Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Turkey trade unions join anti-government protests

Trade unions in Turkey have joined demonstrators who are calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down. On Wednesday, labor unions started a protest rally from Istanbul’s Sisli neighborhood towards the city’s iconic Taksim Square. Since Friday, tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrations have been held in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Mugla, Antalya, and many other cities and towns. The unrest in Turkey began after police broke up a sit-in which was held in Taksim Square on May 31 in protest against the planned demolition of Gezi Park. The protesters said Gezi Park, which is a traditional gathering point for rallies and demonstrations as well as a popular tourist destination, is Istanbul's last public green space. Two major trade union confederations went on a two-day strike from Tuesday. The strike, which involves 600,000 union members, is a major public support for the protesters who are standing their ground despite police harsh crackdown. At least four people have been killed and more than a thousand injured since the beginning of anti-government protests in Turkey. Authorities say over 2,000 people have been also detained.

U.S: '' Rice to Replace Donilon as Top Foreign Policy Aide to Obama ''

In a major shakeup of President Obama’s foreign-policy inner circle, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, is resigning and will be replaced by Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, White House officials said on Tuesday. The appointment, which Mr. Obama plans to make on Wednesday afternoon, puts Ms. Rice, 48, an outspoken diplomat and a close political ally, at the heart of the administration’s foreign-policy apparatus. It is also a defiant gesture to Republicans who harshly criticized Ms. Rice for presenting an erroneous account of the deadly attacks on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. The post of national security adviser, while powerful, does not require Senate confirmation. Mr. Obama also plans to nominate Samantha Power, a National Security Council official, as Ms. Rice’s replacement at the United Nations on Wednesday. Ms. Power, who has written extensively about genocide, is closely allied with Ms. Rice on human rights issues. A central member of Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy team since he first took office, Mr. Donilon, 58, has exerted sweeping influence, mostly behind the scenes, on issues from counterterrorism to the reorientation of America to Asia from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among his last big projects was negotiating the highly unusual informal meeting between Mr. Obama and President Xi Jinping of China on Friday at an estate in Southern California. Mr. Donilon, just back from talks in Beijing, clearly took pride of ownership. “I don’t know when there was a broad meeting like this,” he said in an interview. “For the last 40 years or so, these conversations have taken place in a more formal, scripted context.” But Mr. Donilon has also hit a rough patch recently, with the publication of an unflattering profile in Foreign Policy magazine that cast him as a sharp-elbowed infighter and a domineering boss, who had strained relationships with colleagues, including his former deputy, Denis R. McDonough, now the White House chief of staff. Mr. Donilon and Mr. McDonough, however, both denied those reports, with Mr. McDonough saying he had a “very good relationship with Tom.” He added, “It pains me to think anybody would think he’s leaving because of me.” Mr. Donilon, whose departure is effective early July, said he had planned to leave after Mr. Obama’s first term but stayed on at the president’s request to break in a new team led by Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John O. Brennan. He pointed to the unusual harmony among Cabinet heavyweights like former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and chalked up reports of unhappy subordinates to the relentless grind of working in the White House. “I cherish my staff,” he said. “They are a national treasure.” Mr. McDonough said Mr. Donilon’s greatest policy legacy would be his role in engineering the pivot to Asia. In a statement, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., said, “I’ve worked with eight different administrations and even more national security advisers, and I’ve never met anyone with more talent and with greater strategic judgment.” The president recently nominated Mr. Donilon’s wife, Cathy Russell, a former chief of staff to Jill Biden, as the State Department’s ambassador at large for global women’s issues – a job that will impose heavy work and travel demands of its own on a family that has seen little of Mr. Donilon since 2009. The Donilons have two children, aged 14 and 16. For Ms. Rice, the appointment amounts to redemption after she withdrew from consideration as secretary of state because Republicans threatened to block her nomination over Benghazi. Mr. Obama steadfastly defended Ms. Rice, and after he nominated John Kerry instead of her, White House officials said she became the front-runner to succeed Mr. Donilon, who has been in the job since October 2010 and had been the principal deputy before that. A Rhodes Scholar who holds a doctorate in international affairs from Oxford University, Ms. Rice began her government career on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, later serving as senior director for African affairs from 1995 to 1997. A foreign policy adviser to then-Senator Obama during his 2008 campaign, Ms. Rice was viewed as a potential national security adviser in his first term. Mr. Obama instead sent her to the United Nations and chose Gen. James L. Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant. At the United Nations, Ms. Rice earned good reviews for lining up balky members behind sanctions on North Korea and Iran. After Mr. Obama’s re-election, she was seen as a prime candidate to replace Mrs. Clinton. But that was before she appeared on television to discuss the attack in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Ms. Rice, using talking points drafted by the C.I.A., said the assault appeared to be a protest gone awry rather than a premeditated terrorist attack. That proved incorrect, and though Ms. Rice cautioned that the account could change with further intelligence, Republicans accused her of sanitizing the truth for political reasons. After withdrawing her name as secretary of state, Ms. Rice returned to the United Nations, where she kept a low profile, immersing herself in issues involving countries like Syria and North Korea. But she has retained the confidence of the White House, playing an influential role in internal debates over questions like whether to arm the rebels in Syria. “When she speaks,” Mr. Biden said last month, “no one wonders whether or not she is speaking for the president.” Unlike Mr. Donilon, Ms. Rice is known for her outspoken views on human rights and other issues. She advocated the NATO-led military intervention in Libya, for example. That raises a question of how she will approach the job of national security adviser, which has traditionally functioned as a broker among competing agencies. Mr. Donilon has said his model was Brent Scowcroft, the influential adviser to President George H.W. Bush. A tireless student of the bureaucratic process, Mr. Donilon favors exhaustive preparation over seat-of-the-pants advice. He prided himself on delivering a daily briefing to Mr. Obama more than 800 times – scheduling overseas trips on weekends to avoid missing that ritual. In the last year, with Republicans accusing him of being responsible for national security leaks – which the White House has denied – Mr. Donilon has steered clear of reporters. Critics have faulted Mr. Donilon, whose background is in Democratic Party politics, for not functioning as a strategic adviser to Mr. Obama. But Mr. Donilon oversaw risky operations like the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden and took on delicate tasks like managing relations with Pakistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China. With the new focus on Asia, a revived trade agenda and a narrower American approach to fighting terrorists, he said, “We really have changed the strategic posture of the U.S. in the world.”

