Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Malala, Suu Kyi to address students in Pune on Jan 10

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will address students in Pune on Jan 10. Malala and Suu Kyi will be present at the inauguration of the three-day Indian Student Parliament (ISM) organised by the prestigious Maharashtra Institute of Technology.
An official of the Indian Student Parliament said: "Malala is expected to deliver one of the keynote addresses at the ISP, or Bharatiya Chhatra Sansad. The other address will be delivered by Suu Kyi." Malala, who defied the Taliban, will speak on women's education, the importance of politics among the youth and share her views on politics, which she intends to join in the near future, ISP founder-convenor Rahul Karad said.
The 16-year-old Malala is likely to visit a few other Indian cities during her first ever trip to India.
She shot to world fame and earned global admiration after she was shot by Taliban militants in a school bus in 2012, for speaking out in favour of girls' education in her native Swat Valley in Pakistan.
The ISP is a platform for students who wish to venture into politics.
It hosts eminent speakers like Suu Kyi and Malala to help and guide the young in the nation-building endeavour, the official said.
Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/malala-suu-kyi-to-address-students-in-pune-on-jan-10/1/334542.html

Before Malala there was Asma Jahangir

Asma Jahangir lights a candle at a vigil for Malala Yousafzai
Lahore lawyer has spent more than three decades — and time in jail and under house arrest — fighting against extremism, radical Islam, dictators and the sometimes “stone-age” inclinations of her turbulent nation.
She’s just 16, yet known worldwide — as the ultra-famous are — by a single name. She is Malala. She has survived a Taliban assassin’s bullets. She awes global superstars and enthralls world leaders. She’s been showered with awards, almost won a Nobel Peace Prize and recently published a memoir. She might be the most famous teenager on the planet. But no one comes from nothing. And Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani leading a global campaign for girls’ education and women’s rights, has, in addition to heroically supportive parents, a figurative godmother in her homeland who risks her own life in the same cause.
In fact, Asma Jahangir, a lawyer still fighting for human rights and equality for girls and women, has been doing it for decades.
At 61, Jahangir is a woman of gentle manner and razor-sharp mind, soft voice and steely will, a woman who sometimes laughs in spite of herself while recounting examples of the more absurd aspects of the ramshackle justice system in her turbulent homeland. She is thrilled at Malala’s accomplishments. “She is absolutely inspiring,” Jahangir told the Star in an email. “Malala is a vindication of our struggle.” Malala is the best-known of a new generation of young Pakistani women who want a fairer society, Jahangir says. And the women who have gone before to fight oppression “are all the proud mothers of our Malalas.”
But Jahangir knows, as does Malala, the price Pakistan can exact from outspoken voices for change. Jahangir has been arrested, jailed, placed under house arrest, threatened with death. She has seen women murdered in the dubious name of “honour” on the streets outside her Lahore law office. Armed guards protect her office and her home, and are with her wherever she goes. She shrugs most of this off as if it was a mere inconvenience. She carries on, just as she has during periods of martial law and radicalization in Pakistan. Among the many awards she has received for her work was Canada’s first John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award in 2010.
“Asma Jahangir’s tireless efforts to promote human rights in Pakistan, in particular the rights of women, children and religious minorities, under highly challenging conditions, are a testimony to her exceptional courage and dedication,” said Lawrence Cannon, foreign affairs minister at the time.
Jahangir says the women’s movement in Pakistan was born under the late dictator Zia ul-Haq, when his campaign of Islamization in the ’70s and ’80s imposed the harsh penalties of Sharia law and — in the Evidence Act of 1984 — made a women’s evidence in court worth half that of a man’s.
“Prior to that women never resisted any legislation,” she said. But in 1981, the Women’s Action Forum, an organization to which Jahangir still belongs, was established — even if most of its fights at the time were defensive measures resisting the lurch of Pakistan’s justice system “back to the Stone Age.”
When the inevitable arrests and jailing resulting from her protests came, she was not cowed.
“We always knew that one day we were going to be clamped down on.”
Jahangir laughed that she was actually treated more decently that she expected in jail because her father had spent so many years there.
Through Pakistan’s relentless turmoil — the mysterious death of Zia, the ascendance of Benazir Bhutto as the first female prime minister in the Islamic world, the arrival and departure of Nawaz Sharif, the return to office then exile of Bhutto, the coup of
Gen. Pervez Musharraf, 9/11 and its consequences, the wars in neighbouring Afghanistan, the Taliban, the assassination of Bhutto — she has carried on.
Like Malala, Asma Jahangir had the example and support of courageous parents. Her father, Malik Gulam Jilani, was a member of Pakistan’s opposition in the 1970s and spent 14 years in prison.
In Lahore, Kipling’s fabled city of Kim and cultural centre of Pakistan, Jahangir recently told the BBC World Service program NewsHour that “it’s the fire inside your belly that wants you to rebel at injustice.”
It’s a fire “that I inherited (from her father) as well as built up over the years.”
The personal risk Jahangir assumes by taking on the cases she does — often those of young women who have fled their villages and families and fear for their lives for refusing arranged marriages — has hardly changed in three decades. “Everything is a risk in Pakistan,” she told the BBC. “If you defend women, it’s a risk, if you defend non-Muslims it’s a risk, if you discuss religion, it’s a risk. But you can’t really sit there like a vegetable in your own society. And I’m committed to that society . . . and I feel I need to turn around and speak as I should.”
Now, Jahangir worries for Malala and is appalled at the backlash against her in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world. The Yousafzai family has lived in Birmingham, England, since the 2012 attack on Malala.
“I am afraid she might not return,” Jahangir says. “And with good reasons. I am so shocked and angry at the unfair venom expressed against her by a few hate preachers. They do not even spare young ones.”
Still, the example and inspiration of those who go before is no small thing.
When Malala Yousafzai addressed the United Nations in July this year, she wore a shawl once belonging to Benazir Bhutto.
As Malala continues her campaign, she follows the courageous example — and it seems shares that fire in the belly — of Asma Jahangir.

Nine killed in Karachi; one alleged target killer arrested

At least nine people were killed in different incidents of violence in Karachi on Tuesday, DawnNews reported. The bodies of six men were found near a shrine in Gulshan-i-Maymar area, police said. Two of the men had been beheaded, while the rest had their throats slit, a policeman told news agency Reuters, in the first such instance of a mass killing at a shrine that he knew of. The corpses were lying near the shrine of Ayub Shah Bukhari, considered a saint by Sufi Muslims. Three of the dead worked at the shrine while the others were frequent visitors. Police said a note reading “Stop visiting shrines — from the Pakistani Taliban” was found at the scene along with a bloodstained knife, news agency AFP reported. “People visiting shrines will meet the same fate,” a senior police officer quoted the group as saying in the note, Reuters reported. But senior police officer Amir Farooqi voiced caution over the note, telling AFP he would not draw any conclusions until further investigation. According to the police, all the victims had been abducted and tortured before being killed with the knife. Police said the victims were aged between 20-30 years. Five of the deceased persons were identified as Munawwar, Saleem, Javed, Ramzan and Abid, respectively. One victim could not be identified. Police cordoned off the area and investigation went underway to apprehend those responsible. Later, police detained some suspects and sent the bloodstained knife for forensic tests. Separately, two people, including a police officer, were killed in firing incidents in the city’s Pak Colony and Quaidabad areas whereas a body was recovered near Malir checkpost. Meanwhile, police arrested a target killer from Karachi's Musharraf colony. Police alleged that the arrested suspect was wanted in the killings of 28 people and that he hailed from a political party. Moreover, two Kalashnikovs, two hand-grenades and two home-made bombs were also seized from the suspect. Karachi, the largest metropolitan city of Pakistan, is riddled with targeted killings, gang wars, kidnappings for ransom, extortion and terrorism. Targeted operations led by Rangers’ forces with the support of police are ongoing in the city under a directive issued by the federal government against criminals already identified by federal, military and civilian agencies.

