Monday, June 17, 2013

Obama and Putin at odds over Syria after cool exchange at G8 summit

Prospects of agreement between Moscow and Washington on how to end the war in Syria looked as remote as ever on Monday after a chilly bilateral meeting between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin ended with a stiff exchange of diplomatic pleasantries.
President Obama said the talks, on the fringes of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, had been "very useful", but both sides acknowledged disagreements over whether President Assad should step down and if rebel groups should receive arms from the west. President Putin agreed that Russia and the US would continue to push the warring parties in Syria to the negotiating table.
"Of course, our opinions do not coincide," said Putin. "But all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims, and to solve the situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the negotiations table in Geneva." Russia's failure to respond positively to US claims of chemical weapons use in Syria and its hostile response to Obama's plan to give military support to rebel groups means the two leaders remain deeply divided. Speaking after the meeting, Obama said: "With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence; securing chemical weapons and ensuring that they're neither used nor are they subject to proliferation; and that we want to try to resolve the issue through political means, if possible." It had been hoped the meeting might be an opportunity to "reset" deteriorating relations between Moscow and Washington, but the gulf of opinion on Syria, and Russian anger over recent US surveillance revelations, was followed by noticeably stiff body language between the two leaders. Both countries concluded the bilateral by issuing a joint statement reaffirming "their readiness to intensify bilateral cooperation based on the principles of mutual respect, equality, and genuine respect for each other's interests". They also announced plans for a cold war style hotline to deal with any outbreak of cyber attacks. It would "create a mechanism for information sharing in order to better protect critical information systems, we have established a communication channel and information sharing arrangements between our computer emergency response teams," said the joint statement. During an similarly icy press conference with David Cameron at Downing Street on Sunday night, Putin criticised US plans to give military support to the rebels. "You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras," said Putin. "Are these the people you want to support? Is it them who you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years." However, Britain and the US believe it is still possible to press Putin to agree to some joint principles on Syria and so open the way for a second peace conference in Geneva, possibly in July. "This is a potentially clarifying moment on Syria: a moment to search out whether there is common ground, and the basis for a political settlement," British officials said at the summit. Their Syrian plan includes improved humanitarian assistance and access within Syria; tackling jihadist extremism within the rebel movement; and an acknowledgment that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable – ideally coupled with agreement that these have been deployed by the Assad regime. The plan also proposes "day one planning" for a new Syrian regime and finally transition to a new government with executive authority. However, Putin has insisted that Assad is the legitimate leader of the Syrian regime, although he is likely to find himself isolated in that view at the G8. Some diplomatic sources were suggesting the seven other members of the G8 – including Germany, France, Japan, Italy and Canada – will put out their own communiqué today if the Russian leader refuses to acknowledge that Assad has to abandon leadership. The future of Assad was the single biggest stumbling block to an agreement at the initial Geneva peace conference held last year. In a sign of the tensions, the French president, François Hollande, criticised Russia for sending weapons to Assad's forces and considering deliveries of a sophisticated missile system. "How can we allow that Russia continues to deliver arms to the Assad regime when the opposition receives very few – and is being massacred?" he said. Assad warned that Europe will pay the price if it delivers arms to the rebels. "If the Europeans deliver weapons, the backyard of Europe will become terrorist, and Europe will pay the price for it," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Malala denounces cowardly Pakistan attack
MALALA Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education, has denounced an attack on a bus carrying female students in Quetta as "cowardly". At least 25 people were killed on Saturday when militants blew up the bus in the capital of restive Baluchistan province and then stormed a hospital where survivors had been taken for treatment. "This was a cowardly and desperate attempt to deny girls their right to education," Malala, 15, said in a statement on Monday. Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, the United Nations special envoy for global education, said it was the "bloodiest atrocity yet in escalating violence against female students". Malala was shot at point-blank range by a Taliban gunman as her school bus travelled through northwest Pakistan's Swat Valley on October 9 last year, in an attack that drew worldwide condemnation.She was flown to Britain for surgery on her head injuries and returned to school in Birmingham, central England, in March. Malala has become a global symbol of the campaign for the right of girls to an education and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