Protesters are young, libertarian and furious at Turkish PM, says survey

A majority of the Taksim Gezi Park protesters do not feel close to any political party and have said the prime minister’s authoritarian attitude caused the ongoing protests across the country, according to a recent online survey conducted among the protesters. Seventy percent of the protesters said they did not feel close to any political party, while only 15.3 percent said they felt close to a political party, according to a recent online survey conducted by Esra Ercan Bilgiç and Zehra Kafkaslı, two academics from Istanbul Bilgi University between June 3 and 4. Only 7 percent of the respondents said the political party they were a member of influenced them in joining the protests. However, the prime minister’s authoritarian attitude was influential for 92.4 percent of respondents attending the protests, while 91.3 of respondents said the police’s disproportionate use of force was influential. A large majority of respondents, 91.1 percent, said the violation of democratic rights influenced them to attend the protests. The silence of media on the demonstration influenced 84.2 percent of the respondents to attend the protests. More than half of the respondents, 56.2 percent, said the cutting of trees in Taksim Gezi Park was influential in their participation in the demonstrations. What do Turkish protesters want? A majority of the protesters demanded respect of liberties and an end to police violence while rejecting a military coup against the government. The rate of those who demanded “an end to police violence” was 96.7 percent, while 96.1 percent demanded “respect of liberties from now on.” Only 37 percent demanded a new political party be established. A total of 79.5 percent of respondents said they did not want a military coup to intervene in Parliament, while 6.6 percent of respondents demanded a military coup. Who are Taksim Gezi protesters? A majority of the protesters defined themselves as libertarian and did not vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to the survey. A majority of the protesters who completed the survey, 81.2 percent, defined themselves as “libertarian.” A total of 64.5 percent of the respondents defined themselves as “secular.” Those who did not define themselves as “conservative” totaled 75 percent, while those who did not “vote for the AKP” made 92.1 percent. More than half of the respondents denied being apolitical. Out of 3,000 respondents, 75.8 percent said they had joined the recent protests in Turkey by going out to the streets. Many people made noise from their balconies by hitting pots or turning off and on their lights in the evenings to support the protests across the country, which started in Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square to stop a shopping mall project that was to replace Gezi Park there. Among the respondents, 63.6 percent were between the ages of 19 and 30. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had previously said the Gezi Park project triggered the protests but later the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and some extremists intervened on the ground to motivate the demonstrations.

