Sunday, November 17, 2013

French president’s popularity at record low: Poll

After falling to a record low of 26 percent in October, approval for French President François Hollande has collapsed even further, with a poll published Thursday giving him just 15 percent support.French President François Hollande’s already disastrous approval rating has sunk to a new low, with a survey published Thursday showing only 15 percent support for the Socialist leader.
The YouGov poll, for the Huffington Post and i>TELE, is the latest bit of bad news for Hollande.
Last month a BVA survey gave him 26 percent approval – the lowest score for a French president in the 32 years BVA has been taking stock of their popularity. Asked how they judged Hollande's actions as president, just three percent of respondents to Thursday’s survey said they had a very positive opinion, while 12 percent said it was positive. Seventy-six percent said they had a somewhat negative or very negative opinion. Nine percent would not comment. The downturn follows the exposure of record unemployment, rising taxes and weak growth amid a growing nationwide feeling of despondency due to job cuts and factory closures. Respondents put unemployment at the top of their concerns (36 percent), well ahead of taxes (13 percent) and immigration (nine percent). The poll was carried out online between November 8 and 12 and was based on a sample of 950 voters.

Polio in Syria: putting children above politics

By: Siddharth Chatterjee
Afterer 14 years, polio has made a comeback in Syria, courtesy of a ban on vaccination in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
One of our worst fears was recently confirmed: Polio has returned to Syria for the first time in 14 years, infecting at least 10 young children. The highly contagious virus thrives in war-torn communities where poor sanitation and conflict hasten its spread. In Syria, civil war has driven immunisation rates down to less than 70 percent, from more than 90 percent in 2010, creating exactly the sort of environment where polio tends to strike. The conflict has also had a devastating impact on Syria's health infrastructure: Across the country, it has been near impossible to deliver even the most basic of health services, with tragic results. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARC) is the only humanitarian institution in Syria with access to nearly 90 percent of the country, but faces daunting challenges. Yet even amid the chaos of war, success against polio is possible. I witnessed first-hand the polio outbreaks in Darfur in 2004, and Somalia in 2005, while working for UNICEF. On both occasions, we overcame the chaos of armed conflict to defeat the virus. In Darfur, using humanitarian diplomacy combined with humility, we spoke to rebel leaders and government forces alike, and saw hardened commanders agree to temporarily halt their fighting and put the health of their children above all else.
Commitment by all
I learned that it is impossible to root out polio without the full commitment of all parties to a conflict, which include religious, political and tribal leaders. But I also learned that when they see the dangers to their own children, basic humanity takes control, and the necessary commitments come quickly. Health services are truly a bridge for peace. The scenario has repeated itself in more than two dozen conflict zones over the past 20 years, in places such as El Salvador, Colombia, Angola and elsewhere. The lessons from these successes are captured in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative's Strategic Plan to end polio by 2018. It includes emergency procedures to immunise high-risk areas as quickly as possible: organising days of tranquillity (ceasefires) and establishing vaccination posts around inaccessible regions to prevent polio spread from affected areas. Guided by the Strategic Plan, vaccination campaigns are scheduled across Syria and neighbouring countries in the coming weeks, and actions are underway to negotiate access to children in contested areas. But to plan is one thing, and to execute, another. These campaigns must be allowed to occur. The government and opposition forces must permit full and free access to all children for front-line health workers. The recent commitment from the Syrian Foreign Ministry to allow access is a good first step, but the international community must ensure that children in need are actually reached. Underpinned by the principles of humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality, SARC is a versatile national humanitarian organisation to bridge political divides. The Red Crescent symbol is a unifying factor that transcends political and religious allegiance, partly because SARC volunteers often hail from the very communities that are under fire. Their networks are a permanent fixture in local communities and are critical partners in helping to depoliticise the delivery of health interventions. SARC's 84 branches and thousands of volunteers stand ready to assist.
International cooperation
Global actors have a vital role in driving polio out of Syria. Donor governments must ensure the polio program is fully funded and equipped to swiftly and efficiently curb outbreaks. Influencers like the US, UK, France, China, Russia, Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, must state clearly and unequivocally to all parties the need to ensure safe access for health workers. Principles over politics must be the clarion call when it comes to children and their wellbeing, everywhere. But last week's news that the virus originated from Pakistan is a stark reminder that the most important thing the world can do is extinguish polio at its source. The underlying problem is not in Syria or in the Horn of Africa, the site of another polio outbreak this year, but in Pakistan and the other two endemic countries that have never interrupted transmission of the virus: Afghanistan and Nigeria. We must stop the virus there. Fortunately, we have a window of opportunity to do just that. Cases in these countries are down by more than one-third compared to this time last year, and the virus has retreated to just a few areas. Afghanistan, in particular, has made unbelievable progress, with no cases in its traditionally endemic Southern Region since last November. Much more concerning are Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where conflict, and a 2012 ban on vaccination by local leaders, have resulted in a polio outbreak that continues to worsen. The situation is a serious threat not only to Pakistan's progress, but to eradication efforts globally. Here, and everywhere else, where political struggles stand in the way of children's health, we must do everything we can to reach across divides and work together to ensure that no child goes without lifesaving vaccines. The stakes go far beyond polio. The campaigns underway in Syria and its neighbours are also bringing desperately needed measles vaccines, and vaccination campaigns can provide a platform for the delivery of vitamin A, hygiene kits and malaria bed nets. In the past 25 years, we have gone from 350,000 cases of polio in more than 125 countries to just a few hundred in a handful of countries. These last frontiers are the hardest, but the motivation and plan are there. We must push the limits to banish this disease. The children of the world are waiting for all of us to end the scourge of polio forever.

