Thursday, June 27, 2013

Back Malala Day to show our support for education
An Abbey ward councillor last night called on the council to hold a special event to mark next month’s birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban.
Labour’s Bet Tickner says Reading should salute Malala on World Day for Education on Friday, July 12, set up in her honour for campaigning for girls’ education. Malala, who will be 16 this year, will spend her birthday giving a speech on education at the United Nations Assembly in New York. In preparing her motion – set to be seconded by Ellie Emberson, chair of Reading’s youth cabinet – Cllr Tickner said: “As the G8 meets in Ireland, we should remember that one of the millennium development goals is that all children are enrolled in primary education by 2015 – not long now. “By 2010, 90 per cent of the world’s children were, but that still leaves 61 million children out of school. “Educating girls also supports the education, and the health and wellbeing, of the next generation. “The attack on Malala, who at the age of 12 was campaigning for girls to be educated in her part of Pakistan, shows the brutality of some of the forces opposed to girls’ education, but her resistance has been an inspiration to those promoting it in Pakistan and across the world.” Miss Emberson, 14, from Coley, said: “We as Reading Youth Cabinet aim to have people’s voices heard in Reading, especially young people’s. “Malala Day is doing exactly that, but on a much larger scale, educating people on Malala and her campaign, meaning people both young and old can better understand what is going on in the world, and how valuable education is.” In carrying the motion, the council would give the green light to an event being held on July 12 at the Civic Centre, where Malala’s story will be told. From 10am to 2.30pm, workshops will give young people, school representatives and councillors the chance to share ideas on young people’s education and opportunities.

Pakistan At A Crossroads

Obama praises gay marriage ruling; lauds Nelson Mandela

U.S. President Obama had high praise for the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage as he lauded Nelson Mandela.

Australia: Exit Julia Gillard: flawed trailblazer
The speed with which ''former prime minister Kevin Rudd'' became ''Prime Minister Kevin Rudd'' has a brutal symmetry with the transition of Julia Gillard from Prime Minister to former prime minister. There was barely time on Wednesday night to register, let alone properly analyse, the results of the caucus votes that reshaped the ALP's senior parliamentary line-up. Now Parliament has ended, the trajectory towards the election (whenever that may be) is the Rudd government's most important concern. Today, though, is a time to look back at the prime ministership of Julia Gillard. Another symmetry - Ms Gillard was defeated by the man she defeated almost exactly three years before, thereby making Mr Rudd both her predecessor and successor as PM - does not imply that Ms Gillard's time in office was similarly neat and functional. On the contrary, as we have often remarked, the Gillard government was often dysfunctional - flawed by a succession of poor judgments, broken commitments and internal warfare over the leadership. It was all very well for Mr Rudd to say in the House on Thursday, after paying tribute to Ms Gillard, ''let us try to be a little kinder and gentler with each other in the future deliberations of this Parliament'', but it is not easy to forget how he constantly worked to undermine her. From its beginnings, the Gillard era was marked by contradiction and confusion that all too often obscured the government's sense of purpose and achievement. There were certainly some landmark policies that will, in time, stand as pillars of national pride. Chief among them were the long-overdue national disability insurance scheme - Ms Gillard's equivalent of Gough Whitlam's Medibank national health system - and the establishment of the royal commission into child sex abuse. The Gonski school reform package, passed by Parliament this week, will benefit generations of Australian children, especially from poorer families. This was a difficult policy to achieve in terms of persuading the states to come on board (the Napthine government is still negotiating), but Ms Gillard's foresight and tenacity, as well as her passion for education, has made it a workable reality. It should also be remembered that Ms Gillard, as education minister in Mr Rudd's first government, succeeded in the face of union and opposition protests in publishing national literary and numeracy test results on the My School website. Regrettably, however, key policies under Ms Gillard's watch were frustratingly short-sighted, partly effective and politically expedient. For example, during the 2010 election campaign she promised there would be no carbon tax - an assurance abandoned when she sought to appease the Greens to gain support for her minority government. Then came the watered-down mining-tax debacle. The tax, while still appropriate in principle, has yielded relatively little income. Advertisement The government's economic record during the Rudd and Gillard governments has been sound. Inflation has been kept under control, and Australia avoided plunging into recession during the global financial crisis. But, in another contradiction, the Gillard government overreached itself - and masked its economic successes - by promising a surplus: ''No ifs, no buts,'' Ms Gillard said repeatedly - an unrealisable and unnecessary assurance that inevitably had to be rescinded. For a prime minister who once said foreign policy wasn't her thing, Ms Gillard notched up some notable achievements, including a greater strategic and economic relationship with China while nurturing Australia's alliance with the United States. But on the complex conundrum of asylum seekers, the Gillard government record was entirely unsatisfactory. It could not forge an effective regional strategy and, shamefully, failed to demonstrate compassion for those legally seeking refuge. As well, the government's haphazard policy is little defence against Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's populist ''stop the boats'' catchcry. That policy challenge now rests with Mr Rudd. History will forever remember Ms Gillard as Australia's first female prime minister. She may have been a flawed politician, but she was certainly a trailblazer. What now needs to be the subject of sophisticated national discussion is the extent to which her gender was a factor in her failing to attract the sort of respect that should be accorded a prime minister. As she rightly said on Wednesday of her gender, ''It doesn't explain everything, it doesn't explain nothing, it explains some things.'' Ms Gillard is only 51. We hope she will have a significant role to play in national life beyond parliamentary politics.

