Sunday, July 21, 2013

Shocking Indian school poisoning: Principal 'forced kids to eat' odd-looking food

After 23 Indian children died from consuming poisoned school meals, it has emerged that victims refused the food before being made to eat it, according to the Times of India. Preliminary investigations indicate the cooking medium was laced with pesticide. Police say that the latest case of poisoning, which claimed the lives of 23 children, was most probably caused by storing cooking oil in a used pesticide container. However, an anonymous HRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) source told the Times of India that the cooking agent used for soyabean subzi may have played a role. “Earlier it was thought oil was put in a pesticide container. But it seems that the lady cook used pesticide,” the source said. The subzi looked black and smelt odd according to the source. “The school principal insisted the cooking medium cannot be bad since it had come from her husband's shop,” he said. “When students refused to eat, the principal scolded and forced them to eat.” "I can accept accidents can happen anywhere. But the scale of this incident and the carelessness, the sheer callousness of the response, the delay in treating the children, is shocking," activist Dipa Sinha of the Right to Food Campaign told AFP. The children died after eating lentils, potatoes and rice cooked with oil containing agricultural insecticide that was five times the strength sold in the market place, according to tests. Forensic tests have shown that the oil contained a "highly toxic" form of insecticide which killed the children so quickly that some died in their parents' arms while being taken to hospital. The principal reportedly fled the school shortly after realizing the extent of the tragedy. “A crucial one and half to two hours were lost. Had these children been rushed to hospital immediately few lives could have been saved,” he said. There have been violent protests in the state of Bihar. Several parents who lost children in the tragedy said they had trusted the school to serve their kids their only solid meal of the day. "We have no food at home and it was only to ensure that my children got at least some food that I sent them to the school," a mother who lost three children in the tragedy, Sanjudevi Mahatoshe, told AFP. Tens of thousands of children in India have been reportedly been refusing to eat their meals in the aftermath of the tragedy. On top of this, there have been a number of reports of children taken to hospital , and one report of a scorpion found in the rice in a midday meal. A recent Reuters review of audit reports and research papers showed officials have ignored warnings of the lack of oversight and accountability in the program. Checks in several states have found unhygienic conditions in which the food is prepared and served, and the poor quality of food itself. You only come and do checks when you get complaints or when there are serious cases," Rudranarayan Ram, a local education administrator for the village of Gandaman in Bihar state, where the children died, said. Two audit reports by the state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh said the food in the scheme was often laced with stones and worms. "If the government checks, they will find that the children who have been eating midday meals are under great physical threat," Professor Ajay Kumar Jha at the A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, who led a team to monitor the programme in Bihar in April said. Another survey by the Indian Institute of Management revealed that children in Gujarat state were instructed to wash up after meals by "rubbing the playground soil on the plates and then giving them a quick rinse". Last year over 130 students needed hospital treatment in the western Indian city of Pune after eating a school lunch, according to the Times of India. A probe later revealed that the food was contaminated with E. coli bacteria. The nationwide free meal scheme feeds up to 120 million children every day. The tradition has long proved to be the only encouragement to parents, most of whom are struggling to make both ends meet, to send their children to school instead of condemning kids to malnutrition and illiteracy. While the midday meal is often the only wholesome meal poor children in India may get during the day, a government survey revealed last year that 42 per cent of children under the age of five were underweight. India is home to a quarter of the world's hungry. Tamil Nadu was the first Indian state to adopt a school feeding programme in 1982. Other local governments gradually followed the example, and in 2001 India's Supreme Court ordered all states to provide free lunches to children in state-run primary schools.

Woman jailed in Dubai after reporting rape hopes to warn others

A Norwegian interior designer jailed in Dubai for illicit sex after she reported being raped says she has no regrets about coming forward if her warning will protect others from a similar fate. A court on July 17 sentenced Marte Deborah Dalelv to 16 months in prison for having sex outside marriage, drinking and making false statements. She says a male colleague pulled her into his hotel room and raped her after she asked him to help her find her own room when they had had a few drinks. The 24-year-old has been released on condition she remain at a Norwegian Christian center in Dubai pending the outcome of an appeal. Asked if she regretted reporting the assault, Dalelv said no: "The truth is the only thing that will help me get through this." The news has dominated the front pages in Norway and raised questions about the judicial system in the Gulf state, which lures large numbers of expatriates and tourists with a Western lifestyle but has little-publicized conservative laws on its books covering sex and alcohol. Norway has complained. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters: "We believe this is a completely unacceptable verdict, which is contrary to human rights and the basic sense of justice." In the United Arab Emirates, as in some other countries using Islamic law, a rape conviction can require either a confession or the testimony of four adult male witnesses. According to the UK-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights, Dalelv's is only the latest in a string of cases in which women who have reported being raped have ended up with jail sentences. Among recent cases, a Briton who alleged she had been raped by three men was fined for drinking alcohol. An Emirati woman was sentenced to a year in prison after claiming to have been gang-raped. An Australian woman was sent to prison for 11 months after reporting a gang-rape to police, the Centre said. Dubai promotes itself as a resort destination and a base for international business. Its hotels have licensed nightclubs, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol openly. But rarely-enforced laws actually define it as illegal for residents to drink without a special license that few obtain. Possessing alcohol outside a licensed bar or being drunk in public are offences, even if the alcohol was bought legally. Such laws can be used to prosecute visitors who are involved in accidents or report crimes. In an interview with Reuters, Dalelv said that by coming forward she hoped to alert other people not to expect Western standards of judicial protection. "Dubai seems like a Western city, but what a lot of tourists don't know for example that it's not legal for them to drink alcohol," she said. Dalelv said she did not realize she would be treated as a criminal rather than as a victim, until after she reported the assault and found herself being interrogated at a police station. An officer asked if she was making the rape report because she had not enjoyed sex. "That is when I knew: I don't think they are going to believe me at all," she said. She was held in prison for four days until contact was made with the Norwegian consulate and bail arranged. She still expected to be exonerated when her legal team presented its case. Her conviction came as a shock. "I am very surprised because we had a DNA report, we had a medical report ... and still didn't believe me."