U.S. Supreme Court invalidates Arizona voter registration law

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona law that required people registering to vote in federal elections to show proof of citizenship, a victory for activists who say it discouraged Native Americans and Latinos from voting. In a 7-2 vote, the court said the voter registration provision of the 2004 state law, known as Proposition 200, was trumped by a federal law, the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. The state law was strongly opposed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (Maldef) and Indian tribes. They said it deterred legal voters who did not have the required paperwork from registering to vote. Nina Pareles, vice president of litigation at Maldef, said the ruling "sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law." The ruling will affect three other states - Georgia, Alabama and Kansas - that have similar laws, and prevent others that may have wanted to follow suit from enacting legislation along the same lines. Democrats say the measures, championed by Republicans, are intended to make it more difficult for certain voters who tend to vote Democratic to cast ballots. While issuing its ruling, the court made clear that Arizona could still have other ways to assert its argument that it should be allowed to ask for proof of citizenship. That would be the subject of separate litigation, it wrote. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who argued the state's case before the Supreme Court justices, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Federal law requires prospective voters to provide one of several possible forms of identification, such as a driver's license or a passport, but no proof of citizenship is needed. Would-be voters simply sign a statement saying they are citizens. SCALIA FOR THE MAJORITY In the Monday's majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said the state law was preempted by language in the federal statute saying that states must "accept and use" a federal registration form. The state law ordered officials to reject the form if there was no accompanying proof of citizenship. In outlining the limitations of the ruling, Scalia focused on the role of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a federal agency that oversees changes to state voter registration procedures. The commission rejected the Arizona plan, prompting several justices to ponder during oral arguments in April why the state did not file a lawsuit challenging the decision. Scalia said Arizona could still ask the commission to include a citizenship provision on the federal form in the future and could challenge the current form in separate litigation. "That alternative means of enforcing its constitutional power to determine voting qualifications remains open to Arizona here," he wrote. The two dissenters, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said in their separate opinions that states alone have the authority to decide voter qualifications. The case began when Arizona residents, civil rights groups and Indian tribes sued to challenge the state measure, which they said discriminated against otherwise eligible voters - among them members of more than a score of Native American tribes across the rugged desert state, some of whom struggle to meet additional requirements. Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico, has a reputation for passing tough anti-immigration laws that have brought it into conflict with the Obama administration. The case is Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-71.

Turkish police arrest 500 protesters

Turkish police have arrested 500 people during anti-government protests in the capital city of Ankara and Istanbul, amid calls for a nationwide strike, Press TV reports. The arrests were made on Sunday as part of a crackdown on protests that have gripped the country for some three weeks. Meanwhile, two of Turkey’s main trade unions have called a one-day nationwide strike in protest against police violence against anti-government demonstrators. Union confederations DISK and KESK have stated that they will go on strike on Monday in protest at a police raid on a protest camp in Istanbul’s iconic Gezi Park. The unions represent hundreds of thousands of workers and the stoppage is likely to affect schools, hospitals and public offices across the country. Three other groups representing doctors, engineers and dentists said they will also join the action. On Sunday, Turkish police once again fired tear gas canisters and used pepper spray and water cannons to disperse crowds of protesters trying to converge on Taksim Square. On the same day, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was his “duty” to order the police to evict protesters staying at the park. On June 15, police attacked anti-government protesters at Taksim, shortly after Erdogan ordered the demonstrators to evacuate the area. The unrest in Turkey erupted after police broke up a sit-in staged at Taksim Square on May 31 to protest against a government plan for the redevelopment of Gezi Park. The Turkish prime minister has faced international condemnation for his handling of the unrest. Turkish police have also been strongly criticized for using excessive force against the peaceful protests. Five people, including a police officer, have reportedly died in the clashes and more than 5,000 protesters and 600 police officers have been wounded.

Formidable threat: Lashkar-i-Jhangvi in Balochistan

AS Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, that claimed responsibility for the horrific violence in Quetta on Saturay, strikes again and again in Balochistan, there may be a temptation to regard it as an out-of-control problem in an out-of-control backwater. But LJ is part of a continuum of militancy and extremism that has a long history and an ever more threatening future — a threat to all of Pakistan, not just particular regions. The history of LJ itself underlines the complexity of the threat from militancy today: what began as an anti-Shia agenda and targeted killings has morphed into an expansive list of targets, some seemingly picked at random and without much concern about whether women or children are direct victims. There is the LJ in Balochistan, which is alleged to have developed links with the Baloch separatists. There is the LJ in the tribal areas, which has long-standing ties to Al Qaeda and now the TTP. There is the LJ in Punjab, which continues to grow and develop its network inside the umbrella Punjabi Taliban. Taken together, they pose a formidable threat across the country, not just Balochistan. And LJ is only one aspect of a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted militancy threat. The pervasiveness of the threat does not, however, mean that a modular, regional approach to countering it cannot be implemented. In Balochistan, LJ’s rise is intrinsically linked to a security policy that is controlled and directed by the army-led security establishment. The space for non-state actors’ singular obsession with crushing the Baloch insurgency through violence meant that other non-state actors were able to take advantage of the state’s focus elsewhere. Even worse, there are allegations that the obsession with crushing the Baloch insurgency also led to encouraging pro-state Baloch militants who have their own agendas, including developing ties with LJ. The Baloch separatists remain a problem — the shocking destruction in Ziarat on Saturday is evidence enough — but state policy is an even bigger one. Where a political problem — the Baloch insurgency — is being dealt with by brute force, the problem that does require an iron fist — LJ — is being left largely unaddressed. Both policies, extreme action against Baloch separatists and extreme inaction against LJ, must change and for that a reckoning with army-led security policy is needed first. Beyond Balochistan and LJ, the bigger picture is almost as bleak. The transition to democracy may appear on track but the politicians have so far made no effort to reach for the holy grail: national security and foreign policy. The euphemistically termed non-state actors cannot and must not be elements of this country’s national security and foreign policy because they are the single greatest threat to Pakistan’s security and relations with the world. Will the army listen?

