Thursday, September 26, 2013

Obama sharply critical of Republican opponents of healthcare law

President Barack Obama lashed out at Republican opponents of the healthcare law he pioneered on Thursday ahead of a key deadline for enrollment and vowed that he would stop attempts to get the program bogged down in an ongoing budget stalemate. In a feisty speech at a Washington-area college, Obama defended the 2010 Affordable Care Act against Republican critics who say it is an example of government gone too far. "The Affordable Care Act is here to stay," he said.
He singled out for ridicule a Republican state lawmaker who said the law is as destructive to personal liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required captured runaway slaves to be sent back to their owners. "Think about that: Affordable healthcare is worse than a law that let slave owners get their runaway slaves back," Obama said. "All of this would be funny if it wasn't so crazy." The Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature achievement from his first term, is still regarded skeptically by a majority of Americans who worry that it will lead to higher healthcare costs and cut jobs. It faces a crucial test starting next Tuesday when Americans begin enrolling in exchanges through which they will be able to buy health insurance. Computer glitches are slowing the rollout in areas such as Washington D.C., Colorado and Oregon. "Like any product launch there are going to be some glitches," Obama told a crowd of about 1,800 people at Prince George's Community College. His greater concern is preventing Obamacare from getting ensnared in efforts by Republicans in Congress to defund it in exchange for their agreement to approve spending measures to keep the government running and extend the U.S. borrowing limit. Obama faces two critical deadlines. The federal government will be forced to shut down on Tuesday if a spending measure is not approved, and will run out of money to pay its bills on October 17 unless the debt ceiling is raised. Obama said Republicans fear Americans will come to like the healthcare law, saying their strategy is basically, "'We've got to shut this thing down before people find out that they like it.'" "Don't you think that's a strange argument? And the closer we get, the more desperate they get," he said. Republican Representative Diane Black, citing what she called multiple reports of increases in insurance premiums resulting from the law, criticized Obama for pushing Americans to "sign up for this train wreck when there are so many problems resulting from the law." "Anyone reading the news knows that this law is not workable, and time is running short for the president to work with Congress to help shield the American people from this impending disaster," she said.

Saudi women's new campaign to end driving ban

Women who want the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to lift a de facto ban that prohibits them from driving have launched an online campaign urging Saudi females to stage a demonstration by driving cars on October 26. "There is no justification for the Saudi government to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so," reads part of an online petition on the website. Since Saturday, it has garnered close to 11,000 signatures. No traffic law specifically prohibits females from driving in Saudi Arabia, but religious edicts there are often interpreted to mean women are not allowed to operate a vehicle. One of the first to sign the petition was Mai al-Swayan, an economic researcher who told CNN she definitely plans to drive that day. "I will simply use my car to drive to my normal destination ... driving the kids to the mall or family visits, or even grocery shopping."Al-Swayan, a Saudi woman who drove a car when she lived in the United States, said she sees no reason why she shouldn't be able to drive in her home country as well. "I am a capable woman," she explained, "and this ban is a clear violation of my rights." The issue of women driving in the conservative kingdom has long been a contentious one. And while such demonstrations are extremely rare, they have been staged at least twice before. In May 2011, prominent Saudi women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif was arrested after uploading a video to YouTube that showed her driving in Saudi Arabia. She spent more than a week in jail and quickly became a hero to numerous women in her country and across the Middle East. It was a sign of just how influential she had grown that on June 17, 2011, dozens of women across Saudi Arabia, emboldened and inspired by al-Sharif's ordeal, participated in the "Women2Drive" campaign by getting behind the wheel, defying the ban, and driving throughout the streets of their cities. In 1991, a group of 47 women protested the prohibition by driving through the country's capital city, Riyadh. After being arrested, many were further punished by being banned from travel and suspended from their workplaces. A video posted on the October 26 Movement website shows Lujaina al-Hathloul, a Saudi student in Canada, referencing the two previous incidents as she implores her countrywomen to take to the streets. "If you didn't get the chance to participate in 1991 or 2011, here's your new chance -- on October 26, 2013," al-Hathloul said in her video. "I hope that a huge number of girls take part this time." In addition to prohibiting driving, the country's strict and compulsory guardianship system also prevents women from opening bank accounts, working, traveling and going to school without the express permission of their male guardian. Saudi Arabia has been moving toward change under its current ruler, King Abdullah, who is considered a cautious reformer and proponent of women's rights. In January, he appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, the first time women had been chosen for the country's top consultative body. In 2011, he announced that women can run for office and vote in local elections in 2015, and in 2009, he appointed Saudi Arabia's first female deputy minister. All the steps were hailed as significant, but many female rights activists say progress still hasn't come fast enough. The new petition asks the Saudi government to present "to the citizens a valid and legal justification" for the ban, demanding authorities should not simply blame it on "societal consensus." Al-Swayan hopes the demonstration will works this time and that Saudi women will finally gain the right to drive. If it doesn't, she said, she won't give up. "I won't stop demanding that right over and over again," she said.

Homemade sarin was used in attack near Damascus – Lavrov

Russia has enough evidence to assert that homemade sarin was used on August 21 in a chemical attack near Damascus, the same type but in higher concentration than in an Aleppo incident earlier this year, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said.
“On the occasion of the incident in the vicinity of Aleppo on March 19, 2013 when the United Nations, under the pressure of some Security Council members, didn’t respond to the request of the Syrian government to send inspectors to investigate, Russia, at the request of the Syrian government, investigated that case, and this report, i.e. the results of this investigation are broadly available to the Security Council and publicly,” Lavrov said. “The main conclusion is that the type of sarin used in that incident was homemade. We also have evidence to assert that the type of sarin used on August 21 was the same, only of higher concentration.” The minister said he had recently presented his US counterpart John Kerry with the latest compilation of evidence, which was an analysis of publicly available information. “The reports by the journalists who visited the sites, who talked to the combatants, combatants telling the journalists that they were given some unusual rockets and munitions by some foreign country and they didn’t know how to use them. You have also the evidence from the nuns serving in a monastery nearby who visited the site. You can read the evidence and the assessments by the chemical weapons experts who say that the images shown do not correspond to a real situation if chemical weapons were used. And we also know about an open letter sent to President Obama by former operatives of the CIA and the Pentagon saying that the assertion that it was the government that used the chemical weapons was a fake.” Lavrov emphasized that Russia stands fully committed to implementing the Geneva framework of September 14, a bilateral agreement with the United States to move forward with the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles under the Chemical Weapons Organization’s supervision. The foreign minister, however, reminded that the agreement did not suggest adopting any UN resolution that mentions immediate UN Chapter 7 measures against Syria, or rather the potential for the use of military force. “We set in that framework which we agreed in Geneva that we would be very serious about any violation of the obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, we would be very serious about any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria and that those issues would be brought to the Security Council under Chapter 7.” UN resolution within two days? The draft resolution to back Syria’s disarmament could be finalized “very soon,” possibly “within the next two days,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the AP. Although the text of the resolution will include a reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, Gatilov stressed there will be “no automaticity in engaging” in military or non-military actions without a separate discussion at the UN Security Council.The five permanent members of the Security Council have yet to agree on a final text of the resolution, though the group has indicated significant progress is being made. Russian news agency Interfax rebutted earlier reports on Wednesday made by Western news agencies that claimed that a deal between the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain on wording of the draft resolution on destruction of chemical weapons in Syria had been reached. "The alleged report claiming that five Security Council agreed on the main part of the resolution on Syria is not true. The Russian delegation was extremely surprised by the appearance of such information," a source from the Russian delegation told Interfax. This is just their wishful thinking," the spokesman for Russia's UN delegation said. "It is not the reality. The work on the draft resolution is still going on," quoted Reuters. Earlier AFP and Reuters had reported that three Western diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity indicated that the permanent members of the Security Council had agreed on a new proposal. "It seems that things are moving forward," one source told Reuters, adding that there was "an agreement among the five on the core." "We are closer on all the key points," he said. The envoys told AFP that the draft resolution would allow for sanctions under Chapter 7 of the UN charter to be considered if President Bashar al-Assad fails to keep to a Russia-US disarmament plan. On Tuesday, on the sidelines of the UNGA US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a “constructive” meeting and agreed to continue pushing towards destruction of chemical weapons held by all sides in Syria under international supervision.

