Saturday, May 11, 2013

President Obama's Weekly Address: Growing the 'Healing' Housing Market

Vote Count Begins In Pakistani Vote Following High Turnout
Voter turnout in Pakistan's historic national elections is reported to have been high despite deadly attacks and threats by the Pakistani Taliban. The Election Commission of Pakistan extended voting by one hour to accommodate the turnout. Polls have now closed across the country. RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports that at least 10 people were killed and dozens injured in a bombing in the port city of Karachi. The blast apparently targeted offices of the secular Awami National Party. Police said that the the target, candidate Amanullah Mehsud, who is seeking election to the Sindh provincial assembly, escaped unhurt. Meanwhile, five people died in a gunbattle between the supporters of two candidates in southwestern Balochistan on the border with Afghanistan. There are reports of rocket attacks and violence elsewhere in the province were Baloch separatists had urged an election boycott. Two blasts in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital city of Peshawar targeting female voters injured 22. One of the blasts reportedly targeted a school turned into a polling station. In the tribal district of North Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold, women were warned through a mosque loudspeaker not to leave their houses to cast votes.The Pakistani Taliban has condemned the elections as un-Islamic and threatened to disrupt the vote. Despite the violence, the chief election observer for the European Union, Michael Gahler, said the voting process had improved much compared to the last election in 2008. "Everybody who came could actually cast his and her vote," Gahler said. "And here in Islamabad in this school, what I've seen thus far, it runs very smoothly and very professionally." Irregularities were reported in Karachi, however, where some polling stations in the sprawling city of 21 million opened late. The delay and alleged rigging prompted Islamist parties Jamat-e-Islami and the Sunni Ittehad Council and the ethno-nationalist Muhajir Qaumi Movement to boycott the process. Jamat-e-Islami also extended its boycott to the nearby city of Hyderabad. In Balochistan, the Jamhuri Watan Party, a Baluch nationalist faction, also announced an election boycott, citing rigging. More than 86 million voters were eligible to cast ballots for the 342-member National Assembly and assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan provinces. Sixty seats in the National Assembly are reserved specifically for women and 10 for non-Muslim minorities. Some 600,000 security personnel were deployed to guard polling places following an election campaign in which upward of 120 people were killed in militant attacks. The vote marks the first time in Pakistan’s 66-year history that a civilian government has completed a full term and handed over to another civilian administration through the ballot box. Pakistan's military has ruled for approximately half the period since the country’s independence in 1947, staging coups three times.Opinion surveys have suggested that the opposition party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani Muslim League-N, could win the most seats. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or Movement for Justice Party, of cricket legend Imran Khan is also expected to make an impact. Khan is seen as potentially receiving a fresh burst of sympathy from voters after an accident this week at a political rally in which he fell, fracturing several vertebrae and a rib. Voters appear largely disenchanted with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which led the outgoing government. In Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, voter Tasneem Khalid expressed her dissatisfaction. "Whoever comes should be better for the country," she said. "The situation is bad in the country. May Allah improve the conditions." During its five-year term, the government struggled to take effective action over a myriad of problems, ranging from deadly attacks by Islamic militants to sectarianism, natural disasters, and corruption. Businessman and voter Mohammad Asif from Lahore said the country badly needs foreign investment. "I have come with the hope that a new and good Pakistan will emerge from this vote and we'll have a change in the country," he said. "God willing, soon, and Pakistan will be a prosperous country and Pakistan will be a country where people from everywhere in the world will come and invest in Pakistan and would love to come to Pakistan." It has also had to contend with deteriorating relations with the United States, particularly in the aftermath of the 2011 raid by U.S. forces that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a compound not far from a key Pakistani military facility. The PPP is formally led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of President Asif Ali Zardari and the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. There has been no new word about the fate of Ali Haider Gilani, a PPP candidate and son of former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Gunmen abducted Gilani on May 9 during a campaign rally in Multan, where he is running for the provincial assembly. Much of the preelection violence has appeared to target secular-leaning parties in the outgoing coalition, while relatively sparing parties who take a softer line toward militants or question the activities of U.S.-led forces in the Pakistan-Afghan region. In another development, “The New York Times” says that on the eve of the elections, Pakistani authorities expelled the newspaper’s Islamabad bureau chief, Declan Walsh, due to "undesirable activities.” Authorities have not supplied details of these alleged activities.

Pakistan: Polling results might be annulled if rigging allegations found true

Following bombardment of videos, information and clues about rigging by MQM across Karachi and Hyderabad polling stations, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has taken notice of the situation. ECP has sought reports from District Returning Officers to report with rigging allegations. It has also hinted at annulling results if allegations about rigging are found true. Expressing grave concerns over disturbances in polling process in Karachi, Chief Election Commissioner has contacted Director General Ranger and Core Commander to review the situation. Marred by a barrage of blasts, rigging and allegations of political parties, Karachiites feel helpless in many areas of the city to cast vote. On MQM rigging, Jamat-e-Islami, Sunni Ittehad, Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (Fazal group) and Mohajir Qaumi Movement have boycotted elections in Karachi and Hyderabad. These parties accused that MQM has hijacked polling proceedings by force and their armed men interrupted people while polling staff was kidnapped and election goods seized by MQM militants. Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz also expressed their deep concerned over MQM’s rigging. PPP leader Taj Haider alleges polling stations in Baldia and Orangi towns have been hijacked virtually. There are also reports about rigging in NA-250 with a video emerged showing a black shirt person casting multiple votes for national assembly seats. Bomb blast at Qasba Colony Karachi, the blast occurred in a bus, at least 6 injured in the incident. Earlier, Jamaat-e-Islami announces to boycott from general election 2013 in Karachi and Hyderabad. The decision was announced by Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi Muhammad Hussain Mehnti from Idara Noor e Haq while JI chief Syed Munawar Hasan was also present. There are reports saying that women polling stopped at Oxford School, situated in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi. Similarly, some unknown persons interrupted the polling process in NA-256 (Pehelwan Goth area) and took out ballot boxes with them.

Pakistan election in Karachi flawed: commission

Pakistan's election commission said on Saturday it failed to hold free and fair elections in the country's commercial center and biggest city, Karachi. "We have been unable to carry out free and fair elections in Karachi," it said in a statement. It is unclear whether the commission's conclusion means national elections will have to be held again.

