Thursday, January 2, 2014

Kacem El Ghazzali at the UN : Atheist bloggers in Bangladesh

Saudi Arabia stokes anti-Shia sentiment

The Saudis and the regional monarchies are funding Takfirism, thereby creating a sectarian Frankenstein's monster of fanatics beyond their control, an analyst says.
In a column for The Independent, Patrick Cockburn said Takfirism, financed by Riyadh and Persian Gulf monarchies, “is creating the ingredients for a sectarian civil war engulfing the entire Muslim world.”
“The [anti-Shia] hate propaganda is often gory and calls openly for religious war,” he wrote. Cockburn added that “anti-Shia satellite television” stations financed mainly by Saudi regime seek to sully the image of Shias.
“Shia activists point in particular to the establishment in 2009 of two satellite channels, Safa TV and Wesal TV, which they accuse of having strong anti-Shia bias,” he wrote.
The analyst stated that Saudi clerics “have shown great skill in communicating extreme sectarian views through modern communications technology such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, giving them a much wider audience than they had previously enjoyed.” He referred to a study conducted on foreign-backed militants operating in Syria, saying they mainly come from Saudi Arabia. The great majority of the militants had joined the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, both of which are highly sectarian organizations, he added.
“A deeply dangerous development is that the foreign fighters, inspired by film of atrocities and appeals to religious faith, may sign up to go to Syria but often end up as suicide bombers in Iraq, where violence has increased spectacularly in the past 12 months,” wrote Cockburn.
He said Saudi Arabia and its regional allies have funded satellite television networks “central to the resurgence of al-Qaeda across the Middle East, to a degree that Western politicians have so far failed to grasp.” Cockburn noted that the Saudi regime and other monarchies continue to support Takfiri groups “through private donations.” Saudi Arabia has played a major role in activating the sanctuaries and safe havens for al-Qaeda in Iraq and has ensured that there would be an effective recruitment by creating the ideal environment through sectarian rhetoric and divisions.
Takfiri terrorist groups who kill Muslims, including women and children, in bomb attacks in Iraq and Syria, follow the Wahhabi ideology.
Wahhabism which is practiced in Saudi Arabia is disavowed by Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Snow storm takes its hold on parts of U.S.

Snowy weather takes its grip on various parts of the U.S., threatening travelers and claiming lives. Gavino Garay reports.

Hindi Song - Ishq Main Jism Jalne De

Suraj Hua Madham - Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

Video: French firm maps cities in super-detailed 3D

Bilawal Bhutto: I can't believe this coward ever wore the uniform of our brave armed forces

The Express Tribune
BilawalBhuttoZardari @BBhuttoZardari Follow I can't believe this coward ever wore the uniform of our brave and courageous armed forces. #disgrace 2 Jan 2014
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari criticised General (retd) Musharraf on Twitter after the latter was hospitalised on his way to the treason case hearing on Thursday. Musharraf was scheduled to appear before a special court but, according to government officials, he complained of pain in his heart and instead was taken to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi. Later during the day, Bilawal Bhutto tweeted his thoughts on Musharraf’s detour from the court to the hospital.