U.S. to Suspend Trade Privileges With Bangladesh

The Obama administration on Thursday will suspend trade privileges for Bangladesh over concerns about safety problems and labor rights violations in that country’s garment industry, according to administration and Congressional officials. The administration has come under intense pressure to suspend Bangladesh’s trade privileges after a factory building there collapsed in April, killing 1,129 workers, and after a factory fire killed 112 workers last November. Officials with the United States Trade Representative’s office declined to comment. Administration and Congressional officials said the official announcement would come later on Thursday Labor unions and Democrats on Capitol Hill have been pressing the Obama administration to take this step. Bangladesh is allowed to export nearly 5,000 products duty-free to the United States, which purchases about 25 percent of the country’s $18 billion in annual apparel exports. Bangladesh is among more than 125 countries that receives such breaks on United States tariffs under the Generalized System of Preferences, a World Trade Organization program that is intended to promote economic growth around the globe In recent weeks, officials in the Labor Department have called for revoking Bangladesh’s special trade status, saying the United States needs to take strong action. Labor officials have asserted that the garment industry has been dragging its feet in improving safety and ending violations of workers’ right to form labor unions. At the same time, some State Department officials have pushed against suspending the trade privileges, saying it would damage diplomatic relations and undermine the economy or an already poor country. At a hearing in March held by the trade representative’s office, a top official in Bangladesh’s Commerce Ministry said, “Compliance with rights, including labor rights, will necessarily be gradual” in poor countries like Bangladesh. The administration’s move is in response to an official complaint that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. filed in 2007. The labor federation was upset about factory fires and a 2005 factory collapse in Bangladesh, as well as the extensive efforts by that country’s garment manufacturers to suppress labor unions. Administration officials took that complaint with new seriousness after the Tazreen factory fire November and after the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed two months ago in what was the most deadly accident in the history of the world’s apparel industry. The Generalized System of Preferences covers only a small fraction of American trade with Bangladesh. Those preferences do not apply to the Bangladeshi garment industry, which does not enjoy American duty-free status and represents the great bulk of that country’s trade with the United States. One labor rights advocate familiar with the government’s decision said it called for suspension and provided a road map to restore trade privileges. Even so, trade experts say they expect the suspension, a serious blow to Bangladesh’s image, would pressure its government to move more aggressively to improve safety and protect worker rights in its garment industry. The industry is a major economic driver, with more than 5,000 factories that employ 4 million workers. “We welcome the fact that our government has finally decided to take action after we’ve seen all these egregious labor rights violations,” said Cathy Feingold, director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s international department. “We hope this will lead to real change in Bangladesh.” In December, the United States sent Bangladesh a list of areas that needed improvement to prevent having trade privileges suspended. That list included ending government harassment of union organizers and giving more rights to workers in the country’s special export manufacturing zones. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Obama administration have both expressed concern about the treatment of labor activists in Bangladesh. In April 2012, the body of Aminul Islam, a prominent labor organizer, was found dead, with signs of torture. Bangladeshi news media reported that government security forces might have been tied to his death. There have been no arrests. The Obama administration’s move may also influence the European Union, which is also weighing whether to suspend Bangladesh’s trade preferences. Such a move could have much greater impact because Europe’s duty-free privileges cover Bangladeshi apparel, and Europe purchases 60 percent of the country’s garment exports.

