Friday, October 25, 2013

In Saudi Arabia, a drive for women's rights

Los Angeles Times
Give women the vote and what outrageous thing happens next? In Saudi Arabia, they start demanding the keys to the car. Thus a relative handful of brave Saudi women will slip behind the wheel Saturday for a "Day of Female Driving." Saudi Arabia is the only nation that bars women from driving. Not that there's an actual law against them doing so. But the government won't issue them licenses. There are, however, women with licenses obtained in other countries; they will be the driving force, if you will, of the Saturday demonstration. They haven't been driving up to now because of overwhelming traditional and cultural pressure. It simply hasn't been done. It is unknown how the government will react to Saturday's protest. King Abdullah, who in 2011 granted women the right to vote (it takes effect in time for the 2015 voting cycle) has said that he expected that women would one day drive in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities warned that police would be cracking down on anyone making trouble Saturday, but it was unclear whether that referred to the women drivers or the conservatives who oppose their efforts and intend to launch counter-protests. Make no mistake, this is an act of courage, even if it's one that doesn't get women past first gear in their efforts to gain basic rights that are taken for granted almost everywhere in the developed world. People in the West tend to bemoan the face veils and body-hiding robes that most Saudi women must wear in public, but many of the goals at the top of the women's agenda are more basic. What they want are jobs and a measure of self-determination. Their ability to work is limited, and because of rules about keeping unrelated men and women separate, they usually must work for companies that provide women-only work spaces. They wait on different lines at fast-food restaurants and must be served in separate, often less desirable, quarters in restaurants, banks and other public settings. In order to have certain medical procedures or to leave the country, they need the permission of their husbands or a male guardian. Of all the rights denied to Saudi women, the right to drive might not be the most socially or economically important — although the ability to work in Saudi Arabia, where public transit is notoriously poor, is related to the ability to get to one's job. But there is potent symbolism in women steering their own drive toward a possibly less restrictive future.

Saudi security forces arrest several women, kids

Saudi security forces have arrested a number of women and children in the central province of Qassim. According to reports on Friday, the arrests have been made in the provincial capital Buraidah since protests started there on October 19. The protests were sparked by Saudi authorities’ refusal to allow the families of political prisoners to visit their loved ones on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. At least eight women and 20 children, including a two-year-old and a five-month-old baby, were arrested. Although some of the prisoners were released later, reports said that at least 13 children under the age of 14 remain in custody. Local activists said they were organizing a march to the residence of Qassim’s governor, Prince Faisal bin Bandar al-Saud. Anti-government protests have intensified since November 2011, when security forces opened fire on protesters in Qatif in Eastern Province, killing five people and leaving scores more injured. Activists say there are over 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. On Monday, rights group Amnesty International censured Saudi authorities for not addressing the “dire human rights situation” in the kingdom. The group also handed in a paper to the United Nations, which included information regarding a “new wave of repression against civil society, which has taken place over the last two years.”

Jamaatud Dawa: The Pakistan Army’s New Frankenstein?

