Tuesday, May 28, 2013

China slams Japan's criticism of Premier Li's speech

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Tuesday criticized a Japanese politician's remarks that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's speech in Germany "ignored history." On Sunday, Li visited Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, capital of the German federal state of Brandenburg, the site of the Potsdam Proclamation in 1945, which set the terms for Japan's surrender in World War II. He said that all the territories Japan stole from China, such as Northeast China, Taiwan and related islands, should be restored to China. On Monday, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rebutted Li's claim, saying, "That remark ignores history. (Japan) can never accept it." Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Berlin accompanying Premier Li Keqiang on his trip to Europe, has stated China's solemn position on Suga's remarks, said Hong. Hong reiterated that in modern times, Japanese militarists launched an aggressive war against China and illegally occupied and stole Chinese territories, including Taiwan and its affiliated islands. "These historical facts should not be obliterated," he said. In 1945, Japan announced its acceptance of the Potsdam Proclamation as well as its unconditional surrender. Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration makes it clear that the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out.In December 1943, leaders of the United States, Britain and China signed the Cairo Declaration, declaring that all the territories Japan had seized from China should be returned. In the China-Japan Joint Statement issued in 1972, the Japanese government also promised to earnestly implement Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration. "These are unmistakable historical facts," Hong said. He asked the Japanese side to face history squarely, clarify and correct relevant statements and never again make remarks that lack common sense.

Rani's death anniversary observed on Monday

Born on December 8‚ 1946 as Nasira in Mozang‚ Lahore to Malik Muhammad Shafi and Iqbal Begum in Arain family‚ Rani gained success in late 1960s when she made a hit pair with famous actor and producer Waheed Murad. She remained one of the most successful actresses of subcontinent and was also popular for her dance performances in films. Rani acted in both Urdu and Punjabi films. In 1962 Anwar Kamal Pasha‚ a veteran film director of the 50's and 60's‚ gave Rani her first role in the film Mehboob. For several years after Mehoob Rani appeared in supporting roles in films like Mouj Maila‚ Ek Tera Sahara and Safaid Khoon. Until 1965 she starred in other films‚ but when they flopped she was dubbed a jinxed actress. However‚ after the success of Hazar Dastan and Dever Bhabi‚ Rani became a leading actress. Some of her more notable films areChann Makhna‚ Sajjan Pyara‚ Jind Jan‚ Duniya Matlib Di‚ Anjuman‚ Tehzeeb‚ Umrao Jan Ada‚ Naag Muni‚ Seeta Mariam Margaret‚ Ik Gunah Aur Sahi and Surrayya Bhopali. She also acted in two TV serials Khowahish and Faraib in the early 90's. Rani died with cancer on May 27‚ 1993 and was laid to rest in Lahore's Muslim Town Cemetery.

Pakistan: Links between policemen and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi disclosed

