Monday, July 15, 2013

RT source: Israeli strike on Syria was carried out from Turkish base

Israel used a Turkish military base to launch one of its recent airstrikes against Syria from the sea, a reliable source told RT. Israel has been under scrutiny since last week, when it was reported to be responsible for a July 5 depot attack in Latakia. News that Turkey assisted Israel in attacking another Muslim state could result in serious turmoil for Ankara, once the information is confirmed. "Our source is telling us that Israeli planes left a military base inside Turkey and approached Latakia from the sea to make sure that they stayed out of Syrian airspace so that they cannot become a legitimate target for the Syrian air force," RT's Paula Slier reports. In response, Turkey has denied that Israel has used its base to strike Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the media that existing reports of the incident are “absolutely wrong” and those who spread such rumors are in “act of betrayal.” “Turkey will neither be a part nor a partner of such ‘attacks.’ The ones who claim this want to damage Turkey’s power and reputation,” he added. Responding to RT’s request for comment, the Turkish embassy in Moscow has said: “We officially inform that this allegation is definitely not true.” Israel has also declined to comment to RT and refused to confirm or deny the information. The Israeli PM’s office told RT that they “will not be taking part in your broadcast,” while an IDF spokesperson renewed the stance that the military is “not commenting on this issue.” Relations between Turkey and Israel were strained until March 2013, as a result of a flotilla incident which happened more than three years ago. In protest against Israel’s refusal to apologize, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and severed military ties. The two agreed to normalize their relationship after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara has been known for its assistance to foreign-backed militants, allowing them to train on Turkish territory before infiltrating into Syria. Shortly after the July 5 airstrike, the Free Syrian Army said that rebels were not responsible for the attack, which destroyed Yakhont anti-ship missiles being stored there. "It was not the FSA that targeted this," Qassem Saadeddine, FSA’s Supreme Military Council spokesman told Reuters. "It is not an attack that was carried out by rebels.”The FSA suggested the attack “was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean.” Rebels described massive blasts, saying that the firepower exceeded the capability of weapons available to the opposition. They speculated that the attack was launched with the use of modern military weapons, like those which may be possessed by Israel. On Saturday, US officials speaking on condition of anonymity also revealed Israel’s involvement with the explosions. They did not provide details on the extent of the damage or the number of missiles struck. At the same time, Britain’s Sunday Times cited its Middle East intelligence sources who reported that a contingent of 50 Russian-made Yakhont P-800 anti-ship missiles were targeted and destroyed. However, the newspaper claimed that Israeli submarines carried out the attack rather than the Air Force. Netanyahu hesitated to comment on reports when speaking to CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. "My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and other terror groups as well. And we stand by that policy," the PM said. “And I'm not in the habit of saying what we did or didn't do," he added. If the recent airstrikes are proven to have been carried out by Israel, the July 5 strike will be the fourth known Israeli air attack against targets in Syria this year. The previous three attacks targeted an area near Damascus on January 30, May 3, and May 5.In late January, an airstrike hit a weapons convoy that carried Russian-made SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, marking the first incursion by Israel into Syrian airspace in six years. In May, Israeli warplanes conducted two days of airstrikes, targeting a shipment from Iran of Fateh-110 missiles. Such missiles have the capability to strike Tel Aviv from southern Lebanon. Middle East expert and historian, Tariq Ali told RT that Israel continues to attack Syria to get square with Hezbollah. “Hezbollah is like a red [rag to a] bull to Israelis and Israelis haven’t been able to wipe it out, though they tried many times. Now they are hoping they can do it by weakening or completely destroying the Syrian regime. Indirectly they are providing help to the rebels,” Ali said. “Israel is a country that considers itself above the law.”

Eric Holder says he shares concerns about Trayvon Martin case

Quetta carnage: Rights activists demand action against banned outfits

Published:The Express Tribune,July 2nd
A small crowd gathered outside the National Press Club holding placards condemning terrorist attacks in Quetta, Peshawar and North Waziristan which killed more than 50 people on Sunday. The protesters demanded action from the highest offices of the country. Women and children were among those protesting outside the press club for justice and peace. Speaking to The Express Tribune, Sher Ali, a student and ethnic Hazara, was holding a placard stating, “I am from Hazara, am I not Pakistani?” He said he was visiting Islamabad and was saddened to hear about the incident, which is why he came to register his complaint. “I do not understand why the government is not taking any action against these militants…they have destroyed everything. We just want peace,” he said, wiping his tears. As Lashkar-e-Jhangvi accepts the responsibility of the blast in Quetta, protesters said that the chief justice of Pakistan must treat all communities and individuals as equals and must take suo motu notice of the incident. “There were the Shahzeb Khan and Malala cases. We are very happy that the chief justice stood up for them, but he must also stand up for us,” said Sara Ali from Hazara. Civil society members outraged at the gathering said groups like Lashkar-e Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad are still terrorising innocent people and no one is trying to stop them. Dr Rakshanda Parveen told The Express Tribune that even civil society members are fed up. “We want answers now, it is a little too much to handle,” said Perveen. Insani-Huqooq-Ittehad (IHI), network of rights campaigners, demanded that the Prime Minister and interior minister carry out a strict action against these banned terrorist groups and put them on trial. In a statement, IHI demanded that the government carry out surgical operations on the banned militant organisations that are responsible for the “ethnic cleansing of Shia and Hazara minorities in Pakistan”.

Bangladesh: Hartal demanding Ghulam Azam’s death Tuesday

Gonojagoron Mancha and 11 student organisations including Chhatra Union, Chhatra Federation and Chhatra Front have called a daylong countrywide shutdown for Tuesday demanding death penalty to Ghulam Azam and other war criminals. The call came shortly after former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam was handed 90-year jail Monday for his role in the murder and genocide of the independence-seeking people of the land who were fighting occupation Pakistani army in 1971. The 11 organisations convened a press briefing around 4:20pm in front of the National Museum near Gonojagoron Mancha at Shahbagh in the capital to announce the hartal. Minutes later, Imran H Sarker, spokesperson for the Gonojagoron Mancha, announced that they will enforce hartal across the country on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Sammilita Sangskritik Jote announced that it will hold rallies across the country to protest the verdict, President of the jote Nasiruddin Yusuf Bachchu told reporters at a press briefing at the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) at Dhaka University in the afternoon.