By Mohammad Shehzad
Every year, on Pakistan’s Defence Day on September 6, the Pakistan army, ostensibly the only organised institution in the country, would demonstrate its might by holding a parade for the public. But it’s been over a decade now that they have abandoned this ritual, following terrorist threats. Interestingly, this tradition is being kept alive by our jihadi outfits! For the last five years, Pakistan’s militant outfits have been holding a parade every September 6. They demonstrate their might (and their firepower) by brandishing Kalashnikovs and making fiery speeches challenging their three perceived enemies: India, the US/West and Israel. These jihadi outfits block the main highways, crippling citizens’ lives, as they hold rallies from one end of the city to the other. And what’s more, they are fully facilitated in this by the local administration. In fact, September 6 is declared a public holiday by the government. This year too, the men in khaki were replaced by militants in black – the self-proclaimed mujahideen of Islam belonging to the Jamaatud Dawa, which has been branded a terrorist outfit by the international community for masterminding the Mumbai carnage in 2008. Their head honcho, Hafiz Saeed, carries a bounty of $10 million. His followers had come in thousands for the rally. Many of them had arrived in Pindi from Azad Kashmir the night before. Hundreds of Dawa’s own guards were deployed to body search the participants. The rally was held in the name of ‘Defence of Pakistan.’ It started from Liaquat Bagh and culminated at D-Chowk, in front of the parliament. Dawa’s caravan consisted of more than 10,000 vehicles, according to its spokes person, Asif Khurshid. Hundreds of policemen from the twin city provided security to it. As usual, Saeed delivered a fiery speech at D-Chowk, spitting venom against India, and cursing the US/West and Israel. His followers listened to him with rapt attention. Nobody countered his usual provocative gibberish: we will crush India; we will hoist the flag of Islam in Delhi; the US has disintegrated; the mujahideen will soon rule India, etc.Shockingly enough, this absurd spectacle was given unprecedented coverage by the electronic media. More than a hundred video cameras of assorted private TV channels were in attendance. Ostensibly, neither the owners nor the management have any issue with airing such provocative hate speeches. And interestingly, neither does Hafiz Saeed have any hesitation about being on camera. Just eight years back, Saeed had declared that he would not allow the media to photograph him because it was haram in Islam. So what was haram until yesterday has become halal today! Now Saeed is so in love with his voice and face that he never loses an opportunity to be on camera. Journalists like me now know the content of his speeches by heart. It never changes. Whether he is addressing his audiences on the occasion of a flood, an earthquake, Kashmir Day or a jihadi rally, Hafiz Saeed harps on the same old themes: curse India/US/West and Israel and tell the audiences that all of them are close to disintegration. Really? Rallies like these do no service to Islam or this country, except for causing chaos. If anything, they lead to more Pakistan-bashing by the international community. And yet, it is also a fact that such rallies of such magnitude cannot be organised without state patronage. Has the state gone insane? What message does it want to send across the world? That the job of the country’s defence has been outsourced to some militant outfits. Chief Justice Chaudhary has taken suo moto action on every issue under the sun. Why can’t he take action on one more issue and declare that such rallies be banned? The country’s policymakers are quite naïve if they think they can intimidate India, Israel, US and the West by sponsoring such rallies. The army’s bleed-India policy, that was authored by shortsighted generals like Hamid Gul and Aslam Beg, has boomeranged. The fact is, Pakistan itself is bleeding now – and it is bleeding badly. Its obsession to conquer Kashmir and to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan has resulted in the creation of hydra-headed monsters like the Taliban who have killed more than 40,000 innocent citizens including 7,000 security personnel. On September 15, the Taliban killed a major general, a lieutenant colonel and a lance naik in a roadside bomb blast in Swat. The three were killed at a time when the government was discussing