2014 - A year to fight the fear in Afghanistan

Lyse Doucet
2014 has at last arrived and for Afghans it's more than just another year.
A decisive political moment in their tortuous history is being called everything from a phobia to a syndrome.
But no sooner had the clock struck midnight than the fight-back began, with a volley of hashtags on social media. #Afgwillliveon, #Who'safraidof2014? were some of the rallying cries in cyberspace to reject a negative narrative, lest it become self-fulfilling.
"Let's celebrate 2014 with a spirit of #Nofear #Nophobia," wrote Borhan Osman of the Afghanistan Analysts Network on Twitter.
Even in a country where every year has been called "critical," this one matters. Most foreign troops will pull out in 2014. And presidential elections are meant to usher in a peaceful transition from Hamid Karzai to an elected successor, in a country where power has long been measured on the battlefield, not ballots. Think positive These first salvos of the year were fired by young educated Afghans who've come of age since the momentous events of 2001 which ended one of the darkest periods of Afghan history under harsh Taliban rule. I asked one of the Afghans who joined this hashtag chorus to explain this defiant crescendo. "I believe Afghans have been bombarded with panic and messages of uncertainty by media during the last 12 months," replied physician Fazel Fazly in a reference to grim forecasts of civil war, financial failure, and rigged elections. "I'm a medic so my humour is medically oriented, so I call it 2014 Syndrome," he pointed out, before adding a more serious note: "Afghans can't handle widespread negativism and this can directly affect realities on the ground." Afghanistan has long been a country where perceptions of a situation can matter almost as much as realities on the ground. There's an echo of the anxiety that rippled through Kabul in the harsh winter of 1989 as Soviet troops prepared to pull out after 10 long years of war. In a capital wrapped in a blanket of snow and a swirl of rumours, there were whispered conversations about whether mujahadeen fighters in the hills around Kabul would march in once the Red Army left. Outside Afghanistan, many predicted the imminent collapse of President Najibullah's order.
As a foreigner who stayed on in Kabul after Western embassies pulled out, I kept being asked by Afghans, with palpable nervousness: "What do you think will happen?"
Gloom magnified
Collapse only came a few years later, when Moscow drew down much of its financial and political support to its allies in Kabul. Afghanistan is a very different country now but it's still rattled by pessimistic predictions, especially since they're now magnified beyond compare by social media and the unprecedented reach of televisions and telephones. As 2013 ended, President Karzai's office was batting away yet another gloomy prognosis. The latest has come from the US National Intelligence Estimate which predicted Afghanistan would descend into chaos if Kabul fails to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington, which would keep a contingent of US troops in the country after 2104.
"We strongly reject that (report) as baseless as they have in the past been proved inaccurate," asserted the President's spokesman Aimal Faizi.
Even the intelligence community is divided over how fragile gains made since 2001 are. But there's no denying that Afghanistan confronts monumental challenges this year on every front. President Karzai's insistence on delaying his signature on a security pact, supported by many Afghans, has only added to this climate of uncertainty. But it also highlights the ambivalence that now marks the relationship between Afghans and their Western partners. It's a country that still needs foreign aid and security assistance. But it also needs its own soldiers to stay at their posts, its politicians to put their country, not personal interests first, and needs a people to pull together.
Glass half full
There is real concern about aid levels, lucrative contracts, and investment plummeting as foreign troops leave. There is unease about widespread corruption. And the Taliban are still vowing to continue the fight. Afghans have already lived through a Soviet invasion and pullout, mujahedeen infighting, strict Taliban rule, and an international engagement that helped develop their country in some areas, but disappointed in others. For many Afghans, it has always been a battle just to survive. And that's just the last three decades. No wonder some young educated Afghans, in a country where about 70% of the population is under the age of 25, are starting this year with hashtags like #glasshalffull. They know this year is a year where Afghans themselves can make the difference.

In Afghanistan, Jan. 1 is a whole lot of people’s birthday — thanks to a lack of record-keeping