Bangladesh: Ghulam Azam awarded 90-year imprisonment

The International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) sentenced former Jamaat leader Ghulam Azam to 90 years imprisonment in connection with crimes against humanity during the liberation war in 1971. The tribunal said all five charges against Azam were proved but the jail term sentence was given considering his age. Azam, 91, was found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1) on the charges that included murder and torture. He was accused of masterminding the atrocities committed during the war of independence against Pakistan. Monday’s landmark verdict against the high profile war crime accused was marked by a nationwide day-long hartal called by Jamaat. The shutdown was marked by sporadic violence mostly outside the capital in which at least four people were killed. A defence lawyer for Ghulam Azam later told reporters outside the crowded high security tribunal that they were unhappy with the sentence and that they will file appeal against the tribunal order. One of the prosecutors talking to media afterwards said they had expected death penalty for Ghulam Azam and as such they were a bit disappointed at the jail-term prison sentence. But he said a formal reaction on the verdict from the prosecution will be given later after studying the full verdict. ICT-1 started reading out its 75 pages out of the 243-page verdict against the former Jamaat chief in the morning. Earlier on Monday, Azam, a high profile war crimes accused, was brought to the tribunal. A micro-bus of Dhaka central jail brought Azam to the tribunal shortly after 10:00am from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) prison cell where the 91-year old former Jamaat leader had been under medical supervision. On Sunday, the three-member tribunal, headed by its chairman, Justice ATM Fazle Kabir, announced the date, 88 days after trial proceedings in the case ended on April 17. A total of 61 charges in five categories of crimes against humanity were brought against the veteran Jamaat leader. The allegations were categorised as conspiracy (six charges), planning (three charges), incitement (28 charges), complicity (23 charges), and murder (one charge). This is the fifth judgement from the two International Crimes Tribunals (ICT), against the suspects of crimes against humanity, after the verdicts against Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar (January 21, 2013), Abdul Quader Molla (February 5, 2013), Delwar Hossain Sayedee (February 28, 2013), and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman (May 9, 2013).

'Trayvon Martin Will Happen Again and Again'

The acquittal in Florida's Trayvon Martin murder case has drawn criticism around the world. In the German media, the focus is as much on misguided vigilante justice laws as it is on race. News media around the world covered Saturday night's ruling in the Trayvon Martin murder case as top news. In Germany, it featured as a leading story on one of the top news programs, where the host's first question to the station's Washington correspondent was why there hadn't been a single African American on the jury. Another leading news broadcast noted the case had drawn considerable international attention because it "appeared to be so systematic and also divided the country." The correspondent added that, for many, Martin's death had "become a symbol for racism that is still present in America." Many had feared that if an all-white jury issued a not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who had been unarmed, it could trigger race riots across the country. Zimmerman claimed he had shot the 17-year-old in self-defense after a nighttime confrontation in his gated community, despite police advice not to pursue the young man. Zimmerman claimed that Martin had punched him and slammed his head into the ground during a fight before he fired at him in self-defense. Prosecutors had portrayed Zimmerman as a wannabe cop who profiled and pursued Martin. Mostly peaceful protests were held across the country following the verdict. US President Barack Obama had cautioned against allowing passions to boil over. "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," President Barack Obama said Sunday in a statement. "I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken." Just as in the United States, one of the primary focuses of editorials and coverage in Germany is of Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which critics have dubbed a "shoot first" law. Implemented in 2005, and adopted by 20 other US states, it says that anyone who fears harm or death is not required to retreat from a potential perpetrator, even if they have the possibility of safely doing so. It also places the burden on prosecutors to prove without any doubt that the shooter feared harm or death. 'Wild West Times' Although senior German politicians aren't commenting on the case, that hasn't stopped at least one on the fringe from doing so. Speaking on Deutschlandradio, the German equivalent to NPR or BBC Radio, Dietmar Bartsch, the deputy head of the far-left Left Party's parliamentary group, said US laws urgently need reform. "These are laws in the spirit of the Wild West times," he said. "It is incomprehensible and I am angered, but there is still hope that the federal court will open the case again." A handful of German newspapers also published editorials on Monday that are critical of the Florida law, which they argue promotes vigilante justice in ways that are dangerous for society. A commentary in the leftist Die Tageszeitung takes aim at Florida's "absurd" "Stand Your Ground" law, describing the ruling as "predictable," but still "scandalous." "With this combination of racist prejudices, lax weapons controls and vigilantism anchored in law, incidents like the death of Trayvon Martin will happen again and again. … It may be that a black president's charisma and the statements from a number of African-American opinion leaders calling for calm will prevent massive riots like those seen after the Rodney King verdict in 1992. But things cannot be good in the long term. If societal peace means anything to the USA, then laws like 'Stand Your Ground' belong in the trash can of history, and coexistence must have a different basis than through some overarmed deterrent." The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung is also critical of vigilante justice in America: "In this case, the Americans argued so much over the influence of the color of a person's skin that another idea was mostly overlooked -- that of the dangers and excesses of vigilante justice. Many Americans only feel secure if they are allowed to carry a loaded weapon, and the Zimmerman case shows what this can lead to. Amateurs with crudely developed suspicions who overestimate their abilities run roughshod on neighborhoods, ultimately spreading the insecurity they are supposed to be curbing." The regional Stuttgarter Zeitung writes: "A black teenager wearing a sweatshirt in a middle-class housing development can only mean trouble. But that puts what the Americans call 'racial profiling' in the spotlight -- blanket suspicion based entirely on a person's skin color, clothing or taste in music. The fact that there are police officers who tend to target young African American men more often that young white men is indisputable. That drug dealers with dark skin tend to be prosecuted more severely is a statistical fact. And the fact that African Americans in southern US states are given the death penalty more often than whites also hasn't changed since Obama became president."

