Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gen. Allen: 'No question' U.S. forces will remain necessary in Afghanistan
Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the former commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is sounding an optimistic note about the war. but says it will necessary for some U.S. forces to remain in the country for a long time. "The Taliban are fighting for their lives right now," Allen said. "We've seen success by the Afghan national security forces. The Taliban has recognized that we're not going anywhere. Eventually our numbers will come down pretty significantly, but there's going to be an international military presence in Afghanistan for a long time." Allen had been nominated to take over command of NATO's military forces, but backed away once he was ensnared in the probe surrounding retired Gen. David Petraeus' affair with a biographer. Allen was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing."There's no question," Allen said when asked if it was "absolutely necessary" for the West to remain in Afghanistan. "The international community will remain engaged. Our forces will continue to train the Afghan forces well after 2014."

Pakistan: Right to education: 75 primary schools to be shut down

The Express Tribune
More than 5,000 children will be affected by the government’s decision to shut down 75 primary schools in Cholistan by March 2014 due to a lack of funds. Cholistan Development Authority Deputy Director Muhammad Qamar Zaman on Saturday said seven schools had already closed down following budget cuts by the caretaker government. These include four in Rahim Yar Khan [Chak 258R, 156R, 153R and 1.2/240] and three in Bahawalpur [Chak 50D, 156DNB, and 128DNB.] “The remaining 68 would also close down by March 2014,” he said. The schools were set up under the Rs57 million Literate Cholistan Project in 2009 for the promotion of education in the backward areas of Cholistan. Two teachers were hired for each school under the project. The responsibility for the school buildings was entrusted to the local communities. Zaman said, “In an area spread over 6,655,360 acres of land, there are only 21 government schools. All of them lack basic facilities.” “It is astonishing that nobody has taken serious steps in this regard…there is no middle school here, public or private,” he said. He said as many as 50,000 children were deprived of education in Cholistan. Under the circumstances, Zaman said, the CDA schools were doing fairly well. “The results of primary class examinations in the last two-years were encouraging. This goes on to show that the children are interested in education,” he said. In 2009, a summary recommending better salaries for the CDA school teachers was rejected by the government. As of now, the monthly salary of a senior teacher is Rs5,000, and that of a junior teacher is Rs2,500.

Persecution of Pakistani Christians

It is very sad to state that Christians of Pakistan are day by day persecuted under false cases in blasphemy law. This shows the weakness of Government and law & order department. Where as, many speeches had been made for the protection of minorities and all happenings show that this is only limited to words. In March 2013, 178 houses of Christian Community in Badami Bagh Lahroe were burnt in the presence of Lahore Police which clearly shows that Christians are not safe in Pakistan under such Law and Order situation where the Government and Law and Order department are helpless in saving human lives against mindset of Islamic extremists. An other case in March 2013 was also booked in Shahdara Lahore under Blasphemy Law in which a hawker was arrested by police and declared insane, by declaring such things what would have happened to the family of the hawker. Many such, numerous cases take place whereas many of them are not high-lighted and reported in the Media. Another such case came into notice of a lady Mrs. Tabassum Khurram residing in Defence Lahore Pakistan who was booked under Blasphemy Law 295-B-C only for teaching poor Christian Children in remote areas as she was voluntarily working for the uplift of Christian Community. Even though a Minister Shehbaz Bhatti in support of Asia Bibi and to make amendment of Blasphemy Law was brutally murdered. This shows clearly that in this Blasphemy Law if a high profile case is not safe how can a normal living person be safe. We all are pray full that Our Lord may Protect His People.