Pakistan: Terrorism: Judiciary too afraid to rule against culprits

The Express Tribune
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon on Thursday said that the government can’t be held solely responsible for ensuring peace in the city, if the judiciary won’t do its job. Addressing members of the Sindh Assembly, Memon said, “If the government catches terrorists and throws them in jail for the court to carry the cases forward and the courts don’t have the power to rule against them, what do we do?” Memon said. The provincial information minister said that cases against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are always singled out because it’s an easy target. “Cases pertaining to the NRO issue were eight but only one was taken forward – the one against Benazir Bhutto,” Memon said, amidst an uproar in the assembly. “Everyone remembers the bloodshed of 12 May. Six years have passed but there have only been three hearings,” Memon detailed. “Where did the judges go? Why don’t they take the other cases forward?” Memon questioned, claiming that the judiciary is afraid of ruling against the culprits. Be it sentencing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to death, or killing Benazir Bhutto, PPP has always been an easy target, Memon stated. “We don’t believe in political victimization. We won’t bring up false cases against people who have wronged us in the past,” said Memon, claiming that PPP wasn’t even in the government when cases were filed against them. “Peace in Karachi is as desirable to us as it is to the people of Karachi,” asserted Memon. He said, the people of Karachi might have a bigger stake in Karachi, but PPP’s stake in Karachi is not insignificant. “We want peace to prevail in Karachi but for that to happen, everyone has to play a role. It can’t all be left to the government,” Memon said. Memon said that all political parties need to step forward.

Delhi can't copy Beijing in Central Asia

A copy is almost never as good as the original, which is why India's efforts at copying the Chinese trajectory in Central Asia have yielded meager returns. Though the Indian and Chinese economies were equal in size 30 years ago, since then China has become nearly five times the economic size of India. Given the dysfunctional nature of the governance system in India and the neglect of indigenous enterprises in favor of foreign investors, the business model of engagement favored by Beijing will not resonate in Central Asia for Delhi. India's state enterprises in particular are hobbled by ministerial meddling and poor balance sheets. And with a small defense industry, India still has to depend on Russia, France, Israel and the US for more than 80 percent of its core defense needs. Central Asia has vast petroproduct reserves, as does India. Unfortunately, for decades successive governments in Delhi have concentrated less on local discoveries of oil and gas and more on importing these products. The severe shortage of foreign exchange, visible in the steady decline in the value of the rupee, is forcing even the foreign-friendly government of India to ramp up local exploration and cut back on imports. This being the case, to expect that India can vie with China as a major buyer of Central Asian natural resources is to be unrealistic. Even in the matter of purchase of oil and gas fields, the vastly bigger size and access to cheap finance of Chinese companies result in their winning against their Indian rivals on practically every occasion. Given the high interest rate policy of the Reserve Bank of India and the country's continuing governance deficit, such a situation is unlikely to be reversed for quite some time. Even should a more efficient government come to office in Delhi, it will take several years before the new setup can eradicate the damage done to the economy by years of mismanagement. Central Asia is a region which is not only geographically and culturally close to India, but one in which the inherent advantages of India can be brought into play. Although analysts assume that Pakistan is closer to Central Asia because of the Muslim factor, the reality is that the Islam of Central Asia is much closer to the moderate practices of the religion in India than it is to the rapidly Wahhabizing theology which has been gaining ascendancy in Pakistan. It is in the interest of long-term stability in Central Asia that the advance of the Wahhabi faith be reversed in the region. In such a process, India can play a significant role by encouraging Indian universities to either set up campuses in Central Asia or by students from the region coming to India to study. If the government of India had devoted itself to the spread of Indian educational units in Central Asia, using even a quarter of the resources it has spent on largely unsuccessful efforts to beat China in getting hold of local resources, by now Delhi's profile in the region would have been much larger. India has an immense advantage in the huge numbers of English language speakers in the country, and this skill is very much in demand in Central Asia, as are other fields in which India has done well, such as information technology, medicine and engineering. It's not just the greater prevalence of English plus the existence of a vibrant and moderate Muslim community of 160 million people in India, but popular culture too is a field where Delhi has the advantage over Beijing. In Afghanistan, Bollywood has helped ensure that the people of that country retain their affection for things Indian, and the same can take place in Central Asia, if there is a greater effort to ensure access to Indian music and movies throughout the region. This could be buttressed by tourism, encouraging citizens in Asia's third biggest economy to spend their holidays in Central Asia rather than in far more expensive Europe. More than state-to-state or even company-to-company links, it is people-to-people exchanges that have the potential to make India as big a geopolitical force in Central Asia as its much more prosperous eastern neighbor.

