Sunday, August 25, 2013

On a mission: Maryam Alkhawaja wants to tell you about oppression in Bahrain

Inside a half-empty lecture hall at the American University of Beirut, Maryam Alkhawaja explains her cause. "The thing about Bahrain is that nobody really knows what's going on there because there's not much media coverage," Alkhawaja said during a recent visit. "But the protests never stopped." At just 26, the young woman is already one of her country's most outspoken rights activists, and she's on a mission: to make sure "that people across the world, not just the Arab world, across the world, are hearing about what's going on the ground." To carry out that mission, Alkhawaja -- who has dual Bahraini and Danish citizenship, and is the acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights -- lives in exile and travels the world explaining how her people are oppressed. Back in the auditorium, her audience is small, but extremely attentive. "Every single day," Alkhawaja says, "between 15 to 25 different areas come out to protest in Bahrain. Every single day." Those demonstrations began in February 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring. Bahraini citizens, spurred by successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, demanded democratic reforms and other changes in the way the country was run. Anger from the majority Shiite population was directed at the ruling Sunni minority. But Bahrain's uprising failed to gain the traction of other regional revolutions after a crackdown by authorities in the tiny island state, backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Demonstrators say authorities killed dozens of people and arrested, tortured and imprisoned hundreds of others. Opposition leaders have tried to keep the protest movement alive. For Alkhawaja, the cause continues. She says her countrymen and women will not be silenced, despite the odds they face. "When you're talking about human rights, it's black and white," she says. "There's no excuse for committing human rights violations." Alkhawaja accuses Bahrain's government of committing violations on a daily basis, and says her organization exists in part to document those abuses. The government denies the claims, saying it has implemented tough penalties for those who incite what it calls "terrorism." In a statement, the Bahraini government says it has implemented reforms and set up independent bodies to address grievances. "We would also like to make it very clear that Ms. Al-Khawaja's personal misguided view that 'Bahraini citizens are oppressed' is not representative of the broad consensus, nor of the opposition front," the statement said. The government also acknowledged the country's "challenging past" and said remedies are under way. "Since the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report in 2011, Bahrain has made a commitment to address all grievances, as well as well reform the institutional landscape to ensure historical errors are not repeated. In regards to grievances pertaining to any accusation of mistreatment, independent bodies have been established to investigate and address any incident of misconduct that may undermine public confidence in the Ministry of Interior (MOI), even if no formal complaint is filed." This kind of sparring is nothing new to Alkhawaja, who was literally born into this line of work. She comes from a well-known family of dissidents. Her father, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in anti-government demonstrations and plotting to overthrow the country's royal family. Many rights groups have called him a prisoner of conscience. Her sister, Zainab Alkhawaja, is also a very prominent rights activist, and also currently locked up -- having been sentenced to prison for, among other things, insulting the police. It can all get to be too much, which is why Alkhawaja says she has to detach. "Part of doing this work is teaching yourself to depersonalize all of the cases that you deal with," she explains. "When I talk about Abdulhadi Alkhawaja the political prisoner and the torture victim, or the torture survivor, I don't talk about Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, my father, who I shared my childhood with -- I talk about Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, the person who is known to Bahrain and is known to the cause." "When I talk about Zainab Alkhawaja, you know, being separated from her three-year-old child, I'm not talking about my sister and my niece," adds Alkhawaja. "I'm talking about Zainab Alkhawaja the Bahraini citizen." Over the past two years, Alkhawaja has become somewhat of a celebrity in the world of human rights activism, and not just in Bahrain. Regularly invited to conferences around the world, she finds her platform growing every day -- with more than 94,000 Twitter followers. She was even named one of Foreign Policy Magazine's Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2012. She seems happy to address anyone willing to listen. Still, she says, it's never easy. "The thing with being a human rights defender is that it's always accompanied with guilt because no matter what you do, you feel you're not doing enough." Which is why Alkhawaja is always connected -- either online or on her phone, no matter where she goes -- reviewing claims, making cases, tweeting updates. She was in Lebanon for only a few days, but never stopped addressing audiences both digital and physical, large and small, urging the world to listen to the stories of the oppressed, one voice at a time.

Islamabad gunman Sikandar revealed as U.A.E secret agent

The convict of Islamabad shootout drama, reportedly named as Sikandar, has admitted for giving his professional services as paid employee of a U.A.E's secret agency, Dunya News reported. An investigative officer told the local newspaper that important progress have been made which revealed that the original name of the convict is Sikandar Hayat. Sikandar Hayat went to U.A.E in 1996 and was involved in collecting funds for banned extremist organisation Lashkar e Taiba'. He was arrested by a secret agency on behalf of suspicious activities in 1998 but was released after a few months. In response, interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar has contacted U.A.E officials regarding the issue and a team will be sent to collect information regarding Islamabad shootout criminal. During this point of time Sikandar married Fatima and has one kid Yousuf. He continued to continue his suspicious activities and was arrested after 4 months. At the same point of time event of 9/11 took place in America. Sikandar was deported to Pakistan in 2001 and here he contacted Lashkar e Taiba and he took training in Waziristan. He changed his name from Sikandar Hayat to Muhammad Sikandar in 2003. He also made a new C.N.I.C and passport and successfully. Muhammad Sikandar went back to the security agency and offered his services which were accepted. He became addicted to drugs and wine. Sikandar gave divorce to his first wife in 2006. According to sources, he came back to Pakistan and married Kanwal who was also seen in Islamabad shootout on August 15th. According to investigative officer, Sikandar went to UAE 25 times from 2003 to March 2009. When he came back to Pakistan, he was extremely addicted to drugs and wine. Sikandar's friend admitted him in a local hospital in DG Khan. Sikandar was addicted to wine, heroine and cannabis but after his treatment in the hospital, he was able to overcome Wine and Heroine but not cannabis. According to sources, in 2010, he received his last salary from U.A.E agency and afterwards their contact was terminated.

Russia warns against unilateral armed intervention in Syria

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday urged all outside powers concerned about the Syria crisis to exercise restraint and give up the idea of unilateral armed intervention. "Serious attention has been paid in Moscow to a statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about measures, ordered by President Barack Obama, to make American armed forces ready for armed action against Syria at any moment," said ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich in a statement. Similar approaches have also been heard from "Paris, London and some other capitals ... with complete disregard for a multitude of acts suggesting that the alleged use by Syrian armed forces of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta on Aug. 21 was a provocation on the part of the irreconcilable opposition," he said. Syrian rebels claimed that President Bashar al-Assad's forces killed as many as 1,300 people in the chemical weapons attack on Wednesday in the suburbs of Damascus, an allegation denied by the Syrian government. The alleged chemical weapons attack took place just two days after a group of UN inspectors began an investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons in the northern Khan al-Assal town and two other undisclosed locations. The UN team is set to start on-site fact-finding activities Monday on the latest incident, and the Syrian government has agreed to provide necessary cooperation, including a ceasefire at related locations. Welcoming Syria's decision to provide necessary cooperation, Lukashevich urged the international community to show patience and wait for the results of the UN investigation. Moscow, he added, believes that the current fuss about the alleged use of chemical weapons "clearly aims to interfere with the work of UN independent chemical weapons experts that has begun successfully." The diplomat also said it is "reminiscent of events of 10 years ago in which, using false information that the Iraqis possessed weapons of mass destruction as a pretext and bypassing the United Nations, the United States launched a reckless attack with consequences that everyone is well aware of." He warned that any unilateral armed action that bypasses the UN would "undermine international efforts to find a political and diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict ... and have an extremely destructive effect on what already is an explosive situation in the Middle East." The UN team of inspectors was set up at the request of the Syrian government in March. The Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, has killed more than 93,000 people and forced more than 1.7 million people to flee the country.

