Saturday, December 28, 2013

U.S: Kerry to Head to Middle East for Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry will return to Israel and the Palestinian territories for peace talks next week, the State Department said on Saturday, in a visit that will come days after Israel is due to free another group of Palestinian prisoners.
Kerry will travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Wednesday for more talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, resuming his intensive shuttle diplomacy after a Christmas break.
"In these meetings, he will discuss the ongoing final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, among other issues," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a "two-state solution" in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state.
Kerry wants the sides to agree to a framework for an interim accord ahead of a deal in April, which would launch another year of talks aimed at a full-blown peace treaty. A framework would demonstrate that progress is being made in talks that began in July, according to U.S. officials.
A framework would touch on all the main issues, including security, the future of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees. A step in that process is the release of Palestinian prisoners late Monday or early Tuesday, the third group to be freed since talks resumed in July. The release is seen by the United States as a vital confidence-building measure.
Netanyahu's office said in a statement that 26 prisoners would be released at least 48 hours after their names are made public later on Saturday. That would allow Israelis to contest the amnesty at the Supreme Court, which traditionally rejects such appeals.
The prisoners had been jailed for deadly violence committed before a 1993 Israeli-Palestinian interim peace accord, the statement said. A total of 104 inmates are included in the four-stage release. The plan for the release was overshadowed by an announcement by Israel on Friday that it intends to build 1,400 homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said would "destroy the peace process" and could be met with retaliation. The Palestinians see the Jewish settlements as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israel's settlements there illegal. During his last visit to the region on Dec. 13, Kerry said both sides remained committed to peace talks and were on course to wrap up an interim deal in April.
A previous round of negotiations in 2010 broke down in a dispute over settlement construction, and peace talks have shown little sign of progress since their revival this year.

Iran ready to consider EU opening embassy in Tehran

Iran is ready to consider opening the European Union (EU) embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran if the EU submits a formal request, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said here on Saturday.
"Given the importance and capacities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region, some members of the EU have expressed willingness to open a (diplomatic) mission in Tehran," the spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told Tasnim News Agency.
"In case Tehran receives a formal request (from the EU) in this regard, it is prepared to study the issue within the framework of the current relations," she was quoted as saying.
Western media reported that the EU member states have shown willingness to open an embassy in Iran. Tarja Cronberg, a Finnish politician and a member of the European parliament, said earlier that member states' ambassadors in Tehran have backed the idea when she met them in the Iranian capital on an official visit earlier this month.

China: Abe's shrine visit a flagrant denial of justice

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo that honors Japan's war dead including convicted war criminals in World War II is but a flagrant denial of the just trials of Japanese warmongers guilty of crimes against humanity.
Abe on Thursday visited the war shrine, which has been seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism as it enshrines 14 Class-A WWII war criminals.
It is the first time in seven years a sitting Japanese prime minister has visited the shrine. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid a visit in August 2006, souring relations between Japan and its Asian neighbors.
The Yasukuni Shrine, built in 1869 under Emperor Meiji, highlights Japan's wartime nationalism and is regarded as a spiritual tool and symbol of Japanese aggression in WWII.
Among the 2.5 million soldiers honored in the shrine were 14 convicted Class-A WWII criminals, who masterminded a brutal war and led the Japanese army to heinous atrocities in its war of aggression, including the Pearl Harbor attack and invasion of China, Korea and other countries.
In China alone, 35 million lives were lost and huge material losses were caused. After China's then capital city of Nanjing was occupied by Japanese troops on December 13, 1937, at least 300,000 Chinese were killed over the course of six weeks by barbarian Japanese soldiers.
Just trails
In 1946, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trials, was convened to try Japanese war criminals in implementation of the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, the Instrument of Surrender and the Moscow Conference. In particular, the Potsdam Declaration had called for trials and purges of those who had "deceived and misled" the Japanese people into war.
The court formally prosecuted 28 Japanese Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, and sentenced Tojo and six other criminals to death.
The tribunal, operating from early 1946 until the end of 1948, was composed of 11 judges from 11 nations, including the United States, China, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and Australia. The international trials took two years and seven months, held 818 open hearings, involved 419 witnesses attending the court and 779 sending their written testimonies, with verdicts totaling 1,231 pages and taking seven days to read. The tribunal was the biggest post-WWII international trials in scale and duration, surpassing the Nuremberg trials. Both the legal documents backing the Tokyo Trials and the conviction of the war criminals have been recognized by Japan. Enshrining of convicted war criminals
Since 1978, the convicted war criminals have been enshrined in Yasukuni.
The Yasukuni Shrine was so notorious that the current Japanese Emperor Akihito has not visited the shrine since ascending to the throne in 1989. Wartime Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa, refrained from visiting the shrine. Given the clear fact that the conviction of the war criminals is recognized by Japan, Abe's choice to visit the Yasukuni Shrine was a deliberate attempt to deny the historical conclusion on Japanese militarism, and challenge the post-war world order. The visit was also meant to whitewash Japanese aggression and colonial rule. It has aroused painful memories Japan has brought to the Chinese people and other nations, and has drawn strong condemnation and indignation from both home and abroad. Since taking office, Abe has adopted right-leaning policies, taking irresponsible attitudes toward Japan's war history by refusing to apologize to its Asian neighbors and trying to revise Japan's pacifist constitution.
Abe has shown his true colors by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. His pledges to an "active pacifist" road turned out to be active militarism.
The flagrant challenge to international justice and human conscience has given Japan's neighbors and the international community every reason to be highly vigilant and deeply concerned over the road Japan will take in the future.

Russians Name Putin as Man of the Year – Survey

Russians have named President Vladimir Putin as the Man of the Year in 2013, according to a new survey. Twenty-six percent of respondents chose Putin and seven percent, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the poll by the independent Levada Center found.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and ex-US security contractor Edward Snowden gained 4 percent each, and recently pardoned former Yukos oil company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky got 3 percent.
Putin has been constantly chosen as the Man of the Year since 2008, when he received 40 percent of votes. The poll was conducted December 20-24, 2013 among 1,603 urban and rural residents aged 18 and older in 130 cities, towns and villages of 45 Russian regions. The statistical margin of error does not exceed 3.4 percent.
A recent survey by the state-run Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) showed that Putin was the country’s most popular politician in 2013. Forty-four percent of respondents said Putin was the politician of the year.

Turkey: Erdogan under new pressure to quit as protesters take to the streets

Riot police use teargas, water cannon and plastic bullets to break up demonstrations as corruption scandal grows
In scenes reminiscent of this summer's massive anti-government revolts, hundreds of people took to the streets in cities across Turkey on Friday night calling for the government to resign following a high-profile corruption scandal that involves sons of cabinet ministers, leading businessmen and the head of a state-owned bank.
In Istanbul, riot police broke up demonstrations using teargas, water cannon and plastic bullets. According to Turkish media reports, 70 people have been arrested. Protesters chanted "catch the thief", in reference to a highly political corruption probe that started with orchestrated dawn raids on 17 December and is continuing to send shock waves through Turkey, edging ever closer to the heart of the Turkish government.
Seen by many as the most serious challenge to the 11-year rule of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the corruption investigation has targeted persons known to be close to the government of the Justice and Development party (AKP).
Three ministers were forced to resign when police detained their sons following a long-running investigation into allegations of corruption. Two of the sons are still in custody along with 22 others awaiting trial, facing accusations of corrupt practices, including bribery, tender rigging and illicit money transfers to Iran.
Erdogan remained defiant in the face of the crisis, repeatedly blaming a "conspiracy" for the corruption investigation that he called a "dirty operation". He reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, replacing 10 ministers with names considered to be loyal to the line of the AKP.
Many domestic commentators believe that the probe is a sign of increasing discord within the country's conservative power base, between the AKP government and its former moderate Islamist allies, the so-called Hizmet movement, led by influential exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is based in the US.
While clouds of teargas rose once again from the centre of Istanbul on Friday night, the prime minister held a defiant rally at the city's airport, where he stressed that he would refuse to step down over this crisis. He repeated his earlier allegations that the inquiry was unjustified. "Those who called this operation a corruption operation are themselves the very ones who are corrupt," Erdogan said. He also harshly rebuked three MPs, including former tourism minister Ertugrul Güney, who had resigned from the AKP on Friday in protest over growing accusations against the government for interfering with the investigation. Scores of senior police officers and judiciary officials have been removed from their posts after the arrests, a move slammed by opposition parties and critics as an attempt to cover up the burgeoning political scandal.
"I have never come across such blatant government meddling with the judiciary before", said Sezgin Tanrikulu, deputy head of the main opposition People's Republican party (CHP), a lawyer and former head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association. "This is highly worrying. The little trust that people had left in the Turkish justice system is now gone."
On Thursday, public prosecutor Muammer Akkas, who was overseeing part of the inquiry, was also taken off the case, allegedly for leaking information to the press and for failing to keep his superiors sufficiently informed. However, in a letter to the Turkish media he accused the government of actively hindering the investigation. "The judiciary was subjected to open pressure by the police force, and the execution of court orders was obstructed," he said. Last week police officers refused to comply with the prosecutor's orders to take more suspects into custody, a list of 41 high-ranking businessmen and officials, according to the Turkish daily Hürriyet.
"This is very disturbing," Sezgin Tanrikulu said. "These officers committed a serious crime by refusing to follow their orders. There are legal channels to contest a prosecutor's decisions, but it is not the place of the police to do so."
He added: "This dealt a serious blow to the investigation. It gave the suspects time and opportunity to tamper with the evidence, even to flee Turkey. It is the first time that I know of that the police illegally interfered in an ongoing investigation." Tanrikulu underlined that the officers' refusal had come after the removal of hundreds of policemen from their posts, including the Istanbul police chief Hüseyin Çapkin, and new appointments to the Turkish police force. Meanwhile, a proposed judicial regulation that would have required police investigators to keep their superiors informed at all times was blocked by Turkey's highest administrative court as unconstitutional.
"It would have meant that investigators would have had to inform former interior minister Muammer Güler of the ongoing corruption probe against his son," lawyer Burcu Öztoprak said. "It would have been the end of the separation of powers." Lauding the administrative court's decision, she added that the proposal of the new regulation alone was a worrying sign for the state of Turkey's justice system.
"It shows under how much pressure Turkish courts currently are. Judges and prosecutors cannot make independent decisions any longer", she said. "The government sends out the signal that nothing in this country can be done without their knowledge any more, that absolutely everything needs to be under their control."