John Kerry is right: US troops in Iraq wouldn't have stopped al-Qaida

Michael Boyle
Senators McCain and Graham blame the Obama administration for al-Qaida's return. Their argument is a gross simplification
On Sunday, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham blasted the Obama administration for the return of al-Qaida to Iraq, arguing that the withdrawal of US troops in 2011 created a power vacuum that would be "filled with America's enemies". They claim that if the US had maintained even a small military presence in Iraq, al-Qaida would never have gained a foothold in the western regions of Iraq and reclaimed Fallujah. It is Obama's abdication of leadership, in their tired Churchillian worldview, that produced the chaos in Iraq today.
This argument reflects a gross simplification of the problem that Iraq currently faces. The resurgence of al-Qaida in Iraq is a product of two dynamics, neither of which is a direct consequence of the absence of US troops. First, al-Qaida in Iraq has been rescued from near strategic collapse by the progress of Syria's brutal civil war. As the war dragged on, the inchoate rebel opposition to Bashar al-Assad has become increasingly led by the jihadi forces sympathetic to the general worldview of al-Qaida.
In the eastern regions of Syria, one of these prominent jihadi forces, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), has become an incubator of terrorist violence within Iraq, sending dozens of suicide bombers into the country and turning the entire cross-border region into a battlefield. Its goal is to spread the war across borders, in the hopes of creating a greater sectarian Sunni state comprised of parts of Iraq and Syria.
Due to their activities, 2013 was among the bloodiest years on record for Iraq, with 8,868 Iraqis (including both civilians and security forces) killed in that year alone. If Syria had not collapsed into chaos and civil war – a fact unrelated to the number of US troops on bases in a neighboring state – it is unlikely that al-Qaida would have mounted such a comeback.The terrorist group would have remained a residual force in Iraq, capable of gruesome attacks, but incapable of threatening to grab control of Iraqi territory.
Second, the return of al-Qaida is a direct function of the increasing authoritarianism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and his short-sighted marginalization of the Sunnis. While Maliki has always been a sectarian figure with suspected links to Iran, his authoritarian streak has only gotten worse in recent years, as he has regularly charged critics of the government, including prominent officials, with terrorism. The recent crisis was generated by the arrest of prominent Iraqi parliamentarian Ahmed al-Alwani on terrorism charges. Iraqi security forces stormed the home of Alwani, who was known for backing Sunni anti-government protests, in a bloody incident which killed six people, including his brother.
The problem with this attempted arrest – and dozens before this, including former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi – is that they represent an effort by Maliki to use the charge of "terrorism" to eliminate his enemies. Over time, successive arrests of critics of the government, and the heavy-handed behavior of the Shia-dominated security forces, has inflamed sectarian tensions and convinced more of the Sunnis to see the Maliki regime as a hostile force. Maliki has hardly helped matters by ignoring or repressing protests against his government's policies. This pattern of politicized arrests has reinforced the sense of political marginalization among Sunnis, and provided an opportunity for al-Qaida to re-establish itself in those regions as a champion of their cause.
The question that McCain and Graham raise is whether a US troop presence would have restrained Maliki and prevented the Sunnis from becoming as disenfranchised as they are today. The evidence does not support this argument: Maliki's authoritarian streak was in evidence before US withdrawal in 2011, and there is no evidence that a token presence of trainers and Special Forces would have conveyed any additional leverage to American officials in their dealing with Maliki. It is more likely that a larger US presence in Iraq would have been seen by Sunnis as an attempt to backstop a Shia dominated government hostile to their interests. With only a small number of troops present, the US would have been a bystander to Iraq's authoritarian drift and may have been implicated in this new sectarian contest as the underwriter of Maliki's power.
Moreover, the argument that McCain and Graham offer overlooks one basic fact: that in an occupation, the occupier is often so dependent on the local government that it can extract little, if anything, when dealing with them. For an example of this dynamic, one must only look at US efforts to get Hamid Karzai to say yes to anything it wants in Afghanistan. After 12 years of fighting, and trillions wasted in that country, it is obvious to everyone but McCain and Graham that the US is more dependent on Karzai than he is on them. Missing this point – and rehashing fantasies in which every war is America's to win, and no occupation can ever end – is an indulgence that the US can no longer afford.
The Obama administration (most notably Secretary of State John Kerry) is right to refuse to deploy ground troops in this new round of fighting against al-Qaida. This is a multi-faceted, cross-border war with militias fighting on both sides; it is ultimately the job of the Iraqi government to defeat al-Qaida and to restore its legitimacy. If Washington wants to help, it should not rush into offering weapons and intelligence to the Iraqi government without extracting a promise from Maliki to end his misguided repression of Sunni critics, and to accommodate the legitimate demands of the Sunni population.

U.S. Weather: Frigid air from the North Pole: What's this polar vortex?

Americans in two dozen states from the Midwest to the Southeast and Northeast are shivering this week courtesy of a distorted polar vortex. The rush of cold air it's sending southward is the biggest visitor from the North Pole since Santa Claus. The gifts it brings, however, are chilling and generally unwelcome. Much of the United States has plunged into a deep freeze from record low temperatures.
CNN International senior meteorologist Brandon Miller answers a few pressing questions about this phenomenon.
What is a polar vortex? What distinguishes it?
The polar vortex, as it sounds, is circulation of strong, upper-level winds that normally surround the northern pole in a counterclockwise direction -- a polar low-pressure system. These winds tend to keep the bitter cold air locked in the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. It is not a single storm. On occasion, this vortex can become distorted and dip much farther south than you would normally find it, allowing cold air to spill southward.
How frequently does this polar vortex distortion occur? The upper-level winds that make up the polar vortex change in intensity from time to time. When those winds decrease significantly, it can allow the vortex to become distorted, and the result is a jet stream that plunges deep into southern latitudes, bringing the cold, dense Arctic air spilling down with it. This oscillation is known as the Arctic Oscillation and it can switch from a positive phase to negative phase a few times per year. This oscillation -- namely the negative phase where the polar winds are weaker -- tends to lead to major cold air outbreaks in one or more regions of the planet. Where on Earth can this happen? The polar vortex can lead to major cold air outbreaks in any portion of the Northern Hemisphere -- North America, Europe and Asia. This will lead to cold snaps in multiple locations, though not always.
How dangerous is a polar vortex distortion as compared to a tornado or hurricane?
Completely different type of systems. A cold air outbreak caused by the polar vortex is much more widespread and lasts longer than a single storm. With the widespread drop in temperature, however, you can see significant winter storms develop, especially when the cold air is initially advancing into a previously warm region -- much like the nor'easter this past week.
When was the last big one to hit a densely populated area?
Serious cold snaps happen several times a year, though in different regions of the world and with different severities. Last March saw a significant decrease in temperature as a result of the polar vortex pushing into much of Europe. Many locations experienced an Easter holiday that was much colder than their Christmas holiday. The United Kingdom, for instance, had its coldest March in 50 years.
If you get caught up in one, what should you do?
Again, it's not a "storm" that you get caught in. But when faced with significant cold temperatures, you should stay inside whenever possible, layer clothing if you must be outside, winterize your home and car, etc.
Is it a side effect of global warming and should we expect more events like this?
This is a hotly researched topic. In short, yes, it could be. It seems counterintuitive that global warming could cause significant cold snaps like this one, but some research shows that it could. We know that different types of extreme weather can result from the overall warming of the planet, melting of the Arctic Sea ice, etc. This includes extreme distortions of the jet stream, which can cause heat waves in summer and cold snaps in winter. Parts of Western Europe have been battered by the worst storms for two decades during the past week -- are they related to the
weather system in the United States?
They are related in a sense, but I wouldn't say "caused by." The storms in Europe are the result of a persistent pattern that has seen the jet stream parked near the United Kingdom and Ireland, which has brought a train of storm systems over the British Isles. This is the same jet stream, of course, that has plunged deep into the southern portions of the United States. So, the jet stream has been "stuck" in a position that is allowing cold Arctic air to spill into much of the United States and Canada. But it is in a position that is bringing warmer, moist air from the Atlantic over Northwest Europe, resulting in the stormy conditions.