India: From breakout to breakdown nation. What went wrong?
As recently as 2010, India's economic rise was thought to be inevitable. Poverty? Call it a “low base.” Unemployed millions? Call that the “demographic dividend.” A runaway deficit? That's “inclusive growth.” Morgan Stanley's Ruchir Sharma warned against that kind of thinking in his 2012 book “Breakout Nations: In pursuit of the next economic miracles,” cautioning that India's rise was in no way guaranteed. The much touted demographic dividend — a population getting younger and more numerous as the rest of the world is aging — would only pay off if India could train and educate its young people and create jobs, he argued. And there were serious impediments to doing either. These days, those warnings are looking especially prescient. Growth has plunged to less than 5 percent, and inflation continues to rise. Meanwhile, the rupee continues to plummet, threatening to increase prices even further and widen the large current account deficit at the root of the problem. Perhaps worse, this week Nokia joined a long list of foreign companies threatening to quit India if the government doesn't get its act together, according to the Indian Express.
What went wrong? And, more importantly, how can it be fixed?
GlobalPost's Jason Overdorf spoke with Sharma to find out. The interview has been edited and condensed by GlobalPost. GlobalPost: How bad do you think the current crisis will get, and what are you advising Western investors to do? Ruchir Sharma: We are watching this from the sidelines and not really doing anything here. For India, the per capita income is still only $1500. There's still a lot of natural buoyancy at that level for things to go up. There are some trends for example on consumption, where we think things will not decline that much, even though growth has slowed down, because people are still looking to buy more toothpaste or more hair oil.
How worried should India really be about the rupee? Is it the real problem, or a symptom of bigger things?
It is a real problem. If the rupee freefalls, it has a domino effect. Sure, it will help exports eventually. But you have to understand that when it happens sharply and suddenly, it has negative consequences. A lot of corporate India has taken loans over the past decade in foreign currency [which will now be harder to reimburse].
You warned in your book that India's rise was not a sure bet. What has India done wrong over the past five years to get itself into the current crisis?
The biggest fault line in India was that they completely misinterpreted the last decade's boom. It was a rising tide of global liquidity and a very strong emerging market boom that lifted all emerging markets, and India benefited in equal measure. But in India I think we mistook that boom for being our boom.
What problems did that miscalculation cause?
India spent that entire windfall, because the narrative was all about the fact that growth is coming anyway, so let's figure out how to redistribute the pie. There was hardly any productivity-enhancing reform throughout the boom period. It was seen as inevitable that with a high savings and investment rate, India would do well. [That] hubris, and the complacency that set in after that boom set the stage for what is happening now.
Having presided over economic reforms prior to becoming prime minister, Manmohan Singh was seen as a promising leader for India. What went wrong, and what should he have done differently?
I think he epitomized this complacency and hubris. A lot is spoken about how he had no political power and his power was undermined. But one of the things that is underappreciated about Manmohan Singh is how he's failed as an economist. He's been consistently been wrong in analyzing India's troubles.
What are some of his mistakes?
He was on record when inflation was going up as saying that rising food prices and other prices was a sign of prosperity, so rising inflation was perfectly fine. ... He was talking about how — because India has a savings rate of more than 30 percent and an investment rate of more than 35 percent — growth has to be 9 percent. [That’s] an academic concept that had no connection with what was happening on the ground. So he completely missed the downturn when it came. Then they've allowed a current account deficit of 4-5 percent of GDP, knowing as any economist knows that a current account deficit of more than 2 or 3 percent of GDP is a dangerous sign for any economy.
Everybody talks about economic reforms, but plenty of projects are delayed by bureaucratic inertia. Are bad rules the main problem, failure to implement the rules?
I think it's a combination of both. One [problem] is the regulatory uncertainty [that results] when you keep changing rules. That causes a whole lot of tension. Plus you do need some sort of policies to be put in place. You do need labor market reforms. You do need prices of your inputs, whether it's petrol prices or diesel, to be market-linked, rather than subsidies going out there. You do need some check on the fiscal deficit. They had a fiscal responsibility act [limiting the fiscal deficit to] 3 percent of GDP, but they've busted that.
What, if anything, can India do now to get back on track, and what is the likelihood of that happening in the current political situation?
Any step that is dialing back, and regressive in nature, will do nothing. From an accounting perspective, you may think you're saving a billion here and a billion there [with steps like raising the import duty on gold or TV sets, or limiting the amount of money Indians can send abroad]. But the confidence damage you do is far greater than this nickel and diming. They've got to stop this sort of thing to start with. But any major step will have to wait for a new election.
Whether for Singh or the next PM... What are the government's best options for long-term, sustainable growth?
A lot of this needs to be done at a local level. India is pretty much like Europe. It's a very federal structure. Having top-down reform in India is passé. More and more power needs to be given to the states, to figure out what is the best policy for them, and what they need to do. If you do retail reform, it needs to be done at the state level, so they can figure out what they need to do. Similarly labor reform. More freedom needs to be given to the states to decide. And [instead of] these huge central schemes, more schemes need to be given to the states to decide how to spend it, what to do, rather than having a central agency allocate funds.

Syria to allow UN inspect 'chemical weapon' attack site

The Syrian government has agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit the site of a suspected chemical weapon attack outside Damascus, state media report. The move came shortly after a senior US official told reporters there was "very little doubt" that a chemical weapon had been used by government forces. Activists say Syrian forces killed more than 300 people in several suburbs east and west of the capital on Wednesday. The Syrian authorities have denied any responsibility and blamed "terrorists". On Saturday evening, US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron agreed that there should be a "serious response" if Syrian troops had used chemical weapons. But Syria's information minister warned that US military intervention would bring chaos and that the Middle East would "burn". Omran Zoabi told Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV the Syrian state and its armed forces remained strong, with friends and allies in the region.

