Sunday, May 19, 2013

Obama Urges Morehouse Graduates to ‘Keep Setting an Example’

President Obama came to Morehouse College, the alma mater of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on Sunday to tell graduates, 50 years after Dr. King’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, that “laws, hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks like you can serve as president of the United States.” Wearing an academic robe in maroon and black, Mr. Obama paid tribute to Morehouse as the place where Dr. King first read the writings of Gandhi and Thoreau, and absorbed the theory of civil disobedience. The president tied Dr. King’s journey to his own, speaking in forthright and strikingly personal terms about his struggles as a young man with an absent father, a “heroic single mother,” supportive grandparents and the psychological burdens of being black in America. “We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices,” Mr. Obama said. “I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.” “But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses,” the president told the 500 or so graduates, who greeted him enthusiastically. “Along with collective responsibilities, we have individual responsibilities,” Mr. Obama added. “There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves.” Mr. Obama exhorted the graduates to extend a hand to other black men, saying that his success depended less on his Ivy Leagues credentials than on his sense of empathy and obligation he felt as a black man to help his brothers. “But for the grace of God, I might be in their shoes,” the president said. “I might have been in prison.” Reflecting on his turbulent childhood and his own family, Mr. Obama said, “I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle. I want to be a better father, a better husband and a better man.” Mr. Obama urged the graduates to “keep setting an example for what it means to be a man.” “Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner,” he said. Even as he preached the need for responsibility, Mr. Obama celebrated the distinguished lineage of Morehouse, the country’s only historically black, all-male college. Its roots go back to after the Civil War, when 37 black men gathered to make up the first class. The president dwelt on the legacy of Dr. King, a member of the Class of 1948, whom he described as an undersized 15-year-old nicknamed “Tweed” when he arrived. “It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be,” Mr. Obama said in his address, which was delivered in the rain as thunder rolled overhead. “And it was here, at Morehouse, as Dr. King later wrote, where ‘I realized that nobody was afraid – not even of some bad weather.’ ” Mr. Obama traveled to Atlanta with his chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, who has instructed staff members in the West Wing to keep their focus on the president’s legislative agenda and devote no more than 10 percent of their time to the controversies that have developed over the last week over the attack on the United States diplomatic post in Benghazi on Sept. 11 and the Internal Revenue Service‘s treatment of conservative groups. The president’s visit to Morehouse was laden with symbolism: in addition to the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, it is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. But Mr. Obama’s visit came as Morehouse found itself enmeshed in a pair of controversies. The college hastily revamped the format of its baccalaureate service after one of the speakers, the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, wrote an op-ed in The Philadelphia Tribune harshly criticizing what he said was Mr. Obama’s lack of advocacy on behalf of African-Americans. Mr. Johnson, the pastor of a Philadelphia church who is an alumnus of the college, complained that he had been “disinvited” because of the article, in which he noted that Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both named more blacks to their cabinets than Mr. Obama had. (Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is the only African-American in the cabinet.) In a letter to the college community, the president of Morehouse, John Silvanus Wilson Jr., insisted he had changed the format to include more speakers. “To my chagrin,” he wrote, “my decision has been wrongly construed as a decision to ‘disinvite’ this individual. He was not disinvited but rather declined to participate in the format.” Separately, four students from Morehouse were charged with sexual assault earlier this month in the rape of two women from nearby Spelman College. Three of the four students are members of the Morehouse basketball team. Lawyers for the students say the encounters, which occurred after an evening of drinking, were consensual. The college, declaring it has a “zero tolerance policy related to violence of any kind,” said it was working with the police and considering its own disciplinary measures.

Saudi vegetable seller dies from self-immolation

A Saudi newspaper says a vegetable seller who set himself on fire in Riyadh after police confiscated his goods for standing in an unauthorized area has died. The website for newspaper Sada reported that the man, identified only by the family name of Sureihi, died in hospital late on Friday. The self-immolation emulated that of a street vendor in Tunisia, whose 2011 death sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. Family members were seen outside the hospital Saturday demanding answers about why police confiscated the man s goods. Witnesses say the family wants to know what led him to douse himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze on Thursday. Saudi officials refused to comment. They did not disclose the man s name or age. Despite Saudi Arabia s oil wealth, many of its people live in poor conditions. Protests in the conservative kingdom are rare.