Turkey confronts policy missteps on Syria with rise of al-Qaeda across the border

A group affiliated with al-Qaeda controls the road leading south into Syria from this key border crossing on the front line of the debacle that Turkey’s Syria policy has become. For more than a year, Turkey turned a blind eye as thousands of foreign volunteers from across the Muslim world streamed through the country en route to fight alongside Syria’s rebels, perhaps calculating that the fighters would help accelerate President Bashar al-Assad’s demise. Now the extremists whose ranks the foreigners swelled are gaining ascendancy across northern Syria, putting al-Qaeda on NATO’s borders for the first time, raising fears of cross-border attacks and exposing how terribly Turkey’s efforts to bring about Assad’s removal have gone awry. Meanwhile, in Damascus, Assad is showing every sign that he will ride out the revolt and perhaps remain in power for years, sustained in part by Western alarm at the rise of the extremists. The United States has served notice that it has no intention of intervening militarily, and Turkey, once the most vocal proponent of action to oust Assad, has been left to confront the consequences of what appears to have been a grave policy miscalculation. “This was not the outcome Turkey wanted,” acknowledged a Turkish official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the subject of Syria is so sensitive. Critics say Turkey has only itself to blame for a state of affairs that Turkish authorities appear, at least indirectly, to have encouraged. President Obama rebuked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan when they met at the White House in May for not doing more to restrict the flow of foreign fighters, and the issue is expected to be on the agenda when the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, visits Washington on Monday. Almost all of the foreign fighters contributing to al-Qaeda’s strength in northern Syria traveled there via Turkey, flying into Istanbul and transferring to domestic commercial flights for the trip to the border. With their untrimmed beards and their backpacks, the foreigners are often conspicuous in the sedate, Western-oriented towns of southern Turkey. There they check into hotels if they have some money, or get put up in safe houses if they don’t, before heading either for the legal border crossings or the well-worn smuggler routes crisscrossing the 500-mile-long border. “It’s so easy,” said a Syrian living in Kilis who smuggles travelers into Syria through the nearby olive groves and asked to be identified by only his first name, Mohammed. He claims he has escorted dozens of foreigners across the border in the past 18 months, including Chechens, Sudanese, Tunisians and a Canadian. “For example, someone comes from Tunisia. He flies to the international airport wearing jihadi clothes and a jihadi beard and he has jihadi songs on his mobile,” Mohammed said. “If the Turkish government wants to prevent them coming into the country, it would do so, but they don’t.”
Rumors of training camps
Some opposition politicians have accused the Turkish government of going further than simply tolerating the traffic, saying that it also has helped transport, train and arm the foreign fighters. In the Kurdish areas of northeastern Syria, which Turkey fears may be seeking independence, rumors abound of secret training camps and mysterious military buses filled with fighters dispatched to aid Syrian rebels battling the Kurds. Foreign fighters captured by Kurds have claimed that they were trained in Turkish camps and that Turkish instructors teach at rebel camps in Syria, according to Saleh Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the biggest Kurdish faction in Syria. “In the beginning, Turkey helped them directly, and very clearly,” he said in a telephone interview. Turkey strenuously denies that it has done anything to facilitate the flow of extremists. The Syrian war has overwhelmed Turkey in multiple ways, officials say, and as authorities struggled to accommodate an influx of 600,000 refugees while also aiding the mainstream rebels, they simply overlooked the foreign travelers. “I don’t think anything was done on purpose,” the Turkish official said. “You can’t tell who is a jihadi or not, and a lot of Muslim people come to our country. Our visa procedure is not so strict.” “Now, I think, everyone is realizing how much of a problem these extremist groups are,” he added. “At the end of the day, you can’t work with them, and you can’t even count on them to topple Assad.” Turkey also may not have minded that the foreigners appeared to be contributing to the effort to oust Assad, said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Turkey believed so firmly that Assad would fall and the good guys would take over they did not see a problem with allowing anyone and everyone to go and fight,” he said. “But the entire premise is not coming to fruition.” The realization that both Assad and the jihadists may endure is prompting what one analyst familiar with government thinking called “adjustments” to Turkey’s policy. Ankara is not going to drop its insistence that Assad must go, he said, but it is exploring more nuanced ways to pursue the objective. Erdogan has softened his once-colorful anti-Assad rhetoric, denounced the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups active in Syria and reached out to some former friends who had been alienated by his staunch support for the Syrian opposition, including Iraq and Iran.
Tightening border crossings
Turkey has taken steps to crack down on some of the cross-border activity. A truck loaded with 1,200 rockets destined for the rebels was intercepted this month, raids have been conducted against suspected al-Qaeda hideouts in Istanbul and foreigners are being turned back from border crossings into ­Syria — although not from the airport. Muslim, the Kurdish leader, said Turkey has not provided any direct assistance recently to the extremists fighting in northeastern Syria, leading him to suspect that U.S. pressure is having an effect. “They should have done it before, but it is late now,” he said. It was the capture in September of the town of Azaz, just across the border from Kilis, that brought home to Turkey the costs of its policy, said Amr al-Azm, a professor of history at Shawnee State University in Ohio and a Syrian who backs the opposition. Warnings from authorities that al-Qaeda is planning bombings in Turkey have put the town on edge, prompting extra army patrols and police checkpoints. Last month, Turkish artillery fired mortars into Azaz after two people in Turkey were injured by stray bullets. “It’s like closing the stable after the horses have bolted,” Azm said. “These guys have so many resources, they could fight for another two years.”