Trayvon Martin’s Legacy

It may not be possible to consider the case of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted Saturday of all charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin, as anything but a sad commentary on the state of race relations and the battle over gun rights in America today. Certainly it is about race — ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you at least a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla. While Mr. Zimmerman’s conviction might have provided an emotional catharsis, we would still be a country plagued by racism, which persists in ever more insidious forms despite the Supreme Court’s sanguine assessment that “things have changed dramatically,” as it said in last month’s ruling striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. (The Justice Department is right to continue its investigation into whether Mr. Zimmerman may still be prosecuted under federal civil rights laws.) The jury reached its verdict after having been asked to consider Mr. Zimmerman’s actions in light of Florida’s now-notorious Stand Your Ground statute. Under that law, versions of which are on the books in two dozen states, a person may use deadly force if he or she “reasonably believes” it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm — a low bar that the prosecutors in this case fought in vain to overcome. These laws sound intuitive: who would argue that you may not protect yourself against great harm? But of course, the concept of “reasonable belief” is transformed into something deadly dangerous when firearms are involved. And when the Stand Your Ground laws intersect with lax concealed-carry laws, it works essentially to self-deputize anyone with a Kel-Tec 9 millimeter and a grudge. It has been a bad year so far for gun control. But if anything, cases like this should be as troubling as the mass killings that always prompt a national outcry and promises of legislative remedy. We were heartened that President Obama, in his statement after the verdict was issued, took the opportunity to denounce once again “the tide of gun violence” sweeping the country. In the end, what is most frightening is that there are so many people with guns who are like George Zimmerman. Fear and racism may never be fully eliminated by legislative or judicial order, but neither should our laws allow and even facilitate their most deadly expression. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed boy walking home from the convenience store. If only Florida could give him back his life as easily as it is giving back George Zimmerman’s gun.

Veena Malik shying away from donning bikini?
Pakistani actress Veena Malik is popularly known as bikini babe, as she is often seen in bikini-clad pictures on social networking sites. Of late, to great surprise to her fans, Veena has reportedly not posting any of her bikini pictures on internet. The reason? The actress is observing fast in the wake of holy month of Ramadan. Addressing her fans, Veena tweeted that she has been fasting and observing "self-restraint". The actress added that she has been reading holy book Quran every day. Home-sick Veena admitted that she missed her home in Pakistan and parents, especially during Ramadan.
Meanwhile, Veena has returned from the shoots of her debut Kannada movie Silk Sakkath Hot Maga. The movie is the remake of critically-acclaimed Bollywood film Dirty Picture, staring Vidya Balan. The film is based on the troubled life of Silk Smitha, a South Indian actress noted for her erotic roles. In order to get into the skin of Silk's role on screen, Veena has donned skimpy clothes and enacted several bold scenes with her co-stars in the film.

Turkey:111 photographers detained or targeted by violence during Gezi protests: NGO

111 photographers were detained, targeted by violence or had their photos erased by the police during the demos in Istanbul and Ankara between May 31 and July 8, the Association of Photographers has said in a report. The report, which collects the testimonies of many press and documentary photographers, said that the largest part of the injuries were due to gas canisters and rubber bullets fired by the police during the repeated violent crackdowns. Many photographers also complained that their cameras had been broken or pictures erased. The report also stressed that the yellow press cards did not prevent, in most cases, the detention of photojournalists. Contrary to many European countries, press cards are delivered by a Prime Ministerial Office in Turkey. Hürriyet Daily News photojournalist Emrah Güler and daily Hürriyet photoreporter Selçuk Şamiloğlu were among those injured while trying to cover the protests that were sparked by the attempts to demolish Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The report also relates the experience of Mehmet Kaçmaz of the Nar photo agency, who underwent surgery after he was hit in the eyes by an object that couldn’t be identified. “As I saw a [police] panzer passing in front of us, I turned my back and the barrel was then directed at us. Just as I turned to [the panzer] I heard a noise. Like a ball hitting wood. I held my eye. When I saw blood spilling, I understood I was wounded,” he said. The injury did not cause permanent damage to Kaçmaz’s health, but around a dozen protesters have lost their sight in at least one eye due to projectiles fired by the police that hit their eyes.

Zimmerman's murder trial : After the acquittal: Protests

Just how much George Zimmerman's murder trial polarized America was on full display once the verdict was read.
Across the country Sunday and early Monday, outraged protesters poured on to streets while supporters kept largely quiet. Protesters denounced the six-woman jury's decision Saturday to find Zimmerman not guilty in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. While the vast majority of protests were peaceful, parts of Los Angeles grew tense. Some protesters hurled flashlight batteries, rocks and chunks of concrete toward police, Los Angeles police spokesman Andrew Smith said. Police responded by shooting bean bags at protesters."LAPD is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst," Smith said Sunday night. "We hope everyone can exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, then get tired and go home." Some demonstrators continued their efforts into Monday morning. At least nine people were arrested, Smith said. Across the country Thousands also rallied in San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Baltimore, Detroit, New York and other cities. In New York, demonstrators marched across Manhattan and filled Times Square. "This is what democracy looks like," they chanted. In Florida, just steps away from the courthouse where a jury acquitted Zimmerman, demonstrators vowed that their fight wasn't over. "Nationwide protest to demand justice," protesters chanted in Sanford, Florida.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for protests to continue, but to remain peaceful. "There will be protests, but they must be carried out with dignity and discipline," he told CNN's "New Day." "What will happen if there, in fact, are riots, it gives sympathy to Zimmerman, and discredits Trayvon. Trayvon deserves sympathy. Zimmerman and his school of thought does not." Racial undertones Many of the protests, including those in New York and Los Angeles, drew demonstrators from a wide variety of races. But many expressed the same belief -- that Martin's death was spurred by racial profiling, and that Zimmerman's acquittal was unjust. "Only white life is protected in America," one protester in Washington shouted Sunday. Others chanted "No justice, no peace" and "Trayvon was murdered" as they marched, freelance photographer Michael Kandel told CNN's iReport. Protesters demanded that the government investigate further, Kandel said. "They believe that this is a civil rights issue that must become the topic of a national conversation in the coming days," he said. "They did not believe justice had been served." Some demonstrators in Denver, Baltimore and Detroit wore hooded sweatshirts like the one Martin wore when he was killed. The other side Zimmerman, his family and their supporters have denied allegations of racism and argued that civil rights groups are being incendiary without facts to back up their claims. Reactions to the verdict were not necessarily split along racial lines. Tony Johnson, who is black, said he was disturbed by the "outbursts from people who didn't know the facts of the case, yet (were) still screaming about an injustice." "I'm actually glad the verdict was not guilty," Johnson told CNN's iReport. "Only based on the evidence that was presented in court, it screams self-defense. "This wasn't about race," Johnson continued. "It was about a man's rights to defend himself. It's not a crime to follow anybody; therefore, the fact that they got into an altercation and George Zimmerman was forced to use deadly force, it's not a crime. Our Constitution states that." Pushing for peace President Barack Obama called for peace Sunday and acknowledged the Zimmerman case has stirred strong emotions. "I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities," he said. "We should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis," Obama said. Some applauded the jury for siding with the neighborhood watch volunteer's claims that he shot the teen in self-defense. Others said prosecutors failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Critics of the verdict like Terri Weems said the trial was a referendum on race that confirmed what they knew all along. "That's our society," Weems said as she headed into church in Washington on Sunday. "We expected not to be given justice. We haven't been dealt justice all this time. ... It's very disheartening." NAACP President Benjamin Jealous told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the largely peaceful protests were a positive sign. "I think we should, frankly, right now be celebrating the fact that we've seen a generation of young people respond by using our system, raising their voices, but not using their fists," he said.