Bahrain Shia opposition leader ‘arrested’ over anti-govt comments

The leader of Bahrain’s main Shia opposition group Al-Wefaq has been detained for interrogation over comments made during a religious sermon. The move has sparked an anti-government rally, with supporters demanding his release. "Al Wefaq National Islamic Society said its secretary-general, Sheik Ali Salman, is considered arrested after the series of illegal measures taken to call him in for interrogation at the Criminal investigations Department (CID)," the opposition movement said in a statement on its website. “Salman has been transferred from the CID to the Public Prosecution Office for interrogation.” The Gulf kingdom’s Interior Ministry said that Salman had been questioned over comments he made one day earlier in a religious sermon. He has been accused of “inciting hatred” of the government and "promoted rioting and vandalism,” the ministry stated. News of Salman’s arrest has sparked protests against authorities in the Sunni-ruled state. Supporters of the opposition leader gathered outside his home to express anger over the move. Some held pictures of Salman while “demanding his immediate release,” according to a statement from Al-Wefaq.
Local police fired tear gas at protesters, Al-Wefaq said on Twitter. Salman’s Saturday arrest is the opposition leader’s second detention in nearly two months. In November, the country’s public prosecutor charged the opposition leader with insulting the interior ministry. The prosecution accused him of “denigrating and disparaging the [ministry]” by alleging human rights violations conducted on protesters by the police during a speech at the opening of the Revolution Museum. Authorities claimed Salman’s speech was “packed with lies...which represented an affront to the status of the police.”
Salman was released after five hours of questioning, which he said was “a clear violation of our political work and our freedom.” Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s top opposition group, is demanding democracy and a constitutional monarchy in the country, which is run by the Sunni royal family. The group initiated protests in 2011, demanding political change and a larger Shia influence in the country led by the Al-Khalifa dynasty. The group insists that it rejects violence, but Gulf state authorities blame the movement for the unrest which has shaken the country for almost three years. A month-long protest that started in February 2011 was dispersed in mid-March during a deadly crackdown. Over 80 people have been killed since the protests began, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Middle East Music

Sameera Naz - Afghanistan ( Pashto Song 2013 )

Saudi police 'pounce on woman defying drive ban'

Saudi police on Saturday pulled over a woman minutes after she got behind the wheel in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after activists called for a new challenge to a driving ban. "Only 10 minutes after Tamador al-Yami got behind the wheel police stopped her," activist Eman al-Nafjan told AFP, adding that Yami carries an international driving licence and was with another woman who was filming her in the car. Tamador's husband was called to the scene and she was forced to sign a pledge not to drive again without a Saudi licence, said Nafjan on her Twitter account. Women are not allowed into driving schools in the ultra-conservative kingdom are not granted licences. Elsewhere in Khobar, in Eastern Province, another woman drove for two hours, accompanied by her husband, without being stopped, Nafjan said. Activists say Saturday was chosen as a "symbolic" date as part of efforts first launched more than a decade ago to press for the right for Saudi women to drive. The call for action is a "reminder of the right so it is not forgotten," activist Nasima al-Sada had told AFP. The absolute monarchy is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, a rule that has drawn international condemnation. Saturday's action is a continuation of a campaign launched on October 26, when 16 activists were stopped by police for defying the ban. In addition to not being allowed to drive, Saudi women must cover themselves from head to toe and need permission from a male guardian to travel, work and marry.

Taking power in New Delhi, 'common man' leader talks of revolution

There was no motorcade, and none of the traditional trappings of power: the leader of India's upstart "common man party" arrived on a crowded metro train on Saturday to be sworn in as chief minister of Delhi, India's capital.
Tens of thousands of jubilant supporters watched as Arvind Kejriwal, a mild-mannered former tax official, was anointed after a stunning electoral debut that has jolted the country's two main parties just months before a general election. The emergence of Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, or AAP, as a force to be reckoned with barely a year since it was created on the back of an anti-corruption movement could give it a springboard to challenge the mainstream parties in other urban areas in the election due by next May. That could be a threat to the front-runner for prime minister, Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is counting on strong support from urban, middle-class voters.
"Today, the common man has won," Kejriwal said in a triumphant speech at Delhi's Ramlila grounds, the very place were huge protests over corruption erupted in 2011, opening the way for the birth of the AAP.
"This truly feels like a miracle. Two years ago, we couldn't have imagined such a revolution would happen in this country."
In a December 4 election to the legislative assembly of Delhi, a city of 16 million people, no party won the majority of seats required to rule on its own. The impasse that ensued was broken after the AAP - in a display of citizenship politics - consulted the people of the city. It then agreed to lead the Delhi government with "outside support" from the Congress party, which heads the national ruling coalition. Opinion polls show that Congress, the party of India's celebrated Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, will be punished in the general election because of disgust with a government whose two terms have brought corruption scandals and stubborn inflation.
Wearing a simple blue sweater and with a boat-shaped Gandhi cap on his head, Kejriwal pledged to set up an anti-bribery helpline.
"If anyone in the government asks you for a bribe, don't say 'no'," he said. "You report it on the phone number and we'll catch every bribe-taker red-handed."
Kejriwal, who has tapped into a vein of urban anger over the venality of the political class and the neglect of citizens' rights in the world's largest democracy, has promised to expand his movement across the country. "Riding an anti-incumbency wave, the BJP, especially under Narendra Modi, had hoped to garner most of the urban vote," said Ashutosh Varshney of Brown University, who described the rise of Kejriwal's party as "an electoral insurgency".
"The AAP might significantly cut into that, hurting not only the Congress but also the BJP. That is why India's two largest parties feel a deep sense of threat," Varshney wrote in a column in the Indian Express newspaper this week.
Along with a pledge to send Delhi's corrupt lawmakers to jail, the AAP has also promised free water for every family in the capital and a sharp reduction in their electricity bills. A business lobby group said on Saturday the unorthodox ideology was not important as long as results were delivered.
"We feel that though the promises made by it may look tall, they can still make a good economic sense if the objective ... is achieved by bringing in operational efficiencies," Rana Kapoor, president the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, said in a statement.