Turkey: Nationalist Movement Party accuses PM Erdoğan of not being sorry for killing of slain Gezi victim

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has criticized the government for making sectarian politics and accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of not being sorry for the killing of Ethem Sarısülük, a protester known to be leftist who was shot dead by a police officer in Ankara’s Güvenpark during the Gezi Park protests. “You cry for Esma from Egypt, but you won’t cry for Ethem Sarısülük who was killed by police who say they were taking order from you. Should he be from abroad for you to be sorry?” Tuğrul Türkeş, deputy chairman of the MHP told reporters Sept.26 at a press briefing. Erdoğan could not help himself from crying for Esma, who was killed in clashes during the Egyptian army’s intervention against Muslim Brotherhood supporters, but he was sorry for the killing of a Turkish citizen who was merely using his democratic right of protest, Türkeş said. “It’s a double standard. It means the issue is not about conscience, but an ideological approach,” he added. The Gezi protests demonstrated that the Justice and Development Party (AKP), like its other brothers, could tolerate writers, artists or minorities, and that they showed hostility toward women, Türkeş said.

Revealed: Qatar's World Cup 'slaves'

Exclusive: Abuse and exploitation of migrant workers preparing emirate for 2022
Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar's preparations to host the 2022 World Cup. This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022. According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents. The investigation also reveals: • Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project. • Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away. • Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens. • Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat. • About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment. The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world's most popular sporting tournament. "We'd like to leave, but the company won't let us," said one Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City development, a $45bn (£28bn) city being built from scratch which will include the 90,000-seater stadium that will host the World Cup final. "I'm angry about how this company is treating us, but we're helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we've had no luck." The body tasked with organising the World Cup, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told the Guardian that work had yet to begin on projects directly related to the World Cup. However, it said it was "deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City's construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness". It added: "We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations." The Guardian's investigation also found men throughout the wider Qatari construction industry sleeping 12 to a room in places and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food. "We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours' work and then no food all night," said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. "When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers." Almost all migrant workers have huge debts from Nepal, accrued in order to pay recruitment agents for their jobs. The obligation to repay these debts, combined with the non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their place of work, constitute forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery estimated to affect up to 21 million people across the globe. So entrenched is this exploitation that the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, recently described the emirate as an "open jail".
Record of deaths in July 2013, from all causes, held by the Nepalese embassy in Doha. Photograph: /
"The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar," said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in 1839. "In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening." Qatar has the highest ratio of migrant workers to domestic population in the world: more than 90% of the workforce are immigrants and the country is expected to recruit up to 1.5 million more labourers to build the stadiums, roads, ports and hotels needed for the tournament. Nepalese account for about 40% of migrant labourers in Qatar. More than 100,000 Nepalese left for the emirate last year. The murky system of recruitment brokers in Asia and labour contractors in Qatar leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. The supreme committee has insisted that decent labour standards will be set for all World Cup contracts, but underneath it a complex web of project managers, construction firms and labour suppliers, employment contractors and recruitment agents operate. According to some estimates, Qatar will spend $100bn on infrastructure projects to support the World Cup. As well as nine state-of-the-art stadiums, the country has committed to $20bn worth of new roads, $4bn for a causeway connecting Qatar to Bahrain, $24bn for a high-speed rail network, and 55,000 hotel rooms to accommodate visiting fans and has almost completed a new airport. The World Cup is part of an even bigger programme of construction in Qatar designed to remake the tiny desert kingdom over the next two decades. Qatar has yet to start building stadiums for 2022, but has embarked on the big infrastructure projects likesuch as Lusail City that, according to the US project managers, Parsons, "will play a major role during the 2022 Fifa World Cup". The British engineering company Halcrow, part of the CH2M Hill group, is a lead consultant on the Lusail project responsible for "infrastructure design and construction supervision". CH2M Hill was recently appointed the official programme management consultant to the supreme committee. It says it has a "zero tolerance policy for the use of forced labour and other human trafficking practices". Halcrow said: "Our supervision role of specific construction packages ensures adherence to site contract regulation for health, safety and environment. The terms of employment of a contractor's labour force is not under our direct purview." Some Nepalese working at Lusail City tell desperate stories. They are saddled with huge debts they are paying back at interest rates of up to 36%, yet say they are forced to work without pay. "The company has kept two months' salary from each of us to stop us running away," said one man who gave his name as SBD and who works at the Lusail City marina. SBD said he was employed by a subcontractor that supplies labourers for the project. Some workers say their subcontrator has confiscated their passports and refused to issue the ID cards they are entitled to under Qatari law. "Our manager always promises he'll issue [our cards] 'next week'," added a scaffolder who said he had worked in Qatar for two years without being given an ID card. Without official documentation, migrant workers are in effect reduced to the status of illegal aliens, often unable to leave their place of work without fear of arrest and not entitled to any legal protection. Under the state-run kafala sponsorship system, workers are also unable to change jobs or leave the country without their sponsor company's permission. A third worker, who was equally reluctant to give his name for fear of reprisal, added: "We'd like to leave, but the company won't let us. If we run away, we become illegal and that makes it hard to find another job. The police could catch us at any time and send us back home. We can't get a resident permit if we leave." Other workers said they were forced to work long hours in temperatures of up to 50C (122F) without access to drinking water. The Qatari labour ministry said it had strict rules governing working in the heat, the provision of labour and the prompt payment of salaries. "The ministry enforces this law through periodic inspections to ensure that workers have in fact received their wages in time. If a company does not comply with the law, the ministry applies penalties and refers the case to the judicial authorities." Lusail Real Estate Company said: "Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees. The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us." The workers' plight makes a mockery of concerns for the 2022 footballers. "Everyone is talking about the effect of Qatar's extreme heat on a few hundred footballers," said Umesh Upadhyaya, general secretary of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions. "But they are ignoring the hardships, blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers, who will be building the World Cup stadiums in shifts that can last eight times the length of a football match."