Twenty protesters against load shedding held in Lahore

Police on Suday arrested twenty persons vehemently protesting against prolonged unannounced electricity loadshedding causing immense hardship and misery to the area people here, Geo News reported.
According to details, hundreds of angry people strongly protesting persistent loadshedding came out on the roads and streets at Bagrian in Green Town here. Police in a bid to disperse the crowds resorted to aerial firing and arrested 20 persons from among the demonstrators. This unwarranted action of the police added fuel to the fire when the peaceful demonstrators losing temper replied to police highhandedness by hurling stones, voicing slogans and blocking the roads. Meanwhile, police reinforcement has been called in and efforts are afoot to control the situation.

Analysis / Despite criticism, Obama's cautious approach on Syria is justified

The images of the carnage on the outskirts of Damascus highlighted to Israel and the international community the degree of the horror currently unfolding just over the border.
The immediate suspicion was that the Syrian regime led by Bashar Assad once again made use of chemical weapons – from all indications, sarin gas – against the civilian population in areas where the opposition is working to remove him from power.The timing is perplexing. It was one year ago that US President Barack Obama proclaimed that use of chemical weapons would constitute crossing a “red line” that would prompt American intervention. The attack also took place at a time when a team of UN inspectors arrived in the country over the weekend to probe claims that unconventional arms were indeed used during the course of the civil war. The timing of such a massive offensive action against civilians suggests that it is still premature to definitively determine that chemical-tipped missiles were fired at Assad’s orders. The exact casualty count is unknown, but the Syrian opposition says that the number of dead exceeds 1,300. The almost immediate, knee-jerk response from pundits and analysts was to criticize the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Here, once again, we have a scenario in which a red line was crossed and the administration in Washington remains passive. At the same time, the White House has been highly critical of the new regime in Egypt, which is fighting radical Islam. It is difficult to resist the urge to join in this chorus of criticism as it relates to the Obama administration’s handling of the Egypt crisis. The alternative to the Egyptian military-ruled government is either the return of an even more radicalized Muslim Brotherhood or the disintegration of Egypt into a number of disparate zones ruled by armed militias. That would be a scenario the White House would rather not see. The administration’s cautious approach to what is taking place in Syria is well justified. In fact, it has very good reasons to maintain this tack. In Syria, there is no choice between “good” and “bad.” The Assad regime is bad, but the opposition that is currently in its formative stage is shaping up to be quite bad as well, perhaps even worse from a Western perspective. A coalition of Al-Qaida-affiliated gangs are gaining control of more and more territory in Syria, including some of the country’s larger cities. Assad’s fall would lead to a situation whereby the West will find itself faced with a threat that is no less scary – a regime led by extremist Sunni militias that will have neither the ability nor the inclination to engage the US and the West – and, by extension, certainly Israel - in dialogue. As awful as it may sound, the administration has precious few options in Syria, hence its extreme caution. Despite impassioned pleas for the US to strike at Assad’s regime, perhaps it would be best to wait for definitive evidence that would confirm the identity of the actors who fired the missile. The chemical strike was a culmination of a particularly violent and bloody week in the Middle East. In the Sinai Peninsula, 24 Egyptian police officers in civilian clothing were massacred as they approached an army position. In Cairo, a court announced the release of former president Hosni Mubarak from prison. Meanwhile, Mohammed Badia, the Muslim Brotherhood’s general director, was taken into custody by authorities, though not before 38 prisoners choked to death in one of the Egyptian detention centers. Missiles fired from Syria hit al-Harmel, a Lebanese town known as a Hezbollah stronghold. In Iraq, dozens were killed in a string of attacks. Unlike most Israeli citizens, the Middle East didn’t take a vacation in August. Heck, it didn’t even take a break. The heat seems to be making its impact, with the level of violence and bloodshed reaching new, unconscionable heights week to week. Ultimately, however, the most disturbing news that jarred most of us was another bombshell that left us blindsided – Yehuda Levy and Ninet Tayeb are no longer an item.

Dangerous Friends: Power Struggle Splits Turkish Ruling Party

Turkey's prime minister has quashed opposition in the streets, but now he faces a more menacing foe: challengers within his own party and from the nebulous Gülen movement. It could spell the end of political Islam in Turkey as we know it.
The many hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets in Istanbul did not succeed in toppling their country's prime minister or in continuing to occupy Gezi Park on the city's Taksim Square. The protests against the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sparked in late May by plans to level Gezi Park, have subsided. Yet the uprising's effects may last well beyond this summer. Members and supporters of Erdogan's conservative-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) have long refrained from expressing any criticism. Now, though, AKP followers are turning against the prime minister, with Erdogan's competitors within the party using the post-Gezi unrest as an opportunity to distance themselves from him. In the English-language edition of the pro-government daily newspaper Zaman, columnist Yavuz Baydar recently compared Turkey under Erdogan to the United States during the McCarthy era. The conservative-Islamist Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) likewise warns that these current developments in Turkey overshadow any attempts at further democratization. Most striking about this criticism are its sources -- both Zaman and the GYV belong to the movement surrounding Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is believed to have enormous influence within the government. Gülen himself has been living in self-imposed exile in the US for years, having left Turkey after public prosecutors accused the elderly imam of working to foment an Islamist revolution. His followers have established schools in 140 countries, as well as a bank, media outlets and hospitals (see graphic)
. Gülen's followers present themselves outwardly as modern. Their numbers are growing in Turkey, where poorer families praise Gülen's commitment to education, and businesspeople appreciate his business-friendly approach. But individuals who have left the fold have told SPIEGEL of brainwashing and sect-like structures within the movement. In US State Department diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks, American diplomats described Gülen's followers in 2004 as "Turkey's most powerful Islamist grouping, feared by the core institutions of the Turkish State" saying the network "controls major business, trade, and publishing activities, has deeply penetrated the political scene -- including AKP at high levels."
The AKP as a Gathering Place for a Wide Variety of Groups
The AKP serves as a gathering place for a variety of groups. This includes, in addition to a number of splinter groups, both Erdogan's supporters and followers of the Gülen movement. Following the AKP's 2002 electoral victory, the two camps entered into a strategic partnership: Gülen would secure votes for the AKP, and Erdogan would protect Gülen's followers. In recent months, though, that alliance has begun to crumble. Erdogan has removed from their posts important justice-system officials and party functionaries who he suspects of having close ties to Gülen. Indeed, it seems the movement has grown too influential for Erdogan's liking. Now, in the wake of the Gezi Park uprising, the power struggle is breaking out into the open. Erdogan's camp, meanwhile, is taking systematic aim at businesses close to Gülen. Zaman describes it as a "systematic smear campaign," writing in a statement, "Now, it is sad to observe harsh and hostile criticism raised by groups we consider friends." Still, the GYV published a statement last week in which it attempted to defuse the recriminations against Erdogan. This conflict within the party is more dangerous for Erdogan than the demonstrations on the street ever were. A split within the AKP could mean the end of political Islam in Turkey. In this case, ideological differences play only a secondary role. Instead, Gülen's supporters seem more interested in posts and privileges. Gülen's network uses "trendy concepts, such as dialogue and tolerance, but the organization follows an extremely strict and hierarchical order," says Mustafa Sen, a sociologist at the prestigious Middle East Technical University, in Ankara. Ahmet Sik, one of Turkey's most renowned journalists, planned to publish a book in the spring of 2011 on the dangerous power held by the Gülen movement. Shortly before the book's release, security forces stormed his publishing company and confiscated manuscripts of the book, "The Imam's Army." The author now stands accused of being a member of a terrorist organization attempting to overthrow Erdogan's government.
A New AKP Government -- without Erdogan
"It's true the Gülen movement has a commitment to education," Sik says. "But why does this network want to control the country, why does it dominate the justice system, the armed forces and the intelligence service? Why won't this powerful organization disclose its finances?" Sik says he is unconvinced of the network's honesty. "The truth is that it's about obtaining power, not through elections, but by gradually infiltrating institutions," he says. He suspects that the movement's goal is to see a new AKP government -- but one without Erdogan. The new leader in such a government could be current President Abdullah Gül, considered to be both a member of the Gülen wing of the AKP and Erdogan's main rival within the party. "The movement will stop at nothing in its struggle to become the hegemonic power," says Hakan Yavuz, a political scientist at the University of Utah. "It terrorizes people." Gareth Jenkins, a specialist on Turkey at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, feels certain that the Ergenekon investigations, which resulted last week in draconian sentencing, were largely overseen by Gülen supporters within the law enforcement and judicial systems. Accordingly, few observers believe that leading politicians close to Gülen could truly offer a democratic alternative to Erdogan. "They want to control the government, and they don't stand for opposition," says Sik, the journalist. Following massive international protest, Sik has been released from prison for the time being, but the trial against him is ongoing and he expects to be convicted. "The justice system has shown itself severe in its handling of all critics, demonstrators and supposed conspirators," he says. "Why should it spare me?"