Democracy in Peril in Asia

Street protests in three Asian countries — Cambodia, Bangladesh and Thailand — are a vivid reminder of the fragile state of democracy in many developing countries, particularly those that do not have independent judiciaries and professional police forces and militaries.
While the immediate causes for the turmoil are different in each country, they share several shortcomings. The lack of sufficient democratic checks and balances in all three countries has undermined faith in elections and helped to create the conditions for civil unrest. Autocratic and corrupt political leaders have used government agencies, in some cases over decades, to serve themselves and their cronies.
In Cambodia, in recent days, military police officers have opened fire on protesters, killing several people. The protests started after Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia through intimidation and violence for nearly three decades, was declared the winner of an election in July that international monitoring organizations say was riddled with irregularities. Workers in the country’s clothing factories also joined the protests to demand that the government set the minimum wage for the industry at $160 a month; the government has offered to raise the minimum to $100 a month, up from $80 now. While the economy has grown fast in recent years, lifting up living standards, about one-fifth of the country’s population lives below the country’s poverty line.
In Bangladesh, the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and her party won an election held on Sunday because the main opposition party boycotted it. In the weeks leading up to the vote, more than 100 people were killed in political violence as the opposition Bangladesh National Party protested Ms. Hasina’s refusal to appoint a neutral caretaker government to oversee the vote. Ms. Hasina and the opposition leader Khaleda Zia have taken turns running the country since 1991. While Bangladesh has made significant progress in reducing poverty and improving public health, Ms. Hasina and Ms. Zia have often sacrificed the country’s stability to settle scores with each other and have done little to strengthen institutions like the judiciary and the police.
In Thailand, the country’s Election Commission said on Friday that elections scheduled for next month would go ahead despite efforts by protesters to sabotage them. Led by opposition politicians, the protesters want to replace the country’s elected government with an appointed council of technocrats because they have been unable to win elections against the party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
There are no easy or quick solutions to the crisis in these three nations. While elections are vital, they are not sufficient to create stable democracies. Until these countries build institutions capable of serving as a check on political leaders, they will remain vulnerable to civil unrest.

President Obama pushes unemployment benefits

President Obama is back in Washington and back to business, determined to hit the reset button and make 2014 the political success 2013 was not.
The first test is a battle over extending long-term unemployment benefits. Democrats support it but Republicans want cuts to off-set the cost of paying out the benefits. It's back from vacation and onto the next battle for President Obama. Getting benefit checks to the long-term unemployed after Congress failed to pass an extension before the holidays.
“Let's get them done right now in a bipartisan way and everybody can share credit for doing it.”
House Republicans want the $6.5 billion cost offset with cuts to other government programs.
It's a concession Democrats see little reason to accept convinced Republicans come off as insensitive to struggling Americans, and so the Senate is considering a bill, co-sponsored by Nevada Republican Dean Heller, which does not cover that price tag, extending benefits for the long-term unemployed for three months.
“They're trying to make ends meet from month to month. Today there's only one job opening for every three people searching. We have never had so many unemployed for such a long period of time.”
The push for extending what are known as "emergency" unemployment benefits is part of a new populist push by President Obama and congressional Democrats that also includes a plan to increase the federal minimum wage from 7.25 to 10.10 an hour. That could have a tremendous boost in a lot of the cities where there are a lot of service workers who get up and do some of the critical work for all of us every single day but often times still find themselves just barely above poverty or, in some cases, below poverty.
It's seen as an attempt to rally the Democratic base ahead of a midterm election when many moderate Democrats are vulnerable in Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas.
Their success or failure will determine if Democrats hold on to the Senate or if President Obama’s second term agenda is stymied by Republicans controlling both Chambers of Congress in his final two years in the White House.

U.S: Lawyer for Indian diplomat seeks delay in visa fraud case

A lawyer for Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade is seeking to postpone proceedings in a visa fraud case that has created tensions between the United States and India, citing the need to continue "meaningful discussions" with the prosecution. In a letter to a federal magistrate judge in New York, Khobragade's lawyer requested an extension of the time by which the U.S. government must file an indictment or commence a preliminary hearing. The lawyer, Daniel Arshack, confirmed he filed the letter in court but would not comment about a possible resolution of the case. Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on December 12 and charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper. The case was adjourned until January 13 by which time the government must commence a preliminary hearing or file an indictment. Arshack asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn to extend the deadline by 30 days to February 12. "Significant communications have been had between the prosecution and the defense and amongst other government officials and it is our strong view that the pressure of the impending deadline is counterproductive to continued communications," Arshack wrote. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan whose office is handling the case, however responded saying the plea discussions can continue following the indictment in the case. "The government is not seeking an extension of the deadline for indictment and therefore there is no motion for the court to decide. At any rate, as the court knows, the timing under which the government seeks an indictment is in the discretion of the government, and the defendant cannot alter that," Bharara wrote in a letter to a federal magistrate judge in New York. Bharara added that as recently as January 5, the government outlined "reasonable parameters" for a plea that could resolve the case, to which the defendant has not responded. Khobragade's arrest enraged India, which is demanding that all charges be dropped against her. On the day of her arrest, she was strip-searched. The arresting authority, the U.S. Marshals Service, said the strip search was a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee at the federal courthouse. Khobragade was released on $250,000 bail. In the aftermath of her arrest, India asked to transfer Khobragade to the United Nations. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Monday that India's application to transfer Khobragade's accreditation to the Indian mission at the United Nations, which was made before Christmas, was still under review. "We've received the request for change in accreditation, but the process is ongoing and no official decision has been made yet to do that. So there's no change in her status as of this point," she told a regular news briefing. Indian media have said the request to transfer Khobragade to the United Nations was aimed at ending the stand-off with the United States in the hopes that her new diplomatic status could allow New Delhi to bring her home without the prosecution proceeding. According to U.N. guidelines on diplomatic privileges and immunities, documents certifying diplomatic immunity, if approved, are usually issued by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations within two weeks of the initial request. A State Department official said there was no set time period for the process, and noted that the request had been filed just ahead of a period of government holidays. Harf said the United States hoped to see the case resolved as soon as possible in the interest of the bilateral relationship between India and the United States, which has been strained by the case. "We don't want this to define our relationship going forward and don't think that it will," Harf said. "If you look throughout the region, if you look at Afghanistan, if you look at energy issues, economic issues, we have a whole host of things we work together on, and those are very important and shouldn't be derailed by this incident. ... (T)he relationship with India is incredibly important, it's vital, and that's what we're focused on."