Disturbing reports have emerged of members of the Quetta police having close links with some of the deadliest terrorists in the sectarian war theatre of Pakistan. In a press conference on Monday, DIG Operations Quetta Police Fayyaz Ahmed Sumbal disclosed the arrest of two cops in this connection. The two arrested policemen include Assistant Sub-Inspector Yahya and constable Karim. Yahya was deputed in the investigation branch while Karim was the guard commander at Sheikh Zayed Hospital. Revealing the details, reliable sources have disclosed that “ASI Yahya was in contact over the phone with a member of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi men”. The sources further revealed that the country’s premier intelligence agency was continuously monitoring the conversations of Yahya with the member of the banned outfit. The intelligence agency subsequently alerted senior police officials about the conversation. Initially, the police and intelligence agency were not aware of Yahya’s identity but a blunder by one of the cop’s relatives led to his arrest. During preliminary investigations, ASI Yahya denied having any links with a member of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and refused to admit that it was his own voice in the recorded conversation. However, ASI Yahya eventually confessed that he had contacts with the banned LJ. According to reliable sources, the arrest of Yahya is a major breakthrough against the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He was directly in contact with the Ameer of LJ Asif Chotu , LJ Balochistan Ameer Usman Saifullah Kurd and Sindh Ameer Naeem Bukhari. Few months before his arrest, Yahya even took Asif Chotu and Naeem Bukhari to Hanna Lake in Quetta. It is noteworthy that after a long gap, the Balochistan police have issued a list of most wanted criminals, including sectarian and sub-nationalists militants. The ads were published in the newspapers by the Balochistan Police mentioning details and offering rewards on information about the deadly terrorists. The LJ Balochistan Ameer Usman Saifullah Kurd is top of the list, with a bounty of Rs2.5 million. Meanwhile, sources revealed that constable Karim is the son of an Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) Balochistan office bearer and is suspected of being involved in supplying weapons to the LJ. Disclosing information about the black sheep in the department, sources said that the police are committed and have undertaken an operation to weed out such elements. Action has been taken against two more cops who are also accused of having ties with the banned militant organisation. There was lack of evidence to prosecute them but both have been dismissed from police service. Reliable sources divulged that the Quetta police are very close to apprehending the terrorists involved in different attacks on Quetta police. They revealed the modus-operandi of terrorists who, after having a brief conversation with the policemen in their local language, would open fire on the police party. The terrorists shot usually their victims on their heads using the rifles of slain policemen. The sources explained that “the reason behind such acts is to convey a message” and dent the morale of the police force. But, the sources insisted, the situation has totally changed now and the terrorists are “on the run”. “We have got strong intelligence that the Lashkar-e-Jaish-e-Islam is behind these attacks and its chief Saifullah Marri is involved in the killing of more than 30 policemen,” said a source privy to developments. Responding to a question about progress in the investigation of the recent suicide attack on the house of Balochistan IG Mushtaq Sukhera, the police claim they have received some valuable information. The owner of the truck used in the suicide attack has been identified. According to details, the truck was registered in the name of a terrorist affiliated with a local proscribed militant outfit and the owner had been killed a few months ago during an encounter with the FC. The police sources said that there is now unprecedented coordination between the Quetta police and intelligence agencies and that is why the police force is able to carry out successful operations against the terrorists. After the incident of Alamdar Road, in which a large number of Hazara Shias were killed, the then-IG Balochistan Tariq Umar Khattab had conceded while talking to Geo News that “the police are not getting reliable and concrete information from the intelligence agencies and that is why the force is not able to act with an iron hand against terrorists”.