Pakistan: Of particular concern about Ahmadis

Ahmadiyya Times
“An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism."
It seems that Pakistan’s leaders will never realise and never admit their detrimental effect upon the nation and its standing in today’s world. Throughout the election campaign, very little has been said by our aspiring leaders to uphold the freedoms that are now expected to exist in a civilised and democratic state. On April 30, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2013 annual report. Found to be one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to an abundant lack of tolerance, it was recommended that Pakistan be designated as a “country of particular concern”. As related by Foreign Affairs on April 30, in a write-up by the director of policy and research at the USCIRF: “An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology who undertake attacks, impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country’s security and stability.” He suggests that the report allows facts to speak for themselves and uses this quote from it: “The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shia Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed ‘un-Islamic’ will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country’s blasphemy laws, used predominantly in Punjab but also nationwide, target members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and this frequently results in imprisonment. The USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalise various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views are deemed “un-Islamic”. The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.” We expect only silence on religious freedom from President Asif Ali Zardari and his men and women of the Zardari PPP as they have shown a remarkable consistency over the past, really distasteful, five years in ignoring and keeping firmly away from any hint of doing away with or even amending laws that are directly confrontational towards the freedom of religion and even of thought. Some other leaders’ records are also not exactly shining when it comes to any let-up on religious intolerance and bigotry, but perhaps, one did expect more from the great Khan rather than the stand taken on the Ahmadis. After all, the first objective of the PTI constitution is: “To make Pakistan an egalitarian, modern and Islamic welfare state that upholds the fundamental rights of the people in which all citizens, regardless of gender, caste, creed or religion can live in peace, harmony and happiness.” The MQM, to give it due credit, is the sole party that publicly makes the right noises. The wholesale pandering to the religious right, whether through fear, power-lust or conviction, is reprehensible and can never, in any way, further the cause of this republic.

Multiple blasts in Pakistan on polling day, 15 feared dead

Multiple blasts hit three Pakistani cities on Saturday as historic polls got underway in the country. At least 15 people are feared dead and many more have been injured, media reports said. (See pics) Two blasts in Pakistan's financial hub of Karachi targeted the office of the Awami National Party. Taliban militants had threatened to attack three political parties on election day. Awami National Party offices were also targeted by Taliban militants during the run-up to the elections. More than 130 people were killed in bombings and shootings ahead of the historic vote in what many observers have called Pakistan's most deadly election.The vote is being watched closely by Washington since the US relies on the nuclear-armed country for help fighting Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan. The poll marks the first time that an elected civilian administration in Pakistan has completed a full term and has stood aside to allow voters to choose its successor. There have been three military coups and four military rulers in the country. In the historic election, former cricket star Imran Khan, who has almost mythical status in Pakistan, has challenged the dominance of the country's two main political parties, making the outcome of the election very hard to call. He is facing off against the Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People's Party, led by President Asif Ali Zardari. But after five years of inflation, electricity blackouts and militant attacks, the PPP is expected to fare poorly in the vote. While Sharif has billed himself as the candidate of experience, Khan is trying to tap into the frustrations of millions of Pakistanis who want a change from the traditional politicians who have dominated Pakistani politics for years. As Pakistanis headed to the polls, there was a sense of excitement among an electorate aware of the historical significance of their vote and the risk they were taking. "Bombs or terrorist attacks must not stop voters from using their right of vote," said 70-year-old Humayon Qaiser. "People will have to decide what kind of Pakistan they want. If they vote for the wrong party, they will suffer for another five years."

Top US, Afghan diplomats meet on security pact

Associated Press
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Afghanistan's foreign minister in Kabul on Saturday to hammer out the details of a key pact signed a year ago that defines the future of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, amid uncertainty that either party will be willing or able to keep to its provisions. The talks between Burns and Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul are the second round of negotiations over the provisions of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, a set of principles and general commitments signed in May 2012 by President Barak Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Delegates first met in Washington in October. The agreement defines Washington's commitment to Afghanistan over the next 10 years as well as its expectations of Kabul, including free and fair presidential elections next year. Sticking points may include the amount of funds the U.S. provides to Afghan security forces. The two countries are also still squabbling over a separate agreement that would protect from prosecution a residual force of as many as 10,000 U.S. troops who would stay behind after the final withdrawal. In remarks before the meeting at the foreign ministry, Burns promised that Washington would stick by Afghanistan and its nascent national security forces after 2014 and the end to the international combat mission. But the deal allows either country to opt out with a one year's notice, which means that Karzai's successor in next year's presidential elections could scuttle the agreement. Karzai's election in 2009 was marred by widespread allegations of corruption, vote tampering and election fraud. He denied the charges but the acrimonious aftermath tainted his relationship with the West, which was the most vocal of his critics. The pact emphasizes a free, fair and transparent election in 2014. Karzai however has been relentless in his criticism of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan's political process, alleging Washington was maneuvering secretly to strengthen his political opposition even though he cannot run for a third term. Burns denied that Washington was backing any candidate to replace Karzai. "We are supporting the process and not any particular candidate," he said, adding the elections next year should be "transparent, credible and inclusive." Burns also repeated Washington's support for the opening of an office for the Taliban in the Middle Eastern State of Qatar to provide a venue where Karzai's High Peace Council could meet Taliban representatives to try to find a peaceful end to the 12-year war. Yet the Taliban have met representatives of about 30 countries, participated in international forums in Tokyo and France, and held backdoor talks with Afghanistan's opposition politicians. But they have steadfastly refused to meet Karzai's representatives including the High Peace Council, calling his government a "puppet." Karzai recently accused the United States of trying to bring his political opponents and the Taliban together, an allegation the U.S. denied and Burns tried also to dispel in his opening remarks saying, "We reaffirm our support for the office in Doha for the purpose of negotiation between the High Peace Council and the Taliban." Burns said that on the security front, Washington is on track to transition full control of Afghanistan's security to Afghan Security Forces by the end of the year. "Afghan forces are already in the lead in 90 percent of all combat missions," he said. "We expect them to be in the lead in all combat operations by the end of the year." There are 350,000 Afghan National Security Forces deployed throughout the country, although there has been criticism that the training, which was rarely more than two months, was inadequate and Karzai has often complained of a lack of military equipment to outfit his forces. NATO officials nonetheless say that this spring, when the weather allows more military activity, is the first of the 12 year war in which Afghan forces have done the majority of the fighting. The next meeting is scheduled for Washington in October. Rasoul at the last meeting said he expected a conclusion of the talks within eight to 10 months but US is not giving a time frame. As talks lumber along, Afghan analysts said it is difficult to see the results of an agreement signed almost one year ago. "So far we haven't seen any practical steps forward from the Strategic Partnership Agreement," said analyst and former Parliamentarian Abbas Nuyan. "Maybe there are some but if there are we are not aware of it." "The most important factors . . . are security in the country, tensions between Afghanistan and its neighbors, upcoming elections and the fight against corruption, which is a serious issue not just for us but for the international community," said Nuyan.