Bangladesh vote thwarted by 'Battling Begums'; outcome called farce

By Carol J. Williams
The last time a parliamentary election in Bangladesh drew such low turnout, the lawmakers elected served only 11 days in office before political turmoil brought down the government. Observers Monday held out little more hope for the lawmakers elected a day earlier in a vote that was marred by an opposition boycott, economic sabotage, ruling party show trials and a stream of invective poured out by the "Battling Begums." The begums, or Muslim women of stature, are Prime Minister Sheik Hasina of the ruling Awami League and Khaleda Zia, her archrival who heads the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP.
The women, both scions of political dynasties and bitter enemies who have alternated in power for the last 22 years, conspired to make Sunday's election one of the most violent, farcical and unrepresentative in the country since 1971 independence, the Daily Star wrote in an editorial.
The Awami League won "a predictable and hollow victory, which gives it neither a mandate nor an ethical standing to govern effectively," the newspaper said.
But it hardly had kinder words for Zia and the opposition forces who attempted to derail the vote with strikes and efforts to idle the vital garment industry during the strife-torn campaign period. "Political parties have the right to boycott elections. They also have the right to motivate people to side with their position," the Daily Star editorial said. "But what is unacceptable is using violence and intimidation to thwart an election." More than 120 people were killed in the run-up to the vote. Security forces fired on protesting opposition crowds, which blocked transport to the garment factories during the campaign and torched polling places over the weekend to discourage voting. Incumbent Hasina's alleged manipulations have been blamed for the lopsided outcome, which bodes poorly for the stability and prosperity of the impoverished country, analysts said.
Nearly half of the 300 parliamentary seats were uncontested because of the BNP boycott, called by Zia in protest of Hasina's refusal to bow to post-independence tradition and allow a neutral caretaker government to oversee the election. The ruling party also won a majority of the contested seats, giving the league at least 232 seats and the ability to railroad legislation. The opposition staged a 48-hour strike over the weekend, helping keep turnout pitifully low in a nation in which 87% flocked to the polls in 2008. The national Election Commission under Hasina's government contended that about 40% of eligible voters turned out Sunday, while the monitors of the Election Working Group put voter participation at 30%, the Dhaka Tribune reported. Either figure would make Sunday's vote the second-worst in recent history. In 1996, ballots were cast by only 26.5% in a contest featuring the same two political forces. In that mirror-image vote, Zia's coalition won a majority and Hasina's supporters cried foul. The BNP-led parliament was in power for less than two weeks before being ousted in a coup. On Monday, Zia's backers called another 48-hour strike, aimed at pressuring Hasina to scrap the results of Sunday's vote and allow a fresh poll to be held -- a demand the incumbent and de facto victor rejected. "They have failed to stop the election. The election has been fair. I'm satisfied," Hasina told reporters in Dhaka, the Associated Press reported.
Hasina's government exacerbated already-bitter relations between the two political forces when it established a controversial war crimes tribunal in 2010 to try dozens of "suspects" -- many of them opposition activists -- for incidents alleged to have been committed during the brief 1971 war for independence from Pakistan. On Dec. 12, the government executed Abdul Quader Mollah, a leading Muslim opposition figure, intensifying what was already a violence-plagued political atmosphere. In November, a Bangladesh court sentenced 152 people to death for alleged participation in a 2009 mutiny by border guards.
Because of the violence ahead of the vote and the incumbent's refusal to let a neutral caretaker government oversee the polls, neither the European Union nor other Western governments sent observers to monitor the polling. The United States said it was "disappointed" and called for immediate dialogue to find a way to hold "free, fair, peaceful and credible" elections, the State Department said. The threat of continued unrest and opposition blockades around textile factories raised the specter of economic distress in a country where the $22-billion garment industry accounts for 80% of exports.

Bangladesh: The ritual is over: What next?

By Syed Fattahul Alim
IT has been a caricature of an election. The results were known even before the votes were actually cast. Even in such a one-sided election, we witnessed instances of stuffing of ballot box, fake voters, ballot box hijacking and other kinds of gross irregularities. The tragedy is, an election that the ruling Awami League itself has termed as one to maintain the formality, has cost the nation enormously in terms of money, materials and human lives. Thanks to the bullheadedness of the ruling leadership, an overzealous Election Commission at its beck and call that the farce could not be avoided. Thanks are also due to the opposition because their boycott, blockades and shutdowns supplied the ruling party with a cause to go ahead with this hollow electoral exercise.
Thus winning an uncontested election, the ruling party should now at least be relieved that it has been after all able to avoid the nightmare of ceding power to its arch rival the opposition BNP and its dreaded allies. Perhaps, BNP is also somewhat happy in that their boycott has led to a near voter-less election, which will lead to a government that will be suffering from a congenital legitimacy crisis.
Even so, the Awami League with its three quarters majority in the 10th Jatiya Sangsad (it has won in 235 seats out of 300) is set to form the next government. But what next? Will it be business as usual and the government continue functioning the way it has been during the last five years, or will it go for another election that will be a well-participated, contested, inclusive and a credible one?
The BNP has already declared a fresh 48-hour nationwide hartal from Monday morning demanding that the government scrap the result of the just-held election. Obviously the message it is trying to convey is that the days ahead for the outgoing government and the new one to be sworn in soon are not going to be smooth. Obviously, the aim is to put pressure on the government until it starts re-engaging the opposition in a dialogue on the conduct of the 11th JS election. The reason that the opposition BNP camp may be thinking in this line is manifest from the fact that the prime minister and her cabinet colleagues on several occasions stated before the just-held election for the 10th JS that it was a mere formality for the sake of meeting certain constitutional obligations and that after having completed this phase, the next step would be to set the stage for holding the 11th JS election. And to that end they would initiate dialogue with the opposition subject to the condition that it (BNP) cuts off all of its political relations with Jamaat-e-Islami. Here again a condition is being set even before the circumstances for such a future dialogue has been created.
Given our past experience, the prospect of yet another round of dialogues between the two rival political camps and that too after the AL has consolidated its power in the new government is rather a pie in the sky for the opposition. There is hardly any compelling reason for the next government to consider holding such a dialogue in the near future unless there is some inescapable pressure from within or without the country. Still, one is led to believe that the new government would be willing to get rid of the 'insufficient legitimacy' syndrome that it is now afflicted with. So, how long will the BNP be able to sustain with its agitation programme, if the deepening of the 'legitimacy crisis' of the 10th JS that it is banking on turns out to be a long-drawn one?
But such vulnerability of the opposition's situation does not also automatically provide the new AL-government with infinite latitude to deal with its opposition and its ally Jamaat with an iron fist, an idea that many in the ruling circle have already started to peddle. But such ideas are not only unsustainable, but also a prescription for disaster for a government that that does not enjoy adequate mandate from the voting public. And the temptation of drawing a broad line between the ruling AL plus its allies and the opposition BNP including its alliance partners, especially Jamaat, as one between pro and anti liberation forces is too simplistic. Such stereotyping of the opposition with its Islamist ally linked to their anti-liberation role in 1971 can serve so long as the discourse is limited to electoral politics. But the thought of taking it beyond that to start a cleansing drive using the state apparatus is going too far. It is, in fact, an issue to be addressed and resolved on the political and cultural plane and not through the intervention of the state. Hopefully, both the ruling party and the opposition are aware of their limitations and would soon find the reasons to reengage themselves in a dialogue. The aim should be to hold a well-participated and contested election for the 11th JS where people can take part in a festive mood. This is the only way for democracy to thrive undeterred in Bangladesh.

Sarzameeni Mun ( New Afghan Song 2014 )

AfPak: Girls in suicide bombing: Extreme of Taliban’s hypocrisy

The Taliban have fallen to such a low, have become devoid of Pashtunwali and Afghan code of life, have become that much brazenly shameless that they will never hesitate to strap bomb to your daughter or sister. An eight-year-old girl, wearing a suicide vest was detained in Helmand province Sunday night as she tried to carry out an attack on border police. This act shows how much the Taliban have gone insane, crippled and inhuman in their so-called holy war, which in reality has nothing to do with the peace-loving Islam. Their war has become a bloody instance of “Muslim on Muslim” violence. The girl detained is said to be the sister of a prominent Taliban commander. Unable to give her a brighter future, and share in inheritance, the shameless brother goaded her on becoming a suicide bomber. The girl has now been shifted to the provincial capital Lashkargah. The Taliban earlier used girl suicide bombers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when Sohana Javed, a nine-year-old girl, was kidnapped back in 2013 on her way to school in Peshawar. Later, she was detained by security forces. She says two men and a woman had kidnapped her, pushed her in a car, knocked her unconscious by forcing her to breathe through a sedative-laced handkerchief and drove her to an unknown location. After this incident, a woman suicide bomber carried out attack in Bajaur Agency, killing dozens of innocent people. And now a girl in Helmand attempted at carrying out a suicide attack on border police. This is how girls have been pushed into a futile war. The Taliban are even misquoting ahadith and Qura’anic verses to legitimize their arguments. They lie through their teeth however they cannot justify the illegality of their war despite the hypocritical self-righteous justifications and transparent lies. We accept that we and our political elite have committed some wrongs, but the difference between our sins and their sins is when we sin we know we are sinning, while they have actually fallen prey to their own fabricated illusions, that’s why not only have they become hypocrites but agents of a wicked ideology which gives us nothing but violence. And the more problematic is their indifference on their ignorance. Indifference is the essence of inhumanity whereas a man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourns. The Taliban are unparallel in this trade. The babble against the Taliban is boiling, but the nation stands unarmed and defenseless in front of them. As the Taliban have become brazenly hypocrites in their war, anger and hate is widespread among citizens of the country against them. However, their anger is tacit, one day it will boil out and turn violent. Then there will be no place for the Taliban on this land. If the Taliban think they have supporters, they are wrong and living in a utopian world as none is their supporter, but they fear for life if they publicly oppose them. A common man is like someone who lives in barbed and barricaded houses, work in highly guarded offices, and travel in armored vehicles, how he can oppose the Taliban publicly. And the harebrained Taliban consider them as supporters. In this case, they personify stupidity.
This war-weary nation has been held hostage by these war-mongering Taliban. Therefore, they shouldn’t live in the dream world that they will once again rule this country and this people. Now is the high time they should rethink their policy and their so-called jihad, a jihad where dies none but Afghans. The fast they become disillusioned the fast the miseries of this ill-fated nation will come to an end. Now it all rests in their hands, what they give to this nation. Bloodshed or peace?