Bahrain citizens denied basic rights
Jennifer Barnes
In the U.S., many citizens exercise their right to peaceful assembly. However, in Bahrain this basic human right is being denied. Citizens are subject to ridiculous punishments for peaceful expression and assembly. In a recent ruling of Bahrain’s Court of Cassation, seven of 13 defendants were sentenced to life in prison simply for expressing their feelings. However, more severe crimes are being given less harsh punishments. For example, a police officer was given only seven years for repeatedly firing his gun at an unarmed citizen. Bahrain has taken steps to reform its government, though these attempts were never fully carried out. Bahrain’s citizens are still going to jail for reasons the government refers to as: illegal gathering, unauthorized demonstration and inciting hatred against the regime. To demote these gatherings, police have taken actions such as releasing teargas into crowds and setting off sound bombs. Police were also given the authority to torture protestors or use excessive force to stop them. In one incident a police officer brutally kicked and punched a woman before spitting on her because she was engaging in a peaceful protest. These types of regulations are major blows to the basic human rights of Bahrain’s citizens and action needs to be taken immediately.

Karzai seeks Indian military aid amid Pakistan row

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will seek increased military aid from India during a three-day visit starting Monday and will discuss recent cross-border clashes with Pakistan, India's archrival, an aide said. The comments follow a weekend report by the Times of India that said Afghanistan's ambassador to India had said the country needs India's help with "equipment and weapons to fight." The Press Trust of India later quoted a spokesman for New Delhi's Foreign Ministry as saying the country is ready to meet any such request. "Yes, we will ask for assistance for the strengthening of our security forces," Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said in a briefing ahead of the trip. He did not comment on the Indian reports. Karzai's visit could irk Pakistan, especially if any arms deal materializes. Pakistan considers Afghanistan its own backyard and suspects rival India of seeking greater influence there as a strategy to hem in the country from both sides. Pakistan and India have fought three wars since they were divided into two countries when they gained independence from Britain in 1947. Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2011 that has included Indian military training of Afghan security forces. Faizi indicated in Saturday's briefing that Karzai would seek to expand that cooperation. "Whatever our Afghan security forces would need for assistance and help, India would help us," he said. Afghan analyst Wadir Safi, a political science professor at Kabul University, says the timing of Karzai's India trip is likely related to recent border skirmishes with Pakistan. Each side has been accusing the other of firing across the mountainous border region for months, including a skirmish earlier this month that killed an Afghan border policeman. Both countries have also accused each other of providing shelter for insurgents fighting on the other side of the border. Afghan accusations that Pakistan is allegedly trying to torpedo efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban have also contributed to deteriorating relations. Pakistan is considered crucial to nudging Taliban leaders, many of which are in hiding in Pakistan, to the table — a key goal of the United States and its allies ahead of the final pullout of foreign combat forces by the end of next year. Karzai has long been deeply suspicious of the motives of Pakistan's government and military, which backed the Taliban regime before it was toppled in the 2001 U.S.-led intervention and has since seemed unable or unwilling to go after militant leaders taking refuge inside its borders. The killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan only strengthened Afghan wariness of his neighbor. Any increased military cooperation with India would likely only contribute to tensions, Safi warned. Afghanistan had been a proxy battleground for Pakistan and India during the war between the Pakistani-backed Taliban regime and the India-supported Northern Alliance. Another Afghan analyst, Hamidullah Farooqi, said he thinks the reports of India supplying weapons are simply brinkmanship and, at most, India might agree to help Afghanistan upgrade old Soviet-era weaponry. "An arms deal with India would not be helpful for regional stability or for the balance that Afghanistan needs between India and Pakistan," Farooqi said. "This is just a political game. I don't think there will be an arms deal." Aside from regional strategic rivalries, Karzai is expected to discuss economic issues and will visit an engineering university where he will receive an honorary degree, Faizi said. India has invested more than $2 billion in Afghan infrastructure, including highways and hospitals and rural electricity projects. New Delhi is hoping to gain some influence in the country after 2014, when Afghan forces become responsible for the entire country's security. Karzai, who earned his college degree in India, has visited New Delhi more than a half dozen times in the past few years, most recently in November 2012.

US state cancels subsidy for investment from Pakistani company

Indiana has cancelled subsidies for a planned $1.8 billion fertilizer plant in the state because of concerns that a Pakistani company involved in the project makes products used in improvised explosives that kill and injure US troops in Afghanistan. Midwest Fertilizer Corp, which has sought to build the plant in southern Indiana, is 48 per cent owned by Fatima Group, which produces a calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer in Pakistan known to have been used in improvised explosives in Afghanistan. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a Republican, had put a $1.3 billion incentive package for the fertilizer manufacturing plant on hold in January pending a review. He said Friday that the incentives would be withdrawn. “Without assurances from our Defense Department that the materials which have been misused by the enemy in Afghanistan will be permanently removed from production by Fatima Group in Pakistan, I cannot in good conscience tell our soldiers and their families that this deal should move forward,” he said. Midwest Fertilizer said it would pursue other options to continue the project in the area. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation made the offer to Midwest Fertilizer Corp in November 2012 under former Governor Mitch Daniels. The Indiana Finance Authority had issued $1.3 billion of bonds in December and the funds have been held in escrow and will be used to repay the bond holders. Fatima Group has reformulated the fertilizer to make it less explosive and the product is to be tested with the US government in June, Midwest Fertilizer said in a statement. Fatima Group also has stopped selling the fertilizer in areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, Midwest Fertilizer said. The border with Afghanistan is where Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters have been battling US and allied forces since the shortly after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Midwest said the project would bring 2,500 construction jobs and 309 permanent jobs to the region. US Senator Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat, said the state’s first responsibility was to the safety and security of troops. “My concern with this project has been our service members overseas who face the threat of improvised weapons made from fertilizer and other products,” Donnelly said in a statement. John Taylor, who heads the Posey County Economic Development Partnership, where the plant would be located, said he had not given up hope for the project. “The decision the governor made today does nothing to make it safer for our service people anywhere in the world,” he said.