Qatar's World Cup 'slaves': FIFA deeply concerned

Recent reports allege that numerous Nepalese migrant labourers in Qatar are enduring atrocities and labour abuses, raising questions about Qatar's preparations to host the 2022 Football World Cup. It has also been stated that some workers died in modern-day 'slavery'. The Voice of Russia very own Tim Walklate contacted FIFA directly to inquire about the details of the highly controversial accusations. In an official statement to the Voice of Russia, FIFA representative asserted that the organization is deeply disturbed by the news and will seek to discuss the issue during Executive Committee Meeting in October.
The statement reads:
"FIFA is very concerned about the reports presented by the media regarding labour rights’ abuses and the conditions for construction workers in projects at Lusail City, Qatar. FIFA will again get in contact with the Qatari Authorities and the matter will also be discussed at the Executive Committee Meeting under point FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on 3 and 4 October 2013 in Zurich."
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Karzai: Afghanistan offers exciting opportunities for investment

Afghan president Hamid Karzai attended the fifth Euro-Asia Economic Forum which kicked off today in Xi’an, the capital of China’s Shaanxi Province. The 3-day event aims to promote economic exchanges between Asia and Europe, and will discuss a series of agreements on how to enhance mutual sharing of infrastructure constructions, trade promotions, collaboration in energy and finance. President Hamid Karzai started his speech at the forum with Globalization and said, “Globalization is not only resulting in greater world economic integration and interdependence, but also in the rise of the new economic power houses of China and India, and the fast growing economies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” President Karzai further added that the benefits of globalization in Eurasia can best be realized if we work together to translate the extraordinary potentials and strengths of our populations, resources and markets. Karzai also insisted on the need for equitable and coherent strategies for multilateral economic cooperation, trade and connectivity, in order to achieve the aspirations for Eurasia as a driver of global economic growth in the 21st Century. He said, “I would like to share with you the opportunities and potentials of Afghanistan contributing to the modern day revival of the Silk Road, and the formation of a new Euro-Asia inland economic architecture.” President Karzai also pointed towards the importance of geographical location of Afghanistan and said Afghanistan is a natural land bridge for transit and commerce between east and west, and the rich markets of Central and South Asia. He said, Afghanistan is well-positioned to contribute to promoting trade and transport links between European and Asian economic centers. During his speech at the forum, president Karzai vowed that Afghanistan stands ready to help accelerate economic collaboration and growth in Eurasia and South Asia by facilitating the transfer of energy, rail and road transportation, communication, and trade development. He also endorsed President i Jinping’s proposal for the developmetn of a Silk road Economic Belt during his speech, and said that the renewal and promotion of the Silk Road, of which Afghanistan is a part, will not only unleash unprecedented opportunities for regional cooperation and integration, but will also contribute to global economic growth and security. President Karzai also said that Afghanistan offers exciting opportunities for investment and business development. We have vast unexploited natural resources including minerals, hydrocarbons and other materials that our neighbors and regional partners need to build and sustain their industrial economies. “I encourage business participants at this Forum to explore business opportunities in Afghanistan, and to follow the example of the Metallurgical Company of China and the China National Petroleum Corporation by investing in Afghanistan,” President Karzai said.

Human Rights Watch: Afghanistan Prison Probe Should Address Longstanding Abuses

A new Afghan government committee investigating prison conditions should focus on meaningful reforms to end torture and other pervasive abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 8, 2013, President Hamid Karzai created a committee to “study the general conditions of prisons and detention centers, along with the condition and situation of prisoners and detainees” and submit findings and recommendations within three months. Afghan detention centers and prisons are rife with serious abuse, including torture, medically invalid “virginity examinations” of women, and holding detainees past their release date. The problems are so pervasive that the committee will need to set priorities and focus on the key issues. “President Karzai’s new committee could be an important step for addressing the horrific abuses in Afghanistan’s prisons,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But the committee will need not only to shine the light on the abuses going on behind Afghanistan’s prison doors but to come up with ways to fix the system.” A United Nations report released in January found that more than half of 635 pretrial detainees and prisoners convicted on national security grounds had been tortured or ill-treated in Afghan government custody. Detainees told the UN investigators that torture was typically used to try to elicit confessions. Fourteen forms of torture were reported, including suspension from ceilings, prolonged and severe beating, including on the soles of the feet, twisting genitals of male detainees, electric shock, prolonged standing or forced exercise, prolonged exposure to cold weather, and threats of execution and rape. The Afghan government’s independent human rights commission, as well as Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations, have repeatedly documented torture of prisoners in Afghan government custody over the past decade. President Karzai issued a decree in February ordering anti-torture measures, including prosecution of officials responsible for torture. However, there is no indication that prison and detention facility officials have respected that order or that prosecutors have moved forward with prosecutions for suspected torture and other abuses against detainees. In addition to torture, the committee should investigate and produce recommendations to address the following abuses common in prisons and detention facilities in Afghanistan: The coerced use of “virginity examinations” of female prisoners accused of “moral crimes.” Women and girls arrested on charges of zina (sex outside of marriage), attempted zina, or “running away from home” are routinely sent to government doctors for vaginal examinations, purportedly to provide information about the woman’s sexual history, including her “virginity.” But the examinations are scientifically invalid as these determinations cannot be made with any meaningful degree of accuracy. Under international law, virginity tests of people in custody constitute cruel and inhuman treatment; Serious procedural errors that can unlawfully delay the release of prisoner. Those include the loss of prisoners’ case files, dysfunctional communication between government entities, failure to provide free legal services to indigent prisoners, and basic procedural errors by judicial institutions; Prison overcrowding. Afghanistan’s prison population has increased from about 5,000 in 2004 to 32,000. The United Nations estimates that this number will rise to 40,000 by 2018. This rate of increase is unsustainable given limited funding for prison facilities and related services. Although Afghan law permits the use of noncustodial sentences, including community service or community supervision, courts rarely issue such sentences, even for children and people facing criminal charges for the first time. “The Afghan government has an opportunity to reduce the chronic, widespread abuses in prisons and detention centers that harm untold thousands of detainees,” Adams said. “But that can only happen if this new oversight committee has the mandate and the resources necessary to recommend meaningful changes to address the key problems in Afghan prisons.”