Detroit bankruptcy shows need for economic diversity

Once the heart of the US auto industry, Detroit has filed for the biggest municipal bankruptcy the nation has ever seen. This city has experienced rises and falls during its development path. The Ford Motor Company, founded in the early 20th century, and other automotive pioneers reinforced Detroit's status as a cradle for auto assembly lines and a symbol of industrial might. As the auto industry and Detroit were synonymous throughout much of the 20th century, the city drew tens of thousands of new residents, creating many job opportunities. Nearly 80 percent of the locals worked in auto-related fields. However, the economic downturn that swept all of the US and later the world in 2008 has led to a decline in the purchase of automobiles and therefore a decline in production volume. The auto industry was forced to a precipice. The drop in the employment rate and the exodus of workers meant that the city generated fewer and fewer tax revenues, exacerbating the city's financial woe. In contrast, observe the US city of Pittsburgh. It used to be a city of smog, with steel being its primary industry. With most of the steel plants closed down and replaced by booming healthcare and tourism industries, it has successfully transformed into one of the most livable cities. The tales of these two cities may offer some lessons for China during the transformation process of the country's industrial cities. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, many cities have relied on a single industry to boost the local economy and have contributed greatly to the country's overall development, such as the "steel city" Anshan, "coal city" Datong and a number of oil-producing cities across China. After decades of exploration and consumption, these resources may be used up sooner or later. These cities will eventually come to a crossroads and have to find a way out. Those solely depending on a single resource represent a warning. The photovoltaic industry used to be pillar among local industries in places such as Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. As the global solar industry faces a grim outlook, Chinese photovoltaic giant Suntech Power in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province announced bankruptcy in March, impacting the prospects for development in the region. China's urbanization is advancing at a fast pace. Many cities haven't experienced the pain of a decline. If a city simply pins its hope on a single enterprise or industry, when an economic downturn strikes, the city may risk falling behind. Last year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed the importance for resource-dependent cities to speed up the transformation of their industries when he was the vice premier. The bankruptcy of Detroit shows that a sense of urgency is necessary.

McCain: Obama race remarks 'very impressive'
President Obama on Friday made his most extensive comments on race since entering the White House, and they are generating extensive commentary. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost the 2008 presidential race to Obama, called the president's remarks "very impressive," and said they should help all Americans think about how to improve race relations in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death. "I think we continue to make progress," McCain told CNN's State of the Union, but recent events show "we still have a long way to go." McCain also said he wouldn't "second guess" the Florida jury's decision this month to acquit George Zimmerman for the death of the 17-year-old Trayvon. During a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room on Friday, Obama said all Americans should respect the Zimmerman verdict. Speaking personally and emotionally, the president also said white Americans should understand the pain that African-Americans feel over Trayvon's death, and the deep suspicions they harbor about the American justice system. "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," said the nation's first African-American president, adding that "it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away." Obama's remarks dominated discussions on Sunday news shows, winning many compliments, but also some criticism. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., also on CNN, said he appreciates how Obama reflected the frustrations of black men who are regarded with suspicion simply walking down the street. "That's me on a daily basis ... especially when I'm home in New Orleans and I'm dressed down," Richmond said, adding that only African-American males "can really sense the anger and frustration when it happens, especially when you're doing what you should be doing." Journalist Tavis Smiley told NBC's Meet The Press that Obama -- who has often avoided public discussions of race during his presidency -- had to be "pushed to that podium" after nearly a week of protest over the Zimmerman verdict. Smiley and others said Obama needs to address the economic challenges of African-American communities, as well as problems in the justice system. "On this issue, you cannot lead from behind," said Smiley, an African-American. Charles Ogletree, a law professor of Obama's at Harvard, defended his former student's efforts on race. He told NBC that Obama should not be seen as "the black president," but the leader of the nation as a whole. "He's the president who happens to be black," Ogletree said. During his White House remarks, Obama called for new and better law enforcement training to help defuse tensions with minorities, and he criticized racial profiling and Florida's "stand your ground" law. (On CNN, McCain said he hopes his state of Arizona will review its own "stand your ground" law.) The president called on Americans to do "soul searching" in the wake of the Zimmerman case. "We have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues," Obama said. "And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions."