Turkey Urban Protesters Blame Erdogan for Narrowing Freedoms
After his landslide re-election in 2007, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to govern on behalf of all Turks, not just those who voted for him. Underlying the past week’s unrest is a belief among some Turks that he hasn’t kept that promise. Asked why they’re joining the crowds that have gathered in Istanbul and Ankara every day since May 31, many cite what they say is a threat to their freedoms from an Islamist-rooted government increasingly unwilling to countenance dissent. Erdogan, who has blamed “extremists” for the spread of protests, has introduced curbs on alcohol, objected to popular television programs and said he hopes to preside over a “pious generation” of young people. “The government is trying to impose restrictions on my social life, it is trying to annihilate me,” said Hakan Badik, a 21-year-old musician, in the morning of June 2 as he gazed around Taksim Square in the center of Istanbul where the protests began, now blocked to traffic by barricades the protesters erected. “I don’t feel myself safe or free outside this area.” Erdogan has won successive elections, with a growing share of the vote, by campaigning as a leader who has expanded freedoms in Turkey, as well as delivering economic growth. He points to majority support for an easing of restrictions on Islamic practices, such as wearing the headscarf, that were imposed by past governments, often under the tutelage of a secular army whose powers have also been clipped. Holding Hands Without opposing the relaxation of curbs on religion, some protesters say it has translated into a restriction of their own freedoms. Gizem Oray, 21, was among a crowd of students dodging tear gas and water cannons fired by police in Ankara on June 3. She described how two weeks earlier, a roommate and her boyfriend were attacked by a group of men wearing Islamic dress for holding hands on the street. “These guys would never have dared to do this, in the heart of the capital, a few years ago,” she said. “This government is responsible, there’s no other explanation.” The wave of protests against Erdogan and his government began when police used tear gas and water cannons to clear a small group of demonstrators out of a park near Taksim, where they were opposing redevelopment plans. It has spread to more than 60 cities, leaving hundreds of police and protesters injured. Clashes continued overnight, including in the southeastern provinces of Tunceli and Elazig, after a fifth day of protests yesterday. ‘Different Choices’ At least two people have died at rallies, one hit by a car in Istanbul. The circumstances of the other death, in Hatay province near the Syrian border, are under investigation, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said yesterday. In the western city of Izmir, a stronghold of the secular opposition, police have been ordered to arrest 38 people for spreading false information about the protests, and 25 have already been detained, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. Erdogan had earlier blamed posts on Twitter for fueling the unrest. Speaking from an Ankara balcony on election night in July 2007, Erdogan said he would govern on behalf of those who voted against him, too, because “their concerns are our concerns. We see different choices as an extension of democracy.” Arinc, seeking to calm the protests, echoed that language. He apologized to the victims of excessive police violence at the start of the unrest, and said the government respects different lifestyles and is open to demands from all sides when they’re expressed peacefully.

Erdogan's aim: Suffocating the right to protest in Turkey

When only pro-Erdogan demonstrations are given official backing and dissenters are greeted by tear gas – then there's no meaning to the right to protest in Turkey.
Despite the initial Turkish media blackout of events on the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Izmit, Adana, Bursa and other major Turkish cities, social media and the international press have been flooded by shocking images of heavy-handed police tactics against Turkish activists voicing their right to protest. A peaceful demonstration against government sponsored urban development of a central Istanbul park, one of the last green spaces left in the urban sprawl of central Istanbul, has been met, day after day, with volleys of tear gas and water cannon. According to a non-governmental doctors' association, over 1,000 were injured from last Friday’s protest alone. The police's aggression helped morph the protest into a much larger public expression against draconian police tactics and the authoritarian nature of the government. This is not the first time Turkish police have used disproportionate force against peaceful demonstrations. Just one month ago, the police indiscriminately volleyed tear gas to disperse a May Day rally, injuring both protesters and passers-by. In December 2012, students from Ankara’s prestigious Middle East Technical University (METU), who were protesting a visit by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, and his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) higher education privatization policies, were subjected to arrests, tear gas and jail threats. One student was hit in the head by a gas canister fired directly at students. In October 2012 pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon were also used to prevent Turks from celebrating Republic Day, marking the 89th anniversary of the founding of the modern Turkish state. Throughout 2011 and 2012, when the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (KDP) led demonstrations demanding greater Kurdish rights long repressed throughout Turkey’s history, police again reacted with overwhelming force. Over 300 protesters were injured and more than 3,500 arrests were made. During the same period, 1,700 Turkish citizens held a hunger strike calling for better conditions for Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Protesters were given no open space to demonstrate their support, and the ailing conditions of the activists failed to strike a sympathetic chord among the AKP. All of the above protests were either prevented or brutally suppressed by the police; by no accident, all these protests ran counter to the agenda or policies of Erdogan's ruling AKP. However, not all protests in Turkey are subject to such harsh police crackdowns. Demonstrations in favour of Erdogan and the AKP are not only sanctioned, but are supported, encouraged and even given direct logistical assistance. In January 2009, Erdogan stormed off the stage at the Davos World Economic Forum after an angry exchange with Israeli president Shimon Peres. Thousands of people turned out for a pro- Erdogan demonstration at Istanbul airport to greet the returning Prime Minister.The Istanbul municipality, controlled by Erdogan’s party, arranged special free journeys on public transport for pro-government protesters to get to the show of support. The municipality also distributed Palestinian flags and other relevant provisions. It is also worth noting the case of the protests after the Mavi Marmara incident where nine pro-Palestinian activists of Turkish origin were killed by Israeli commandos. Tens of thousands of Turks held rallies in several Turkish cities shouting both anti-Israeli and pro-government slogans. Some protesters even tried to attack the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul and its embassy in Ankara. No tear gas was fired, nor did the police use water canon to disperse the protesters. Instead the activists were supplied with flags and banners by municipalities or NGOs affiliated with the AKP. In February 2012, tens of thousands of people staged a protest rally close to Taksim Square, the epicentre of the current demonstrations. However, this demonstration commemorated the 20th anniversary of the killing of 600 Azeri civilians by Armenians during the Ngorno-Karabakh conflict. Militant anti-Armenian slogans were shouted as well as threats of violence such as, “You are all Armenians, you are all bastards”. However, then-interior minister Idris Naim Sahin from the AKP joined the rally and delivered a supportive speech. No tear gas, no water cannon, no injuries. Protests in Turkey are not always met by violent police action, but that is of course only if they are in favour of Erdogan or his party's agenda. As Erdogan recently commented, “If it comes down to making a meeting, if you gather 100,000 people, I can gather a million”. Indeed, that's because pro-AKP protests receive support, encouragement and are not suppressed by the government or its institutions. Such a selective right to protest is not a right at all.
Emre Caliskan is a London based freelance journalist writing on Turkey and Middle East Affairs. Simon A. Waldman is a lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at King's College London.