By Kevin Sieff
The first day of January isn’t celebrated as New Year’s Day in Afghanistan. But since the American invasion, it’s become a new kind of holiday — a de facto birthday for thousands of Afghans who don’t know when they were born.
During protracted wars in the 1980s and ’90s, the government didn’t have a system in place to register births. Because identification cards and driver’s licenses weren’t standard in this impoverished nation, families saw no reason to record the exact dates. Government paperwork asked only for an approximate birthday on the Islamic calendar. But when the United States and its NATO allies arrived, they brought with them a flurry of job opportunities, visa applications and Web sites that all required a specific birthday on the Roman calendar.
“Those of us who don’t know when we were born selected January 1st,” said a U.S. Army interpreter named Tariq, who first wrote the date on his job application with the military and would repeat it when he applied for a visa, and whenever anyone asked. “It was very easy to remember.”
Like many Afghans, Tariq, who requested that his last name not be used to avoid Taliban threats, has only a vague sense of his birthday, which occurred during the country's collapse into civil war in the early 1990s.
The question of birthdays has arisen with even greater frequency as Internet access has become more widespread, with 3G networks advertised in the country’s major cities. Urban Afghans were quick to create accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, all of which ask for the registrant’s date of birth.
In the digital age, the collective birthday has become something of an inside joke here, as young Afghans send each other messages to celebrate.
“Happy birthday to 30 friends . . . whose birthdays are tomorrow on the first of January,” Barat Ali Batoor, an Afghan refugee in Australia, wrote on Facebook.
“In two days, it’s every Afghan’s birthday,” Mohammad Hassanzai, an Afghan living in London, tweeted Monday. “I have been using the 1st of January for every online registration and social network site,” said Nazer Hussain, 23, a recent university graduate who rattled off a list of Web sites he signed up for using his fake birthday. “In the past, people weren’t well-educated enough to keep a record of birthdays.”
Some worry that the lack of official birth registration — a problem that persists today, particularly in rural parts of the country — could have serious implications.
“Birth registration is instrumental in safeguarding other human rights because it provides the official ‘proof’ of a child’s existence,” said a 2007 U.N. report on the topic. It listed Afghanistan as one of the 10 countries with the largest numbers of unregistered children.
The birth records are useful in reuniting families after conflicts or natural disasters, as well as in helping children apply for refugee status. And in the absence of a census, institutionalized birth registration can offer an estimate of the country’s population.
“In Afghanistan, even though national legislation requires registration of children at birth, 23 years of conflict decimated both the administrative mechanisms and the social institutions that support them,” the U.N. report said.
Afghanistan isn’t the only war-torn nation whose citizens have chosen Jan. 1 as a makeshift birthday. In Vietnam, Somalia and Sudan, many birth dates weren’t recorded during years of unrest and institutional upheaval. When residents applied for visas or refu­gee status, thousands chose the first of the year — or, in some cases, the U.S. State Department chose it for them. The department has bestowed that birthday upon more than 200,000 refugees since the Vietnam War, according to several estimates.
“These approximated birth dates allow the government to administer benefits and track and control immigration flow, but they lack both certainty and accuracy,” Ross Pearson wrote in December in the Minnesota Law Review.
Afghans didn’t wait to be assigned official birthdays. As U.S. immigration lawyers have accepted hundreds of visa applications, they noticed that many of their clients had already filled in their date of birth as Jan. 1. Many Afghans who are also unsure which year they were born offered their best guess on that line.
Most say they chose Jan. 1 because it was the easiest date to remember. But young Afghans in particular have coalesced around it — celebrating a mass birthday that is also an implicit acknowledgment of their country’s troubles.
The country’s famous actors, such as Basir Mujahid; its athletes, such as cricket player Hasti Gul Abid; and its politicians, such as Mohammad Daud Daud, the former police chief of northern Afghanistan, all publicly celebrate their birthdays on Jan. 1. Many Afghans, particularly the young, digitally savvy generation, remain curious about their true birthdays. But their parents don’t offer much clarity, or at least enough to warrant a change.
“I’m not sure,” Hussain said about his real birthday. “I think it was sometime in the spring.”

Time to leave Afghanistan for good
The longest war in American history drags on, with Washington a captive of purposeless inertia. The Obama administration should bring all U.S. forces home from Afghanistan and turn the conflict over to the Afghans.
After Afghan-based terrorists orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Washington invaded the Central Asian nation. The Bush administration had little choice but to make an example of the Taliban regime as well as target al-Qaida. But the lesson that governments which allow terrorist attacks on America lose power was delivered 12 long years ago. The Bush administration soon switched to nation-building in Central Asia.
President Barack Obama then made the war his own, twice increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. Still, he promised that U.S. forces would return home. Last year Vice President Joe Biden stated simply: “We are leaving in 2014. Period.”
But now the administration wants to keep between 8,000 and 15,000 troops on station for years if not forever. The newly negotiated Bilateral Security Agreement would run until “the end of 2024 and beyond.”
Why? Afghanistan never was vital to America. Not even during the Cold War, when after the Soviet invasion in December 1979 the conflict offered a convenient and inexpensive (for Washington, not the Afghan people) opportunity to bleed Moscow dry.
Osama bin Laden again focused U.S. attention on Afghanistan, but only the transitory terrorist connection made control of Kabul critical to America. Observed Biden: “we went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans, al-Qaida. … That was our purpose.”
So what is Washington doing there today? A mix of nation-building, democracy-promotion, and humanitarian intervention.
However, if the Afghan political system is not stable after years of allied military and financial support, the few thousand personnel the Obama administration hopes to keep in country won’t make much difference. Moreover, war is a dubious humanitarian tool. Afghanistan has been ravaged by decades of conflict. Why else should Washington stay in Afghanistan? The country’s travails are destabilizing its neighbors, most obviously Pakistan, but the conflict is the most harmful factor. Continuing war after a U.S. withdrawal could affect other local powers, including India, Iran, and Russia, but the price of conflict without America is likely to remain far less than with America. Lastly, when I visited Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, allied commanders and officials routinely justified the Western presence as being necessary to prevent an al-Qaida revival. However, terrorists don’t need to locate in Afghanistan when they can operate in Pakistan and many other nations. Three years ago CIA Director Leon Panetta concluded: “At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less” al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida affiliates seem to be far more active in Yemen, Syria, and increasingly Iraq than in Afghanistan. Moreover, even a triumphant Taliban wouldn’t likely welcome back the group that brought down the wrath of America. Indeed, concluded a Washington Post story on administration deliberations: “Many of the groups that U.S. forces target in Afghanistan — most notably the Afghan Taliban — do not appear eager to attack Americans or U.S. interests outside the country.” The strongest argument against the “zero option” of no troops is that it would limit Washington’s capability to strike elsewhere, most notably in Pakistan. However, the thousands of military personnel, servicing a complex of bases, communications facilities, airfields, and out-size embassy, look more configured to act in the civil war that is likely to continue. Americans have been fighting in Afghanistan for longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. America has overstayed its welcome. It’s time to go home. Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
From The Detroit News:

Option being considered to send Musharraf abroad for treatment

An option is under consideration to send General (retd) Pervez Musharraf abroad for medical treatment as the former military ruler suffered from “heart problem” when he was on his way to appear before the court today (Thursday), sources said. According to the sources, the decision whether to send Musharraf abroad or to treat him in the country would be taken after the release of his medical report. The sources further said that wife of Musharraf, Begum Sehba Musharraf has reached Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC), where his husband is currently under treatment. The daughter of Musharraf has also been called from Karachi to Islamabad. Musharraf fell sick on Wednesday evening after which a team of doctors examined him, the sources added.

Pakistan's ‘Insufficient evidence’: Peshawar High Court grants bail to 16 suspects in Kohat arson case

The Express Tribune
The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Wednesday granted bail to 16 suspects arrested for setting shops and other property on fire in Kohat district. The accused were allegedly protesting against the riots in Rawalpindi, where 10 people were killed during sectarian clashes on November 16. A single-member bench was informed by petitioners’ counsels Muhammad Saeed and Ibrar Alam that a case against the accused was registered in an anti-terrorism court. The FIR, however, mentions that the number of people who damaged the properties ranged from 150 to 200. Seven of the accused were directly named in the case, while others were arrested later, the defence said.
The counsels further said there is no evidence of the charges made against their clients. They argued that apart from naming them in the FIR, the police has no other proof against the 16 men. Justice Musarrat Hilali said the protesters set public property on fire, which is unacceptable. The state’s counsel asked the court to dismiss the bail application of all those who were arrested in the case. The court, however, accepted the applications of the accused and ordered their release.

Pakistan: The remaking of PPP

THE interest a large section of society showed in Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s speech of last Friday is understandable. The qualities of leadership he can display will be an important factor in the remaking of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
One does not have to be a supporter of the PPP to realise that its resurrection is necessary for keeping alive the option of establishing egalitarian democracy. It is for the same reason one welcomes the signs of activism in left-of-centre groups, such as the campaign for land reforms of the Awami Workers’ Party and the decision of the Awami Party of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan’s National Party to work together.
These efforts are welcome because the political landscape is now almost wholly occupied by rightist formations — from right and extreme right to militant right.
In this situation there will be little room for welfarism, basic liberties will be at a discount, the space for civil society organisations is bound to shrink, and the moves to end the imbalance in civil-military relations may run aground. The rise of indigenous neo-con theorists is ominous because they have less capacity to do good than their Western godfathers while their potential for causing harm is perhaps unlimited.
Pakistan badly needs strong left-of-centre voices to prevent the state from becoming completely insensitive to the needs and aspirations of the impoverished masses. The developments in PPP are important because of the party’s past successes and since it still has a power base in one federating unit.
There was much in Bilawal’s latest speech that deserved notice. His stand on terrorism, for instance, won applause for his courage and clarity of perception. He should know that there is no possibility of a non-Muslim’s becoming prime minister for many decades, yet he lifted the hearts of non-Muslim citizens as nothing else has done since the Aug 11, 1947 speech of the Quaid-i-Azam. Still, much more has to go into Bilawal’s education and training before he can claim the mantle of his mother and grandfather. The stress on the grooming of Bilawal seems to be part of the belief that the PPP must throw up a dominating leader who has a direct rapport with the masses. That alone will not be enough. The party has a huge leadership vacuum at the centre. Most of the dignitaries that flanked the party chief during the recent past have pushed themselves into the political wilderness and are more of liabilities than assets. In fact, the decline in the quality of the party’s central leadership has been going on for nearly two decades.
Mr Bhutto was fortunate in having around him quite a few leaders of standing in politics whom he often had to listen to. As he lost them one after another the quality of central leadership declined and Benazir Bhutto had to make do with a company in which spurious coins freely jostled with genuine currency. Bilawal will not be able to do much unless the gap at the top is filled by persons of high calibre and unimpeachable integrity.
The same holds good for the party’s leadership at the provincial level. One of the major mistakes of the PPP during the past six years or so has been its lack of interest in training good provincial leaders. It needs efficient organisers at the district and city levels too. The PPP will do itself wrong if it does not properly analyse its latest debacle. Mr Zardari is miles off the mark when he says that the party sacrificed 100 seats in order to save its workers’ lives. The plain fact is that in the last election, the PPP had neither workers of the kind it had 10-20 years ago nor local level leaders. Worse, in the 2013 general election it suffered a hefty erosion of its vote bank, something that had never happened before. The party has never bothered to understand why the educated middle class, the lower middle class, the artisans and petty businessmen, and the workers, on whose support the party rode to popularity in 1970, deserted it in the years that followed. This exercise has long been overdue. The politically conscious and hordes of the poor had flocked to the PPP in 1969-70 because of what it stood for. What does it stand for now?
The slogans of 1970 have little pull today. The party in its bid to woo the affluent sections of society gave up the cause of peasants and workers long ago, a costly blunder. Punjab can no longer be seduced with the promise of a 1000-year war with India. Roti, kapra aur makan — the slogan of unmatched strength ever — does not move the have-nots because no set of rulers showed the will to fulfil its promise.
The PPP also needs to give up the habit of blaming external elements for its misfortunes. That thesis is only partly correct; for much of its undoing the party has to blame itself.
The people need a new political thesis that offers something to all the diverse elements constituting Pakistan’s pluralist society. The remaking of PPP demands a great deal of work at the grass-roots level so that the party can win back the alienated cadres and convert the youth to its point of view. Electoral politics is important but more important perhaps is the need to build the party from the village and town level up. There is more wisdom and a greater capacity for sacrifices there than at the top.