Pakistan: 40 government employees in Rawalpindi have links to banned terrorist groups

Let Us Build Pakistan
Despite being put on the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) watch list, 40 individuals having links to outlawed organisations (of Takfiri Deobandis and Wahhabis) are working in different government departments in the Rawalpindi division. This was disclosed in an intelligence report sent to the provincial government recently. After observing that the police were not making serious efforts in keeping a vigil on the activities of such individuals, the Punjab home department last week directed all the district police across the province to obtain ‘fresh surety bonds’ from members of the outlawed outfits, especially those who had been released from jails, Afghan returnees, Lal Masjid elements and others put on the watch list. The intelligence report stated that over 460 persons charged with terror activities and delivering hate speeches had been placed under section IV (Schedule IV) of ATA in the Rawalpinidi division, comprising the districts of Attock, Jhelum, Chakwal and Rawalpindi. Of these, nearly 40 were working in different government departments like education and even some sensitive institutions. Anyone put on the watch list under section IV of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 has to inform the respective police before leaving his hometown and upon return. Such individuals after their release from jail are also supposed to provide a surety bond to the police for good behaviour and peaceful conduct. The intelligence report sent to the Punjab government contained the names of individuals, their home addresses and the police registration numbers along with the name of the police stations where they had to report. Their latest job status along with the department names were also mentioned in the report. Of the 40 persons who were associated with government departments and who were placed on the watch list between 2004 and 2010, 19 belonged to the Rawalpindi district. Of the 19 persons, four were working in government schools and the remaining in factories and sensitive institutions. The report, however, clarified that none of them was given the government jobs after being placed under the watch list. A senior intelligence officer told Dawn on the condition of anonymity that all the 40 individuals were low-level employees in government departments. He added that they can be a security risk because low-level employees in any organisation knew each and everything on the premises compared to their senior officers. The report added that in the Attock district, 17 suspects put on the watch list were doing government jobs – five of them in the education department. The number of such persons in Chakwal was four who were placed on the watch-list in 2010. When Naseemuz Zaman, the additional inspector general of police, was contacted and asked if any individual placed on the schedule 4th of ATA could get a government job, he replied: “No person placed on the schedule 4 can get a job in any government department.” He said according to the police department, there were 425 individuals who had been placed on the schedule 4 in the Rawalpindi division. Of the 425 persons, 381 have submitted surety bonds to the police. He added that 22 individuals had left their home addresses while four were declared proclaimed offenders. The AIG was of the view that getting a surety bond from such individuals was not enough to bound them not to get involved in any an illegal activity. “In stead of the police, such individuals should be handled by the courts of law because the police have no powers to confiscate the property of the guarantor or punish the offender,” the AIG suggested. He added: “Sometimes people are wrongly placed on schedule 4 of the ATA that causes problems for them.” The AIG said as the police record showed that 80 to 85 per cent people placed on the schedule 4 obeyed the law but there were very few who did not care about. He also cited the terrorist attack on Justice Maqbool Baqar in Karachi and said the ‘prime suspect’ arrested by the police in connection with the attack allegedly belonged to a banned outfit and had been placed on the schedule 4 of ATA. Talking to Dawn, Raja Saimul Haq Satti Advocate said no individual on the terror watch list can get a government job unless he obtains clearance from the court. Waheedur Rehman Khattak, the superintendent of police Saddar division, was of the view that serious efforts were not being made by the police to monitor the activities of such persons. “If such an individual violates the law, a case should be registered against them under section 11 of the ATA,” said SP Khattak. Critics say if the government seriously wanted to get rid of the menace of terrorism, it should depoliticise the police department and ensure all postings and transfers of officers on merit. - See more at:

Afghanistan – chaos is inevitable
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which will end in 2014, will lead to inevitable changes in the situation in the region and will force almost all major international players to reconsider their priorities and to adapt to the new reality, writes Alexander Shahnazarov in his analytical article in Knews. He says that despite the withdrawal of a large part of the military contingent of the joint anti-terrorist coalition, the backbone of which forms the U.S. military and accounts more than 130,000 people, at least 30,000 well-trained military professionals will remain on IRA territory, which will be placed in set eight bases. It means that the “withdrawal” of U.S. military contingent is some sort of conformity that doesn’t signify no foreign troop remaining in Afghanistan. Regardless the fact that Americans have transferred all rights to control the territory to Afghan government, the last two weeks shows inability of Afghanistsni force to assure security not in Afghanistan as a whole but even in its center. Three major terror attacks happened in Afghanistan for the past two weeks. The responsibility for these acts took Taliban. It is necessary to note that Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Khazarians live in Afghanistan. This complicates interethnic situation in IRA as nowadays, the president, government and parliament is fully represented by one ethnic group – Pashtuns. This all does not contribute to the stabilization of the internal situation in the country. Shakhnazarov brings as an example event took place in Talukan, Takhan province that is on the north of Afghanistan where clashes between Uzbeks and Tajiks happened recently. He refers to Afghan news agency Vice that informed on ethnic Uzbeks living in the area, holding meetings, complaining their poor representation in the government of Afghanistan and their province. Takhar is a home for many Tajiks too, so mass demonstrations of Uzbeks ended by the death of three and 52 wounded. According to the witnesses of the event, Afghan police preferred not to interfere and did not prevent the collision. According to Shakhnazarov, this situation illustrates quite well what will happen in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the major part of ISAF military contingent. He believes that the country will once again plunged into chaos of ethnic violence which Afghan security won’t be able to stop. Taliban taking the power is inevitable in these circumstances. It will happen with the support of western players. Shakhnazarov assumes that this is the particular scenario United States plan to follow having started negotiations with Taliban representatives in Qatar. Afghan President’s objections remain unheard. At the end, Shakhnazarov says, Karzai would need to agree sharing power with Taliban or simply would need to leave the office. Internal situation in Afghanistan will influence neighboring countries – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. They can expect a deterioration of situation in the border areas with Afghanistan. Shakhnazarov writes that for the part years, large number of national units, opposing the existing regime found asylum in Afghanistan. They are the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and intransigent Tajik Opposition and Turkmen Islamists. Important to note that members of these groups have gone through serious military and terrorist trainings in Pakistan and Afghanistan camps. Of course, leaders of these organizations will certainly take advantage of the confusion that would arise in the IRA, to penetrate into the territory of neighboring countries, Shakhnazarov says. Today, the Central Asia countries are experiencing very difficult time. They do not have enough capacity to grade the security threat and the only guarantor of their stability has been and remains for long period of time membership in CSTO. As Nikolai Borduja, Secretary General of CSTO stated that leaders of CSTO member-states want to minimize the inevitable consequences of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and inevitable deterioration of the situation in the region. Shakhnazarov says that when it comes to minimizing losses, it is understood that they are inevitable. And the leadership of the region will have to choose between "bad" or "very bad." He believes that CSTO is practically the only force able to solve serious challenges to regional security.

Across US, Thousands Protest Zimmerman Verdict

Thousands of people in the United States have joined nationwide rallies to demand federal action in support of civil rights, one week after a Florida jury acquitted a Hispanic neighborhood watchman in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. The National Action Network, led by American civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, organized Saturday's vigils in honor of the teenager, Trayvon Martin, outside government buildings in more than 100 cities around the country. They were the latest in a series of national protests against the July 13 acquittal of the former neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter in the February 2012 incident in which he fatally shot Martin in the chest during an altercation. The jury accepted Zimmerman's claim that he was acting in self-defense. The verdict angered many Americans who believe Martin's killing was racially motivated. Race was not discussed in court during the trial. Saturday's main rally was in New York City, where hundreds of people gathered to see Martin's mother Sybrina Fulton, Sharpton and pop superstar couple Beyonce and Jay-Z. Addressing the crowd, Fulton said "today it was my son, tomorrow it might be yours." She also vowed to fight for change in the country to ensure that her son's death is not in vain, saying "I am going to work for your children as well." Fulton's former husband Tracy Martin also led a rally of hundreds of people in Miami, Florida. Sharpton is pressing the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a civil right prosecution of Zimmerman on suspicion of targeting Martin because of the teenager's race. Some legal experts say it would be difficult for federal prosecutors to prove the allegation. President Barack Obama paid tribute to Martin in a surprise appearance before White House reporters on Friday, saying the teenager "could have been my son ... could have been me 35 years ago." The nation's first black president urged people to see the Martin case from the perspective of African-Americans, saying he and others have experienced society perceiving them as threatening because of their race. Obama also said he is looking into ways to examine state and local laws to see if they encourage confrontations like the one in Florida.