U.S: Unemployment benefits expiring: Should special help continue beyond 26 weeks?
Although unemployment has fallen substantially from its post-recession peak, a historically high number of Americans – 4.1 million as of November – have been out of work for more than 26 weeks.
This weekend, extended unemployment benefits expire for some 1.3 million Americans who are looking for jobs and have already been out of work for more than half a year.
It’s typical for these special benefits to expire after recessions. But the question this time is: Is this the appropriate moment to withdraw the special support?
It’s a tricky policy question because, although unemployment has fallen substantially from its post-recession peak, a historically high number of Americans – 4.1 million as of November – have been out of work for more than 26 weeks.
The “Emergency Unemployment Compensation” (EUC) program gives those people some extra months of support – not a free ride on the federal dole. And many economists say continuing the program would add to the nation’s economic growth next year. But the program, started in 2008, costs federal dollars at a time when the two parties have been having a hard time agreeing on budget matters.
President Obama and many in Congress want to find a way to keep the benefits going, after the EUC failed to make it into an end-of-year budget accord between Democrats and Republicans.
Here are some things to know about the economics behind this policy debate.
Both unemployment and long-term unemployment are falling. The Labor Department counts 10.9 million people as unemployed (jobless and looking for work) as of November, down from 12 million a year before. And among the unemployed, the share who have been jobless more than 26 weeks is edging down, too: from 40 percent back to 37 percent recently. But unemployment remains high and persistent. About 7 percent of the labor force is unemployed, and that 37 percent figure (jobless Americans who are “long-term unemployed”) is historically very high.
“The rise in … long-term unemployment [has been] far worse than at any other time in the postwar period,” concluded an Urban Institute study this year.
During the Great Recession and its aftermath, long-term unemployment peaked at 45 percent of all unemployment, compared with a 25 percent share back in 1983, after another severe recession, the report by Josh Mitchell said.
long-term unemployment remains higher today than in the depths of a typical recession.
The extended benefits carry a cost, but don’t last forever. Keeping emergency benefits in place during 2014 would add about $25 billion to federal deficits, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. But the payments don’t give the jobless a free ride. States with very high unemployment can offer benefits lasting as long as 73 weeks with the EUC. But in most states, jobless benefits would last 40 to 63 weeks with the EUC in place, compared with 26 weeks without it. Letting the benefits expire means hard choices for workers. For people out of work longer than 26 weeks, expiration of the longer benefits may mean accepting a job they’d rather not take, continuing the job hunt without any benefits, or dropping out of the labor force and leaning on family or other means to get by.
North Carolina has offered what may be a cautionary case study, by opting out of EUC early this year. Unemployment there has fallen faster than nationally – from 9.4 percent in February to 7.4 in November. But the reason isn’t people getting jobs (the number employed went down for several months before taking an upward path) as much as people dropping out of the labor force.
Economic growth could be slower without the extended benefits. In a recent report, White House economists estimated that by removing income from the economy, failing to extend the benefits would cost 240,000 jobs in 2014. The report also cited estimates by the Congressional Budget Office and JP Morgan that gross domestic product (GDP) would be 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points lower. Against this backdrop, Gene Sperling, director of the president’s National Economic Council, issued a statement Friday supporting bipartisan legislation to continue the extended benefits.
“Never before have we abruptly cut off emergency unemployment insurance when we faced this level of long-term unemployment and it would be a blow to these families and our economy,” Mr. Sperling said.

Beyonce - 'Grown Woman'

Afghanistan in 2014: Importance to stretch well past borders

By Frederic Grare
As the U.S. exit from Afghanistan nears, we can expect to hear steadily more about the lessons we should have learned since international intervention in the country back in 2001. But one dimension of the Afghan effort that might get overlooked next year is this: how has the Afghan conflict impacted transatlantic solidarity?
The short answer is that transatlantic relations may well be another long-term victim of the war in Afghanistan. The Afghan operation started as a spectacular demonstration of the solidity of the transatlantic alliance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when NATO activated Article V of its collective defense clause for the first time in its history. But the limits of cooperation were quickly demonstrated, eroding the foundations of transatlantic solidarity. Whether they can be fully restored remains to be seen.
Afghanistan has been a story of frustration on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the early disagreements was over the relative importance of military operations versus a broader political approach – while the United States tended to focus on the former, European states emphasized the latter. The resources that each side was capable and willing to engage in Afghanistan played a role in this initial difference, but this doesn’t explain everything. Europeans had a genuine problem with the U.S. approach, which, over the years, kept focusing on security at the expense of politics and a sustained effort at national cohesion. As a result, all Afghan political institutions were created in a way that reflected Washington’s desire for expediency rather than a need to ensure the political system’s sustainability.
Torn between their willingness to demonstrate solidarity with Washington after 9/11 and their perception that the goals of the mission, as defined by Washington, were unachievable, many European countries limited their investment to the minimum and sought instead to bring their troops home. Others, in particular the closest American allies, decided to stick to U.S. strategy even when they knew it was bound to fail. These allies paid a heavy human, financial and political price, but seemed to take some absurd comfort in the fact that the failure would be a collective responsibility.
In parallel, the temptation in Washington to blame the Europeans for the coalition failures in Afghanistan grew as it became increasingly clear that, despite the official rhetoric, the United States had achieved none of its objectives. If al Qaeda has been weakened, none of its local affiliates has been eradicated and its reemergence remains a possibility in 2014 and beyond – the reality is that the Afghan state that is emerging from the reconstruction effort is in no position to prevent this happening on its own once U.S. forces have withdrawn next year.
Ironically the impending exit from Afghanistan has only exacerbated ill feelings on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of the principle “in together, out together,” Washington decided unilaterally to withdraw, but felt let down when some of its partners decided to anticipate its own departure.
The consequences of this mutual frustration are unlikely to be spectacular. European states are too dependent on the United States for their own security to snub Washington. Nor is Afghanistan the sole reason for Washington’s diminishing commitment to European security. With the existential threat of the Soviet Union long gone and given European governments’ dwindling capacity to contribute to collective security, the continent no longer constitutes a strategic concern for Washington. At the same time, the war-weary and fiscally-stressed United States is increasingly reluctant to commit to foreign military adventures. These two phenomena, neither of which is directly or exclusively related to Afghanistan, are pulling the two sides of the Atlantic apart.
Future conflicts may not exactly look like Afghanistan, but there is a good chance they will share some of its characteristics, in particular the primacy of politics and the relatively secondary character of military force. In Afghanistan, most U.S. allies concurred with the perception that the conflict could not be solved kinetically. However, for a variety of reasons, they never really stood against that dominant U.S. paradigm. Instead, they let themselves become part of a succession of U.S. military strategies that all proved short lived.
The result of all this is a collective failure that from next year will very likely translate into a loss of credibility not just for the U.S., but for the entire Western alliance.

Afghan Authorities Probe Child Marriage
Authorities in the Afghan province of Jowzjan have annulled the marriage of a seven-year-old girl, whose father admits giving her away in return for $2,000.
Authorities in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan have launched a probe against a father, who has acknowledged forcing his seven-year-old daughter to marry a man five times her age. Ramadan, who like many Afghans goes by one name, blamed his action on poverty that has plagued his family.
"We didn't have a place to live, we were hungry, we had debts," he said. "I regretted doing this the day I did it. I regret it now."
He acknowledged marrying off his underage daughter in return of some $2,000, and foodstuffs, including rice and wheat.
Jowzjan police officials say a criminal case was opened after Ramadan's wife complained to local human rights groups and officials that her eldest daughter was being subjected to violence by her in-laws.
"My daughter was married for nearly one year, and during this time she ran away from her home twice," said the mother, who didn't give her name. "Her husband beat her frequently. I didn't want my daughter to go back to her marital home but her husband would come and take her back by force." Police have arrested Ramadan and his 35-year-old son-in-law, Asadullah, as well as the mullah who conducted an Islamic marriage ceremony for the couple. The mullah, Mawlawi Noor, who was released on bail, insists the parents lied to him about the girl's age. Many Afghans do not have birth certificates, and it's not uncommon for religious marriage ceremonies to be conducted without the bride's and the groom's identity documents. Instead, two witnesses and two representatives of each party are invited to be present at the marriage ceremony to testify about the couple's real names, ages, and marital status, if the mullah requires such information.
Poverty, Drug Addiction
According to Ewazali Saberi, a children's rights advocate for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, the authorities should also punish the witnesses and the family representatives for "withholding information about the girl's age" during the marriage ceremony.
"The two witnesses and the two family representatives should be held responsible for their actions," he said. "Police haven't investigated these people so far."
Authorities have annulled the marriage, as the investigation continues.
"This marriage violates both Afghan laws and religious norms," said Abdulmalek Mamnun, the head of the criminal investigation department of Jowzjan Province.
Human rights groups as well as women and children's organizations have been involved in the case.
Maghferat Samimi, the head of the regional Human Rights Organization said "locking up a few culprits doesn't resolve the problem, we need to do more."
"The father of the girl is a drug addict," she added. "He doesn't understand his children's rights. Poverty in one hand, and drug addiction in the other, has led the man to take such actions against his own children."
In a joint meeting this week in the provincial capital, Sheberghan, local authorities, court representatives, and human rights officials decided to send Ramadan to a drug rehabilitation center in neighboring Balkh Province.
The mother was placed in a Sheberghan safe house for women, while her four children have been transferred to a nearby children's home.
Local authorities say they are considering "finding a suitable job for the mother -- in the women's shelter or children's home -- to help the family rebuild their lives."