the modalities of conducting peace talks with the Taliban. The Taliban defended their action by saying that they had killed the major general because the talks had not yet begun and that they would continue to target security personnel. Unfortunately, there are certain elements within the Pakistan Army who still view the Taliban as assets. The army has not learnt any lessons. And there is a clear and present danger that an outfit like Jamaatud Dawa, which has followers in hundreds of thousands, may prove to be yet another Frankenstein like the Taliban. They have the case of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) before them. LeJ came into being under the patronage of the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, to counter Iran’s influence in the country. Today, LeJ is the number one ally of the Al-Qaeda. It is openly claiming responsibility for carrying out blasts, suicide attacks and target killings against the country’s Shia Muslims. By giving a freehand to a deadly outfit like the Jamaatud Dawa, the policymakers are simply just repeating their old mistakes and the results won’t be any different this time round!

Pakistan second-worst country in gender equality: WEF

Pakistan ranks as the world’s second-worst country in terms of gender equality and equitable division of resources and opportunities among men and women, says a report published Friday. The Global Gender Gap Report 2013, published by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with faculty at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, assesses 136 countries, representing more than 93 per cent of the world’s population, on how well resources and opportunities are divided among male and female populations. According to the index, Iceland tops the list with the most equitable sharing of resources among the sexes, followed closely by north European countries such as Finland, Norway and Sweden. Pakistan comes down at 135, followed only by Yemen, and its score has fallen three spots since the study was conducted last year. The comprehensive annual report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas, including economic participation and opportunity (salaries, participation and highly skilled employment), educational attainment (access to basic and higher levels of education), political empowerment (representation in decision-making structures), health and survival (life expectancy and sex ratio). According to the index, Pakistan ranks second-worst in economic participation and opportunity, eighth-worst in terms of equal access to education, 13th from the bottom in terms of health and survival. Surprisingly, the magnitude of disparities is much smaller in Pakistan when it comes to political empowerment and representation in decision-making structures among the two sexes, with a rank of 64 among 136 countries. Among neighbouring countries, China ranked at 69, Bangladesh at 75, India at 101 and Iran at 130. Afghanistan was not included in the study. Global gender gap narrows slightly in 2013 According to the report, gender disparity narrowed slightly in the current year on the back of definite if not universal improvements in economic equality and political participation between the sexes. Overall, the report found Iceland the most advanced country in the world in terms of gender equality for the fifth year running. It, along with Finland (2nd), Norway (3rd) and Sweden (4th), has now closed over 80 per cent of its gender gap. These countries were joined in the top 10 by the Philippines, which enters the top five for the first time, Ireland (6th), New Zealand (7th), Denmark (8th), Switzerland (9th) and Nicaragua (10th). At the global level, the report found that in 2013, 96 per cent of the health and survival gender gap has now been closed. “It is the only one of the four pillars that has widened since the report was first compiled in 2006.” The global gender gap stands at 93 per cent in terms of education, with 25 countries having closed their gaps completely. The report says gender gaps for economic equality and political participation are only 60 per cent and 21 per cent closed respectively, although progress is being made in these areas, with political participation narrowing by almost 2 per cent over the last year. In both developing and developed countries alike, relative to the numbers of women in tertiary education and in the workforce overall, women’s presence in economic leadership positions is limited, it adds.