‘Shahbaz’s allegations against President Zardari irresponsible’

Presidential spokesman, Farhatullah Babar has termed PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif's allegations against President Asif Ali Zardari irresponsible. Babar said that President Zardari has no role in the recent transfers and postings in the federal government. Babar emphasized that the transfers and postings were being made by the interim government. In a recent statement, Shahbaz Shairf alleged that caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, under the influence of President Asif Zardari, was making transfers and postings in the federal government and was not prepared to listen to the PML-N.

Pakistan, Rusting in Its Tracks

Resplendent in his gleaming white uniform and peaked cap, jacket buttons tugging his plump girth, the stationmaster stood at the platform, waiting for a train that would never come. “Cutbacks,” Nisar Ahmed Abro said with a resigned shrug. Ruk Station, in the center of Pakistan, is a dollhouse-pretty building, ringed by palm trees and rice paddies. Once, it stood at the junction of two great Pakistani rail lines: the Kandahar State Railway, which raced north through the desert to the Afghan border; and another that swept east to west, chaining cities from the Hindu Kush mountains to the Arabian Sea. Now it was a ghost station. No train had stopped at Ruk in six months, because of cost cutting at the state-owned rail service, Pakistan Railways, and the elegant station stood lonely and deserted. Idle railway men smoked in the shadows. A water buffalo sauntered past.Mr. Abro led the way into his office, a high-ceilinged room with a silent grandfather clock. Pouring tea, he mopped sweat from his brow. The afternoon heat was rising, and the power had been down for 16 hours — nothing unusual in Pakistan these days. Opposite him, Faisal Imran, a visiting railway engineer, listened sympathetically to the mournful stationmaster. This was about more than just trains — more than the decrepit condition of the once-mighty state railway service, Mr. Imran said. It was about Pakistan itself. “The railways are the true image of our country,” he said, sipping his tea in the heat. “If you want to see Pakistan, see its railways.” For all the wonders offered by a train journey across Pakistan — a country of jaw-dropping landscapes, steeped in a rich history and filled with unexpected pleasures — it also presents some deeply troubling images. At every major stop on the long line from Peshawar, in the northwest, to the turbulent port city of Karachi, lie reminders of why the country is a worry to its people, and to the wider world: natural disasters and entrenched insurgencies, abject poverty and feudal kleptocrats, and an economy near meltdown. The election last weekend was a hopeful moment for a struggling democracy, with the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif winning a huge mandate amid record voter turnout of nearly 60 percent. But the voting left undecided the larger battle against popular disillusionment. In a country forged on religion, Pakistanis are losing faith. People are desperate for change — for any improvement their proudly nuclear-armed government could make, yet has not.Chronic electricity shortages, up to 18 hours per day, have crippled industry and stoked public anger. The education and health systems are inadequate and in stark disrepair. The state airline, Pakistan International Airlines, which lost $32 million last year, is listing badly. The police are underpaid and corrupt, and militancy is spreading. There is a disturbing sense of drift. This failure is the legacy of decades of misadventure, misrule and misfortune under both civilian and military leaders, but its price is being paid by the country’s 180 million people. To them, the dire headlines about Taliban attacks and sterile arguments about failed states mean little. Their preoccupations are mundane, yet vitally important. They want jobs and educations for their children. They want fair treatment from their justice system and electricity that does not flicker out. And they want trains that run on time.
Peshawar: The Scarred City
At the journey’s beginning, policemen wielding AK-47s guard the train station in Peshawar, on the cusp of craggy mountains that climb into Afghanistan — one of about 40 such checkposts in a city that has long been a hub of intrigue, but that now finds itself openly at war. Since the first Taliban attacks about six years ago, the city has faced a relentless barrage of suicide bombings. No place can claim immunity: five-star hotels and religious shrines, bustling markets and the international airport, police stations and foreign consulates. Hundreds of people have died. The train system has been deeply affected. Until a few years ago, the tracks stretched up to the storied Khyber Pass, 30 miles to the west, where one of the last steam trains chugged through the tribal belt. Now that line is closed, its tracks washed away by floodwaters and too dangerous to run even if it were intact, given the insurgent violence. Khyber also gave its name to the country’s most famous train service, the Khyber Mail, immortalized by travel writers like Paul Theroux. It recalls the heyday of Pakistan’s railway raj, when the train was an elegant, popular mode of travel used by the wealthy and working classes alike, with liveried bearers carrying trays of tea, and pressed linen sheets and showers in the first-class carriages. But the Awami Express, which waited at the platform, had little of that old-world charm. The carriages were austere and dusty. Porters scurried about in tattered uniforms, taking modest tips from a trickle of passengers. Only one class of ticket, economy, was for sale. The train company, lacking generators, could not offer any air-conditioning. “We are in crisis,” said Khair ul Bashar, the Peshawar stationmaster, surrounded by giant levers that switch the tracks. “We don’t have money, engineers or locomotives. That’s why there are delays.”The decrepitude of the 152-year-old railway system has, in recent years, been attributed largely to a Peshawar native: the previous rail minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. A classic product