Wednesday, May 8, 2013

SYRIA: ''Beware the lemming impulse''

The war against the Assad regime has passed into the hands of al Qaeda affiliated jihadis. Obama should resist the pressure to intervene on their behalf Israel and the West are on the brink of making a suicidal mistake in Syria, and only one man can prevent it. That man is the United States President, Barack Obama. As recent reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post show, President Obama has become increasingly aware that the war against the Assad regime in Syria is now almost entirely in the hands of extreme Islamists of whom a third are foreign jihadis with close links to al Qaeda and its affiliates. Their goal is to create a theocratic, Islamist state in Syria, much like the Taliban did in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama is standing firm. But instead of reining in his allies and changing course in Syria, he seems to have chosen, or drifted into, the far more dangerous course of giving them an orange light to intervene on behalf of the rebels. His reasoning seems to be as follows: a victory for the jihadis is now almost certain. Should this happen, Syria’s vast quantities of chemical weapons will fall into the hands of the West’s most relentless enemies. Israel, in particular, will be in mortal peril. A direct intervention may therefore be necessary to destroy these stocks before the Islamist rebels, whom they have themselves nurtured, come to power. The excuse The orange signal was given by the White House in its reply to a query from two U.S. Senators whether the Assad regime had used chemical weapons at any time in Syria. “Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent Sarin.” Although the conclusion was hedged by caveats that were so elaborate that they made the conclusion virtually meaningless, the letter gave Britain, France and Israel the excuse they were looking for. While the European Union has been playing ‘you first’ with the U.S., Israel has jumped the traffic light. According to Russia Today, which is immune to the spins of the State department, Whitehall and the Qai D’Orsay, in the early hours of Sunday, May 5, 40 Israeli warplanes bombed a research centre, military installations and a convoy being prepared to ferry chemical weapon-loaded missiles to the Hezbollah in various parts of Damascus, killing at least 300 persons, mostly civilians. But this wholly unprovoked act of war, lamely endorsed by the U.S., has backfired. Barely 48 hours after the attack, Carla del Ponte, chief U.N. human rights investigator, announced that based on visits to the site and interviews of victims being treated in hospitals in Damascus, she had very strong, if still not clinching, evidence that the Sarin gas attack in Damascus had been carried out by the rebels. Ms del Ponte has so far not reached a similar conclusion about the attack on Khan al Assal outside Aleppo, which took place a few hours before the attack in Damascus, but there is conclusive evidence that this attack too was launched by the rebels. What is more, the evidence has been provided by the rebels themselves and was in the public domain for more than a month when the White House wrote its damning letter. Only two conclusions can be drawn from this: either the U.S. National Security Agency somehow failed to make the connection or, for reasons known only to itself, the White House chose to ignore it. The proof is contained in five videos that were posted on Youtube by the rebels at Khan Al Assal. The first, posted on February 12, announced that they had begun an attack on the Police Academy located in the village. The second, posted on March 3, claimed that they had captured most of the academy. The third, crucial video was posted on March 18 within hours of the chemical attack on the village. In it, six armed men belonging to a group called Khan al Assal Freemen made the following statement: “The regime tried to target the liberated police academy with what is thought to be a scud missile, but the missile did not reach its intended target, and fell on the government controlled areas, where Assad forces are positioned”. This story would have been far-fetched at the best of times, but turned out, in fact, to be pure fiction. For, on March 18, much of the Police Academy was still in the hands of the government. The proof of this was furnished by two other videos, posted on March 25 and March 29. The first showed rebels fighting police snipers at the academy. The second showed a pick-up truck mounted with a heavy machine gun firing at the house of the commandant of the academy. In short, as late as March 29, the Police Academy had not yet fallen. For the rebel claim to be true, on March 18, Mr. Assad would have had to sanction the firing of a scud missile loaded with phosphorous-based chemicals into a vast compound of which some, possibly quite large part, was still held by his own forces, without any concern for what this would do the morale of their brothers-in-arms, not to mention world opinion. This is just about inconceivable, for while Mr. Assad may have been a tyrant, he is certainly no fool. If this is ruled out, the only way the chemicals could have landed on the village was by the rebels delivering them with a bomb or a rocket. Crucial issues In their anxiety to break down Mr. Obama’s reluctance to intervene, Britain, France and Israel have deliberately glossed over three crucial issues: first, if the Assad regime genuinely felt that it had no option but to use chemical weapons in order to survive, why would it choose to do so in two minuscule attacks that it had to have known would do no harm to the rebels but hand them a huge propaganda victory and bring the wrath of the world down upon its head. Second, if Syria had used tiny amounts of chemicals in order to test the West’s resolve, why would it defeat its own purpose by claiming that it was innocent, and demanding an independent and impartial U.N. enquiry? The third and most important question pertains to the motive: who stands to gain if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons? The three countries are avoiding it because they know the answer: for Mr. Assad, it would be suicide; for the rebels, it would open the way to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. For, as Steven Erlanger reported in the New York Times on February 3, while Mr. Assad may not be winning the civil war, he is not losing it either. The rebels, on the other hand, have everything to gain from convincing the world that he has used chemical weapons. Since late last summer, when the stream of deserters and fresh recruits dwindled to a trickle, they have been alternately threatening and cajoling the U.S. and the EU to give them heavy weapons to fight Mr. Assad’s armed forces. In winter, as the stalemate deepened and more and more Syrians turned against them, they began to entreat the U.S. and the EU to intervene directly to “save the Syrian people from further misery.” Convincing the U.S. that Mr. Assad is preparing to use chemical weapons could be their last throw of the dice. Mr. Obama is insisting on cast iron proof not because he lacks the nerve to carry out his threat but because he knows that the war against Mr. Assad has passed into the hands of foreign fighters who belong to what French expert Olivier Roy calls a circulating army that travels across the globe from jihad to jihad, and considers the U.S. and Israel the two great Satans of the modern world. Britain, France and Israel too are aware of this. But rather than admit that they have made an earth-shattering mistake, they have taken refuge in different forms of make-believe. Cameron and Hollande continue to cling to the belief that it is possible to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ rebels and, by intervening directly, ensure not only the downfall of Mr. Assad but the victory of the former over the latter. President Netanyahu is playing an even more dangerous game: as he made clear in a BBC interview on April 18, he is fully aware of the danger that a jihadi victory will pose to Israel, but has embarked upon the dangerous course of helping the rebels overthrow Mr. Assad (to cut the supply lines to Hezbollah) and then creating (in effect annexing) a ‘buffer zone’ in Syria to keep the jihadis out of Israel. Apart from his blinding loss of memory of how disastrously a similar forward policy played out in Lebanon in the 1980s, Mr. Netanyahu should realise that when the victorious jihadis turn, as they inevitably will, towards Jerusalem, they will come not through Syria but Jordan. If Jordan falls, Israel will be completely surrounded. Its future will then become impenetrably dark. Only Mr. Obama and his new team, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, seem to be even remotely aware of this. The fate of the Middle East therefore hangs by a hair.

