Thursday, September 19, 2013

Clashes in Turkey as students take to streets

Riot police fire smoke grenades and water cannon to disperse hundreds of university students demonstrating against government reconstruction plans.
A fresh night of protest in Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) on Sept. 19 ended with a police crackdown on demonstrators as amendments to a plan related to a disputed road project, which includes plans to construct road through the leafy campus area, are set to be approved by the Environment and Urbanization Ministry. Around 400 demonstrators gathered at the A-4 entrance of the campus, nearby the road construction area, when police launched its intervention using tear gas and water cannons, echoing scenes of clashes that occurred during protests in the beginning of September. Police also resorted to helicopters with spotlights to illuminate the campus while the intervention was taking place, daily Hürriyet reported. Some of the demonstrators retaliated by throwing fireworks and stones, the report also said. The road project, which will lead to the destruction of around 3,000 trees, has sparked protests that have intensified since Sept. 6. The police’s repeated interventions in the protests with water cannons and tear gas have stirred supporting protests across the country over the past few weeks. The project anticipates the construction of two roads on ODTÜ land. One of those roads, the smaller one, will still be conducted as planned, while the second will be replaced by a tunnel to minimize the environmental damage, the Environment and Urbanism Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar said. ODTÜ’s campus has become an island of trees over the last few years after a construction boom in the surrounding area greatly increased local vehicular traffic.

Obama Finds a Pen Pal in Iran

Few American presidents have held a deeper belief in the power of the written word than President Obama. And in few ways has that belief been more tested than in his frustrating private correspondence with the leaders of Iran, a country with which the United States has had no diplomatic ties for 34 years. This week, Mr. Obama indicated that he might finally have found a pen pal in Tehran. At the core of Iran’s recent diplomatic charm offensive — a process that has included the release of 11 prominent political prisoners and a series of conciliatory statements by top Iranian officials — is an exchange of letters, confirmed by both sides, between Mr. Obama and President Hassan Rouhani. The election of Mr. Rouhani, a moderate, in June kindled hopes that diplomacy might end the chronic impasse with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. But the letters, and the cautious hope they have generated, suggest there is a genuine opportunity for change. It is not the first time since entering the White House that Mr. Obama has put pen to paper to try to sway Iran’s leadership. Until now, he has had little to show for it: even under the pain of punishing economic sanctions, the Iranian government has shown little interest in negotiating a deal with Washington on its nuclear program. This time, Mr. Rouhani said in an NBC News interview broadcast on Wednesday, the tone of Mr. Obama’s letter was “positive and constructive.” He added, “It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future.” Mr. Obama, speaking to the Spanish-language network Telemundo on Tuesday, said there were indications that Mr. Rouhani “is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States, in a way that we haven’t seen in the past. And so we should test it.” The president has tested Iran before. Having promised as a candidate to extend an olive branch to old enemies, he sent a letter early in his first term to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proposing a new diplomatic chapter. Ayatollah Khamenei sent a reply, but failed to take Mr. Obama up on his offer. Their correspondence was cut short after Iran’s disputed presidential election in June 2009 unleashed a popular uprising. The ensuing bloody crackdown all but snuffed out diplomacy for the next year. The re-elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wrote a lengthy letter to Mr. Obama in 2010, but it did nothing to break the diplomatic ice. The White House declined to discuss the contents of Mr. Obama’s letter to Mr. Rouhani. But a senior administration official said it reflected the president’s judgment that Mr. Rouhani should be taken “very seriously,” in part because he appeared to have a broad mandate within Iran. This is the first time that Mr. Obama has written directly to an Iranian president, and not the supreme leader. That suggests that the White House believes Ayatollah Khamenei has empowered Mr. Rouhani, at least for now, to seek an opening with the West. Mr. Ahmadinejad, though not as hostile to a nuclear agreement as sometimes portrayed, was undermined by other senior officials and did not enjoy the supreme leader’s full confidence. “The administration’s previous position was that we correspond with the person who makes decisions,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Now they’re sending them to Rouhani.” Another major difference is that the new exchange of letters comes in the wake of the administration’s agreement with Russia to seek the peaceful transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons. To make that plan work, analysts said, it would be helpful for Iran, as the staunchest regional ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, to play a constructive role. Whether that is possible is highly questionable, of course. But it gives Mr. Obama a broader diplomatic context in which to engage Mr. Rouhani. The United States has generally insisted on negotiating with Iran purely on its nuclear program, which has left both sides with little to talk about after the inevitable clashes over the number of centrifuges or the amount of enriched uranium that the Iranians are producing. “At the end of the day, Obama stumbled into diplomacy because of what happened with Syria,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, who has written a book about Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts, “A Single Roll of the Dice.” Iran’s news media have reported that Mr. Obama’s letter included a plea to re-engage in diplomacy; a suggestion — depending on how any talks went — that the United States would be willing to ease sanctions; and a request to initiate direct discussions between Washington and Tehran, something diplomats say is critical to striking a nuclear deal. None of this should be a big surprise. The United States has long been eager for direct talks with Iran. The bigger question is whether Mr. Rouhani is in the position to make concessions on a nuclear program that Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes and that the United States suspects is aimed at achieving the ability to produce nuclear weapons. If direct negotiations were to begin, Mr. Obama’s letter-writing skills might again be called into play. “Presidential correspondence,” said Dennis B. Ross, who advised Mr. Obama on Iran at the White House, “is used often in negotiations as a form of assurance or clarification.” Mr. Ross said the president’s reliance on letters to Iranian leaders made sense because in the absence of a formal relationship, “there are few other fully authoritative ways to convey a message we completely control.” The letters, his advisers say, also reflect the value that Mr. Obama attaches to direct diplomacy. Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani both plan to speak to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. Will they try an even more direct form of diplomacy: greeting each other in person? The White House says nothing is planned. For now, though, Mr. Obama’s pen-pal diplomacy has accomplished the most basic goal of any letter. It got a reply.