of Pakistan’s patronage-driven politics, Mr. Bilour, 73, faced regular accusations of cronyism, using railway resources — money, land and jobs — to look after his own supporters. Meanwhile, service has floundered. Passenger numbers have plunged, train lines have closed and the freight business — the lifeblood of any train service — has crumbled. The last time the rail system turned a profit was in 1974. Last year the national anticorruption agency placed Mr. Bilour under investigation; a court later jailed two of the railway’s top managers. The minister avoided prosecution, and in interviews has insisted that a lack of funding was the main problem. More recently, though, Mr. Bilour has become emblematic of another aspect of Pakistani politics: the complex relationship with violent extremism. When Peshawar erupted in deadly riots last October over an American-made video clip that insulted the Prophet Muhammad, enraged protesters attacked the city’s movie theaters, including one belonging to Mr. Bilour’s family. A day later, the minister made a controversial offer: he would pay $100,000 to anyone, militants included, who killed the offending filmmaker. That gesture ingratiated Mr. Bilour with the Taliban, who offered to remove him from their hit list, but deeply shamed his party, which had suffered fatal militant attacks. In Peshawar, people viewed it with irony: the Bilour cinema was notorious for showing racy films that the Taliban surely would not appreciate. But the cinemas represented more than just Western culture; they were a rare form of public entertainment in a city that is closing in on itself.Khalid Saeed, the owner of one of the few theaters left standing in Peshawar, the Capitol, sat in the foyer of the once-grand 1930s-era building, surrounded by tatty posters advertising old action movies. Invading rioters broke his projector and set fire to the screen, he said, but mercifully the flames did not spread. Still, he said, he understood the frustration. “This is about religion, but it’s also about poverty,” he said, sucking on a cigarette. “There’s so much unemployment here. Young people have nothing to do, nowhere to go. You can read it in their faces. They get upset.” The rattle of Taliban violence has created a stronger curfew than the local police ever could. Mr. Saeed said his son dared not venture out after dark, fearing attack or kidnapping. And still the militants keep striking. “Around here, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow,” he said with an air of quiet resignation. “What sort of life is that?” In Mr. Bilour’s case, the entire episode was for naught. A few months later, in December, the Taliban assassinated his younger brother, the politician Bashir Bilour. As election campaigning got under way recently, a Taliban suicide bomber nearly killed Mr. Bilour himself at a rally in Peshawar’s old city. Then, last weekend, he lost his Parliament seat to Imran Khan — the former sports star who has said the government should negotiate with the insurgents, not fight them. At Peshawar Station, the Awami Express slowly chugged out, brushing against the yawning canopies of gnarled trees and slicing through a crowded clothing market. The clattering grew faster, carriage doors swinging open and shut, as the train rumbled into the countryside. Its passengers — traders, government employees, large families — stretched out on aged leather seats. Muhammad Akmal, a 20-year-old ice factory worker, was going home to Punjab for a wedding. “Hope to get married myself, soon — perhaps to one of my cousins,” he said. Hopefully, he added, the train would not be too late. At Attock, the train crawled over a spectacular bridge spanning the Indus River, passing under an ancient hilltop fort built by a Mughal emperor in the 16th century, now occupied by the Pakistani Army. Sepia-toned images of sweeping train journeys occupy a central place in the Western imagination of the Indian subcontinent, from movie classics like “Gandhi” to the recent “Slumdog Millionaire.” In real life, the Awami Express possessed little of that romance. The 45-year-old diesel locomotive groaned as it belched pillowy black fumes. Fine clouds of dust entered through the open windows. The carriages jerked violently on the corners. It was not always so. Much as the American West filled out one train depot at a time, Pakistan was forged on steel rails. The state-owned train system, over 5,000 miles of track inherited from the British at independence in 1947, helped mesh a new and fractious country. Trains ferried migrants to the cities, provided a moving platform for campaigning politicians and played a role in the wars against India. It became — and remains — the country’s largest civilian employer, still with more than 80,000 employees. Today, though, decades of neglect have taken a heavy toll. On paper, Pakistan Railways has almost 500 engines, but in reality barely 150 are in working order. Most Pakistanis prefer to take the bus. Those left on the trains are often frustrated, sometimes mutinous. Early last year, dozens of protesting passengers laid their children across the tracks in Multan, in southern Punjab Province. They were angry because a journey that should have taken 18 hours had lasted three days — and they were still only halfway to their destination. In the train engineer’s seat, Hameed Ahmed Rana, a taciturn man in a neat white shirt and a baseball cap, tugged gently on a brass handle and grumbled. The Japanese-built locomotive wheezed and shuddered. “There’s a problem with the oil pressure,” he said. “Not looking good.” Mr. Rana guided the train into the garrison city of Rawalpindi, headquarters to Pakistan’s military, where artillery pieces poked out from under awnings. Then it pressed south, the landscape flattening as its colors shifted from stony brown to rich green, rumbling past the rich irrigated fields and orange groves of northern Punjab, the heartland of military recruitment. Inside the train, fans hung inertly from the ceiling as the day’s heat pressed in. The carriages, filling up, were acquiring the air of a village tea shop. Men smoked and chatted; small traders boarded carrying salty snacks and hot drinks; families with women pulled sheets across their seats for privacy. The conversation, inevitably, turned to politics and religion. An argument about the merits of various leaders erupted between a Pashtun trader, traveling to Karachi for heart treatment, and an engineer who worked in a military tank plant. “We’ve tried them all,” the engineer said with an exasperated air. “All we get are opportunists. We need a strong leader. We need a Khomeini.” A group of jolly Islamic missionaries, known as jamaats, squeezed into a long seat, offering a foreign visitor smiles, a snack and an invitation to convert to Islam. “We’re not on this world for long,” said Abdul Qadir, a rotund man with a gray-speckled beard, proffering a plate of sliced apple. “People have a choice: heaven or hell. So they should work toward the afterlife.”