Turkey protesters demand dismissal of police chiefs

Activists in Turkey have demanded the sacking of police chiefs in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities over their forces' violent responses to protests. They also rejected an apology by Deputy PM Bulent Arinc, saying his remarks "were reminiscent of a civil war". A group calling itself the Taksim Solidarity Platform (TSP) said it had handed a list of demands to Mr Arinc. The crackdown on protests over the redevelopment of a park in Istanbul last week triggered nationwide unrest. Overnight, police in Istanbul again fired tear gas, water cannon and smoke grenades at protesters. The demands presented by the Taksim Solidarity Platform on Wednesday included a ban on the use of tear gas, the release of detained protesters, and the scrapping of the plans for the redevelopment of Gezi Park, which is part of Istanbul's Taksim Square. "The steps the government takes will shape the events," the TSP said after their meeting with Mr Arinc on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the deputy prime minister apologised to demonstrators who had been injured. He said the original protests had been "just and legitimate" and that the "excessive use of force" by police had been wrong. Officials have confirmed that two people have been killed in the unrest. One man died after being shot by an unidentified gunman in the southern city of Antakya. Another died after being hit by a car that ploughed into a crowd in Istanbul.

Turkish media criticized for ignoring protests and police brutality

Turkish media outlets have been slammed for their coverage of the ongoing protests in the country. As water cannons and tear gas were unleashed on thousands of protesters, injuring scores, local media chose to air a documentary on penguins. As the unrest unfolded on Friday and Saturday, Turkish media did not cover the violent police clashes, instead broadcasting nature and history documentaries, and cooking shows. “We are watching the news from CNN International: Protesters, tear gas, and police hitting people. Then we checked CNN Turkey and there was a penguin documentary. So, I can't comment!” TV talk show host and producer Ozgur Cakit told RT. Other networks briefly mentioned the protests, but failed to cover the violent clashes in which scores were injured. Angered and outraged locals turned to the Internet to share information and vent frustration – Twitter and Facebook were one of the few ways to read news on the latest developments. In response, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned social media’s role in the riots, singling out what he called the “scourge” of Twitter. “There is now a menace which is called Twitter," Erdogan said on Sunday, dismissing the protests as organized by extreme elements. "The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society." It was through Twitter that activists spread the word to gather in support of the demonstrations, until the issue could no longer be ignored. Local channels then had to play catch-up, trying to make up for lost airtime. The media’s initial inaction has angered many in Turkey, RT’s Irina Galushko reported from Istanbul. Demonstrators lashed out against local media, gathering outside the offices of private TV stations NTV and HaberTurk on Sunday and Monday. In Istanbul’s Taksim district, protesters smashed an NTV satellite van, destroyed its equipment and covered it with graffiti. Many in Turkey believe strongly that there is a responsibility that comes with being a news provider, and that Turkish media have failed in that responsibility. “We only have one channel that shows everything in this country, it’s really sad, that we cannot see anything. For example, my mother – she lives in the village – if I don't call her, she won't know anything,” fashion student Ata told RT. Others said that local media likely shied away from coverage that would have angered Erdogan’s government. “[Media] does not broadcast because of the pressure of the prime minister. It's unfair that we have to find out about it [protests] from the international TV channels,” sociology student Alev shared with RT. On Tuesday, Turkey arrested and charged 24 bloggers for using social media to “instigate public hatred and animosity,” and issued 14 other warrants, Turkish media reported. Turkish business conglomerate Dogus – which owns NTV, as well as other interests such as finance –apologized for its failure to cover the beginning of the protests: "Our audience feels like they were betrayed," NTV quoted Dogus CEO Cem Aydin as saying on Tuesday. Aydin added that the public criticism of the station was "fair to a large extent… Our professional responsibility is to report everything as in the way it happens. The pursuit of balance within the imbalanced environment affected us as it did the other media outlets." Customers of the conglomerate lashed out by targeting Dogus-owned banks, closing around 1,500 debit and credit card accounts in protest.