Why Saudi Arabia can't ban women from driving forever

There's something extraordinary happening in Saudi Arabia right now. I should know -- you see, I was born there, lived there half my life, speak the language and understand the customs. Lately, I'm both amazed at and humbled by what I'm seeing: Extremely brave Saudi women, more driven than ever to change their society, despite the sad fact that they still aren't allowed to drive. And while it's true there's no formal law that bans females from getting behind the wheel in the ultra-conservative kingdom, it is also by no means a stretch to say they are, indeed, prohibited from doing so. Unfortunately, that's just the way it's always been in a society where religious edicts are often interpreted to mean it is illegal for women to drive. I've reported on this subject for years and must admit, it's a personal one for me. Some of my earliest memories entail trying to figure out why my American mother would always drive me around Oklahoma City, where we spent our summers, but could never take me around Jeddah, where we lived the rest of the year. To be honest, I only began pondering that mystery at the age of four on the days when my Saudi father was out of town on business, our driver was off, and I wanted ice cream. In the U.S., it was easy for my mom and I to hop in her car and go grab a banana split. What I wanted to know was why it was such a big deal in Saudi Arabia. Now, as a new online campaign urging Saudi women to defy their country's driving ban kicks into high gear, I find myself reflecting on how much the issue has impacted my life. Much of it goes back to one brutally hot afternoon when I was 6 years old, living in Jeddah, playing in the front yard -- completely startled seeing my 15-year-old neighbor sneaking out of her house dressed like her Saudi father. She wasn't just wearing his clothes, she'd drawn a moustache on her face and was hoisting his car keys too. Her mission was simple but dangerous: Take her dad's car for a spin around the neighborhood as he napped. In any other country, a simple act of rebellion. In Saudi Arabia, one that can, and has, gotten women arrested. A few days ago, as we were filming our latest report on the women's driving campaign, I asked prominent Saudi journalist Buthaina Al-Nasr if she'd ever done anything similar. Laughing at the memory, she admitted how, once, at the age of 14, she'd borrowed her older brother's car and taken it for a spin around the farm, far from the traffic of the city and any of its police. Buthaina went on, describing how much she and her female friends longed to drive cars. She explained how they also wanted to ride bikes, or even just simply walk around "freely" - other activities for which Saudi women can face severe disapproval. There was really only one solution. "We'd dress up like men," explained Buthaina, "like boys, and we'd go around and it felt fun." Her anecdote made me smile even as it struck me as terribly sad. You see, "fun" is something that many of my female Saudi relatives told me over and over again they needed a lot more of. It was the main reason my neighbor took her dad's car for that joyride -- which she'd been able to do without getting caught. To me, seeing how absolutely exhilarating the experience had been for her, she'd become a hero. A couple of days later, I asked her when she'd do it again. A funny look appeared on her face. "I don't know. I'm not sure what the point is," she told me. "It'll just make me want to keep driving more and more. I shouldn't want that." It took me a long time to finally understand. She'd had a small but wonderful taste of fun and freedom, one she felt most Saudi women would never get. That made it hard to deal with, harder still for her to do it again. For her, it ended up being more bitter than sweet. In Saudi Arabia, women aren't simply kept from obtaining drivers' licenses. No, they must contend with many more restrictions. The country's mandatory guardianship system means women cannot legally be responsible for their own affairs. As such, a growing number of voices, both male and female, are calling for those laws to be repealed. Author Abdullah Al-Alami, one of the most prominent Saudi men supporting the women's new driving campaign, is among them. "There is a group of ultraconservatives here who will try to do anything and everything to prevent women from exercising their rights," Al-Alami told me. "Be it driving, going to school, working, traveling for that matter, receiving medical care. Many men that I know, we feel that it is crucial for us to support women who do this." During my formative years, I was lucky -- I got to spend lots of time with very strong, independent, assertive women. My American mother, Saudi aunts and female cousins - they discussed women's rights all the time. I listened to countless conversations where it was decided how it would be impossible for Saudi Arabia to forever bar women from driving. They said the reasons were numerous: that it didn't make sense economically; that it was too much of a burden on families to hire drivers; that Saudi society was advancing. And then there was the horror story recounted by my aunt about the woman who lived down the street from her -- the woman whose husband was at work, whose driver was running an errand, whose child had been injured. There was no way for her to get him to the hospital in time. The laws will have to change, they'd say. In five to 10 years, they insisted, women would, no doubt, be allowed to drive. I first heard that refrain 33 years ago, in 1980, before my parents and I moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital. I've been hearing it ever since. It wasn't until 1991 that I thought the time might have finally come. That's when 47 women protested the prohibition by driving through the streets of Riyadh. It was scandalous -- dozens of the women were detained, banned from travel and suspended from their workplaces. A second ray of hope appeared in May 2011, when prominent women's rights activist Manal Al-Sharif uploaded to YouTube a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. As a result, she spent nine days in jail. But on June 17, dozens of women across Saudi Arabia, emboldened and inspired by her ordeal, went ahead, risked punishment and participated in the "Women2Drive" campaign -- they didn't just drive around, they also filmed and uploaded videos of themselves doing so. Still the laws did not change. And now, the latest iteration is at hand. The October 26 Women's Driving Campaign has so far garnered more than 16,000 signatures on its online petition, but as it turns out, women aren't waiting until October 26. Many have already gone out, taken videos, posted them online. It's incredible to see. Buthaina Al-Nasr is an active supporter of the campaign. She lives in Lebanon now but talked to me at length about why the Saudi government needs to finally lift the ban -- after all, it is the last country in the world that does not allow women to drive. After driving her eight-year-old son Hisham to school, she told me a bit more about how much she'd love to be able to do the same in Saudi Arabia. She then shared a recurring daydream she has about being able to drive a car in her home country while wearing a dress -- not while dressed up like her father or brother. "It's a silly daydream," she told me, "but that's a fact. It's the reality of my society." Then she added, "I mean the daydream of a young girl should be how to get to the moon ... Not driving a car."