Germany's Merkel 'appalled' by Turkey's response to protests
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she was shocked at Turkey's tough response to anti-government protests but she stopped short of demanding that the European Union call off accession talks with the candidate country. "I'm appalled, like many others," Merkel said of Turkey's handling of two weeks of unrest that began over a redevelopment project in an Istanbul park but has grown into broader protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government. "I would like to see those who have criticism, who have a different opinion and a different idea of society, having some space in a Turkey that moves into the 21st century," Merkel told German broadcaster RTL. Asked whether Ankara's response to the protests was in line with the way an EU accession candidate should act, Merkel said: "What's happening in Turkey at the moment is not in line with our idea of the freedom to demonstrate or freedom of speech. "They are terrible images. ... I can only hope that the problems will be solved peacefully," she said in the German TV interview, which was due to be aired later on Monday. EU politicians are divided on whether interrupting accession talks would help or hamper Turkey's democratization process. EU officials say Germany is reluctant to open a new area of negotiation with Turkey this month. Berlin denies any direct link with the latest events but the foreign ministry says talks that began in 2005 were going to be a "very, very long process". Merkel has backed Turkish accession talks while at the same time expressing skepticism about its future EU membership. Speaking just before departing for a Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland, Merkel reiterated her position that Germany would not arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The G8 summit was set for a clash between U.S. President Barack Obama, who is now ready to send weapons to Syrian rebels, and Russia's Vladimir Putin, who backs the Syrian government. "We do not supply weapons ourselves. We do not contribute to that. That's against our rules," Merkel said. "Russia must play a role in the process. Otherwise there will be no peace."

Turkey : Secularism under siege
BY-Robert Fulford
Many of the brave Turks who have defied tear gas and water canons during the last two weeks have told reporters they are afraid that Turkey is being gradually turned into an Islamic Republic. In many cases they are Muslims (like nearly all Turks) but they also believe in secular government, the Turkish way of life since the 1920s. They think that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the defiant and peevish prime minister, wants to reverse Turkish history. Apparently he’s attempting, in his sly way, to undo Kemalism, named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who led Turkey into modernity. Kemalism separated religion from politics. That constitutional change wasn’t challenged until recent times. But in 2007 about 300,000 secularist Turks were concerned enough to demonstrate in the capital, Ankara, against Erdogan’s re-election. With banners showing Ataturk’s image, they argued that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) had an Islamic agenda. “Turkey is secular and will remain secular forever,” they shouted. Five years later, there are signs that they were right to be worried. So the demonstrations that began on May 31 over the destruction of Gezi Park have turned into a furious national debate about how Turkey is governed.Legislation adopted last month by parliament bans the sale of alcohol between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and forbids all liquor advertising. Erdogan claims he wants only to protect “new generations from such un-Islamic habits.” He’s said he hopes to see a “pious generation.” He told an AKP meeting that the state hasn’t outlawed alcohol. “People can still buy alcohol and drink it in the privacy of their own homes.” Public spaces, on the other hand, are under government jurisdiction. His government has announced that a new bridge over the Bosphorus will be named after Sultan Selim I, the 16th-century Ottoman potentate who ordered the massacre of 40,000 Alevi Muslims, who were (and in some cases still are) considered heretics in Turkey by the majority Sunnis. Selim was said to believe that “the killing of one Alevite had as much otherworldly reward as killing 70 Christians.” Government apologists have said no harm was meant but it would be hard to see honouring Sultan Selim I as the action of a secular state. Last month a young couple kissing in a metro station in Ankara found themselves instructed, through the public address system, ‘to act in accordance with moral rules’ “We were born and raised on the land that is the legacy of the Ottoman Empire,” Erdogan said in a taped interview. “They are our ancestors. It is out of the question that we might deny that presence. It’s very natural for us to use what was beautiful about the Ottoman Empire.” Erdogan’s ministers also show great affection for the past. His foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu looks forward to a “great restoration” that will embrace “the ancient values we have lost.” He wants to save the Turks from the “new identities that were thrust upon us in the modern era” — the period in the 20th century when clothing was Westernized, secular schools were introduced and women were encouraged to pursue careers. Many of the protesters are young and middle class; they take secularism for granted and deeply resent any quasi-official interference with their lives. Last month a young couple kissing in a metro station in Ankara found themselves instructed, through the public address system, “to act in accordance with moral rules.” Of course there are no moral rules covering kissing; just Islamic practice that keeps males and females at a distance in public.A day later a crowd of 100, assembled by social media, began a mass kissing on the same site. Some held signs that said “Free kisses.” About 20 traditionalists staged a counter-protest, chanting “Allahu Akbar!” Police separated the opposing groups. Erdogan has been elected prime minister three times in a row, his opinion polls are better than most successful politicians and Turkey’s economic record is, by international standards, enviable. But his tone, and his management of every issue that arises, suggest that he would really like to be a dictator. Dictators can use an official religion to maintain power, just as religious leaders can use the state to force their rules on the population. Iran is the most obvious case today but history provides scores of others. Possibly that’s Erdogan’s plan. The events of the last 15 days demonstrate that a change so fundamental could only be accomplished by ripping the social fabric of the whole country. At age 59, however, Erdogan can imagine exercising power for 15 years. Perhaps he hopes to win a place in history as the anti-Ataturk.