Bahrain arrests opposition leader; U.S. shrugs

DURING A visit to Washington in February, Bahraini opposition leader Khalil al-Marzooq described for us how his al-Wefaqparty was seeking to bridge the growing polarization between the Persian Gulf nation’s Sunni ruling family and its restless, majority-Shiite population. In contrast to some of the groups that supported the popular uprising against the regime beginning in February 2011, al-Wefaq had firmly renounced violence and banned its members from advocating the overthrow or prosecution of the ruling al-Khalifa family. The party agreed to participate in a “national dialogue” with the government beginning in February, and Mr. Marzooq said its aim was a “power-sharing agreement” that would move the country toward constitutional monarchy. His words offered a glimmer of hope that Bahrain, a U.S. ally that hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, could achieve the political compromise that has eluded other Arab states since the 2011 revolutions. Since then, however, hard-liners on both sides have driven events. Anti-government demonstrations have grown more violent, several bombings have targeted police officers and a Sunni mosque, and the regime has responded with repressive measures, including a ban on demonstrations in the capital, a lawsuit aimed at outlawing a council of Shiite clerics and restrictions on contacts between opposition groups and foreign governments and organizations. Now Mr. Marzooq has been arrested. On Tuesday he was charged with “inciting and advocating terrorism.” Predictably, al-Wefaq and other opposition groups withdrew from the national dialogue, which in seven months had yet to reach consensus even on an agenda. The charges against the former parliamentarian are perverse: They appear to be based on a speech he delivered this month in which he was said to have waved the flag of a militant youth group. Never mind that Mr. Marzooq told the militants in the speech that “the difference between us is violence” and called on them to “persist with your nonviolence.” Bahrain’s leaders regularly assure the Obama administration that they are open to reforms and compromise with their opposition. But massive human rights violations, including the torture of detainees, continue. Leading political figures and human rights advocates remain imprisoned. The arrest of Mr. Marzooq reinforces the growing evidence that the regime is intent on eliminating the very moderates with whom it should be bargaining. Despite occasional criticisms and a temporary suspension of some military sales, the United States has tolerated this behavior. Fearful of compromising a naval base that backs up U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf, the Obama administration refuses to hold the Khalifa regime accountable. Incredibly, the State Department’s response to Mr. Marzooq’sarrest was to express disappointment with the opposition for withdrawing from the national dialogue. That myopic attitude will only encourage more repression and further political polarization in Bahrain — and endanger the very U.S. assets that the administration sees itself as protecting.

Obama open to meeting with new Iranian leader at UN

The biggest moment at next week's meeting of the United Nations General Assembly could be a handshake that may or may not happen. As world leaders prepare to descend on New York for the annual meeting of the world body, all eyes are on what interaction, if any, President Obama and the newly installed Iranian President Hasan Rouhani have at the UNGA. No U.S. president has met a top Iranian leader since Islamic radicals overthrew the pro-American Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi more than 34 years ago. But the two leaders have sent signals in the lead-up to next week's meeting of the world body that they are open to taking at least small steps toward opening a diplomatic relationship. The White House says there is no scheduled meeting between Obama and Rouhani, but White House press secretary Jay Carney also underscored on Thursday that Obama "has been open as a general proposition to bilateral discussions with the Iranians" while noting that the president has found Rouhani's rhetoric in his first weeks in office encouraging. "We are all watching very closely and with interest and listening closely and with interest to the things that the new leadership has been saying," Carney added. The two leaders have confirmed that they've exchanged letters since Rouhani has taken office. In an interview this week with the Spanish-language network Telemundo, Obama said he indicated his interest in seeing Iran address U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program" in a way that would allow Iran to rejoin the international community." Meanwhile, Rouhani, who denies that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, told NBC News earlier this week that he received a "positive and constructive" letter from Obama after the recent Iranian election, and it could augur "subtle and tiny steps for a very important future." Rouhani also asserted in the interview that he has complete authority to negotiate with the United States on its nuclear program. The new Iranian effort also comes with the backdrop of the Syria crisis. In making his case for military action against Syria in recent weeks, Obama has repeatedly raised the point that not taking action would have sent the wrong message to Iran, which also happens to be one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's chief allies. But what has been largely lost in the political debate over Syria in Washington is that Tehran will have to play a role for a political solution to end the bloody civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead. "Iran needs to be part of the diplomatic mix to make it work," said John Tirman, the executive director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's center for international studies. "It's sort of lost in translation to political elites of this country." For Rouhani, who took office in August and campaigned as a moderate, this is his first big moment on the international stage. He's only been in office for several weeks, and analysts say that Iran's clerical hierarchy have him on a relatively short leash to show that a softer tact with the West will lead to something — particularly some easing of crippling punitive sanctions that the United States and allies have levied against Iran for its suspected nuclear ambitions. "Rouhani knows very well that there is a specific degree of flexibility that he has right now that he won't have six months from now unless he's capable of achieving a few successes diplomatically — particularly important are successes that have a direct impact on the very dire state of the economy," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and the author of a book detailing diplomatic efforts with Iran, A Single Roll of the Dice. In his first weeks in office, Rouhani has made some notable moves as part of his charm effort to signal to the West the political space he has. Rouhani and his U.S.-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted greetings to Jews on the Jewish New Year. Zarif also said in a Facebook exchange with the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that Iran never denied the Holocaust. "The man who was perceived to be denying it, Ahmadinejad, is now gone," wrote Zarif, referring to the previous bellicose Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly made derogatory and offensive comments about Jews during his time in power. On Wednesday, Iranian authorities announced they were freeing 11 of Iran's most prominent political prisoners, what was seen widely as an olive branch to the West ahead of Rouhani's first trip to the United States as president. The White House welcomed the release on Thursday as "concrete" action. "This is the least costly political measure that he could take that at the same time would show the world that he has the ability to deliver without giving anything of particular substance to the West," Parsi noted.