India hopes Pakistan election throws up clear winner

The Times of India
As Pakistan takes baby steps into democracy, India is looking on with apprehension at the plethora of violence that may prevent the new government after Saturday's election from being the kind that India would like to see. "Our best bet in Pakistan is a strong civilian government that can change the India narrative to something we can work with," high level sources said. At this point, the dominant narrative is driven by the India-obsessed Pakistan army-ISI combine, which gives oxygen to jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates. Support to terrorism against India therefore has official sanction. The most important challenge for Pakistanis -- candidates and voters alike -- is that these elections have been dominated more by terror attacks than anything else. Indians hoping for a free election have been dismayed at the relentless violence that threatens to keep many indoors on polling day. India is hoping against hope that the election throws up a clear mandate for one of the mainstream parties. All signs point to the fact that Asif Zardari's PPP might fall prey to anti-incumbency and Nawaz Sharif appears the front-runner. Many believe that Sharif, who was last tossed out by General Pervez Musharraf's coup, will not be particularly enamoured of the Pakistan army. But Sharif is accommodating of many of the Islamist groups. That bothers the west, but India appears more resigned to it. For India, its important that the new government takes the right economic and trade decisions for a start. That would put energy into the bilateral relationship even if other indices are more difficult to fulfil. Pakistan analyst Mosharraf Zaidi said in Foreign Policy, "This is not to say that Pakistanis embrace their neighbour. They are still smart about India's role in separating Pakistan from Bangladesh, and still view with acrimony India's administration over large parts of Kashmir. Yet, for all the bitterness and baggage, even the juiciest volleys from India are now returned with a disengaged 'meh'. This will likely remain the status quo for a while. As long as it does, the doors remain open for India to tap into an unprecedented national appetite for normalcy." A Pew survey tellingly found most Pakistanis deeply sceptical of Taliban and America alike. The study said, "About 80% think the Pakistani military, which for decades has been an important player in the country's politics, is having a positive influence on the nation. Solid majorities say religious leaders (69%), the media (68%) and the courts (58%) are having a good impact on the country." This doesn't hold out much hope for the kind of government India wants in Pakistan. Sharif faces a challenge from Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaaf, which is seeing a bounce in the election campaigns largely due to his "outsider" tag; while the Sharifs are playing the governance card, they are also seen as the same old political class that has let Pakistan down. Last week's Pew survey found two-thirds had a positive view of Sharif. Six-in-ten had a positive opinion about Imran Khan. There have been rumours about Imran tying up with Zardari's PPP. That is still possible. However, the Pakistan army is going nowhere. Beyond the violence of the election campaign is the terrifying prospect of the US-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. This should be completed by mid-2014, and for all Pakistan's bravado, it will bear the brunt of the repercussions of this event. The Taliban are still around and in force, helped by the Pakistan army and ISI. Will they remain as quiescent after the withdrawal? That's a question ISI is asking. While the army/ISI have been supporting the Afghan Taliban, they have in turn been attacked by the Pakistan Taliban, which has developed ties with Al Qaida, which has a supportive base inside Pakistan. There are no firewalls between these two Taliban, but more important, sectarian jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and others like Lashkar-e-Taiba all have intersecting resources, personnel, ideologies etc. What is to prevent greater coordination between these groups? Which ones will the army/ISI then preserve against India and which will be targeted? Indian analysts believe any distinctions that may exist between these groups could significantly diminish in the days ahead. That could present a clear and present danger to all concerned, including the army/ISI combine. And to India.

Crowds of women cast vote for first time in Mohmand Agency

The Express Tribune
Brisk polling by women voters continued in Mohmand Agency where they are expected to cross the 10% mark in NA 36 constituency. According to details, for the first time women of all ages in large number came to cast their votes in conservative tribal society. Voters rush was seen in polling stations in Ekka Ghund, Khowazai, Bazai and headquarters of the agency from morning. Talking to the women voters Salma, a housewife said that she faced no restrictions from her family remembers in terms of refraining her from casting vote. Another Robina, 80, said that it is encouraging that females in large number have come to cast vote and expressed satisfaction over the arrangements in the polling station for the voters. Zarghoona, along with her granddaughter said that it her right to use the right to franchise, saying it is a good omen that females are voting. “In the past election females were barred from polling however in this election many females are casting their votes,” she added. Presiding office Ramdad Khan at Ekka Ghund polling station also confirmed the high number of female voters in the constituency. It was also noted that family members are contesting as rivals from various parts in the election race. Meanwhile, in another incident an official of political administration said that head of peace lashkar was gunned down allegedly over pressuring voters for casting votes in favour of his candidates in Khowazai at around 10:30am.