Who will stand for Ahmadis in Pakistan?

Daily Times
Husain Nadim
The use of anti-Ahmadi rhetoric by political parties raises a serious question: Is there anyone who will ever stand up for their rights?
“It’s almost laughable. You first forcefully declare us a minority, then you promise to protect minority rights, and when you fail, you conveniently say sorry,” an Ahmadi that I interviewed recently for my elections research laughed at the contradiction and hopelessness in Pakistan. Behind his laugh, I could sense the pain and fear that has engulfed the minorities, especially the Ahmadis, in Pakistan. While the cities and media is buzzing with the slogans of ‘Roshan’ (bright) and ‘Naya’ (new) Pakistan, Ahmadis have been ambushed by political parties in their struggle for electoral seats. Politicians have gone the distance to prove themselves good Muslims, the criterion of which in Pakistan is to believe in One God and the Prophet (PBUH), and to also consider Ahmadis as ‘kafir’ (infidel). Political compulsion it might be for most of them, but for Ahmadis it is a sad reality check of the diminishing space to breathe in society. “How will these politicians take a stand for anything when they can’t take a principled stand for the weak in society,” an Ahmadi showed his distaste for the recent fiasco between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) on the Ahmadi issue that got viral on the social media. Ahmadis are scared that using their sect as a political tool for votes will lead the youth and the nation into hyper-radicalisation, and Ahmadis will become the natural target of frustration. “You know that the German Jews couldn’t have predicted the coming of the Holocaust. It began with years of systematic social isolation, hatred, and conspiracies against them, and then Hitler came, and we saw what happened. I see Pakistan heading towards that for us.” As unbelievable as this statement from one of the Ahmadis who participated in WWII on the side of the Allies appears, in the past few months, while the nation had been busy with elections, Ahmadis are being silently targeted, not only by religious extremists, but by government itself in all the major cities, especially in Lahore under the interim setup of Chief Minister Najam Sethi. However, none of the atrocities are being reported as ‘breaking news’ on the mainstream media outlets. “In the past two weeks our mosques have been raided by the police, our publication shops turned into a mess, and we have been barred and threatened by the police not to have any of our literature at our home, nor have any religious meetings in our centres.” An Ahmadi in a position of authority who requested anonymity explained in frustration: “They have even told us that they have the list of all addresses of Ahmadis, and they will raid houses to confiscate any literature,” which gave a glimpse of the Nazi-era style of discrimination against the Jews. “We are being systematically forced to leave this country, this land. More than Ahmadi, I’m a Punjabi and my family has lived on this land for centuries, and today I don’t have an option but to leave.” Tears rolled out of this old man, whose father was a wealthy businessman at the time of partition and sold all his possessions to give funds to the Pakistan Muslim League. Today, he is being forced out of the land of his forefathers. The discrimination does not stop here, as another tragic event took place a week before the elections in Gulshan-e-Ravi, Lahore, where the police raided an Ahmadi centre and arrested the people who were offering their prayers. On top of charging them under the Hudood law of ‘imitating Muslim practices’, the men arrested were also accused of conspiring against the state and for terrorism. The arrested persons included an 83-year-old man, and a few minors. During the court proceedings, the High Court dismissed the case, calling it a politically motivated attempt by people in the area, but in a matter of hours, after severe pressure from right wingers, the judge refused to give bail to the detainees. According to the lawyer who is defending the Ahmadis, “No judge is willing to take a stand for Ahmadis against these right wing mullahs,” who threaten the judges and get their way. One is forced to ask this simple question: on whose authority is all this being done, and why is the government so hopeless against these right wingers? Is it also equally involved? I asked an Ahmadi for his opinion on this question to which he responded, “We are political suicide for any politician in Pakistan. Even a dictator like Musharraf who genuinely felt the pain for us, and during whose tenure, in spite of whatever was happening in Pakistan, minorities were protected and discriminated against less, could not reverse the constitutional discrimination against us. He had to bow down to the religious fanatics at last, the same way Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gave in back in the 1970s.” When it comes to Ahmadis it is not just the illiterate class that hates and discriminates the community, even the educated and the affluent have little sympathy. While these elections might prove to be a positive tide for Pakistan, the use of anti-Ahmadi rhetoric by political parties raises a serious question, and a concern for millions of Ahmadis who live in Pakistan. Is there anyone who will ever stand up for their rights?