Turkey's Kemalists see secularist legacy under threat

For decades his picture dominated Turkey, piercing blue eyes staring from hoardings, keeping watch over city streets and army barracks. Schoolyards echoed every morning to his oath:
"Happy is he who can say 'I am a Turk!'"
Now that oath rings out no more and the image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the secular republic, seems for some to be retreating into the shadows, victim of a new ruling class they suspect of cherishing a new more 'Islamic' Turkey. Turkey's "Kemalists" flinch at Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan advising women on the number of children they should have, fostering restrictions on alcohol and expressing moral outrage over male and female students living together in the same house or flat. The natural place to turn, as in hard times before, was to Ataturk's tomb, the Anitkabir, a columned stone monument atop a hill in Ankara. Over a million people descended on it this month on the anniversary of his death, the highest number in more than a decade. Tens of thousands more marked the ritual at Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace where Ataturk spent his last days. "They're stepping on everything Ataturk stands for and I felt the need to show my reaction," said Ozgur Diker, a 36-year old insurance salesman from Istanbul who travelled with five friends to Anitkabir. "Whatever little democracy we have today, we owe it to Ataturk," he said, one of many first-time visitors to the tomb to mark the anniversary this year. Tension between religious and secular elites has long been one of the underlying fault lines in the predominantly Muslim but constitutionally secular republic, forged from the ruins of an Ottoman theocracy by Ataturk 90 years ago. But a stream of provocative comments from Erdogan, who is expected to stand for president in elections next year, has heightened accusations of religiously-motivated interference in private life and exacerbated secularists' sense of siege. Erdogan suggested this month that rules could be drawn up to stop male and female students living together, one ruling party official suggesting such unregulated cohabitation could be used to harbor criminals. Ataturk forged a Western model of a woman, wearing Western clothes and pursuing a professional and independent life. "This debate about males and females staying in the same dormitory was the very last straw," said Nese Yildiz, a 46-year old former banker visiting Anitkabir. "The state is trying to enter our homes. And they create this impression that their kids have the moral values and ours don't," she said.
Turks who share Yildiz's views say this sense of 'us' and 'them' has become a increasing part of the fabric of Turkish society under Erdogan, accusing him of alienating anyone who does not live according to the Islamic values he espouses. His comments earlier this year that Turkey's existing alcohol laws had been made by "two drunkards" was taken by many as a reference to Ataturk, part of a polarizing rhetoric that contributed to a summer of violent protest a few weeks later. "We are not talking about Turkey becoming an Iran here," said Tanil Bora, a writer and an academic at Ankara University. "But no one can deny the rise of a moral authoritarianism." Erdogan, founder of the ruling AK Party whose roots lie in political Islam, bristles at the suggestion he is anything other than a democrat. His supporters argue he is simply redressing the balance and restoring religious freedom to a Muslim majority after decades of restrictive secularist rule. For some his colorful words have a revanchist edge. "These people have drunk their whiskies for years overlooking the Bosphorus ... and have looked down on everyone else," Erdogan told a rally in the conservative central Anatolian province of Kayseri at the height of the summer protests, referring to the country's secular elite. Lifting a ban on Islamic head scarves in state institutions last month was one such redress. The ban, based on a 1925 cabinet decree when Ataturk introduced clothing reforms meant to banish overt symbols of religious affiliation from public life, had kept many women from joining the public work force. The schoolyard oath was seen by many Kurds as denying their ethnic identity - why could they not be happy to be Kurds? - and a complication to Erdogan's efforts to end a three decades old insurgency that has killed 40.000. Erdogan has made curbing the clout of the army - self-appointed guardians of secularism who carried out three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pushed an Islamist-led government from power in 1997 - a central mission of his decade in power. Hundreds of top generals have been jailed for plots to overthrow his government, prompting accusations of a witch-hunt. Where once a deliberate or unintended public slight of the army or of Ataturk might land someone in court, these days religious offence can have the same result. Times are changing. Erdogan's force of character has ushered in unprecedented political stability which has also brought wealth, per capita income tripling in nominal terms and the days of hyperinflation and chronic currency instability fading to a distant memory.
Despite the secularist backlash and the fierce protests of summer, Erdogan remains the most popular politician in Turkey, his polarizing rhetoric and emotionally blunt manner rallying supporters in the country's conservative Anatolian heartlands. the AK years, since Erdogan's party was first elected in 2002, has seen a boom in business in that heartland, the emergence of the "Anatolian Tiger" in a country long dominated by a number of large sometimes family-owned companies A series of opinion polls since the summer protests show zero or little fall in his AK Party's popularity. "The AK Party and Erdogan's supporters usually take the more grotesque examples of Kemalism and portray it like a form of extremism, which reinforces the resentment against secularists," said Ankara University's Bora. But his critics - including a growing number within his own party - fear the uncompromising reluctance to tolerate dissenting voices which have become increasingly evident during his third term in office are making him a liability. Under party rules, Erdogan cannot run again as prime minister in elections in 2015 and is widely expected instead to stand for the presidency next year, potentially under a deal with fellow party founder and current president, Abdullah Gul, a more moderate voice who could then become prime minister. Erdogan has failed to push through the constitutional changes he wanted to create an executive presidency to replace the current largely ceremonial role ahead of the vote; but he is nonetheless unlikely to take a quiet back seat. "They have the power," said Mustafa Ozel, 52, an Ankara-based artist visiting Anitkabir. "And they can dictate everything; how we give birth, at what time we are allowed to have a drink, how many kids we should have."