Iran's president calls for 'constructive' dialogue, end to 'unhealthy' rivalries

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his case Thursday to the American people and the world for "a constructive approach" to contentious issues including his nation's nuclear program, arguing that failing to engage "leads to everyone's loss." "We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart," Rouhani said in an op-ed published Thursday evening on the Washington Post's website. It's not the first time a leader from a country often at odds with the United States has used its newspapers to convey his or her views. Just last week, for instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued against international military intervention in Syria and jabbed his U.S. counterpart for saying Americans should consider themselves "exceptional" -- a remark that quickly elicited derision from across the U.S. political spectrum. But Rouhani's tone differed from Putin's, echoing the theme of "prudence and hope" and the promise of more positive engagement with the rest of the world that helped propel him to an election win in June. "To move beyond impasses, ... we need to aim higher," he said. "Rather than focusing on how to prevent things from getting worse, we need to think -- and talk -- about how to make things better." Contending "the age of blood feuds" and the idea of diplomacy as a "zero-sum game" no longer apply in a "changed" world, Rouhani said leaders should engage each other "on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect." "My approach to foreign policy seeks to resolve ... issues by addressing their underlying causes," he said. "We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart." Chief among those issues, for Iran, is its nuclear program. Iranian officials have insisted its aim is peaceful and for energy purposes only, but skeptical U.S., Israeli and other officials accuse Tehran of working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran's lack of openness on the issue and its perceived lack of cooperation with international nuclear authorities, have led to stringent international sanctions and increased tensions in the region. In his opinion column Thursday, Rouhani sought to frame the debate over what he called "our peaceful nuclear energy program." This program, he said, is tied into not only addressing Iran's energy needs but also into establishing its place in the world. "To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect, and our consequent place in the world," he said. The Washington Post column appears to be part of a U.S.-targeted public relations initiative by Rouhani, coming a day after he talked with NBC News. In that interview, Rouhani said, "We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so." There's little dispute Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran's most powerful figure. Still, Rouhani said Thursday that he and his delegation will head to New York with the "full power and has complete authority" to make a deal with others on nuclear matters. The Iranian president also talked about trading letters with Obama this summer, an exchange he called "positive and constructive." "It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future," Rouhani told NBC, according to video on the network's website. "I believe the leaders in all countries could think in their national interests and that they should not be under the influence of (interest) groups." Rouhani's Washington Post op-ed published a few hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry -- also speaking in Washington -- characterized some of the new Iranian president's remarks as "very positive." Yet he offered his compliment with a caveat: "Everything needs to be put to the test, and we'll see where we go." Kerry punted on a question of whether Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama will next week when both attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Asked the same question Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said "there are currently no plans" for such a face-to-face meeting though he also didn't rule it out. And Carney did hint the United States is open to talks with Iran -- with whom it has feuded regarding Iran's nuclear program, a dispute that's led to harsh international sanctions and raised the specter of war in the region -- to "test" whether Tehran is sincere in its hope to improve its international standing. "I think it's fair to say that (Obama) believes there is an opportunity for diplomacy when it comes to the issues that have presented challenges to the United States and our allies with regards to Iran," Carney said. "And we hope that the Iranian government takes advantage of this opportunity." In fact, there were high-level talks Thursday -- involving Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Zarif called the meeting "constructive," saying it involved "satisfactory negotiations" on various issues such as Iran's nuclear program, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. Ban's office also issued a positive statement on the meeting, saying the two "discussed Iran's growing cooperation with the international community on a host of issues, including the nuclear file, as well the role Iran could play in promoting a political solution to the conflict in Syria." This cooperation has been spearheaded by Rouhani, himself a former nuclear negotiator who vowed during his campaign to try to reduce tensions between Iran and the outside world. That includes expressing openness in talks on its nuclear program. The 64-year-old cleric, who is considered a moderate, said last month that as long as there are "negotiations without threats, the way for interaction is open."

2013 Latest SUPERHIT Top 10 Hindi Video Songs

Video: Miss America 2014 - Talent Competition - Miss New York Indian Dance

Can Pakistan talk its way to peace with the Taliban?

Pakistani politicians have offered talks to the Taliban, but with attacks continuing and the militants issuing demanding conditions for negotiations, the road to peace looks as long and tortuous as ever. At the instigation of the new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a conference of Pakistan's political parties last week called for talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main grouping of the militants. An umbrella faction for armed Islamist outfits but also criminals and mafia gangs, the TTP was created in 2007 and pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda. In the years since, it has carried out hundreds of attacks, killing more than 6,000 people. The TTP initially hailed the initiative but on Sunday issued a series of tough conditions for taking part in talks, including the release of all of its members held in Pakistani jails and the complete withdrawal of government forces from the tribal areas along the Afghan border that are its stronghold. The same day, the militants carried out a series of attacks in the country's restive northwest that left seven soldiers and police dead, including a general commanding an army division. TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said they had not been approached for talks and the war with the Pakistani authorities would continue unless the government announced a ceasefire. After Sunday's attacks, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani released a statement affirming the army's support for talks but vowing not to cave in to the TTP's demands. "While it is understandable to give peace a chance through the political process no-one should have any misgivings that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms," Kayani said. Peace deals reached with the TTP in the past, in limited geographical areas, have fallen apart quickly and Pakistani media have questioned whether a genuine, effective peace agreement was really possible. They noted the difficulties apparent in trying to reconcile the government and army's firm commitment to maintaining Pakistan's territorial integrity and constitution with the Taliban's desire for the imposition of sharia law, among other issues. It is a dilemma which some say is fuelling division within the militant ranks as much as debate among the politicians and men in khaki. "The attack on a senior military general is a sign that there are Taliban groups who don't want to negotiate with the government," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, former information minister in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which has borne the brunt of TTP attacks. The Pakistani Taliban are made up of a myriad of factions which have declared "holy war" on the government in Islamabad, which they accuse of kowtowing to Washington, India and religious minorities such as Shiites. Citing intelligence sources, Hussain said that while some Taliban groups support talks, notably those in Punjab which are vehemently anti-Indian and historically close to the military, others do not. The latter include the hardline group of Mullah Fazlullah, which took control of Swat valley in 2007 before being kicked out by a major army operation two years later. Hussain said Sunday's attacks were "basically an effort to spoil the peace talks", a view backed up by a senior Taliban commander, who said Fazlullah's group were behind the blast that killed the general. Journalist and analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai said there has been some contact with the TTP but nothing of substance has been achieved so far. "Lots of questions remain unanswered: how do you talk, where, how do you implement any agreement? Do you need to free prisoners?" he told AFP. Moreover, the support of the army -- still the most powerful institution in the country -- for a talks process is not guaranteed to last indefinitely. Kayani will retire in November and the identity and inclinations of his successor are unknown. Imran Khan, the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, said the authorities must use the traditional channel of tribal elders for the talks. "The government has no choice (but to negotiate), this is the only solution. In the past the army did, but now the federal government should take responsibility," he told AFP.
Read more:

Pakistan testing powerful Internet filtering software

Al Jazeera and Reuters
Activists say online censorship targets secular, liberal voices while extremist websites remain largely unfiltered
In a nondescript, creeper-draped building in the capital of Islamabad, a small team of men is purging Pakistan's Internet. Shadowy government officials are blocking thousands of pages deemed undesirable, but they are not fast enough. So the government is now testing Canadian software that can block millions of sites a second. Internet censorship helps shape the views of 180 million Pakistanis on militancy, democracy and religion. Online debates dissect attacks by U.S. drone aircraft, the uneasy alliance with the United States and prospects for peace with arch rival India. But activists say liberal voices are increasingly silenced while militants speak freely. They worry customized filters from the Canadian firm Netsweeper will only deepen that divide. "Secular, progressive and liberal voices are being increasingly targeted," said Shahzad Ahmad, the founder of Bytes For All, which campaigns for Internet freedoms. "Anything can be banned without debate." An internet provider who declined to be identified said the number of banned pages doubled in the last five years, partly a reaction to cartoons or films offensive to Muslims. Now the Pakistani government is ramping up its capacity for censorship. Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto, published a report in June showing that Pakistan was testing filtering software supplied by Netsweeper. Both the Pakistani government and Netsweeper have declined to comment. In 2012, the government circulated a five-page document seeking filtering software, a move embraced by Pakistani Internet service providers who welcomed the assistance of an outside contractor to lighten the burden of censorship. Following the announcement of the filtering grant, Wahajus Siraj, head of the national ISP association, told The Washington Post that opponents of new filtering software "don't fully understanding the concept of it." "This is not new censorship," said Siraj. "It’s making the manual system more efficient." Activists worry that the change is part of a larger clampdown on Internet freedoms. Bolo Bhi, an internet freedom group whose name means "Speak Up," said Pakistan wanted the strict online censorship practiced by its ally China. About 42 million Pakistanis are online, the government says, and the Internet is one of the few places where they can speak freely, said Bolo Bhi director Farieha Aziz. Twitter, for instance, helps voters reach leaders directly. "Now Pakistanis can get direct access to politicians," said Aziz. "Previously they were just on television, telling you stuff." Bolo Bhi asked technology companies to refuse the bid, and many did so, but Netsweeper took the contract, Citizen Lab said. Activists say tests run to install the filtering system led to the temporary blocking of sites like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. State lawyers have referred to the tests in a court case in which the government is being sued by free-speech activists. Many sites on human rights, news and religion are already permanently blocked. "The Internet Pakistan is seeing is not the same as the rest of the world is seeing," said Ronald Deibert of Citizen Lab. Pakistani officials decline to discuss Netsweeper, even with their own legislators. "They told us they'd shelved it," said legislator Bushra Gohar, who raised the matter in the National Assembly. "There are violent groups operating openly in this country and they want to ban objectionable content?" A slippery slope Officially, only sites that are blasphemous, pornographic or threaten national security are banned. But activists fear a "slippery slope" effect by which censorship could gradually creep into the political and social spheres with the help of high-grade software. Pages banned in recent months include a Facebook group wanting to end the death penalty for blasphemy, a band whose song mocked the military, a site tracking sectarian murders, and a cleric who has spoken against sectarian violence, according to an official list seen by Reuters. Activists allege that the government is not consistently applying their declared censorship principles, citing the fact that extremist websites are rarely blocked online. Hate speech denouncing religious minorities like Shi'ites, who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan's population, is freely available online. So are pages maintained by militant groups the Pakistani government has banned. Lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani, who is suing the government on behalf of Internet freedom activists, said while some of the hundreds of web pages he had found blocked were pornographic, most were secular or sites belonging to religious minorities. "I can't think of any religious extremist group that has been blocked," he said. "They are not blocking the guys who are going to come on the road and start burning things. They are not blocking the people who are inciting violence against religious minorities." Last year, at least 325 Shi'ites were killed in Pakistan. And 200 more were killed in twin bombings this year. The government does not release statistics, but the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan said about 4,500 URLs have been banned, including some websites like YouTube. For their part, Pakistani government officials have insisted that more pervasive filtering might allow Pakistan to reopen sites like YouTube by blocking links to specific material and allowing the rest. The Google-owned video-sharing channel was blocked a year ago after clerics organized violent protests against an anti-Islam film posted on the site. Thousands of protesters armed with sticks and stones battled riot police in major cities. In the meantime, censorship is theoretically decided by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), a secretive body comprising members of the security forces, religious leaders and chaired by a secretary from the Ministry of Information Technology. The secretary declined requests for an interview. But the committee only meets a couple of times a year, and the authorities are directing hundreds of pages to be banned each month, an industry official said. Sometimes the IMC retroactively approved bans from the Ministry of IT, headquartered on the fourth floor of the nondescript brick building, said a government official who was not authorized to speak to the media. He could not say who added sites to the blocked list in the first place.