How to exit Afghanistan?

Without a substantial NATO security force, the Karzai administration doesn’t stand a chance against the hardened Taliban. Amid the civil war in Syria, the de facto civil war in Iraq, riots on the Turkish streets and a potential Egyptian civil war in the making, the media tends to under-report the NATO pullout from Afghanistan. But the NATO exit strategy does deserve our careful attention, for it will set the precedent on how the West deals with its enemies. The general public tends to forget that NATO’s fight against the Taliban was not initially about the Taliban itself, but about the fact that the Taliban harbored elements of Al-Qaida. The essential purpose of the mission was: oust the Taliban and put a regime in place that would never again harbor Al-Qaida. But the uncomfortable truth is that every policy think-tank and expert agrees that without a substantial NATO security force, the Karzai administration doesn’t stand a chance against the uniform, hardened and uncorrupt Taliban, once the latter decides to make its move. First of all, Karzai only exercises “effective” control in Kabul and secondly, his security apparatus is rife with nepotism and diverging ethnic loyalties, and on top of that they are simply inept. Even the Afghan National Army isn’t a national army at all. It is dominated by the Northern Afghan ethnicities and only 2 to 3 percent is of Southern Pashtun descent. So basically the ANA is the former Northern Alliance and indeed, they still patrol with vehicles carrying pictures of Massoud, and even Dostum, one of the most brutal warlords in Afghan history. One should not underestimate the significance of the fact that the ANA is about as foreign to the South as NATO troops and that Southern Pashtuns are more likely to side with the Taliban than to support the ANA. Make sure to watch the VICE documentary This Is What Winning Looks Like to gain a vivid understanding of the rather ludicrous power structures that NATO has now placed her hopes on for a stable Afghanistan. It’s no coincidence that even the Pakistani military – engaged in a ferocious battle with the Pakistani Taliban – supports the Afghan Taliban; they know the country will be under their control in the future and they want good ties with the future rulers of Afghanistan, because they want to be able to use the country as strategic depth in case India invades them. This grim prospect brings us to the following question: is the war lost when the Taliban retakes control of the country? Strangely, the answers is no. The war however is lost when they retake control and again choose to harbor al-Qaida, after all that’s the only reason for the hostilities between NATO and the Taliban. I’m not an apologist for the Taliban but it is simply realistic to acknowledge that the Taliban are an integral part of Afghan society and that they were the only ones capable of bringing order to a place that from ’89 to ’94 saw more deaths than during 10 years of brutal Soviet occupation. In addition, the Taliban isn’t an international terrorist organization. Its aims have always been national. As a matter of illustration: in December 1997, with full approval from Washington, a delegation of Taliban officials traveled to Unocal’s headquarters in Sugar Land, Texas, to discuss the building of a pipeline and stayed at Marty Miller’s house, one of the company’s vice presidents. They were treated royally and were taken to the zoo and the NASA Space Center. NATO didn’t succeed in destroying the Taliban or their ideology and won’t before its pullout. The Karzai administration will fall unless NATO is prepared to perpetually sacrifice fathers, sons, mothers and daughters we need at home, and spend money that we don’t have. Yes it’s painful, but a realistic strategy should be based on an Afghanistan under Taliban control. How can the West try to make sure the Taliban will never again harbor Al-Qaida? There are few certainties in life, but the following strategy might be the only way to fulfill the initial goal of the Afghanistan war: to keep Al-Qaida out of Afghanistan. Although the Taliban is not destroyed, they have suffered tremendously at the hands of NATO and they know full well that if they ever return to a position of power, NATO will always have the military force to destroy their government and infrastructure in a matter of weeks. The deal the West should make with the Taliban should be as follows: The Taliban will be granted sovereignty over the territory they controlled prior to 2001, but in return will have to pledge they will never again harbor al-Qaida elements. This framework has a precedent. Prior to the 2001 invasion the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, spoke to the US State Department by satellite phone several times to explore the possibility of extraditing Osama bin Laden, in exchange for American recognition of his regime. To no avail, since the US, back then understandably, wanted bin Laden handed over unconditionally. In this deal the West will have to be extremely clear on one matter and will have to live up to it if need be: as soon as our intelligence services notice that the Taliban breaks its pledge and does harbor Al-Qaida, NATO will return to destroy every last fiber of their infrastructure and kill every senior Taliban figure. But this time not with a slow and vulnerable invading military apparatus and reconstruction crews, only our air forces, shock troops and special operations units to wreak havoc. No democratization, no reconstruction paid for by the Western taxpayer, just the swift destruction of everything that makes the Taliban capable. Chances are high that the Taliban will bar al-Qaida in exchange for sovereignty and safety of their regime. If the West doesn’t somehow succeed in creating an al- Qaida-free Afghanistan, all ISAF men and women and Afghan civilians will have been killed or maimed for nothing. Yes, the return of the Taliban will be horrible for women, but you can’t civilize a country through military force. The West is simply out of options.
The author is a Dutch master’s student in clinical psychology and a columnist for the Liberal Conservative weblog De Dagelijkse Standaard.