Punjab: Measles enrolls 177 more in its camp!

The Punjab government has been caught unprepared once again as 177 new cases of measles have been reported in the last 24 hours alone, raising the total cases of this deadly disease to 19,389 in Punjab. According to officials of the Punjab Health Department, 177 deaths have so far occurred because of this disease, the majority of victims hailing from Lahore, Gujranwala, Rajanpur, Sialkot, Rahimyar Khan and Kasur. The Health Department has appealed to parents to get their children vaccinated at the earliest in order to beat this ailment. The Punjab government’s response has been criticized by the masses for being too lethargic and half-hearted. - See more at:

President Zardari being victimised:

Opposition leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said that victimisation of President Zardari was continuing as the Swiss authorities had written back to the government of Pakistan that the cases against the president cannot be opened because they had become time barred. The move of the new government to approach the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases was sheer vendetta of the Nawaz Sharif government against the president, he said in a press release issued here on Wednesday. The opposition leader said that it seemed that the PML-N government had again decided to do the politics of ninety’s and therefore they had hired the same lawyer who had already been paid millions of rupees from the government exchequer since 1997. Syed Khursheed Shah expressed his dismay that the government had approached the Swiss authorities to re-open the cases without new evidence which clearly manifested the malafide of the government.Khursheed Shah reminded that Accountability Court, Rawalpindi, in its judgment pronounced in July 2011 acquitted main accused AR Siddique and held that Asif Ali Zardari hasprotection under article 248 of the Constitution. He further said the court also held that it has been proved that Mr. Zardari and others have not received any gratification and undue pecuniary advantage in the form of commission and as such have not caused any loss to the public exchequer. The judgment attained finality as no appeal was filed against it, Khursheed Shah said.He reminded that the previous PPP led government did not initiate a single case against politicians keeping in the largest interest of democracy and the federation.

Simon Cowell to launch reality show in war-torn Afghanistan

Music mogul Simon Cowell is reportedly planning to launch a leg of the popular Got Talent show in Afghanistan. The 53-year-old, who also launched The X Factor, wants to bring out the talent in Afghanistan and provide entertainment for people there, reports"Simon has always believed Got Talent can work anywhere, because no matter where you are, people have amazing talents," a source said. "There may be a war raging in Afghanistan, but people are still living their lives and they enjoy watching TV just like anyone else. Rules are being drawn up, but there is a possibility troops will be allowed to enter assuming they can get permission," the source added. Afghanistan would be the 58th country to take the hit show. Some other countries which already have the show are Brazil, Ukraine, South Korea, India and Kazakhstan. Cowell is still trying to figure out some celebrity names who can judge the show.