Five Pakistanis Killed by Afghan Forces in Border Firing
Pakistan accused Afghan forces of killing five Pakistanis on Wednesday in cross-border "indiscriminate firing" in its southwestern Baluchistan province. The Pakistan foreign ministry issued a statement saying that it had protested the killing of "five innocent people in firing by the Afghan border police". "The Afghan Charge d' Affaires was summoned to the Foreign Office and a strong protest was lodged over the indiscriminate firing today (Wednesday) by the Afghan Border Police, which resulted in the killing of five innocent Pakistanis," the statement said. Pakistani officials said that shots were fired near the village of Godwana, in the Zhob district of Baluchistan province, which also borders Iran. Afghan forces fired in the Pakistani area in the morning, Zulfiqar Durrani, a senior administration official in Zhob, told AFP. "Their soldiers entered Pakistani territory to launch indiscriminate fire," he said. Pakistan asked the Afghan government to launch an inquiry into the incident, saying it had conveyed "serious concern". It also asked Afghanistan to "adhere to the border coordination and cooperation mechanisms, and prevent the recurrence of such incidents," the statement said. The foreign ministry said that such incidents are "detrimental to the friendly relations and undermine goodwill between the two brotherly countries". Pakistan and Afghanistan share a disputed, porous and unmarked 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border, and have tricky diplomatic relations, accusing each other previously of cross border violations and sending gunmen to create unrest. Pakistan has been a frontline in the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan to eliminate Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants from the war-torn country.

Pakistan: Atrocities against women

THE display of anger and outrage at the brutal rape of a small girl in Lahore will acquire meaning only if the public discourse is extended beyond demands for punishing the culprit(s) and practical steps can be taken to eliminate the causes of the Pakistani woman’s increased vulnerability to assault and abuse. That the indescribably horrible assault on the five-year-old girl in Lahore must not go unpunished is a perfectly valid call, though subject to respect for the moratorium on the death penalty. But nobody whose conscience has only now been aroused should stop short of looking at sexual assaults on girls in a proper context. To begin with, the rape of little girls in Pakistan is not so infrequent as some people might think. A day after the Lahore girl was ravaged, incidents of rape and gang rape on minor girls were reported from Faisalabad, Tandliawala, Kasur, Toba Tek Singh, Hafizabad and Dera Ismail Khan. The Lahore police chief disclosed that his city force alone had registered 113 cases of rape and 32 incidents of gang rape during the first eight months of the current year. A senior police officer was quoted as saying that most of the rape victims were teenaged girls and that the number of victims could be higher as many cases were not reported to the police. Both the state and civil society should realise that the sexual abuse of girls is a large-scale and widespread phenomenon and it needs to be tackled as such. The second fact to be borne in mind is that such devastation of girls is not a simple matter of crime and punishment and that the evil has flourished in spite of tightening of the relevant laws over the past 34 years or so. The Offence of Zina (enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance of 1979 laid down the death penalty for several forms of rape. In 1990, Section 164-A of the Penal Code was amended to raise the age of children from 10 to 14 whose abduction “in order that a person may be murdered or subjected to grievous hurt, or slavery, or to the lust of any person….” was punishable by death. Has making the laws more stringent caused a decline in sexual crimes against women, particularly girls? If common experience is any guide the answer is in the negative. In fact, the dangerous consequences of making and amending laws in haste, often to satisfy the demands from a brutalised society, have become apparent. For example, the prescription of death penalty for gang rape, the same punishment that is awarded for murder, operates as an inducement to the culprits to kill their victim after violating her, thus eliminating the key witness of their crime. It is common knowledge that the rape of women in Pakistan is not merely one of the offences committed by individual criminals, it is also a weapon to be used to subjugate weaker people and to humiliate adversaries in tribal/feudal conflicts. Sociologists and psychologists could tell us about the factors that are keeping alive in our society the feudal attitudes towards women, the tendency to treat them as chattel. From a layman’s point of view some of the worst feudal practices involving the degradation of women that were confined to the tribal areas have lately spread to settled, supposedly civilised, parts of the country. Reports of killing of women for men’s honour from cities like Lahore and Karachi are enough to confirm this. Worse, some of the feudal practices, such as denial of girls’ right to education, are now being promoted as religious injunctions, eg the destruction of girls’ schools in areas infested with militants. Quite clearly, the more retrogressive that society becomes the greater will be the exploitation of women in various forms, including sexual abuse. Law and order authorities and defenders of public morality in religious parties are quick to attribute attacks on girls to the declining moral standards of a society under the influence of Western culture, the internet and social media. But there seems to be greater force in the argument that women’s vulnerability has increased as a result of campaigns to restrict their mobility, greater emphasis on gender segregation and a variety of attempts to reduce women’s role in public life. Is there any connection between attacks on minor girls and the religious authorities’ insistence on considering a girl fit for marriage as soon as she reaches the age of puberty and their reluctance to denounce marriage of men (of any age) to teenage girls? Again, to answer this, we need to be guided not only by the research of subject specialists but also by the ulema. To the mind of sex-starved and depraved young men, especially in a suburban environment, if a girl in her teens is fit to be given away in marriage she is fair game for forced sex. A study should be undertaken to find out whether increasing emphasis on gender segregation in educational institutions, offices and public places is making women safer or their lives more hazardous. Finally, the nexus between growing religiosity and the rise in attacks on women must be thoroughly explored. The starting point should be a study of Gen Ziaul Haq’s measures aimed at curtailing women’s freedoms. To sum up, devising workable plans to deal with the increase in women’s vulnerability due to conservation of feudal cultural practices, reinforcement of patriarchy and the abuse of belief to deny women their rights is as important, if not more, as punishing criminals.