Pakistan: Three years on, no justice for 86 dead Ahmadis

“It seems like time has stopped. I never thought I would bury my grandson, the same child who held my fingers as a toddler and learnt to walk,” said Nizam*. An elderly gentleman, Nizam survived one of the deadliest attacks on minorities in Pakistan three years ago. The attack, carried out in Lahore’s Model Town and Garhi Shahu localities simultaneously on May 28, 2010 against a group of unarmed Pakistanis, left 86 dead and over 150 men and children injured. The Punjabi Taliban took responsibility for the attacks. And what exactly was the fault of the dead? They were Ahmadis. Having been deemed ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ (deserving of death) by many in the country, Ahmadis are the only minority in Pakistan who have been hounded for their faith, with the laws of the land strengthening this discrimination. “It was my grandson who held my hand and walked me through the gates that Friday. He got me water and then sat beside me praying,” Nizam recalled. An elderly man, his frail hands shook heavily, more due to anxiety than old age, as he shared details of the day when all hell broke loose. “Everything seemed peaceful and serene. Then I heard a loud bang and people screaming around me. I woke up in the hospital, only to find out that my grandson was killed along with many others,” he recalled.
Lost cause
As the nation celebrates the 15th Yaum-i-Takbir (Day of Greatness) and hails Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the contrasts are clear. The same prime minister who gave Pakistan a nuclear bomb, the Oxford-educated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, also bowed to the whims of hardliners by declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims during his premiership in 1974. Not one to be left far behind, General Ziaul Haq made sure that he proved to be a worthy guard of this legislation. His infamous anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX in 1984 added Sections 298-B and 298-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. The Ordinance prohibits Ahmadis from proselytising and explicitly forbids them from certain religious practices and usage of Islamic terminology. Given this scenario, the notion of ‘justice’ seems far fetched, at least to those who have been at the receiving end. Blanking out for a while, Nizam composed himself and went on add: “I have lost all hope. I grew up being taunted by kids in my village near Narowal. “Mirzai”, “Qadiani”, “Kafir” “Murtad”, I have heard it all. ‘Grin and bear it’ is what I told my children and grandchildren. But I can’t anymore.” When asked if he expects justice, he says: “Is dunya to mein to bilkul bhi nahi, akhrat mein zaroor!” (Not in this life time but surely in the afterlife).
Gone and forgotten
Though the 2010 Lahore massacre made headlines all over the world, it failed to mobilise people to speak up for Ahmadis. Given the culture of impunity, no one seems to be bothered about delivering justice. “The 2010 Lahore incident is the only terrorist attack where the attackers were apprehended by the worshippers and handed over to the police,” said Saleemuddin, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Jamaat Pakistan. In a polite but jaded tone he said the attackers were presented in an anti-terrorism court but nothing came of it. Yet another community member says that asking for justice only means ‘more deaths’. The hopelessness of Nizam, Saleem and others is not unfounded. Over the years, case after case has come out where religious minorities have been put on trial or targeted for their beliefs. Adding to this bleak outlook are the blasphemy laws. On its part, the state has made little effort to ensure the safety of the persecuted. During the five year tenure of the previous government, a surge in human rights violations, including religious and sectarian violence, was observed. The cases of Asiya Bibi and Rimsha Masih, Joseph Colony attack and targeted killings of Hazara Shias are just a few examples. Not satisfied with harming the living, even the dead have not been spared, with over 100 Ahmadi graves vandalised in Lahore, with the local administration playing the role of silent spectator. However, the National Report submitted by Pakistan for the 14th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) downplayed violence on minorities and made no mention of the persecution of Ahmadis. At the UPR session of Pakistan in Geneva last year, the then foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar gave an impressive speech on the situation of human rights in the country. Sadly, on the subject of minorities, she too failed to mention the word ‘Ahmadi’ throughout the discussion on religious minorities in the country.
‘We don’t exist’
“I don’t expect justice,” says Kanwal*, a young Ahmadi woman. She lost her brother in the Lahore attacks. “If he had been given timely medical attention he would have been alive. So would be many others. The attackers did their job but the medical staff on its part delayed treatment,” she alleged. Narrating how the 2010 incident shattered her family and others in the community, she says she is waiting for the day when Pakistanis will stand up for Ahmadis. “At times I feel suicidal. Maybe ending my life would end this pain and misery but then I think about my parents, my bhabi and the kids. They have been through a lot,” she says. Her voice filled with desperation, she aptly sums up the ordeal of minorities in Pakistan: “Maybe I won’t get to see that day. We don’t count because we don’t exist. Neither as Muslims, nor as humans!” Names have been changed to protect the identity of persons involved.

Peshawar: does anyone care?