Turkey unrest goes on despite end to park protest

Riot police cordoned off streets, set up roadblocks and fired tear gas and water cannon to prevent anti-government protesters from converging on Istanbul's central Taksim Square on Sunday, unbowed even as Turkey's prime minister addressed hundreds of thousands of supporters a few kilometers away. The contrasting scenes pointed to an increasing polarization in Turkish society — one which critics say Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fueled with the fiery rhetoric he has maintained since they began more than two weeks ago.
A police crackdown Saturday evening that ended an 18-day peaceful sit-in at Taksim Square's Gezi Park sparked daylong unrest on the streets of Istanbul, while police also broke up demonstrations in the capital, Ankara, and the southern city of Adana. The protests began in Gezi Park more than two weeks ago and spread to dozens of cities across the country. Erdogan has blamed them on a nebulous plot to destabilize his government. Five people, including a policeman, have died and more than 5,000 have been injured, according to a Turkish rights group.
Elected to his third term just two years ago with 50 percent of the vote and having steered his country to healthy economic growth, the protests are unlikely to prove an immediate threat to Erdogan's government. But they have dented his international image and exposed growing divisions within Turkish society. Never before in his 10-year tenure has Erdogan faced such an open or broad expression of discontent. Critics have accused him of an increasingly autocratic way of governing and of trying to impose his conservative Muslim views on the lifestyles of the entire population in a country governed by secular laws — charges he vehemently denies. "They say, 'Mr. prime minister, you are too harsh,' and some (call me) 'dictator'," he said during his speech in his second political rally in as many days. "What kind of a dictator meets with people who occupy Gezi Park as well as the sincere environmentalists?" he questioned, referring to a meeting Thursday night with protest representatives. Erdogan defended his decision to send police in to end the occupation of the park, where protesters had set up a tent city complete with a library, food distribution center, infirmary, children's activity area and plant nursery. Water cannon and tear gas forced thousands to flee, and cleanup crews ripped down the tents and food overnight. "I did my duty as prime minister," he told his supporters. "Otherwise there would be no point in my being in office." About 10 kilometers (six miles) away in the center of the city, police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of protesters trying to converge on Taksim Square. In some neighborhoods, protesters set up barricades across streets while youths threw stones at police. In others, police broke up demonstrations with dense clouds of stinging tear gas that sent protesters fleeing into side streets. Some took refuge in nearby cafes and restaurants, where waiters clutched napkins to their faces to ward off the gas. Similar scenes developed in Ankara, where around 50 demonstrators were injured, including a 20-year-old woman who was in critical condition after being hit in the back of her head with a tear gas canister, according to Selcuk Atalay, secretary-general of the Ankara Medical Association. In the southern city of Adana, police clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. A fight broke also broke out between the demonstrators, with one group trying to prevent the other from throwing stones at police. Anadolu said a total of 105 people were detained in Ankara, including a Russian and an Iranian. Rights group Amnesty International said more than 100 people were believed to have been detained during Saturday's demonstrations in Taksim and nearby districts, and said police were refusing to give details of their whereabouts. Some among the thousands who fled Gezi Park during Saturday night's police operation had still not managed to return home by Sunday afternoon, fearing being arrested by the police. Erdogan has repeatedly labeled those who attended the park protests as troublemakers and illegal groups, although he has also said he understood the complaints of those who had truly environmental concerns at heart. One young man who had been demonstrating for days in Taksim Square and Gezi Park, said that as he and his friends fled the police operation in Gezi Park, they ran into a group of men armed with iron bars who chased them through the streets. It was unclear who they were. Kenan, who spoke on condition his full name not be used for fear of arrest or being targeted in reprisals, said the group took refuge in an apartment building, where they were still hiding late Sunday afternoon. Labor unions called for a one-day strike that would include doctors, lawyers, engineers and civil servants in support of the protesters. Strikes, however, often have little visible impact on daily life in Turkey. In a potentially worrying development suggestive of a possible escalation in the violence, Erdogan said two police officers had been injured by bullets fired during the overnight unrest. "(One) was shot with a bullet in the stomach, the other was shot in the leg," he said. On Sunday, TV footage showed police detaining white-jacketed medical personnel who had been helping treat injured protesters, leading them away with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu denied they were medical staff. "They wore doctors' white coats but had nothing to do with medicine or health. In fact, one of them had seven separate criminal records for theft," he said on his Twitter account, contradicting earlier comments in which he had said several doctors had been detained. Amnesty International noted that the health minister had previously stated that the improvised infirmaries set up by protesters to treat those injured in clashes or during police intervention were illegal and that doctors could face prosecution. "It is completely unacceptable that doctors should be threatened with prosecution for providing medical attention for people in need," Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's researcher on Turkey, said in a statement. "The doctors must be released immediately and any threat to prosecute them removed."