Saudi women inching closer ever to the wheel

Saudi Arabia's women plan day of action to change driving laws

Saudi women are gearing up for a day of action to challenge the kingdom's ban on female driving, amid signs of slowly growing readiness by the authorities to consider reform despite strong opposition by the clerical establishment. Twitter, Facebook and other social media have been used to get women drivers on the roads on Saturday in a marathon push against this unique restriction. Activists say they have 16,600 signatures on an online petition calling for change. Efforts to publicise the issue by the "October 26 driving for women" group have been described as the best-organised social campaign ever seen in Saudi Arabia, where Twitter has millions of users and is used to circulate anonymous information and gossip about the monarchy and official corruption. Now the mainstream press is getting involved too, a telling indication of a thaw on this issue. "It's time to end this absurd debate about women driving," wrote Dr Thuraya al-Arid in the al-Jazirah newspaper. In another paper, al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi said: "The time has come to turn the page on the past and discuss this issue openly." Previous attempts to promote change fizzled out in arrests for public order offences and demoralisation. In 2011, activist Manal al-Sharif made a YouTube video urging women to join her in driving their own cars, and was imprisoned for over a week. But the signs are far more positive now. Three female members of the shura (advisory) council – among 30 who were appointed in January by the 90-year-old King Abdullah – recommended this month that the ban be rescinded, though no debate has yet taken place. Latifa al-Shaalan, Haya al-Mani and Muna al-Mashit urged the council to "recognise the rights of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia [Islamic law] and traffic laws". The three – praised by supporters for "stirring the stagnant water" – framed their argument with careful references to fatwas (religious edicts) banning women from being in the company of an unrelated male (such as a driver). Other suggestions designed to reassure critics are appointing female traffic police and driving instructors. Cost is another big factor with families having to employ chauffeurs, as is convenience. Signs of powerful opposition, however, are still easy to detect. This week 150 clerics and religious scholars held a rare public protest outside King Abdullah's palace in Jeddah to object to "westernisation" and "the conspiracy of women driving," blaming the US – a byword in traditionalist circles for anything distasteful or immoral – for being behind the campaign. Until then, the government had conspicuously refrained from cracking down. But on Wednesday the interior ministry issued a stern pre-emptive warning that unlawful assemblies and marches would not be tolerated, and invoked the danger of sedition. But on a closer reading, activists noted, the ministry did not actually attack the idea of dropping the ban. "They are not saying clearly that women shouldn't drive," the writer Maha al-Aqeel told the Guardian. "The government wants to stay on the middle ground." Neither sharia law nor national traffic regulations explicitly ban women from driving, but they are not issued licenses. Campaigners have been emboldened by the low-key official response, with some emulating Sharif and uploading films on social media of themselves driving. In a video posted by the well-known blogger Eman al-Najfan, a female driver is seen cruising down a relatively busy road while passing motorists give enthusiastic thumbs-up signs in support. The campaign has its own YouTube channels and an Instagram account. As expectations mount, many Saudi fathers are teaching their daughters to drive. "People are positive that things are going to change," said the journalist Abeer al-Mishkhas. "They just hope it will come soon. The government says it is waiting to see if society is becoming more tolerant." Arguments aimed at keeping women off the roads can be shocking and nonsensical. "If a woman drives a car … not out of pure necessity … that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards," warned Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, adviser to an association of Gulf psychologists. Women who were aiming to overturn the driving ban should put "reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions," he suggested. Najfan argued in a commentary for Amnesty International that the fundamental issue was challenging patriarchy. "If there was one word to describe what it is like to be a Saudi woman, it would be the word patronising.. No matter how long you live, you remain a minor in the eyes of the government." Maha al-Aqeel sees driving as the thin end of a wedge of gradual reform in Saudi Arabia. "Driving is such a visible and symbolic thing," she said. "It's not like women on the shura council – you cannot see that and you cannot see advances for women in the workplace. Many conservatives feel that if women get the right to drive then that's it, the last bastion of male control will fall. "I think it should lead to other changes. That's why those who oppose it are so vehement. And that's why the government is treading so carefully. It does not want to cause a big uproar."

Pakistan: Law ministry submits new order...under Zardari's name

The Express Tribune
The law ministry issued a new official government order under the name of former president Asif Ali Zardari, Express News reported Thursday. Three presidential orders pertaining to the salaries of judges were issued on October 7 and were printed in the official gazette on October 9. Two of the documents bore President Mamnoon Hussain’s name on them while the third had the former president’s name on it. All three were issued and printed on the same dates creating the illusion that two presidents were in power at the same time. This comes a month after Zardari stepped down as president on September 8 and was replaced by Mamnoon Hussain on September 9.

India, Pakistan Exchange Gunfire Over Border

At least a dozen people have been wounded as Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged gunfire over the border in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, officials said Friday. An Indian official said at least 10 civilians were wounded as Pakistani troops fired guns and mortar shells at more than a dozen Indian border posts overnight in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, A paramilitary officer said on the customary condition of anonymity that Indian guards retaliated and an exchange of gunfire lasted several hours. He said the fighting continued till Friday morning at some places in southern Jammu region. The wounded included four children in three villages, said local civil administrator Shantmanu, who uses only one name. In Islamabad, Pakistani military officials said Indian troops resorted to unprovoked firing and mortar shelling in a village near Sialkot early Friday, wounding two civilians. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry called the cease-fire violations "a matter of great concern," and reiterated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's commitment to improving relations with India. Chaudhary told reporters that Pakistani troops do not fire indiscriminately and emphasized that Pakistan has no interest in creating problems along the border. "Our troops have a policy. We will not indulge in firing first. But if we are fired upon we will give a responsible and effective response," he said. India on Wednesday accused Pakistani troops of firing on at least 50 Indian border posts, calling it the most serious violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord. However, Pakistan said Indian troops targeted 27 Pakistani posts near Sialkot with machine guns and mortar shells. The gunfire resumed Thursday night after a lull during the day. Vivek Katju, a retired Indian diplomat, on Friday accused Pakistan of seeking to raise the temperature over Kashmir to get international attention, but added that approach has not worked as the United States and other countries have declined to mediate in the dispute. While the cease-fire has largely held for the past decade, sporadic violations are not uncommon. Since January this year the two nuclear-armed neighbors have regularly accused each other of initiating the fighting by firing mortar shells or gunshots across the frontier. The latest incidents come even though the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers meet last month in New York and agreed on the need to reduce tensions. India has accused Pakistan of nearly 200 violations of the 2003 cease-fire agreement this year. The countries have fought two wars over control of Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed by both. India regularly accuses Pakistan of supporting Kashmiri rebels who have been fighting on the Indian side since 1989 for independence or a merger with Pakistan. An estimated 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict, though most resistance is now shown through street protests. Pakistan denies giving any backing to the rebels beyond moral support.