U.S. wants Afghanistan to sign security deal in 'weeks not months'

The United States wants the Afghanistan government to sign a bilateral security agreement in matter of weeks if a contingent of U.S. troops is to remain there after 2014, the White House said on Monday. The Afghan government had ignored U.S. demands for it to sign a framework security agreement by the end of 2013, after protracted negotiations that have strained relations between the two countries. U.S. officials say unless a deal is reached to keep upwards of 8,000 U.S. troops inside the country after 2014, the United States might instead completely withdraw from the country. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has expressed skepticism at the U.S. threat for a complete withdrawal. "Our position continues to be that if we cannot conclude a bilateral security agreement promptly, then we will be forced to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. Without a deal, the United States could pull out all troops, the so-called "zero option," leaving Afghan forces to battle the Taliban on their own. Carney said the longer the issue drags into 2014, "the more likely that outcome will come to pass" in which the United States would leave no troops behind for the training of Afghan forces or counter-terrorism purposes. "Look, I don't have specific deadlines or other policy decisions to announce today. But I can tell you that we are talking about weeks, and not months. And, you know, the clock is ticking," Carney said.

How hard is it to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan? Very hard.

The arrival of 2014 promises to open the flood gates of prognostication about Afghanistan’s future as the long-planned withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces nears completion. Much stock has been placed in discerning Afghan attitudes toward their government and the Taliban as clues for anticipating future events. And with good reason. Counterinsurgency theorists (well, most of them) have argued that winning “hearts and minds” is a key, if not the key, to victory — or at least what passes for victory in these settings.
Now, new research shows that just how hard winning hearts and minds can be. Afghans who experience violence at the hands of NATO forces become less supportive of these forces and more supportive of the Taliban. But Afghans who experience violence at the hands of the Taliban don’t react nearly as strongly against the Taliban.
An important question — how can we measure “hearts and minds” accurately? — is often lost in the revolving shuffle of PowerPoint decks and endless debates about metrics. Clearly the obstacles are formidable. Dumping billions of dollars into a country is likely to skew attitudes, if only because it generates incentives for recipients to shade their answers in ways that guarantee future assistance. The shadow of violence also looms over respondents and enumerators alike: Speaking honestly, or simply entering a village to solicit opinions, can be risky endeavors.
In 2010-11, Graeme Blair, Kosuke Imai, and I measured Afghan attitudes toward NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban using an indirect survey method called an “endorsement experiment” designed to minimize these issues. We surveyed nearly 3,000 Afghan males in 204 villages in five predominantly Pashtun provinces. We posed a series of questions about an individual’s exposure to violence by both the ISAF and the Taliban. We used a battery of four indirect questions to measure support for the ISAF and Taliban (for the nuts and bolts, please see our article). What happened to support for ISAF once an individual (or his family) was harmed by ISAF? Did the same hold true for the Taliban, or did Taliban violence mean something different to its victims? Put simply, the effect of combatant violence on civilian attitudes is highly asymmetric.
Harm by ISAF, as outlined in the figure below, is associated with a sharp decrease in support for ISAF (column 1, left side) and a marked increase in support for the Taliban (column 2, left side). Harm by the Taliban, however, is associated with almost no transfer of support to ISAF (column 1, right side) and has only a very modest negative effect on support for the Taliban (column 2, right side).
The righthand panel in the figure drives this point home: ISAF victimization is associated with a large increase in support for the Taliban; harm by the Taliban, only a modest downturn in support for the Taliban. While it would be inaccurate to conclude that the Taliban can harm civilians without repercussions, it is apparent that they enjoy (if that is the right word) far more latitude than ISAF.
These findings carry several implications for understanding the dynamics of violence in Afghanistan today. Hoping that Afghans will turn away from the Taliban in disgust at civilian casualties, for example, is unlikely to be a viable strategy, at least among Taliban supporters. According to UNAMA’s data, the Taliban have been responsible for at least 80 percent of civilian casualties since 2008. Yet this victimization is unlikely to have the same meaning, or political impact, as (much rarer) ISAF civilian casualties.
Concluding that efforts to influence attitudes are hopeless would be equally mistaken, however. We found suggestive evidence, for example, that small, targeted assistance programs among those harmed by ISAF managed to reverse much, though not all, of the outflow of support to the Taliban. On the other hand, massive district-level aid programs that sought to stoke feelings of gratitude among recipients hardly budged individuals’ views of ISAF, especially among those victimized by its forces. In the end, the most salient factor in explaining support levels was an individual’s exposure to violence by the warring parties—not receipt of aid, the level of control exerted by the combatants, or socioeconomic factors like age, wealth, or education. And while a key policy takeaway—avoid civilian casualties—seems obvious, even taking great pains to minimize civilian suffering is no guarantee that civilians can be won over. Cognitive biases that predispose individuals to favor (or excuse) the actions of their fellow in-group members, while simultaneously using negative actions by the out-group (like ISAF) to confirm prior prejudices, are powerful frameworks not easily overcome during wartime. Without engaging these underlying psychological biases, however, efforts to win hearts and minds are likely to be expensive, protracted, and, in the end, fleeting.

Afghan Police Detain 8-Year-Old Girl With Suicide Vest

Afghan police have detained an 8-year old girl wearing a suicide vest who sought to attack a border police post. A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Sediq Sediqi, told the BBC on January 6 that the girl was caught the previous night in Helmand Province as she approached the post. Sediqi said the girl is thought to be the sister of a prominent Taliban commander, who encouraged her to attempt the attack. She has now been transferred to the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and is said to be in a state of shock and confusion.