by: Nasser Yousaf
THE apparently ceaseless debate sparked by the Boston marathon bomb blasts in the American media has only just been partially eclipsed by the Oklahoma tornado. While President Obama vowed to go to the ends of the earth to nab the culprits, he found the media and the American people surpassing him in their resolve to get to the root of the crime. Very quickly, they not only got to the root of the crime in the impoverished Russian-controlled Dagestan they also found out a lot more about the two accused brothers and their family’s history. In stark contrast, ‘unidentified’ militants have ravaged Peshawar and have killed both civilians and security personnel indiscriminately on a large scale, while destroying our infrastructure with impunity. The news of a deadly terrorist incident in Peshawar stays in the headlines for no more than a few hours; thereafter it is consigned to the back-burner. Hardly anyone is heard talking about the identity of the attackers; their parentage or their domiciles or their past and present places of residence. The attackers move and act like predators, pillaging and disappearing with ease, instilling fear in the areas under their control and even beyond. Peshawar has a rough and inexorably hostile neighbourhood. To its north lie the tribal agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur where a semblance of calm has been restored after years of seemingly uncontrollable turmoil. To its west lies the fabled Khyber Pass where the strong presence of the Pakistan Army’s Frontier Force units secure Peshawar from any major infiltration although terrorists from this side keep trickling into the city on all occasions. It is the southwestern border of Peshawar with the restive Bara region of Khyber Agency that has meant devastation for Peshawar and the villages lying in close proximity to the border. The last week of 2012 saw militants attacking security checkposts in the said area killing nearly two dozen personnel at point-blank range and taking with them scores of others as hostages. It was as if “they were on a shopping spree in a limitless departmental store, picking up hapless personnel from several posts, putting them in their double cabin vehicles and shooting them mercilessly,” recalls former Awami National Party MPA Saquibullah Khan Chamkani whose constituency includes a considerable part of the said area. On May 11, 2013 when the rest of the candidates were attending to election-related duties, Mr Chamkani’s time was occupied in carrying the injured to hospitals and the dead to mortuaries. In one incident an eight-year-old boy standing near a polling station and engrossed in the proceedings taking place in Sheikh Mohammadi village fell to the dastardly machinations of the militants when a box he was handed over to carry to the ANP workers went off before he could take it to the targeted area. Earlier, in late March the militants operating in the same area had destroyed a 500 KV grid station at Sheikh Mohammadi that supplies power to more than half of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and which is located on the main Kohat Road at a distance of six kilometres from Peshawar Cantonment. “They passed through our villages of Sheikh Mohammadi, Suleiman Khel and Shahab Khel after midnight and did not leave until they had completely ransacked the grid station,” a villager from the same area said while recalling the events of that deadly night. The Sheikh Mohammadi grid station is the proverbial punching bag of the militants. Nothing seems to fascinate them more than targeting it, especially during peak summer. It has been targeted at least three times in as many years. The latest attack was the worst: eight people were killed and scores of others kidnapped while the grid station was rendered completely dysfunctional causing losses of at least Rs2 billion to the state. The southwest of Peshawar is undoubtedly on fire, and nothing substantiates this more than the fact sheet of May 2013. Just as these lines were being penned another attack on the police convoy coming from Kohat claimed the lives of six policemen accompanying the DPO (district police officer) Kohat to Peshawar who sustained serious injuries in the incident. Initial accounts suggested the culprits did not suffer substantial losses. Peshawar was not unaccustomed to violence especially from intruders from the tribal hinterland. The British during their long stay in the town were frequently attacked by hordes of tribesmen, but in no case did they let the marauders go unpunished. They also built a wall around the old city with 16 gates as a solid pre-emptive measure against continuous attacks. Peshawar has since expanded to its last extremities and borders the tribal areas. The British knew their enemies down to their last ancestor; we don’t seem to know even their immediate parentage, and don’t appear to mind this fact at all. Peshawar must now be secured by erecting a wall along its entire length bordering the tribal lands. Unfortunately, no half measures like establishing dozens of checkposts in urban limits can stop Peshawar from being caught in the throes of the conflagration being witnessed to the south and southwest of the city.

LOADSHEDDING: ''Pakistan Faces Struggle to Keep Its Lights On''