Held by Pakistan, ex-Afghan Taliban commander's touted peace role in doubt

A former Afghan Taliban commander, who Pakistan said had been released at the weekend, is being held under virtual house arrest by his Pakistani handlers who watch his movements and listen to his phone calls, an arrangement likely to undermine his role as a peacemaker. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured in Pakistan in 2010 and has since emerged as a figure Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States believe could help persuade his former comrades to lay down arms and talk peace after the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan next year. Baradar was once a close friend of reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who gave him his nom de guerre, "Baradar", or "brother", and he belongs to the same tribe as Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry announced last week that Baradar would be released on Saturday but as of Thursday, he was still being kept in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistani sources told Reuters. Afghanistan, which suspects its neighbor of trying to influence its internal affairs, wants Baradar to be handed over. But Pakistan's powerful military, with its long history of supporting the Taliban as its proxy in Afghanistan, appears determined to control efforts to end more than 10 years of war. Even at the time of Baradar's arrest in 2010, Afghan officials suspected Pakistan had captured him simply because he was trying to broker a peace deal without involving Islamabad. "First they arrested him to keep him from talking to others. Now they're releasing him presumably so he can talk to others," said a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad. "It's a reversal but the commonality is that in both cases, Pakistan decides who he talks to and who he keeps away from." One Pakistani intelligence source with direct knowledge of Baradar's movements said he had reached out to several Taliban figures - at the request of his minders. "Baradar has been instructed by security personnel guarding him to make calls to try to persuade the Taliban to bring an end to the bloodshed and enter into meaningful dialogue," he said. The official said a laptop and a satellite telephone confiscated from Baradar during his arrest in 2010 had been returned and that a group of 10 security men kept an eye on him at the house where Baradar occupied the first floor. Pakistan made the announcement of his release just before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to the United States in what was seen by many as Islamabad emphasizing its readiness to help. PAKISTAN'S CONTROL Baradar himself has not publicly commented on the events and it is unclear how committed he is to embark on a peace mission. Deals with the Taliban have broken down in the past. Many believe war-hardened insurgents are also likely to be suspicious of a man seen as close to Pakistani authorities. "It is better if we have Mullah Baradar in Afghanistan," said Mohammad Anwar Esaaqzai, a senior member of the High Peace Council, the body established by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2010 to pursue peace with the insurgents. "If that's not possible, then he must be handed over to a third country away from Pakistan's control and influence." Another Pakistani intelligence official privy to Baradar's movements told Reuters in Islamabad that he had made several phone calls to Taliban members. "He has reached out to his colleagues in Afghanistan, Turkey and the United States and discussed his role in the peace process," the official said. "At least in the foreseeable future, it seems that he will be making contacts from his current location." Pakistani officials would not comment on the nature of Baradar's activities. A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said he had not heard of any contacts. "We have no confirmation of whom he is talking to," said the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman. "Nevertheless, now that his detention has ended, we hope he will play a role to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan." Three years of being shuttled around Pakistan from one safe house to another have no doubt weakened Baradar's rapport with senior Taliban leaders including his former mentor, the one-eyed Omar. "For all practical purposes, whatever knowledge and influence he had is probably obsolete now," said one Pakistani government official. And yet some believe there is hope. The fact that he is a Pashtun and belongs to the same powerful Popalzai subtribe as Karzai is also a plus. "I believe that Mullah Baradar is key to Afghan peace, because there was so much in common between Mullah Omar and Mullah Baradar," said Haji Agha Lalai, an influential tribesman in southern Afghanistan. "The only person Mullah Omar won't ignore is Mullah Baradar, but first we need to know where he is, and what his intentions are regarding peace."

Pakistan: The enemy within

FEW incidents of terrorism have caused such large-scale outpouring of grief, anger and shame as the massacre in the Peshawar church last Sunday. But will this outrage awaken the Pakistani people to the urgency of dealing with the cancerous growth in their body politic of which the attack on the old church was only a symptom? As has often happened in such situations, various parties are busy denying responsibility for mass murder in the church. The Taliban say they are not involved and they do not believe in killing innocent people. The Muslim ulema argue that no true Muslim can commit such horrible excesses. For one thing, the people know better. And for another, considerable confusion has been created by those who own their black deeds and those who always deny them. If these denials are taken seriously even the most efficient detectives might fail to track down the culprits. In any case the search is unnecessary as the list of suspects is quite short. First, it is impossible to completely delink the Peshawar incident from the ongoing debate on parleys with the militants besieging the state of Pakistan. Apart from the many unarmed citizens who oppose talks with the militants on the latter’s terms, there are elements in Pakistan, many of them occupying key positions in the country’s politico-religious parties, that would wish the position of the government of Pakistan to be weakened further so that the challengers’ ideological victory can be guaranteed. At the same time, there may be elements in the militants’ ranks who would like to delay the talks with Islamabad till its surrender becomes irreversible. Then, the possibility of factional tussle within the pro-negotiation camps on both sides cannot be ruled out. Who should have the decisive voice in the negotiating teams on either side and who should be recognised as the best interlocutors on the other side are issues that can cause serious conflicts. Such wrangling could torpedo the talks altogether. Any of the elements identified could have launched the assault on the church. Secondly, there is reason to suspect the sectarian terrorists who have been targeting both non-Muslim communities and minority Muslim sects for quite some time and who seem determined to convert the entire population to their exclusivist creed. Some of these elements have been on the security forces’ radar for a pretty long time and the latter’s disinclination to proceed against them is one of Pakistan’s most painful enigmas. Both the militants operating in the northern parts and the sectarian terrorists operating practically throughout the country derive strength from the theocratic assumptions with which the original ideals of Pakistan are being replaced. Their shared objective is to pull down the state’s democratic structure, its judicial order, its education system and install in their place devices and values of their own choice. There should be no mistake about the identity and objectives of these elements — they are not fighting the state of Pakistan for any of their rights, they want to usurp the right of the entire people of Pakistan to choose their institutions of governance through democratic means. More dangerous than terrorist attacks is the systematic exploitation of the people’s religious sentiments for instigating violence and hatred against the minorities. The militants have been using the religious card with considerable skill. The result is the creation of an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile to the religious minorities and smaller Muslim sects. Everybody knows of the migration of hard-pressed non-Muslim Pakistanis from Balochistan and the Sindhi non-Muslims’ grievances regarding abduction and forced conversion of their girls, and kidnappings for ransom. In Punjab, especially Lahore, new groups of professional Ahmadi-baiters have emerged over the past few months. They are instituting all kinds of cases against the Ahmadis, encouraging land grabbers to seize their property and pushing policemen to demolish structures resembling minarets at Ahmadi prayer houses. The number of Ahmadi victims of targeted killing is on the rise. Some loose talk in a TV show is enough to petrify the powerful Punjab government and persuade it to malign and strangulate a widely respected school for including a book on comparative religion in its courses. The main source of strength for both categories of the anti-state bands is their (and their political patrons’) success in presenting themselves as soldiers of Islam. The people have been divided between those who are fighting alongside the US-Nato forces and those who are defending Islam. Maulana Sherani who heads the Council of Islamic Ideology has just proclaimed that those who support Nato may go on (unsuccessfully) fighting the Taliban. What he means is that anyone who opposes the killers of Pakistani soldiers and generals and the organisers of suicide bombing missions is a stooge of Nato. It is this pernicious stereotyping of the militants/terrorists and the defenders of the Pakistani citizens’ right to democratic governance and rule of law that paralyses the custodians of power in Islamabad. They may have recognised the seriousness of the threat militant extremists pose to them but they are yet to draw up a strategy to counter religious militancy and abuse of the Islamic concept of jihad. The all-party conference that was staged in Islamabad did not even scratch the core issue — the use of religious slogans to justify murder of Muslims and non-Muslim alike and to spare neither mosques nor churches. What the government must realise is that every concession they offer the militants will worsen the plight of the religious minorities, with women and democratic-minded citizens not far behind them. Pakistan will never be able to protect its integrity and defend its citizens’ lives and properties unless it begins to tame the monster of intolerance it has so thoughtlessly reared.

