists is the decision by the PPP-appointed economic team to show subsidies to the power sector as a separate one-off. Further, the federal government twice (and likely do it once again) has converted bank loans into bonds and this appears as a debt owed to banks. How can a one-off loan every year be not accounted for in fiscal deficit at all? This accounting gimmickry must stop as it disables any economic team from formulating a realistic budget and making informed macroeconomic forecasts. Thirdly, the budget also faces annual haemorrhaging from state-owned entities and huge bailout packages each year has implied good money being pumped after bad. What will possibly happen if the Fund logically demands a reduction in subsidies and a cap on direct budgetary support from SBP, as per SBP's own Act, or via SBP's open market operations (OMOs)? A definite rise in interest rates is an almost certainty. The Fund would also like a targeted build-up of forex reserves so that Pakistan can pay back the loan provided by the Fund. Would the Fund not vigorously advocate depreciation of PKR? The answer will be in the affirmative. The thinking in the Fund may have changed and may not be as typical as seen in the past. But its stand on domestic taxation (without a raise in rates) through improvement in tax-to-GDP ratio is not likely to change. Similarly, its insistence to introduce target subsidies by doing away with across-the-board subsidies that are unsustainable would definitely raise alarm among many powerful segments of society such as agriculturists who could encounter a rise in urea prices as well as water rates. Phasing out subsidies might lower the pain if done on an extended time base. One more conditionality the Fund is likely to impose would be strengthening of regulatory bodies. Depoliticizing the regulatory process is painful but can be transitory or ephemeral if regulators comprise high quality professionals and are allowed to stop the government siphoning off funds in the name of fiscal needs. This would require politicians to take a back seat. The transformation for the better may not come in months but in years. There is no doubt that the elected government would procure the new IMF package with the primary objective of facilitating repayments to the 2008 SBA but the fact remains that until and unless we proactively undertake fiscal consolidation, Pakistan would remain in the economic morass it faces today though it may periodically hold its head above water in years when farm output has been good, for which weather plays a role, and our major export items - consumables mainly - command high international prices. Reliance on these external factors must stop and in-house reforms need to be implemented with or without a Fund programme. Taking loans and investing in growth-oriented projects does help but loans for meeting current and non-development expenditure badly shrink growth space. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Pakistan: Sectarian terrorists allowed to run in the elections

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
It is difficult to decipher the tilt the county would take once the elections are over. Not only are these the bloodiest elections in the history of Pakistan, they are the most notorious as well due to a large number of extremists contesting. These are not ordinary extremists. Their criminal history is tainted with creating chaos and killing people on sectarian lines. Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, the chief of one-time Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) stands out in the list of 70 contestants running in the elections from banned religious organisations. Ludhianvi lost in 2008, but that did not mean he lost the muscle to dominate his native town, Jhang. The city is infamous for sectarian extremism, being the hometown of Maulana Azam Tariq, the slain head of SSP, a party now reinvented as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), contrary to past perceptions, appears to be part of SSP. LeJ has been actively involved in exterminating Shias in Pakistan and its leader Malik Ishaq feels no hesitation in talking about his hatred and faulty perception of Shias. He considers them out of the fold of Islam and finds himself obligated to finish them off. LeJ has been openly accepting responsibility for killing Shias, especially from the Hazara community. The power enjoyed by Ludhianvi on the other hand can be gauged from the fact that not only he has been allowed to run for the elections in spite of several FIRs filed against him, no law enforcers could arrest him in the past until the uproar from the aggrieved Shias and the media shook them up to the reality. The question is, why has he been allowed to run in the elections? How did he manage to avoid the filter of Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution that so many others fell foul of? Considering that exercise was a memory test on Quranic verses and rituals, the filter failed for people like Ludhianvi. In one of his interviews, he said that he would openly attack Shias in parliament once he gets there. To him, Ahmadis and Shias both belong to the same status, i.e. outside the pale of Islam, and therefore liable to be killed. Given the boldness he is exuding, very little reason is left not to believe that there are elements in Pakistan’s power circles that have the desire to turn this country into a theocratic state. On the one hand the secular/liberal parties are cornered and on the other sectarian terrorists like Ludhianvi are being facilitated. Civil society is conspicuous by its absence in not challenging in court such rogues trying to get into parliament. This situation cannot be taken lying down. This country, according to its founder Mr Jinnah, was never meant to accommodate people who want to kill people on the basis of their faith.