Political prisoners go on hunger strike in Saudi Arabia

Political prisoners have gone on a hunger strike in Saudi Arabia to protest against their imprisonment without charge or trial, and the horrible jail conditions, Press TV reports. Activists say more than 70 inmates have stopped eating in a bid to draw international attention to the inhuman prison conditions in Saudi Arabia. They hope that their protest would prompt an immediate action to stop the gross violation of human rights in Saudi jails. Saudi activists say there are more than 40,000 political prisoners, mostly prisoners of conscience, in jails across the kingdom. According to the activists, most of the detained political prisoners are being held by the government without trial or legitimate charges. Some of the detainees are reported to have been held without trial for more than 16 years. Attempting to incite the public against the ruling regime and the allegiance to foreign entities are usually the ready-made charges against political dissidents in Saudi Arabia. Families and relatives of political prisoners have held several public gatherings in major cities, including Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Buraidah. However, their protests have failed to bear any results. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Qatif region and the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination. However, the demonstrations turned into protests against the repressive Al Saud regime, especially after November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in the province. According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi regime “routinely represses expression critical of the government.”

Education in Pakistan has never received the funding

Education: a provincial expenditure priority
Education in Pakistan has never received the funding that has been suggested by a host of international agencies including the United Nations that has recommended to developing countries to invest at least 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on education. The rationale behind this recommendation with specific reference to Pakistan is threefold. First, research shows that education discourages fundamentalism and it has been argued that an educated citizenry will stifle the Taliban recruitment drive; second education also reduces the cost on healthcare by nations as an educated citizenry is not only fully cognizant of the importance of preventive vaccination including polio immunisation but also through better hygiene water and airborne diseases are better avoided; and finally education would allow far more skilled labour than otherwise possible. Thus education cannot only be an engine to improve living standard of the people but also increase output of value-added products whose manufacture requires higher skill sets than available otherwise. Education is now a provincial subject post-18th Constitutional Amendment and there is a contention that the provinces do not have the resources or indeed the capacity to take on this challenge. In this context it is relevant to note that the National Finance Commission award did lead to a significant increase in the total resources of the provinces, which were unfortunately not disbursed to the education sector as it merited. At present there are 25 million Pakistani children who are out of school. Pakistan had agreed to universal primary enrolment with 77 percent achieved by 2010 and 88 percent by 2015 under the Millennium Development Goals - targets which have not been met. While an ambitious national education policy was released in 2009 yet, not surprisingly, it failed to achieve its targets because not enough funds were earmarked for this sector. At present as per the Economic Survey 2011-12 Pakistan's literacy rate, defined narrowly as the ability to sign one's name, was 58 percent in 2010-11 with Punjab achieving 60 percent literacy, Sindh 59 percent, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 50 percent and Balochistan 41 percent. Within this context the divide between rural and urban areas was wide in all the provinces: Punjab urban literacy rate was 76 percent against rural 53 percent, Sindh's urban rate was 75 percent to rural 42 percent, KPK's rural literacy rate was 63 percent to urban 48 percent and Balochistan's rural rate was 35 percent to urban literacy of 61 percent. There are concerns that this data may have been manipulated and the real rate may be minus 5 percent at least. Be that as it may, there is an emergent need for all provinces to focus on improving education, which would not be possible until and unless adequate funds are earmarked for education. One can only hope that the provincial budgets due to be announced this month would take the government's commitment to achieving MDG targets into account. There is no doubt that Pakistan is currently facing serious issues with respect to macroeconomic performance. Thus it maybe difficult to prioritise education at present when loadshedding is around 12 hours per day in major cities and law and order situation compromising not only the country's productive capacity but announcement of protests/days of mourning are impacting on the school days attended. Given this disturbing state of affairs it is critical for political parties to desist from calling for a day of mourning where all activity including schools are to be shut. Protests and anger must be registered with the relevant authorities and in the event that a political party wishes to lodge a protest it must use the parliament as the right forum instead of the streets.