Pakistan politician pays £10 in taxes

Super-rich politicans are paying minicisule amounts of tax in Pakistan, if they pay tax at all
By Rob Crilly
Almost half the members of Pakistan’s national and provincial parliaments did not pay any tax last year, according to the latest survey of MPs’ finances. More than one in 10 does not even have a National Tax Number and even those that do pay up offer paltry amounts. Although the results are an improvement on last year’s numbers, the figures will cause outrage in an impoverished country where a third of the population survives on less than 30p a day and will anger donors who provide billions of pounds for basic services. British aid to Pakistan has soared in the past two years and earlier this year MPs recommended that the government only increase payments further if Pakistan improves its collection rate. The report will raise awkward questions for many of Pakistan’s richest and most powerful figures.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister who comes from a wealthy family which made its fortune with steel mills and lives on a vast estate with more than 100 peacocks, declared that he paid about £15,000 in income tax last year.
Other politicians said they had paid as little as £10.
Tackling corruption is also a key requirement of a recent £4billion International Monetary Fund loan package designed to shore up the country’s failing economy. The new report, published by the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, used data collected from the Election Commission, which publishes financial declarations from political candidates. The drop in non-payers – from two thirds in 2011 - suggests that either scrutiny has forced more to file returns or that elections this year, in which the Pakistan People’s Party was defeated by Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), may have cleared out some of the most corrupt politicians. However, Umar Cheema, the report’s author, said the high level of tax evasion and avoidance through amnesties and exemption, meant more of the burden fell on the poor who could not escape indirect taxation. “This tax evasion culture is practised within Parliament and subsequently prevails in all sections of society,” he wrote. “When law-makers would not pay tax, they lose moral authority to pressurise others for the compliance of laws.” As a result Pakistan has one of the lowest collection rates in the world with only about 9% of its gross domestic product collected as tax – compared with about 36% for the UK. Less than 1% of the population file income taxes. Meanwhile Britain’s Department for International Development has increased aid in order to stabilise the country, pouring more than £1billion into Pakistan over five years, mostly for its crumbling school system.

Pakistan’s answer to Simon Cowell angers TV viewers

By Rob Crilly
Pakistan Idol’s acerbic judges attract huge audience but prompt accusations that they are humiliating contestants and are too brash for local tastes
Pakistan Idol is everything you would expect from the familiar global franchise. Young hopefuls sing their hearts out on stage under the watchful eye of a panel of judges who then offer their thoughts – some constructive, some less so. In a country where politeness is an art form and saying what you really think is the height of vulgarity, the judges’ “Simon Cowell” moments have brought an angry backlash.
In one notorious exchange, Ali Azmat, lead singer with the band Junoon, mocks a male singer’s high pitched voice and then starts dancing with his head and hands in a style more generally associated with troupes of performing transvestites across South Asia.
Social media have been abuzz with condemnation and a public petition has attracted almost 1500 signatures demanding a public apology from the show’s makers for humiliating contestants. “Also I would require an assurance that such behaviour will not be repeated in future, and if at all a contestant does not fit the criteria, he/she would be given positive criticism which helps him/her grow,” runs the petition. In a country riddled by Islamic extremism, Pakistan Idol was hailed as a crucial opportunity to reclaim the country’s cultural heritage from conservatives and give traditional music a chance to flourish among a new generation of wannabes. Auditions ran in some of the most troubled parts of the country, including Swat, a region overrun by the Taliban as recently as 2009 and where Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl activist, was shot last year. The show’s first run in Pakistan began earlier this month and producers say their viewing figures make it a smash hit. In part, they say, the attraction is down to the acerbic approach of the judges. In one of the early episodes they mock Naveed Ali, a student, for his squeaky voice. “Leave it, do you remember some nursery rhyme, Oh frog, oh frog jump in the water) or sing twinkle twinkle little star. That would suit your voice,” said Mr Azmat, before asking why he thought he could sing. The exchange prompted viewers to complain that the judges were trying too hard to ape the brasher attitude of the American show - and Simon Cowell in particular – without the humour and without regard to Pakistan’s rather genteel sensibilities. “Here, it seems that the judges are trying overly hard to channel the mocking nature of their American counterparts, especially Simon, but failing miserably,” wrote Noman Ansari, a blogger. Not that the criticism has affected Mr Azmat, who has been baiting his critics on twitter this week.
And the producers are unrepentant. A show insider said: “It’s a bit of a culture shock. This is not a place where people say what they think - well not in public, at least – but it’s all part of the show.” Imran Aslam, the president of Geo TV, the channel that bought the rights to the Pop Idol franchise, promised not to tone down the criticism. “There’s certainly been some criticism of the judges but it should be taken in the spirit of the show,” he said. “If someone can’t sing, well then they can’t sing.”

An Islamic or secular Pakistan?

Did Pakistan's founder Jinnah want to create an Islamic or a secular state? The question divides Pakistanis even after 66 years of their country's independence. Some say Jinnah was not very clear about it himself.
Pakistan was probably never as divided as it is today between Islamists and liberals. What kind of state should Pakistan be? Should it be secular or Islamic? Did its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah - whose 137th birthday was on December 25 - want to establish an Islamic state or a majority-Muslim country where religious minorities and non-believers also enjoyed equal rights? It seems that even after 66 years of their independence from the British colonial rule, Pakistanis are still unclear about how their country should be.
Even many people who do not want Taliban-style Islamist rule in their country, want to see their state ruled by Islamic laws to some extent. These people oppose secularism and the Western way of life in Pakistan and make up the majority of Pakistanis. They claim that Jinnah and his All-India Muslim League party envisioned a purely theocratic state, a separate country for Indian Muslims governed by shariah law. For six decades, Pakistan's rulers have been endorsing and propagating this narrative in one form or another.
Liberal Pakistanis believe the idea that Pakistan should be a theocratic state is dangerous and has been responsible for the rise of umpteen militant Islamist movements in the country. They say that Jinnah was a whisky-swigging, Western-educated liberal and had no desire to create an intolerant Islamic state. Progressive - mostly urbanite and educated - Pakistanis see their space further shrinking in the country, and the rise of Islamism in the country worries them tremendously. The world, too, is keeping a close eye on the instability of nuclear-armed Pakistan. If the state were to fall in the extremists' hands, it could result in a regional catastrophe beyond anyone's control, say experts. The debate whether Pakistan should be a modern secular state or an Islamic one has thus gained more significance in the past few years. More so, what kind of state did Jinnah envision, as both Islamist and secular Pakistanis continue to quote Jinnah's speeches and writings in support of their views.
S. Nomanul Haq, a professor of humanities and a scholar of Islamic history and philosophy in Karachi, believes Jinnah himself was not very clear on the issue.
"I think that there is a degree of ambiguity in this matter. There is no clarity on this issue, as there are some statements by Jinnah in which he was very clear about the kind of state he had envisioned, whereas some are not so clear," Haq said, adding that the arguments of liberals that Jinnah's vision of Pakistan was secular were not very strong. "Soon after the partition of India, Jinnah asked the legislators to devise an Islamic banking system. How would you interpret that?" asked Haq. The expert said that there had to be some distinguishing characteristics of the newly-formed Pakistani state from secular India. "Jinnah thought that religion could determine that distinguishing factor." Haq says that Jinnah's personal life was very secular, however, it is unclear whether his personal attitudes had an impact on his politics. "People sometimes bring the argument that Jinnah spoke a lot about the minority rights, but speaking about minorities doesn't mean that he wanted a secular state."
But Sartaj Khan, a left-leaning political activist in Karachi, is quite unequivocal about Jinnah: "Jinnah's politics were secular. He represented the Muslim ethnic groups, not religion." Amer Ishaq Soharwardi, a journalist in Karachi, says that Jinnah definitely did not want a country that Pakistan has become over time.
"It is difficult to say whether he wanted Pakistan to be theocratic or secular. What we can say with certainty is that Jinnah desired a welfare state," Soharwardi said. "He did not want any group of a certain faith to dominate others."
Shiite activist Syed Ali Mujtaba Zaidi agrees: "I am sure that Jinnah never wanted a state where citizens were murdered in the name of Islam and where religious minorities were persecuted."
Religious identity
Irrespective of what Jinnah wanted, over the past ten years, the South Asian country has turned into a breeding ground of extremist Islamists, and an anti-secular and anti-West extremist Islamic doctrine has dominated public discourse and politics.
In this scenario, quite a few Pakistanis are now questioning the ideological basis of the partition of India and Jinnah' s politics. Islamabad-based filmmaker and social activist Wajahat Malik goes to the extent of calling the partition of India "one of the biggest blunders of the 20th century."
"What benefits have the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent reaped from the partition of India except that they are now scattered in three different countries [India, Pakistan and Bangladesh], and are subjected to sectarian and communal violence?" said Malik in an interview with DW.
Mavra Bari, an Islamabad-based journalist, thinks that any country founded on the basis of religion is bound to have problems.
I am a Pakistani, but it does not necessarily mean that I am a Muslim. Similarly, just because someone is Muslim does not mean they are more patriotic than non-Muslim Pakistanis," Bari told DW. "Religious ideology has adversely affected Pakistani citizens, particularly the minority communities," she added, saying that the premise of the partition was faulty. But the journalist Soharwardi is of the view that Pakistan should address more pertinent issues rather than wasting time on discussing the partition and what the country's founder wanted. He says that Pakistan is facing many crises and there is a dire need to focus on education, economy and nation-building. Others believe that the country cannot move forward without revising the entire ideological framework, and that is where it becomes crucial to revisit Jinnah, too.