EU donates €300,000 Nobel Peace Prize money to UNICEF Pakistan

The Express Tribune
The European Union has provided €300,000 from its Nobel Peace Prize money to Unicef Pakistan to support its educational activities for children affected by a lack of security in parts of Northwestern Pakistan. The agreement was formalised in Islamabad on Wednesday between Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Pakistan, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, and Unicef Representative Islamabad, Dan Rohrmann. These funds, made available through the European Commission’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), will enable Unicef to provide access to education for 3,000 children, including 1,500 girls in 30 schools currently operating in the Jalozai Camp, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Children are extremely vulnerable to conflicts and their education is often suffering,” Wigemark. “They risk carrying the burden of conflict throughout their lives. It is fitting that the Nobel Peace Prize funds benefit those who carry the hope for the future.” Unicef has been providing educational support to children in Jalozai Camp since 2008. The education package includes school-in-a-box supplies, training for teachers, education for peace training and psychosocial counseling that will help children cope with traumatic experiences. “Unicef Pakistan wishes to congratulate the EU for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is honoured to receive support for providing education to children affected by displacement and deprived of their fundamental right to quality education,” said Rohrmann. “These funds will provide an opportunity for children to reconnect with a safe learning environment that not only provides quality education but also gives some sense of normalcy to the many children that find themselves away from their normal social network and known environment.” In camp schools, these children not only receive education but also benefit from other basic services such as health, water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and protection interventions which ensure holistic childhood development.

Syria's sectarian civil war endangering Shi'ite shrines

Iran has condemned what it called a Syrian rebel attack on a shrine where remains of a 7th-century figure revered by Shi'ite Muslims were dug up and taken away, highlighting how Syria's civil war is inflaming sectarian anger. A report of the desecration of the Hojr Ibn Oday shrine near Damascus, posted with photographs on Facebook in late April, could not be verified but it prompted the Shi'ite leadership in Tehran to urge respect for holy sites in a conflict where the rebels include Sunni Islamists hostile to Iran. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by Iranian Press TV saying: "Such acts could ignite the fire of religious rifts among followers of the divine religions". He urged international organizations to safeguard sacred Islamic and Christian places in Syria, an ancient crossroads for religions.

Finally, the U.S. and Russia Team Up

THE United States and Russia have announced that they will seek to convene an international conference on Syria, hopefully before the end of this month. The conference would be based on last June’s Geneva agreement, which foresees a cease-fire and negotiations between the regime in Damascus and the opposition groups, leading to the formation of a transitional governing body. In order to achieve this, Washington and Moscow will “encourage” the Syrian sides to come to the negotiating table and will reach out to their allies and partners in the region to work for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. This announcement, which came after Secretary of State John Kerry’s talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, calls for very heavy lifting. Neither the regime nor its opponents are now willing to walk to the negotiating table: They need to be dragged to it. No less important, the antagonists’ backers in the region — Iran on one hand; Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other — need to be persuaded that a negotiated solution is preferable to a military one, which all of them are still seeking. Israel, too, should be brought on board. To many skeptics, this is a mission impossible. But the White House and the Kremlin are prepared to mount a joint effort because failure to stop the war in Syria would leave both substantially worse off. President Barack Obama is loath to involve the United States in the Syrian mess, but time is working against him. Syria’s chemical weapons may actually be used on a wide scale, or get into the hands of Al Qaeda. The Russians, whose support for Damascus so far has been predicated on doing anything to forestall the victory of Islamist extremists, now understand that the longer the war continues, the more influence the extremists are gaining. Thus Moscow and Washington have no better option than to cooperate. But can they? Over the past year, U.S.-Russian relations have been markedly deteriorating. In the United States, Russia’s public image is abominable; in Russia, anti-Americanism is becoming one of the pillars of official Russian patriotism. The U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, and the Russian Duma retaliated by banning U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. The Kremlin decided to eliminate what it sees as sources of U.S. influence on Russian domestic politics and ordered Russian NGOs that receive foreign funding to register as foreign agents, expelled USAID from Russia and called for renegotiating U.S.-Russian agreements that cast Russia in the role of aid recipient. It appears, however, that the tide is turning. The visit to Moscow last month by Tom Donilon, the U.S. national security adviser, was rated a success by both Obama and Putin. Since then, the two presidents have been exchanging phone calls. The Boston bombing stressed the need for closer U.S.-Russian collaboration on fighting terrorism. And Kerry was received by Putin at the Kremlin for a long and substantive talk. Coming to Moscow on the eve of V-E Day, Russia’s biggest national holiday, Kerry became the first U.S. secretary of state to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and to meet with a group of Soviet World War II veterans, and not just civil society activists. Much more will be needed if the two sides are to turn the tide in Syria. The model that comes to mind is the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the war in Bosnia. There, however, the United States — or, better said, the U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke — held all the cards and pressed all sides into cooperation. The presence of the Russian foreign minister at the closing ceremony was a mere formality. This time, if they are to pull it off, the United States and Russia need to form a diplomatic alliance and closely coordinate their efforts. A “Dayton by two” is certainly more complicated than one-man diplomatic mastery, but this looks to be the only way it can be done today in Syria, if at all. Can the Russians deliver Bashar al-Assad? They often profess to have little influence in Damascus. But if the Russians make it clear that they will stop arming Syrian government forces, withdraw their technicians and lift their diplomatic cover at the United Nations, unless Damascus agrees to engage in serious discussions with the opposition, the Kremlin will not be ignored. An even more difficult question is whether the Americans can deliver the opposition, disunited as it is, and more genuinely represented by the field commanders inside Syria than by the coalitions formed abroad. And even though the Saudis are not happy to see the rise of radicalism among the opposition groups in Syria, convincing them to change tack will be a hard sell. With all this in mind, however, the U.S.-Russian effort is, for now, the only chance for peace. If it fails, the specter of an “Afghanistan on the Med” will move closer to becoming grim reality.