Karzai: U.S.-Afghan Security Pact Ready For Loya Jirga
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Afghan and U.S. negotiators have finished a draft of a security pact to be presented to the Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, next week. However, Karzai said on November 16 that there were still disagreements between Kabul and Washington over the final content of the document. Karzai told reporters that without the approval of the Loya Jirga, Afghanistan will likely refuse to sign the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement. The agreement would allow U.S. authorities to maintain legal jurisdiction over those U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan after the 2014 drawdown of foreign forces. Thousands of prominent figures from across the country are expected to attend the Loya Jirga.

How will Afghanistan election affect U.S. interests?

A longtime opponent to President Hamid Karzai has emerged as the front-runner to the first election to take place amid an American withdrawal of forces, prompting concerns that his victory could further fracture an already suspect political process. Polls show that Adbullah Abdullah, who lost to Karzai in a 2009 election tarnished by voter fraud, leads the field of 10 candidates in April's election. Abdullah pulled out of the 2009 election before the final tally, accusing Karzai supporters of stuffing ballot boxes and intimidating voters. International electoral observers agreed that the election was "flawed" but said the irregularities were not major and did not affect the outcome. Were Adbullah to win and succeed Karzai — who is barred from running for a third term — his victory could "open the door to all kinds of mischief" by way of possible legal actions against the president once he's out of office, Brookings Institute Afghanistan expert Michael O'Hanlon said. Abdullah and other Karzai opponents accuse the president of widespread corruption both during the last election and throughout his long tenure as Afghanistan's first-elected leader following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. If Karzai fears for his freedom after the election, he might be less apt to hand over control of the country, O'Hanlon said. "If he thinks Abdullah is in the witch-hunt business, then the chances for a successful election goes way down." If no candidate wins 50% of the vote in April, the top two vote-getters will face off in a second round. Meanwhile, there are questions about whether the remaining candidates would be good for the interests of the United States. President George W. Bush launched the Afghanistan War in 2001 after the ruling Taliban in Kabul refused to turn over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 Americans. Joined by a coalition of dozens of nations, the U.S.-led invasion dislodged the Taliban from power and over the ensuing 11 years has pushed its fighters from most population centers. Bush and President Obama have both said that the aim of the war is an Afghanistan that does not threaten the United States or the region. Whether that aim can be secured once U.S. forces depart the country in 2014 is a question that remains given that a new crop of leaders is vying for the presidency and some may not be on board with the Americans.Among the candidates is former mujahedin commander Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf, who in announcing his candidacy last month said he was entering the race to "serve my countrymen and my nation." Sayyaf is the namesake of the Philippine's Islamist insurgent group, Abu Sayaaf, which has committed acts of terror against Christians to create a Muslim nation in the southern Philippines. Sayyaf was a "mentor" to captured al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, according to the U.S. commission that looked into the origins of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Sayyaf ran paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, and helped bin Laden return to Afghanistan after he was ejected from Sudan. Peter Bergen, an Afghanistan expert with the New America Foundation and author of several books on al-Qaeda, said he believes Sayyaf is a "legitimate Afghan politician." On the question of Sayyaf's ties to al-Qaeda, Bergen said Sayyaf has been quoted as making anti-Taliban remarks to the Afghan media. Kate Clark, an analyst with the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analyst Network, said Sayyaf has won the trust of some in Washington. Clark said Sayyaf assisted U.S. efforts to re-engage the Karzai administration in talks of a bilateral security agreement that would allow several thousand U.S. forces to remain in the country after the drawdown of combat troops at the end of 2014. "I'm quite surprised by some of the diplomats and some of the military people that have spoken well of Sayyaf despite the allegations about his past," Clark said. But Brookings said that in the eyes of some in Washington "whatever happened in the past is sort of history." "I don't want to condone anything he might have done for bin Laden in the '90s," O'Hanlon said. "But I would be much more interested in recent behavior." Also running for the presidency is the president's older brother, Qayyum Karzai. Though Karzai hasn't endorsed his brother or any candidate yet, the perception of nepotism would throw the election into question among Afghans and the international community. "For a young democracy, there is a worry that you create more entrenched patronage" in the event Qayyum wins the presidency, O'Hanlon said. "Whether it amounts to a dynasty is not the main concern," he said. "The question is: If he wins, did he win fair and square?" The Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, a non-partisan Afghanistan political watchdog group, says Afghans are concerned the upcoming presidential election is vulnerable to corruption and fraud. Accusations of corruption and presidential meddling in the election were raised last month by 16 presidential hopefuls who were removed from the ballot for various reasons cited by Afghanistan's Independent Election Committee, whose members are appointed by the Karzai administration. The committee claimed some of those barred from running lacked the required 100,000 voter cards from would-be supporters and backers from every province in the country. Others were barred for having dual citizenship, a violation of Afghan electoral law. But Clark says those thrown off the ballot appeared guilty only of being out of line with Karzai's policies. "The 2014 election has started with a lack of transparency, accusations of serious fraud and a further limitation of choice," she said. "It is not a promising beginning to the campaign to chose Afghanistan's next president."