Jamaat-e-Islami pressures PTI to reintroduce contentious material in school textbooks

By Mohammad Shehzad
Back to Bigotry
In a rigidly conservative country like Pakistan, it is hard to reverse the changes that military dictator Zia-ul-Haq introduced during his illegitimate rule. The present extremism and intolerance prevailing in society are a legacy of the Zia years. Civil society has long been clamouring for reforms in the education sector, where schoolbooks preach hatred, extremism, misogyny and intolerance. But thanks to pressure from the conservative right, civilian governments – including the recent government of the secular PPP – have been reluctant to free the country from Zia’s legacy. Still, the Awami National Party (ANP) showed courage and resolve when it came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the 2008 elections. The 18th Amendment in the Constitution empowered the provinces to develop their own education curriculums. ANP took a step forward by purging the schoolbooks of content that propogated the killing of innocent human beings in the name of Islam; hatred against minorities and India; and distortions of the history of the land and its culture. This reformation process started in 2006 and the ANP invited academic figures and religious leaders from different schools of thought on board. The new curriculum was finally implemented in 2010. Instead of focusing on short-term electoral gimmicks like laptop distribution or income support programmes, the ANP made a long-term investment in society. But unfortunately, the province is not destined to fully benefit from their initiative since the ‘heirs’ of Zia – the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) – have come to power in KP through a coalition government with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) this year. Jihad is a part of JI’s manifesto. The Jamaat may have had only 8 seats in the KP parliament to PTI’s 48, but it has already succeeded in imposing its agenda on its coalition partner. When PTI and JI were talking about forming a coalition, JI had demanded the education ministry, with the obvious objective of bringing changes to the curriculum. PTI resisted and convinced JI to drop the idea of having the education ministry, thereby dispelling the apprehensions of civil society. But the situation took a U-turn on August 3 when a JI delegation called on PTI’s chairman Imran Khan and convinced him to restore the old hateful curriculum that ANP had painstakingly removed 25 years after Zia’s death. The religious affairs minister of KP, Habibur Rehman, confirmed to Newsline that PTI chairman Imran Khan has agreed in principle to the restoration of the old curriculum in KP. “A working group in this effect met him on August 3. Imran Khan told JI representatives that he has invincible faith in Islam and cannot even think of repudiating jihad,” said Rehman. Days later, Imran Khan was also widely quoted in the media as saying that he could surrender the government in KP, but not jihad and its propagation. 000_Del537070ANP had not introduced any amendment that could be declared un-Islamic and the curriculum that it approved was acceptable to scholars of different sects. ANP had removed Surah-e-Anfal from the textbooks of grade 9 and 10 students, but it had sound reasons for doing so. Surah-e-Anfal had originally been inserted out of context in the textbooks by Zia-ul-Haq with a misleading interpretation that suggested that the Quran says that Muslims should kill infidels wherever they see them – a clear distortion of the real meaning. In fact, Sura-e-Anfal does not urge Muslims to kill infidels at random. Rather, it first identifies those infidels who are spreading fitna on earth and then it orders Muslims to wage jihad against them. “You can imagine what kind of thinking a student of 9th grade, who is not more than 14 or 15 years old, will grow up with if he is taught to kill infidels. He will learn only to hate non-Muslims and to disrespect minority groups,” says Khadim Hussain, an official of the Bachcha Khan Institute in Peshawar. Along with removing contentious material from the curriculum, the ANP government also inserted profiles of people who had served the community e.g. Bachcha Khan, Wali Khan, etc. in textbooks. Earlier, only profiles of war heroes were taught to students. “If the old curriculum is restored, students will be brainwashed and taught qital (fighting). It will alienate the students from the true history and culture of the soil. They will simply learn to hate minorities and women,” said Khadim Hussain in an interview with the BBC. On the other hand, the provincial education minister of KP, Atif Khan of PTI, says the government will not bow its head before foreign NGOs. According to him, the current textbooks mislead the students: “We will reform them so that students can learn that a Muslim should eat with his/her right hand!” Atif Khan further states that the current curriculum does not inform students that Kashmir is a disputed territory. He asserts that the PTI government will teach them that Kashmir is an integral part of Pakistan. 02Nisab09-13Commenting on this development, social scientist and physicist Dr A. H. Nayyar says: “I think the JI sees a fresh opportunity to influence public education in the province. The last time they had such a chance was during Zia’s rule and the impact was so long-lasting that for decades afterwards, education was defined by their original policies. This time round, they may revive the Zia-era interventions or even go beyond them. They also have two successful models to follow: those of the Dar-e-Arqam schools and the new schools opened up by the International Islamic University. But worse, they may have brand new ideas in mind for the province’s education curriculum. We need to find out what their plans are.”

Peshawar Taliban Attacks: Vengeance or Instability?

By Kiran Nazish
A three-year-old girl was wounded among a dozen other children in the recent double suicide attack at the historic All Saints Church in the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A total of 85 people, including women and children, were killed in the blasts and more than 100 were injured on Sunday, in what was the deadliest attack on the minority Christian community in Pakistan's history. The death toll is still rising. Two militants wearing explosive vests who had entered the church camouflaged along with about 700 other worshipers carried out the attack. Jandullah, a group allied with the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was carried out in retaliation of the drone strikes. "Until drone strikes are stopped, we will continue with this. Consider this the first of our actions," said Ahmed Marwat, a militant commander of Jandullah. "Whoever is non-Muslim will be targeted." Speaking through an intermediary, a militant associated with Jandullah told The Diplomat, “The new targets of many of our future attacks will be Christians and non-Muslims. Since the U.S. continues to carry out their drone strikes, we will now largely target the Christians in retaliation.” This is a significant statement in the light of an already hostile environment towards Christians in Pakistan. Christians have recently been the focus of targeted violence and attacks by many right-wing militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and their al Qaeda-affiliated allies. Over the past few years there have been various incidents in which Christian communities have been targeted. Sunday’s blast was Peshawar’s 210th in the last five years, in which thousands of innocent people in Peshawar have been killed by multiple terrorist groups. Thousands, from the Minister of minorities and government officials to soldiers, secular politicians and citizens have been targeted in multiple incidents that have included the burning of hundreds of homes in different Christian colonies in different cities of Pakistan. The violence that engulfed Joseph Colony was a prime example. "This is the most horrible attack I have ever come across," Arshad Javed, chief executive of the Lady Readings Hospital, told The Diplomat. Lady Readings is Peshawar's central emergency hospital where most blast victims are taken. Jandullah’s ominous public statement suggests things could get really bad in the future. Worryingly, local officials and Taliban commanders in the South Waziristan tribal region reported on the day of the attack that a U.S. drone strike killed six militants and injured four in the Shawal area of the South Waziristan. Additionally, a statement from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that further drone strikes would damage relations with the U.S. "These drone strikes have a negative impact on the mutual desire of both countries to forge a cordial and cooperative relationship and to ensure peace and stability in the region," the ministry said in a public statement.