Pakistan: Rise in government borrowing

Banks continue to invest heavily in treasury bills and the yield on the three-month bills has been increased yet again to 9.95 percent. This was the third auction for T-bills since 27th November this year. The government has so far raised 392 billion rupees from the sale of short-term T-bills with commercial banks accounting for 391 billion rupees. There were no takers for the 12-month bills, indicating that banks are reluctant to invest in the long-term; or banks' confidence in economic policies and their outcome in the long-term has yet to be restored.
The rise in borrowing indicates two disturbing elements in our economy: the government's budgeted revenue base has not kept pace with its budgeted expenditure and foreign inflows have not been sufficient to meet government expenditure, triggering further domestic borrowing.
It is, however, unclear whether the massive rise in the budgeted permanent domestic debt incorporated ongoing borrowing or whether the Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has borrowed on the assumption that tax collections would improve and pledged foreign loans would be disbursed on time. According to budget documents, the domestic permanent debt was budgeted last year at 87.8 billion rupees and the revised estimates were 87.7 billion rupees; however, the 2013-14 budgeted amount is 292.5 billion rupees, or in other words, the budgeted amount for the current year is close to 3.5 times the stock of permanent debt for last year. The major contributor to the envisaged rise in this debt in the current year is in the ijara sukuk bonds which were budgeted to raise revenue by 182.3 billion rupees in contrast to a mere 14.3 billion rupees in the revised estimates of last year. Auction for T-bills too was heavily relied on in the budget for the current fiscal year - 5870 trillion rupees in contrast to the revised 3366.7 trillion rupees for last year - a rise of 1.1 trillion rupees. These borrowings account for the higher budgeted interest payments - from 8,304 trillion rupees in the revised estimates for last year to 10,006 trillion rupees in the current year.
It also stands to reason that the rise in the yield of government paper, a product that is risk-free for the banks in contrast to lending to the private sector, reflects some hesitation on the part of banks to purchase the bills at the old yield. Domestic borrowing with the objective of financing a budget deficit is a highly inflationary policy however its inflationary impact can be minimised if the money is channelled into infrastructure development, education and health with the potential of enhancing output and consequently growth in the long run. In this context, it is relevant to point out that education and health are no longer federal subjects and the infrastructure projects remain hostage to the law and order problems as well as energy shortages.
The PML-N government has been particularly vocal about its focus on promoting private sector activity, based on the belief that the private sector can produce much more efficiently and cost-effectively relative to the public sector. However, the private sector may not have the resources or the confidence to take on large infrastructure projects and a better option in the current state of the economy would be to go for public-private partnerships. The then President, Asif Ali Zardari, never tired of rhetorically promoting public-private partnership but no work was done on the ground as the Ministry of Finance remained engaged in fire-fighting during the period 2008-2013. True that today too, the economy remains in a crisis situation but borrowing domestically and externally to bring the budget deficit down to what has been agreed with the International Monetary Fund under the 6.4 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility must not be the favoured policy. A better option would have been to proactively go after the tax evaders and enhance documentation, an approach that has been abandoned yet again after pressure from the business community; and reduce expenditure through streamlining the civil service, including the Federal Board of Revenue that has an estimated leakage of 500 billion rupees per annum.

Polio worker killed, two others injured in Peshawar firing

A polio worker was killed and two others injured Saturday when unknown gunmen attacked Peshawar’s Matni Hospital.
According to the police, unknown gunmen opened indiscriminate fire on entering the hospital and fled from the scene. Subsequently, one polio worker, Zahid Gul, was killed on the spot whereas Ward Orderly Niqab Khan and a woman sustained severe injuries. The wounded persons were provided with medical treatment. Meanwhile, policemen reached the site of incident and cordoned off the area while a search operation went underway to apprehend those responsible.
Polio workers, including females, have been targeted in Matni earlier as well.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but militants have killed several polio workers and police protecting them in recent months. Earlier on Dec 21, unknown militants gunned down a polio worker in the Jamrud Tehsil area of Khyber Agency on Saturday whereas on Dec 13, gunmen had attacked two separate polio teams in northwestern Pakistan, killing one polio worker and two police guards. Meanwhile, earlier on November 23, militants had also kidnapped teachers for supporting a polio drive but they were later released following a jirga intervention.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the polio virus is still endemic, but efforts to stamp out the crippling disease have been hit by repeated attacks on health teams.
Officials blame the violence and suspicions about the vaccine for a surge in cases. According to the World Health Organisation, Pakistan recorded 72 cases of polio this year compared to 58 in 2012.

All three children of Benazir Bhutto to enter active politics before next elections : Bravest politician in Pakistan

* True follower of the Bhutto legacy of courage * PPP patron-in-chief terms terrorists ‘wild animals’, announces jihad against monsters thirsty for human blood * Blames ‘Punjabi Establishment’ for party’s defeat in general election * Assures Nawaz of all-out help if any attempt is made to roll back democracy in country
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Friday announced his two sisters would follow him into politics before the next general elections.
“All children of Benazir Bhutto will start taking part in active politics before the next elections,” Bilawal told a huge public meeting on the sixth death anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
He asked people to support him and his sisters, Bakhtawar and Aseefa, who attended the rally along with their father, former president Asif Ali Zardari. Calling terrorists “wild animals” who are “thirsty for human blood”, the PPP leader said that his party would stand against terrorism.
“They carry out attacks in mosques and kill innocent people in the name of Islam... they are not humans,” he said.
Bilawal also demanded that the Punjab government launch a crackdown on the militants’ safe havens in the province. He said that if the government succeeded in resisting terrorists from getting shelter in Punjab, he would himself commend the act.
“If the arrow [electoral symbol of PPP] and lion [electoral symbol of ruling PML-N] jointly hunt the animals [terrorists], they could save the country from monsters.” Bilawal said he would launch a jihad against terrorists because elimination of terrorists is “the only way to restore peace in Pakistan”. Criticising the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Bilawal said the terrorist outfit killed Benazir and many other innocent people.
Accepting that the path he has chosen was full of dangers, Bilawal, in an obvious reference to the tombs of his mother and grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, said his destiny was “martyrdom and Garhi Khuda Bukhsh”. “I am not afraid. Martyrdom is my destiny and Garhi Khuda Bukhsh is my final resting place,” he added. He also criticised the TTP’s war against non-Muslims and said Islam teaches respect for all religions. According to Bilawal, peace talks with the Taliban could not be held. On behalf of his party, he suggested very strict conditions for dialogue, if any, with proscribed TTP. They include surrendering arms, blood money for victims of terrorist attacks and respect for minorities among others.
Bilawal also slammed PTI Chairman Imran Khan, saying that terrorism would not end even if drone strikes are ended.
Rejecting the link between growing extremism and drone strikes, Bilawal said Pakistan was a victim of terrorism even before the drone campaign started and that terrorist attacks would continue even if the campaign ends. He did, however, express confidence in the Pakistan Army’s eventual victory over the terrorists.
“Pakistan was a victim of terrorism even before the drone campaign started... terrorist attacks will continue even if the campaign ends,” he said, and claimed his party had halted the “tsunami” of Imran Khan at the Punjab border. “Tsunami cannot be brought by pouring water in four lotas,” he added.
Calling Imran Khan “Buzdil Khan”, the PPP leader said the PTI had blocked NATO supply line to protest the killing of slain TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud.
“Buzdil Khan has stopped NATO supplies to mourn Hakeemullah Mehsud’s killing,” he said. Assailing ideology of Imran Khan’s PTI, Bilawal said the complicated issue of terrorism and extremism was not going to get resolved through sit-ins and long marches. “It’s not a kids’ game of cricket which can be resolved through a magic bat,” he said in an obvious reference to Imran Khan.
He said it would take several generations to resolve the issue of terrorism in the country. “Friends of terrorists are traitors,” he chanted.
“Only by eradicating terrorism from society, Pakistan can become prosperous and peaceful,” he said, adding that the Pakistan People’s Party was standing in front of terrorists and blocking their way. Praising the public for strengthening democracy in the May 11 elections, he said people took revenge of his mother’s assassination by supporting the democratic forces.
“We all should congratulate former president Zardari who had spent 11 years in jail in support of democracy,” he said.
The PPP was heavily defeated in May’s general election after five years in government, following a lacklustre campaign marred by Taliban violence.
Commenting on PPP’s performance in the general elections, Bilawal blamed the ‘Punjabi Establishment’ and judiciary for his party’s defeat in the May 11 general elections. Certain elements in the establishment and judiciary did not want the PPP to come to power, he said. “Former president Asif Ali Zardari did what everyone thought was impossible and he ensured the smooth transition of power from one democratic government to another,” said Bilawal. The PPP leader said that at the time of martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan was at the brink of collapse but Asif Ali Zardari raised the slogan of “Pakistan Khapay”. Bilawal announced that he would stand by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif if any attempt was made to derail democracy. He also ruled out the notion that the PPP had changed, saying that traditions do not change. “People’s Party is passion...,” he added.
Bilawal along with his sister Bakhtawar also visited the mausoleum of martyrs of the Bhutto family. They laid a floral wreath at the grave of Benazir Bhutto and offered Fateha.
Quran khwani and Fateha were also held on the occasion for the departed soul of Benazir, as people from all walks of life paid rich tributes to the slain prime minister for her services for the cause of poor, progress and prosperity of Pakistan and restoration of democracy in the country. The main ceremony in Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, some 28 kilometres from Larkana, was also attended by former president Asif Ali Zardari, the AJK president, AJK prime minister, Gilgit-Baltistan governor, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Senate Chairman Syed Nayyar Bukhari, Rehman Malik, PPP Central Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira, Syed Naveed Qamar, Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah, Manzoor Watto, Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Khan Durrani, senators and provincial ministers.

Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary

Benazir Bhutto’s sixth death anniversary yesterday reminds us of the loss of a charismatic and courageous leader who stood for a democratic and progressive Pakistan. Her struggles against military dictatorship, beginning with the fight against the Ziaul Haq regime that hanged her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and ending with her struggle to move the country beyond General Pervez Musharraf’s grip on power remind us of the abiding memory and legacy of the youngest and first woman to be elected prime minister of a Muslim country in 1988: her amazing courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. After the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government by General Zia’s military coup in 1977, Benazir had to suffer incarceration in horrendous conditions for years. When the regime finally relented because of her ill health brought about by the prison conditions, she was allowed to go into exile, only to return triumphantly in 1986 after martial law had given way to the Zia-engineered civilian government. A perusal of her political track record may convince some critics that BB’s record in opposition and struggle was far better than her accomplishments in office. But that critique is mitigated by the caveat that while she was in office twice, the powers that be hampered and hindered her ability to wring the changes in state and society she desired fully, while preventing her enjoying a full tenure in both her stints. Along the way, the Bhutto family had added two brothers to the toll the struggle had taken. In the second, Murtaza’s case, the brother was killed and the sister thrown out of office in a sinister conspiracy in 1996. The hounding through the courts that followed finally persuaded BB to opt for self-imposed exile for eight years. Being abroad did not mean BB was out in the cold. She continued to manoeuvre intelligently by persuading Nawaz Sharif, also in exile albeit forced, that the democratic forces needed to stand together if military rule was to be overcome now and in the future. This compact was enshrined in the Charter of Democracy, one of the finest documents in support of a democratic order produced in Pakistan’s chequered history. BB’s return in 2007 was accompanied by real and perceived threats to her life, a threat that was demonstrated in bloody fashion on October 18, 2007, the day of her return, in Karachi when her entourage was bombed, killing almost 200 of the PPP’s workers and supporters. Shocking as the incident was, in which BB escaped harm fortuitously, neither she nor her committed workers and supporters abandoned reaching out to the public for the sake of a democratic transition so sorely needed after Musharraf’s eight years of despotic rule. The fact that she did not live to see those hopes translated into reality is perhaps the biggest tragedy in the history of our benighted land. The BB who returned from her second exile had matured into a leader capable of much more than her admittedly considerable accomplishments before. Hence, the greater the loss to the country and its polity.
It must be admitted with regret that those who took up the mantle of BB’s political legacy after her departure from this world failed to perform in a manner worthy of their great late leader. Cronyism, nepotism, allegations of massive corruption and sheer demonstrated incompetence characterised the PPP government from 2008 to 2013. It was no surprise therefore that the electorate punished the party by reducing the country’s largest federal party with a presence throughout the country to a rump entity with a government in its traditional stronghold of Sindh, but with its credibility and appeal considerably dented. The party has been led since BB’s demise by former president Asif Ali Zardari. While an ostensible generational transition is in progress to Asif and BB’s children, particularly the heir-apparent Bilawal, it remains to be seen how far the next generation can transform the fortunes of the party by freeing themselves from the recent poor past and appealing to the youth bulge in our society. With regret it must also be recorded that despite being in power for five years, and four international and domestic investigations, the PPP was unable to complete the task of bringing BB’s murderers to justice. History may record this as the greatest failure of the party of all. Musharraf and some others finally stand indicted in the assassination case, but closure still seems a long way away.