Balochistan unrest: VBMP claims 161 extra-judicial killings in 2013

Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a non-profit rights group on Tuesday alleged that 161 Baloch political workers were subjected to extra-judicial killings in different parts of Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province in land mass, during the year 2013. VBMP chairman Nasrullah Baloch claimed that the gross human rights violations were being committed throughout the year in various parts of the province and ethnic Baloch political workers were picked up in violation of law and constitution.
“Secret services picked up 510 Baloch political workers,” Baloch claimed.
However, the provincial home and tribal affairs department has contradicted the claims and said that the number of missing persons was less as compared to VBMS's claims. “The number of missing persons is less than 100 across the province,” an officer of the provincial home and tribal affairs department told on condition of anonymity. Nasrullah Baloch further said the Balochistan Frontier Corps (FC) chief was also issued a contempt notice by the Supreme Court with regard to the issue of missing Baloch political workers. “Intelligence and military forces consider themselves above the law,” he added. The VBMP chairman lashed out at the elected democratic government for its failure to bring back the missing persons.
“When they were in opposition, they used to raise voice, but now they have forgotten us,” he added.
He pointed out that a new law was being framed in the country to give what he called limitless powers to intelligence agencies. Baloch urged upon the political forces, human rights organisations and civil society to join hands and stop the government from passing such a law. The VBMP chairman stated that despite tall claims of the government, mutilated bodies of Baloch political workers were still being recovered from different parts of the province.

Pakistan: Nawaz approach to terrorism: ''Fox among the chickens''