Why Pakistan Should Divorce Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

The Baloch Hal
The city of Quetta observed a day of mourning on Sunday against the killing of more than 24 people in Saturday’s coordinated attacks on a university bus and the Bolan Medical College Hospital. When a political party within the ruling coalition, such as the Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party, calls for a strike, it implicitly shows the government’s helplessness to grapple with hard challenges. The government observes a strike not necessarily because it sympathizes with the victims but the greater goal is always to hide official security failures and mitigate public anger. It becomes even harder to fight an enemy (such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also known as the LeJ that carried out the attacks on Saturday) when there is broad consensus among the Pakistanis that “a good Muslim cannot commit such crimes.” As long as the absurd narrative of Muslims never indulging in violence continues, it is impossible for the government to take ownership of the war against religious violence. This narrative has not emerged overnight but it is the culmination of the Pakistani state’s longstanding support for religious groups over many decades. In order to normalize the society, the State should stop patronizing religion, whether its peaceful or violent versions, at all levels. Religion should strictly remain a private matter of all citizens. We need more civic education that teaches our children to love the humanity and believe in remarkable values like human rights, tolerance and equality. As stated in our previous editorial, the LeJ has confirmed that Saturday’s terrorist attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber named Aisha (also spelled as Ayesha) Siddiqa. This seems to be a fictional, rather than an authentic, name connected to Prophet Mohammad’s wife Aisha, the daughter of Caliph Abu Bakar. Aisha’s life story is the center of controversy between the Shia and the Sunni scholars. This is not a coincidence that the LeJ spokesman calls himself as Abu Bakar and identifies the suicide bomber as Aisha Siddiqa. Saturday’s carnage is a continuation of the Shia, Hazara genocide in Pakistan that has entered its ugliest phase because it now also engulfs women. One doctor-eyewitness at the Bolan Medical College told the B.B.C. Urdu that the attackers had shouted and demanded that Sunnis should leave the hospital compound so that they were not targeted and it was easier for the assailants to kill the Shias. The LeJ spokesman also warned the fledgling Balochistan government to ‘learn a lesson’ from the Awami National Party (A.N.P.) government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa Province as it was utterly devastated and ousted by the Pakistani Taliban. The LeJ says it has a clear message for the Balochistan government: Don’t interrupt. Don’t disrupt. Don’t work as a wall (against terrorist attacks). Right-wing Punjabi media commentators such as Saleem Bukhari of the Waqat TV have taken Quetta tragedy as an opportunity to call upon the army to initiate fresh military operations in Balochistan. Before encouraging new military strikes in the volatile province, we have to make three fundamental distinctions. A lot of Pakistani officials and political analysts are confusing the Baloch Liberation Army (B.L.A.) with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Instead of coming hard on the LeJ, there is more emphasis on targeting the B.L.A which accepted responsibility for the attack on the Ziarat Residency. The government and the media should know it is not the time for propaganda and playing dirty politics. We have lost innocent precious human lives of our young educated women. The B.L.A. is a left-wing nationalist group that calls for a separate state for the Baloch people. The B.L.A. also views radical Islam as a threat used by Pakistan to counter and weaken the Baloch nationalism. On the other hand, the LeJ believes it is on a religious mission to make Pakistan a true Islamic state as, ironically, promised in the country’s Constitution. Islamabad and the LeJ are on the same page when it comes to the territorial integrity and the Islamization of Pakistan. The only point of difference is LeJ’s rejection of Shias as Muslims. There is always a possibility for encouraging the B.L.A. to disarm if Pakistan improves its human rights record in Balochistan, releases hundreds of missing persons, halt all military operations and treats the Baloch population respectfully. On the other hand, disarming the LeJ is a harder goal since it requires Pakistan to undertake drastic constitutional and ideological reforms that end official patronage to Islam as the state religion. Second, military operations do not help in eradicating nationalistic or sectarian violence. Deployment of the army further aggravates the situation. Instead of permanently relying on the army and the Frontier Corps (F.C.), the government should overhaul the performance of the police department and civilian intelligence organizations such as the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.). At this point, our police and criminal justice system are both dysfunctional. Neither the police are capable of busting the criminal gangs nor are they competent to properly investigate the suspected criminals. As a result, we do not know what actually happens to the suspects once they are arrested and kept in police custody. Most of them are released based on a lack of evidence which is primarily because of a weak intelligence and evidence gathering system. While our intelligence machinery is exhausted with following and harassing political opponents, investigations lack modern techniques and solely depend on torturous methods. There are no military solutions to issues that can be fixed with a properly trained and equipped police force. Thirdly, non of the major sectarian and even peaceful religious groups is headquartered in Balochistan. The sectarian organizations are based in South Punjab, led by Punjabi clerics and their Jihadi literature, which includes books, magazines and CDs, is also entirely produced from outside Balochistan. So, there is little work that can be done inside Balochistan to counter the sectarian mindset. Balochistan is only a battleground for the sectarian groups where outsiders come (or are sent) to carry out terrorist attacks in the name of religion with the help of a local cadre. Until the government dismantles the sectarian networks located in the Punjab, it is unlikely to witness a breakthrough in the fight against religious fanaticism. For Islamabad, it is a catch-22 situation. Whether it will tolerate sectarian groups that regularly kill innocent citizens in the name of religion or negotiate with secular Baloch nationalists that question the integrity of the Pakistani state. Since all Baloch nationalists do not support Pakistan’s disintegration, Islamabad should earnestly consider the second option by supporting and strengthening Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch to prevail over the armed groups through good governance. Outside Balochistan, the State should embark upon a process of eliminating the epicenter of Jihadist mindset while the civilian government in Balochistan should be assisted and encouraged to improve governance and impart secular education.