A week before he is to be sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister for the third time, Nawaz Sharif has secured one form of power, yet now faces a fierce battle to find another. Electricity shortages, bad for years, have reached crisis proportions. Lights go out for at least 10 hours a day in major cities, and up to 22 hours a day in rural areas. As the summer heat pressed in suddenly last week — touching 118 degrees Fahrenheit in the eastern city of Lahore — Pakistanis again took to the streets to protest the chaotic state of the country’s power delivery system. Doctors and nurses picketed outside hospitals, complaining about lacking clean water and having to cancel operations. Demonstrators burned tires, blocked traffic or pelted electricity company officials with stones. Students cannot study for exams, morgues struggle with decomposing bodies, and even the rich complain that their expensive backup generators are straining badly — or, in some cases, blowing up from overuse. In a bid to quell discontent, Pakistan’s interim government, which is running the country until Mr. Sharif takes over, has ordered civil servants to switch off their air-conditioners and stop wearing socks — reasoning that sandals were more appropriate in such hot conditions. “Everyone is affected,” said Iqbal Jamil, a heat-flustered resident of Landhi, a neighborhood in Karachi. The crisis is the product of multiple factors, from decrepit power plants to crumbling transmission lines to decades-old policy mistakes. One reason, however, stands above the others: most Pakistanis will not pay their bills. The system is paralyzed by $5 billion in “circular debt” — basically, a long chain of unpaid bills that cuts across society, from government departments to wealthy politicians to slum dwellers. At its worst, this leaves power providers with no funds to pay for fuel, so their plants slow or shut down entirely. As a political issue, electricity has galvanized the Pakistani public — more so, even, than Islamist militancy. Mr. Sharif swept to victory in the May 11 election in part on the appeal of slogans promising to deliver a “shining Pakistan” and to “end the darkness.” Analysts say the question is whether Mr. Sharif has the political backbone to make the tough decisions needed to change the system, particularly as some of his own supporters, along with other rich and powerful Pakistanis, are among the bill defaulters who need to start paying their fair share. “This is not like finding a cure for cancer — people know what needs to be done,” said Robert M. Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., who has written a book on Pakistan’s electricity crisis. “The problem is implementation, and finding the political will.” The crisis has hit hardest in Mr. Sharif’s home province, Punjab. In Kharian, a Punjabi town along the historic Grand Trunk Road, Malik Mazhar Iqbal Awan, a businessman, fanned himself with a newspaper as beads of sweat rolled down his forehead. Mr. Awan owns a small marble factory. In the yard outside, a handful of workers sat quietly beside a cutting machine, waiting for the power to return. Just four years ago, Mr. Awan said, he employed 25 people. Now he has just six. “I can’t pay their salaries,” he said, wiping away dust that had blown in through an open window. “How can I if we can only work a few hours every day?” Mr. Awan said he had voted for Mr. Sharif, a former steel baron, because he was “110 percent sure” the candidate could turn the electricity situation around. “He’s an industrialist,” he said. “He thinks differently than the others.” Although easing the $5 billion “circular debt” is the principal problem, experts say money is only part of the solution. Deep-rooted structural issues, exacerbated by political interference and systemic graft, lie at the heart of Pakistan’s power crisis. Electricity theft, by rich and poor, is common. Slum dwellers steal power through illegal connections; powerful politicians and government departments simply refuse to pay their bills. Electricity officials and the police, fearing retribution, dare not cut them off. Corruption is notorious in the private power sector, where political supporters win lucrative contracts, often at inflated costs or without even producing a megawatt of power. In 2011 the auditor general noted that the government had committed to $1.7 billion in such contracts, yet added just 62 megawatts to the national power grid. One prominent candidate in this election — Raja Pervez Ashraf, the country’s last prime minister — has been closely identified with the power crisis. After he lost his parliamentary seat in a crushing defeat, officials with the national anticorruption body stepped in, summoning Mr. Ashraf last week to answer accusations that he had taken kickbacks worth tens of millions of dollars from foreign companies on power projects. Even those supposed to be enforcing the law are breaking it. At one police station in Sindh Province, officers erected an illegal power connection for their air-conditioners. In other areas, electricity company officials are afraid to disconnect defaulters for fear of attack. About 20 percent of the electricity supply disappears across the country, and up to 33 percent in the worst-affected district, as a result of dilapidated transmission lines or outright theft, said Fariel Salahuddin, a power sector consultant. “The fastest way to improve things is to start collecting bills and come down hard on theft,” she said. “That’s easier said than done, though.” The crisis is exacting an economic toll equivalent to at least 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to economists — greater than the estimated economic cost of the Taliban insurgency. At the same time, government policy is a shambles. Decision-making is centered in the notoriously corrupt Energy Ministry; no major new power plant has been built for decades, and the existing ones are falling into disrepair. As a result, Pakistan relies heavily on expensive furnace oil imports. “There is complete disarray between all entities involved,” said a report on the power crisis that was commissioned by the National Planning Commission last March. In the short term, Mr. Sharif will seek to salve his power woes by trying to find foreign cash or fuel to get dormant power stations back on line. His officials have suggested that Saudi Arabia, a country that Mr. Sharif enjoys close relations with, could offer up to $15 billion worth of emergency oil supplies on favorable terms. But oil and money can provide only temporary relief, and Mr. Sharif may also seek other foreign assistance to tackle the structural problems — some in the face of opposition from the United States. Last week he asked the visiting Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, to provide Pakistan with help in building a civilian nuclear power plant. That was widely seen as an indirect rebuff to the United States, which offered similar help to Pakistan’s rival, India, in 2006 — a source of enduring resentment in Pakistan. Similarly, President Asif Ali Zardari signed a deal with Iran last year to run a gas pipeline across the border to Pakistan. But the project would run afoul of United Nations sanctions on Iran — penalties that were championed by Washington. The United States, for its part, has spent $225 million since 2009 in refurbishing Pakistan’s decrepit hydroelectric power plants, adding 900 megawatts to the national grid. American officials are also working with the government to improve revenue collection. But large-scale infrastructure projects, like new hydroelectric dams, take years to come to fruition. And international donors are reluctant to commit further funds without signs of strong reform from Pakistan’s political leadership. Pakistan’s leaders know they are running out of time. Other countries also face crippling electricity shortages, of course, in parts of the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa. But none of those nations possess nuclear weapons, or such a rapidly growing population as Pakistan, estimated at 180 million people. Population growth alone is adding 1,000 megawatts per year to the country’s electricity needs, said Mr. Hathaway of the Wilson Center. “We Americans also like to defer tough decisions,” he said, referring to contentious and expensive reforms in education and social welfare. “But Pakistanis are approaching a point where they no longer have that luxury.”