Poor quality and bad management: India ignored warnings in free meal program

The village school in India where 23 children died by poisoning last week had been providing lunch under a government-sponsored scheme without checks or monitoring by local officials to see if the food was stored carefully or cooked properly. Although it is the first such disaster in the "midday meal" project that feeds about 120 million children every day across India, a Reuters review of audit reports and research papers shows officials have long ignored warnings of the lack of oversight and accountability in the program. "You only come and do checks when you get complaints or when there are serious cases," said Rudranarayan Ram, the local education administrator for the village of Gandaman in Bihar state, where the children died. "This was the first time." The poisoning, which police suspect was caused by storing cooking oil in a used pesticide container, killed the children so quickly that some died in their parents' arms while being taken to hospital. Ram, who was tasked with monitoring the program, said the headmistress of the school, who has fled, bought the food and the oil in which it was cooked. He just doesn't know from where nor how the items were stored. Although fatal contamination is extremely rare in the midday meal scheme, auditors in several states have described unhygienic conditions in which the food under the program is prepared and served, and the poor quality of food itself. Two audit reports by the state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have said the food in the scheme was often laced with stones and worms. Another survey by the Indian Institute of Management noted children in Gujarat state were made to wash up after their meals by "rubbing the playground soil on the plates and then giving a quick rinse". "If the government checks, they will find that the children who have been eating midday meals are under great physical threat," said Ajay Kumar Jha, professor at A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, who led a team to monitor the program in Bihar in April. The midday meal scheme of giving school pupils a free lunch is the largest such program in the world. It has been widely lauded as one of the most successful welfare measures in India, home to a quarter of the world's hungry, because it also boosts school enrolments and helps children to continue studies.For millions of poor families, the lunch is the only full meal their children eat in a day. That encourages them to send them to school, and not keep them home to help with chores. For this reason, despite being poorly managed, the scheme draws a lot of support from non-governmental organizations, rights activists and the United Nations. "We need it. It's one of India's most well-thought of programs," said Bharathi Ghanashyam, spokeswoman of Akshaya Patra, an NGO that provides school lunches. Still, audit reports have highlighted the continuing failings of the program, more than a decade after feeding children a cooked meal in schools was mandated by a Supreme Court order. The problems include grain kept in decrepit condition in federal warehouses, and then often stored and cooked in poorly-equipped schools by staff with little or no training.
P.K. Shahi, the education minister in Bihar state, said there were no warnings from the federal government about the program. "There were general advisories for better hygiene. That's all," he told Reuters. "In Bihar, the midday meal scheme covers 16-18 million children in 73,000 schools and it's run by teachers and school management committees. I can understand the issues about hygiene given the scale of operation, the number of people involved, and given the fact that the individuals who run the program are not experts in food. "But you have to understand that (this) is a pure case of poisoning."Government guidelines for the program are strict, including requirements for every school to display delivery details for grains received from federal stores and list other ingredients purchased. Kitchens should have lockable storage to check pilferage and ingredients should be stored in proper containers, say the hygiene and safety rules. There should be regular inspections at the local and state level, according to the rules which are laid out by the Human Resources Development Ministry. Experts say the problem is not lack of rules but poor implementation and a lack of accountability. "Accountability and monitoring is weak to non-existent," Suneetha Kadiyala, research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi, told Reuters in an email. "The right to food cannot be achieved (through any policy or legal instrument) unless the governance of programs and their monitoring at grass roots is strengthened." In Bihar, a 2008 audit report showed that 563.75 metric tons of rice rotted in schools during a three-year period due to poor storage. No "extra nutrients" such as vegetables or fruit were provided although expenditure of 598.7 million rupees (now about $10 million) was incurred by the government. Only 10 percent of the kitchens that were supposed to be constructed were complete as of March 2008, although funds were provided. "There was complete absence of the internal controls, regular monitoring and evaluation of the Scheme as per the guidelines," the 2008 report said.
Part of the problem is poor infrastructure. Thousands of schools in India do not even have their own buildings, and are run from community centers with no storage facilities. Many schools are no bigger than a single room. The school where the children were poisoned is a tiny building with only one classroom for 50-60 pupils. The room has no lights nor fans and only a black painted rectangle on the wall for a blackboard.The kitchen was a pile of bricks and charcoal in a corner outside the classroom and parents said the ingredients for lunch had to be brought in every day as there was no storage. "These deaths could had been prevented with strict adherence to protocols for preparing the mid day meal," said the United Nations Children's Fund, after the Bihar tragedy. Many states have faced criticism over the quality of food in the scheme and the way it is provided. In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, a recent pilot audit found underweight sacks of rice. In Madhya Pradesh in central India, a report in 2010 found half the schools did not serve meals regularly and cooks brought utensils from home. In West Bengal, a 2010 report by Pratichi Trust, a research body founded by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, called for more investments to improve the food quality. Hygiene problems are exacerbated by a lack of fresh water and basic sanitation in some rural areas. "We struggle to get basic clean water," said Mridul Salgame, who runs the non-profit Foundation of Food Research and Enterprise for Safety and Hygiene (FRESH). "In remote areas of Bihar and Rajasthan, they have to filter out muddy water and drink it." Salgame wants action and emphasizes the victims of these failings are children. "The time has come to take it up on a war footing," she said.