Kohistan 'honour' killing: Pakistani woman Rukhsana Bibi relives horror

By M Ilyas Khan
On a hot and humid night in late August, a small group quietly scales the wall of a mud-brick house in a village near Pakistan's north-western town of Akora Khatak.
In the dim, starlit courtyard, they make out the figures of a man and a woman lying in two separate charpoy cots, sleeping. About 15 minutes later, they walk out through the main door, leaving the couple in pools of blood. This description of the scene in Akora Khatak forms the backdrop to allegations of a so-called "honour killing", one of the great unspoken stories of the Pakistan-Afghanistan region where it widely prevails. Nowhere is it pursued as doggedly as in Kohistan, a remote and mountainous region in northern Pakistan.
The code is simple: Any contact, even just communication between a man and a woman outside of customary wedlock is considered a breach of the honour of the woman's family, and gives it the right to seek bloody revenge. The woman's family must first kill her and then go after the man. The mere expression of suspicion by the woman's family is enough evidence and the community demands no further proof. Once such a suspicion has been expressed, local custom prevents the family of the man killed in this way from avenging his death or reporting it to the police.
By their very nature, "honour killings" are particularly difficult to prove or to prosecute. There are frequently no witnesses to the crime and little motivation for the police to pursue any suspects, irrespective of the evidence. One person who hopes to change that is Rukhsana Bibi, now a widow, who claims that she survived an "honour killing" in a village near Akora Khatak and has taken the unusual step of publicly speaking out, trying to seek justice through the legal system. Ms Bibi suffered horrific chest and leg injuries when she and husband, Mohammad Yunus, were victims of a brutal attack while they lay sleeping in the courtyard in Akora Khatak. Her husband was murdered, but Ms Bibi survived with seven bullets in her body: two in the chest, three in the left leg and two in the left hip.
She still suffers bouts of weakness because of her injuries. She was so badly hurt that she needs a walking frame to move around.
Ms Bibi was 18, and her lover, Mohammad Yunus, 22 when they decided to elope on 22 May last year. "I had no choice," she explains to me as we sit in a small, cramped room somewhere in northern Pakistan where she is hiding. "I either had to kill myself, or run away."
Ms Bibi tells me that she met Mr Yunus - a student of medical technology - at a village wedding in the summer of 2011. They fell in love with each other at first sight.
Although their meetings were rare, they frequently spoke to each other on their mobile phones.
She describes how their relationship went on like this until April, when her family arranged her marriage to a distant relative, an uneducated cattle tender in her village.
Unhappy and frustrated, she and Mr Yunus decided to run away. They married in the north-west before going into hiding in the Akora Khatak area. But Ms Bibi now strongly believes that the brutal attack which killed her husband in August was undertaken by various relatives seeking to avenge the disgrace which they believe she had brought upon her family honour. She has given her account of the evening when she was attacked to the BBC.
"I must have heard the footsteps in my sleep," she says, recalling the incident. Tears roll down her cheeks as she narrates her story, but her face is expressionless, and her voice does not tremble. "I opened my eyes. "All of them were armed. I knew our end had come, so I shouted to my sleeping husband." The intruders shot her first, apparently in compliance with the custom, and then turned on her husband, pulling him off the bed and pumping bullets into his body.
"They continued to fire shots at us for a long time. Sparks flew in our house like the flashes from a big explosion. I was screaming at first, but then I pretended I was dead." Regaining consciousness after the attack, Ms Bibi discovered that she had fallen over and that her left leg was lying limply on the ground.
"It felt so heavy, I couldn't lift it to the bed," she says, her voice steady. She witnessed her husband dying in a pool of blood on the ground next to her. She thought she saw him breathe.
"He was alive for a minute or two after they left. I couldn't move, so I called his name. He turned his eyes to look at me for a brief moment. Then his head sank to the ground." Neighbours who heard the firing and her screams arrived at the scene some 15 minutes later and took her to hospital. Unquestionably they saved her life.
Her determination to stay alive has meant that she was able to identify those who she claimed had carried out the attack. Police have issued arrest warrants for some of those who Ms Bibi has claimed were amongst her attackers. Whether this was actually an "honour killing" as Ms Bibi claims, and whether any case can be proven in court remains uncertain. One of those she has named as a suspected attacker has a strong alibi. When contacted by the BBC, he denied that he was one of Ms Bibi's relatives or had any involvement in the attack, stressing that his colleagues had vouched for him on the evening of the attack when he was working many miles away. He also claimed that another of the accused had been falsely implicated by Ms Bibi. He alleged that Ms Bibi had done so in order to protect herself against those who had sought to kill her and husband. Another of the suspects also denied any involvement in the murder. He claimed that the allegations were a "misunderstanding" and alleged that as Mr Yunus had previously been involved in an unrelated murder allegation, the attack on him and Ms Bibi was likely to be the result of somebody "avenging" a previous incident.
Whether Ms Bibi's case will ever come to court is therefore unclear. Her allegations are unproven, and although arrest warrants have been issued for some of those suspects who she has identified to police, any actual arrests and interviews by the police are not thought to be imminent.
These interviews are necessary before a police investigation can determine whether there is sufficient evidence behind Ms Bibi's allegations to charge any suspects. Until then, the motive for the attack on her and the actual identity of her attackers remains undetermined.
"Fighting such a case in the court is tough, but when I go for hearings, I don't feel any pain in my body," she says.
"I am a dead person anyway, but I have to get justice for myself and my husband. We did no wrong." For centuries, Kohistan's "honour" killings have remained as little reported as the region itself. But in recent years there has been greater scrutiny, and deaths have been more frequently reported to the police. One reason appears to be the growth of mobile telephone technology, which has sparked differences over what constitutes an "honour" killing.
The first big challenge to this unwritten code came in May 2012 when someone in the area circulated a mobile phone video showing some women and men dancing and clapping at a wedding. It is alleged that some men from the families of the women decided they had been shamed and reportedly killed four women shown in the video, as well as a fifth girl for acting as a messenger. They are also accused of killing three brothers from the men's family. But a dispute apparently arose when the family of the brothers complained that relatives of the women had the right only to kill the two men who had appeared in the video. The women's family are said to have argued that since they had killed five of their women, the custom also allowed them to kill five men. The case was picked up by the Supreme Court and human rights groups, but it was left unresolved due to local complications. However, the publicity it attracted probably did save some lives and encourage other affected families to report such killings to the police.
Since April, police in Kohistan have registered at least seven reports in which 10 people have been killed, allegedly for "honour", seven of them women.
While these figures suggest that the police have become more active in registering complaints, few people named in them have actually been arrested. That may be because many of those accused wield considerable influence. There are then the difficulties of the terrain to contend with.
"Each police station covers a 70- to 80-square kilometre area, all of it mountains and deep valleys that take a police team days to reach," says Ali Akbar, Kohistan's district police chief.
"Hours before the police can reach a village, the villagers have advance information of their arrival and send the wanted men into forests and caves to hide."
Furthermore, there appears to be an enigmatic bond between the prospective killers and their likely victims which the police have no clue how to break. There is considerable evidence that women declared tainted by their families have chosen to die rather than seek outside help, even when this is easily available. But for Rukhsana Bibi, the mere fact that more people are willing to consider reporting "honour"-related killings to the police is a sign of change.
"I am not alone," she says. "All girls are treated like this in Kohistan, and since most of them are uneducated, they can't fight.
"But the new generation is changing, God willing. They just need a little help from the courts and the government."

Pakistan: The sectarian knot

OVER the last few decades, especially since virulently sectarian groups took root during Ziaul Haq’s blighted rule, violence fuelled by sectarian motives has had a devastating impact on Pakistani society. Much blood has flowed while prejudice has begun to colour the thinking of even many ‘moderate’ Pakistanis who now view sectarian ‘others’ with suspicion. While there have been highs and lows in the level of violence, what has consistently been missing is the state’s resolve to tackle the problem, especially the proliferation of violent groups and the spread of hate literature. It seems the state is more interested in trying to control the violence rather than eliminating it. Many in the ulema’s ranks have also displayed a similar attitude, condemning sectarianism on one hand but doing little to counter it on the other.
There is still time to address the issue if all stakeholders play their part. In this context, the ‘peace convention’ of Shia and Sunni religious and political groups held in Islamabad on Sunday is a positive development. It shows that the majority want peaceful coexistence and that only a handful of troublemakers are bent on stoking unrest. Yet holding joint rallies — though a step forward — alone will not solve the problem, which has reached critical proportions. Take the figure of people killed in sectarian terrorist attacks in 2013 released on Sunday by a think tank. According to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, 658 people were killed in such attacks last year countrywide, while 1,195 were injured.
To try and ensure that 2014 does not see a similar body count, several steps need to be taken by the government and ulema. First, any armed sectarian group from any school of thought found involved in acts of terrorism or targeted killings must be dismantled and its members prosecuted. The security establishment has a fair idea about the operations of such groups and those that give them protection and political cover. For example, the PIPS report says nine suicide attacks were carried out by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi last year. All those who aid and abet the terrorists must be brought to justice. Second, the state, aided by senior ulema, needs to clamp down on the misuse of loudspeakers at mosques and other worship places, specifically where the microphone is used to fan religious hatred. Nearly all religious groups — even some blatantly sectarian ones — swear they want harmony in society. The test of their resolve will only be proved when they help the state single out mischief-makers who spread hatred through mosque microphones. Ultimately, it is a question of whether the state and ulema have the will to sincerely tackle sectarian violence. Unless we see concrete proof of this, joint rallies or a code of conduct, such as that of Tahir Ashrafi, to maintain sectarian harmony, will have little impact in resolving the problem.