Suffer the children: 1 in 4 UK kids to live in poverty by 2020 - report

Nearly one-quarter of British children will be living in poverty by the year 2020, a new report has predicted. PM David Cameron pledged that child poverty would be gone by this time, yet some of the government's policies seem to exacerbate the crisis. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated that the UK government’s budgetary decisions in recent years will reverse improvements in child poverty rates made over the previous 10 years. By 2020, approximately 3.4 million children – about 1 in 4 children – will be living in poverty, nearly 1 million more than the current figure. "Tax and benefit reforms introduced since April 2010 can account for almost all of the increases in child poverty projected over the next few years," IFS said. In 2007, David Cameron committed his party to addressing child poverty, saying that “Ending child poverty is central to improving child well-being.” The Child Poverty Act was passed in 2010, committing both current and future governments to take action to eliminate child poverty. But the results are apparently the opposite: "The IFS verdict is clear – by both internationally recognized measures, this government is set to plunge over 1 million children into poverty by the end of this decade, undoing all the good work of the last Labour government." Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, told Huffington Post. Children in poverty are considered to be those from households with a yearly income below 60 percent of the national average. The IFS examined rates using two indicators: The first relative to what the median income is predicted to be in a given year, and a second absolute indicator measuring against what the median income was in 2010 and 2011.The study was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Executive to assess poverty levels in the region, but it also examined the UK as a whole. “The impact on an entire generation of children could be devastating, both in terms of their immediate wellbeing and their longer-term lack of opportunities," the head of Save the Children Scotland, Neil Mathers, said. However, officials caution that the research’s conclusions may be premature. "The IFS analysis does not fully take into account the dynamic and behavioral changes that will result from our welfare reforms," a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told Huffington Post. "In fact, the changes under Universal Credit will make 3 million households better off and lift up to 250,000 children out of poverty." ‘Universal Credit’ is a new welfare benefit in the UK that will replace a number of the main benefits and tax credits. The policy has come under a harsh criticism due to a separate study by the TUC and Child Poverty Action Group showing that 9 out of 10 families will see no benefit from the new system.

US raises workers’ rights issues with Bahrain
High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights. The US said Bahrain may have violated labour provisions in their trade agreement when unionists and political opponents were sacked after protests and a general strike in 2011. The office of the US trade representative (USTR) and the US labour department issued a joint statement on Tuesday saying they were asking for “consultations” with Bahrain over actions it took in response to civil unrest during the Arab uprising that “appear to be inconsistent with the labour chapter of the FTA [free trade agreement]”.High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. “Ensuring that workers in Bahrain, and in other countries, can exercise their fundamental labour rights is a top priority for the Obama administration,” said Demetrios Marantis, the acting USTR. “We expect that the action we are taking today will produce a collaborative discussion and positive resolution.” The forthright US decision will complicate its relationship with Bahrain, a strategic ally that hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Bilateral relations with Manama have become strained since the Arab uprising, with many government defenders saying the US has not taken seriously Bahrain’s claims that their common enemy, Iran, is stoking the unrest. Just last week, John Kerry, US secretary of state, met Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s foreign minister, with the aim of “ bolstering and developing co-operation in various political, defence and economic fields” – according to the website of Bahrain’s embassy in Washington. The Bahraini embassy did not respond to comment on the US request for consultations on the trade deal. Bahraini workers launched a 10-day general strike more than two years ago, in the midst of the Arab uprising inspired by pro-democracy demonstrations that ended with a brutal Saudi-backed crackdown. The majority Shia organised protests, which are still continuing, against the minority Sunni-led government, calling for more representation and an end to discrimination. Killings, torture and arrests during the following months were accompanied by the sacking of about 4,600 workers accused of taking part in the demonstrations. Amid pressure from its allies, Bahrain launched a human rights inquiry, which criticised the authorities for excessive use of force and the mass sackings. In response to the findings, King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa called for judicial and security reforms, as well as the reinstatement of dismissed employees. High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights. The country’s main trade union said most of the 4,600 dismissed workers have returned to work but about 600, mainly from the private sector, remain unemployed. “This intervention has to come soon as the movement on dismissals is very slow,” said Karim Radhi, assistant secretary-general for the private sector at the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. “When the dismissals started, they were sectarian and political in nature. And the ongoing refusal by some to reinstate workers is still political and sectarian.” He blamed the delays in reinstatement on pockets of hardline resistance in the public and private sectors. “Despite strong directives [for reinstatement] from the king, hardliners are implementing a sectarian agenda and refusing these directives,” Mr Radhi said. The AFL-CIO, America’s biggest trade union group, had urged Washington to take a tougher stance towards Bahrain on labour rights, particularly given the bilateral trade pact, which took effect in 2006. Democrats in Congress were pleased with the Obama administration’s move. “As an FTA partner, Manama is subject to certain labour standards that must be upheld, especially in times of domestic unrest,” said Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington on the House ways and means committee, which has jurisdiction over trade. “I hope the consultations are productive, particularly as they relate to discrimination of workers and trade unionists based on religion or political views,” he added. The US labour department – which responded to the AFL-CIO’s pressure by producing its own study of Bahrain’s labour practices in December – has called for a review of cases where people were jailed for union activity. “This clearly hasn’t happened,” said Brian Dooley of lobby group Human Rights First. He pointed to the case of Mahdi Abu Deeb, president of the teachers’ union, who has served two years of a five-year sentence after calling for a strike.