Lahore: Class and Corruption
Almost on schedule, the Awami Express panted into the grand old station at Lahore. A Hollywood movie starring Ava Gardner was shot here in 1955; today the yard is cluttered with empty freight vans. Once the seat of Mughal emperors who ruled the Indian subcontinent, Lahore is the center of gravity for Pakistan’s cultural and military elite, a city of army barracks, tree-lined boulevards, artists and chic parties. It is also the headquarters of the 152-year-old railway empire. In the 1960s, Pakistan Railways was said to own one-third of the city’s land, and today the company is still run from a towering colonial-era palace, where clerks scurry between offices down polished corridors. Up close, however, there is evidence of decline. At the Mughalpura rail complex — a vast yard of workshops and train sheds stretched across 360 acres with 12,000 employees — workers were operating at 40 percent capacity, managers complained. Electricity cuts bring work to a halt, while entrenched unions, a rarity in Pakistan, stridently oppose any efforts to shed jobs or cut benefits. Unions blame management for corruption; managers say the unions are inflexible. Strikes are frequent.Outside the plant gates, Muhammad Akram, a railway blacksmith, wore a tinsel garland that showed he was on a “token hunger strike,” from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The system was on the verge of collapse, he said: “It’s like sitting on the edge of the sea, wondering when you will fall in.” The misfortune of the railways has, however, benefited Lahore’s elite. Traditionally, the city’s wealth has stemmed from the surrounding countryside, where feudal landlords live off the rents of poor peasants. For decades, the landlords have epitomized Pakistan’s gaping divisions: paying no tax, treating seats in Parliament like family heirlooms, virtually a law unto themselves on their own lands. But things are changing. Of late, the landlords are being nudged aside by a new elite, one that has found a home in a gilded country club built on railway land. The Royal Palm Golf and Country Club, a lavish facility with an 18-hole golf course, gyms, 3-D cinemas and cigar rooms, opened in 2002 at the height of the military rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The club, which costs $8,000 to join, has become a showcase for new money: families that made their fortunes from property and industry, contacts and corruption. The Royal Palm’s glittering social functions, attended by men in expensive suits and women in ornate gowns, are a staple of local society magazines. The opening of a local Porsche dealership was celebrated here in 2005 with a gala dinner featuring exotic dancers flown in from Europe. Some events even offer alcohol, although guests are encouraged to drop their wine glasses when the cameras show up. “This is a family club, and a lifestyle choice,” said the manager, an architect named Parvez Qureshi, sitting in his stained-wood office overlooking the golf links. But the Royal Palm was also built on the bones of the railways. The rail minister at the time was Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, an ally of General Musharraf’s and a former spy chief who leased the railway’s land to a consortium of businessmen. Critics accused him of giving the land away at a sweetheart rate. “It was not a clean deal. Absolutely not,” said Nasir Khalili, chairman of the Gardens Club, an officers social club with 1,400 members that had to surrender its property. The National Accountability Bureau, which investigates official corruption, concluded last year that the Royal Palm deal had cost the government millions of dollars in lost revenue. It was not the first time that the military had chipped at the rail system. Back in the 1980s, the military ruler Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq diverted train freight business to the National Logistics Cell, a military-run road haulage company that cornered the market for transporting wheat and other commodities. Less publicly it smuggled C.I.A.-financed weapons destined for mujahedeen rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. “With freight gone, the railway was doomed,” said Salman Rashid, a travel writer who has specialized in the train network. One evening, a raucous concert took place on the Royal Palm driving green. Thousands of teenagers crowded onto the grass to see Atif Aslam, a popular singer, in a performance sponsored by a cellphone company. Militant violence has curtailed public events in Lahore; most take place in such cloistered circumstances. Before a crowd of about 4,000 young people, some joined by their parents, Mr. Aslam, wearing skinny jeans and a fur hat, bounded across the stage in a sea of testosterone, fluttering vocals and crashing guitars. To a foreigner, many posed a rhetorical question that betrayed their wounded sensitivity to Pakistan’s international image. “Do we look like terrorists?” asked Zuhaib Rafaqat, a 21-year-old computer student. “The West seems to think we are. But look at us — we’re just enjoying ourselves, like anyone else.”
Sindh: Abiding Alienation