Sayyeda Zainab’s tomb attacked by Syria rebels, Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban
The attack on Sayyeda Zainab’s (A.S.) mausoleum, in the Syrian capital, Damascus, is an instance of the Takfiri Deobandis from Pakistan partnering with Wahhabis and Salafis to form the Global Al- Qaeda that is unwittingly backed by NATO and the Western alliance. Hopefully, this is an error based on misunderstanding by the Western Alliance of just who exactly who these animals are, as there is no doubt, that the American people have not forgotten the terror committed by these same Al Qaeda on 9/11. This is a disaster for the global community! The significance of Sayyeda Zainab (AS) cannot be overstated. She was the co-leader of Karbala with Imam Hussain against an unjust and oppressive Caliphate. Taliban has now set up camp in Syria. It was Al Qaeda, who has paired with Pakistani Taliban, to perpetrate a religious profanity by attacking a Shrine so important to the Muslim community. This attack on the shrine of Sayyeda Zainab (AS) is a disaster not just for Muslims, but for religious communities everywhere. Those of us with a love of history understand that great religious events shape history, and recognize that the desecration of this kind should not be relegated to the back pages of press reports. Why are Pakistani Muslims and world leaders so silent? Perhaps it should be explained, and understood, who Sayyeda Zainab (AS) is. It is well known that on the 5th day of the 5th month of the 5th Hijri, after the completion of the Panjatan, the daughter Seyyada Zainab (AS) was born to Ali (The rightly guided Caliph) and Batool (the daughter of the founder of Islam). Sayyeda is a revered personage for Muslims everywhere. Sayyeda Zainab (AS) had two great missions to reveal the truth. One was to show the true face of Yazid and his followers, and the other was to uncover who the Ahlulbayt really were and what their importance was. At every step of her long journey she fulfilled these two missions. The whole world is indebted to her sacrifices and her courage, as Sayyeda became a verification of the words of Allah; “Those who believed and migrated and strive hard in Allah’s way with their possessions and their lives are far higher in rank in Allah’s view. They are those who achieved salvation.” As you can see, Sayyeda Zainab (AS) can be seen as the Christian saint might be viewed, or, the Rosa Parks, Anne Frank, or, even as wounded Malala and martyred Benazir Bhutto combined into one. Universal belief that Assad is the villain is not proof of the validity of the rebels. The rebels are Islamist. Meanwhile the United States is forgetting lessons of 1980 Afghanistan, and that attempting to put out a fire by pouring oil on it. General Martin Dempsey, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, incredibly has briefed President Obama on options for military intervention in Syria. The Rebel leader, Jarba is a veteran secular dissident and seen as close to Saudi Arabia which has repeatedly urged the European Union to arm Syrian rebels. This is in spite of some Western and South Asian skepticism of supplying arms to the opposition that could fall into the hands of Islamist radicals. It should not be forgotten that the rebels in Syria are Saudi-funded Wahhabi terrorists fighting against the Assad Government, and are as much our enemies as Assad. The objective of these Salafists is the same as the past destruction of Sufi shrines in Mali, Libya and Syria by Al Qaeda/Taliban affiliated Takfiri Salafi/ Deobandi/ Wahabis. The Muslims leaders have said in their condemnation messages that it is Saudi Arabia that is attempting to attack the sacred places of Muslims, the Baitullah and the Holy Shrine of Our Last Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad PBUH, which is situated in the Masjid e Nabawi Premises. The first step of Al Saud have already demolished the Holy Shrines of all the Family Members of the Holy Prophet in the “Baqee Cemetery” commonly known as “ Janaat ul Baqee.” These Salafists have proven only one thing: In maligning Islam, by creating and sponsoring the Groups Like Taliban, al Qaeda , and allied groups they are simply the descendants of the Munafiqeen, that is, Munafiqeen e Dunya, i.e., hypocrites of the world, who consider themselves Muslims, but in fact, a disputable claim. Whether Jundullah, Boko Haram, Free Syrian Army, or any other group, operating in any part of the world under the banner of Al Saud, they are Takfiri Salafists that kill Muslims, and are nothing but political opportunists, bent on a Caliphate fantasy. Sayyeda Zainab (AS) as the co-leader at Karbala with Imam Hussain (AS), renders the Sayyeda Zainab(AS) Mauseleum as a symbol of courage to all humanity. Humanity needs to stand up for the reverence for historical monuments of humanitarian importance.

Pakistan: 203 incidents of sectarian violence in 18 months

Daily Times
In the last 18 months, 203 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan resulted in 1,800 casualties, including 717 deaths, of which 635 were Shia. Sectarian and religious violence in Pakistan is on the rise, and between January 2012 and June 2013, the Shia community has been the worst victim of these incidents, disclosed a detailed Fact Sheet issued by US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Thursday. The fact sheet prepared under the Pakistan Religious Violence Project, an undertaking of the USCIRF, took into account publicly reported attacks against religious communities in Pakistan during the past 18 months. The report stated that while Shias are more at risk of becoming victims of suicide bombings and targeted shootings, the already poor religious freedom environment for Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadis continued to deteriorate, with a number violent incidents occurring against members of these communities. "The Shia bore the brunt of attacks from militants and terrorist organisations, with some of the deadliest attacks occurring during holy months and pilgrimages," said the report. The report said that the information used in the fact sheet was acquired from newspaper reports and news articles available in the public domain. "The Project seeks to be inclusive, tracking all reported incidents involving physical attacks targeting a member of a religious community or a major religious gathering place (temples, churches, shrines, or mosques). However, it is not exhaustive and some acts of violence are certain to have been overlooked. While each incident has not been independently verified, it is based on the newspaper stories and articles," the fact sheet made it clear. Since January 2012, the Shia community was attacked 77 times, killing 635 members and injuring 834. They also suffered 18 incidents of bomb blasts and 46 times witnessed targeted shootings. Christians, the second biggest religious community of Pakistan, were attacked 37 times in which 11 Christians were killed and 36 injured. They were also attacked in targeted shootings that claimed 3 lives, while 5 Christian girls were also raped. Ahmadis witnessed 54 attacks including 1 bomb blast and 26 incidents of targeted shootings in which 22 Ahmadis were killed and 39 injured. In terms of rape victims, Pakistani Hindus are the worst victims as per the report. In 18 months around 7 incidents were reported in which Hindu girls were raped. Not this alone, but 2 Hindus died and 4 were injured in 16 attacks. Besides that 3 Hindus were killed in targeted shootings, the report went on to add. The Pakistani Sikhs, a minority within a minority, was attacked 3 times in which one was killed. Some other groups of different minorities were also attacked 16 times, in which 46 people died and 195 people were injured. The Project's findings paint a grim and challenging picture for the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. "It was positive that the Prime Minister raised concerns about religious minorities during his maiden speech before the National Assembly, as well as travelled to Quetta after a recent bombing targeting Shia and tasked his government to act. However, concrete, resolute action is needed to ensure that perpetrators of violence are arrested, prosecuted and jailed. To stem the rising tide of violent religious extremism, groups and individuals responsible for attacks on religious communities must be punished," stated the report. In addition, while banned militant groups and private citizens are responsible for the majority of attacks on religious communities, government actors are not blameless - police officers have turned a blind eye to mob attacks or have refused to file police reports when victims are religious minorities, the report further stated. "The climate of impunity threatening all Pakistanis, regardless of their faith, also is exacerbated by the much abused blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws," stated the report of the project.