Imran Khan is no ‘apologist’, he is an ‘advocate’, an ‘ally’ of Deobandi Taliban

By Sarah Khan
In October, 2001, a church in Bahawalpur, Punjab was attacked (by Deobandi terrorists of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) and worshipers killed, including women and children. The date bears relevance; it came days after the United States started the operation in Afghanistan. Before that, when the Babri Mosque episode took place, historic Hindu temples in Lahore were ransacked. There are various other examples; however, the seminal point is that the Hindus living in Pakistan represent India, the Christians are agents of the West. Going to Joseph Colony almost immediately after the attack and talking to those who used to live there, one could observe not only the smell of evil, the sound of death but also unspeakable hopelessness. Try imagining a sewerage worker, whose father was also a sewerage worker and who now knows to a moral certainty that his newly born grandson will also be a sewerage worker. Yet, after every attack for a day or two we pretend that they are Pakistanis too (Ahmadis are denied this small consolation even). They are not.
The murder in the Peshawar Church is what mass murders are, horrific and barbaric, however, was it unexpected? The K-P chief minister does not know of the Taliban. He also believes that Muslims should not be allowed to be sanitary workers; his later clarification was that he wanted Christians to retain their ‘traditional’ jobs. So, they are weak enough to only be sanitary workers, yet, formidable enough to be held accountable for Western imperialism and drones? To call Mr Imran Khan a Taliban and a murder apologist offends his enthusiastic supporters. Perhaps, they are right. Hearing him talk after the Church attack, it is clear that Mr Khan is no ‘apologist’. An apologist makes excuses, often in an oblique manner for the acts of another, after the commission of the act. Mr Khan does no such thing. He is crystal clear in his absolute defense of the terrorists. And more importantly, he pre-approves of all future murderers. Mr Khan is no ‘apologist’, he is an ‘advocate’, an ‘ally’. Whether he does it out of fear or a single digit IQ no longer matters, he is for murder in the name of faith. His vision of ‘Naya Pakistan’ has the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as a political wing of the non-corrupt Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Mr Khan, if there is a conspiracy against peace in this country, you sir are the public face of it. The Punjab government has taken up the ‘heroic’ task of fighting the teaching of ‘comparative religion’ in the curriculum. Our estranged brothers TTP, and the not so estranged Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, are hard at work to make sure that there is no other religion (at least followers) left in Pakistan to compare to. The Punjab police recently demolished minarets of an Ahmadi mosque, how dare they pretend to be Pakistanis? Mian Sahib apparently seems to be reconsidering his position on talks. If possible, Mian Sahib should avoid trips to Saudia Arabia while he takes his sweet time on the question. All parties have shown weakness in tackling terrorism, however, some significantly more than others. The ANP has Shaheed Bashir Bilour, the only son of Mian Iftikhar’s and many others, the PPP has the ultimate sacrifice of Shaheed BB, and Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer. The Christians killed while worshiping the Lord are not ‘Shaheed’ in the land of the pure. They died the mundane death, not part of any greater fight. The arguments for talks and for terrorists are fit for children below the age of 10, with learning difficulties. The ‘force should not be used to counter force’ argument would make the prison system, the courts and the police redundant. The entire justice system would be shrinks sitting down with murderers and rapists, talking. The worst offender is Mr Khan and his worst offense is that he is creating the space for a pro-terrorist narrative in the mainstream. Perhaps, more accurately, he is destroying the limited space that existed for the counter narrative. The only APCs that we need now are better Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) to help us get on with the job. In the presence of a democratically elected Parliament any other APC is a joke, so is consensus. A majority resolution of the Parliament if and when, is all that is needed. Our words of condolences and outrage are hollow, up to the point we can create enough pressure to act. One would have urged the Christians and Hindus to leave this country in the interim. However, you know what hopelessness is? Pervez Khattak’s ‘sanitary workers’ do not have the resources to get a passport, let alone afford travel. We run an inescapable prison and kill inmates for pleasure and piety. Mr Khan wants to be the warden. - See more at:

Taliban office in Pakistan

Once one starts down the slippery slope, there is no knowing how deep down one will fall; also, nations once they compromise their authority can not be sure how much of their sovereignty they will have to shed. That was one of the reasons The Frontier Post opposed talks with Taliban who were up in arms against the sovereign state of Pakistan and had challenged the legitimacy of our Constitution. For the nation's leaders to talk to Taliban is like accepting their separate identity beyond the jurisdiction and authority of the state of Pakistan. But that is not the end of it; even as the relatives of the church blast victims are burying their dead, Imran Khan is demanding that Taliban be given an office inside the country for the purpose of peace talk,Imran's demand is so outrageous that had one not known better, one would have asked the question as to whose side was the PTI chief on. What would be the next step? Give Taliban emissaries diplomatic status and declare their office an embassy! Would it be followed by giving the Taliban the security protocol given to ambassadors? Would it be our very soldiers and cops, whose comrade-in-arms have fallen to the insurgent Taliban, who will be guarding and risking their lives for the safety of the blood thirsty leaders of the militants? Will it come to, that militants with the blood of thousands of innocent Pakistanis on their hands go unpunished? Will the militants be roaming freely and rubbing shoulders with us in our streets and shopping malls? Then again how many offices of how many Taliban groups will we have to allow because the church blast has shown that Hakimullah Mehsud does not have control of all the Taliban groups and that while we may be talking peace with TTP, other groups will be attacking our soldiers and killing helpless citizens. The Frontier Post in one of its editorial had advised that if dialogue with Taliban was what the government wanted, it should at least make sure that the TTP leader could guarantee that all terrorist acts would cease once the talk offer was accepted. Also, before going down that slippery slope, we should have at least demanded that the militants hand over the culprits who sneaked upon our generals and soldiers and killed them in cold blood; and also give us the handlers of the suicide bombers who killed thousands of our civilians. Also the militants by their bloody, deceitful and sneaky ways have been the cause of so many enmities among so many tribes and clans in the tribal areas that it may take generations to end the feuds they caused! Will the tribes be satisfied without having some kind of vengeance upon the people who murdered so many tribesmen, women and children? Before the government talks peace, it must keep the feelings of the people of Fata in mind. Frankly if a state does not have the power to quell all kinds of armed rebels by force within its territory, it has no reason to exist. The dialogue with Taliban enforces the false impression that Pak forces do not have that ability. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan may have received popular vote to establish peace in the country and to subdue the Taliban and be somewhat lenient towards them in the process but no one gave them the mandate to bow down before rebels and disgrace the whole nation. According to one count, the armed forces of this country had entered into pacts with the militants as many as nineteen times and all the pacts were violated by the Taliban and the twentieth agreement, if reached with the militants after showing such weakness, would be breached too. After all, it was Einstein, the scientist much quoted by Imran Khan, who described stupidity as doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome each time. If the militants have already broken their written vows nineteen times what is to stop them from doing the same the twentieth time. It seems our current leaders think the tradition of nations refusing to talk to rebels until they have laid down their weapons is an ego thing or an unreasonable stubbornness on the part of their leaders. That of course is painting the picture wrong: Even kind but wise leaders, while their hearts are bleeding, have to order their forces not to give any quarter to rebels until they have surrendered their arms. They know a state remains in one piece only when insurgents and separatists know that going against the state will result in their sure defeat and death. The government is advised not to tie the hands of our troops by this useless and undignified notion of talks with rebels. It should give a free hand to the army to inflict exemplary defeat on the militants and make it a sign for those who, in the future, will want to harm Pakistan.