The new year has dawned with yet another indication that the government continues to flounder as far as its policy towards terrorism is concerned. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has now reportedly tasked Maulana Samiul Haq of the Akora Khattak seminary fame to facilitate bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. The Maulana, head of his JUI faction and chief of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a platform of right wing reactionary forces, is known as the ‘father of the Taliban’ as it is said his madrassa was the fount of theological training of the Taliban. Reports say after a meeting with the PM, Maulana Samiul Haq laid down his conditions for paving the way for talks with the Taliban. Amongst these, he asked the government to stop the military operation underway in North Waziristan Agency (NWA), change its pro-US foreign policy, and stop the drone strikes. On the same day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar denied Sami had been so tasked or that there was any operation going on in NWA. He also made some preposterous claims about the talks with the Taliban having made progress and that talks were ongoing. There is of course no evidence available of any such thing. The only ‘evidence’ is the stubborn refusal of the TTP to enter into any talks with the government, which it accuses of being a western puppet and complicit in targeting its leaders. That position has been reiterated by the TTP after the news of Maulana Samiul Haq’s being inducted into the talks effort. What the interior minister should be concentrating on is the formulation of a national security policy, whose elusive draft he claims is still poised to be presented before the federal cabinet (don’t hold your breath).
The PM’s turning to Samiul Haq as a possible mediator indicates two things. One, desperation stemming from the government’s having put all its eggs in the talks basket and being glaringly unable to present a convincing alternative if the talks either do not start or, fail. Two, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F seems to have been ‘dumped’ as a mediator in favour of his theological rival Sami. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has been harping on about the need for a tribal jirga to resolve the Taliban conundrum. So far, however, the government appears unconvinced that Fazlur Rehman retains the clout with the Taliban to bring this about. Hence Samiul Haq’s star seems now to be on the ascendant as far as this ‘sacred’ task of initiating talks is concerned. However, one may be excused for regarding the inducting of Maulana Samiul Haq as a case of setting the fox to guard the chickens. It remains to be seen if he can act as a mediator or remain the father of the Taliban.
The problem with the government’s approach to terrorism is that it duplicates the criticism against anti-Taliban forces that demand a military operation in FATA, first and foremost NWA, to root out local and foreign terrorists ruling the roost there, except that the government’s one-sidedness originates from the opposite starting point. While the most virulent opponents of the Taliban demand they be crushed by force, the government seems unable to have a nuanced approach, which is necessary in such complex counter-terrorism campaigns, to combine talks where possible, and that too on terms acceptable to the state, with a firm hand where talks are out of the question. The latter seems conspicuous by its absence so far. Six months have been wasted by the government in pursuing the will o’ the wisp of talks, with hardly any sign that the approach is going anywhere. The All Parties Conference convened on the subject has proved the proverbial red herring that has painted the government into the talks corner with no other strategic or tactical options in evidence. If the recent clash between the military and terrorists in NWA is anything to go by, it is time the government realised that even to persuade the terrorists to come to the negotiating table, the state must not be seen to be begging, rather it should firmly establish its writ and authority wherever it is challenged by the terrorists.

Pakistan: Double whammy for the poor

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) figures speak of the failure of the government in achieving its revenue collection targets for the period July 2013 to Dec 2013.
Even after holding back refund payments, the revenue collection fell short about Rs95 billion of the Rs1.15 trillion target. The shortfall is expected to be Rs130 billions for the whole year. The development budget for the current year will have to be slashed from Rs580 billion to Rs430 billion, as there seems no other head where expenditure can be cut.
However the most glaring letdown is in the collection of income tax, which stand at Rs375 billion even less than the IMF's conservative target of Rs380 billion. For a healthy economy we should have at least collected twice the amount in income tax; however, instead of moving in that direction, we are regressing.
When the impact of reduction in development expenditure and the trend to collect more in indirect taxes are considered together, they are a double whammy: The Rs130 billion cut in development expenditure of the government simply means work will be started on fewer social welfare projects like roads, hospitals and schools. That will translate into fewer temporary jobs for skilled and unskilled labourers employed by government contractors and the industries which manufacture products for these projects. These millions of labourers form the poorest segment of our society.
The inability of the government to widen the income tax net and collect due taxes from the four million taxable rich and increasing reliance on indirect taxes such as on sales, will enhance the distortion in our already imbalanced economy that is tilted in favour of the rich and against the poor.
Had the government any intention of taxing the rich according to their earnings, the annual budget would have set a much higher target of revenue in direct taxes. Our Finance Minister Ishaq Dar knows that FBR has listed four million potential income tax returnees and he also would know their potential to pay hundreds of billions in income tax. But he will do nothing about it. The PML-N government has not changed the direction of our economic policy; instead, it has further speeded the process of the rich collecting more wealth at the cost of the poor.
Add to the above two factors of decreasing development funds and increasing the share of indirect taxes in our revenue collection the ever rising trends of inflation and we can easily come to the conclusion that neither in the short nor in the long-term there is any hope for the poor and even lower-middle income segments of our population to see better days; the system is against them.

Pakistan's Musharraf rushed to hospital with 'heart problem'

Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was rushed to hospital Thursday after suffering a "heart problem" on his way to court for a hearing in his trial for treason, police and an aide said. The 70-year-old had been summoned to the special tribunal after failing to show up for two previous sessions due to security threats against him. Jan Mohammad, a senior police official told the court in Islamabad that Musharraf had fallen ill while being transported to the hearing under heavy security. "He has been shifted to Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology after he got heart problem," Mohammad said. An aide to Musharraf, who is facing a series of criminal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule, told AFP the retired general was in "bad shape".