The Pakistani state on its knees

Dr Mohammad Taqi
Without setting the parameters for what exactly is the state willing to concede to the TTP in exchange for peace, the prime minister and his APC have left the door wide open for the terrorists to keep making highly perverse demands The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed the killing of Major General Sanaullah Khan, GOC Swat Division, along with Lt-Colonel Tauseef and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar in an IED bombing in Upper Dir on Sunday. In a statement released a day after the attack, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said that while peace must be given a chance through the political process, no one should have any misgivings that “we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms” and that “the military has the ability and the will to take the fight to the militants.” Frankly, there is little in the general’s almost decade-long track record at the helm, first as the ISI director and then as the army chief, to suggest that he would deliver on his pledge, especially with one foot out the door. General Kayani, like the politicians who signed the September 9 declaration of the All Parties Conference (APC), did not deem it necessary to even name the enemy that he intends to take the fight to. Of late the Pakistani media is abuzz with the claims that the Pakistan army wishes to fight the Taliban while the politicians lack such resolve. The fact is that the army has been ceding territory to the jihadists of assorted varieties for about 10 years now. And wherever and whenever it has acted against the terrorists, it has done so reluctantly and after dragging its feet not for days or months but literally years. The Swat operation is often cited as a success story and also to show that the-then ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) wanted to negotiate with the TTP while the army wanted to act decisively. The reality however is that the TTP takeover of Swat happened over at least two years while the mullahs governed the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and the army chief General Pervez Musharraf ruled the country. The PPP-ANP coalition was forced into negotiating with the TTP when the army — the only fighting force they could rely on — was gun shy when it mattered the most. Consider the much-trumpeted Rah-e-Nijat operation in South Waziristan Agency. The operation was announced some six months before the action actually started in October 2009. Stealth and caution were both thrown to the winds. As expected, the Taliban did not stay and fight pitched battles and simply melted away into their hideouts in the neighbouring North Waziristan Agency (NWA), Orakzai Agency and Balochistan. Media fanfare surrounding the Pakistan army’s incursion into and conquest of Kotkai — the hometown of the TTP head honcho, Hakimullah Mehsud — sounded then as if the Allies had descended upon the Führerbunker. Only there was no Hakimullah there. Fast forward four years almost to the date and the TTP chief is dictating terms to a nuclear-armed state! It is indeed somewhat surprising that almost all top TTP leaders from Nek Muhammad Wazir and Baitullah Mehsud to Wali-ur-Rehman escaped alive from the Pakistan army operations. They were all killed in the much-maligned drone attacks. The simple point is that if the Pakistan army wished to build a case against the TTP it could have done much better than the six-monthly speeches that General Kayani delivers about the internal threat being the pre-eminent danger without naming names and ever pointing a finger. Sheer incompetence, of course, cannot be conclusively excluded but it is hard to believe that with its tremendous wherewithal, including a whole division of media men and women that virtually raised hell about the PPP’s attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control, the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act and the Memogate matter, the army failed to capture and mould the narrative to fight against the TTP. There is little doubt, at least in the minds of many in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, that the army did not wish to take on the Taliban for various reasons. The three primary reasons being: a) the military establishment’s plans for the ‘endgame’ in Afghanistan; b) concerns about the domestic terrorist fallout that might not be manageable, especially in Punjab province; and c) the army’s rank and file lacking the will to fight the jihadists they have supported for decades. Additionally, when the army-friendly media machine went into overdrive to build the image of the pro-Taliban/negotiation Imran Khan, many other leaders took it as their cue to hop onto the dialogue bandwagon. Nonetheless, what Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has presided over in the name of an APC is nothing short of a humiliating collective capitulation to the TTP, which has been rechristened as ‘stakeholders’ in the declaration that reviles NATO, the United States and its drones as the cause of terrorist evil in Pakistan. It merely shows how delusional, hypocritical and cavalier the political leadership is. Mr Khan might be naïve about the TTP being amenable to unconditional talks but Mr Sharif is most certainly not. By letting Mr Khan and his ilk virtually hijack the APC and dictate its outcome, Mr Sharif has virtually offered the TTP a velvet fist in a velvet glove. States, especially those brandishing nukes at the drop of a hat, do not negotiate with terrorists. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) model cited by some is a false analogy. The IRA subscribed to everything that a modern state stands for while the TTP rejects everything that is modern. Without setting the parameters for what exactly is the state willing to concede to the TTP in exchange for peace, the prime minister and his APC have left the door wide open for the terrorists to keep making highly perverse demands. Drone strikes and the US presence in Afghanistan may end soon but the TTP would certainly find another pretext to continue its violent campaign. The TTP’s negotiations ruse has always ended in more bloodshed and there is little reason to believe it would be different this time. Mr Sharif might have thought that sharing responsibility with other leaders would help build consensus for action if/when the talks fail. But chances are that like the TTP, its apologists too will come up with yet another justification for continued terrorism when drones and the US are out of the picture. After all, it previously was the Palestine and Kashmir problems that the jihadists used as a license to kill and their apologists for blaming the US and others. The TTP has clearly brought the Pakistani state down to its knees. Unless the army and the political leadership stop deluding themselves, this learned helplessness will only get worse.