Balochistan: Elections on Gunpoint

The Baloch Hal
Throughout its history, Balochistan has never witnessed controversial and shady elections like what we are experiencing in 2013. With the international election observers, including those from the European Union, refraining from visiting Balochistan to monitor the fairness of the elections, the polls have have nearly lost credibility in the first place. The government, particularly the military, wants to take advantage of some nationalist parties’ decision to contest elections by hastily organize a ‘selection’ process instead of encouraging free and fair elections. The biggest cause of concern is the very will of the voters to go out and cast their vote. A vast majority of the voters are likely to stay home instead of going out to vote. The Baloch armed groups have created an atmosphere of such terror across the province that the voters are too scared to go out on May 11 and vote. The interim government has miserably failed to restore peace in the province. In more than half of Balochistan, voters have no access to cable news and newspapers because the Baloch groups have forcefully shut down the cable news services. They complain that the Pakistani media either does not sufficiently and objectively cover Balochistan or it takes sides with the government in presenting a distorted image of the actual situation in Balochistan. Public transportation and every day business is absolutely paralyzed following the call for a complete wheel jam strike by the Baloch National Front (B.N.F.), an alliance of Baloch nationalist groups that seek Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities indeed underestimated the situation in Balochistan. They thought by convincing political figures like former Chief Minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party (B.N.P.) and Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch of the National Party (N.P.) to participate in the elections, they would be able to normalize Balochistan. That strategy has backfired. The B.N.P. and the N.P.have come under unimaginable attacks by the fellow Balochs who are unwilling to reconcile with Pakistan. The nationalists are distinctly divided between the pro and anti-election camps. The hardliners among the nationalists, who oppose the polls, believe these two parties have “betrayed” their “national cause” and compromised with the Pakistani government to offer legitimacy to the elections. The endless attacks on Baloch nationalists remind us that the situation in Balochistan is unlikely to change after the elections even if these ‘moderate nationalists’ win the polls and form a future government in the province. During the election campaign, Balochistan has witnessed an extraordinary amount of attacks. These cases did not get much attention in the national and the international media because they coincided with a similar wave of violence across Pakistan that targeted the Pakistan People’s Party, the Awami National Party and the Muthida Quami Movement. These were robust attacks in they country’s major cities and hence they received more space in the national news. Nonetheless, the election violence in Balochistan merits special attention because it is predominantly separatist Balochs versus the moderate Balochs. Limited space for political parties elsewhere in Pakistan simply means fewer chances for them to come in the next government whereas violence in Balochistan means Pakistan’s loss of control over national integrity. The nature of violence in Balochistan is also different from other parts of Pakistan in terms of the motivation of the perpetrators. While the Taliban consider democracy as a westernized ‘un-Islamic concept’, the Baloch nationalists do not confront the idea of democracy and elections but they oppose the very framework ( in this case it being the Pakistani state) in which they are asked to exercise their democratic right. The Baloch insist that elections will perpetuate what they bill as their ‘slavery’ inside Pakistan. The government has deployed 60,000 troops, including 7000 army soldiers, in Balochistan ahead of tomorrow’s general elections. Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani also visited Balochistan to review the arrangement of the elections. He said he wanted to see peaceful elections in the province. The General should have realized that mere deployment of troops does not motivate people to get out of their homes to vote. The armed Baloch groups that have threatened to disrupt the elections seem to enjoy some level of public support for their stance based on the army’s repressive and rigid policies toward the Baloch people. Even the heavy deployment of troops has not deterred the Baloch armed groups to carry out attacks on the security forces and election campaigns. These attacks have in fact significantly increased since the fresh deployments began. There are reports of several assaults on the conveys of the security forces but there is so much election-related violence taking place across Pakistan that the media barely covers the full picture of the violence that has engulfed Balochistan. The success of the B.N.F.’s wheel jam and shutter down strike on Thursday ahead of the elections shows that the people are not willing or free to vote. They are either angry with the government polices or are scared of the insurgent groups to get out of their homes. The primary responsibility of any interim government is to provide a conducive atmosphere for the elections which has not happened in Balochistan. The transparency of the elections on May 11 in Balochistan is questionable because people are not absolutely free in their decisions. In both situations, whether the people will go out to vote or stay home to boycott the elections, they are compelled to make a decision on gunpoint.

Noam Chomsky: Under corrupt and regressive Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan has no future

Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Noam Chomsky, is without doubt the most widely heard and read public intellectual alive today. Although trained in linguistics, he has written on and extensively critiqued a wide range of topics, including US foreign policy, mainstream media discourses and anarchist philosophy. Chomsky’s work in linguistics revolutionised the field and he has been described as the ‘father of modern linguistics‘. Professor Chomsky, along with other luminaries such as Howard Zinn and Dr Eqbal Ahmad, came into prominence during the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s and has since spoken in support of national liberation movements (and against US imperialism) in countries such as Palestine, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In fact, his prolificacy in terms of academic and non-academic writing has earned him a spot among the ten most cited sources of all time (alongside Aristotle, Marx and Plato). Now in his mid-80s, Professor Chomsky shows no signs of slowing down and maintains an active lecturing and interview schedule. Here we caught up with him to get his views on upcoming Pakistani elections, American influence in the region and other issues.
As a country which has spent almost half of its existence under some sort of direct military rule how do you see this first ever impending transition from one democratically-elected government to another?
Noam Chomsky: Well, you know more about the internal situation of Pakistan than I do! I mean I think it’s good to see something like a democratic transition. Of course, there are plenty of qualifications to that but it is a big change from dictatorship. That’s a positive sign. And I think there is some potential for introducing badly needed changes. There are very serious problems to deal with internally and in the country’s international relations. So maybe, now some of them can be confronted.
Coming to election issues, what do you think, sitting afar and as an observer, are the basic issues that need to be handled by whoever is voted into power?
NC: Well, first of all, the internal issues. Pakistan is not a unified country. In large parts of the country, the state is regarded as a Punjabi state, not their (the people’s) state. In fact, I think the last serious effort to deal with this was probably in the 1970s, when during the Bhutto regime some sort of arrangement of federalism was instituted for devolving power so that people feel the government is responding to them and not just some special interests focused on a particular region and class. Now that’s a major problem.
Another problem is the confrontation with India. Pakistan just cannot survive if it continues to do so (continue this confrontation). Pakistan will never be able to match the Indian militarily and the effort to do so is taking an immense toll on the society. It’s also extremely dangerous with all the weapons development. The two countries have already come close to nuclear confrontation twice and this could get worse. So dealing with the relationship with India is extremely important. And that of course focuses right away on Kashmir. Some kind of settlement in Kashmir is crucial for both countries. It’s also tearing India apart with horrible atrocities in the region which is controlled by Indian armed forces. This is feeding right back into society even in the domain of elementary civil rights. A good American friend of mine who has lived in India for many years, working as a journalist, was recently denied entry to the country because he wrote on Kashmir. This is a reflection of fractures within society. Pakistan, too, has to focus on the Lashkar [Lashkar-i-Taiba] and other similar groups and work towards some sort of sensible compromise on Kashmir. And of course this goes beyond. There is Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan which will also be a very tricky issue in the coming years. Then there is a large part of Pakistan which is being torn apart from American drone attacks. The country is being invaded constantly by a terrorist superpower. Again, this is not a small problem.
Historically, several policy domains, including that of foreign policy towards the US and India, budget allocations etc, have been controlled by the Pakistani military, and the civil-military divide can be said to be the most fundamental fracture in Pakistan’s body politic. Do you see this changing with recent elections, keeping in mind the military’s deep penetration into Pakistan’s political economy?
NC: Yes, the military has a huge role in the economy with big stakes and, as you say, it has constantly intervened to make sure that it keeps its hold on policy making. Well, I hope, and there seem to be some signs, that the military is taking a backseat, not really in the economy, but in some of the policy issues. If that can continue, which perhaps it will, this will be a positive development.
Maybe, something like what has happened recently in Turkey. In Turkey also, for a long time, the military was the decisive force but in the past 10 years they have backed off somewhat and the civilian government has gained more independence and autonomy even to shake up the military command. In fact, it even arrested several high-ranking officers [for interfering in governmental affairs]. Maybe Pakistan can move in a similar direction. Similar problems are arising in Egypt too. The question is whether the military will release its grip which has been extremely strong for the past 60 years. So this is happening all over the region and particularly strikingly in Pakistan. In the coming elections, all indications are that a coalition government will be formed. The party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is leading the polls with Imran Khan’s (relatively) newly-emerged party not far behind. Do you think an impending coalition government will be sufficiently equipped to handle the myriad problems facing the country that you have just pointed out, such as civil-military imbalance, drone attacks, extremist violence etc.
NC: Well, we have a record for Nawaz Sharif but not the others. And judging by the record, it’s pretty hard to be optimistic. His [Sharif's] previous governments were very corrupt and regressive in the policies pursued. But the very fact that there is popular participation can have impact. That’s what leads to change, as it has just recently in North Africa (in Tunisia and Egypt). As far as change goes, significant change does not come from above, it comes through popular activism. In the past month or so, statements from the US State Department and the American ambassador to Pakistan have indicated quite a few times that they have ‘no favourites’ in the upcoming elections. What is your take on that especially with the impending (formal) US withdrawal from Afghanistan?
NC: That could well be true. I do not think that US government has any particular interest in one or another element of an internal political confrontation. But it does have very definite interests in what it wants Pakistan to be doing. For example, it wants Pakistan to continue to permit aggressive and violent American actions on Pakistani territory. It wants Pakistan to be supportive of US goals in Afghanistan. The US also deeply cares about Pakistan’s relationship with Iran. The US very much wants Pakistan to cut relations with Iran which they [Pakistan] are not doing. They are following a somewhat independent course in this regard, as are India, China and many other countries which are not strictly under the thumb of the US. That will be an important issue because Iran is such a major issue in American foreign policy. And this goes beyond as every year Pakistan has been providing military forces to protect dictatorships in the Gulf from their own populations (e.g. the Saudi Royal Guard and recently in Bahrain). That role has diminished but Pakistan is, and was considered to be, a part of the so-called ‘peripheral system’ which surrounded the Middle East oil dictatorships with non-Arab states such as Turkey, Iran (under the Shah) and Pakistan. Israel was admitted into the club in 1967. One of the main purposes of this was to constrain and limit secular nationalism in the region which was considered a threat to the oil dictatorships.
As you might know, a nationalist insurgency has been going on in Balochistan for almost the past decade. How do you see it affected by the elections, especially as some nationalist parties have decided to take part in polls while others have decried those participating as having sold out to the military establishment?
NC: Balochistan, and to some extent Sindh too, has a general feeling that they are not part of the decision-making process in Pakistan and are ruled by a Punjabi dictatorship. There is a lot of exploitation of the rich resources [in Balochistan] which the locals are not gaining from. As long as this goes on, it is going to keep providing grounds for serious uprisings and insurgencies. This brings us back to the first question which is about developing a constructive from of federalism which will actually ensure participation from the various [smaller] provinces and not just, as they see it, robbing them.
It is now well-known that the Taliban’s creation was facilitated by the CIA and the ISI as part of the 1980s anti-Soviet war. But the dynamics of the Taliban now appear to be very different and complex, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as they attack governments and mainstream parties. Some people say that foreign intelligence agencies are still behind the Taliban, while others consider this a denial of home-grown problems of extremism and intolerance. How do you view the Taliban in the context of Pakistan?
NC: I can understand the idea that there is a conspiracy. In fact, in much of the world there is a sense of an ultra-powerful CIA manipulating everything that happens, such as running the Arab Spring, running the Pakistani Taliban, etc. That is just nonsense. They [CIA] created a monster and now they are appalled by it. It has its roots in internal Pakistani affairs. It’s a horrible development and phenomenon which goes back to radical Islamisation under Zia and taking away the long standing rights of people in the tribal areas (who were left largely alone). The Pashtuns in particular are kind of trapped. They’ve never accepted the Durand Line nor has any Afghan government historically accepted it. Travel from what is called Pakistan to Afghanistan has been made increasingly difficult and people are often labelled terrorists, even those who might be just visiting families. It is a border which makes absolutely no sense. It was imposed by the needs of British imperialism and all of these things are festering sores which have to be dealt with internally. These are not CIA manipulations.
Actually, US government policies are continuing to do exactly the same thing [produce terrorism]. Two days after the Boston marathon bombings, there was a drone strike in Yemen attacking a peaceful village, which killed a target who could very easily have been apprehended. But of course it is just easier to terrorise people. The drones are a terrorist weapon, they not only kill targets but also terrorise other people. That is what happens constantly in Waziristan. There happened to be a testimony in the Senate a week later by a young man who was living in the US but was originally from that village [in Yemen which was bombed]. And he testified that for years the ‘jihadi’ groups in Yemen had been trying to turn the villagers against the Americans and had failed. The villagers admired America. But this one terrorist strike has turned them into radical anti-Americans, which will only serve as a breeding ground for more terrorists. There was a striking example of this in Pakistan when the US sent in Special Forces, to be honest, to kill Osama Bin Laden. He could easily have been apprehended and caught but their orders were to kill him. If you remember the way they did it, the way they tried to identify his [Osama’s] position was through a fake vaccination campaign set up by the CIA in the city. It started in a poor area and then when they decided that Osama was in a different area, they cut it off in the middle and shifted [the vaccination campaign] to a richer area. Now, that is a violation of principles which go as far back as the Hippocratic Oath. Well, in the end they did kill their target but meanwhile it aroused fears all over Pakistan and even as far as Nigeria about what these Westerners are doing when they come in and start sticking needles in their arms. These are understandable fears but were exacerbated. Very soon, health workers were being abducted and several were murdered (in Pakistan). The UN even had to take out its whole anti-polio team. Pakistan is one of the last places in the world where polio still exists and the disease could have been totally wiped out from this planet like smallpox. But now, it means that, according to current estimates, there will be thousands of children in Pakistan at risk of contracting polio. As a health scientist at Columbia University, Les Roberts, pointed out, sooner or later people are going to be looking at a child in a wheelchair suffering from polio and will say ‘the Americans did that to him’. So they continue policies which have similar effects i.e. organising the Taliban. This will come back to them too.