Balochs Protest Outside White House As Sharif Meets Obama

The Baloch Hal
Members of the Baloch community protested outside the White House on Wednesday morning as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with U.S. President Barrack Obama as a part of his three-day long trip to Washington, D.C. The protesters, who came from different U.S. cities, condemned Islamabad’s fresh military operations against Baloch political activists, including the kill and dump activities and forced disappearances attributed to Pakistani intelligence agencies. Native Balochs from Irani and Pakistani Balochistan attended the protest while several American citizens also participated in the march outside the U.S. president’s residence. The protest was led by Dr. M. Hossein Bor, a prominent Baloch lawyer who had also testified at the U.S. Congressional hearing on Balochistan in February 2012 and the participants included Laurie Deamer, the U.S. representative of the Baloch Human Rights Council.
The protesters carried posters and banners to highlight the situation in Balochistan saying that the ground realities of the province had not changed despite the elections of May 2013 as Balochistan remained under the control of the Pakistan army and the security forces. The protesters also called upon Washington to stop Pakistan’s aid as they argued that American tax-payers’ money was being used by Islamabad to carry out human rights abuses against Baloch political opponents.One placard read: “Obama: Baloch friend or foe?” while some others criticized Islamabad for stopping relief operations in Balochistan’s earthquake-hit areas. “Paki govt: stops aid to Baloch earthquake victims,” read another placard. It was the largest, and probably the only, protest against Mr. Sharif in the United States as the worsening state of human rights in Balochistan has recently gained a lot of international attention that has, nonetheless, led to a little policy review in Islamabad.

Pakistan's list of grouses grow, US unmoved
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif trooped into the White House on Wednesday for a meeting with President Obama in the face of multiple repudiations from the United States over Islamabad’s pet peeves: Drone strikes on Pakistan, its gripes against India over the Kashmir issue, and pleas that Washington treat it on par with New Delhi by accepting it as a nuclear equal. The meeting with the U.S President was going on at the time of writing and there was no read-out yet, but the Obama administration made it clear on Tuesday that it did not particularly share Pakistan’s perception on any of these issues, starting with its handwringing over drone attacks on its lawless territory, accentuated by a well-timed Amnesty report highlighting some civilian casualties. White House spokesman Jay Carney set the stage for a rejection of Pakistan’s plea to stop drone strikes, saying U.S counterterrorism operations are precise, lawful, and effective, and they in fact minimize civilian casualties that would be greater if other conventional means were adopted to eliminate terrorists. "The United States does not take lethal strikes when we or our partners have the ability to capture individual terrorists. Our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute. We take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and that they are consistent with US values and US policy," Carney said, adding, "Before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured, and that is the highest standard we can set," he said. However, both sides are expected to project language that will minimize differences on this subject, with Washington promising to ease off the strikes as more and more suspected terrorists are eliminated, and praising Pakistan’s fight against terrorism despite its dubious credentials on this count. The U.S media was already predicting the pitch would be taking spin, with a headline in one newspaper reading, ''drones? What drones? Obama and Pakistan's Sharif to accentuate the positive.'' Various agreements, including one on science and technology cooperation, are being wheeled out to cover the tracks of disagreements, including over India’s role in Afghanistan, and more broadly the growing regional and global heft that Washington is helping New Delhi develop. Earlier this week, the Obama administration snubbed Sharif over his plea that Washington should mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, saying it was for the two sides to take care of this issue. In fact, despite the controversy over Sharif’s reported putdown of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (that he brings his complaints against Pakistan to Washington), it is Pakistan that has kept up an incessant reference to India, making it very much part of its gripe list. The Obama administration has entertained this only in the sense of trying to wean Pakistan out of its New Delhi complex of constantly seeking parity with it. Washington, US officials indicated ahead of the meeting, wants to have strong ties with Pakistan on its own without sharing its prejudice against India. The White House has not scheduled a media interaction at the Obama-Sharif meeting, much less an extended news conference, fearful of awkward questions. Even at a think-tank event on Tuesday, where Sharif made a speech, only the host former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley posed three softball question before closing the meeting, keeping audience out of it. But it is not hard to discern that Sharif has had a torrid visit so far. There have been protocol putdowns, including him being entertained by Secretary of State John Kerry for dinner after he arrived on Sunday (while Obama was out playing golf with White House staffers), cooling his heels on Monday and Tuesday while the Obama dealt with other issues, and on Wednesday, having to breakfast with vice-president Joe Biden (who, according to the White House schedule, then proceeded to have lunch with Obama) before the U.S President deigned to see him in the afternoon. The charitable explanation for all this is the Sharif is Pakistan's Prime Minister, not President, but that brings to attention the extraordinary deference Obama has shown to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sharif also faced a rough time on the Hill on Tuesday when he was questioned closely by the House Foreign Relations Committee over the continued incarceration of Dr Shakil Afridi, who helped the U.S nail Osama bin Laden, and Pakistan’s continued patronage of Lashkar-e-taiba. “I specifically pressed the Prime Minister to release Dr. Shakil Afridi and encouraged him to ensure that his nation is in fact a responsible and effective partner in countering terrorism, proliferation and violent extremism in the region,” Committee chairman Ed Royce said later. His ranking colleague Eliot Engel was equally unsparing. “While I appreciate the magnitude of the challenges faced by the Prime Minister, and consider Pakistan an important partner of the United States, I also made clear to him that many in Congress remain frustrated by Islamabad’s schizophrenic approach to countering violent extremist groups, including those that continue to attack US troops in Afghanistan,” Engel said.