Syria to give UN access to alleged chemical attack site as U.S. weighs options

Syria on Saturday told Iran that it will give UN inspectors access to the site of the recent alleged chemical attack near Damascus, while the U.S. administration discussed options for military intervention in the Middle East country. Syria is preparing for the opportunity for UN inspectors to visit the places that have been chemically attacked by terrorist groups, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif in a phone conversation, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency. Also on Saturday, Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main Western-backed opposition group in exile, called upon Western and Arab countries to intervene to stop the bloodshed in Syria. "We ask U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of other western countries and Arab world to be responsible at personal level and intervene to stop the 'massacre' in Syria," said SNC president Ahmad al-Jarba in Istanbul, Turkey. He added that the SNC leaders also made phone calls with the heads of the United States, France, Britain, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey, asking them to take further and more serious steps in Syria. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama discussed options of responding to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons with his military and security advisors as well as foreign allies of the United States. Without revealing details of the meeting, the White House said in a statement that Obama "received a detailed review of a range of potential options he had requested be prepared for the Untied States and the international community to respond to the use of chemical weapons." The White House also said that Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday talked over the phone about security challenges in Syria. The two leaders vowed to continue to consult closely on the reported use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces against civilians near Damascus, as well as possible responses by the international community to the use of chemical weapons, said the White House statement. In a Friday interview with U.S. TV network CNN, Obama said he was cautious on whether to intervene militarily in Syria, saying "if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it." U.S. media reports on Saturday quoted unidentified defense officials as saying that the U.S. Navy had sent a fourth warship, which is armed with cruise missiles, into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, as part of the preparation for a possible military response to Syria. As the U.S. and its allies are mulling over a possible military response, the Syrian government dismissed foreign intervention, saying that striking the country would have grave repercussions that would affect the entire Middle East region. Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said in an interview with the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV that Washington's pressure would not be useful and would be a "waste of time and we will not weaver in combatting terrorism." "Striking Syria would not be a picnic under any circumstances," the minister said, noting his country is totally cooperating with UN inspectors with "transparency." Also Saturday, at least five people were killed and some others injured when a mortar shell struck a Christian-dominated district in Damascus. Three days after UN inspectors arrived in Damascus, Syrian activists accused the government of launching a gas attack that killed more than 1,300 people on Wednesday in the suburbs of the country's capital. If confirmed, it would be by far the worst reported use of chemical arms in the two-year-old civil war. The Syrian government has denied the allegation and in turn, blamed the rebels. Latest media reports said that the rebels used chemical substance on Saturday in a fighting against government troops, suffocating some soldiers.

Americans clearly against arming Syrian rebels, even after ‘red line’ crossed, polls show

By Aaron Blake
The United States is moving to arm Syrian rebels following White House confirmation that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people, but the American people aren’t on-board, according to new polls.
A new Pew Research Center poll shows 70 percent of Americans oppose sending arms to the opposition groups, while a new Gallup poll shows 54 percent oppose the Obama administration’s decision, compared to 37 percent who support it. Opposition in the Pew poll is actually higher than ever before in the two-year-old civil war. And that’s even as much of the poll was conducted after the White House announced Thursday that the Syrian government had crossed the “red line” and used chemical weapons. But while the red line was significant to the White House, it doesn’t seem to have altered the perceptions of the American people. A December Washington Post-ABC News poll found that, while Americans were very much against the United States getting involved in the conflict, 63 percent backed military intervention if the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people. Now that it has actually been confirmed, though, people aren’t budging. In the Pew poll, opposition was at 69 percent in polling conducted before the “red line” was officially crossed and 71 percent in polling afterward. And the Gallup poll was conducted late in the week, after the White House disclosed its findings. Despite the polls’ results, it’s also pretty clear that very few people are watching the issue closely — only 15 percent — which means opinions could change in the coming days and weeks. For now, though, the administration’s decision isn’t a popular one.