A review of PPP government’s 5-year performance in Pakistan 2008-2013
The present post is based on various media reports, independent analyses and also official report published by Pakistan Peoples Party (released in March 2013) that offers an overview of the party’s five year performance, highlighting major achievements during 2008-2013 as ruling party in Pakistan. - Constitutional reforms, including restoration of 1973 constitutions in its original form, enactment of the 18th, 19th and 20th amendments which provided provincial autonomy, transfer of presidential powers to parliament, smooth installation of caretaker governments and striking down of president’s power to dissolve the assemblies. - Self autonomy granted to the Election Commission of Pakistan - Tough and clear stance against terrorism. Operation in Swat despite opposition by Taliban and pro-Taliban political and religio-political parties. Military operation in tribal areas. - Important decisions and steps taken by the PPP government to mitigate sufferings of the people despite terrorism in the country. Record increase in wheat production, increase in salaries of govt officials up to 158 percent, disbursement of Rs 70 billion among 7.5 million deserving families through the Benazir Income Support Programmed and financial help to 135,000 deserving people by Pakistan Baitul Maal. - Economic revival through a number of important projects, e.g., the Pak-Iran agreement on the gas pipeline, agreement with China on Gwadar Port, increase in foreign exchange reserves from $6 billion in 2008 to $16 billion in 2013, increase in export from $18 billion in 2008 to $29 billion in 2012, boost in stock market from 5,220 points in 2008 to 18,185 points in 2013 and reduction in interest rate from 17 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2013. These measures will have a long term healthy effect on the economy. - The PPP-led government added 3,600MW of electricity to the system besides initiating additional work on Mangla and Tarbela dams for increase of 4,500MW in the system. The PPP government also got $3.5 billion for Basha Dam, initiated Neelum-Jhelum, Gomal and Satpara dams and Thar Coal project to get electricity from coal besides Jamphar project to get electricity out of air. - Employment: The PPP government also reinstated thousands of government servants who were dismissed during the last 13 years and also regularised thousands of contract employees. - Full freedom to media allowing 24/7 criticism of government ministers and office-bearers. - Politics of reconciliation, no political cases or trials of political opposition - Women’s empowerment through anti-harassment legislation and other laws and schemes to support women - National Finance Commission (NFC) Award successfully implemented in consultation with all provinces to ensure equal distribution of financial resources - A number of steps were taken by the PPP government for welfare of the masses, eg, resumption of trade union activities, distribution of shares among 500,000 industrial workers, cheep tractors to farmers through Benazir Tractor Scheme, increase rural economy from 50 billion in 2008 to 800 billion rupees in 2013 - Development projects, eg, the Faisalabad-Multan Motorway and construction of thousands of kilometres of roads. Benazir Employees Stock Option Scheme

Pakistan: 2013 Election: hopes and fears

EDITORIAL: Daily Times
The general elections today are historic for a number of reasons. It is the first time that a democratically elected government has completed its term and is set to transfer power to another democratic dispensation. The outgoing coalition government successfully built consensus around the 18th constitutional amendment, which laid the institutional groundwork for the appointment of a neutral Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and caretaker setup, accepted by all political forces. First the first time since 1970, the apolitical youth born in Zia’s era have been mobilized in large numbers and a third force, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, is set to make its mark. Had it not been for the terrorist violence that marred the election campaign and the utter failure of the ECP, caretaker government and the security establishment to take action against the perpetrators, this election would truly have been a free, fair and transparent election without question. It is very unfortunate that targeted violence created a sharp divide among political parties, and in the federation. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) declared war against the secular parties, i.e. the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP), and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), while the right-of-centre parties carried out their campaigning unscathed. Likewise, Punjab has been relatively safe while the smaller provinces have suffered the brunt of violence. In Balochistan, the major threat came from Baloch insurgents, who do not have faith in the democratic process in the circumstances afflicting Balochistan and want to sabotage the electoral exercise in the province. According to a report of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, in April alone 81 people were killed and 348 injured in 56 incidents of militant violence directed at political workers and candidates across Pakistan. ANP has been the most affected party in terms of loss of life and casualties, and had to limit its activities to corner meetings and door-to-door campaigns. MQM’s campaign in Karachi has also been affected by the threat of violence. Lack of effective leadership and the threat of violence kept the PPP out of the field for the most part. It is quite possible that the result would have been the same had these parties been allowed to run their campaign freely because the public has been very disappointed by their failure to deliver during the past five years. However, now these parties might be tempted to attribute their failure to the denial of a level playing field. They might accuse hidden forces of planning to keep the relatively liberal, secular forces out of the game. Although they have shown maturity and did not call for the postponement of the elections, polling in the given circumstances falls short of being called fair. There is still a glimmer of hope in this whole exercise. The rightist parties have run their campaign with great fanfare throughout Pakistan. PTI has played a big role in engaging youth and creating political consciousness among them through its slogan of change. If the newly registered voters as well as non-voters in previous elections come out today, they can swing the results in favour of PTI. However, most predictions rule out the sweep Imran Khan has been hoping for. Thus, for the foreseeable future, the name of the game in Pakistan would be coalition governments. This election will set a precedent for the smooth democratic transfer of power in Pakistan. However, the threat of militant violence is not over yet. People standing in long queues to cast their votes today would present soft targets for militants. The caretaker government has been found lacking in ensuring security of candidates and workers and showed the same ineptitude by not asking the army to deploy its personnel around sensitive polling stations until very late. Let’s hope that this day will pass without a major disruption and the losing forces will not make an issue out of the security threats and accept the results. Today is truly history in the making. Let us not be found wanting.