PCC Terms PM Sharif’s Visit To US As “Unsuccessful”

Pakistan Christian Congress terms PM Sharif’s visit to the US as unsuccessful.
In line with details, the Central Executive Council of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC gathered in a meeting; thus terming “visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif to United States as unsuccessful on failure to secure end to Drone attacks and guarantees to resolve Kashmir issue according to UN Resolutions.” Additionally the Executive Council of Pakistan Christian Congress has also released a press note including an official statement from the President of Pakistan Christian Congress Dr. Nazir S Bhatti who is in Philadelphia these days. Dr. Bhatti said, “It seems that Mian Nawaz Sharif government has decided to totally ignore Christians in Pakistan as well as Pakistani Christian Diaspora in Western countries when he denied to meet EU and NA delegation of Christians of Pakistani origin in Washington DC and on his directions Pakistani Embassy in USA ignored to invite Christians in Pakistani Community gathering of 500 Muslims whom Pak Premier addressed.” Pakistan Christian Congress Head said in his statement that “Government of Pakistan Muslim League decision to apartheid Christian was duly displayed by Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC when it considered only Muslims to be Pakistani Community and invited them to participate and to witness Mian Nawaz Sharif speech on foreign and interior policies of PML (N) in Pakistan.” Dr. Bhatti added, “The time has come that Pakistani Christian Diaspora to act like Azad Kashmir Muslim Diaspora to raise voice for persecuted Pakistani Christians and to struggle like Israel Diaspora which secured land for Jews for a homeland in Promised Land in Middle East.” Dr. Nazir Bhatti said “All India Christian League supported All India Muslim League in Pakistan Movement during British colonial rule in sub-continent of India, voted in favour of formation of Pakistan in London Round Table Conferences of 1930-32 and made possible to fall Punjab in lot of Pakistan with presentation before Boundary Commission but it seems that Muslims in Pakistan have decided to push Christians from mainstream of society.” “Our voting right is snatched by Muslim majority and imposes selected tools from Christian in parliament, our Churches are attacked, our women are forcibly converted to Islam and our Christian youth is deprived of their right in employment and education in Pakistan” said Dr. Bhatti
PCC President asserted that,” Christians are treated like second class citizen and we are pushed to invite UNO and International community to rescue Pakistani Christian.” “Pakistan Government decision to push Pakistani Christian out of mainstream and initiated from Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC will unite Christians to expedite their struggle for due share in resources of Pakistan,” he continued.
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