Afghan Diplomats Defect as Western Withdrawal Nears

By Hasnain Kazim
The situation in Afghanistan is becoming so precarious that Afghan diplomats no longer want to return to their homeland. Up to 100 foreign service employees set for rotation back to Kabul from assignments abroad have now defected.
A total of 105 Afghan diplomats were meant to report for duty at the Foreign Ministry in Kabul on Saturday. They were being rotated out of their foreign postings as scheduled, and it was time to return to headquarters. Yet just five of them have resurfaced. The others have apparently remained in the countries where they had been posted, among them several employees of the
Afghan Embassy in Berlin.
Sources at the Afghan Foreign Ministry have informed SPIEGEL ONLINE that embassy staff members have said they would apply for asylum in their respective host countries or at least apply for an extension of their service until the presidential election in spring 2014. "They are hoping that there is more clarity about the future of our country by that point," said an employee of the ministry. "I feel as though there has been an exodus. No one wants to return to Afghanistan," said the employee, who added that they couldn't be faulted for wanting to stay away from"the situation in the country."According to recent surveys, most Afghans believe the country will sink into chaos and violence and expect that civil war will break out once Western forces withdraw at the end of 2014. For months, the Taliban and various other ethnic groups have been arming themselves in preparation for a fight for power in the country.
The Fiction of a Bright Future
Many Afghan diplomats are the sons and daughters of high-ranking politicians who are also trying to go abroad as soon as possible and stay there until the situation in Afghanistan becomes clearer. International foundations and organizations that organize educational trips and conferences for Afghans abroad have also become more cautious recently. They know that more and more trip participants will disappear. It is said in Kabul that several Afghan teachers never returned from a trip organized recently by the German government. And a high-ranking official from the Afghan Foreign Ministry called home during a trip to Canada to say that he wouldn't be coming back. "I can confirm this trend," says Tinko Weibezahl, the head of the Kabul office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. "In recent months some of our most qualified contacts have left the country. The refugees are above all "the highly educated, who were much more optimistic about the future a year ago," Weibezahl says. Government ministers, lawmakers and senior military officials are also attempting to get their families out of the country. The story of the hopeful future of an Afghanistan that stands on its own two feet, that is safe and peaceful and democratically governed, "is just a story that the West likes to tell us," says a senior official from the presidential palace in Kabul. "This story has just one catch: Most Afghans don't believe it."

UN: Afghanistan is Top Opium Producer, User

Afghanistan once again was the world’s largest opium producer in 2012, churning out 74 percent of the world illegal opium. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan’s drug-fueled economy both funds the insurgency there and threatens to further undermine the country’s fragile economy and security.
Not only is Afghanistan yet again the world’s largest grower and producer of illegal opium. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime representative Jean-Luc Lemahieu says it also has more than one million drug users. "Afghanistan itself has become a consumption country and has one of the highest levels of addiction, globally speaking,” he said. He says the easy availability of opiates, corruption and a population now in its third decade of war has resulted in the increased distribution and use of illegal drugs, as people to try and escape the hardships of their daily lives. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says the illicit trade threatens to undermine the country’s security and economy and is creating havoc among its own citizens. According to the U.N. agency, only ten percent of Afghan drug users received any form of drug treatment in 2012, the year covered in its World Drug Report. Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics spokesman Zabihullah Dayam says that Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia, cannot fight the drug problem on its own. He says, “As long as we don’t have a joint regional and even beyond regional cooperation and commitments, it will be difficult for the Afghan government to succeed.” Sayad Azam Iqbal, a former official with the counter narcotics ministry and now an expert on drug-related issues in Afghanistan, says the responsibility for solving the problem lies with the government and international community. “The main problem, the main source of the problem, is in Afghanistan and the Afghan government and those international forces helping the Afghan government. It is their primary responsibility to tackle this issue,” said Iqbal. But Lemahieu of the United Nations says the problems are multi-fold, including corruption, criminality, collusion with insurgency, and the non-delivery of needed government services. “That means at this moment, the government as such, and the international community which is already providing support and assistance, we don’t have enough services to cope with the problems affecting this country at this moment,” he said. Lemahieu says Afghanistan’s three core institutions fighting narcotics are functioning stronger than ever before. However, so far, there has been no discussion as to how that will continue after the security and political transition is complete and international combat forces leave at the end of 2014.