Lahore: City still at high risk for measles

The Express Tribune
Despite the government’s claims of running a successful measles vaccination drive in the province, a recently submitted Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) report has declared Lahore ‘high risk’ and the Health Department has recommended monitoring and surveillance of measles in the district, The Express Tribune has learnt. The report has been drawn up by EPI Senior Medical Officers Ashfaq Ahmad Joyia and Dr Waqar Hammid, appointed observers by the Directorate General of Health Services for the measles vaccination ‘catch-up’ campaign in Lahore. The report says Ravi, Wagha and Iqbal Town are among the worst affected towns in the district. The observers have identified major weaknesses in the campaign. The report lists the names of children and areas not covered in the vaccination. “Lahore is now a high risk district because the measles virus has been here for some time. District health authorities must ensure more than 95 per cent EPI coverage among children in nomadic settlements,” the report reads. It suggests that nomadic settlements should be included in the EPI’s tour plan. It warns that the routine EPI coverage in these settlements is alarmingly poor, especially in Ravi Town’s Khokhar village. It says 94.74 per cent children have not been vaccinated and 5.26 have been only partially vaccinated in a nomadic settlement on Khokhar Road, which has been there for eight years. “The routine EPI coverage among the nomadic population in UC 12 (Iqbal Town), which lies in the vicinity of Family Health Hospital, is extremely poor. As many as 85.7 per cent children have not been vaccinated and 14.3 per cent have been partially vaccinated.” The statistics have been shared with the Deputy District Officer Health (DDOH), who has decided that those responsible for the poor coverage must be tried under the PEEDA Act [Punjab Employees Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability]. A list of names of unvaccinated children and their parents is attached to both reports. “EPI, is the single most effective tool to reduce infant mortality. It can lead to the eradication of diseases like measles. A delay in the implementation of EPI programmes at any level can expose the target population to the measles virus. This will ultimately increase morbidity and mortality due to preventable diseases, like measles,” the report adds. The observers have recommended that the district health authorities be more vigilant and vibrant. The district health management should make a distribution plan for the cold chain equipment provided by the EPI directorates, so that incidents of vaccine waste can be avoided. The DDOH and area in-charges must be held accountable if they don’t achieve more than 95 per cent EPI coverage in their areas. Union council medical officers should also be part of the campaign in their catchment areas, the report suggests. The observers have suggested stern action against the DDOHs and vaccinators responsible for vaccination in Ravi, Wagha and Iqbal Town. Copies of the report have been provided to the health secretary, director general, the EPI Director, the district coordination officer and the health district officer. EPI Director Munir Ahmad told The Express Tribune that the department had taken action against those responsible for low EPI coverage in the three towns. “When the campaign was completed, the health secretary chaired a meeting to evaluate progress on the vaccination in Lahore. The areas left out earlier, have now been covered,” he said. The anti-measles vaccination drive in Lahore took place between April 29 and May 5. As many as 190 children in the Punjab have died of measles since January including 86 of the children from Lahore. In Punjab, 22,250 measles patients have been reported, of which 5,800 have been from Lahore.