Charles Ramsey: I'm no hero in freeing of captive women

Within hours of becoming a national hero, a viral video star and the top topic on Twitter, Charles Ramsey talked about having trouble getting sleep. It wasn't because of all the excitement that followed his knocking down a Cleveland neighbor's door, freeing three women and a girl who police say were held hostage for years. Instead, Ramsey told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday, it was about knowing he had lived for a year near the captive women on the city's West Side. "Up until yesterday the only thing that kept me from losing sleep was the lack of money," the restaurant dishwasher said on "Anderson Cooper 360.""I could have done this last year, not this hero stuff," said Ramsey. "Just do the right thing." Ramsey recounted Monday night's drama, when he heard a girl scream "like a car had hit a kid." He ran from his living room, clutching a half-eaten McDonald's Big Mac, to the house and helped free a woman identified as Amanda Berry. "Amanda said, 'I've been trapped in here. He won't let me out. It's me and my baby." Who are the three women freed in Cleveland? Ramsey and a man named Angel Cordero broke down the door, CNN affiliate WEWS reported in an earlier interview heard around the world. Ramsey told CNN he had never seen Berry before Monday, and at first, he could not place the name. "Berry didn't register with me until I was on the phone, like wait a minute, I thought this girl was dead." "She's like, 'This (expletive) kidnapped me and my daughter,'" he told the 911 operator, according to WEWS. After police arrived, Berry explained there were other women inside. When police came out with them, Ramsey told the station, "it was astonishing." Berry was last seen after finishing her shift at a Burger King in Cleveland in 2003 on the eve of her 17th birthday. The other two women are Georgina "Gina" DeJesus, who disappeared at age 14 in 2004, and Michelle Knight, who vanished in August 2002, at age 21, according to police. Ramsey told CNN he is no hero and should not receive any reward. "You've got to put that being a coward and 'I don't want to get in nobody's business,'" he said. "You got to put that away for a minute." 'I barbecue with this dude' While Ramsey's quick action in the largely rundown neighborhood made him a hero, his colorful descriptions to WEWS helped make him dream fodder for the Twitterverse. Explaining that he had no idea Ariel Castro, his neighbor, may have had other people inside his home, Ramsey said, "I've been here a year. You see where I'm coming from? I barbecue with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listen to salsa music... "He just comes out to his backyard, plays with the dogs, tinkers with his cars and motorcycles, goes back in the house. So he's somebody you look, then look away. He's not doing anything but the average stuff. You see what I'm saying? There's nothing exciting about him. Well, until today."Castro "got some big testicles to pull this off, bro," Ramsey told WEWS. "Because we see this dude every day. I mean every day."He added, "I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway." In one of the top tweets about Ramsey, comedian Patton Oswalt wrote, "Dear Charles Ramsey: I am not a little pretty white girl, but I totally want to run into your black arms. #hero." Hodge's restaurant in Cleveland posted a message on Facebook saying, "we're extremely proud of our employee Charles Ramsey for not turning his back on the young women. He's a true Cleveland hero. Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with the women, their families and their friends."Restaurant owner Chris Hodgson told CNN that Ramsey goes above and beyond in his duties. "You give him something to do, and he'll do more," he said. "We always look forward to seeing him, because you know he's gonna bring a smile to your face." Hodgson said people have offered to raise money for Ramsey, but the employee would end up giving it to the victims and their families. The company is working with other restaurants to plan fund-raisers for the families, Hodgson said. For its part, McDonald's Corp., on its Twitter account Tuesday, said, "Way to go Charles Ramsey -- we'll be in touch." Despite his assertions, Ramsey and Berry were praised as heroes by John Walsh, former host of TV's "America's Most Wanted." At an awards dinner for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Walsh said he called Ramsey on Tuesday to tell him that. "You are the guy who decided in 30 seconds to go up and spring a woman from a house of hell that she's been in and was desperate to get out that door with her 6-year-old daughter," Walsh recalled saying. Ramsey said he was raised to help women in distress, said Walsh.Breathless 911 call Ramsey's demeanor comes across clearly in his 911 call. "Hey bro," Ramsey tells the 911 operator. "Check this out. I just came from McDonald's right? So I'm on my porch eating my little food, right? This broad is trying to break out the f-----g house next door to me, so there's a bunch of people on the street right now and s--t. So we're like, 'What's wrong, what's the problem?' She's like, 'This m--------r done kidnapped me and my daughter ... She said her name is Linda Berry or some s--t. I don't know who the f--k that is, I just moved over here, bro. You know what I mean?" He then answers the 911 operator's questions about the woman, what she looks like, and what she's wearing. Ramsey tells the operator an address which he says corresponds to Berry's location, not Ramsey's home address. "I'm smarter than that, bro. I'm telling you where the crime was, not my house," he says. "Are the people that she said did this, are they still in the house?" the 911 operator asks. "I don't have a f-----g clue, bro. Like I said, I just came from McDonald's." The operator then asks him to check whether Berry needs an ambulance. "She needs everything. She's in a panic, bro. She's been kidnapped, so, you know, put yourself in her shoes." "We'll send the police out," the operator responds.