Afghans Share Their Views on the West’s Influence

Compiled by HANNA INGBER
Some Afghan women live tradition-bound lives like this burqa-clad woman, left, in Herat, Afghanistan. Others appear to have more freedoms, like Aryana Sayeed, right, an Afghan singer and a judge on the international television show "The Voice," which launched in Kabul in May.
The United States and its allies have worked for a decade to instill democratic and legal reforms in Afghanistan, with a particular focus on women’s rights. We asked Afghans through this Facebook note to share their views on the West’s influence in their country. We received responses via e-mail and Facebook. Here is a selection of the responses, edited and condensed.
Nawa Arsala, 22, is an Afghan-American law student living in Washington.
The “Western” ways and laws in Afghanistan are not completely foreign to Afghans. Many forget that during the 1970s, Afghanistan was a flourishing and prosperous nation, with women who were teachers, nurses and entrepreneurs. The burqa was a rare sight, if seen at all. I believe that these laws are simply being reintroduced to a war-torn country that once had a taste of prosperity and democracy.
Curious minds, a teenage Afghan living in Kabul, wrote on Facebook:
Over 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population consists of people who have lived their entire lives facing tragic events like war and illiteracy and have no familiarity with modern civilization. Adapting and accepting Western cultures and thoughts are absurd and against their views. I’m an 18-year-old Afghan living in Kabul and unless these war-stricken Afghans vanish I’m pessimistic about the future of this war-torn country.
Jawed Nader, 30, lives in London and leads the umbrella organization British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group.
Female students at the Polytechnical University in Kabul in the mid-1970s.
It’s a common misperception, reinforced by the international media, that democracy and human rights were imposed on Afghanistan after American forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. The 1964 Constitution included a bill of rights for Afghans, specifically including women. The 1977 Civil Code stipulated that girls under 16 should not be allowed to marry. The New York Times called this Afghanistan’s “Golden Age,” noting that “Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts.” We Afghans have always been concerned with laws promising rights and democracy. It is just a coincidence that our fellow human beings in the West think the same way. Samira Hamidi is a human-rights activist who has been working on women’s issues in Afghanistan for the past eight years. Formerly the country director for the civil society network Afghan Women’s Network, she is studying for her master’s at the University of York in Britain. It is very important for the international community, international media and Afghan counterparts to understand that moving ahead with Westernized ideologies only cannot bring democracy, human rights and women’s rights to Afghanistan. While it is very important to look back at the past 12 years and measure the progress, one should always remember that there have been failures, too. While individuals and organizations kept pushing for women’s rights, they also created a huge hatred toward them, causing the conservative but influential rural men to say that women’s rights are against religion and Afghan values. The irony is that there has been a lot of publicity for women’s rights and promoting a few elite women activists in these years, but there hasn’t been any effort to build trust in communities, to encourage these conservative men to join the platform to support women’s rights and to ensure that the approach is not only according to the religious and traditional values but actually follows it taking the diversity of Afghanistan into consideration.
In terms of current laws including the electoral law, elimination of violence against women law, etc., I disagree with using the Westernized word with it. These laws are purely the efforts of Afghans within the government and civil society who made it happen through lots of lobbying and advocacy.
Saad Mohseni is the owner of the MOBY Group, Afghanistan’s largest media group.
Don’t judge Afghans by what they say but rather by what they do. It is an approach we apply to our television programming. Afghans are quick to criticize our various soap operas, reality TV shows, etc., but they fail to miss any of these shows. Today, millions of Afghan women are attending schools and universities, as well as the work force. The fact that they are allowed to “participate in life” is testament to the changing attitudes toward women. Bravado statements (from chauvinists) are expected from Afghan men. Again judge them by what they do (or allow), not what they say.
Shaharzad Akbar is from Afghanistan.
The majority of Afghans do not consider women’s education a “Western value,” but see improvements in women’s education as one of the biggest achievements of the past 10 years. Similarly, women’s participation in public life is not a new reality to Afghans. I come from a village in northeast Afghanistan, and my father’s father, a local mullah, built the first school in his village. My maternal aunt traveled and lived alone in another province to go to university in 1971-72. The fight for improved education and democracy is not a recent phenomenon funded by the West; in fact it’s insulting to Afghans to suggest so. Afghans have struggled for democracy since the early 20th century.
Kamilah Ataee wrote on Facebook:
Since 2002, Afghan women have found a chance to start getting education and work outside of their houses once again. We, Afghan women, are very grateful of Western ways in Afghanistan. Today, we need to live as global citizens not as villagers! Aarya Nijat, a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, lives and works in Kabul. Afghanistan of today, in whatever shape that it is, would not have been possible without Amanullah Khan’s attempt at reformation in the 1920s and the “Decade of Democratization” of 1960-1970. Today’s Constitution is based on the Constitution of 1964. So the seeds of the nascent democracy that we have today were sown roughly half a century ago, in this country and by the people of this country. We own what and where we are today. This is not to deny, I must emphasize, the facilitating role of the international community, in particular in the past decade. External players can only facilitate or influence processes of internal change; they cannot cause them. To be fair, we own both our achievements and losses, that is we give neither the credit nor the blame away.
Masih Mas wrote on Facebook:
As an Afghan, I would say yes, certain Western values and laws would be a welcomed addition to Afghanistan. We must remember that the most peaceful and prosperous times during Afghanistan’s history were under Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan’s secular government that kept the tribal and religious problems at a far distance. Many members in Karzai’s government are religious warlords who have immense influence in Afghan culture. The average Afghan who supports these warlords does not realize that the same person has killed thousands of innocent Afghans and is involved in drug trafficking, corruption and fraud.
Atta Nasib wrote on Facebook:
It is wrong to assume that Afghan society is reluctant to embrace reforms. Let’s not forget that it’s only been a decade since the Taliban were removed from power and democracy took root. Younger Afghans are caught in the cross-fire between modernity that comes with democracy and traditional values that are still practiced in general throughout the country. As older cohorts die, so will traditional values. And modern education is still at its infancy in Afghanistan. It will likely take a generation of Afghans to remove cultural barriers when it comes to women’s progress in particular. It took nearly two centuries to realize universal suffrage in the United States.
Ali Mohammad A wrote on Facebook:
Your note makes me want to send you my mother’s photos from the ‘70s, wearing a miniskirt in Kandahar. I will only e-mail you my thoughts. Javed Rezayee, an Afghan who was born and raised in Kabul and works in New York with the Open Society Foundations’ Regional Policy Initiative on Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’ve watched my country transform over the last decade. There have been a series of occasions that marked a range of landmark changes in the Afghan psyche. In early 2002, my jaw dropped when for the first time I watched a man criticizing President Karzai on TV. It was a moment of elation mixed with a chilling fear of what my father said happened under previous regimes when outspoken government critics “disappeared with their families.” Today, many young women are participating in sports, and millions are in school, which means millions of parents are approving of female education. The illiteracy rate is fast decreasing, including for women. Challenges remain. The rise of the neo-fundamentalist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a disconcerting reality. Earlier this year, the group staged a never-before-seen demonstration against women’s rights in Kabul University, where alarmingly the Taliban flag was raised. In June, the Afghan Parliament eviscerated the possibility of endorsing the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law that was favorably decreed by President Karzai years ago. Earlier this month, women’s parliamentary quota was lowered and the only single seat previously reserved for Hindu and Sikh minorities was eliminated during the passing of the elections laws. The struggle between leaders of change and forces of reversion will continue, perhaps forever, but what has irreversibly been internalized by Afghan youth is the increasing sense of freedom. The genie of freedom is out and cannot be put back in the teapot.