The Quetta rampage

The Express Tribune
Even as the country was reeling from the attack on the Ziarat residency, which was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army, as many as 28 people were massacred in Quetta on June 15, in the first major attack since the new government came into office. Fourteen girls were killed when a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb in the parking lot of Sardar Bahadur Khan university — the only women’s university in the province — and as the 19 injured were being transferred to the Bolan Medical College teaching hospital for treatment, militants laid siege to the hospital for up to four hours, carrying out other attacks till police commandos stormed the building and freed the hostages. The attacks were claimed by the sectarian terrorist organisation, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The blatant targeting of the heritage of the country and a symbol of its early days and the rampage that followed serve as a blatant reminder to the incoming government of the extent of the challenge the terrorists pose and the terrible threat to the ideology and the people of this country they are. Condemnations have, of course, since followed the attacks, with the Senate and the National Assembly passing a resolution condemning it. We have in the past, of course, seen a similar sequence of events. But one hopes that this time round, with a new government in place, we will see some change in the way matters are handled. We need to see a complete elimination of terrorism from the country for there to be any respite for its citizens. Till then, we are all vulnerable, and as the events of June 15 have shown us, nothing and no one is safe. There appears to be absolutely no room for apologists or those having a soft stance on militancy of any sort. How the government deals with the aftermath of these attacks may well be seen as a precursor of things to follow, and to keep the confidence the electorate have invested in it and follow through on its responsibilities, the government should act to ensure that such attacks are brought an end to with their perpetrators duly punished under the law. It is condemnable that the perpetrators brazenly own the attacks and yet they and their leaders roam free.

PML-N MPA slaps bus hostess

Pakistan Muslim League-N MPA Nighat Sheikh allegedly slapped a bus hostess for not serving her with water swiftly, a private TV channel reported on Sunday.Later, she allegedly forced the police to register a case against the girl for “giving her death threats”. According to reports, the MPA, travelling by a private bus from Islamabad to Lahore, asked bus hostess Iqra Nawaz to bring her water. She complied, but the MPA was furious over the delay and slapped her. Passengers intervened and demanded legal action against the MPA. On this, the driver took the bus to a local police station. But the lawmaker managed to lodge a complaint against the girl, accusing her of making death threats. The bus hostess was later arrested by the police. Police say the case was registered against the hostess on the order of DPO. However, later Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took notice of the TV report. The police also released the girl for lack of sufficient evidence. The CM also sought a report from the police concerned.

Pakistan: Govt failed to present proper policy on terrorism

Criticising the federal budget for 2013-14, opposition senators on Sunday said the government had failed to present any proper policy on handling terrorism, which had badly affected Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Karachi. Both the treasury and opposition senators condemned Saturday’s incidents in which students and a hospital were targeted. They said that the attack on Quaid-e-Azam Residency in Ziarat was a great national loss and no leniency should be shown to militants involved in such heinous activities. In this regard, the senators passed a unanimous resolution against the attack on Bolan Medical Complex that resulted in the killing of female students, nurses and others. The resolution was moved by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker Senator Nuzhat Sadiq and was adopted by the House unanimously. “We condemn the terrorist attacks and express sympathy with the bereaved families, and pray for [eternal peace of] the departure sole,” she said, adding that the entire nation, especially women, stood by the bereaved families. PPP Senator Raza Rabbani claimed that the acts were a conspiracy to fail the new democratic set-up, and demanded that the interior minister brief the House on the incidents. Senators from FATA regretted that a meagre allocation was made in the budget for the development of the Federal Administered Tribal Areas, where local were suffering greatly due to the ongoing war on terror. Senator Abbas Khan Afridi said that Rs 18 billion allocated for the region in the budget was not sufficient for the rehabilitation of the affected areas. He said that the people of FATA were still being compelled to migrate from their areas due to the ongoing war on terror. He said that locals had been made internally displaced persons (IDPs), and that their rehabilitation required huge funding. “FATA is the focal point during elections in the US and Pakistan, but when the time of allocation comes, it is usually neglected,” he regretted. He demanded that the government should provide $1 billion, which it had received from the US under the head of coalition support fund (CSF), and that the money should be spent on the development of FATA. Another FATA senator, Hidayatullah, said that militants had destroyed all educational institutions in the area, and the people were now compelled to live in camps. He regretted that the government had also announced to withdraw incentives given to the areas, which would add to the miseries of the masses. The government should set up special industrial zones in FATA and earmark an additional amount of Rs 8 billion for rebuilding school buildings in the areas, he said. Saeedul Hasan said that no relief had been given to the poor in the budget, and that increasing the GST would overburden the middle and poor classes. He said that the previous government had also proposed to increase the GST, but the decision was taken back on the demand of then opposition, the PML-N. He said that the people of FATA had rendered supreme sacrifices and it would be totally unjustified to withdraw relief given to them. In the same breath, he lauded the government for making hefty allocations for development projects and said that it would help create economic stability in the country. PPP legislator Farhatullah Babar claimed that there was no relief for the poor in the budget, and it was merely a conventional statement. “It is the prime responsibility of the political leadership to take steps and devise framework that generated more and more revenue,” he said. He praised the government for its resolve to end circular debt within 60 days and the allocation of Rs 225 billion to cope with the energy crisis. However, he said that the circular debt would emerge again, as there was a need for structural changes in the system. He also lauded the government for abolishing secret and discretionary funds of the PM, ministers and state ministers, but said that it would affect the credibility of several organisations. The PML-N’s Senator Rafiq Rajwana said the government had presented the budget in difficult conditions, as the coffers were empty. He said the Supreme Court had to take suo motu actions because of the wrong decisions of the previous government, which created a difficult financial situation for the poor. The PPP’s Senator Saeed Ghani said the budget was not pro-people, as there was no mention of farmers and labourers in the budget. Ghani said it was strange that in the budget speech of the finance minister, there was no mention of any increase in the salaries of eight million employees who are bread earners of their families. He expressed disappointment that no measures had been taken in the budget to increase direct taxes or widen the tax net. Senator Muhammad Hamza said that around 60 percent of the population depended on agriculture, and ignoring the important sector was detrimental to the economy. He termed the country’s tax system “far from ideal” and said that with the imposition of tax on agriculture, millions of people could be brought into the tax net.