Bangladesh: Savar tragedy, garments industry and Bangladesh

THE Savar tragedy is a symbol of our failure as a nation. The crack in Rana Plaza that caused the collapse of the building has only shown us that if we don’t face up to the cracks in our state systems, we as a nation will get lost in the debris of the collapse. Today, the souls of those who lost their lives in Rana Plaza are watching our actions and listening to what we say. The last breath of those souls surrounds us. Did we learn anything at all from this terrible massacre? Or will we have completed our duty by merely expressing our deep sympathy?
What should we do?
* Do everything to prevent such an incident from repeating in the future.
* What to do for those who have lost lives, their limbs or their livelihoods?
* What do we need to do to not only save our garments industry but make it stronger?
The collapse of the nine-storey building in Savar was not merely a collapse. It is just a precursor to the imminent collapse of all our state institutions. If we look closely at the collapse of the Savar building, we can read the symptoms of collapse of our state institutions. We will have to find ways to fix the institutions to protect them from complete collapse.
Citizens’ action group
I will discuss how we might be able to not just save, but also strengthen our garments industry. Questions have been raised about the future of the garments industry. A very large foreign buyer has decided to pull out of Bangladesh because of the dangers in the garments industry here. Others may follow. If this happens, it will severely damage our social and economic future. This industry has not only increased our national income, but has also brought immense change in our society by transforming the lives of women in the country. We cannot allow this industry to be destroyed. Rather, we have to be united as a nation to strengthen it. The government, the leaders of the garments industry, the NGOs, and the civil society have to come forward in unity to do so. We have to give complete reassurance to the foreign buyers that they will never again face this kind of situation, and that we are all united to take steps in order to achieve that, and will firmly carry out this commitment in the future. Each of these actors (government, owners, civil society etc.) will work jointly and also work independently within their own spheres. Civil society will have to undertake programmes in its own way. Civil society can try to bring hope and trust in the minds of the foreign buyers on behalf of the country. They can immediately send jointly signed letters to the chairmen of the foreign companies as well as to the CEOs of those companies. The message will be to highlight the social and economic importance of the garments industry in Bangladesh, and to thank them for the role they have played in the empowerment of women and in bringing widespread transformation in Bangladesh. It will inform them that the civil society is ready to work together with the government, as well as separately, to solve the problems being faced by the industry. It will let them know about the types of programmes that are being considered, express interest in meeting with the companies to discuss about these programmes, and let them know about the formation, structure and work of a citizens’ action group for “protecting garment workers and garment industry” (or something similar) that could take quick decisions etc. in support of these. Another letter will go to the foreign organisations, international NGOs, and consulting firms that are already working to improve the quality of the garment industries in the third world, including on the issue of workers’ rights, monitoring and screening, and so on. This letter will let them know that the citizens’ action group would like to work and cooperate with them to improve the conditions of the workers. The letter will express the group’s interest in meeting and remaining connected with them. We must also write letters to various government agencies in the countries of the foreign buyers to inform them that the citizens’ action group is determined to bring widespread change in the garments industry in Bangladesh. Within the country, letters to the government, garments owners, BGMEA, BKMEA, labour organisations, NGOs, buying houses, and other affiliated organisations should be written and meeting arrangements should be made with them to elaborate the working procedures with them.
My two proposals regarding workers
I have from time to time given recommendations to foreign buyers about how to tackle the problems faced by the garments industry in Bangladesh. Under the present circumstances I find it all the more important that I raise this issue again, particularly because of the castigation by Pope Francis that buyers are treating the garment workers like slave labourers with $40 wage per month. My first proposal is as follows: (a) A minimum wage law for the labour already exists in our country. If any company pays a salary below that minimum wage, that will be illegal. My proposal is that the foreign buyers will jointly fix a minimum international wage level. For example, if the minimum wage is now 25 cents per hour in Bangladesh, then they will standardise minimum wage for garment industry as 50 cents per hour. No buyer will give any salary below this rate, and no industry/owner will fix salary below this limit. It would be an integral part of compliance. Of course, we have to be prepared for a negative market reaction to this. As a result of this, some will argue that Bangladesh may overnight lose the competitiveness it had gained for being a country offering “the cheapest labour.” In order to retain its competitiveness, Bangladesh will have to increase its attractiveness in other ways. For example, increasing labour productivity, increasing specialised labour skills, regaining the trust of buying companies, giving assurance that no unfavourable situations will be created in future, ensuring the complete welfare of the workers, and so on. Until we are able to ensure this international minimum wage, we will not be able to pull out the workers from the grievous category of “slave labour” as mentioned by the Pope. We have to gain support for the international minimum wage through discussions with politicians, business leaders, citizens, church groups, and media leaders in the countries of the foreign buyers. In the past, I had tried to convince the buyers, but have not yet succeeded. Now after the Savar tragedy, and in light of the castigation from the Pope, the issue has gained a new dimension. I want to mobilise my international and Bangladeshi friends to make my efforts stronger and more persistent this time. We have to get the international business houses to understand that while the garment workers are physically working in Bangladesh, they are actually contributing their labour for their (international business houses) businesses. They are stakeholders of their businesses. Their business depends on the labour here. Mere physical separation should not be a ground for them to look away from the well-beings of this labour. That is the main message from the Pope. I hope the buying companies get the point. It is not necessary for all the companies to agree on the minimum international wage at the same point in time. If some of the leading companies come forward on this issue, I think the process will start. Others will soon accept it. (b) I have made my second proposal many times before, but it did not get any attention. There is now an opportunity for me to propose it again. This time I see a good chance for its adoption because of its relevance to the current situation. Bangladesh garment factory produces and sells a piece of garment for five dollars, which is attractively packed and shipped to the New York port. This five dollars not only includes the production, packaging, shipment, profit and management but also indirectly covers the share that goes to the cotton-producing farmers, yarn mills for producing the yarn, cost of dyeing, and weaving as input cost. When an American customer buys this item from a shop for $35, he feels happy he got a good bargain. The point to note is that everyone who was involved in the production collectively received $5. Another $30 was added within the US for reaching the product to the final consumer. I keep drawing attention to the fact that with just a little effort only we can achieve a huge impact in the lives of those so-called “slave labours.” My proposal relates to the little effort. I ask whether a consumer in a shopping mall would feel upset if he is asked to pay $35.50 instead of $35 for the item of clothing. My answer is: No, he will not even notice the little change. If we could create a “Grameen (or Brac) Garment Workers Welfare Trust” in Bangladesh with that additional $0.50, then we could resolve most of the problems faced by the workers — their physical safety, social safety, individual safety, work environment, pensions, healthcare, housing, their children’s health, education, childcare, retirement, old age, travel could all be taken care of through this Trust.
What do we need to do for this?
The international buying company will pay 10% of the amount that it has agreed to pay the garments factory owner (based on their negotiated price for the garments produced) against a particular order to the Trust. This money will be managed solely for the welfare of the workers in that particular factory. There will be separate sub-funds in the Trust for each and every factory so that the workers in each factory benefit on the basis of their own production, if the buyers place this 10%. Bangladesh now annually exports garments worth $18 billion. If all the garment buyers accept this proposal, then $1.8 billion would be received by the Trust each year. This would mean that an amount of $500 would be deposited in the Trust for each of the 3.6 million workers. If this amount of fund can be collected, the situation of the workers can be vastly improved. All we have to do is to sell the item of clothing for $35.50 instead of $35. A small, unnoticeable addition to the price can do wonders. Of course, international buyers may argue that that extra 50 cents charged in the final price will reduce the demand for the product and that their profit would shrink. My answer to that will be that we will offer them an arrangement whereby their sales will go up, instead of down. We would give them a good marketing tool to make this product more attractive to the buyers by making the consumers feel they are getting more for this extra 50 cents. We would put a special tag on each piece of clothing to make them “special.” The tag would say: “From the happy workers of Bangladesh, with pleasure.” Workers’ well-being is managed by Grameen or Brac or any other internationally reputed organisation. There would be a beautiful logo that would go with it. This would immediately convey the message that the dress has been made with a lot of warmth and happiness by the factory workers in Bangladesh. When consumers will see that a well known and trusted institution has taken responsibility to ensure both the present and the future of the workers who produce their garments, they won’t mind paying 50 cents extra. The retailers may say in their advertising that these products are made by well protected, well supported workers. Consumers would be proud to support the product and the company, rather than feel guilty about wearing a product made by “slave labour” under harsh working conditions. A consumer will be able to know from the company’s website and annual report what benefits the dress she wears are currently bringing to the workers, and what benefits their children are receiving. Both the national and the international businesses should feel as though the workers are a part of their family. The days of slave labour have to come to an end. It is better to start the process now, before more ugly incidents occur. I do not expect that all companies will immediately implement my proposal. I hope that a few would come forward to experiment with the proposal. Their country’s governments, the agencies, organisations who work to protect labour rights, citizens’ groups, church groups, media, will step forward to support it. This issue will attract attention more urgently now in light of the mass death in Savar, as well as for the Pope’s comments on the treatment of the poor labour in garment industry in Bangladesh. I believe that for buying companies leaving Bangladesh is definitely not a solution. It would be as unfortunate for Bangladesh as it would be for the foreign buyers. There can be no sense of relief for them in leaving a country which has been highly benefited through their business, a country which could have gained continuing rapid and visible economic and social progress because of them, a country that would always remain grateful to them for their business. Rather, if the Bangladesh government and citizens come forward to work together to remove all the difficulties being faced by the foreign buyers, and work shoulder to shoulder with them, it would bring joy for creating a new kind of business that takes pride in achieving something which is far beyond only business success — something which leads to a bright new future for a country. I believe that they would rather like to remain in Bangladesh, face the challenges and take pride in creating a new society and a new economy. Not only will Disney, which left the country because of the recent problems, come back when they see big changes taking place because of the collective efforts of the government and the citizens, but more companies will also be interested to invest here. Changes are taking place in the world of business. Even if they are tiny changes, they are coming nonetheless. We can accelerate that change. A citizen action group can prepare the ground for that.
Savar related programmes
The citizens’ action group can create a data-base of all those who lost their lives in Savar, lost their limbs or have had their livelihoods affected, and work to regularly update it. The primary work of this has already been initiated by Grameen with the help of other organisations. The citizens’ action group can take the responsibility to coordinate this work. Many programmes have been announced and a lot of funds have been pledged for those who have been affected, and this is still ongoing. The citizens’ action group can provide advice on these programmes on how to best implement them. It can monitor the programmes and inform the relevant authorities accordingly. They can keep contact with the victims on an individual basis, and help them solve their problems by establishing links between them and the appropriate agencies. The problems that are being faced by the victims of Savar range from the immediate to the long-term. The citizens’ action group should be ready to keep the people of the country engaged with the rehabilitation of the victims, and come up with effective measures to tackle the problems of different kinds (health, income, education etc.) and of different durations, faced by these victims.
When will we come to our senses?
Savar has created a huge wound and deep pain in the minds of the people of country. I pray that this deep pain compels us towards resolving the core of the problems in our national life. Savar is the creation of our dysfunctional politics. When we watched more than 600 helpless deaths, the loss of limbs of hundreds on our TV screen throughout the country, it made us aware of where our dysfunctional politics has led us to. After all this, will we just keep on watching as it keeps happening again and again? When will we come to our senses?
The writer is founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Laureate.