Report blames Pakistan politicians, security for anti-Christian riots

Nearly four years after deadly anti-Christian riots left nine dead, authorities released a 318 page report indicating Pakistan's security establishment could have prevented them.
A series of violent riots against Pakistani Christians in the past decade has concerned human rights watchers and religious minorities in Pakistan. The latest deadly incident, which took place just two months ago, raised questions about what, if anything, can be done to prevent such violence. The March incident when a Muslim mob burned down a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, echoed a similar incident in the rural town of Gojra four years earlier. Nine people were killed when rioters torched two Christian neighborhoods over rumors the Christians had celebrated a wedding by showering the groom with pages torn from the Quran. Despite hundreds of arrests, no one was tried for the riots, and relatives of those killed have now fled Pakistan. In 2009, the Punjab government asked a senior judge to investigate how to prevent incidents like the one in Gojra. The judge interviewed nearly 600 witnesses, including senior politicians and intelligence officials, producing a 318-page report detailing who was responsible for the violence. But the full report was not released until recently – nearly four years after the riots. It implicates members of Pakistan Muslim League-N, at the time just recently elected to power, and recommends Pakistan's blasphemy laws be reformed to prevent future violence. According to the report, the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) and local intelligence agencies knew banned extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba were organizing the mobs, yet authorities did not take preventative action. “Everything could have been avoided, if the local administration did what they were supposed to do,” says Mehboob Khan, who headed fact-finding trips to Gojra for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.Like the riot in Lahore this year, Mr. Khan says police had several days to curtail growing threats from Muslim extremists in Gojra. On July 30, 2009, members of Sipah-e-Sahaba led a mob that burned down the entire village of Korian over the blasphemy accusation. The next day, preachers at three local mosques used their Friday sermons to demand that Gojra's Christian community – some 40,000 people – be expelled. They announced rallies the next day. The next day, busloads of seminary students from the nearby town of Jhang – a radical Sunni stronghold – joined the rallies, which were addressed by local PML-N leaders and preachers from Sipah-e-Sahaba. Bishop John Samuel, who heads an Anglican community in Gojra, says local police should have stopped the meetings and arrested those calling for more violence. “There had already been one fire, why did the police allow these meetings?” he asks. By that evening, crowds from the rallies made their way to the Christian neighborhood near the center of Gojra. Despite the efforts of some religious leaders to disperse the crowd, the mob began throwing stones at the homes, and some began shooting at Christians. Hameed Maseeh, a Christian, climbed on top of his roof and began firing back, but he was shot and killed. The crowd of Muslims swelled to more than 7,000, and some began setting fire to the Christian homes. According to the report, police that were supposed to protect the Christians told them to flee, before leaving the scene themselves. “At the height of the riot, they [the police] were nowhere to be seen,” recalls Bishop Samuel. Hameed Masih's family – unwilling to leave his body behind – locked themselves inside their home. Seven of them, including two children and three women, died when the mob set fire to their home. Maseeh's son accused 17 people – including the regional PML-N head and several Sipah-e-Sahaba leaders – of the murders. Though 113 suspects were arrested, all were released within months because witnesses refused to testify against them. Peter Jacob, head of the minority rights group National Council for Justice and Peace, says the witnesses were systematically threatened into silence. In 2010, Hameed Masih's surviving family left Pakistan, fearing for their lives. In their absence, Pakistani courts dropped the murder case. Two police commanders that left the scene as mobs torched Christian homes were suspended for a few months, but cleared by a subsequent departmental investigation. They have since been promoted. The PML-N leader that had helped lead the Muslim mobs was elected to the provincial assembly in elections earlier this month.
'No problems'
In the years since the riots, the Punjab government has rebuilt the hundreds of homes that had been torched in Gojra. Christians in the area claim everything has gone back to normal. “We have no problems with the Muslims, everything is fine,” said a Christian shopkeeper in Korian whose home was burned down, refusing to be named. But Bishop Samuel says more than 50 families have chosen to leave Pakistan since the riots. While it does not call for repealing the blasphemy laws completely, the Gojra report recommends removing specific protections for Muslims, and enacting measures to discourage fabricated cases. Rights groups say blasphemy accusations are often rooted in disputes over money or property. “Reform is the first step,” Bishop Samuel says, “If we can't finish the laws completely in Pakistan, at least charge the person making false claims.” Jacob points out police have prevented violence in cases where they have seriously investigated blasphemy accusations. “People didn't believe the law was being misused [before],” says Khan, “but slowly ... they are starting to see examples of it.” When a teenaged Christian girl was accused of blasphemy last year, the case was heard by the same judge who conducted the Gojra inquiry. Citing a lack of evidence, the judge dismissed the case, ordering the accuser's arrest instead.