Balochistan : More than just aftershocks

A major earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, hit Balochistan and some parts of Sindh on Tuesday. It is the worst natural catastrophe to hit the country since the floods of 2010, which submerged one fifth of the entire nation. The death toll so far has exceeded 320 people with the fatalities expected to rise in the days ahead. This is because serious aftershocks are still being felt in the region, people and bodies are still being pulled out of the rubble and many of the critically injured may succumb to their injuries. The district of Awaran in Balochistan alone has seen some 208 of its people die in the quake because most of the construction and homes there are mud huts and poorly built. More than 400 people are injured and more than 300,000 have been displaced or left homeless. That this is a national emergency is clear for all to see but will that be enough to make the relevant authorities sit up and get their act together, unlike what they have not done in earlier calamities? Those who are displaced do not have access to clean drinking water and food, medical aid or shelter. Does this scenario not seem all too familiar? Every year, we see droves of flood affectees lining up for assistance but the government authorities have still been unable to attend to those who were displaced in the 2010 floods. The numbers have piled up and the rehabilitation promises have been left unfulfilled. It is feared that the same sorry state will be seen for these distraught victims of the massive earthquake, left with nothing but the bodies of their loved ones and rubble where their homes used to be. We live in a geologically active zone, known for being prone to tectonic shifts. While we cannot avoid the depradations of Mother Nature, we can do something about the tragic after effects. Herein lies the crux of the problem. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its provincial equivalents have been given every chance to prove themselves but have shown that they are a disaster in themselves. It is the time to mobilise forces, gather the reserves and help our disaster-struck citizens out of this catastrophe. The need is so great that even the Frontier Corps (FC), which has long struck terror in the hearts of the Baloch masses, is being mobilised to help in the rehabilitation efforts. Right now, there is no enemy or friend; there are just helping hands that are required more than anything else. Provincial and federal authorities have not shouldered responsibility in overcoming the effects of Mother Nature’s wrath and, it seems, this earthquake really will put them to the test. At this time of national tragedy, when the country needs a leader, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif is not even in the country. His engagements see him in New York to attend the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Whilst it is understandable that the PM could not have foreseen the calamity, his nation would expect him to return and oversee the crisis management. If the authorities think it apt to ask for aid and rehabilitation money, they ought to think again. The world is weary and is suffering from donor fatigue; it has given to Pakistan many times only to learn that aid money hardly ever reaches those it was intended for in the first place. It is time for real action instead of rhetoric, relief instead of promises and leadership from all incumbents.

Balochistan: The earthquake: natural & social

Along with the requisite mourning, there is a tendency to consider natural disasters as a curse about which little can be done. This overlooks the fact that, while the disaster itself may be natural, many of its destructive effects are worsened by human culpability. Tuesday’s earthquake in Balochistan, which has killed more than 300 people so far, illustrates just how important it is to be prepared for disasters before they occur and have plans in place to deal with the resultant problems. The earthquake hit a total of six districts in the province with Awaran by far being the most affected. In the coming hours and days the death toll will surely rise and will be attributable to the severely underdeveloped infrastructure in these areas. Rescue teams are already facing problems reaching the affected areas since road links either do not exist or have been made inaccessible by the earthquake. Communication systems in the province were already far behind those in the rest of the country, thereby exacerbating the problem. There are nowhere near enough hospitals in the area and a serious shortage of doctors, forcing military rescuers to transport people via helicopters to Karachi. Rains in the area have caused even greater complications. All these problems were not caused by the earthquake; the earthquake only highlighted how unprepared Balochistan is to deal with these disasters. The houses in the earthquake-affected areas tend to be mud-built and so cannot withstand the force of the shocks. Enforcing building codes is impossible when people barely have the resources to build homes for themselves in the first place. This is why the earthquake, which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and four smaller aftershocks, caused so much damage in Balochistan even though larger earthquakes in places like Japan and the state of California that are on major faultlines have far fewer casualties. But quakes on a similar scale have killed tens of thousands in underdeveloped areas here. The 2005 disaster in Kashmir that claimed nearly 100,000 lives is a case in point. The Awaran death toll could have been even higher but for the fact that the district is spread over 21,000 square kilometres but houses only 300,000 people. The sparse settlements prevented death on a larger scale, though the situation is also now proving to be a logistical nightmare whose aftermath may have political repercussions in a province where so much anger festers already. Every effort should be made to avoid such a situation. In the short term, the military and the National Disaster Management Authority will have to try and do what they can to help survivors and ensure rehabilitation. But we cannot afford to let our outrage die down with time. The only way to minimise the damage caused is to prepare for disasters before they happen. We must ponder why we have failed to adequately develop Balochistan – a resource rich province – and meet even the most fundamental needs of its people. The state must improve the infrastructure throughout the country – with Balochistan needing the most help – and provide residents with the bare essentials of life like sufficient hospitals and housing that at least comes close to being earthquake resistant. This was a lesson we refused to learn after the 2005 earthquake killed close to 100,000 people but now we must finally heed nature’s warning.