Bangladesh garment disaster death toll crosses 800

Associated Press
Dozens of bodies recovered Wednesday from a collapsed garment factory building were so decomposed they were being sent to a lab for DNA identification, police said, as the death toll from Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster topped 800. Following protests, authorities also began disbursing salaries and other benefits to survivors of the collapse. Also Wednesday, the European Union's delegation to Bangladesh urged the government to "act immediately" to improve working conditions. Authorities said the government has closed 18 garment factories in recent days for failing to meet work and safety standards. Police said 803 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza building by late afternoon and more were expected as salvage work continued two weeks after the April 24 collapse. There is no clear indication of how many bodies still remain trapped in the debris because the exact number of people inside the building at the time of the collapse is unknown. More than 2,500 people were rescued alive. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association earlier said 3,122 workers were employed at the five factories housed in the building, but it was not clear how many were there during the packed morning shift when it collapsed. Several stores and a bank were also in the building. Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, a top military official in the area, said the operation to recover bodies from the tangle of wreckage could continue for two to three more days before they would ask the local administration to take care of the site. Suhrawardy said they had to send 36 decomposing bodies to Dhaka Medical College Hospital to collect DNA samples because they were beyond identification. Authorities expected to send more bodies for testing in the coming days, with temperatures in the high 80s Fahrenheit (low 30s Celsius) and rain pouring down. The disaster is the worst ever in the garment sector, far surpassing fires last year that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and 112 in Bangladesh, as well as the 1911 garment disaster in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist factory that killed 146 workers. After hundreds of garment workers protested for compensation Tuesday, authorities started disbursing salaries and other benefits. About 2,000 people gathered at a military athletic field in Savar on Wednesday to receive their salaries, but the process was slow because many had no identity cards, said Faruk Hossain, an inspector for the Industrial Police. He said factory supervisors were helping to identify workers who did not have ID cards or other proof that they were employed by the five factories. Rafiqul Islam, a BGMEA official, said the disbursement would continue in phases. The workers, many of whom made little more than the national minimum wage of about $38 per month, are demanding at least four months' salary. They had set Tuesday as a deadline for the payment of wages and other benefits. Local government administrator Yousuf Harun has said no salary remained unpaid except for the month of April and there was an agreement for the workers to receive an additional three months of pay. The BGMEA said Monday that it was preparing a list of workers employed by the Rana Plaza factories and the process would take a few more days. Bangladesh earns nearly $20 billion a year from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe. William Hanna, head of the EU delegation in Bangladesh, told a news conference Wednesday that the EU would help Bangladesh ensure safe working conditions. Abdul Latif Siddiqui, head of special Cabinet committee to inspect garment factories that was formed days after the Rana Plaza collapse, told a separate news conference that the government has closed 16 factories in the Dhaka area and two in Chittagong in the last few days for substandard working and safety conditions. He did not say whether the closures were temporary or permanent. Officials say the owner of Rana Plaza illegally added three floors and allowed the garment factories to install heavy machines and generators, even though the structure was not designed to support such equipment. The owner and eight other people including the owners of the garment factories have been detained.

Two Elite Force personnel killed in ongoing Peshwar operation

Police in Peshawar cornered terrorists in the Rasheed Ghari area of the city on Wednesday. In the ensuing gunfight two Elite Force personnel were killed, while the terrorists sought refuge in a house. Geo News reported. According to Geo News reporters on the ground, in excess of 400 police personnel are taking part in the ongoing operation. Sources confirm that the terrorists sought refuge in a house, after which a loud explosion was heard from the building. The Tip Off According to sources, police had arrested a suspicious individual earlier in the day, and had seized explosives from his possession. Upon interrogation the detained individual revealed that his accomplice has escaped, and led the police to Rasheed Ghari area. Following which the Police initiated their operation.