Warnings of New Turmoil as Pakistan Pursues a Treason Case for Musharraf

Pakistan’s government said Sunday that it was initiating a treason prosecution of the country’s former ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in what would be a groundbreaking, if politically charged, assertion of civilian supremacy over the powerful Pakistani military. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the government had asked the Supreme Court to establish a special panel to try General Musharraf on accusations that he subverted the Constitution in late 2007 when he imposed emergency rule and fired much of the judiciary. The military has ruled Pakistan for about half of the country’s 66-year history, and no ruler or top military commander had ever faced criminal prosecution until General Musharraf’s return from exile in April. Since then, he has faced criminal prosecution in four cases related to his time in power. But a treason prosecution would sharply raise the stakes between civilian and military leaders — the charge carries a potential death penalty — and, analysts warned on Sunday, could cast the country into new political turmoil. “It is a can of worms,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and respected political commentator. “It is really absurd.” The decision to proceed against General Musharraf comes at a tough time for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government is facing increasing scrutiny for its handling of the economy, foreign relations and security. And personally, Mr. Sharif, who is visiting Thailand, has been criticized for his frequent foreign tours even as Pakistan has faced struggle after struggle. On Friday, at least nine people were killed and 50 were wounded in Rawalpindi, the garrison city next to the capital, as sectarian riots broke out between Shiite and Sunni groups. The violence led the government to clamp a two-day curfew on the city, suspend cellphone services and bring out troops in several other cities to quell tensions. And relations with the United States are under strain over accusations that an American drone strike that killed the Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud sabotaged nascent peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. With such a turbulent political environment as backdrop, the sudden announcement of treason charges brought immediate questions and criticism. “What we saw today was a political decision,” said Fahd Hussain, the director of news at the Express News television network. “It was important for Nawaz Sharif to be seen to deliver on his past pledges.” What seems clear, at least, is that Mr. Sharif’s government wanted to prevent General Musharraf from slipping out of Pakistan into exile. General Musharraf, a former army chief, had been under house arrest at his villa outside Islamabad until earlier this month, when he was released on bail on all cases and later requested permission to go to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to visit his mother. On Monday, lawyers for General Musharraf are due to make a court application to have him taken off an official list that prevents him from leaving Pakistan. A treason prosecution would result in new restrictions on Mr. Musharraf’s movements, although it remained unclear how quickly the Supreme Court would move on Monday. In a statement on Sunday, General Musharraf’s office described the treason charges as a “vicious attempt to undermine the Pakistan military” and a “botched attempt” to divert attention from the country’s other problems. Babar Sattar, a lawyer and columnist with the English-language daily newspaper Dawn, said that Mr. Sharif appeared to be betting that the army would not stop the judiciary from trying General Musharraf in open court. “I think Nawaz realizes that Musharraf is a bygone for the army,” he said. “He wants to fix him but does not want to give an impression that it is revenge.” General Musharraf’s supporters say the law is being applied selectively, pointing out that many senior justices, including the country’s crusading chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, validated the 1999 coup that brought the military ruler to power. Mr. Chaudhry was among the judges fired by Mr. Musharraf during the state of emergency, and later became a rallying point for opposition to the former general’s rule. The decision to put General Musharraf on trial also comes at a time of transition for the military. The current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is due to retire at the end of this month. Chief Justice Chaudhry is due to retire in December. But if Mr. Sharif is seeking to take advantage of this period of transition in Pakistan’s power politics, many warned that it could backfire. “They are adopting an unchartered course of action that contains many hazards,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst. “This case may ultimately alienate the military.” Mr. Rizvi added that governance had been “very poor” and that ordinary people had been severely affected in the last five to six months by inflation and chronic power shortages. “It just shows very poor sense of priority. What are they trying to achieve?” said Mr. Masood, the retired general. “The army is involved in the tribal belt. It is also involved in maintaining peace in Karachi and now in Rawalpindi. What message is the government sending?”