On Eve of Pivotal Election, Pakistan Orders Times Reporter to Leave

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has ordered the expulsion of the Islamabad bureau chief for The New York Times on the eve of national elections, the newspaper said Friday. The Times has strongly protested the move and is seeking his reinstatement. The ministry did not give any detailed explanation for the expulsion order, which was delivered by police officers in the form of a two-sentence letter to the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, at 12:30 a.m. Thursday local time at his home. “It is informed that your visa is hereby canceled in view of your undesirable activities,” the order stated. “You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours.” The timing of the order means that Mr. Walsh must exit Pakistan on the night of the elections, the first in the country’s history in which one elected civilian government completes its term and hands over power to another elected government. Mr. Walsh, 39, is a veteran correspondent who has lived and worked in Pakistan for nine years, most of it for The Guardian newspaper of Britain. He was hired by The Times in January 2012 and has written extensively about the country’s violent political convulsions, Islamist insurgency and sometimes tense relations with the United States, which has been conducting drone attacks on militants in Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan. Jill Abramson, the newspaper’s executive editor, expressed concern about the order in a letter of protest to Pakistan’s interior minister, Malik Muhammad Habib Khan, describing Mr. Walsh as a “reporter of integrity who has at all times offered balanced, nuanced and factual reporting on Pakistan.” She asked the minister to reinstate Mr. Walsh’s visa. The accusation of undesirable activities, she wrote, “is vague and unsupported, and Mr. Walsh has received no further explanation of any alleged wrongdoing.” The timing of the order was also a surprise, she wrote, coming as Pakistan is holding national elections that are regarded as an important democratic milestone. “The expulsion of an established journalist, on the day of the voting, contradicts that impression,” she wrote. Pakistani officials did not respond to repeated requests for details over the past two days. The period leading up to the elections has been particularly violent, with suicide bombings and other attacks by militants impairing the ability of several parties to campaign effectively. The Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups have threatened many candidates, particularly members of liberal and secular parties. On Thursday, unidentified gunmen kidnapped a candidate who is a son of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, throwing the election into more turmoil. Mr. Walsh said the circumstances of the expulsion order’s delivery were highly unusual. He had been on a social visit Thursday evening, he said, when he received a phone call from an unrecognized number advising him to “come home now.” Mr. Walsh arrived to find a half-dozen police officers and a plainclothes officer waiting outside. The plainclothes officer approached his front gate, handed him the letter and asked him to sign for it. “I opened the letter in front of him because I knew it was something serious,” he said. “This was a complete bolt from the blue. I had no inclination that anything of this sort was coming.” Free-press advocates expressed anger at the news, saying that it reinforced Pakistan’s reputation as one of the most inhospitable countries for journalists. “The expulsion of Declan Walsh shows just how much the authorities fear independent media coverage,” Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement on the group’s Web site. “The vagueness and the late-night delivery of the expulsion order smack of a need to intimidate foreign and local journalists on the eve of historic elections that could herald the growth of democracy in Pakistan.” Pakistani journalists are routinely intimidated, assaulted or worse. According to Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group based in Paris, Pakistan has been the world’s deadliest country for journalists since the start of 2013, with six killed in connection with their work. The Committee to Protect Journalists said the Pakistani authorities had failed to prosecute a single suspect in the 23 murders of journalists over the past decade.

Brother’s kidnapping: Ali Musa points fingers at PTI, PML-N stalwarts

The Express Tribune
A day after his brother’s abduction, former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Musa Gilani hinted that their political rivals, Shah Mehmood Qureshi of PTI and Sikandar Bosan of PML-N, might be behind Ali Haider Gilani’s kidnapping. Talking to reporters late Thursday night, he said that since the Gilani family offered stiff competition to Qureshi and Bosan in key constituencies they might be behind the incident. However, in the same breath he added that unless the law enforcement agencies completed their inquiry nothing could be ascertained. “It’s a planned conspiracy to keep the Gilanis away from elections since all members of the family are mourning and no one is really paying attention to the elections,” he said. He added that the incident displayed the biasness of the election commission who were organising the elections in the absence of a candidate from one of the major political parties in the country. “Everybody knows that he had been publicly attacked and kidnapped but the election commission does not want to face up to the reality,” he said. He complained that the ECP had overlooked the security threats to the PPP. “If the election commission is not biased, it should explain why polls are still being conducted in the constituency,” he questioned. Despite his brawl with the electoral body, Ali Musa vowed to contest the elections. “My victory like my previous one will be a message for all those trying to derail democracy,” he added. In stark contrast to his son’s claims, Yousaf Raza Gilani holding a separate conference stated “even if heads of all political party leaders are cut, these elections should not be delayed”. Talking to the media at his residence, the senior PPP leader said that the Chief of Army Staff had assured him of his full support and promised the earliest possible recovery of Ali Haider Gilani. Offering sympathies to the family Pakistan-Tehreek-Insaaf president Javed Hashmi said that Moosa Ali Gilani and Abdul Qadir Gilani ‘are right in demanding a delay in elections in their constituencies’. Visiting the family late Thursday night the former PML-N leader said that the emotions of both the brothers should be respected. While condemning the incident he blamed the caretaker Punjab government for its negligence, saying that the administration was treating the threat to the Gilani family like a routine matter. “The incident demands special attention from the provincial government and their law enforcement agencies,” he said. Investigations In a bid to recover Ali Haider Gilani raids were conducted across South Punjab. Special intelligence teams from Lahore and Islamabad also arrived in Multan and inspected the incident site. Initial investigations suggest that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who posed great threat to the family, might be behind the kidnapping. Sharing information on the matter an intelligence official stated that members of the group, headed by Rizwan aka Asif Choto, reached Rawalpindi, Multan and Bahawalpur two days prior to the incident. The Shia community and the prominent leaders of the area are cited to be the targets of the banned outfit. People present in both the corner meetings with Ali Haider Gilani, right before his abduction, have been interrogated. Some 13 members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have also been arrested from different places in South Punjab. They have been shifted to undisclosed locations in Multan for questioning. Sources privy to the matter revealed that law enforcement authorities are expecting a major breakthrough in the case and have identified parts of the kidnapping plan. Meanwhile, an FIR has been registered in Seetal Maari police station on the application of Muhammad Nazar, brother of Ghulam Mohiuddin, secretary of kidnapped son of Yousuf Raza Gilani. The FIR has been registered under sections 302, 324, 148, 149, 365 and 7ATA against 8 unidentified assailants.