Pakistan: Revision of textbooks — the PTI way

By Munizae Jahangir
Analysts often see the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan as an enigma. His chic and modern supporters in urban Punjab have almost nothing in common with his coalition partners in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, i.e, the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Qaumi Watan Party. And now, with him having his first shot at governance in the Taliban infested province, Imran is finally being tested in the field of politics. Recently, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has embarked upon revising the province’s syllabus. The K-P information minister, Shah Farman, during a recent press conference on the curriculum, dodged criticism over his statement that “jihad is a part of our faith and every schoolchild should have knowledge about it and its true spirit.” So far, the changes in the syllabus have not been finalised, but media reports suggest that some of the recommendations include re-inserting Quranic verses on jihad for grade nine that the previous government of the Awami National Party (ANP) had excluded from the syllabus. The loudest criticism to Shah Farman’s statements has come from the ANP’s Bushra Gohar, who accused the PTI of having a pro-Taliban agenda to radicalise society by imposing on it the jihadist narrative through the education system. The previous ANP government made changes to the syllabus and did away with Zia’s version of Islamisation. This included adding messages of peace, deleting material on jihad (reproduced out of context) from the Islamiat textbook for grade nine and re-inserting them in the class 11 textbook. PTI’s information minister saw the ANP educational reforms as ‘criminal changes’. His party is now busy developing a syllabus that will reflect its version of Islamic ideology and culture of Pakistan. On the record, the PTI’s education minister, Atif Khan, has rejected all criticism, saying the party has no intention to add jihad to the syllabus and that they have so far only corrected mistakes in textbooks — such as replacing the picture of a woman wearing a skirt with a woman wearing a shalwar-kameez. PTI’s Shafqat Mahmood lashed out at the ANP saying that it is carrying out propaganda against the PTI because they were defeated in the elections. However, the party’s critics remain sceptical. Educationists like Mehdi Hassan feel that the PTI’s policy, like that of the JI, JUI-F and PML-N is very pro-Taliban. “They believe in making Pakistan a purist religious state according to their own interpretation of what that should be. If you want to make an Islamic state of that nature then you have to change the curriculum to include jihad, which forms an important factor in the kind of Islamisation they are promoting.” This is certainly not the first time Imran Khan has been accused of being conservative. Khan’s effigy was burned in Kabul last year when he termed the ongoing war against foreign troops in Afghanistan as ‘jihad.’ His coalition partner the JI, too, shares Imran’s ideology and initially wanted the education ministry for itself, so any move to radicalise the curriculum will be welcome by his coalition partners. Perhaps the severest constraints to further radicalise the syllabus will be donor considerations, since it is the British who fund a large part of the education programme in K-P and may not be able to justify funding a provincial government seen as sympathetic to the Taliban agenda. However, if some of PTI’s jeans clad supporters are confronted with all the contradictions back in Punjab, they simply brush them aside, saying that Imran is a modern progressive leader. At the same time, many within the PTI insist that there is an ongoing struggle between the more liberal faction of the PTI and the more conservative. So, then, who is Imran Khan? I believe that Imran’s policies in K-P in the next five years will show exactly where he stands on divisive ideological issues.

Young Journalist Running From Pakistan’s ‘Dirty War’

The Baloch Hal
The Seattle Times:By Sarah Stuteville
“He was shot dead,” explains Muatasim Qazi, floating his cursor over the face of a man in a white tunic. He clicks away and a new photo pops up, this one of an older man sitting alongside a sunny riverbank, “He was a poet and a scholar … we were at a picnic” says Qazi. “He was also killed.” We’re looking at photos of Qazi’s life in Balochistan — the province in eastern Pakistan where he grew up. And every one of them reveals a story so graphically violent they’re hard to reconcile with the 25-year-old journalist’s dormlike apartment, complete with stacks of pizza coupons, tangles of bikes and rooftop views of the University District. When I first met Qazi and learned he was seeking political asylum in the United States, I assumed it had something to do with religious extremists in Pakistan. But in fact, Qazi is caught up in what many call Pakistan’s “dirty war,” a conflict between ethnic Baloch separatists looking to create their own country and the Pakistani government that desperately wants to stop them. “There’s been a long-term secessionist movement in Balochistan,” says Bob Dietz, Asia coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists , an organization assisting Qazi with his asylum case, “It’s the poorest part of Pakistan, but paradoxically it has a lot of resources — especially natural gas.” Baloch journalists, especially those seen to have a political point of view, can become targets, says Dietz. CPJ’s online list of the 52 journalists killed in Pakistan since 1992 regularly lists Quetta or other regions of Balochistan as the place of death. Qazi says that he knew he was taking on some risk when he decided to pursue his profession (a choice he made as a teenager, motivated by a love of writing). But he says he had no idea it would lead to his exile. In 2010, an international community-college exchange brought Qazi to the Pacific Northwest to attend Everett Community College. While he was here, news from home went from bad to worse. The government banned the paper he worked for — The Baloch Hal — and news of journalist killings intensified. “They started being people I knew,” he says. And then there were the phone calls. “My brother started getting these phone calls from blank numbers” says Qazi, his voice quieting at the memory. “They’d be asking about me, who I was, where I was, and when I was coming back.” In June of 2011, Qazi decided to miss his flight back to Pakistan and instead applied for political asylum. In doing so, he hopes to join the ranks of the more than 300 people granted asylum in Washington state each year. Jordan Wasserman of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a legal aid organization, says most asylum seekers his organization sees are from Africa. They also see a large number from Central America who are fleeing drug or gang violence or domestic violence. Qazi’s path hasn’t been easy. Next week Qazi will submit his asylum application to a judge at the immigration court downtown. This is his second attempt. His first application was denied — a failure he blames on an inability to talk about his emotions. Qazi’s stories are horrific. In them, mutilated bodies float down the river that runs through his hometown, permanent encampments of mothers mourn the disappearance of their children and newsrooms are surrounded by armed men. And it’s true that he can tell them with a sort of matter-of-factness — the kind that comes with too much exposure to too many bad things. “A lot of times there are cultural issues that make it difficult for people to discuss things that have happened to them,” says Wasserman of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which connected Qazi with a pro-bono lawyer. “Their histories are often times so horrific that it can be hard to believe that one human being would do that to another human being.” But when Qazi tells me of his dreams, the ones where a blindfold is pulled over his eyes and he’s dragged off the bed into the night, there’s no questioning his emotions — or the pure fear in his eyes. (Courtesy: The Seattle Times) Sarah Stuteville is a multimedia journalist and co-founder of The Seattle Globalist,, a blog covering Seattle’s international connections. Sarah Stuteville: Twitter: @SeaStute Republished in The Baloch Hal on September 8, 2013