Rawalpindi mayhem: Government decides to lift curfew

Government has decided to lift the curfew from violence-hit Rawalpindi after the security forces managed to restore calm to the garrison city, Geo News reported Sunday. “The curfew will be lifted after 6am Monday until further orders,” said the DCO Rawalpindi. According to the Ministry of Interior, all the markets will re-open tomorrow (Monday). However, it added that the security forces will continue to stay in the affected parts of the city to maintain peace. The government had earlier announced to relax the curfew from 7:30 PM till 12 midnight. Earlier in the day, Funeral prayers of three persons killed in the Rawalpindi incident was offered at Liaquat Bagh. Maulna Samiul Haq led the prayers. Defying the curfew that entered into the second day today, a large number of people came out to hold the funeral prayers for the deceased. The security forces did try to put barricades in the way of the funeral procession and also resorted to aerial firing but the people kept on marching to hold the prayers. Realizing the sensitivity of the situation, the administration at last allowed the people to hold the funeral prayers. Strict security remained in place during the funeral prayers which was attended by a big crowd of people. At the conclusion of the funeral prayers, the attendees dispersed peacefully on the call of Ulema present on the occasion. The deceased were among nine people who lost their lives in sectarian clashes that erupted on the occasion of Yaum-e-Ashur in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday. Sixty others sustained injuries in the incident that took place when a procession coincided with a sermon at a nearby mosque. Army was called in and curfew was declared to quell the unrest. A judicial commission, headed by Lahore High Court (LHC) Judge Justice Mamoon Rashid Shaikh, has been formed to investigate into the deadly incident.

Another lament for Pakistan

It was a time of destruction and devastation. When novelist James Michener published his essay “A Lament for Pakistan” in the New York Times in January of 1972, the country had been hacked in half. Michener, who had lived in various parts of Pakistan, wrote evocatively and with consternation. He could not imagine how the country he had so sincerely admired had become the site of such disunity. In Michener’s words, Pakistan seemed “dogged by bad luck. Jinnah died shortly after the nation was launched, Liaquat Ali Khan, first Prime Minister and perhaps an abler politician than even Jinnah, was assassinated in 1951. All attempts at democracy ended in 1958 when dictatorship took over. And the conciliation one hoped for between East and West never happened.” It was not bad luck, however, that doomed Pakistan. Michener’s grim assessment of Pakistan rested not on the country’s condemnation by chance or fortune, but by a crucial failure in its core idea. The severing of East and West Pakistan represented to Michener the end of the tantalizing dream of the religious state, proof of the inadequacy of religion as the foundation of a nation state. Faith had been the only basis of uniting East and West Pakistan, the glue with which the vast chasm of cultural differences, geographical incongruencies, qualms, and quibbles over politics and outlook and ethnicity were to be molded together into one statuesque edifice of nationhood. This glue of a common faith had been infused in the once-united country’s constitution, but it could not glue the two halves of the country together. Decades after Michener’s essay, religion dangles again over the gaping wounds of a bleeding nation. Since 1971 and the excision of a portion of the country, it has been used to paper over the perfidy of dictators, to keep the country’s women forever suspect, to imagine an authenticity that reality has failed to hand up. If religion is believed to be the glue, the country has needed a lot of it to keep its armies fighting, to keep its people paranoid, to make it all work. There is popular religion on television talk shows, to be ingested with recipes for chicken chow mein; there is the religion of beards and exposed ankles, the religion of school textbooks, the religion of cricket matches, and of course the religion of suicide bombers. Once again, it has not been enough. Lathered liberally over a nation that imagines itself forever soiled, it has failed to purify, failed to unite, and failed to enlighten. All it has done is change the contestation over culture, over misunderstood identity, over limited opportunity into a sordid contest of the accessories of piety. Unable to unite, it remains still the object of an insatiable hunger, slathered on open wounds it cannot heal. The anger of the bleeding distorts it, devolves and daily denigrates it. Before a bleeding blinded population, its arbiters are not men of learning or men of spiritual substance but men with the blood of thousands on their hands, men of war. Theirs is a vision not of the future but of a crudely imagined past — dark, primitive, poor, and paranoid. Today’s lament for Pakistan is that this landscape of dread has become the vision of a nation. But if the loss of one part of itself did not provoke the grim deliberations that would reveal the delinquencies of nationhood, the ravages of the current moment are also unlikely to do so. The burden of 60 and some years of believing in one idea, on erecting nationhood on faith, means that imagining alternatives feels at once traitorous and misguided. If not this, what then, asks a generation that knows only war, that has not been trained to look elsewhere, that imagines goodness as blind obedience and spirituality as a political act. There are no answers for them; the greed of those who have gobbled up faith has rendered dissent into blasphemy and silence into survival. Soiled by the politics of power and death, religion stands misused and politics confused. Amid the wreckage of old ideas, of peace talks, amid ready shrouds and promises for the future by the robbers of the past, is the fear that the shuddering, shivering edifice of our nationhood will crumble and fall as it nearly did once before, occasioning from one writer, now long dead, a lament for Pakistan. His words from the past touch our present; our quest for a nation built on faith has left behind a faith without feeling, and a nation without meaning.