U.S. Shift Poses Risk to Pakistan

From multibillion-dollar military aid to stealthy and secretive drone strikes, Pakistan, perhaps even more than Afghanistan, has been the central focus of America’s 12-year war on Islamist militancy. Now, as President Obama’s landmark policy speech on Thursday made clear, all of that is changing. Drone strikes are dwindling, the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close and the battle against Al Qaeda is receding. Pakistani leaders who have long demanded an American exit from their region may get their wish, but a broader disengagement is also likely to diminish the financing, prestige and political importance Pakistan held as a crucial player in global counterterrorism efforts, and could upset its internal stability. The diminution of the drone campaign may ease a major point of friction between Pakistan and the West, but the tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan, where about 360 drone strikes have landed in the past decade, remains a hotbed of Islamist militancy, largely outside government control. Although many senior leaders of Al Qaeda sheltering there have been felled by C.I.A. missiles, they have been largely replaced by committed Pakistani jihadists with ties that span the border with Afghanistan. With American combat troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014, and the drone campaign already winding down in Pakistan, analysts fear that unless the Pakistani Army can assert itself conclusively, the tribal region could be plunged into deeper chaos. “It’s going to be a lot of trouble,” said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a Pakistani academic and defense analyst. “If the insurgency increases in Afghanistan, it will spill into Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the Taliban will become very confident.” For 12 years, the United States’ security-driven policy has shaped power, politics and militancy in Pakistan. After 2001, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup, established himself as a steadfast ally of the West; it underwrote his authoritarian rule, which lasted until 2008. The military received almost $17 billion in American military aid, and transfers of American military hardware, solidifying its position as the dominant arm of the state. That relationship has also fostered resentment, and some Pakistani leaders welcome an American disengagement. They blame America’s muscular presence — expressed through troops in Afghanistan and espionage and drone operations in Pakistan — for an Islamist surge that has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis, and they argue that it has been a recruiting tool for militant groups like the Pakistani Taliban. “Less American involvement is good, not bad,” said Hina Rabbani Khar, who served as foreign minister in the last government, and who said she warmly welcomed the tone of Mr. Obama’s speech on Thursday. “Drones help us lose the war. And the ideological space for these terrorists is the supposed U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Once that excuse is not there, these people will have to face the music.” America’s dogged pursuit of fugitives linked to Al Qaeda — first in Pakistan’s cities, later in the tribal belt along the Afghan border — led to a two-faced policy toward Islamist militancy. Pakistani officials secretly accepted, and in some cases encouraged, the American drone program, while condemning it in public as a violation of sovereignty. Similarly, under pressure from Washington, Pakistan helped the C.I.A. arrest some jihadists, while it quietly sheltered other armed militant groups, like the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, who were seen as furthering Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and India. The American presence also created a giant blind spot in Pakistan’s political psyche: with so much focus on American operations, Pakistani leaders used the United States as a scapegoat to avoid tackling some homegrown problems. Lurid tales of American espionage and other skulduggery abounded in the news media, promoted by politicians and mullahs but also fanned by real-life controversies like the shooting of two Pakistanis by the C.I.A. contractor Raymond Davis in January 2011. Now that calculus is shifting for Pakistani policy makers. From now on, they will be less able to rely on the cloak-and-dagger workings of the drone program to have it both ways. Indeed, many fear a replay of the early 1990s when, after the departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the United States withdrew abruptly, leaving behind a cadre of fired-up Islamist fighters, and then imposed sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program. Behind the bellicose speech, there is a complex dependency on both sides. While Pakistan’s powerful generals have grown to resent the United States, they also lean on American military aid as a steady source of income in an economy so shaky it may soon require a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The generals also rely on transfers of American military hardware to keep their fleet of F-16 fighters in the air. General Musharraf, the former president, recently admitted that he had secretly authorized American drone strikes in the tribal belt in the early days of the campaign, from 2004. Four years later, Pakistani officials quietly helped the United States assassinate Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in a missile attack. “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people,” Yousaf Raza Gilani, then prime minister, told American officials in 2008, according to an American cable published by WikiLeaks in 2010. Among the wider Pakistani public, though, the drones stoked anger, particularly over the issue of civilian casualties — a factor acknowledged by Mr. Obama last week. At the same time, the C.I.A.’s success in assassinating senior Qaeda figures in the tribal region reduced the number of available targets. Recently, as concern over drones mounted in the United States, the number of strikes in Pakistan dropped sharply, from about 130 at their peak in 2010, to just 12 so far this year. Civilian deaths also fell sharply, as the United States cut back on so-called signature strikes against clusters of militant suspects, which had caused the most casualties. Now, Mr. Obama announced Thursday, American drones will attack only militants who pose an imminent threat to the United States, virtually ruling out strikes against the Pakistani Taliban, whose stated goal is the creation of an Islamist caliphate in Pakistan. Still, the shift signaled good news for Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister-designate, who has vowed to make Pakistan less dependent on the United States. A scaled-back drone campaign will, at the very least, be one less issue to argue over. It will, however, continue to exist, even if greatly diminished. “This doesn’t change much for Pakistan,” insists Ahmed Rashid, author of several books on militancy in the region. “The fact that the campaign will remain under the C.I.A., surrounded in secrecy, is quite depressing for Pakistanis.” The central factor now, experts say, is the American withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. The United States will seek a smooth exit from the conflict; Pakistan will seek to retain influence in its western neighbor, while ensuring the flow of money and military assistance from the West. As ever, the relationship is shaped more by threats than possibilities, a stark contrast with Washington’s trade-based relations with Pakistan’s traditional rival, India. Still, few doubt that America will remain deeply involved in Pakistan, a country with a growing population of more than 180 million people, a network of seemingly indefatigable jihadi groups and a stockpile of over 100 nuclear warheads. The question now is how Washington will pursue those enemies, and what level of cooperation it will enjoy from its Pakistani allies. “The Pakistanis look to the U.S. for financial and other support; the Americans are pursuing senior Al Qaeda,” said Shamila N. Chaudhary, a former Obama administration official, now with the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based risk consultancy. “Even after 2014, that mutual dependency will not go away,” she said.