Obama urges "good times" at the Jersey Shore

Seven months after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New Jersey coastline, President Obama returned to the area on Tuesday to laud the ongoing recovery efforts there, and to give a little boost to the local economy by touting its "special character" and the potential "good times" in store. During his visit, Mr. Obama toured the coastline and patronized some local businesses - including a visit to an arcade, where Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., won the president a teddy bear wearing a Chicago Bears shirt in a game called Touchdown Fever. (Mr. Obama, who missed all five of his shots during the game, didn't fare as well as Christie, who was one for one.) In remarks at Asbury Park afterward, Mr. Obama urged Americans to "bring your family and friends, spend a little money on the Jersey Shore." "You'll find some of the friendliest folks on earth," he said, quipping that he could have seen himself "having some fun" on the Jersey Shore in his "younger" days. "Let's have some good times on the New Jersey Shore this summer." "The Jersey Shore is back, and it is open for business, and they want all Americans to know that they're ready to welcome you here," he said. Mr. Obama lauded the state's recovery efforts in the wake of Sandy, which ravaged the tri-state area last October, wreaking havoc on the state's coastal regions and forcing thousands of New York and New Jersey residents out of their homes. "You are stronger than the storm after all you've dealt with," he said. "You came together as citizens to rebuild and we're not done yet. And I want to make sure that everybody understands that... We're going to keep on going until we finish." In the weeks following the storm last fall, Mr. Obama worked with Govs. Christie; Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.; and Daniel Malloy, D-Conn., to secure federal emergency funds aimed at facilitating the recovery, and Mr. Obama made multiple appearances with New Jersey's Republican governor as the two met with victims and assessed the damage of the storm. At the time, Republicans lambasted Christie's multiple photo ops with and kind words for Mr. Obama just days before a tightly contested presidential election. Today, the two leaders reiterated their willingness to work together as they visited with families and business owners impacted by the storm, and surveyed the ongoing rebuilding efforts. "We all came together because New Jersey is more important and our citizens' lives are more important than any kind of politics at all," Christie said in remarks introducing the president. In the aftermath of last year's storm, Congress approved nearly $50 billion worth of recovery aid toward rebuilding the areas hit hardest by Sandy, and both Cuomo and Christie traveled to Washington late last year to help secure the funds. Still, seven months after the disaster struck, tens of thousands of people remain homeless in New Jersey and New York, according to the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that more than a third of the $303 million raised by the Red Cross in the wake of the storm remains unspent.

Two killed, 18 hurt in Peshawar blast

According to police, the blast occurred in Imamia Colony in Gulbahar area killing at least two persons and injuring 18 others. The terrorists used two to three kilograms of explosive material that was planted in a motorcycle. The injured were shifted to Lady Reading Hospital for medical treatment where three are stated to be in critical condition.