Afghanistan: 41 cases of violence against journalists recorded

The Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists (CPAJ) on Thursday said it had registered 41 cases of violence against media representatives during the first six months of the year. In its half-yearly report, the CPAJ said it was deeply concerned about the situation of media outlets, their future and the challenges and threats facing them. CPAJ member Najibullah Sharifi told a press conference in Kabul their findings showed the 41 cases of violence mostly involved government officials, the Taliban and illegal armed groups. He said the concerns about post-2014 situation and the government’s negligence to protect the freedom of speech had encouraged illegal armed groups to threaten journalists. He said incidents of violence against reporters were on the increase amid fears illegal armed groups could resort to further violence in future. With the security environment deteriorating, Sharifi said the government was increasingly denying journalists access to information, mostly in provinces. He said most media outlets in Afghanistan were reliant on foreign aid and they could confront many challenges after 2014 when the aid was said to be cut. The CPJ asked the government to step up efforts at strengthening media organisations, protecting the freedom of speech and keeping the media from collapse.

Afghans Unhappy U.S. Soldier Not Sentenced To Death

Afghan villagers say they’re unhappy that the U.S. soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians did not receive a death sentence. Survivors of the massacre and relatives of those killed say justice was not achieved in the case of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. A U.S. military jury sentenced Bales on August 23 to life in prison with no chance of parole. Villagers who lost family members in the March 2012 night attack by Bales, said justice was served only in what they called the "American way," not the Afghan way. One man who lost 11 relatives in the slaughter in Kandahar Province told reporters after the sentence was handed down at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state: "We came to the U.S. to get justice. We didn't get that." The man was among a group of Afghans who had been flown to the United States to testify against Bales. In June, Bales pleaded guilty to all charges under a deal in which he avoided a death sentence. Following that agreement, giving Bales a death sentence was not an option for the jury of U.S. military personnel. The jury could only decide whether he should or should not have the possibility of parole. The killings inside family compounds in the settlements of Alkozai and Najiban left 22 people dead or injured. Seventeen of the victims were women or children, and almost all were shot in the head. Bales also burned the bodies of victims. Another Afghan villager, whose family members were killed by Bales, told reporters after the sentencing: "We didn't get justice, as I said earlier. He only got a life sentence without parole. But I'm asking the average Americans right here, if somebody jumps in your house in the middle of the night, kills 11 members of your family and tried to burn them, what sort of punishment would you be passing onto that person?" Haji Mullah Baran, whose family members were also killed by Bales, said: "If I had a chance to talk to Sergeant Bales, I would ask him directly, right to his face: 'You're a murderer why did you do this? Didn't you ever think of being a human being, because a human being wouldn't do this.'" Bale Apologizes The day before his sentencing, Bales for the first time publicly apologized for carrying out the massacre. He described the killings as an "act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear...and bravado." But Bales offered no further explanation for the bloodshed, saying, "Nothing makes it right." He added, "I don't know why." Bales, originally from Ohio, is a veteran of four combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a married father of two children. His attorneys have suggested his repeated deployments, as well as injuries including post-traumatic-stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury, may have played a role in Bales' actions. Bales has also admitted to drinking alcohol and to taking steroids in the weeks and months before the killings. The massacre marked the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a rogue U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War, and led to severe strains in the relationship between Afghans and U.S. troops. U.S. forces briefly halted combat operations in Afghanistan in reaction to Afghan anger over the slaughter.

Curfew Imposed On Troubled Pakistani District After Deadly Sectarian Clash

A curfew has been imposed in troubled areas in central Pakistan following sectarian violence that killed 11 people. District police chief Sarfaraz Falki said rallies and political meetings had also been temporarily banned in the Bakkar district of Punjab Province on August 24. Police officials said members of two rival religious political parties -- the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) party, a radical Sunni Muslim group, and Majlis-e Wahdat-e Muslimeen (MWM), a Shi'ite political group -- exchanged fire in Bakkar on August 23. Reports say the groups clashed after ASWJ accused MWM of gunning down one of its members. Pakistani security forces have been deployed to the town. Pakistan has seen a surge of sectarian violence in recent years.

HRW urges Pakistan to stop Shia massacre

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Islamabad government should detain and prosecute those responsible for deadly attacks on the Shia Muslims across Pakistan. “Militant attacks on the Shias have occurred with increasing ferocity while the security forces have looked on helplessly,” Human Rights Director Ali Dayan Hasan said in a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday. “Whether the failure to hold and deter attackers is a function of incompetence or complicity by elements of the security forces, the government has a responsibility to reverse this state of affairs,” he added. Human Rights Watch says hundreds of Shias were killed in Pakistan in 2012, which was the deadliest year on record for the Shia Muslim community. Pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants, who are reportedly behind the killings, have imposed an economic blockade against the Shia-dominated population areas across the volatile northwest. The frequent incidents have raised concerns among human rights groups, while moderate Pakistani Sunni groups have described the issue as a conspiracy against the country. Taliban leaders, who were toppled in the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, took refuge in tribal regions of Pakistan and rapidly began to extend their influence from tribes to major towns and cities. The pro-Taliban anti-Shia groups have launched a violent campaign against the Shia Muslims, and are stretching the campaign toward the restive southwestern Pakistan as well. Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's restive southwestern Balochistan province has witnessed several instances of violence directed against the Hazara Shia community in recent months. Several Shia religious gatherings have also been targeted in central province of Punjab over the past months. Shia Muslims in Pakistan say the government must take decisive action against the forces involved in the targeted killings. They also accuse Islamabad of failing to provide security for the Muslim community. The country’s Shia leaders have called on the government to form a judicial commission to investigate the bloodshed. The killing of Shias has caused an international outrage, with rights groups and regional countries expressing concern over the ongoing deadly violence. Shias make up about one-third of Pakistan’s population of over 180 million.