Drone strikes has helped to root out al-Qaeda in Pakistan

Secretary of State John Kerry today stoutly defended US anti-terrorism policies, including the controversial CIA-operated drone attacks, saying it has helped America to successfully root out al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Responding to questions from students at a town hall meeting during his visit to Ethiopia about the US drone programme, Kerry vigorously defended the justice of kill strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles just days after President Barack Obama's major policy speech, narrowing the scope of the fight against terrorism. "The only people we fire at are confirmed terror targets, at the highest level. We don't just fire a drone at somebody we think is a terrorist," Kerry said, adding that strikes are ruled out if there could be collateral damage. He went on to describe the drone programme as one of the "most accountable," unlike terrorist attacks, which are indiscriminate. "Let me very clear... first of all there have been very few drone strikes in this last year. Why? Because we have been so successful in rooting out Al-Qaeda in Pakistan," he told students at the University of Addis Ababa. "Secondly the only people that we fire on are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest levels after a great deal of vetting," he was quoted as saying. Critics contend that, despite Obama's claims of accuracy, the CIA-operated drones have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, along with as many as 3,000 militants, most of them low-level fighters, in Pakistan and Yemen. Since 2009, when Obama became president, the United States has carried out more than 360 strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, according to data compiled by the Long War Journal Web site. The CIA has accounted for the vast majority of those, including all 293 in Pakistan, where only the agency flies armed drones.

Balochistan coal miners overworked, underpaid

Pakistani coal miner Tariq Khan, 17, typically starts his day at 5 a.m. He earns $3 a day for dragging heavy sacks of coal. “My father is 60 years old now. We are poor and financially things are tough. I’ve been working here for the past three years to support my father and family,” he explains, adding that previous generations in his family also worked at the coal mine. With no other jobs available, Khan has little alternatives. But the mines are dangerous. There’s no proper ventilation inside the mine, which is 600 meters underground, and only a few workers are equipped with safety lights. Miners don’t wear oxygen masks, and there are no first-aid facilities in case of an emergency. In January this year, a gas explosion killed eight workers. At the time, there were 200 miners working underground. In 2011, almost 100 workers were killed in 30 separate accidents. “There were about 48 people killed in a nearby mine, and the dead bodies were lying there for a week,” recalls coal miner, 40-year-old Khalid Khan Afridi. Afridi has worked in the mine for the past two decades and has witnessed the death of many of his friends at work. “We dug them out and we found that there was no flesh on their bodies. They’d been completely burnt,” he explained. “I worry for my life, too, as the mine is not safe.” After the 2011 incidents, the provincial government passed a bill to allocate funds to improve the working conditions at the mines. The government also made safety workshops mandatory for the workers, but so far nothing has been implemented. There are around 250 coal mines that employ 60,000 workers across Baluchistan province. On average, coal miners work there for 12 hours a day for just $5 a day. It’s low pay, but there are few alternatives, partly as a result of the conflict between the Baloch nationalists and the Pakistan government over the share of mineral resources. Abdul Khaliq, 62, worked inside the mines for two decades. He’s now working as a security guard due to his bad health and spends his entire $60 monthly salary on food and medicine. The mines are located far from the city center and patients have to be carried for hours to the nearest health facility. Sayed Muhammad Hassan Shah is a medical technician at the nearest rural health center, but he often treats patients in place of the doctors. “The coal mine workers usually have chest problems,” he said. Back at the mine Tariq Khan says he wants to leave his job. “Everyone has a dream and mine is to be free from here and to have another job where I can have time to rest,” Khan explained. “Money and education can change one’s life but I don’t have either. So I’ll work like my father until I die.”