Pakistan is the most dangerous place in Asia to be born: Report

The Express Tribune
Pakistan has the highest first-day infant mortality rate – one in 77 babies — in Asia, accounting for 17 per cent of all under-five deaths in the country, and making it the most dangerous place in the region to be born, according to a report titled, “Surviving the First Day: State of the World’s Mothers 2013.” The report was launched on Tuesday at a ceremony at Ramada Hotel by Save the Children. Save the Children Director Health and Nutrition Dr Qudsia Uzma said the 0.9 per cent annual decrease in infant mortality in the country was lower than the global average of 2.1 per cent. The report contains the first ever Birth Day Risk Index, which documents the death rates for babies in their first day of life in 186 countries. Findings reveal that around 60,000 of Pakistani babies died within the first day of life, accounting for 30 per cent of all newborn deaths. According to the report, the reasons behind these statistics include a high rate of pre-term and underweight births, at 16 and 32 per cent respectively, mothers’ poor nutritional status, and a lack of family planning. The country also had the highest number of stillborn babies in the region, at 1-in-23. The report stressed on the need for investment in health workers, particularly those working in the field, to enable them to reach out to vulnerable mothers and babies. It also called for investments in low-cost, low-tech solutions to deal with fatal situations both pre- and post-pregnancy. Federal and provincial governments should take responsibility for the recruitment, training, and support of health workers, while increasing funding for direct nutrition interventions, said the report. Uzma said more than a million children’s lives could be saved each year by improving breastfeeding practices and basic hygiene. TheNetwork for Consumer Protection’s Rubina Bhatti responded by arguing that female employees were not entitled to maternity leave for more than three months, due to which they were not able to fulfil their breastfeeding duties. The Protection of Breastfeeding and Young Child Nutrition Ordinance 2002 has been implemented but not enforced in many regions across the country, she said. “The infant mortality rate is unacceptably high. Around 1 in 28 babies do not live past their first birthday, making Pakistan one of 10 countries that account for nearly two-thirds of the three million new born deaths recorded globally per year,” said Save the Children Pakistan Country Director David Skinner. The Every One Campaign ambassador Haroon Rashid after providing a brief overview of the campaign’s initiative, said the country was ranked 139th on the list of best places to be a mother, coming in ahead of neighbours India and Afghanistan but lagging behind Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Rashid said the ranking was based on factors such as a mother’s health, education and economic status, and critical child indicators such as nutrition.

Asfandyar Wali Khan: Running campaign from Islamabad

A MAN who would love to walk in the fields, break bread with his party workers and take gur-wali chai with Bahadar mama, while canvassing for votes in his native constituency in Charsadda district during the 2008 elections campaign, is now confined to a house in Islamabad, few people outside his trusted few know. In his own words, it is like he is sitting in a telephone exchange, working the phones, picking up and answering cellphones to speak to party leaders, give them directions and mobilise his own election campaign. “This is how we are running our election campaign; picking up dead, carrying their funerals and taking the wounded to hospitals. This is an election where we are constrained to do door-to-door campaign or hold corner meetings.” This is Asfandyar Wali Khan, whose secular Pakhtun nationalist party has borne the major brunt of Pakistani militants — the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan — which has listed Awami National Party at the top of its hit-list, followed by the PPP and Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The ANP leaders, candidates and workers are the prime target in a wave of suicide bombings, attacks and targeted killings. One of the party’s leader and candidate was killed along with his minor son after Friday prayers in Karachi, while others face an almost daily assault in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And he is bitter — understandably so. “Where is the level-playing field when three parties are on the hit-list and four parties have been given a freehand,” the 64-year-old politician from Walibagh argues, while referring to Nawaz Sharif’s PML, Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Jamaat-i-Islami. “Can one call these elections free, fair and transparent when Hakimullah Mehsud (the TTP supremo) decides the rules and tells us which party will and which party will not contest elections? Who is the referee here? Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim or Hakimullah Mehsud?” The TTP says it is targeting the ANP for its secular and liberal politics, its pro-American policies and its support to military operations in tribal regions and districts of Swat, Buner and other areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “I don’t regret doing it,” a defiant Asfandyar counters. “If given a chance I will do what my party stands for. This is not a fight between Asfandyar Wali Khan and Hakimullah Mehsud or the rightwing and leftwing. This is a war between two mindset and it is for the people to decide whether they want to side with those who want to bring the Taliban system in Afghanistan or those who believe in plurality, diversity and democracy.” If the Taliban believe that democracy is kufr, then why target three political parties and spare the rest, he asks. But then, he ventures to answer the question himself. “2014 is round the corner, when the US-led forces in Afghanistan are scheduled to withdraw. The militants want to keep secular and liberal forces out so that we don’t have any say in future policies and decisions to be taken.” But he warns that those who believe that “everything will be hunky-dory after 2014 when the Americans would leave the region; they are living in a fool’s paradise. This will not happen.” He says the ANP is being hit “left, right and centre” because it is standing in the way of this mindset. “We are paying a very high cost,” he says. “Not because we followed the American lines.” He recalls how a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher had gone bad over ANP’s decision to enter into an agreement with militants in Swat. “I asked him; wouldn’t I look like an idiot if I tell you to let me run New York? That’s a very polite way of telling me that I am an idiot,” Asfandyar recalls of his conversation with the American diplomat. But subsequent events in Swat proved that his party was right. “I give Boucher the credit that he called afterwards and apologised.” He criticises those who accuse his party of the current state of affairs in KP. It was during the MMA rule when militants had taken over Swat and set up a parallel administration all over the province, he counters. And it was during the MMA rule under its chief minister Akram Durrani, when the military had begun to deploy in Swat, he points out. “Where were those political parties when the militants were slaughtering people in Green Chowk, Swat?” he asks. “Had we not supported military action in Swat, it would not have been peaceful and normal as it is now. We have established the writ of the state in KP. There is no parallel administration anywhere now. We supported military action and you have peace in Bajaur, Mohmand and Kurram.” There are many party leaders who believe Pakistan’s military establishment and its intelligence apparatus have abandoned a party that stood with it like a rock in the war on terror and has thrown it to the wolves, but nor Asfandyar Wali Khan. “There are a few places left including North Waziristan but to say that the military should withdraw all its forces from Pakistan’s eastern borders and deploy them on the western border from Chitral to Jandola in the tribal regions would be illogical and unwise. I feel that the direction (of the war on terror) is right, though the speed with which it is being fought may not be (right),” he maintains. He is happy with Gen Kayani’s April 30 speech on Youm-i-Shuhada at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. “I had a sound sleep that night. Gen Kayani said that it was our war and that’s what we have been saying all these years.” He also defends his decision of calling the multi-party conference to call for talks with the Taliban. He says the TTP had come under pressure after the assassination of ANP’s senior leader Bashir Ahmad Bilour and offered to open talks. “We called their bluff,” he argues. But the JUI-F moot, he claims, was an attempt to neutralise ANP’s initiative and sabotaged it in order to use it in the election campaign. Asfandyar brushes aside accusations of poor performance by his party-led government and charges of corruption. “If our performance was so bad, if it was zero, why not let the people judge us, why kill us?” he asks. He is also not worried over prospects of poor performance in the Saturday’s elections. “The militants would want us to boycott the polls but we are not going to run away and leave the field open to their like-minded parties – the ones they favour. It does not matter if we get two seats or no seats at all.” But even he pauses for a minute to answer when he is asked if his party would accept the results of May 11 elections. “We will see what they (the militants) do to us on the polling day. But our workers are committed and morale is high. We have posters which says “kafan ya watan! We find ourselves in a battle with our hands and feet tied while the other side is free to strike wherever he deems fit.”