Balochistan: The Mama Qadeer Factor

Mama Qadeer Baloch, the leader of the recent 750-kilometer long march from Quetta to Karachi, is not a prominent politician or a leading cleric. He still managed to draw an impressive crowed in a seminar held at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday, December 10, which was the International Human Rights Day.
Mama Qadeer is the father of late Jalil Rekhi, the secretary information of the Baloch Republican Party (B.R.P.) who disappeared in Balochistan and was found dead two years later. Now, the seventy-year old former banker has devoted his entire life to the cause of the missing Baloch persons. He insists that he would struggle until the last missing Baloch returns home. The conference organized at the Karachi Press Club was attended by hundreds of members of the civil society and the media, including Pakistan’s acclaimed novelist Mohammad Hanif.
While peacefully marching from Quetta to Karachi, Mama Qadeer says he received death threats from the intelligence agencies and the anti-Baloch death squads connected to security forces. Even the Pakistani media did not cover the long march and tried hard to keep the whole world in dark about its motives. Mama Qadeer did not give up his struggle despite deadly threats and arrogant rejection from the Pakistani media. Not only he and his colleagues, all of whom are the relatives of the disappeared people, managed to arrive in Karachi after 28 days of walking but they also made it impossible for the Pakistani media to completely snub their increasing and spreading impact. On Tuesday, human rights activists and common citizens traveled from cities other than Karachi to attend the seminar in Karachi about the missing persons. Mama Qadeer’s movement is steadily becoming too important to be ignored. Mama Qadeer and fellow protesters have now decided to embark upon another long march from Karachi to Islamabad which is twice as long as the journey from Quetta to Karachi.
“The issue of the missing persons has reached such an alarming level,” Mama Qadeer told the audience at the Karachi seminar, “everyone in Balochistan now fears being kidnapped, tortured and killed someday.”
Senior Pashtun journalist Abdul Hayee Kakar, while writing in liberal Urdu publication Enkaar about Mama Qadeer’s struggle, had rightly argued that Islamabad may be too far for him but not the mountains of Balochistan which consistently provide him an option to join the Baloch armed groups to avenge the killing of his son.
What Mama Qadeer and his fellow female and children marchers are doing is extremely courageous although it is physically painful. Like so many other Balochs, they do have an option to join the armed insurgency as a common feature of the Baloch tribal traditions to take revenge. But, they have chosen the path of peaceful, democratic struggle. We should not take their commitment to peaceful democratic struggle for granted. It is indeed a shame that the foreign governments, the international media and headquarters of international human rights groups have not issued any statements of sympathy for the Baloch long marchers. We urge the international diplomatic missions in Islamabad to inform and educate their respective governments about this historic, peaceful struggle for justice in a country that is known across the globe as a sponsor as well as a victim of terrorism.
Mama Qadeer is a hero of human rights and peaceful democratic struggle. Foreign governments and international media should not remain silent spectators. It is the time they recognized this great hero of our time who has held the most spectacular democratic long march in the history of Pakistan. The country has never seen such a classic commitment to non-violent struggle at a time when the government and the nationalists are engaged in a full-fledged military confrontation. There are few heroes like Mama Qadeer left in Pakistan and it is the time to support them.