Balochistan attacks...

Editorial: Daily Times
Two violent incidents in Balochistan on Saturday have left people numb with shock. First, Baloch insurgents attacked and destroyed the Ziarat Residency during the night, a building with much history and sentiment attached to it as the place where Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah spent the last days of his life. One security person was killed. Second, the morning bombing of a bus of the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Quetta killed 12 students, followed by an armed attack on the Bolan Medical College’s teaching hospital, where 22 injured students had been taken for treatment. This attack and exchange of firing between the attackers and the security forces lasted five hours before the terrorists were finally overcome. In the process, four attackers were killed and one captured alive. Four nurses, the Quetta DCO and four security personnel were killed in this battle. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has claimed responsibility for the Ziarat attack, while the Quetta carnage has been claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Condemnation of both attacks has flown thick and fast from the top leadership of the country and the ruling PML-N, as well as leaders of other political parties. The Senate passed a unanimous resolution condemning the attacks, particularly the one on the Ziarat Residency. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke to Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Malik Baloch, urging patience, while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali said there would be no dialogue unless the militants accepted the writ of the government. There has been a tendency in the media coverage of the incidents to lump them in the same basket. This is a mistake. The LeJ is a sectarian outfit, not so long ago responsible for the bombings in Quetta that killed hundreds of Hazara Shias. Its terrorist inclinations are once again on display in its targeting innocent girl students. Its almost simultaneous attack on the hospital shows its merciless and ugly visage. The Ziarat attack on the other hand, grief over a symbol of the Quaid and Pakistani heritage notwithstanding, was a message being delivered by the BLA that it not only did not recognize Pakistani national monuments, it was also a rejection of the hopes residing in nationalists from the province being handed power in the shape of the Dr Malik-led coalition government in Quetta. Soon after taking office, Dr Malik had stated he would try for a dialogue with the insurgents. There were even reports in the media that he had contacted self-exiled Baloch insurgent leaders abroad for the purpose. The hope that Dr Malik’s induction would somehow lead to a softening of the insurgents’ hardline rejection of the Pakistani state on the basis of their historical and ongoing resentments must now be treated as wishful thinking. Unfortunately, the chances of Dr Malik being able to persuade the insurgents to join talks were negated by a continuation of the ‘kill and dump’ policy before, during, and after the elections. The two sets of policies, political reconciliation through a moderate Baloch nationalist-led government in Quetta, and the continuing repression at the hands of the security services, particularly the hated Frontier Corps (FC) and its mercenary death squads, clearly are so contradictory as to lend credence to the insurgents’ argument that the new government in Quetta is only the soft face of the same repressive order. As far as the LeJ is concerned, its evil will not yield to reason. Such fanatics and enemies of humanity need to be dealt with with an iron hand. There is just no other alternative. As to the Baloch nationalist insurgents, the contradictions in the state’s policies, ranging from continuing repression to raising hopes of political reconciliation in the teeth of the former, seems a project inevitably doomed to failure. Balochistan’s nationalist insurgency remains a political issue, lending weight to the argument that a dialogue to resolve the long standing problems of the province is at least a theoretical possibility. However, for that to have a snowball’s chance in hell, the other side of the policy coin, repressive and murderous measures, will have to be abandoned first. Since there is no sign of that happening anytime soon, it seems the largest, least populated and least developed province of the country is likely to face even more violence and bloodshed. This can only add to the mountain of problems the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif already faces.