Pakistan: Minority rights: No minor issues

The Express Tribune
Members of minority communities have pledged to pile up pressure on the upcoming government to promote religious freedom from the very onset. As the last few years saw risks to minorities reaching alarming proportions, it seems the minorities mean business when it comes to making sure their interests are guarded. Minorities’ representatives, both in the parliament and the provincial assemblies, want fresh legislation on religious freedom to protect the rights of an estimated nine million non-Muslims living in Pakistan. “We want to get the necessary bills passed from the Parliament soon,” said MNA Aasiya Nasir who is a Christian MNA from the platform of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F. Minorities want to stay away from the sensitive issues but will continue to struggle for their basic rights, she added. An important proposed bill seeking increase in minorities’ quota in assemblies has already been passed by the previous federal cabinet. An important proposed bill seeking registration of Hindus, the largest minority in Pakistan, is pending with the standing committee concerned since 2011. The Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) should also pass its recommendations pertaining to the laws which may assure a better and safer life for vulnerable minorities, he added. At present, some 38 non-Muslims are representing minorities in the Parliament as well as in the provincial assemblies. Ten members are elected on NA reserved seats in the lower house of the Parliament and four are already representing the minorities in the Senate. Nine members are representing minorities in Sind Assembly, eight in Punjab Assembly and three each in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies. Only one MPA, Dr Mahesh Malani, won direct elections from PS-61, Tharparkar, Sindh. “Legislation on three major issues – forced marriages, forced conversion of religion and registration of Hindus marriages must be done in first Parliamentary year,” said Malani. Last year, minorities’ representatives succeeded in getting a bill passed from the federal cabinet which principally approved an increase in seats reserved for non-Muslims in the legislatures in proportion to their population. The proposed bill, however, could not be tabled to the parliament due to some unknown reasons. “We will table this bill to the National Assembly this year,” said MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar who admitted differences among minorities. “While it is true minorities are divided in Pakistan, we want protection of mosques, churches, gurdwaras and temples,” he added. MPA Ramesh Singh Arora, addressing the specific issues of Sikh community, said there is a sense of insecurity among Sikhs in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) due to the law and order situation. “Protection of Sikhs’ places of worship must be given priority under the new legislation,” Arora told The Express Tribune. Some 100 plus gurdwaras until now have been closed due to negligence of the ‘Auqaf’ Department in Punjab and KP, Arora, who is the first MPA in Punjab since separation of Pakistan, said. “I’ll urge the government to operationalise these worship places again.” MPA Arif Masi, talking about issues related to the Christian community, the second largest minority in Pakistan, said he also recalled several blasphemy cases registered against Christian community. “Representatives of minorities irrespective of their beliefs should stand united to address the issues they are facing,” he concluded.