Pakistan Activist For Girls' Education Killed
A college professor who promoted education for girls in Pakistan has been shot dead by unknown gunmen in the southwestern Balochistan Province. Provincial police said on July 12 that two armed militants opened fire at Abdul Razzaq's motorcycle on Chakar Khan Road in the Khuzdar district, killing him and wounding another college professor on July 11. Razzaq taught at Khuzdar Degree College and was well-known for his activities supporting education for girls. Police say the incident appeared to be a targeted killing. Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Balochistan has experienced a spike in sectarian killings recently as radical Sunni Muslims have targeted Shi'a. The province is also the scene of a decades-long insurgency by Baluch nationalists, who demand greater autonomy and a larger share of profits from the region's mineral resources.

Pakistan: Picking them young: Militants enlist six teenage boys from Sheikhan

The Express Tribune
PESHAWAR: Militants have enlisted at least six children from Sheikhan village. To add to the worry of residents, the armed men have been actively preaching jihad to the villagers for the past few days without inviting any attention from law enforcement agencies, residents told The Express Tribune on Sunday. Dozens of armed militants belonging to the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) visit Sheikhan after Iftar, and urge people to join hands with them. “They come to the village in groups and check mobile phones and memory cards for songs and other such things,” said an elder. The armed men have snatched dozens of mobile sets with cameras since the start of Ramazan. The elder added militants were becoming a permanent nuisance, undetected by the police. He blamed local law enforcement officials for not paying any attention to the situation and claimed that after nightfall militants virtually rule the area. According to another local, at least six teenagers have joined the LI in the past two months. What militants preached was attractive, and easy-to-buy to quite an extent for the teenage boys, he added. The six boys, whose ages range between 14 and 17 years, have now been moved to an undisclosed location for militant training. In the past, militants have enlisted young men after showing them glimpses of a ‘better’ lifestyle in terms of finance and owning commodities. “Nearly all the people from Akka Khel and Khyber Agency have migrated from their ancestral villages which means there is no recruiting ground left for Lashkar-e-Islam. But they solved their problem by focusing on a settled district instead,” he added. A month ago, militants distributed pamphlets in Mashogagar village asking people not to shave their beards as it was un-Islamic. “Those barbers who violate this would be responsible for their own fate,” read the pamphlets hand-written in Pashto. Residents say they live in an atmosphere of constant fear as police restricts themselves to check posts after dusk, leaving militants free to roam and do as they please.

Pakistan: 71% households in Sindh food insecure

Despite having 14 million acres under crop cultivation in Sindh, over 71 per cent households in the province are food insecure — the highest level of food insecurity among the provinces and region, it emerged on Sunday. Of these food insecure households, 34pc are food insecure with moderate hunger and 17pc are food insecure with severe hunger, according to a report drafted by the provincial planning and development department. The department prepared the draft in January ‘for discussion’ by its own research assisted with several reports of the World Bank, London School of Economics, World Health Organization, Unicef, Lancet, Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement, Save the Children, SDPI, SDC, World Food Programme and several independent researchers. Between 2003-04 and 2008-09, the number of surplus food producing districts decreased from 11 to six while the number of food deficit districts increased, the report said. Eight of Sindh’s 23 districts, most of them in the southern part of the province and in its coastal belt were identified as having ‘extremely poor’ conditions for access to food. It said stunting was significantly higher in food insecure households but even in food secure households, stunting affected almost 40pc of young children in the province indicating that ‘food security improvement alone is insufficient’ to tackle the problem. Sindh, with just under a quarter of Pakistan’s population, has a dangerously high rate of nutritional stunting among children below five years (49.8pc.) The prevalence of underweight children is 40.5pc, while wasting prevalence is 17.5pc. These are the figures that have not changed significantly in the past decade. The report showed that stunting was recorded among 57 per cent and wasting among 26pc children of the families whose earning was less than Rs6,000. It said some 50pc children of the families that earned less than Rs9,000 suffered from stunting and 25 of them from wasting. It was 46pc and 21pc among the children of families that earned less than Rs12,000, 43pc and 17pc of children faced stunting and wasting respectively in the families whose earning was less than Rs20,000 while the percentage was 33 and 14 of those children who belonged to the families whose earning was Rs20,000 or more. The report said 33pc stunting prevalence in one of the surveyed populations in Sindh was higher than the national average for the D.R. Congo and for Sri Lanka. Similarly, it added, 14pc wasting in a group in Sindh had approached the WHO public health emergency threshold level. A high prevalence of stunting in children belonging to the rich families indicated that reducing poverty alone would not eradicate malnutrition and that important behavioural issues needed to be addressed even among the economically advantaged, the report said.Similarly, stunting levels are roughly twice as high in households where mothers are illiterate, compared with those who are better educated, according to the report. It said 54pc children of illiterate mothers suffered from stunting, 47pc children of mothers with primary education, and 37pc of children of mothers with up to matriculation level education and 27pc children of mothers having education of more than matriculation were found stunted. The report said food insecurity, the limited or uncertain availability of or access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods throughout the year, was associated with malnutrition as a key underlying determinant of overall food intake in the household, although often less associated with the intake of women and children. The report said coverage of health services relating to nutrition in Sindh was relatively low. Some 38pc of women received no ante-natal care (ANC) during their last pregnancy. Of women receiving ANC, only 10pc received information on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, and only 0.1pc on family planning. Besides, only 56.7pc of pregnant women received micronutrient supplementation. The consequences of such inadequate health services for pregnant women at the national level, inadequate food consumption, virtually non-existent services for adolescent girls and early age marriage are particularly serious in terms of pregnancy outcomes in Pakistan and result in the highest recorded prevalence of low birth-weight in Asia, which is 32pc. Another indicator of the utilization of government health services is the type of practitioner consulted for illnesses. In Sindh, 36pc of households used government facilities for childhood diarrhoea while 61pc used private dispensaries or hospitals. Only one per cent households consulted lady health workers. The report said it was needed to make the government facilities more attractive to provide adequate nutrition services at public level.