Charging across lush fields of wheat and cotton, the train crossed into Sindh Province, where it halted at Sukkur, on the Indus River. The Lansdowne Bridge, completed in 1889, spanned the water — one of several feats of engineering by the British colonialists who hacked through mountains, traversed ravines and cut across deserts to make a railroad in what has become Pakistan. The railway project was foremost a tool of occupation: first to transport cheap cotton to English factories, later to move troops toward the northwestern frontier to guard against invasion from czarist Russia. Tens of thousands of construction workers died on the job, perishing in blistering summers and freezing winters, or from diseases like scurvy and malaria. South of Sukkur, waterlogged fields mark a modern calamity: the 2010 floods, which inundated about one-fifth of the country, affected 20 million people and caused up to $43 billion in economic losses, according to some estimates. Topsoil and entire villages washed away in muddy waves, never to return. In the Awami Express’s grimy dining car, a cook named Amir Khan stirred a greasy chicken broth over an open flame, then flopped onto a stack of soda crates. He gestured to the flood-scarred landscape. “Zardari will show this to America, so that he can get some money,” Mr. Khan said with a cackling laugh, referring to President Asif Ali Zardari, who comes from Sindh. The cook wiped a mug clean, then paused reflectively. “Maybe if Benazir were alive, things would be different.” The assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 was a traumatic event for Pakistan, but also for its railways. Enraged supporters attacked 30 train stations across her native Sindh, burning 137 coaches and 22 locomotives in a sulfurous protest at the failure of the state to protect Ms. Bhutto. Still today, the trains present an easy target for disgruntled Pakistanis. As the Awami Express pushed south, the railway police passed through the train, brusquely searching passengers and their luggage. The police increased railway security after Baloch separatists exploded a small bomb at Lahore Station last year, killing two people. More recently, ethnic Sindhi separatists have singled out the train lines for attack. Sindh is the hub of Pakistan’s Hindu population, which, like other minorities, has suffered from deepening intolerance in recent years. Stories of forced conversion of Hindu women at the hands of Muslim zealots have caused media scandals; last year some Hindu families, complaining of prejudice, left for India. But they were an exception: most Hindus remained behind, and some are quietly thriving. At the southern city of Hyderabad, a train branch line jutted into the desert, toward the border with India. This was Thar, a desert region where, unusually, Hindus are predominant. A rural commuter service — a train with open doors and a handful of seats — ambled through irrigated farmland toward the desert. On board were farmers, small traders and pilgrims returning from a Hindu shrine, the bareheaded women adorned in gold and silver jewelry. At the district’s main town, Umerkot, the local colony of snake charmers lives in the shadow of a clay-walled fort. The chief snake charmer, wearing a bright red turban and playing a flute, entranced a cobra as it curled from a wicker basket. Later, he produced a government certificate that attested to his ability to “perform a dangerous act of passing three-foot snake from nostril and mouth.” “Half of our people are in India,” he said afterward, pointing toward the desert and the border. “But we feel ourselves 100 percent Pakistani.”
Karachi: The Slum Patriot
Land is gold in Karachi, Pakistan’s tremulous port megalopolis: a city of migrants, filled with opportunity and danger, where space is at a premium that is often paid in blood. Political parties, mullahs, criminal gangs and Taliban militants all battle for land in the city, often with weapons. The railways offer an easy target. Slums crowd the train lines that snake through the city, pushing up against the tracks. Migrants have been coming here for decades, seeking economic opportunity or, more recently, fleeing Taliban violence. A short walk from Karachi’s main train station lies Railway Colony Gate No. 10: a cluster of rough shacks, pressed against a slope, bordered by a stagnant pool of black, putrid sewage. Among its residents is Nazir Ahmed Jan, a burly 30-year-old and an unlikely Pakistani patriot. Mr. Jan, known to friends as Janu, is from the northwestern Swat Valley, where fighting erupted in 2009. After the Taliban arrived, his family fled Khwazakhela, a village “between the river and the mountain,” which he described with misty-eyed nostalgia: lush fields, soaring mountains and his family’s grocery store, later destroyed in fighting. In contrast, Karachi is gritty and ugly, he acknowledged. He made his money selling “chola” — a cheap bean gruel — as he guided his pushcart through the railway slum. It earned him perhaps $3 a day — enough to feed his two infant children, if not much else. But Mr. Jan was an irrepressible optimist. At least Karachi was safe, relatively speaking, he said. And it had other attractions.In the corner of his home was a battered computer, hooked up to the Internet via a stolen phone line. He used it to write poetry, mostly about his love for Pakistan, he said, pulling out a sample. One couplet read: “If you divide my body into 100 parts /a voice will cry from each one: Pakistan! Pakistan!"Mr. Jan’s face clouded. He had contacted national television stations, and even the army press service, trying to get his work published, he said, folding a page of verse slowly. But nobody was interested; for now the poetry was confined to his Facebook page. “I just want to express my love for my country,” he said. Distrusting politicians, he harbored a halcyon vision of what Pakistan could become: a country that offered justice, free education and health care, where leaders made the people wealthy, and not the other way round. “That would be the Islamic way of serving the people,” he said. Mr. Jan smiled and, clasping his hands across his chest, excused himself. He had to work. The mountain migrant vanished down the street behind his pushcart, children scurrying around him. He whistled a Pashto folk tune, his soup jostling in the cart. From the distance came the sound of a hooting train, pulling into the station. It was surely late.
This article was reported and written before Declan Walsh’s expulsion from Pakistan by the Interior Ministry on May 10.