Balochistan : Farewell Candid Governor

Editorial: The Baloch Hal
If Balochistan’s outgoing governor, Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, is given an option to choose between his two terms as the province’s chief minister and the stint as the governor to determine his legacy, he should definitely opt for the latter. As the governor of Balochistan during extremely troubled times, Mr. Magsi earned enough respect for his mature political approach, candor and a policy of non-interference in the affairs of the provincial government. Despite enjoying symbolic powers, he repeatedly reminded the Balochistan government, the Center and the Army that their policies and strategies in Balochistan were flawed and immediately needed complete review. After the incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (P.M.L-N) agreed to appoint a new governor in Balochistan who would belong to the Pashtunkhaw Milli Awami Party, Governor Magsi has submitted his resignation to President Asif Ali Zardari. Governor Magsi, who is known as an introvert, had resigned from his job even a few years ago but President Zardari had insisted that he should continue on the job. Ironically, Mr. Magsi had been appointed by former president General Pervez Musharraf as the representative of the federation in Quetta. There is certainly no hope for another extension of Mr. Magsi and now he has to go home. Mr. Magsi worked with two of Balochistan’s most incompetent and unpopular chief ministers, Jam Mohammad Yousaf (Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam) and Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani (Pakistan People’s Party). Yet, he tried his best to offer free advice to the two heads of the government. The past few years have seen deadly military operations, human rights abuses and sectarian killings in Balochistan but Governor Magsi surely cannot be blamed for these developments because the governor is not the chief executive of the province. In January this year, (former) Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf imposed the governor’s rule in Balochistan owing to the increasing attacks on Shia, Hazara population. During these two months, Mr. Magsi served as the province’s chief executive and he did a relatively good job in containing sectarian violence. He did not ask for more power or an extension in the governor’s rule which was very helpful in restoring civilian rule in the province. We know mere statements and talks do not make a good politician but if there is one thing for which Mr. Magsi will be remembered is his straightforwardness. He often publicly admitted that the Balochistan government comprised of corrupt and incompetent people. He admitted government’s failures. He was vocal in blaming the Pakistani military for carrying out a kill and dump policy in the province. In his views, the way forward to change the state of affairs in Balochistan was the participation of “good people” in politics so that “corrupt people like us’ are thrown out of the political system. No politician gives such blunt advice! Besides his political career, Mr. Magsi is also a powerful tribal chief of his Magsi Baloch tribe. We do not know for sure what he intends to do after leaving the Governor’s House. However, one does wish that men of his stature should not confine their intelligence, enormous political and administrative experience and vast wealth to only whining about the that-is-the-way-it-is type of system in Balochistan. He should play his role in changing the system at least at the societal level. In order to improve the living conditions of the people of Balochistan in general and the Magsi tribesmen in particular, Mr. Magsi should help in opening up the society in Balochistan. He can do so by establishing health and education centers in his native district and Quetta. Unfortunately, Balochistan does not have a tradition where retiring politicians spend their wealth on establishing centers of higher education. Someone has to take that big initiative for a brighter future of our coming generations. During his stint, Mr. Magsi left a clear guidelines for his successor: Governors should limit themselves to their constitutional authority and refrain from picking up fights with the chief minister. They should, at the same time, continue to provide necessary advice to the head of the provincial government. We sincerely hope that Balochistan’s next Baloch chief minister and Pashtun governor will set a remarkable precedence of cordial relations, mutual respect and limitless cooperation in the greater interest of the people of Balochistan. Lastly, it is actually for the people of Balochistan to decide whether or not they will ever miss Governor Magsi. We look at him as a good governor who worked with two horrible chief ministers. During his term, Mr. Magsi kept the Governor’s House apolitical yet opened his doors for all.

Pakistan seeks India's help in battle with polio
In a story printed in The Hindu, the head of Pakistan’s polio programme said that the country is taking assistance from India in its battle against the crippling disease. India has been polio free for two years, “but what hinders Pakistan in containing the dreaded virus is insurgency, violence and illiteracy,” said Aziz Memon, Pakistan National Polio Plus Committee Chairman in an interview on a visit to India Pakistan’s polio campaign suffered a major setback earlier this when a volunteer in the vaccination campaign was killed and her colleague wounded in a militant attack near Peshawar. The attack came soon after nation-wide polio campaign started on May 28. Given India’s success in eradicating polio, Mr. Memon said Pakistan is looking to use a similar approach in reaching out to its population. “We are taking lessons from India. Our teams visited Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to see the way they vaccinated children,” he said. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were once breeding grounds for the debilitating disease. After 741 polio cases surfaced in 2009, India started using bivalent vaccines (targeting Polio 1 and Polio 3 viruses) in its national vaccination programme from January 2010. This showed dramatic effects and India moved out of WHO’s list of endemic countries in 2011. “We picked many tips (from our visit). We learned how to involve hundreds of volunteers (involved in the campaign), how to handle the resource centre and how to immunise children at the transit check posts”, he said. India being polio free for the past two years, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are now the only three countries in the world where the highly infectious, crippling disease still remains endemic. Mr. Memon said that while Pakistan has been successful in vaccinating children, some areas remain out of reach for polio workers because of the threat of violence and various other factors. “The situation of our polio programme is good. One of the main reserves of polio is the Gadap Town slum area in Karachi. Now, it is very much in control there,” Mr. Memon said. Gadap Town , the largest slum of Karachi, which has concentration of migrant Pashtun speaking population of Khyber Pakhhtunkhwa has high incidents of polio, increasing the risk of the virus spreading. Mr. Memon said that the issue of insurgency and violence in certain areas was a “major setback” to the programme. “The area around Peshawar is another focus ... Insurgency and law and order are the problems there,” Mr. Memon said. Recently the Pakistani authorities suspended the four-day polio vaccination programme after an attack on a polio worker on May 28. Mr. Memon said that the tribal region of the northwest was problematic area with the Taliban’s rejection of the oral vaccination programme. While the Taliban in Afghanistan recently announced its support for polio vaccination, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continue to oppose it. “In Pakistan, Taliban leaders change every 30 miles. They are against polio vaccination,” he added. The TTP has banned polio vaccination alleging that the vaccination programme is a cover for espionage. “Working in that area (the northwest) is not so easy. There are many issues. Children are trapped there, though we have vaccinated some children with the army’s help,” Mr. Memon said. According to media reports, two children have been diagnosed with polio in the last 36 months in the North Waziristan area of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA). During the last polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan, some 1.83 million children missed polio drops across the country owing to various reasons, including security threats according to data collected by the World Hearth Organisation (WHO). About 763,714 children were missed in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa alone, 621,724 in other areas of FATA, including 260,000 from North and South Waziristan, and 396,925 in Balochistan. So for this, eight cases of polio have been recorded in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia funding fuels jihadist terror