Pakistan: Anti-Terrorism Court Approves Bail Of Five People Accused Of Chilas Shia Massacre
A Court in Gilgit has acquitted five people by Al Qaeda affiliated Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) militants who had been arrested in connection with the shooting and stoning of Shia passengers near Chilas, last year in 2012. According to details, an Anti-Terrorism Court has acquitted five people, including Maulana Muzammil Shah, Qari Qayyum, Muhammad Yasir and Mehmoodul Hassan.
The decision was made by Justice Raja Shahbaz Khan of the anti-terrorism court, paving the way for the temporary release of the accused languishing in a jail in Chilas, headquarters of Diamer Valley since last year. The five accused had surrendered to police in Chilas town through a local jirga after being nominated in the sectarian violence that had gripped the whole of G-B in 2012, resulting in the killing of more than 70 people in separate incidents. The five accused were of the 11 men nominated in an FIR for attacking buses and killing 10 passengers at Gonar Farm area of Diamer Valley in June.
At least six passenger buses were stopped by Al Qaeda affiliated Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) militants in Bonar Das area in Chilas (Gilgit Baltistan), passengers were segregated by checking their identity documents, those found or believed to be Shia Muslims were shot dead and many other Shias were kidnapped.
Pakistani media was given instruction to refrain from reporting the full scale and extent of Shia genocide, there is very little published information on what actually happened in Chilas. For ordinary readers, it is very difficult to get the right information about how many people have died in recent Shia massacres in Gilgit-Baltistan. Some put the numbers as high as 80.
However, there are people who have received information from eye witnesses about the massacre of Shias in Chilas.
One eyewitness, Aslam, is a 30 year old male who provided the following details: About three thousand (3,000) fully armed assailants intercepted a convoy of 25 buses. They pulled all the passengers down. After confiscating the luggage, the buses were then set on fire. It appeared to be all pre-planned and even the police and administration present there were either helping the assailants directly or turned a blind eye throughout the entire episode of bloodshed and mayhem.
The assailants had set up a makeshift tent to host those (mostly Sunnis) who were going to be released later. The male Shia passengers were then lined up. The gunmen checked their ID cards and shot and killed many on the spot. Many bodies were riddled with bullets. Those who ran for life were then attacked by the mob with stones and bricks and killed them in that manner. The assailants pelting stones were laughing and high fiving each other upon hitting the target. A large number of Shias were also taken hostage and may be still alive. The estimated the death toll is no less than sixty (60), while at least another sixty (60) went missing. I (Aslam) was not carrying an ID card and remained associated with a Sunni family as the kind hearted elderly male guardian claimed me to be his son. Those males believed to be non-Shias were then sent to the tent along with females and the children. Later, they were sent to the house of Haji Abdul Aziz, where they were offered refreshment. At some point, the police arrived at Haji’s house and escorted me and other passengers to the few remaining buses which then took them to Gilgit.
Another survivor, Zakir – a 22 year old Shia male, said:
My bus was first to arrive at Buner farm, where the assailants had gathered. I claimed to be a Sunni student without an ID card upon which the assailants hurled me towards a government building along with two old ladies and three girls. There, I was able to call my family members and also contacted an influential government official in Chilas, who was later instrumental in saving my life. The official sent his police guards who escorted me away. After spending the night at the officer’s residence, I was then sent to Gilgit in a helicopter with the dead bodies of Shias. From there, I reached my hometown Skardo. The man (a Shia) sitting next to me in the bus showed his ID card to the assailants and was subsequently killed. Ilyas is the third survivor and eyewitness who stated the following: I was assisting some ladies from Khapulo during the bus journey. As the attackers approached me, one of the ladies claimed me to be his son and a Noorbakhshi by faith from Khapulo. This way, I was able to save my life with the help of that kind and brave lady.
This is not first time in Pakistan that courts have released the terrorists, thousands of terrorists have already been released even they have accepted their crimes, but judges and law enforcement agencies release them due to fear of attacks on them in future, if they hanged terrorists.

Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns Quetta blast
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the passenger bus bombing near Qambrani road in Akhtarabad area of Quetta city today, which resulted into loss of precious human lives while injuring many others.
In a statement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said protests were not enough on such terrorist’s acts and government must take immediate steps to stop this bloodbath. “We have banned Youtube but how come LeJ official websites are functioning with full vigour?”, PPP Patron questioned.
He further said that they had accepted the responsibility and it’s time for government to act and if government failed to apprehend terrorists then people will take security in their own hands and this will lead to anarchy. “Let’s not protest, let’s act!”, he added.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari sympathized with the families of victims who lost their lives and limbs in the blast and prayed Almighty to rest the departed souls in eternal peace and courage for the bereaved families to bear this colossal loss with equanimity. He also stressed that special arrangements should be made for timely treatment of all those injured in the blast. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari sympathized with the families of victims who lost their lives and limbs in the blast and prayed Almighty to rest the departed souls in eternal peace and courage for the bereaved families to bear this irreparable loss with equanimity. He also stressed that special arrangements should be made for timely treatment of all those injured in the blast.

Pakistan:One more polio case surfaces in Karachi

One more fresh case of polio has been reported in Karachi with the beginning of New Year, thus, proving that the virus has not been eradicated completely in the country, Geo News reported Wednesday. The victim child named Fatima belongs to Karachi and is the resident of Gadap area. The National Institute of Health has verified the virus attack. The samples of the affected girl were collected on December 19. It may be mentioned that a total number of 85 polio cases were reported in the year 2013.