Pakistan: Carnage in Malakand mosque

Two terrorist bombings left at least 21 people dead and 120 others injured - 70 of them seriously - as they offered Friday prayers at a mosque in Bazdarra village of Malakand Agency, a tribal region in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. More lives would have been lost when a second time device went off minutes later at another nearby mosque, but for the fact that the faithful had hurried out to help the first attack's victims. The brutality matches the TTP's signature style. Nonetheless, it has not claimed responsibility for the attack. The post-election scenario too suggests it is unlikely to be involved. Nawaz Sharif, whom the TTP had recently named as one of the three political leaders it wanted to broker peace negotiations, is soon to take over as the new prime minister. And the PTI, which for long has been advocating talks with the Taliban, is preparing to form the provincial government in KP. The TTP would want to give them time to settle down before expecting the two parties to undertake any substantive initiative. So who could be behind the latest atrocity? One possibility is the Swat Taliban. Following the military operation in Swat and Malakand, the area has been quite peaceful. However, Mullah Fazlullah's and his band of violent extremists who were ousted from Swat and Malakand set up camp on the other side of border. They have been making forays into the border areas attacking soldiers and tribal leaders from the adjoining Afghan provinces of Nuristan and Kunar. The ISAF and the Afghan government kept looking the other way whilst these extremists used their side of the border as safe haven from which to launch attacks on Pakistani border posts and villages. During the recent months, the level of trust and co-operation between the US and Pakistan has shown a marked improvement. Both have a common interest in restoring peace and stability to that war-ravaged country. Relations between Kabul and Islamabad remain rather tense. President Karzai has been making provocative statements over Durand Line claims, while the border situation remains volatile. There have been several instances of firing and mutual recriminations. Earlier this month, one Afghan soldier was killed and several Pakistani soldiers injured in a border clash near Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. Kabul had blamed the incident on Pakistani forces, accusing them of constructing four checkpoints on its side of the border in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces - an accusation rejected by Pakistan. Considering these tensions and the fact that in the past Afghan nationals have been involved in terrorist attacks in this country, Friday's horror in the Bazdarra village mosques may well be the handiwork of the Kabul government. Incidents such as this, whether perpetrated by Pakistani terrorists operating from Afghan soil or the Afghan government, aside from being an outrage against humanity, will only create difficulties for the settlement of the bigger war in Afghanistan and its spillover into Pakistan. One can only hope better sense will prevail sooner rather than later, and all sides will act responsibly to end relentless death and destruction.