Blackouts in Ramazan: K-P government says enough is enough

The Express Tribune
Incensed by rampant blackouts, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government, led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has given the federally-controlled Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) until tomorrow (Monday) to end power outages or else face a protests campaign. “If the unjust load-shedding is not stopped by tomorrow, the chief minister along with his cabinet members and provincial legislators will stage a protest,” Chief Minister’s Special Assistant for Mineral and Mining Ziaullah Afridi told a news conference at Peshawar Press Club on Sunday. The federal government had promised there would be no load-shedding during Sehri, Iftar and Taraweeh timings in Ramazan. Contrary to the promise, the entire province – including Peshawar – was subjected to ‘unjust’ outages during the holy month. Afridi described it as a “conspiracy against the PTI-led provincial government”. “The K-P produces more electricity than its demand. Still the federal government is not supplying us with our quota of electricity which results in prolonged outages in the province,” he lamented. He was referring to Tarbela Dam, the largest hydropower generation plant with a capacity of producing 3,478 megawatts of electricity. Afridi demanded the removal of the Peshawar Electric Supply Company’s chief executive who “has failed to control power outages during Sehr, Iftar and Taraweeh timings.” Chief Minister Pervez Khattak also asked the water and power ministry to supply K-P with its full share of electricity. While addressing PTI workers and office-bearers in his hometown of Nowshera, Khattak demanded immediate steps to address the shortage of grid stations in the province or else he would lead ‘protest demonstrations’ against Wapda. The frequency and duration of power outages has not decreased in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where some areas are made to go without electricity for up to 12 hours daily. On Sunday, protest demonstrations were staged in different towns and cities of the province, including Dera Ismail Khan, Mardan, Swat and Peshawar. No respite in Rawalpindi The situation in other cities is no better. In some neighbourhoods of Rawalpindi and its suburbs, frequent power outages have led to shortage of water in the month of Ramazan. In some areas, residents complained that they had no water supply for the past two days due to unannounced load-shedding. Tube-wells and pumping stations do not function due to load-shedding. An official of the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), who wished not be named, said that they had to carry out power outages due to shortfall. “Power consumption during these hours increase manifold which result in tripping of feeders,” the official said. Cognisant of the situation, Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif said that the government would initiate many new power projects to get rid of load-shedding once and for all. He added that new transmission lines would be installed and the existing distribution system upgraded in the country. Speaking to Associated Press of Pakistan in Gujrat, the minister appealed to the people to cooperate with the government and show patience and extend their support to improve the electricity supply across the country. “We already have managed to reduce the duration of load-shedding and people are seeing the change.” The minister requested consumers in urban areas to reduce their consumption of electricity. He added that the government was increasing the power supply, but the consumers must also try to curtail their consumption.

Pakistan's Load Shedding: The worsening crisis

EDITORIAL: Daily Times
There seems to be no respite from the frequent power outages that have made life miserable for citizens. The state of affairs today is a far cry from the lofty claims made by the PML-N when it was on the election trail just a couple of months ago. The then election hopefuls promised to end load shedding immediately and to do away with the ‘bad’ policies of previous regimes. Nawaz Sharif’s party promised a drastic cut in the hours of load shedding and immediate relief measures that would be taken up without any dithering about but all that seems to have changed. Even before the moment the PML-N stepped into the ruling shoes, Nawaz Sharif was quick to caution the public over its expectations by telling them not to expect an end to load shedding overnight. One would have liked to tell the premier then and there that no one expected a be all and end all cure for the energy woes plaguing the country but the masses did expect plans to tackle the crisis on a war footing the moment the PML-N took over. A high profile meeting was indeed held in the initial days of the PML-N government’s ascent to power, chalking out a new ‘national energy policy’, which was promised to be made public but never was. After that first spasm of effort on the electricity crisis one is still waiting for the government to handle the most pressing issue being faced by the country and its people. The power outages have gained momentum yet again and are long and unscheduled. Citizens are unable to sleep, study, work and fast properly during the hottest month of the year. They were promised no load shedding before the holy month was due to commence but now Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif has told the masses that there are “technical” reasons for the sehri-iftaar outages. When will this placating the public end? Whilst the government has released some Rs 300 billion to help retire circular debt, it fails to realise that until the root cause of this debt is addressed, the problem will just keep on being reproduced. The fault lies wit the priorities set by governments over a period of time: the main culprit of this circular debt is the government itself, followed by the military. These two institutions and their affiliated branches have failed to pay their electricity bills for many years leaving private consumers to bear the brunt of increasing tariffs. Of late, the office of the Federal Adjustor (FA) has been considered to be brought into action to deduct at source any money owed by the provinces at the time of funds transfer to the provinces under the NFC Award. This may prove one way to make sure the provincial governments that do not pay their bills no longer get away it. The PML-N is no longer an opposition party and can no longer flout claims that Punjab is being targeted by the Centre when it comes to massive outages; it is now in the federal government and must make sure that all pay their electricity bills. Secondly, subsidies must be minimised. So far, the subsidy is around five rupees per unit and this is costing the government in terms of efficient electricity generation. The lifeline slab, which is specifically the amount of electricity only barely afforded by the poor, should not be touched but the other slabs can face an incremental increase in tariffs as their consumers can afford to pay for it. Last but not least comes less dependency on thermal power and more on hydel and other, alternative forms of fuel. Renewable energy must be brought to places where the national grid just cannot be extended to isolated areas that are still without electricity. The Thar coal reserves are reported to be made of a lignite form of coal, which is too combustible to transport; the government must make plans to plant powerhouses in the mining area instead of transporting the coal. As can be seen, there is one big problem that has many solutions. However, they can only be implemented if the governing body has the determination and grit to move past rhetoric and actually do something about the matter.