Anti-measles effort unsatisfactory: LHC

The Express Tribune
The Lahore High Court has instructed the Health Department to take urgent measures to quell the measles epidemic, which has claimed over a hundred lives in the province in the last six months. “The steps taken by the Health Department to control the disease are unsatisfactory … children are dying every day,” Justice Khalid Mahmood Khan said on Monday while hearing a petition against the government’s failure to control the measles outbreak. The LHC summoned the Health Department’s director general and other officials for the next hearing on May 29. The petitioner, Advocate Azhar Siddique, has submitted that the government should have taken measures to prevent the outbreak of measles. The ongoing epidemic, he said, was a glaring failure of state machinery. He asked the court to order a judicial inquiry looking into the causes of the deaths due to the disease. The counsel also asked the court to issue directions to the federal and provincial governments to take measures to stop the spread of the disease and to give a comprehensive report on the matter for the purpose of holding to account those responsible. He said that the governments should establish a permanent authority tasked with stopping epidemics, in view of the measles and dengue outbreaks.

Violence Against Journalists in Afghanistan Increasing

The rise of independent media in Afghanistan has been one of the country's biggest achievements - but there are troubling signs for its future. A growing number of attacks on journalists, and the international community's continued silence on the issue, are drawing concern. Naqibullah, a shopkeeper on so-called "electronic street" in Kabul, sells TVs and DVD players "Over the past 10 years under the Karzai government, I would say 85 percent of people are using TVs, DVDs, radio and other devices if they can access them. People are so interested in watching the news and other programs on TV," Naqibullah said. The country now boasts 75 TV channels, 175 radio stations, and hundreds of newspapers and magazines. Yet, behind the headlines lies another story. Since January there have been 36 cases of violence against journalists - a 40 percent increase over last year. Footage from Takhar province shows a police officer just after he smashed a journalist's car. The officer told a television cameraman he was acting on orders from the local chief of police - who for a year has been repeatedly accused of assaulting and threatening journalists. The abusive police chief was fired in May. Although journalists have criticized the dismissal as being a year late, Sadiq Siddiqi, the Interior Ministry's spokesman, says the government is very supportive of free media "...and we will support, fully support that, and that is the policy of the Afghan government, but unfortunately in some areas there are some individuals who do not understand that reality and that policy, and cannot implement that polic," Siddiqi said. The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, however, claims the government is the main perpetrator of violence against journalists. Committee spokesman Najib Sharifi says the international community's failure to speak out on the issue has given government officials the idea their behavior is acceptable. "A strong and adamant position from the international community about the concepts would create the perception in the mind of the Afghan government workers and non-state players who are usually behind the acts of violence against reporters - it creates the perception that the international community is serious about this issue," Sharifi said. In a country like Afghanistan, where victims of violence can be killed for telling their stories, so can the journalists who assist them. 1TV's show "Mask" seeks out women who have been abused and invites them on the show to tell their stories. Islamic scholars and clerics listen and respond to the victims' tales. "Mask" producer Sorosh Azami has been targeted twice by the families of the victims who appeared on the show. "Two weeks ago a husband beat his wife. Her hand and nose were broken so she called me for help, her husband went to jail and a divorce is in the process. I am supporting and handling this prosecution and the family issues. Who will support this woman if I don't? This is my job," Azami said. In an already tense reporting environment, and with presidential elections less than a year away, media rights groups fear the number of violent acts against journalists will only increase.

EU failure to renew arms embargo hurts Syria peace prospects - Russia

The failure of European Union to agree on a new arms embargo on Syria is undermining the peace process in the country, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said. "This does direct damage to the prospects for convening the international conference," he said. The statement comes after EU governments failed to agree on extending the arms embargo, effectively freeing their hands to supply the Syrian opposition with weapons. Ryabkov also said that Moscow and Washington remain undecided as to the content of a proposed international conference on Syria. "There remains a gap between the positions of Russia and the US regarding some issues and aspects of this major international crisis," he said. "And we, for our part, cannot agree to hold such events [as the international conference on Syria] amid a situation where partners and possible participants in such a conference seek to impose solutions on the Syrian people from outside, as well as predetermine the course of a transitional process, the parameters of which have not been determined yet," Ryabkov said.