Pakistan: Remembering Salmaan Taseer

Kahar Zalmay
Before the enactment of the blasphemy law in Pakistan in 1974, only two cases were reported. A rise in such cases was seen whenever the Mian brothers came into power in Punjab
On July 4, 2011, Pakistan lost a man; nay, it shot itself in the foot. On that day, a religious fanatic did not murder a man — we killed an ideology, an inspiration, a narrative that could have held this country together. The philosophy for which Salmaan Taseer shaheed laid down his life values individual liberty, freedom of thought, consent of the people, rational argument, the constraints of evidence and the absence of controlling hegemonies.
I still remember that evening, not because he was killed at a distance of just a few yards from me, nor the details on how and who had killed him but because of the suffocation I felt thereafter. I dialled a friend’s number in Lahore to give her this very bad news. We had recently completed a documentary on the misuse of the blasphemy law and drove to a friend’s office in a media house with tight throats and tears welled up in our eyes. To my shock, the people present there, including two graduates from the prestigious educational institute LUMS, were celebrating Salmaan Taseer’s murder. Instead of evoking sympathy for the victim who stood for an innocent and voiceless woman, they were all praise for the ghairat-e-imani of the smug-faced murderer. I recalled what Rabbi Joachim Prinz had said in similar circumstances a few decades ago. “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin, under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence. A great people [Germans], who had created a great civilisation, had become a nation of silent on-lookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.” However, in our case, it was not silence — it was euphoria, it was celebration of a murder, it was fanaticism in its most supreme form, it was pure madness. Commentators on talk shows that evening and in consequent shows were busy with ‘ifs and buts’ but there was no condemnation on how horrific the murderer’s act was. He took not only an innocent life but also violated his oath to protect that life. Islam was forgotten that day; it teaches that to take a single life is like putting to death the whole of humanity. There was only one narrative: on television channels, in lawyers rallies, on banners that sprang up in support of Qadri in the upscale markets of Islamabad, all one could see was, ‘Hail, Malik Mumtaz Qadri’. Only in Pakistan can a villain become a hero and a murderer become a ghazi.
If that were not enough, in enters Khawaja Sharif, the former chief justice of the Lahore High Court (LHC) to constitute Qadri’s defence team. During proceedings, Justice Sharif submitted that Qadri had “merely done his duty as a security guard”. He said it was actually Taseer who had broken the law of the land by attempting to defend a person convicted of blasphemy and, in doing so, had “hurt the feelings of crores (millions) of Muslims”.
Salmaan Taseer championed a very unmarketable cause by defending Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman falsely charged with blasphemy after an argument with two women who had accused her of polluting their water by drinking out of the same receptacle. He had a very simple demand: the country’s blasphemy law should be revisited as innocent people had become victims of this law. Perhaps very few in this country know that a majority of the victims of the blasphemy law have been Muslims. In 2010, I started working with a friend on producing a documentary film, Blind Faith, on the misuse of this law when a 17-year old Christian boy, arrested on the charges of blasphemous comments, was allegedly hanged in a Sialkot lockup. When I dug deeper I found out that he was actually in love with a Muslim girl and that this was an easy and swift way for the girl’s family to dispose of him. During my research, I arrived at four conclusions: one, that in trials of blasphemy cases, decisions in 100 percent cases went against the accused at the sessions court level, later overturned by the high courts. Fear was reported to be the main reason. Second, 80 percent of blasphemy cases are reported in the four districts of Central Punjab, which include Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Sialkot. Third, a majority of the accused were Muslims. The figures we collected were between 1986 and 2005, according to which a total of 746 cases were reported out of which 50 percent accused were Muslims (Sunni/Shia), 35 percent were Ahmadis, 12 percent were Christians, two percent were Hindus and one percent was unknown. It merits mentioning that before the enactment of the blasphemy law in Pakistan in 1974, only two cases were reported. Fourth, that a rise in such cases was seen whenever the Mian brothers came into power in Punjab.
Benazir Bhutto’s killing left me shaken to the core but I still did not lose all hope. However, the assassination of Salmaan Taseer took it all away from me. I felt suffocated and so helpless among a crowd composed of Taseer’s assassin’s sympathisers. That day, we did not lose just a brave man who stood up for an innocent woman, we lost our humanity too. In his last tweet, Shaheed Taseer wrote, “I was under huge pressure sure to cow down before rightist pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing.” Three years on, Aasia Bibi is still languishing in jail. His family has suffered unspeakable loss, still waiting for his son, Shahbaz Taseer, to come home from Taliban captivity. He indeed was the last man standing. The rest have cowed down to the pressure of religious fanatics.

Pakistan: The anomalies of poverty

As if poverty is not enough of an enemy of childhood, torture and even murder is added to snatch away even the right to live. Two domestic workers, a minor and a teenager, died from torture in Lahore within a gap of two days. The 16-year-old Azra was allegedly gang raped and later killed by her employers, while 10-year-old Irum was beaten to death to make her confess that she had stolen her employer’s money. Both the girls were live-ins and depended on their employers for protection. The girls were supporting their parents back home to beat poverty that has increased manifold in Pakistan, creating inequalities and violence in society. The destitute do not belong to this world perhaps, because any behavior to treat them is considered acceptable while the law rarely wakes up to rescue them from the powerful. For the last couple of years, since the media has grown, stories of torture meted out to domestic workers by their employers have been given considerable space on TV and in newspapers. The issue, though old, suddenly became relevant and a few organizations, especially those working for human rights, exhorted the government to find a permanent solution to the problem. The matter however did not move out of the domain of agitation and a few emotional discourses in the public space. Those involved in treating their domestic workers like animals or worse were allowed to walk free, with no sign of guilt on their conscience. No employer has been convicted.
The judicial system may be silent over the issue of mistreating domestic workers. This makes the government responsible to round up anyone bypassing or overriding the law by violating the fundamental rights of citizens. But that was not to be. And with no respite from the government in sight in the foreseeable future, the only solace left to these domestic workers lies in their getting unified and standing together, either in the form of unions or representative bodies to stem the use of violence against them. This sense of collective responsibility would eventually also help shake the legislators out of their slumber and compel them to make the required laws or kick-start the existing ones by punishing the accused. The rub lies in the inability of the law to take its natural course. The matter in such cases hardly proceeds further from a few appearances in court, and then it is business as usual. This attitude begs for change to make a difference.

Pakistan: Altaf Bhai's abstract maths

Manzoor Ali
Everybody was outraged, I would say unjustly, with Altaf Hussein remark that refusal to divide the province of Sindh into two could lead to demand for separate state. The implication of Altaf�s statement being that the people in areas politically dominated by his party will start a struggle to carve out a separate country of their own out of some urban areas of Sindh.
The very next day his party men tried to rationalize their leaders eccentric statement by saying that it was not a threat rather a warning or a predication or even an analysis from their great, great leader on the prevailing injustices with the Urdu speaking people.
But three days later, the great, great leader came out with another puzzling demand of creating two Sindhs. �Sindh One� for Sindhi-speaking Sindhis� and �Sindh Two for non-Sindhi speaking Sindhis�. The funny part was that the great leader insisted that he was not just a great political leader but should be considered a great mathematician as well, since he came up with the formula that even after creating two Sindh�s, the province will remain one. The fact is that instead of criticising the great leader who is also a great mathematician, we should insist that Altaf Hussein be given not one but two Noble Prizes. After all, even Einstein, the greatest mathematician the world has ever known or had known before Altaf�s discovery, could not come up with a formula to prove that one plus one were one and not two. Dividing a province into two and still making it look one is the greatest scientific discovering of all ages and we should insist that while Einstein could not even prove that one atom plus one atom were one atom and went on with the old fashioned maths that these made two atoms and all he could say was that time was relative to distance and speed of light, Altaf Hussein did the same trick not just with atoms but a whole province. Altaf Hussein in his lightening and speedy speech to his fans proved that he could not only make two atoms counted as one but could do the same with a whole province. Of course, there will be people who will ridicule the great leader and mathematician Altaf Hussen but people also made fun of great scientist and mathematicians like Galileo, Newton, Einstein and many others.
Many may adopt the attitude that what MQM leader Altaf Hussein says, even on very serious issues, should not be just taken with a pinch of salt but rather in a lighter vein! And that there are reasons why people should not consider seriously Altaf Hussein�s outlandish remarks and the mind bogglingly bizarre reasoning of his apologists who are none other than the second tier of leadership of his party: Altaf�s distracter might even say that when it comes to voting the MQM leader has so arranged his maths that even those who stay at home on voting day, have their votes counted not once but two times in MQM�s favour but here he is doing the opposite dividing one province into two provinces and then making one out of it by calling the bisected portions as Sindh One and Sindh Two but counting them as one. They may also say that after failing to satisfy his voters on all issues, he has come up with this new maths about provinces to regain their favour.
I, however, believe that it was not Altaf Hussein�s purpose to divide the province; he was trying to make his mathematical discovery of counting one plus one is equal to one more memorable and this was the reason he hypothetically divided the province of Sindh into two and then insisted that we do not call it a division of Sindh or two provinces rather that these were one province in spite of the division. If you are confused, so am I! Still I think that Altaf tried to make his theory more memorable by attaching it with two Sindhs. He had seen that how most people took Einstein�s theory of relativity as about those living on this earth and their relatives living in heaven, so he chose to publicise his theory by attaching it to an irritating topic to some and perhaps very pleasing to his few supporters.
But then none of us has the mind of such a great mathematician or some might say political magician. Basically, the confusion was because of the people thinking the great leader was speaking as a politician when in fact he was addressing not just his voters or the people of Sindh, or even all Pakistanis. In fact he was addressing the whole world and he was addressing it as a mathematician and not as a politician.