Pakistan: Chaudhry Nisar’s defeat

Chaudhry Nisar has lost his Punjab Assembly seat PP-7 Taxila after ostensibly winning it on May 11. The revised results came after the recounting of votes following the allegations by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) of mass scale rigging in a number of constituencies, including PP-7. Chaudhry Nisar had contested on two provincial Assembly seats, allegedly to make sure that he wins from at least one in order to position himself become the next chief minister of Punjab. This wish however has not been accepted by the PML-N. The loss of this seat perhaps has not pricked PML-N too much, as it helped dampen the overambitious desire of Chaudhry Nisar. With his defeat in PP-7, PTI now has eight seats in Rawalpindi. Local PML-N circles have accused Chaudhry Nisar of being responsible for this unusual loss in what has been considered the party’s stronghold and where the former Punjab government had spent huge sums on development projects. He is said to have given party tickets to inept people. On the other hand, the overturning of the initial result against Chaudhry Nisar has given strength to the PTI’s allegations that the elections have not been as fair as claimed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). There could be flaws in the election results. According to the European Union election observers’ team, the polling in 10 percent of the seats was not as fair, free and transparent as desired. That conclusion invites us to focus on the other 90 percent results. The rigging uproar has augmented given the style of reporting adopted by some NGOs such as the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN). They are being grilled by the ECP and, according to reports, filing of an FIR against them has been contemplated. FAFEN has already apologized for reporting 100 and even 150 percent results from some constituencies, which they say was because of human error. Therefore, leniency can be shown to some extent, but a precedent should be set thereby that nobody in the future, including the electronic media, jumps to conclusions without verifying the results for reliability. The right way to report for an NGO like FAFEN or any other agency observing the elections or compiling their own results would have been to present the facts first to the ECP, and then, after confirmation, make them public. Going solo with unsubstantiated findings ran the risk of bouncing back given the sensitivity surrounding the elections already mired in alleged rigging charges. Sit-ins by the PTI are in progress in at least Lahore and Karachi and there might well be some recounting of votes in a number of constituencies indicated by the party. However, believing the recounting process to make some huge difference is naïve. For the continuity of democracy and in order to tackle the country’s crises that are serious and threatening, it is better for all parties to accept the results and work together for betterment of the country as a whole.

Pakistan: Malakand and beyond

EDITORIAL: Daily Times
In a particularly vicious attack, the militants who have openly plagued this country with bloodshed have reaffirmed their status as a force that cannot be negotiated with. Just after Friday prayers, two remote controlled bombs were set off outside two different mosques in Malakand, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As has become the modus operandi of the militants, the bombs went off quite close to one another with the first creating a panic and the second targeting all those civilians who rushed to the site to help. The targeted mosques were not far apart and the resulting casualties include 13 dead and more than 48 injured. The rescue efforts were further hindered because the area, Bazardara, is quite isolated and it took a long time for rescue teams to reach the sites of the blasts. While no one has so far taken responsibility for this act, it does not take a genius to guess that the usual suspects, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may be behind the atrocious attack. This attack has come at a time when the attitude and direction of the militants is under particular scrutiny because of the overtures of the new governments-to-be. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which is all set to have a major stake in the new set up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has made it very clear that when it comes to the militants, there is room for negotiations. PTI senior leader and soon-to-be chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pervez Khattak, said on Friday that the party had no enmity with the TTP and that negotiations were on the cards. He even went so far as to say that the province was theirs too. That is a statement that should not be taken lightly. How can any government, old or new, even think about talking to the TTP, much less give them the ‘respect’ the new setup seems determined on giving them? As Friday’s bomb attacks show, the militants are not satisfied with mere shock and terror; they wish to inflict as much death and destruction on innocent civilians as possible. Why is the PTI not thinking about the victims of the terrorists? It is these civilians who voted them into power, the very people who are being massacred by the militants. What will be their reaction at the government’s willingness to negotiate with their murderers? And why is the PTI being so naïve? Have they forgotten what has been happening to the Awami National Party (ANP), which is the same party that agreed to hold negotiations and settle a truce with the TTP when it held Swat hostage? The ANP has been facing nothing but the murders of its leaders and party members by the very same Taliban for the last many years. Why is the PTI not looking at these past experiences? Also, has the PTI forgotten that the TTP declared the constitution, democracy and the elections — in which the PTI won a majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — as being against Islam? How does the party believe the TTP will accept the ‘legality’ of a party that won in these ‘un-Islamic’ elections? With their continuous attacks against the innocent people of this country, the armed forces deployed to protect this country, the political parties deemed to have a liberal, secular mandate and government representatives, the militants have proved they are no better than monsters. One does not negotiate or call a truce with bloodthirsty hate mongers; why does the PTI think it will be an exception?