Managing finances: PML-N govt set to repeat history

The Express Tribune,
A new government has been elected precariously close to budget season. Ishaq Dar is about to be sworn in finance minister, and it is glaringly obvious that the new administration will need to approach the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, but the government seems to be dithering, hoping for aid from wealthy allies. The year is 2008. Or 2013, since the incoming administration seems determined to repeat the mistakes of previous governments. In virtually every interview to the media since the election, Sartaj Aziz, the incoming adviser to the prime minister on finance and foreign affairs, has made it clear that the government does not want to approach the IMF for at least three to four months. And the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz has leaked to the Financial Times that they are seeking up to $5 billion from Saudi Arabia as a bridge loan to allow the government time to implement its own agenda before approaching the IMF. Sources familiar with the matter say that the PML-N is seeking a 10-year, low-interest-rate loan from Saudi Arabia and plans to use the proceeds almost entirely to pay off the existing stock of inter-corporate circular debt in the energy sector. Once the loan is received by Pakistan, it would then take about a month for the government to halve power cuts in the country, at least partially helping them fulfil their campaign promise of taking immediate action to resolve the energy crisis. There are, however, at least three major issues with this approach. The first is that it hinges far too heavily on Saudi generosity. Riyadh has been known to rebuff many previous requests by Pakistan for assistance and the amount currently being sought is far higher than anything Islamabad has ever asked before. Granted, the Sharifs have strong ties to Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom may be hesitant to hand over that high an amount to Pakistan, which even under the PML-N has had a poor record of managing its money properly. (That sordid history, by the way, is why China has stopped providing any form of budgetary support to Pakistan.) The second problem is the damage that might happen in the wait before Islamabad eventually does enter into an IMF bailout programme. In 2008, for instance, the government was banking on US financial support to come through before finally being forced to turn to the IMF in the last quarter of that year. But by then, it was too late. Depositors panicked at the sight of the government’s dithering and lack of a serious plan, and there was massive run on the currency, and the rupee plunged from Rs61.81 to the dollar at the start of the year to Rs79.32 at the end of it, a drop of over 28%. Inflation hit a record of 25.8% in August of that year as the government was forced to cut its unsustainable subsidies. That inflation spike sent interest rates soaring, precipitating a financial sector crisis that the banks have only just recovered from. If the Saudis give anything less than $2 billion, that is effectively the scenario Pakistan will face once again. That is a deeply unpleasant thought, because it would mean wasting a whole decade going around the same crisis which just keeps getting bigger and bigger. But the single biggest problem with this approach is the “what next” question. Suppose the Saudis are generous enough to give the whole $5 billion requested (unlikely). Given the pace at which circular debt accumulates, we will be back to unsustainably high levels of debt within a year or so. In effect, the PML-N is giving itself a one-year window in which to work a miracle. To their credit, they have already started work on implementing a plan, but it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to meaningfully bring down the rate at which circular debt is rising within that period. At which point, we will just have a whole lot more debt and not much to show for it. The Saudi loan, in effect, is less a way to buy time and more like a ticking time-bomb. The IMF route is likely to be more painful, but serious negotiations with the Washington-based lender tend to calm the markets, and buy more time. The PML-N would be wise not to repeat the same mistake.