Pakistan: Power outages hit country hard

Unannounced load shedding continued across the country on Sunday despite the government’s claim that power generation has been increased. Unscheduled power outages were reported in various cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Hyderabad and Multan, although the government had said there would be no power cuts during sehr, iftar and taraveeh timings. In Lahore, people in Karim Park, Kasurpura, Ravi Road, Misri Shah, Bhaati Gate and Lohari Gate faced inconvenience during sehri time due to the intermittent power supply. A similar situation was reported in Karachi’s several areas, including Ahsanabad, Gulshan-e-Maymar, Surjani Town, Buffer Zone, North Karachi, New Karachi, Gulshan-e- Iqbal and Malir. People in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat, Kohat and other cities also had to brave incessant power cuts throughout the day. Responding to the situation, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) announced it would hold protest demonstrations across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) from today (Monday). KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak would lead the protests from July 15, PTI MPAs, led by Ziaullah Afridi, told a press conference. They said that although KP was the “largest power producing province in the country”, it was being discriminated against with regard to supply of electricity. Qaumi Watan Party leader Sikandar Sherpao also expressed his concerns over unscheduled load shedding in KP and said people would be compelled to take to the streets if the situation was not improved. “We will also be compelled to lead protests against power outages,” he remarked in a statement. Meanwhile, Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif said that shortfall of electricity had been reduced to 3,600 megawatts. “Technical reasons are to be blamed for load shedding during sehar and iftar timings,” the state-run radio reported him as saying. He said that duration of load shedding was more in those areas where people did not pay electricity bills. Asif said the government was increasing the power supply but there must also be some efforts on part of consumers to conserve power. He added Rs 360 billion circular debt had also been cleared. agencies

Pakistan: Addressing the core issue

After setting foot in the power corridors, the finance managers of the Pakistan Muslim League government immediately pounced at the paper work to do away with lingering circular debt widely regarded as the sole factor that kept Pakistan in darkness for last five year. The quick work on the circular debt immediately attracted media attention. Media debates gave new impetus to the expectations of the energy-starved people of Pakistan. Thereafter, newly induced hopes and aspiration proved short-lived when the existing power generation resources failed to match the power demand in extremely hot and humid conditions despite hasty clearance of the hefty circular debt from cruelly taxed money of the common man to the power producers who never implemented their agreements to generate the agreed level of power. Finding no improvement in the power situation despite lapse of several weeks despite payment to power producers, the patience of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmakers run short on Sunday when they announced to carry out demonstrations across the province on Monday (today) against prolonged electricity outages and against the unjust power distribution. Claiming that the KPK is biggest producer of power yet the people of the province are being unfairly deprived of the electricity, the PTI lawmakers sound little a bit parochial in their public oratory that the power produced in the KPK is being given to other provinces. Such rhetoric can damage mutual respect and harmony amongst the provinces. Thus the law-makers across Pakistan need to be extremely careful when they go to public. Yet nothing deters the PTI government in the KPK from protesting against what it believed unjust. There exist certain flaws in the power allocation formula. Under the political pressure, the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC), that failed to enhance its power generation capacity under the agreement, gets extra power from the national grid. Now it is time to revise such unjust treatment. Definitely, the people living in Karachi and Peshawar deserve equal respect and rights. There is hardly any doubt the PEPCO has failed to keep its surveillance over the power producers. Thus the KPK law-makers are justified in their demand to seek immediate removal of the Chief Executive PEPCO. Their call should be given patient hearing and due consideration. On the other hand, the power production had relatively improved after all the government had generously pumped in Rs 362 billion without making judicious study of the root-causes of the lingering debt circular. The government must not forget the country will remain energy deficient till it revamps power sector—no matter how much borrowed money it pumps into the existing power producing set-up. The federal government must not live in any illusion that the improvement in the power generation owes to their achievement of settling the circular debt early rather their cause is well served by the Mother Nature that has set in early pre-monsoon rains. Improved water level in reservoirs has also boosted the power production in the country. It is a temporary phase: thereafter the power crisis will hit the nation once the monsoon seasons ends. Thus the demand to root out causes of the circular debt should not fall on deaf ears as the power crisis does not revolve around the debt circular. It must also revisit its Oil Deregulation Policy that had never yielded any desired results of building up the oil storage facility rather taking heavy toll on the national exchequer. Billion dollars have been robbed from the nation under the garb of the Deem Duty. Rich oil cartel is ruling roost and is holding the bureaucracy and political leadership in the past hostage for their personal gains. No government can tackle the energy crisis without addressing core issue of the oil price fixation formula—for which it had to revamp toothless OGRA as well that had been playing in the hands of oil marketing companies.

Pakistan: Paul Bhatti is no Shahbaz Bhatti | Challenging Pakistan’s blasphemy laws takes courage