European Parliament identifies Wahabi and Salafi roots of global terrorism

It is not merely the faith or oil that flows out of Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich Arab state and its neighbours are busy financing Wahabi and Salafi militants across the globe. A recent report by the European Parliament reveals how Wahabi and Salafi groups based out of the Middle East are involved in the "support and supply of arms to rebel groups around the world." The report, released in June 2013, was commissioned by European Parliament's Directorate General for External Policies. The report warns about the Wahabi/Salafi organisations and claims that "no country in the Muslim world is safe from their operations ... as they always aim to terrorise their opponents and arouse the admiration of their supporters." The nexus between Arab charities promoting Wahabi and Salafi traditions and the extremist Islamic movements has emerged as one of the major threats to people and governments across the globe. From Syria, Mali, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Indonesia in the East, a network of charities is funding militancy and mayhem to coerce Muslims of diverse traditions to conform to the Salafi and Wahabi traditions. The same networks have been equally destructive as they branch out of Muslim countries and attack targets in Europe and North America. Despite the overt threats emerging from the oil-rich Arab states, governments across the globe continue to ignore the security imperative and instead are busy exploiting the oil-, and at time times, blood-soaked riches. The European Parliament's report though is a rare exception to the rule where in the past the western governments have let the oil executives influence their foreign offices. From the United States to Great Britain, western states have gone to great lengths to ignore the Arab charities financing the radical groups, some of whom have even targeted the West with deadly consequences. While the recent report by the European Parliament documents the financial details connecting the Arab charities with extremists elsewhere, it is certainly not the first exposition of its kind. A 2006 report by the US Department of State titled, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report - Money Laundering and Financial Crimes, reported that “Saudi donors and unregulated charities have been a major source of financing to extremist and terrorist groups over the past 25 years.” One of the WikiLeaks documents, a cable from the US Consulate in Lahore also stated that “financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in the region from ‘missionary’ and ‘Islamic charitable’ organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.” The European Parliament’s report estimates that Saudi Arabia alone has spent over $10 billion to promote Wahabism through Saudi charitable foundations. The tiny, but very rich, state of Qatar is the new entrant to the game supporting militant franchises from Libya to Syria. The linkage between Saudi-based charitable organisations and militants began in the late 70s in Pakistan. A network of charitable organisations was setup in Pakistan to provide the front for channeling billions of dollars to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since then the militant networks have spread globally, emerging as a major threat to international security. Charlie Wilson’s War, a book by George Crile that was made into a movie, details the Saudi-militancy nexus as well as Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban. While ordinary citizens in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries have suffered the deadly consequences of militancy supported by the Wahabi and Salafi charitable organisations, the Saudi government had remained largely dormant. This changed in 2003 when militants attacked targets in Riyadh. Since then, the Saudi government has kept a close watch on the domestic affairs of charities, making it illegal to sponsor militancy, but the government has done precious little to curtail activities by Saudi charities abroad. In fact, evidence, as per the European Parliament’s report, suggests that Saudi and Qatar-based charities have been actively financing militants in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Mali, and Indonesia. Pakistan has suffered tremendously over the past three decades from domestic and foreign inspired militancy. The Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and the US-backed Afghan militancy forced Pakistan into a civil war that has continued to date. The faltering Pakistani economy did not help. Successive governments have rushed to Saudi monarchs asking for loans and free oil in times of need. However, Saudi money comes bundled with Saudi propaganda and a license to convert Pakistanis to a more 'puritan', read Wahabi, version of Islam. In late the 70s, Iranians also intensified their influence in Pakistan. While hardline Sunnis were being radicalised by the Wahabi influences from Saudi Arabia, Iranian influence on Pakistani Shias was also increasing. And whereas Pakistan did not need any further radicalization of its people, the Saudi-Iranian tussle spilled into the streets of Pakistan with devastating consequences for religious minorities and liberal streams of Sunni Islam. At the same time, the economic collapse in Pakistan forced many to find jobs abroad. Millions of Pakistanis left for the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia. While the remittances kept their families and the Pakistani government afloat, the migrant workers returned to Pakistan after being radicalised during their stay in Saudi. They became the brand ambassadors for the Saudi-inspired Wahabi flavours of Islam, thus expediting the pace of radicalisation in Pakistan. Pakistan was equally vulnerable to foreign influences after the devastating earthquake in 2005 and floods in 2010 and 2011. The European Parliament’s report revealed that these disasters provided Saudi and other Arab charities to channel millions of dollars in aid, of which an unknown amount was used to fund militant organisations who have broadened their reach in Pakistan resulting in over 45,000 violent deaths in the past few years alone. Pakistanis have a very strong spiritual link with Saudi Arabia. However, they are suffering for the unbound devotion to the oil-rich state, which has done a poor job of curbing the financial support for militancy in Pakistan. Seeing the plight of violence stricken Pakistanis, one hopes that Saudi charities could be more charitable.

Pakistan: Quetta, other parts of Balochistan still without electricity

Seventeen districts of Balochistan, including Quetta, are still without electricity, local tv reports on Saturday. Furthermore, no security clearance hindering restoration of electricity to the 17 districts of the province. Failure to achieve security clearance is hindering the restoration, repairs of recently destroyed electricity tower in Bolan, creating a 1380 MW shortfall in 17 districts of Balochistan. Unknown persons had blown four towers of 132 Kv, 220 Kv electricity tower at Bibi Nani, located between Sibi and Machh on Wednesday-Thursday midnight, plunging 17 districts of Balochistan, including Quetta, Mastung, Qalat, Qila Abdullah, Naushki, Chagi , Ziarat and others into utter darkness. The remaining districts are being supplied periodical electricity, at every alternate hour through district, agro and rural regions. The people of the affected parts of the province have demanded for rectification of the situation, besides taking stringent security measures.