Pakistan’s under-fire Hazaras vow to make votes count

Daily Times
In the city that has become the epicentre of sectarian bloodshed in Pakistan, Hazara candidates are braving death threats to make themselves heard in Saturday’s election. Quetta has been a focus for much of the violence and two devastating bombings earlier this year killed nearly 200 people from the city’s ethnic Hazara population. Banned organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has links to al Qaeda, claimed the attacks and vowed to strike again. The authorities stepped up security in some Hazara districts of Quetta but those running for office say the threats to their lives are so great that they are unable to move around freely to canvass for votes. Ruquiya Hashmi, a doctor and a former soldier, faces a double challenge – as well as being Hazara she is also the first woman to stand in Quetta for the National Assembly. For the past few days she has had threatening phone calls and letters sent to her offices. She is running for the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, an ally of the outgoing government, but she is determined to stand up to the extremists. “I’m lucky I’m a very brave woman. It’s very challenging being a woman, being a Hazara, but God willing I will face the challenges and I will raise my voice,” she said. The threats mean Hashmi, an energetic 62-year-old whose husband is running for the provincial assembly, has had to abandon rallies and take her campaign door-to-door, pressing her leaflets onto voters with a bright, reassuring smile. There is no doubt the dangers are real – on April 23 a suicide bomber blew up his car at one of the checkpoints at the entrance to a Hazara district, killing six people. Attacks targeting politicians and political parties have killed 87 people across the country since April 11, according to an AFP tally. Abdul Khaliq Hazara, the chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, who is running for both the national and provincial assemblies, believes he was the target – he had opened a campaign office nearby shortly before the blast. He said not enough is being done to protect the nine Hazara candidates running for office from Quetta. “The government promised us, police promised us, they would provide us guards. It has been two months and till now I think I have been given only one guard,” he said. “How could I move with only one policeman to those areas where always there is the shadow of terror?” Quetta city police chief Mir Zubair Mahmood said security had been provided to every candidate who had asked for it and that fears of attack were “to some extent” exaggerated. Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Shias were killed in Pakistan in 2012, the worst year on record, and while attacks have declined since the atrocities in Quetta in January and February, the rhetoric of sectarianism continues unabated. In Jhang, birthplace of the LeJ, a cleric running for parliament for a party linked to the militant group told AFP he wanted to win so he could carry what he called his “anti-Shia mission” to the world. His Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat movement is fielding scores of candidates for national and provincial assembly seats, and while they have little chance of winning, their presence is a stark reminder of intolerance. Among Quetta’s Hazaras, though, there is a determination to brave the threats and make their voices heard through the ballot box. Flags and posters of Hazara candidates dot the dusty, low-rise city and in Hazara Town, on the very spot outside a snooker hall where a car bomb in January killed 92 people, a witness to the attack said he owed it to the victims to vote. “A lot of my relatives died here and I will cast my vote because we need change and it is my responsibility – we are Pakistani and I will vote for Pakistan,” he told AFP. Provincial assembly candidate Haji Imran Ali of the religious Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen party said the protests Hazaras staged after the bombings, which brought down the provincial chief minister, had given them confidence. “Of course tension is there, but the two long sit-ins of the Hazara community... brought confidence among the Hazara community that if they can bring down an incompetent government, they can change everything,” he told AFP.

Pakistan: Looking beyond terrorists

Terrorists Monday wreaked carnage of the innocent Muslims at a Madrassa in Sewak village in Kurram tribal region in which 23 people were killed and over 70 others injured leaving behind pools of blood and human organs scattered around. The participants of rally cried for loved ones falling victim to man-made havoc. Having no faith in the hapless and helpless political administration and the security forces, the local residents of Khurram Agency took bodies of their relatives to their villages instead of taking them to hospitals for pursuing further action against the attackers. What a shame! The political administration is in a shambles. The creditability of the security agencies or their security framework installed to protect the lives of the people has gone down the drain. At least this is a conclusion one comes to after watching so many unabated bomb attacks on the election rallies. It also badly exposed preparedness of the security force to meet any emergency and eventuality as after the explosion, by the time the security forces arrived in the remote and mountainous Parachamkani area. The local people had already retrieved the bodies, and had shifted the injured to hospitals. After brutalizing the innocent people including children, the TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan, claiming the responsibility, says for a long time, the TTP had been trying to locate and kill Munir Orakzai. His name was even mentioned in the video massage of Hakimullah Masud yet the security offered to him seamed insufficient but to the utmost surprise of all, and for the reasons best known to the JUI-F, its candidate for NA-37, bailed out the terrorist outfit, saying that the TTP is not behind the Monday’s blast at their rally. He may have a reason to say this. His rhetoric should not be brushed aside rather it needs a careful consideration and analysis. Somehow, the target of the blast has escaped unhurt. Alas! His activists were not so lucky. After Monday’s carnage, Tuesday too saw no respite in attacks. Three more people were killed in PK-96 constituency of Lower Dir. A curfew was imposed in Hangu district after an explosion targeting a Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) candidate in the district’s Doaba town in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province killed ten persons and injured 22 others. The reports pouring out from Balochistan and Karachi are no different. Having a total disregard for the rulers and security agencies, the TTP is ruling the roost and the rest are just chasing the shadow of the ghost having no clue what-so-ever. Thousands of the Army troops, Para-military personnel and police have been put on guard to make the environment in the country best suited to hold elections on May 11. But it looks like as if each of the security step taken so far has proved insignificant. Is that really true? No, it is not true. No one can believe that a handful of terrorists can sustain the military might that Pakistan has. There is something wrong some where else too. Now the people must stop running for life like herds of wild-beasts do in forests. The time is ripe to look around to flush out all sorts of militancy--be it exists amongst ranks of political parties or in religious outfits. Sooner or the later, the political parties and the religious organizations have to revisit their fund-raising policies and schemes under garb of donations. Sitting in nicely controlled temperatures, the rulers condemn the deadly incidents thereafter a dead silence prevails till something more heinous comes to fore for the people to mourn at. Sequence is continuing for a long time and it may not come to an end till the people of Pakistan stand up to fight for their lives themselves, forcing the political leadership to undertake a process of cleansing within their ranks.

Bannu: 4 killed‚ 26 injured in suicide attack

Death toll from a suicide attack on Domel police station in Bannu this morning rose to 4 after a policeman succumbed to injuries. 26 other people also sustained injuries in the attack. At least 7 houses were also destroyed in the activity. One security personnel was martyred and another injured in a landmine explosion in Shaheed Anudand area of Lower Kurram Agency. Independent candidate from PP-95 Fareed Iqbal Awan escaped unhurt when his vehicle came under fire in Gujranwala. Meanwhile‚ 9 militants have been killed and 3 hideouts destroyed in an operation by security forces in Mamozai area of Upper Orakzai.