Pakistan: Taliban mountain attack could hurt tourism

Taliban fighters shot and killed 11 mountain climbers in northern Pakistan on the weekend. This attack was the first of its kind and will have repercussions on the country's tourism.
The attack on Nanga Parbat has bewildered people. "We did not expect this at all," said Eberhard Andres, who works for the German company "Hauser Exkursionen," which organizes trekking tours in Pakistan. "This is the first time something like this has happened." Taliban extremists attacked the base camp on the west flank of Nanga Parbat and shot 11 mountain climbers - three Chinese, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and one Pakistani. The assault was "of a whole new caliber," according to Dominik Müller, head of the "Amical Alpin" agency. Kari Kobler, a Swiss expedition organizer, is also shocked over the news: "It has not been a secret that Pakistan's security situation is precarious. But not in the north of the country." People now expect to see a drop in tourism in the region, which has been in the process of recovering from the hit taken due to the volatile security situation there.
Expedition cancelled
"This has changed the entire situation," Kobler said. "This was bad for Pakistan." He said he had heard that the army would deploy a further 70,000 soldiers to the region. "But that is like a drop of water in the sea." Kobler is now considering cancelling an expedition to the mountain planned for the year 2014. The company "Hauser Exkursionen" felt the need to respond to the shootings right away. It had planned a trip for July 8. "But that doesn't make any sense now," says Eberhard Andres. "We can't afford to go there now … but it would also be wrong to 'close down' Pakistan for the next few years." He said there had already been a number of tours planned for the year 2013. Pakistan's fascinating mountain regions had been considered exclusive among trekkers and a good alternative to established routes in Nepal. "Word got round that people did not feel threatened there."
Less expensive alternative
Five of the world's 14 eight-thousanders are in Pakistan and one of them is the K2, the second-highest peak on earth. "Pakistan's mountainous region is beautiful," Amical head Dominik Müller said. "Nowhere else on earth can you find so many six, seven and eight-thousanders so close to each other." In recent years, tourism has started to grow in Pakistan - not only because of the breathtaking scenery, but also for cost reasons. "The dream of climbing an eight-thousander is easiest to realize in Pakistan in terms of money," according to Müller, who added that China and Nepal had drastically increased their prices in the past few years. An eight-thousander expedition in Pakistan costs from 1,500 to 2,000 euros less than in China and Nepal. There is also less paperwork than before. Whereas mountaineers and trekkers could only apply for visas in long processes in Islamabad, they can now get permission in Skardu and Chilas, two towns close to Nanga Parbat in the north of the country.
Long-term trouble?
What will happen now after the attack? "We will have to see what the government does," said Müller. He was at Nanga Parbat three years ago and said the situation in the Diamir Valley was questionable. "Even back then, the clans were fighting each other." There are no military posts there. "We were assigned an officer, but he did not end up accompanying us up the mountain." Because of that, Müller decided to take Pakistan off his list for expeditions in 2013. "It is just too violent." This year, he says, all expedition groups taking the Karakorum Highway north received police escorts around Chilas. Commercial organizers operating in the north of Pakistan say the area is safe. Now they have started organizing their trips by bringing travelers from Islamabad straight to Skardu by plane instead of by bus. After the attack, the German Foreign Office issued a partial travel warning for the region. The ministry in Berlin has advised travelers to Gilgit-Baltistan to inform themselves about the current security situation before going there.

PAKISTAN: A Christian lawyer has been threatened with dire consequences for assisting three Christian women
A Christian lawyer has been threatened with dire consequences if he continues to provide legal assistance to three Christian women who were stripped naked and paraded on the street by the henchmen of ruling party. Mr. Mushtaq Gill, the director of LEAD (Legal Evangelical Association Development) organization, is getting death threats from militants. He is raising his voice for the Christian minority as militants often violate their rights. According to the Pakistan Christian Post, three armed militants allegedly threatened Mr. Mushtaq Gill on Sunday 23, June 2013, at around 2:30 p.m., when he was on his way home. He was on a motorbike with a friend when they were forcibly stopped at gunpoint on Multan road. These three people, who were unknown to him, started threatening him to kill and then shot into the air. On the day of the incident, he visited one of the victims' families from the aforementioned case. To summarize, three women from the Christian community were paraded nude in the street by militants, who are landlords of Sereser village, Chak 21. The militants are powerful and one political leader from Pakistan's ruling party, Mr. Rana Ishaq, is helping these landlords. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has sent letters to Pakistan's higher authorities, urging them to take action against this inhuman act. An editorial in The Pakistan Christian Post points out that this type of incident is not new in Pakistan. Militants gun down people who raise their voices for the poor, especially for minorities, like in the cases of the two well-known political personalities Salman Taser and Shahbaz Bhatti. Salman Taseer (the former Governor of Punjab) was killed by his own bodyguard on 4 January 2011. He was gunned down because he was in opposition to the Blasphemy Law and called it a black law. Another brave politician, MNA Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, was getting death threats but he sacrificed his life for the sake of Christian people. He highly opposed the blasphemy laws and supported the Christian girl Ms. Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death by hanging in a blasphemy case. He was killed near his home on 4th March 2011 by militants who attacked his car. Militants called him a blasphemer because he was in opposition to this law. In Pakistan, lives and properties of common citizens are not secure and citizens live in fear. Minorities are the most victimized by these violations. Christian people are facing many difficulties in Pakistan. Militants launch arson attacks against their communities. In the case of Badmi bagh, a Lahore case, a mob attacked, looted and burned the houses, shops and churches of Christian people. More than 100 shops, houses and churches were burned by the mob. Religious fanaticism is rampant in Pakistan and has reached at its peak point. These fanatics are spoiling peace, creating hatred among believers of different faiths. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the government to provide protection to the lawyer Mr. Mushtaq Gill, and also to the three Christian who were paraded naked by the henchmen of Mr. Rana Ishaq (the member of National Assembly from PML-N, the ruling party). It is shameful that, rather than pursuing the case of the three Christian women and providing them justice; the government has totally ignored the case and has not taken any action against its own member of the assembly. AHRC also urges the Supreme Court to take action in this case so that the lives of human rights defenders and minorities are protected, and so that people who issue death threats are imprisoned.