The Vancouver Sun
The ultimate responsibility for recent atrocities like the Boston Marathon bombing and the butchering last week of an off-duty British soldier is very clear. It belongs to Saudi Arabia. Over more than two decades, Saudi Arabia has lavished around $100 billion or more on the worldwide promotion of the violent, intolerant and crudely puritanical Wahhabist sect of Islam that the ruling royal family espouses. The links of the Boston bombers and the London butchers to organizations following the Saudi royal family’s religious line are clear. One of the two London butchers, Nigerian-born Michael Adebolajo, was radicalized by the cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who headed the outlawed terrorist group Al-Muhajiroun. The group follows Wahhabist teachings and advocates unifying all Muslims, forcibly if necessary, under a single fundamentalist theocratic government. Similarly, the Boston bombers, Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, hailed from Russia’s southern predominantly Muslim province of Chechnya. Starting in the late 1980s, Saudi Arabia began dispatching Wahhabist clerics and radical preachers to Chechnya. The spread of Wahhabism sparked not only a separatist war against the Russians, but also a good deal of violence among Muslims. Wahhabism is now institutionalized in Chechnya and is particularly attractive to young men. There are similar strands leading back to Wahhabist indoctrination in the histories of very many of the known Muslim terrorists of the last 20 years. The founder of the sect, Muhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab, was an eighteenth century Muslim zealot allied to the Al-Saud clan who promoted an extreme version of Salafism. Salaf is the Arab word meaning pious ancestor and refers to those who attempt to emulate the pure Islamic life of the Prophet Muhammad and his generation of followers. But Wahhab and his modern disciples take this notion to extremes. The list of people whom Wahhabists should consider their enemies includes not only Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists, but also Shiite, Sufi and Sunni Muslims. And yet no western politicians seem prepared to accept the obvious. The chances of disaffected young men being drawn into the evil web of Wahhabist murderous extremism would be significantly decreased if the Saudi funding was blocked. The Saudis began exporting Wahhabism in the early 1970s when the country’s oil wealth began growing at an ever-increasing rate. The amount the Saudi royal family, both by government donations and the generosity of individual princes, now lavishes on Wahhabist schools, colleges, mosques, Islamic centres and the missionary work of fundamentalist imams around the world is extraordinary. In 2003, a United States Senate committee on terrorism heard testimony that in the previous 20 years Saudi Arabia had spent $87 billion on promoting Wahhabism worldwide. This included financing 210 Islamic centres, 1,500 mosques, 202 colleges and 2,000 madrassas (religious schools). Various estimates put the amount the Saudi government spends on these missionary institutions as up to $3 billion a year. This money smothers the voices of moderate Muslims and the poison flows into every Muslim community worldwide. Key figures in the September 2001 attacks on the United States were radicalized at mosques in Germany. Britain is now reckoned by some to be the worst breeding ground anywhere for violent Muslim fundamentalists Indian newspapers recently reported Saudi Arabia has a massive $35 billion program to build mosques and religious schools across South Asia, where there are major Muslim communities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the divided territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian police and Central Intelligence officers were quoted as saying their information came from American intelligence agencies. There are unconfirmed reports that Saudi Arabia and members of the royal family have donated millions of dollars to fund mosques and Islamic centres in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Quebec. The money, and the emphasis on Wahhabist teaching that comes with it, has caused sharp divisions among Canadian Muslims. Over the years, there have been repeated complaints to Saudi Arabia about its funding of radical indoctrination. But while there has been some toning down of the most inflammatory language in the Wahhabist texts the Saudi’s disperse, the overall message of the propaganda program has changed little. Where the Saudi government has retreated under pressure from Washington is in the direct funding of terrorist organizations. It is widely believed by western intelligence agencies that in the 1980s and 90s, the Saudi government had a deal with Wahhabist terrorist groups like al-Qaida that their fundraising would not be hindered so long as they only operated in foreign countries. However, after the terrorist attack on a residential compound for foreigners in Riyadh in May, 2003, the Saudi government began a crackdown on terrorism. But even though the Saudi government ended official support for groups like al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, private donations from Saudi Arabia still find their way to these and similar groups. But when all is said and done, curbing direct payments to terrorist groups is a small matter when so many billions of dollars continue to be directed at creating terrorists.