No relaxation in Rawalpindi curfew: Punjab govt

Spokesperson for the Punjab government announced on Sunday that there would be no relaxation in the curfew imposed in Rawalpindi on Friday night following a clash between two groups that had claimed at least nine lives, DawnNews reported. The spokesperson, while making the announcement, also urged the residents of the city to remain indoors. Moreover, Section 144 of the law was also imposed in the city in addition to the already imposed curfew. Funeral of the victims of the violence that took place on Friday will be held today and in order to avoid any untoward incident authorities had again imposed a curfew in the city on Saturday after a four-hour relaxation. Cellphone service began partial resumption in the federal capital city of Islamabad. The Nazim of Wafaqul Madaris Arabia Pakistan (WMAP) Qari Hanif Jalandhari said that the further course of action to be taken in relation to the bloodshed in Rawalpindi would be announced today. The Army was called in to take control and curfew was imposed in the city after at least nine people were killed and 44 others were injured during clashes that took place between two groups as an Ashura procession was passing in front of a seminary in Rawalpindi's Raja Bazar area on Friday (10th Muharram). Furthermore, cellphone services in the city also stood suspended as the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) announced that the resumption of cellphone services was conditional to the improvement of the city's law and order situation. Moreover, Chief Minister Pujab Shahbaz Sharif arrived in Rawalpindi and sought a meeting of the city's administrators. The federal capital city of Islamabad was also put on a security high alert and all exit and entry points to the city were put under strict vigilance. Security was heightened at mosques and other places of worship whereas cellphone service were also suspended in the city. Clashes had also erupted on Saturday in Punjab's Multan and Chishtian cities. At least 25 people were injured in Multan alone during the clashes after which the Army was called in to take control of the situation.

Rawalpindi Violence

The ever-present scourge of violence hit Rawalpindi on Friday when clashes between two groups turned deadly, killing eight people and injuring dozens more. Details are hazy in the fog of violence. The violence soon spread to many other parts of the city. The situation got so out of hand that the hapless law-enforcement agencies could do nothing to stop it and a 24-hour curfew was imposed in Rawalpindi. That a curfew was needed, and that too in one of the country’s biggest cities and the military’s headquarters, only goes to show how impotent the government is when faced with violence of this kind. It is not as if violence wasn’t expected on Ashura which has, sadly, become a time when the danger of bloodshed lurks everywhere as people go about their rituals uncertain of their own security. So it should not be a surprise that things quickly got heated. This is where the police should have been prepared to step in and take charge of the situation. Instead they retreated and only imposed a curfew, bringing life to a halt. The army had to be called in but even that did little to quell the violence. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has ordered an investigation into the incident and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also directed Punjab Chief Minister to do the needful, but the history of such investigations is mixed at best. All too often the violence recedes in the public’s mind and any report that is issued turns out to be a whitewash. Given the sensitivity surrounding violence of this nature, any investigation should avoid apportioning blame to a particular group since that could spur fresh clashes. It would be better to focus on the failure of law-enforcement officials and ascertain why they didn’t intervene to stop the bloodletting. Officers need to be held accountable, starting at the very top. The Punjab home department should also have known the route of the procession and so figured out that this particular area could be a security hazard. Why was the procession allowed on a route where chances of a confrontation were imminent? Given all that we had heard about the security measures taken for Muharram, this represents an abysmal failure on the part of the provincial government. We also need to reflect on the sad state of affairs that made this incident so unsurprising. Hatred based on religion and ethnicity has become so common in the country that it has now ceased to shock the conscience. Until we can change this mindset incidents like Rawalpindi will happen with increasing frequency.

Unfortunate exception: Trouble in Rawalpindi

WHILE the 10th of Muharram passed off peacefully across the country on Friday, including in highly sensitive locations such as Karachi, Quetta and Bhakkar, Rawalpindi proved to be the exception. As these lines were being written on Saturday, the garrison town was under curfew to prevent Friday’s violence from being repeated. A number of people were killed and many more injured as a communal clash broke out when mourners marched past a mosque. Reportedly, provocative speeches were being made from the mosque, which caused the already tense situation to spiral out of control. Apart from this incident, a heavy layer of security prevented other potential tragedies, as police and security forces claimed capturing or eliminating militants in Islamabad, Karachi and Chaman. The security apparatus’ measures need to be appreciated as over the years, securing the hundreds of Ashura majalis and processions across Pakistan has become a major challenge for the state, given the rise in militancy and the fact that these religious events appear as ‘soft’ targets. Considering the above, the unfortunate events in Rawalpindi could have been prevented had the authorities taken proper measures. Was the security and intelligence apparatus unaware of potential flashpoints in the city, especially when Rawalpindi has previously experienced violence during Muharram? The sensitivity of the day was heightened by the fact that it was a Friday; the authorities must have been aware of the potential for disturbances as mourners marched past sensitive areas. Such areas should have been secured by deploying additional troops, while the authorities should have stepped in when the first signs of trouble emerged. What is positive, though, is the restraint shown by the Shia and Sunni communities nationwide even after news of the riots spread. Despite the ugly incident, no other major communal clash occurred in any other part of Pakistan. But the violence that occurred in Rawalpindi goes to show that communal disturbances are never far from the surface and can be stoked by the slightest provocation. The event also shows how firebrand preachers can exploit people’s religious feelings and instigate communal violence through hate speech. The state needs to keep a much keener eye on such divisive elements, and the use of microphones must be strictly monitored — something level-headed people in this country have long highlighted. The Rawalpindi disturbances should serve as a lesson in preventive law enforcement and intelligence gathering for the future so that such ugly incidents are not repeated.