Pakistan earthquake: Survivors battle hunger, disease

Survivors built makeshift shelters with sticks and bedsheets after their mud houses were flattened in an earthquake that killed 348 people in southwestern Pakistan and pushed a new island up out of the Arabian Sea. While waiting for help to reach remote villages, hungry people dug through the rubble to find food. And the country’s poorest province struggled with a dearth of medical supplies, hospitals and other aid. Tuesday’s quake flattened wide swathes of Awaran district, where it was centered, leaving much of the population homeless. Almost all of the 300 mud-brick homes in the village of Dalbadi were destroyed. Noor Ahmad said he was working when the quake struck and rushed home to find his house leveled and his wife and son dead.“I’m broken,” he said. “I have lost my family.”
The spokesman for the Baluchistan provincial government, Jan Mohammad Bulaidi, said Thursday that the death toll had climbed to 348 and that another 552 people had been injured. Doctors in the village treated some of the injured, but due to a scarcity of medicine and staff, they were mostly seen comforting residents. The remoteness of the area and the lack of infrastructure hampered relief efforts. Awaran district is one of the poorest in the country’s most impoverished province. Just getting to victims was challenging in a region with almost no roads where many people use four-wheel-drive vehicles and camels to traverse the rough terrain. “We need more tents, more medicine and more food,” said Bulaidi.
Associated Press images from the village of Kaich showed the devastation. Houses made mostly of mud and handmade bricks had collapsed. Walls and roofs caved in, and people’s possessions were scattered on the ground. A few goats roamed through the ruins. The Pakistani military said it had rushed almost 1,000 troops to the area overnight and was sending helicopters as well. A convoy of 60 Pakistani army trucks left the port city of Karachi early Wednesday with supplies. Pakistani forces have evacuated more than 170 people from various villages around Awaran to the district hospital, the military said. Others were evacuated to Karachi. One survivor interviewed in his Karachi hospital bed said he was sleeping when the quake struck. “I don’t know who brought me from Awaran to here in Karachi, but I feel back pain and severe pain in my whole body,” he said. Jan said he didn’t know what happened to the man’s family. He was trying to contact relatives. Local officials said they were sending doctors, food and 1,000 tents for people who had nowhere to sleep. The efforts were complicated by strong aftershocks. Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest province but also the least populated. Medical facilities are few and often poorly stocked with supplies and qualified personnel. Awaran district has about 300,000 residents spread out over 29,000 square kilometers (11,197 square miles). The local economy consists mostly of smuggling fuel from Iran or harvesting dates. The area where the quake struck is at the center of an insurgency that Baluch separatists have been waging against the Pakistani government for years. The separatists regularly attack Pakistani troops and symbols of the state, such as infrastructure projects. It’s also prone to earthquakes. A magnitude 7.8 quake centered just across the border in Iran killed at least 35 people in Pakistan last April. Tuesday’s shaking was so violent it drove up mud and earth from the seafloor to create an island off the Pakistani coast. A Pakistani Navy team reached the island by midday Wednesday. Navy geologist Mohammed Danish told the country’s Geo Television that the mass was a little wider than a tennis court and slightly shorter than a football field. The director of the National Seismic Monitoring Center confirmed that the mass was created by the quake and said scientists were trying to determine how it happened. Zahid Rafi said such masses are sometimes created by the movement of gases locked in the earth that push mud to the surface. “That big shock beneath the earth causes a lot of disturbance,” he said. He said these types of islands can remain for a long time or eventually subside back into the ocean, depending on their makeup. He warned residents not to visit the island because it was emitting dangerous gases. But dozens of people went anyway, including the deputy commissioner of Gwadar district, Tufail Baloch. Water bubbled along the edges of the island. The land was stable but the air smelled of gas that caught fire when people lit cigarettes, Baloch said. Dead fish floated on the water’s surface while residents visited the island and took stones as souvenirs, he added. Similar land masses appeared off Pakistan’s coast following quakes in 1999 and 2010, said Muhammed Arshad, a hydrographer with the navy. They eventually disappeared into the sea during the rainy season.
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Inadequate response: Earthquake in Balochistan

AFTER the devastating experience of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and with the knowledge that Pakistan straddles several fault lines, it would have been reasonable to expect the state to lose no time in shoring up its defences against natural disaster. But the response to the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that struck Balochistan on Tuesday has shown, once again, that like many other things in Pakistan, this was a vain hope. We have seen initiatives such as the establishment of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, the National Disaster Management Authority and its provincial subsidiaries, promises of developing early warning systems and articulating standard operating procedures at the lowest tiers of administration. But every time disaster strikes — in recent years different parts of the country have been devastated by earthquakes, floods and torrential rains — the emptiness of the promises becomes evident. Those affected are left clinging to their rooftops whilst the waters rage, or remain trapped in the rubble of their homes while the state goes into sluggish action. The remoteness of the area affected by Tuesday’s quake has further hampered the speed at which rescue could be provided, though the army had, by the evening, provided some succour. Even early estimates show that tens of thousands of people have been affected, and a very large number of mud-built houses have collapsed. The death toll, which has already crossed the 200 mark and is likely to rise as the rubble is cleared, is not as high as it could have been. Yet while this may not be a catastrophe for the nation at large, for the victims it certainly is. Everything possible must be done to help these people now and in the months to come as survivors embark on the task of piecing together their lives and livelihoods. This tragedy also constitutes a chance for the state to reach out to the people of Balochistan, disenchanted as they are by the country’s lack of concern for their grievances. Meanwhile, we must ask how many times this country needs to be warned before it seriously sets about improving its infrastructure and capabilities in case of natural disaster, particularly earthquakes. While Islamabad has started enforcing earthquake-related building codes, the thought of such an event striking the high-density, vertically built Karachi, for instance, is frightening. There’s no escape from nature’s wrath, but one can be better prepared to deal with it. The only thing Pakistan seems to be doing, though — at both the federal and provincial levels — is hoping that it will be spared.

Pakistan earthquake death toll rises to 350

The death toll from a huge earthquake in southwest Pakistan this week has soared to 350 people with more than 500 injured, officials said Thursday, among fears the toll could still rise. The 7.7-magnitude quake hit on Tuesday afternoon in Balochistan province's remote Awaran district -- a dirt-poor expanse of land that is roughly the size of Wales. Besides flattening homes and affecting more than 300,000 people in six districts, according to the Balochistan government, the earthquake also created a new island off the coast. "At least 348 people have been confirmed dead and 513 others injured," Abdul Latif Kakar, the head of Baluchistan's Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), told. "Only in Awaran district, we have confirmed the death of 305 people, while we have received information about 43 dead from the other worst affected district, Kech," he said. National disaster agency officials and local authorities confirmed the toll. The army has rushed medical staff and troops to the devastated area to help with rescue efforts, along with seven tonnes of food and a tonne of medicine. Six helicopters are taking part in rescue work, the military said. The scale of the territory involved is daunting. Balochistan, Pakistan's least developed province, makes up about 45 percent of the country's total area, and Awaran's population is scattered over more than 21,000 square kilometres (8,000 square miles). On top of the difficult terrain, the area is rife with militants as well as bandits. Tremors were felt on Tuesday as far away as New Delhi and even Dubai in the Gulf.