By Nasir Saeed
Shahbaz Bhatti knew death was a risk that came with the role of being the minorities' minister but he never shirked from criticising the blasphemy laws and calling injustice what it was. It is very unfortunate that during his recent visit to the UK Paul Bhatti said Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were not a problem. Bhatti
is the brother of the late Shahbaz Bhatti, the heroic Pakistani minorities’ minister who was tragically murdered by extremists because he dared to criticise Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In an address at the House of Commons last week, Bhatti played down the link between the blasphemy laws and the intense persecution of Christians in Pakistan. For anyone aware of the situation facing minorities in Pakistan, such a position is astonishing. This is because the blasphemy laws have been instrumental in some of the most upsetting examples of injustice against Christians. Take for example Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who is being dragged through a gruelling appeals process to overturn her death sentence for blasphemy, a process which has already gone on over three years and could take many more before any final decision is handed down from the Pakistani courts. Most recently there was the case of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old with a lower mental age who was falsely accused of blasphemy by an imam. Only a few weeks after the case against her made international headlines, it came to light that the imam, her principal accuser, had in fact concocted the evidence himself. The life of a young girl could have been ended because of his lies. Yet cases like these are not rare. These are simply the most notorious and the ones that gained international attention. There are many more cases of blasphemy against Christians that never get heard of outside Pakistan. Rimsha was extremely lucky because her case went global and drew worldwide condemnation at the political level. Having been given sanctuary in Canada, she and her family are safe for the time being from Pakistan’s unjust laws. But other Christians are not so lucky. Those who remain in Pakistan get up each day and go about their business knowing that at any time they could be subjected to false accusations of blasphemy by disgruntled Muslim neighbours or colleagues who see an easy way of getting one over them. With the law and the authorities on their side, what have they got to lose? Every Christian in Pakistan is at the risk of a false blasphemy charge and all that it entails: mob justice, hostile courts, indefinite detention without trial, lengthy prison sentences, or a death sentence. Although no one has been executed so far for blasphemy in Pakistan, the appeals process to have the sentence overturned takes years, in which time the accused languishes behind bars, as much at risk of being killed there as they are outside prison. Many Christians accused of blasphemy have been forced to spend years behind bars before their case has even gone to trial. Savan Masih, of Badami Bagh, Lahore, is currently in jail awaiting trial for blasphemy. Another accused, Martha Bibi, has fled to Sri Lanka where she is applying for asylum. Zaffar Bhatti, also accused of blasphemy, has been denied the right of representation in the courts after the Rawalpindi Bar passed a resolution stating that no lawyer would defend him. Then there are Christian villages and colonies that have been rampaged through and torched by extremists, where innocent bystanders have been brutally murdered and homes and businesses callously destroyed. All because of spurious blasphemy allegations. And despite the wanton destruction, the Muslim perpetrators are let off the hook time and time again and in some cases, it is the Christians who are arrested by the authorities for agitation. Paul Bhatti is either seriously ill-informed or taking a ‘gently, gently’ approach to speaking out on behalf of Pakistan’s beleaguered religious minorities. I’m afraid Pakistan is not the kind of country where that approach works. Nor will it be very effective in raising awareness of the situation outside Pakistan where there are many lobby groups and human rights campaigners all clamouring for the attention and intervention of western governments. A strong and unequivocal voice is needed both within Pakistan, where arrogant Islamists think they have the right to trample all over minorities, and outside Pakistan where the world is so often busy and self-engaged. In his talk at Parliament last week, Bhatti blamed the persecution against Christians on religious education in schools and the anti-minorities language in textbooks. This is, of course, a factor, but to try and suggest that this is the primary cause of persecution in Pakistan is a serious misinterpretation of the facts. Human rights campaigners at last week’s talk were left scratching their heads and wondering if Bhatti, the current chair of the Pakistani minorities’ alliance, is the man for the job of defending the country’s minorities. Shahbaz Bhatti knew death was a risk that came with the role of being the minorities’ minister but he never shirked from criticising the blasphemy laws and calling injustice what it was. That same determination is not yet apparent in his brother but Paul Bhatti should have on his mind the lives that were lost already for the cause: Shahbaz Bhatti, Salmaan Taseer, Bishop John Joseph, Naimt Ahmer, Tahir Iqbal and many more. There are mothers who have lost sons, children who were orphaned, wives who are now widows, and homes that have been forever destroyed. Being a Christian in Pakistan is not easy. Therefore, it goes without saying that speaking up for Christians in Pakistan is also not going to be easy. But if no one musters the courage to do it, things are never going to change. Even the Lord himself had to pay a heavy price to tell the truth to a fallen world but eventually enough people listened and things changed; the Rome Empire fell. Paul Bhatti is in the position to speak to those who cannot only listen but also effect real change. But the question is: will he use it?

A wrong turn: Is Indonesia on the path to radicalisation?
Once known for its verdant beaches, Indonesia of late has acquired a radical hue. This shift came into stark focus recently when the organisers of Miss World pageant bowed down to pressure from Islamic hardliners and scrapped the bikini round from this year's competition to be held in September in Jakarta.
The episode, coming after Lady Gaga's cancelled tour last year and the disrupted book tour of Muslim-Canadian writer Irshad Manji in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, was again marked by a complete lack of dissent. The Miss World decision came in the wake of the Indonesian Council of Ulema or MUI writing to the country's president about how the competition was "against Islamic teachings." "That contest is just an excuse to show women's body parts that should remain covered," said Mukri Aji, a prominent cleric from West Java province's MUI branch.
This underlines a trend of growing intolerance in Indonesia in the last decade, with such protests against popular culture indicating a much deeper problem. "Protests against Miss World pageant are nothing new. However, the difference lies in how these opinions are expressed. While earlier public criticism was the norm, now coercion and threats are used," said Ahmad Suaedy of the Abdurrahman Wahid Centre for Inter-Faith Dialogue and Peace at the University of Indonesia. "This is because the police and law enforcement agencies want to avoid violence by the hardliners and let minorities become the victim in the process," he added. The New York Times reported over 150 regulations restricting minority rights in Indonesia, including a building regulation used to demolish churches. Over 400 churches have been closed since 2004 when President Yudhoyono took office. The Jakata-based Setara Institute reported 264 incidents of religious violence in 2012 alone. Not all the victims are Christians though. In February 2011, three members of the minority Islamic Ahmadiyya sect were bludgeoned to death by a mob of over 1000, reported BBC. Videos of the killing were posted online but the maximum sentence handed out was to an Ahmadiyya man for defending himself. In 2008, President Yudhoyono himself issued an anti-Ahmadiyya decree, threatening five years jail term for anyone who "propagates" the group's teachings, said Andreas Harsono, an independent journalist and researcher working in Jakarta. Rizal Kuddah of the State University of Surabaya, however, disagreed. "The Ahmadiyya sect contradicts Islam. That's why the government had to take such a stance as there was a social outpouring and protests," he said. "Yudhoyono signed a law that allowed the listing of only six religions on Indonesian ID cards, basically discriminating against more than 350 smaller religions," Harsono said. However, international reaction has been one of appeasement, with Hillary Clinton and David Cameron speaking highly of the regime in 2012. "Islam is the biggest religion in Indonesia and it is also our guiding light. Indonesia is not a secular state," said Kuddah, "If the pageant is happening in Indonesia, the contestants should represent the culture and ethos of the country and wearing bikini is not in keeping with our mores," he says. However, the excuse of "against our culture" is gradually threatening any kind of free thinking and is being used to intimidate minorities. "More and more artists, writers and intellectuals are facing problems when they try to take up issues considered controversial by hardliners," said Harsono. The Islamists, however, claim that they are as 'secular' as the West. "In France, women are banned from wearing hijab (veil). In the US, an azaan (prayer call) cannot be sounded. Here in Indonesia, we celebrate festivals of all major religions, whether it is Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or Buddhism. Can you imagine a European country declaring Eid as a national holiday?' questioned Kuddah.