Scars of militancy, floods, leave schools empty in Swat

Twelve-year-old Nida Khan stands gloomily outside her mud house in Saar village, Swat. She looks at a school van carrying kids to a private school that leaves her eyes brimming. Nida misses her own government school which was destroyed by militants in 2009. She doesn’t know if her school will ever open up again. The demolished government primary school looks more like an old ruin rather than a school located just 20 kilometres from Mingora. People cross the school property easily; it has no gate or walls, doors, or windows except for one single remaining wall dividing two classrooms. Nida was studying in thid grade along with 150 other girls. “I was near school on that day when terrorists destroyed the doors and windows of the school and banned female education in this school,” she says. Her father, Niaz Ali, says parents are concerned about the education their children are missing out on. “Due to the closure of the school in our village, our children are at home … While we have no money for food then how we can admit our children in private schools?” he asks. Like Nida, Zeba Ahmed was also a fourth grade student in this school in 2009. Zeba said that after the restoration of peace in the area, she took admission again for in the Shingrai government middle school which is eight kilometers away from her village. “After early morning prayers, I go to school and come back to home in the evening because the school is situated on the other side of the mountain,” she explains. Saeed Khan, a 10-year-old boy of Nijigram village in Swat also looks forward to school but has nowhere to go, because there are no teachers for his school. Many of the students were forced to quit education after the school was destroyed,” he says. Ajab Khan, a teacher in a primary school who belongs to Sakhra Village said that the primary school there was destroyed due to the floods in 2010. A total of 300 students were enrolled there at the time. “People who don’t have financial problems admitted their children in private schools of the city while the children of the remaining poor are working in the fields with their parents to earn some money to meet the expenses of daily life,” he added. Khan said that hundreds of students in villages in the Matta, Kabal, Bahrain and Charbagh tehsils are facing difficulties in continuing their education because of a delay in reconstruction of schools in their areas. “Some of them are attending their classes in the grounds of these destroyed schools which creates more difficulties for them during the rainy season,” he explains. According to Muhammad Habib, the head of the psychiatry department at Islamic International Medical College, Rawalpindi says that the children who are unable to join their often suffer from depression as a result. Professor Dr. Anis Ahmed, the Vice Chancellor at Riphah International University adds, “If a male reads, it is as if an individual reads but when a woman studies, it is as if a country reads,” highlighting the important of the resumption of female education. Former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak said that after the extended unrest and violence, the literacy rate in Swat is 26 percent, although it stood at 80 percent before 2005 in Swat valley. The major reasons for the decrease in the literacy rate were militancy, destruction of schools, the migration of around 1.2 million people during the militancy period and the flood of 2010, he explains. Swat District Education Officer Dilshad Begum said that around 404 schools were damaged during conflict in Swat, including 217 schools for girls and 187 schools of boys. “Out of 404 destroyed schools, 174 schools destroyed completely while 230 schools damage partially,” she added. Dilshad Begum said that the former provincial government of KP reconstructed around 350 schools in the district with the help of the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PaRRSA), Qatar Charity, the UAE government, the EU and USAID but around 52 schools including 33 girls’ primary schools are still closed in different areas of Swat which were destroyed due either due to militancy or the flood of 2010. “These destroyed schools are situated in Tehsil Matta, Kabal, Bahrain and Charbagh areas of district Swat,” she says. Taliban militants headed by Maulana Fazlullah started anti-state activities in the district while security forces started an operation against them in 2009. Although the government managed to restore peace in Swat by December 2009, militants targeted 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai on October 9, 2012 who penned a series of articles for the BBC, describing life for a girl in Taliban-controlled Swat, where she was forced to sit at home, unable to attend school. Two others students named Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were also injured along with Malala in the terrorist attack although both have now returned to school. Former Federal Minister and PML-N leader Ameer Muqam said that his government will focus on the reconstruction of the destroyed schools in Swat. “I visit different areas of my district to take the review of the destroyed schools and I will provide a detailed briefing to my leadership for the reconstruction of these schools on a priority basis,” he says. In the meanwhile, Nida waits for the day she can go back to school. “I keep my school uniform so that one day I will go to my school again along with my friends,” she says.

Gunmen kill anti-polio worker in Peshawar

Unknown gunmen on Tuesday shot dead a woman and injured another in Badaber area of Peshawar. According to reports, both the women were polio vaccination workers. Police rushed to the spot and cordoned off the area. Identities of the deceased were yet to be ascertained. Taliban militants have long been targeting polio immunization workers in the country.