Pakistan: The threat is not over

By and large it was a peaceful Ashura on the 9th and 10th of Muharram. Governments in all the provinces were alert and vigilant. The strategic full deployment of rangers, police, army and other law enforcement agencies has at least shown that if the political will exists, the state has the capacity to keep things in relative order. However, the tendency to become complacent is a caveat that could be easily exploited by the miscreants to strike back. Security cannot be taken as a one-off activity, especially when the enemy is waiting in the wings. Assuming that the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) has lost the capacity to confront the state’s power could prove a self-defeating perception. The TTP remains a threat, whether united or splintered, as some reports suggest in the aftermath of its leadership slipping out of the hands of the Mehsuds. Even disunited, the TTP retains the ability to launch suicide and other deadly attacks. The lull over Ashura could be a tactical move in the face of the massive security alert throughout the country. This should not be assumed to mean that the threat has dissipated. What happened and is continuing in Rawalpindi, bringing the entire city to a halt after a curfew had to be imposed on Thursday night, and which has been extended on Friday, has many lessons that, if learned, could change the complexion of the problems we are confronting on the religious and especially sectarian fronts. It was a cleric’s Friday khutba (sermon) that incensed the procession that was passing by his mosque. This is hardly the first time such provocation has been witnessed. The cleric gave an incendiary sermon against Shia rituals. This infuriated the participants in the procession and violence broke out that saw a cloth market set on fire, resulting in the death of seven people and injuring more than 33 (latest reports say the fire is still smouldering). The police on duty came on the receiving end of the crowd’s fury, which managed to snatch their rifles to make things worse. Eventually the army had to be called in to control the situation. Having become controversial for their role in creating sectarian and religious hatred, mosques and madrassas need the immediate attention of the government through regulations to control the menace emanating from these two institutions. In nearly every Muslim country, sermons are vetted by the government. Pakistan being the exception, has failed to control the vitriol spewed out by clerics uninhibitedly and without check from the pulpit, even while the country is considered the most dangerous as far as Islamic extremism is concerned. In fact the state has been involved in nurturing extremism in the past, therefore the need to manage and control the activities of mosques and madrassas. This anarchy can no longer continue. If the police deployed around Raja Bazar had been sensitized about the importance of the Friday sermon and had acted in time to stop the cleric from his provocation, the gory incident could have been averted. Many madrassas are infested with extremist thinking, which becomes the foundation for mass production of suicide bombers and terrorists. The state has been unable to control them too. When Musharraf tried to regulate them through registration and curriculum changes, he was resisted and then he retreated ignominiously. His ‘example’ has been followed by every successive government. There is no mistaking the fact that terrorism in Pakistan is the result, amongst other reasons, of the extremist mindset of madrassa ‘products’. These extremist ‘factories’ have to be shut down. It is the students of these institutions who venture out to sermonise about their version of Islam. It is about time that the government regulates madrassa education. Those madrassas guilty of feeding the terrorist networks with fresh recruits must be closed down. Those following an archaic syllabus should be forced to revise it and instructed to include modern and wider education than just religious instruction so that the end product is not always a cleric but someone with the option of pursuing a different career. The misuse of religion has spiralled out of control over the past few decades, so much so that even the state has been taken hostage by it. Terrorism has to be uprooted along with the sources that breed it. For this, the state has to control the ways in which religion is being misused by the mullahs.

Rawapindi: Curfew reimposed after brief respite

The curfew, imposed in Rawalpindi after Friday's deadly clashes has once again been enforced after a respite of three-and-a-half hours (09:00 PM to 12:30 AM) on Saturday night, Geo News reported. Sources said that the administration was making efforts to calm the situation down with the help of Ulema (religious clerics) and other notables. Meanwhile, the death toll from Friday’s violent sectarian clashes in Rawalpindi rose to nine on Saturday, while funeral prayers for those who lost their lives will be held at Liaquat Bagh on Sunday. AFP adds: Pakistan called in its army Saturday to quell sectarian unrest in three cities, after nine people were killed in violent attacks, according to officials. Authorities imposed a curfew in the city of Rawalpindi, where sectarian clashes on Friday left nine people dead and more than 60 injured, and spawned retaliatory violence in at least two other cities. Fighting erupted in the garrison-city, which neighbours the capital Islamabad, when a procession coincided with a sermon at a nearby mosque. "A curfew has been imposed in Rawalpindi city to avert further violence following the incidents on Friday," Waseem Ahmed, a police official told AFP. "The curfew will remain until midnight on Saturday. The whole city has been closed down," he said. Deeba Shehnaz, a spokeswoman for rescue services, told AFP: "According to the latest figures, we can now confirm the death of nine people from the sectarian violence on Friday. At least 68 others were wounded during the clashes." Angry protesters attacked the mosque and seminary, torching its building and an adjacent cloth market, where workers on Saturday were still battling to extinguish the fire completely. Rival groups then attacked each other, TV cameramen and security forces and also fired gunshots. The authorities deployed large numbers of troops in the city and later imposed a full curfew as soldiers patrolled the streets to stop protesters coming in from other cities. Violence also erupted in the southern city of Multan and Chishtian town, where civil authorities called in troops to maintain law and order. All entry points into Rawalpindi were blocked, resulting in traffic chaos on Saturday morning that choked parts of the highways leading to Islamabad.3 Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, of which Rawalpindi is a major city, told an official meeting following the clashes that the government ensure the culprits for the clash are brought to justice. "We condemn the act of violence in Rawalpindi and sympathise with the aggrieved families. We will take the culprits to the task," he said in his statement. But one local legislator, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who is a member of the lower house of the parliament from the area said that violence there was the result of local administration's failure. "I declare the local administration responsible for Friday's violent acts. They failed to control the situation," Ahmed told a news conference.