Pakistan beckons. The voting day is here for the polls being termed the “mother of all elections” in the country’s history. Much is at stake for the crises-marred people of this troubled nation, where rampant corruption, energy shortage, unabated bloodshed, economic meltdown, unemployment and ethnic and religious strife has driven the countrymen to the edge. Looking for a turn of fortunes, the countrymen have braved the past five years of democratic rule that has provided little to match the hopes they pinned on it following the end of military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s regime. But hope sells, as they say, and the people of the country are keen buyers. While some power aspirants are banking on their experience of having run the country earlier, others promising a new Pakistan are not far behind. While the ones having recently let go of power are trying making people recount their sacrifices for the country. Whatever the outcome of the polls might be, one thing the past few weeks made evident was that the people of the country have started believing in the power of their vote and many would turn out to vote for the first time in anticipation of changing their destiny and that of the country. Despite continued violence, killings and attacks on election candidates and rallies, thousands braved security fears to attend political rallies and show their support for their preferred candidates. And that showcases what hope can do for a nation. The 12th general election looks at around 86 million registered voters to exercise their right for electing representatives for 272 National Assembly seats and 572 provincial assembly seats. Around 15,624 contestants are contesting for around 844 National and provincial assembly slots in the 14th parliament of the country. At least 1,000 aspirants will be trying their luck as independent candidates. Polling has been postponed in five constituencies due to death of some candidates. “This is no ordinary election day. This is the war of survival of Pakistan. We are ready to deliver but media’s role is pivotal for higher turnout,” Minister for Information Arif Nizami told Pakistan Today. He said the experience of an independent Election Commission had remained successful and for the first time, elections would be held in a free, fair and transparent poll. Asked to comment over the sit-ins announced by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Arif Nizami said Dr Tahirul Qadri had become irrelevant and he could not affect the polls’ process. About terrorist threats, Nizami said the government had devised a strategy to counter all terrorist threats. “We have adopted pre-emptive measures and voters would be provided a safe and secure environment during elections. Besides, security personnel, army helicopters would be hovering over to provide security,” he added. He said the caretaker government would not spend even a second and it would pass on power to the new elected government. “The voter lists are prepared with photographs and fingerprints of voters. This has removed any possibility of vote fraud. The days are gone when election were robbed,” he responded to another question about vote fraud. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has set up 72,000 polling stations across the country for 86,189,802 registered voters out of which 48,592,387 are male and 37,597,415 females. Around 720,000 polling staff has been deployed for the conduct of polls to be continued uninterrupted from 8am to 5pm. Returning officers will then get to counting votes and announce the results. During the past 19 days, candidates left no stone unturned to convince the voters. Despite incidents of violence and terrorism during the past few weeks, the electoral process gradually geared up and the day has arrived when the nation is going to elect its new leadership for the next five years. The caretaker government has devised a well-thought-out security to facilitate peaceful and smooth polling on Election Day and the armed forces will be on their toes to thwart any terrorist bid to assist the election staff and common voters. The personnel of armed forces are being deployed at highly sensitive polling stations while the Quick Response Force units would be available on call as the commission has declared 19,644 polling stations sensitive and 12,716 as highly sensitive of a total 69,875 polling stations. The highest number of high-sensitive polling stations is in Sindh, followed by Punjab with 4,463, KP with 2,142 and Balochistan 1,783. In FATA, 134 polling stations have been identified as highly sensitive and 1,117 as sensitive, while in federal capital, the number of highly sensitive polling stations is 18, of a total 550. Seven security personnel shall be deployed at highly sensitive, five at sensitive and four security personnel shall be deployed at normal polling stations. Computerised National Identity Cards (CNIC) will be mandatory to cast votes although the commission has also allowed those to cast vote whose CNICs are expired. Tough contest is being expected in Punjab, where all three major parties – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have fielded their candidates on most of National and provincial assembly seats. Analysts have predicted a tough contest between the PTI and PML-N in Punjab, while PTI is leading the race in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the PPP and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are leading in rural and urban centres of Sindh, respectively. The Punjab province which sets the mode for voters would see 49,259,334 registered voters polling their votes. The province has 148 National Assembly seats of the total 272. The situation in Punjab was favourable for the PML-N until PTI chief Imran Khan launched his campaign with full might. After Imran Khan took a stormy tour of the province, his party emerged as main rival of the PML-N in the province, pushing the PPP to number three. Since 1988, it is for the first time that the PPP will apparently be running third in the province, though it will be leading in Sindh by securing majority of National and provincial assembly seats.

Blasts in Karachi, Peshawar kill 11

A Taliban bomb attack targeting an election candidate killed at least 11 people and wounded 36 others in Pakistan s financial hub of Karachi as polls got under way Saturday, a doctor said. The bomb targeted a candidate seeking election to the Sindh provincial assembly for the Awami National Party (ANP). The target, Amanullah Mehsud, escaped unhurt, senior police official Mazhar Nawaz said. Another police official, Tahir Naveed, confirmed the attack. The election marks the first democratic transition of power in the nuclear-armed state but the run-up to the polls has been marred by attacks that have killed at least 130 people since mid-April, according to an AFP toll. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility. "We proudly claim responsibility for this attack, we carried it out and will carry out more of the same," Ehsan said of the first deadly attack on polling day. Meanwhile, a blast near a school, which was designated as a polling station, on Peshawar’s Charsadda road injured 12 persons. Rescue and security forces rushed to the site on incident. Moreover another blast was reported near a mosque on Kohat road in Sheikh Muhammaddi Badaber area in the suburbs of Peshawar. No human injury was reported in the incident. Polling was also suspended in Mardan’s Bari Chum after an aerial firing incident near a polling station in NA-11 constituency. In Dera Murad Jamali, one person was shot dead while four others injured in a landmine explosion. Militants attacked polling station on Jamrud Bazaar of Khyber agency. Meanwhile, a rocket was fired near Gwadar Port. However, no loss of life was reported. A terror bid was foiled in Aliabad area of Hangu. Earlier, militants attacked a check post of FC personnel in Nushki while a rocket was fired on a polling station in Loralai. No loss of life was reported after the incidents. More than 600,000 security personnel are being deployed nationwide and around half the estimated 70,000 polling stations have been declared at risk of attack, many of them in insurgency-torn parts of Baluchistan province and the northwest.