Pakistan: Shahzeb Khan's murder: ''The Spider’s Web''

by Lal Khan
Introduction: In June this year, Shahrukh Jatoi the son of a Sindhi feudal landlord, was handed the death penalty after being found guilty of shooting dead university student Shahzeb Khan last December. The case raised furore all over Pakistan as it was a clear example of the corruption and cronyism that exists within Paksitani society. As Khan's father said: “This is the brutal reign of the feudals. They don’t spare anyone.”. Despite being found guilty and sentenced to death Jatoi was pardoned last week after paying Khan's family a sum of 350 million Rs ($3.3m).
The release of Shahrukh Jatoi and others in the Shahzaib murder case by way of Qisas, or payment of Blood Money to the parents of the deceased victim, has yet again triggered a debate on the status of laws enacted in the name of religion. A rich killer from the feudal aristocracy, despite having blood on his hands, went scot-free only because he belonged to a class that could quash the verdict and bend justice through their obscene wealth. However, it is not just the law of Qisas one needs to condemn. The entire judicial set up makes a mockery of justice. After sixty -six years of Pakistan’s existence the legal code inherited from the British, the Islamic courts, the tribal Jirgas and rural panchayats is operative at different levels of society. It’s not just that a universal legal system is missing but that the vast majority of the population does not have the financial means to obtain justice. The real situation is that from the lower courts to the Supreme Court the whole judicial system is so complicated, slow and expensive that the toiling classes are even denied the most elementary kind of bourgeois democratic justice. Justice as well as proper health care, decent education and other basic necessities have become the privileges of the rich and the mighty. As the ancient Athenian poet, lawmaker and statesman Solon said: “Laws are like spiders’ webs: if some light or powerless thing falls into them, it is caught, but a bigger one can break through and get away” This scenario has been omnipresent in all class societies but under crony capitalism with its burgeoning crisis in countries like Pakistan obtaining justice has become a psychological and financial torment. The expenses and fees in the high and supreme courts are so astronomical that not more than five percent of the people of the country can afford to seek justice through this path. The bourgeois revolutions in Europe that erupted in the wake of the renaissance created new types of nation states in concert with the rising capitalist economics. This is also true for the US and other advanced capitalist countries where the bourgeois revolutions were completed to various degrees. One of the corner stones of these new states was the judiciary. This institution was proclaimed sacred and the other institutions of the state, such as the dominant media and the intelligentsia, inculcated this myth into the general social consciousness. The ruling classes and the far sighted experts of capital ensured that the judiciary lived in a world that apart from society and was above all its ills and defects. With a multitude of concocted myths, respect for and fear of the judiciary was instilled in the psyche of society. They were very careful and cautious not to over use this state institution in order to preserve it as a tool to curb the revolts of the oppressed class in extraordinary revolutionary periods. The British brought this judicial system to the subcontinent and imposed it over the prevalent existing judicial practices. This system that the British introduced still dominates India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries of the British ex colonies. During the time of the British Raj there were several cases in which the judiciary was used to impose imperialist rule but the most significant one was the trial of Bhagat Singh and other militants of the HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republican Association). These revolutionary freedom fighters had planned to challenge the judicial system and spread their revolutionary message through the proceedings of the court trial. The Viceroy, Lord Irvin, was so much irritated by the tactic of these militants that he issued a special ordinance, which not only curbed their legal rights but also brought the trial to a hasty conclusion. This resulted in the hanging of Raj Guru, Sukhdev and Bhagat Sing in the early hours of 23rd March 1931. In Pakistan the most controversial case of the use of the judiciary by a despotic regime was the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in April 1979. To date this case continues to reverberate and exposes the real nature and the class bias of the so called independent and sacred institutions. Of the seven member full bench of the Supreme Court, two judges were sent home in spurious circumstances on the grounds that they had expressed doubts on the veracity of the evidence and the tyrant Gen Zia ul Haq was not prepared to take a chance on the outcome. When the death verdict was announced it was a split decision of three to two. This case is being reopened but the yet again process is being strangled by legal complications, which are deliberately enacted to delay and subvert the proceedings. These episodes expose the real character of the judiciary and the laws of an imperialist state. The capitalist state is created to sustain the rule of capital and the ruling classes. All institutions of such states are designed for this particular purpose. Whenever a system or a regime is threatened, all these institutions play their role in these crucial events. Usually, the judiciary is the last resort as an institution to be used to rescue the ruling class and their system. However, when a state and system fails to deliver the basic needs of the masses and widening disparity and exploitation creates social unrest, judicial activism comes into play. Many suo-moto notices of the courts have been very selective, resulting in the ignoring of some of the most crucial issues and pandering to relatively insignificant issues as a tool to deflect the masses from attending to their day to day burning issues. Judicial activism also exposes the growing crisis of the state as its institutions begin to decay and erode with the worsening crisis of the economy and the society. The present Chief Justice and his predecessors have time and time again vowed to eradicate corruption from the judiciary. These pledges have been futile. In an economy where the informal sector is thrice the size of the formal sector the sickness of the system becomes acute. The informal or the black economy is itself a manifestation of the corruption and crime raging in the country. This black capital intrudes into the state and society. Its investment is mainly in nonproductive sectors of short-term duration and the flight of capital is easy. Conversely, what is happening is, the deterioration of life in society through an excruciating rise in poverty, deprivation, disease, unemployment, terrorism, violence, extortion and misery. That is the only future that capitalism can offer. In a system which fails to deliver health, education and the other basic necessities of life, to talk of delivering real justice on the doorstep is a delusion and a deception.