اداریہ تعمیر پاکستان: ویل ڈن بلاول بھٹو زرداری

by Aamir Hussaini
27- دسمبر گڑھی خدا بخش کے قبرستان میں بے نظیر بھٹو کی چوتھی برسی کے موقعہ پر پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کے چئیرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے جو تقریر کی اسے معرکۃ الآراء تقریر کہا جاسکتا ہے یہ تقریر پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی کی اس سیاست کی طرف دوبارہ جانے کا اعلامیہ بھی کہی جاسکتی ہے جس سے پیپلزپارٹی کی قیادت کافی عرصے سے توبہ تائب نظرآتی تھی پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کی قیادت نے پاکستان کے اندر تکفیری دیوبندی گروہ اور اس کی سب سے بڑی علامتی طاقت تحریک طالبان پاکستان کے بارے میں 2008ء سے 2013ء تک جو رویہ اور پالیسی اختیار کئے رکھی اس نے پی پی پی کے نظریاتی تشخص کو خاصا نقصان پہنچایا پاکستان پیپلزپارٹی کی سرکاری طور پر ظاہر ہونے والی پالیسیوں میں پاکستان مسلم لیگ نواز کی فکری اور عملی کج روئیوں سے اغماض برتنے کی پالیسی نے بھی عام جیالے کو مایوس کیا تھا پی پی پی کی قیادت نے پاکستان تحریک انصاف کے ابھار اور اس کے لیڈر عمران خان کی پنجاب میں مقبولیت کا بھی غلط تجزیہ کیا تھا اور اس پارٹی کو مسلم لیگ نواز کی جگہ سیکڑنے کے تجزئیے کرتے ہوئے یہ اندازا نہیں لگایا کہ یہ پارٹی دائیں بازو کے زیادہ شدت پسند موقف کو جواز بخشنے والے اقدامات کرے گی اور اس معاملے میں نواز لیگ سے بھی دو ہاتھ آگے چلی جائے گی بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے گڑھی خدا بخش کے قبرستان میں ڈائس پر کھڑے ہوکر جب یہ اعلان کیا کہ “پنجاب میں مسلم لیگ نواز اگر دھشت گردوں کے خاتمے اور غربت مکانے کے لیے کام کرے گی تو وہ نواز شریف کے ساتھ کھڑے ہوجائیں گے” تو یہ بہت واضح اشارہ تھا کہ پی پی پی مصلحت پسندی کے دائروں سے اب باہر آنے کو تیار ہوچکی ہے بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے جس طرح سے دیوبندی تکفیری خارجی آئیڈیالوجی کی علمبردار تحریک طالبان پاکستان کے خلاف اعلان جہاد کیا اور پنجابی اسٹبلشمنٹ کو للکارا اس سے پتہ چل گیا کہ پی پی پی کا نیا چئیرمین وقتی مصلحتوں کے ساتھ سیاست نہیں کرے گا بلاول بھٹو زرداری روزبروز بے پناہ سیاسی بلوغت کا مظاہرہ کررہے ہیں انہوں نے اس طرح کی بلوغت کا اظہار اس وقت کرنا شروع کیا تھا جب انہوں نے سلمان تاثیر شہید کی شہادت پر لندن میں ایک پریس کانفرنس کی تھی اس پریس کانفرنس کے دوران انہوں نے پی پی پی کے باقی لیڈروں کی طرح معذرت خواہانہ رویہ اختیار نہیں کیا تھا اور دیوبندی تکفیری دھشت گردوں اور ان کے روحانی باوا جان جنرل ضیاءالحق کی باقیات کو اسی طرح سے للکارا تھا جیسے ان کی نانی نصرت بھٹو اور ماں بے نظیر بھٹو للکارا کرتی تھی بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے 2011ء میں بھی بے نظیر بھٹو کی برسی پر تقریر کرتے ہوئے انصاف کو کانا کردینے والے چیف جسٹس کے بارے میں جو باتیں کی تھیں وہ مصلحت آشنا نہیں تھیں یہ بلاول بھٹو زرداری تھے جنہوں نے شیعہ برادری کی نسل کشی پر رد عمل ایسے دیا کہ ایک باقاعدہ پریس کانفرنس کی اور کہا کہ “آج سے وہ بلاول ہاؤس پر علم عباس لہرارہے ہیں اور اعلان کرتے ہیں کہ پی پی پی کا ہر جیالا شیعہ اور ہزارہ ہے” یہ بلاول بھٹو زرداری تھے جنہوں نے رنکل کماری کیس پر ہندؤں کے حق میں وہ باتیں کیں جو کوئی کرنے کو تیار نہیں تھا بلاول بھٹو نے 27 دسمبر سے ایک دن پہلے کہا کہ “ان کی شدید خواہش ہے کہ اپنی زندگی میں پاکستان کا مسیحی وزیر اعظم دیکھ لیں” بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے وزیراعظم نواز شریف کی جانب سے صنعتوں کے قومیائے جانے کے خلاف بیان اور نجکاری کی حمائت میں دئے جانے والے بیان کے خلاف جو آرٹیکل لکھا وہ بھی اس بات کا آئینہ دار تھا کہ ان میں پی پی پی کو پھر سے غریب دوست جماعت بنانے کی صلاحیت بدرجہ اتم موجود ہے اس آرٹیکل سے پہلے بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے سابق چیف جسٹس افتخار چوہدری کی رخصتی پر جو کالم لکھا تھا وہ بھی پی پی پی کے اپنے اصل ٹریک کی جانب مراجعت کی طرف ایک اشارہ تھا پی پی پی کے چئیرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے سیاسی مفاہمت کی نئی تعریف متعین کرڈالی ہے انہوں نے واضح کیا ہے اس مفاہمت کے دائرے سے تحریک طالبان سمیت تمام وہ دھشت گرد انتہا پسند گروہ خارج ہیں جو اس ملک کے شیعہ،اہل سنت بریلوی،احمدی،عیسائی،ہندؤں کو سماجی طور پر خارج کرنے کی فکر رکھتے ہیں انہوں نے مسلم لیگ نواز پر بھی واضح کیا ہے کہ اس سے تعاون اور مفاہمت کی شرط مسلم لیگ نواز کی جانب سے پنجاب میں تکفیری دیوبندی دھشت گرد نیٹ ورک کے خاتمے اور غریب کش پالیسیوں سے باز آجانا ہے –اس سے ہٹ کر کوئی مفاہمت نہیں ہوگی بلاول بھٹو نے نظریاتی بنیادوں پر بہت واضح ریڈ لائن کھینچ دی ہے اور یہ پی پی پی کی نظریاتی اساس کی بحالی کا اعلان ہے جس سے پی پی پی سے قدرے مایوس نظر آنے والے پی پی پی کے روآغتی حامی حلقے پھر سے پی پی پی کے ساتھ اپنی جڑت مضبوط کرنے میں کامیاب ہوں گے تعمیر پاکستان ویب سائٹ نے پی پی پی کی پالیسیوں پر جس دوستانہ تنقید کا فوقتا فوقتا اظہار کیا اس تنقید کو پی پی پی کے چئیرمین بلاول بھٹو زرداری نے بہت سنجیدگی سے لیا اور صورت احوال میں خاصی بہتری نظرآرہی ہے بلاول بھٹو جس ترقی پسند ریڈیکل سوچ کے ساتھ پارٹی کی قیادت کررہے ہیں اور ابھی کچھ عرصے بعد ان کی آواز بطور قائد حزب اختلاف قومی اسمبلی میں بھی گونجے گی اس سے پاکستان کی سیاست میں ترقی پسند سیاست کا نیا باب وا ہوتا نظر آرہا ہے بلاول بھٹو ٹھیک ٹھیک نشانہ لگارہے ہیں-اس بات کا اندازا ان کے مخالفین کے بیانات سے ہوتا ہے آئی ایس آئی اور پنجابی اسٹبلشمنٹ کی کمائی پر راج کرنے والی شریں مزاری اور کالعدم سپاہ صحابہ پاکستان کے سرپرست رانا ثناءاللہ کی بدزبانی بلاول بھٹو کو کوئی نقصان پہنچا نہیں سکتی بلکہ یہ بلاول بھٹو کی سیاست کی کامیابی کی علامت ہے فرانسیسی خبر رساں ایجنسی اے ایف پی کے تجزیہ نگار نے بلاول بھٹو کی بے نظیر بھٹو شہید کی برسی پر کی جانے والی تقریر کے دوران بلاول بھٹو زرداری کے انداز اور لہجے کے بارے میں تبصرہ کرتے ہوئے ٹھیک ہی کہا ہے کہ “انداز بھٹو جیسا اور لہجہ بے نظیر جیسا” اس کے ساتھ ساتھ یہ بھی کہا جاسکتا ہے کہ بلاول بھٹو کی سوچ میں آج کے حالات کی جھلک بھی نظر آتی ہے-بلاول بھٹو جتنی بے باکی سے پاکستان کی نسلی اور مذھبی اقلیتوں کے حق میں بات کررہا ہے اتنی بے باکی سے پہلے کبھی نہیں کی گئی تھی بلاول کے بارے میں تعمیر پاکستان ویب سائٹ کی ٹیم کا تبصرہ بس یہی ہوسکتا ہے کہ “ہونہار بروا کے چکنے چکنے پات”
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Pakistan: Raja Bazaar Mosque, Seminary Were Built On ‘Disputed’ Land
blockquote>The mosque and the cloth market in Raja Bazaar, which were burnt during the Ashura violence and subsequently pulled down for being dangerous, stood on the disputed land of a Hindu temple, it has been learnt. An official of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) told Dawn that the department was the owner of the land. He said after Pakistan came into being, the mosque was built on a piece of land surrounded by the temple.
During the 1980s, the ETPB handed over an additional piece of land to the seminary on the directives of the then military dictator, Ziaul Haq and the clerics expanded the building. “Total 103 shops were constructed on Khasra No U-1310 and U1310/A under the name of Madina Market and 22 shops on the temple property, U-1330, 1331 and 1332.” He added that the issue was taken up with the federal secretary religious affairs and minorities in 1985 but it was still not resolved. He admitted that the ETBP did not pursue the matter fearing a religious backlash. When the mosque and cloth market were burnt in the sectarian clash, rescue officials broke a building in front of the plaza on the Hamilton Road side to enter the premises.
The temple, built on 12×14 square feet, became visible after the demolition of the burnt-down building. Jag Mohan Arora, a leader of the Hindu community, said he never visited the temple because it remained hidden among the buildings. “This is very strange that the temple remained out of the sight of the clerics. I was of the view that the temple had already been pulled down because over 10 temples in the city were demolished after the Babri mosque incident in 1992,” he said.
In a report, the ETPB Rawalpindi chapter stated that it owned total two residential properties and six commercial units, comprising the madressah, mosque and the cloth market.
The residential area of the two buildings owned by the ETPB was on rent of Rs590 per month and Rs900 per month, four commercial units adjoining the temple area rented out on Rs93 per month to Rs3,401 per month. However, the area comprising the madressah, mosque and the cloth market, including Madina Market and Al-Umar Plaza, were under litigation since 1985.
“At present, the case is pending with the federal secretary,” the report said. When contacted, ETBP assistant administrator Asif Khan said the land on which the mosque and madressah had been built was disputed. He added that not the whole land but some of its portions given to the seminary during the Zia era were disputed. Maulana Ashraf Ali, the caretaker of the Taleemul Quran Madressah, told Dawn that his late father Maulana Ghulamullah Khan had established the mosque and seminary after partition.
“Hindus gave their property to my farther before leaving for India and I have all the documents. The land of the mosque is not disputed nor is the mosque built on the temple land. If we had any bad intention, how could the temple remain intact,” he said.

Pakistan: Denationalization Of Christian Institutions:Property Of Saint Francis School Yet To Be Handed Over To Christains
Pakistan Christian League condemns ruling party for not giving possession of property Saint Francis School in Lahore to the Catholic Archdiocese. - See more at:
In line with details, Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC stalwartly criticized the Punjab government for not transferring ownership of land of St. Francis School Anarkali Lahore to the Catholic Archdiocese of Lahore although payments of denationalization have been carried out. According to sources: The Catholic Diocese of Lahore had paid amount of One Hundred and Eighty Thousands of Rupees as fees for de-nationalization of St. Francis School to provincial government of Punjab but possession of said property is never transferred to diocese.”
It is worth mentioning here that the Christian schools, colleges and hospitals were nationalized by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government in 1972, which were later to some extent de-nationalized during Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s rule however, there are more than 100 schools, 3 colleges and 2 hospitals which are still under control of provincial governments. At time of nationalization of Christian institutions the then government settled that properties of these institutions shall be treated as rented by government.
Dr. Nazir Bhatti said: As St. Francis School ground is adjacent to Anarkali Bazar which is very valuable commercial zone of Lahore, it is feared that Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group PML (N) leaders in Punjab government have planned to grab valuable land of St. Francis School ground to build a commercial plaza and handing over of property of St. Francis School is intentionally delayed by authorities. Dr. Nazir Bhatti put forward his demand for an instant transfer of entire land of St. Francis School Anarkali Lahore to the Catholic Diocese of Lahore. According to Pakistan Christian Congress St. Francis School lies in election constituency of Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Nawaz Sharif, therefore, in case of stubborn negligence in transfer of St.Francis School land or illegal grabbing of its land, Mian Nawaz Sharif will be held accountable.
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Pakistan: Dreary Christmas Behind The Bars For A Blasphemy Accused