Team Zardari challenges Team Nawaz to investigate covert letter

The Presidency has challenged the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government to hold investigations into a secret letter written by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government to the Swiss authorities asking them to shun cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and ignore an earlier letter sent with the approval of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to re-open the cases. “We are not in the government any more. The current government has all the documents and records with it so they should probe the matter and let us see what happens,” Farhatullah Babar told reporters. When asked whether the president was consulted by the former government while writing the secret letter to Swiss authorities, Babar said it was not relevant. “The real issue is that this is not for the first time that such hype is created against President Zardari. It happened in the past as well and whenever such hype was created it ended up in a whimper.”

Treason case: Musharraf fears he won't get a fair trial

Former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf on Thursday in a written statement submitted to the Supreme Court of Pakistan said that he has reservations over the judiciary and the current government besides his on-going media trial. Musharraf’s counsel submitted a five-page statement as a three-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, headed by Jawwad S Khawaja, began hearing of the treason case against the former ruler. Musharraf said that despite the fact that his case is in the court, his media-trial is being carried out, adding he has apprehensions that he would not get a fair trial from the current judiciary. Former military ruler said that current head of the government is a direct affectee of the October 1999 events, adding that Supreme Court’s remarks during the proceedings should not have an impact on the treason case hearing. He pleaded that the court while announcing its judgment should consider his statement. Musharraf’s counsel Ibrahim Sati urged the court to have arguments over his client’s statement but Justice Khawaja said: ‘Don’t worry your client will be given full opportunity defend himself.” As proceedings progressed, Attorney General Munir A Malik readout a statement of the federation about how it intends to proceed in the case.

Pakistan Textbook biases: ‘Our schools are extremism factories’

The Express Tribune
The biases and prejudices in school textbooks are one of the main reasons for the radicalisation of young people and poor quality of education in Pakistan, said academics and civil society activists at a conference here on Wednesday. “These are not textbooks as much as propaganda brochures which have closed off our children’s minds,” said Irfan Mufti of South Asia Partnership Pakistan, speaking at the conference on ‘Biases in textbooks and education policy’, organised by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP). “Discrimination is a national issue and these discriminatory texts are a constant threat to our society,” he said. “I believe that all the primary schools in our country are factories fuelling extremism in our children.” Peter Jacob of the NCJP said that school textbooks painted non-Muslims as the enemy. “We want our teacher to tell our children that minorities or people from other religions or countries are not our enemies,” he said. “People here who used to deny that Pakistan was an extremist society no longer deny it after Gojra and the Asia Bibi and Rimsha [blasphemy] cases.” Other speakers said that the best way to counter the extremism was through good teachers and good schools. “Educationists must play their role in changing minds through education. I believe our generation needs values more than anything else,” said Dr Christy Munir, the principal of FC College. “The only way we can become a progressive nation is to be an educated nation. We know that the only tool we have against extremism is education and if there is no education, there will be no peace,” said Father Emmanuel Yousaf, a peace activist. “There is a huge difference between early and current society. Everyone should respect the changes in society and one should not impose his or her beliefs on others,” said Syed Nisar Safdar, a Supreme Court advocate and social activist. The speakers said that current education and curriculum policy should be reviewed to remove discriminatory teaching materials and practices. Besides imparting knowledge, textbooks and teachers should focus on teaching students universal humanity and responsible citizenship. Religious education should be removed from public schools, or at least minority students should get an equal opportunity to study their own religion. And the role of religious minorities in the creation and development of Pakistan should be incorporated in the syllabus, the speakers said. Around 100 people attended the event at Ambassador Hotel.