سانحہ بھکر پولیس کی سرپرستی میں ہوا، عینی شاہد کا انکشاف
بھکر کی تحصیل دریا خان میں ایک بار پھر کالعدم سپاہ صحابہ کے دہشتگردوں نے شہر کا امن تہہ و بالا کر دیا ہے۔ ابتک کی
رپورٹ کے مطابق بھکر سمیت مختلف علاقوں میں فائرنگ کے مختلف واقعات میں نو شیعہ افراد کو ناحق قتل کر دیا گیا ہے۔ واقعہ کے عینی شاہد دریا خان کے رہائشی کمیل رضا نے اسلام ٹائمز کو بتایا کہ دو روز قبل بھکر میں کالعدم جماعت کا سابقہ رکن ذاتی تنازع کی بنیاد پر قتل ہوگیا۔ اس واقعہ کے بعد کالعدم سپاہ صحابہ کے مرکزی رہنماء مولوی حمیداللہ نے اس واقعہ کو فرقہ وارانہ رنگ دیتے ہوئے اس کی ذمہ داری اہل تشیع پر ڈال دی۔ انتظامیہ کو 48 گھنٹوں کے اندر قتل میں ملوث افراد کو گرفتار کرنے کا مطالبہ کیا گیا، تاہم جیسے 48 گھنٹے مکمل ہوئے تو جمعہ کی صبح مولوی حمیداللہ کی قیادت اور پولیس کی سرپرستی میں بھکر کے علاقے پنجگرائیں سے مسلح افراد نے ریلی نکالی، جو مختلف علاقوں سے ہوتی ہوئی بھکر شہر پہنچی، جہاں کالعدم جماعت کے رہنماؤں نے احتجاج کیا اور شیعہ مخالف نعرے لگوائے۔ اس دوران پولیس انتظامیہ نے کوئی ایکشن نہیں لیا اور حسب رویت خاموش تماشائی کا کردار ادا کیا۔ کمیل نے بتایا کہ احتجاج کے بعد شہر سے ریلی واپس دریا خان کی جانب روانہ ہوئی تو راستے میں ریلی جیسے ہی شیعہ آبادی کوٹلہ جام حسینی چوک پر پہنچی تو شرکاء مشتعل ہوگئے اور فرقہ وارانہ نعرے بازی شروع کر دی، اس دوران چند مسلح افراد دکانوں میں گھس گئے اور چار شیعہ دکانداروں کو ناحق قتل کر دیا۔ جاں بحق ہونے والوں میں علی رضا اور کامران نامی افراد شامل ہیں۔ کالعدم جماعت کے دہشتگرد مسلسل فائرنگ کرتے رہے، لیکن پولیس خاموش تماشائی بنی رہی، اس دوران دہشتگرد چار افراد کو بھی ساتھ لے گئے۔ ذرائع کے مطابق ریلی جیسے ہی دریا خان واپس پہنچی تو کالعدم دہشتگردوں نے مین بازار میں دوبارہ فائرنگ کا سلسلہ شروع کر دیا جو تقریباً نصف گھنٹے تک جاری رہا۔ فائرنگ کے نتیجے میں تین مزید شیعہ دکاندار قتل کر دئیے گئے۔ شہید کئے جانے والوں میں سید عمران شاہ شیرازی، ریڑھی بان خان محمد اور سید صفدر حسین شاہ نامی افراد شامل ہیں۔ کمیل کے مطابق شہر کی مختلف مساجد سے باقاعدہ اعلانات کیے گئے کہ جہاد کا وقت آگیا ہے اور کفر کے مقابلے کے لئے اب گھروں سے باہر نکل آؤ، یہ اعلانات دریا خان کے علاوہ کوٹلہ جام، پنجگرائیں اور بھکر میں بھی سنے گئے۔

Pakistan Sunnis and Shias clash : ''Bhakkar clashes''

The clashes and killings between the supporters of the Sunni Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and the Shia Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWM), in the Bhakkar district on Friday, have led to a district-wide curfew being imposed and a temporary but uneasy calm. This is a troubling reminder of the sectarian riots that shook Punjab in the mid and late 1990s when Sunnis and Shias clashed frequently. This incident will have reverberations that threaten to bring back sectarian violence to Punjab. In recent years – and despite the fact that most anti-Shia militant groups were founded in and continue to operate out of Punjab – the province itself has not witnessed the same kind of violence as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. That could now change. Details of what happened at Bhakkar vary slightly. But it would appear the shootout between the two groups was triggered when a procession of the extremist Ahle Sunnat Wal-Jamaat – the name now adopted by the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan – was passing through a predominately Shia area on its way from Bhakkar to the town of Darya Khan. The ASWJ had called for a strike and processions to protest against the murder of one of its activists. One procession of armed activists took their protest to the Shia area of Kotla Jam. It has been reported the protesters were shot upon, leading to a return of fire. Six persons from either side died instantly, while five others died later in hospital. The Punjab government will have to be more pro-active if it is to prevent repeats of the Bhakkar clashes through the province. So far, the provincial government’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. Even though the violence in Kotla Jam continued for at least four hours and the Rangers were called in, they did not directly intervene to stop the violence. Instead, law-enforcement officials allowed the violence to play out and then imposed a curfew. What should also be considered at some length is why banned groups remain able to operate. Many, like the SSP, have simply altered their names and continued to function just as they did before. There is a feeling among both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities in the country that the police are not interested in intervening on their behalf. That fear will persist as long as militant groups are allowed to operate unimpeded. As long as the state is seen as a disinterested observer of sectarian crimes people will believe that fighting violence with further violence is their only option. Sectarian incidents then can lead – and have led – to enormous violence in our society and tear it further apart with the state no closer to curbing it than it was to preventing it from happening.

Ill-prepared: Swat battles outbreak as dengue continues to rake in victims

In the absence of a proper anti-dengue drive, the virus has rapidly spread to other parts of Swat Valley and the number of infected patients swelled to 250 on Saturday. According to the district health office (DHO), a total of 250 patients were reported to have contracted the virus in the district. Of these, 125 are receiving treatment at Saidu Teaching Hospital. Outbreak Dozens of dengue cases have also surfaced from Charbagh tehsil, where locals complained the district government had taken no precautionary measures. “We asked the tehsil assistant commissioner (AC) to conduct a fumigation drive. However, he said there was no need for one,” claimed Sanaullah Khan, an elder from Upper Bagh Mohallah. Three cases were also reported in Matta tehsil, but the patients’ families shifted them to Saidu Teaching Hospital because Matta Hospital has reportedly made no arrangements for dengue victims. Dwindling facilities With the numbers increasing drastically, Saidu Teaching Hospital is faced with a shortage of beds and many patients are forced to lie in the hospital’s lawn. “We arranged our own bed, got the test done from a private laboratory and bought the medicines ourselves. Even then, we have to keep waiting for the doctors,” said Ramanat, a resident of Mingora attending to his son. Fazal Subhan, the father of a child suffering from dengue, said: “They have taken my son’s blood sample and I have been waiting since morning for the results. Whenever I go to the laboratory, the assistants keep telling me to come back later. It is evening now and they still haven’t tested it.” Affected people also criticised their elected MNA Murad Saeed for not visiting the area. “We have not seen the MNA since he was elected. We are very disappointed with him,” said Akbar Aman, a patient receiving treatment at the hospital. However, Salimur Rehman, elected MNA from NA-30, Swat-II earlier visited Saidu Teaching Hospital. He met the patients and assured them of complete support from the government. Moreover, some young volunteers took over the task to fumigate the hospital. “We waited for three days to get anti-dengue spray from the DHO. We received it today and are carrying out the drive from our own resources,” Bakht Haroon, one of the volunteers, told The Express Tribune. On the other hand, attendants claimed the price of dengue test has been fixed at Rs350 for private laboratories, but they continue to charge higher rates. “The laboratory charged me Rs700, while another person I know was charged Rs900. Besides charging so much, they make us wait 24 hours for the results,” lamented Zubair Khan, a resident of Qambar. Government reacts The district administration of Swat constituted 12 teams late Saturday to stop further spread of dengue in the district. Babozai Assistant Commissioner Farrukh Atiq said the teams will conduct awareness drives, adding over 40 spray pumps have been handed over to elders of different areas. He said fumigation has been conducted in various areas and patients in critical condition have been referred to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. The district administration of neighbouring Lower Dir has also been put on high-alert so as to take steps to prepare special wards in Timergara in case of the virus spreading there.