''A blasphemy accused tells his tale from behind the bars.''
A Christian held captive in a Pakistani prison disclosed an account of his ordeal to an international organization from his prison cell about the trials surrounding his detention and present confinement.
Adnan Prince, a Pakistani Christian 26 years of age who is publicly known as Adnan Masih was accused by his colleague of committing blasphemy. Subsequent to the accusation, Adnan went into hiding, however, returned a month later after police hooked a number of of his family members. The international agency met with Adnan Masih in his jail cell in Lahore.
Adnan’s account is presented as below:
It all started on Oct. 7 when Adnan was filling in for his brother at the Diamond Glass shop in Lahore. During his shift, Adnan who holds a master’s degree in English literature says he found a copy of a controversial book and started to read it and to make notes inside it.
While Adnan was reading the book, a Muslim colleague of his, Abid Mehmood, spotted him and took offence. The next day, Mehmood went to the local police station and alleged that Adnan had “marked several pages … with abusive words. Hearing that he had been accused, Adnan fled. However, he claims that he did nothing wrong.“I found the book quite erroneous, giving incorrect information about Christianity,” he said. “So I wrote comments with biblical references in several places, but no abusive language was used.”
After Adnan had fled, his brother, mother, aunt and uncle were arrested and told they would not be released until he returned. Hearing of his family’s arrests, Adnan returned home on Nov. 6. Once at the police station, Adnan said he was told to keep it quiet that he had been arrested on blasphemy charges, for fear of attacks by other prisoners. But he also said that police tortured him at night. “The police were on the verge of killing me after I surrendered to them, but God kept me safe by His grace,” he said. “When I came to my senses [after one round of torture], I was told that a heavy machine would be rolled over my thighs, which would not only be painful but would render me permanently impotent. Then the deputy superintendent of police pushed the barrel of a pistol into my mouth and told me to confess that I had written abusive words in the book. He said he would count to three and that if I didn’t confess, he would pull the trigger.” Adnan added that on one occasion he was taken outside and told that he was free to go.
“But I knew they were lying and would shoot me from behind if I left,” he said. “I told them that if you want to shoot me, then shoot me in the chest and not in the back. They stopped torturing me when they felt they would not be able to shake my resolve.”
Adnan’s lawyer Aneeqa Maria, director of The Voice Society, told that the police were legally bound to present him before a court within 24 hours after his first arrest, but that they did not do so for fear of starting a riot. “Every day dozens of bearded men crowded the courtroom where Adnan was to be presented, so the police kept lingering on,” she said. Adnan was brought before the court after three days, and then transferred to Lahore District Jail, where he is confined to a small cell on his own. He said that he was being kept away from other prisoners for his protection. His trial has yet to begin. In the meantime, there is a petition in for him to be released on bail.
Before Adnan turned himself in, a letter was sent to a Christian colony in Wassanpura, Lahore, near to where Adnan lived, saying: “Every Christian household in this area is being told to immediately vacate their houses. This time you are verbally warned, but the next time you will be burned and killed.”
One of the Christians in the colony, Javed Masih, lodged a complaint with the local police. “After Adnan and his family had fled from their houses, these extremists were looking for an excuse to attack us,” he said. “For this reason about 12 families fled, while several other families sent their women to their relatives for fear of an attack from the Muslims.” Police stationed themselves outside the colony for a week, and then left. Following this, Adnan submitted a petition to the court for continued protection. - See more at:

Pakistan: PIA pilot goes on leave after facing blasphemy charges
A senior pilot of Pakistan's state-run airlines has gone on leave after he being accused of blasphemy for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed. This is the first incident of its kind in the history of the Pakistan International Airlines.Officials said today that the president of the PIA employees association, Hidayatullah Khan, complained to the airline's chairman that the senior pilot used derogatory words about a 'kalma' or Islamic declaration of faith and the Prophet in the presence of many colleagues. A three-member committee, set up to probe the matter, recorded the statements of the pilot's colleagues and submitted its recommendations to the chairman. The committee's findings have not been made public but a PIA official said that it had declared the pilot guilty of blasphemy and recommended he should be removed from service. The pilot went on leave to save himself from "extremist elements" in the airline, sources said. Some of his friends even suggested he should leave the country to save his life, they said. Under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, a blasphemer faces life imprisonment or the death penalty. Rights groups have said the law is often misused to settle personal scores or persecute minority communities. "You see blasphemy is the most sensitive issue in Pakistan and one may lose one's life if he or she faces blasphemy charges," said a PIA official, who did not want to be named.
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Pakistan's State of Denial

It was a Pakistani journalist, Anthony Mascarenhas, who gave the world the first detailed account of Bangladesh’s war of independence. In April 1971, soon after the army of Pakistan started suppressing the secessionist movement in what was then still the eastern part of the country, it invited Mr. Mascarenhas to report on the conflict, believing he would buttress the false propaganda of a just war. Mr. Mascarenhas promptly moved his family, and then himself, to Britain knowing that soon he would no longer be able to live in Pakistan. “For six days as I traveled with the officers of the 9th Division headquarters at Comilla I witnessed at close quarters the extent of the killing,” Mr. Mascarenhas wrote in a lengthy, damning report published under the headline “Genocide” in the June 13, 1971, edition of The Sunday Times. “I saw Hindus, hunted from village to village and door to door, shot off-hand after a cursory ‘short-arm inspection’ showed they were uncircumcised. I have heard the screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House (civil administrative headquarters) in Comilla. I have seen truckloads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off ‘for disposal’ under the cover of darkness and curfew.” Four decades later, Mr. Mascarenhas’s government still insists on denying the past: the mass killing of civilians (perhaps as many as three million), the targeting of Hindus, the systematic rape of thousands. On Dec. 16, Pakistan’s National Assembly adopted a resolution expressing concern over the recent execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s leading Islamic party, who was convicted by a Bangladeshi court of committing murder and rape while collaborating with the Pakistani Army during the 1971 war. Calling Mr. Mollah a Pakistani sympathizer — and the independence of Bangladesh “the fall of Dhaka” — a multiparty majority of the assembly complained that Mr. Mollah was sentenced because of his “loyalty to Pakistan” and asked the Bangladeshi government to drop all other cases against the Jamaat leadership. There is no doubt the Pakistani Army committed war crimes in 1971. Yet in history books and schoolrooms throughout Pakistan, the army’s atrocities are glossed over. This denial prevails despite an official study by the Pakistani Army. Just after the war, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto set up an independent judicial commission to investigate atrocities committed in East Pakistan in order to understand why the army had failed there. When the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report was published in 1974, it documented how, under the pretense of quashing a rebellion, the Pakistani Army had planned and carried out the execution of intellectuals, soldiers, officials, businessmen and industrialists, and had buried them in mass graves. The commission recommended that the Pakistani government set up a special court to further investigate misconduct by the army. This never happened, and the report remained classified for nearly three decades. Five Pakistani heads of state have visited Bangladesh since 1971 without extending a formal apology. The closest any of them came to recognizing Pakistan’s wrongs was Pervez Musharraf, who wrote in 2002 in a visitors’ book at a war memorial near Dhaka, “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pains of the events of 1971. The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regrettable.” Bangladesh’s own efforts to deal with its messy birth were unsuccessful — until 2008, when the Awami League was voted into power partly on a mandate to hold a war crimes trial that would bring to justice the people who collaborated with the Pakistani Army in 1971. (By then Bangladeshis had grown weary of successive governments’ turning a blind eye to crimes many of their own families had endured.) The International Crimes Tribunal was created in 2009; 12 men have been charged so far; three of them have been convicted, including Mr. Mollah. From the outset, the court was dogged with criticism. It has been accused of skirting international procedural standards and of being politically motivated: Most of the accused are members of Jamaat-e-Islami. In December 2012, President Abdullah Gul of Turkey requested “clemency” for the defendants, on the grounds that they were “too old” to stand trial. On the eve of Mr. Mollah’s appeal, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly warned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh that Mr. Mollah’s execution would create instability on the eve of the general election set for Jan. 5. Whatever one thinks of these trials or the death penalty generally, the sentence against Mr. Mollah was handed down by an independent court in a sovereign country on the basis of extensive eyewitness testimony. And Mr. Mollah’s execution on Dec. 12 had widespread public support. Never mind Prime Minister Hasina’s flaws: At least she has had the political courage to take a stand against whitewashing the past, while the opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, has reinforced her ties with Jamaat by remaining silent on the matter. But then, a few days after Mr. Mollah’s execution — precisely on the anniversary of Pakistani Army’s surrender to independent Bangladesh — the Pakistani National Assembly adopted its denialist resolution. Instead of supporting Bangladesh’s efforts to come to terms with its brutal birth, Pakistan is pouring salt into its wounds. Pakistan, it is high time you apologize.