Peshawarites’ romance with PTI is over

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf popularity bubble burst in Peshawar on Thursday as the local residents either stayed home or went to the polling stations to vote against the nominee of Imran Khan’s party for the by-election in the local NA-1 constituency.
The newly-emerged PTI not only lost NA-1 seat in the by-polls but also shed around 60,000 votes in a short span of three months as its candidate, Gul Badshah, received 29,600 votes compared with the general elections when the party chief had polled over 90,000 votes in the constituency. PTI which had won all four NA seats and 10 out of total 11 seats of the provincial assembly from Peshawar in the general elections could not retain its position in the by-polls. There was no enthusiasm among the party workers to bring voters to the polling stations compared to general elections. Unlike the general elections, overcharged workers and ‘Tabdeeli Razaqar’ tying red and green bands of PTI around their heads and playing loud music were almost invisible. There were no long queues of voters and even some polling stations, especially women polling stations were deserted. On the other hand, workers of ANP were in an aggressive mode. Imran had defeated Ghulam Ahmad Bilour in the general elections with a huge margin. He had gained 90,500 votes against Ghulam Bilour who bagged 24,468 votes. But this time around, voters in NA-1 showed the mirror to Imran. His candidate Gul Badshah obtained only 29,600 votes while Ghulam Bilour received 34,386 votes. Ghulam Bilour was also supported by its arch rival Pakistan Peoples Party and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F. Political observes say the low turnout was major factor in the victory of Ghulam Bilour against Gul Badshah. The number of the voters in NA-1 is around 300,000, but the turnout in by-poll remained 12 per cent. There are several reasons for the disappointment of voters. Voters in NA-1 say PTI dug its own grave by allocating a ticket to a controversial figure whose nomination sparked controversy within the party ranks and files. Muhammad Aqil, a voter in NA-1, is not registered worker of PTI, but he and his entire family had voted for Imran Khan in the general election, because of Imran and his lieutenants “rhetoric” to bring change. “This time my entire family voted for Ghulam Bilour, because of the rude attitude of the PTI chief and his MNAs and MPAs,” he said. Voters complained that Imran Khan took Peshawarites for granted by surrendering NA-1 and an outsider who they believed was an Afghan national was given the party ticket. “Nomination of Gul Badshah created an impression that nobody in Peshawar was capable to contest the by-election,” he said, adding that the PTI chief’s attitude forced the people to give vote to the ANP candidate. The award of ticket to Gul Badshah created an impression in urban people that there was dearth of competent candidate and voters expressed their anguish by not going to polling stations, he said. PTI lawmaker from Peshawar Javed Nasim said the party leadership and workers were ‘overconfident’ that they would easily sweep elections again. “There was no planning and arrangements for bringing voters to polling stations,” he said. Another reason for the defeat, he alleged was the that administration was not fair and Ghulam Bilour had bought voters. Dr Syed Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, who teaches in the Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, said rifts within the party and the three months performance of the provincial government had exposed PTI. “Before the general elections, PTI had mesmerised educated and urbanised a lot of the society with the slogan of change. People expected revolutionary changes and end of status quo, but PTI disappointed the silent majority through its poor performance,” he said. Like other political parties, the PTI ministers and leaders also continued the same status quo and therefore, people decided to stay at home on polling day, he said.

Nawaz Sharif: Promises galore

The year 1999 still haunts Prime Minister (PM) Mian Nawaz Sharif. During his interview with the Telegraph, he said that he wants to reconnect with his past and restart the journey from where he left 14 years back. This is not the first time Mian Nawaz has taken a stroll down memory lane. He is often found reverting to the year when he was forcefully ousted from power by the Pakistan army. He spent six months in jail, and suffered other humiliations before he was given a safe passage to Saudi Arabia, where he lived until 2007. According to Mian Nawaz Sharif, those were the best of times for Pakistan. Since his effort to bring economic glory to the country was cut short and his dreams truncated, he wants to resume his journey from the same position. He believes that Pakistan would have been a different country if his stint in power was not stunted twice and especially in 1999. What else could we expect from a PM about his previous tenures than fond memories laced with all the good things? The problem is that when Mian Nawaz Sharif talks about his ‘golden era’, the thinking process behind the reminiscence reflects grudges, rancour and bitterness, in spite of all the calmness that he tries to build in. That the previous regime of Mian Nawaz was on the right direction could be a fact for the PM but not necessarily for others. One can recollect many things to dilute this claim, such as the decision of choosing Pervez Musharaf as the army chief, ignoring merit; the storming of the Supreme Court, the Kargil episode that exposed the negligence and the sloppy grip of the PM over strategic national issues; last but not the least his desire to become ‘Amir-ul-Momineen’ (leader of the righteous). Therefore, it is advisable that the PM makes a fresh start, without breaking with his past, where he could return whenever the need arises for taking the right clue for new decisions. Things have changed. It is not the same Pakistan as it was in 1999. Terrorism and the energy crisis were not our national issues then. The economy though not in a very good shape, was not as sluggish as it is now. Another folly with the PM remembering his past is that it sets in despondency and disappointment in people. If he could feel the pulse of the time, it is change, hope and a new Pakistan that inspires confidence. These are the drivers of success that motivate. Nobody is interested in going back, because nobody believes there is anything positive stored there. Talking about security, the PM said that his government is preparing the National Strategic Policy. He proposed giving one more chance to dialogue to settle the scourge of terrorism. For India, where Pakistan is again embroiled in a fresh spate of violence on the Line of Control, he reiterated his stance of finding peaceful solutions to all the issues pertaining to Pakistan and India, and considers the results of the by-elections a mandate for peace with India. On Pakistan-US relations, he finds the drone attacks the underlying irritant that needs to be removed. The better part of the interview was however, devoted to his economic ambitions by way of which he even sees making Gwadar a free port, a desire that he expressed while chairing a meeting on the Kashgar to Gwadar Economic Corridor. He said, “I have to make sure we do the right things, tread the right path and pursue the right policies...and not make any mistakes.” Since coming to power, the Nawaz-led PML-N is making promises galore. Conceded that they are still finding their feet in office, but the problem is that the issues and difficulties confronting the country are getting bigger with every passing day. The threshold of tolerance has shrunk tremendously. So far it is not clear which way the new government wants to take the country. What precisely is its economic agenda, other than building more motorways? What are they doing to inspire investors’ confidence, both domestic and foreign? How do they plan rebuilding Pakistan’s image abroad? Unless a clear road map with a forward looking view is given, it would be difficult for the new government to rally the nation around its intent and aims, no matter how clean or sincere they might be.