Former President Asif Ali Zardari condoles death of widow of renowned poet Habib Jalib

Former President Asif Ali Zardari has condoled the death of Mumtaz Bibi widow of famous and popular poet Habib Jalib who passed away in Lahore today. In a message Asif Ali Zardari said that Mumtaz Bibi was highly respected widow of Habib Jalib who struggled for peoples’ rights all his life and Mumtaz Bibi stood by her husband through thick and thin. Thousands of people are saddened by her death. The former President also prayed to Almighty Allah to rest deceased soul in eternal peace and grant patience to the members of bereaved family to bear the loss with equanimity.

تکفیری دیوبندی لشکر جھنگوی کا ابراہیم زئی سکول پہ خود کش حملہ اور اعتزاز حسین کی لا زوال بہادری

by Shahram Ali
ہنگو میں آج ایک سکول پہ ہونے والے خود کش حملے میں ایک طالب علم شہید ہوگیا لیکن اس شہید طالب علم نے لشکر جھنگوی کے ملعون دہشت گرد کو سکول سے میں داخل ہونے سے روکنے کے لئے اس کو پکڑنے کی کوشش کی جس سے وہ تکفیری دہشت گرد اپنے ہدف تک پہنچنے سے پہلے ہی پھٹ گیا اور اس میں وہ معصوم طالب علم اعتزاز حسین شہید ہوگیا - ابراہیم زئی کے علاقے کے اس سکول میں شیعہ سنی مسلمان دونوں کی کافی تعداد پڑھتی ہے اور یہ اندازہ لگانا زیادہ مشکل نہیں کہ اگر یہ خود کش حملہ اور سکول میں داخل ہو کر خود کو اڑا لیتا تو کتنا نقصان ہو سکتا تھا – اعتزاز حسین کی بہادری اور ہمت نے پاکستان کو یقیناً ایک بہت بڑے سانحے سے بچا لیا اعتزاز حسین نے قاتل تکفیری دیوبندیوں کے نا پاک ارادوں کو ناکام بنا کر دنیا کو ایک بار پھر بتا دیا کہ حسین (ع) کے ماننے والا حسینی کیسا ہوتا ہے - جو اپنی زندگی انسانوں کی زندگیوں کو بچانے کے لئے وار دیتا ہے – اعتزاز حسین جو کہ ایک شیعہ طالب علم تھے انہوں نے سکول میں پڑھنے والے سنی شیعہ مسلمانوں کے لئے اپنی زندگی کا نذرانہ پیش کر کے ایک بار پھر ثابت کر دیا کہ شیعہ سنی مسلمان ایک دوسرے کو بھائی سمجھتے ہیں اور دوسری طرف تکفیری دیوبندی دہشت گردوں جن کا تعلق لشکر جھنگوی سے تھا سکول پہ حملہ کر کے یہ بتا دیا کہ وہ شیعہ اور سنی سب کے دشمن ہیں اور یہ وحشی درندے سب کے خون کے پیاسے ہیں ہنگو میں ہونے والے اس خود کش دھماکے کی ذمہ دار کالعدم دیوبندی تنظیم لشکر جھنگوی نے قبول کر لی ہے یہ وہی دیوبندی تکفیری تنظیم ہے جو اس سے پہلے بھی بہت سی دہشت گردی کی کاروائیوں میں ملوث رہی ہے اور آج کل اہل سنت والجماعت کے نام سے کام کر رہی ہے آخر میں ایک سوال اس ملک کے ارباب اختیار سے ہے کہ کیا آپ لوگ اس حد تک بے حس اور بے کار ہو چکے ہیں کہ اب نو عمر معصوم بچوں کو اپنے دفاع کے لئے بھی خودی قدم اٹھانے پڑیں گے ؟ کیا آپ لوگ صرف قاتلوں اور دہشت گردوں سے مذاکرات اور ان کی خوشنودی کے لئے ان کے ساتھیوں کی سزایں مؤخر اور منسوخ کرنے کے قابل رہ گیے ہیں ؟ پاکستانی قوم ، شیعہ سنی مسلمانوں کو اب جلد سے جلد فیصلہ کر لینا چاہیے کہ کیا وہ اس حکومت کے زیر اثر جو کہ خود طالبان کے زیر اثر ہے اپنے بچے ذبح کرنے اور قتل کرنے کے لئے طالبان کے حوالے کرنے پہ تیار ہیں ؟ اگر نہیں تو ابھی سے اس طالبان نواز ناکارہ حکومت کے خلاف احتجاج کے لئے خود کو تیار کریں اس سے قبل کہ اور پانی سروں سے گزر جائے
Ehtizaz Hussain, a Shia student of 9th class stopped a suicide bomber from entering Ibrahim Zai government school in Hangu today, sacrificing his life to save many lives of Sunnis as well as Shias, A Red Salute to the Martyr Lashkar e Jhangvi took responsibility for the attack. We Should All Get united against The Monsters of Taliban LeJ SSP And likes, does’t matter which religion, sect we belong to but we have to get united against the common enemies of Humanity, with how many terrorist groups are we going to hold peace talks ? Suicide blast at school kills student in Hangu
- See more at: http://lubpak.com/archives/301233#sthash.qY26NPio.dpuf

Pakistan's Christians Under Attack: Asia Bibi Writes A Letter To Pope Francis

VATICAN: Asia Bibi accused and convicted of blasphemy has written to Pope Francis saying; only God can liberate her.
According to an editorial set forth during the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines News Service (CBCP News), Asia Bibi in her letter to Pope Francis said: I also hope that every Christian has been able to celebrate the Christmas just past with joy. Like many other prisoners, I also celebrated the birth of the Lord in prison in Multan, here in Pakistan.
She continued: only God will be able to free me and made a point of thanking the ‘Renaissance Education Foundation” that helped make her “dream come true” to live Christmas with her husband and children by bringing them to Multan. “I would have liked to be in St. Peter’s for Christmas to pray with you but I trust in God’s plan for me and hopefully it will be achieved next year,” she wrote.
Asia Bibi, a convict of blasphemy who has been sentenced to capital punishment is awaiting the wrapping up of appeal against death sentence as her ordeal of about four and a half years without trial, continues.
“I am very grateful to all the churches that are praying for me and fighting for my freedom. I do not know how long I can go on and on. If I am still alive, it is thanks to the strength that your prayers give me. I have met many people who speak and fight for me. Unfortunately still to no avail. At this time I just want to trust the mercy of God, who can do everything, that all is possible. Only He can liberate me,” she wrote.
In her letter, Asia Bibi also expressed gratitude to all the people who advocate her cause and raise funds for her. She then went on to talk about her every day sufferings saying: This winter I am facing many problems; my cell has no heating and no suitable door for shelter from the bitter cold. CBCP News further added: she told the Pope that “the security measures are not adequate, I do not have enough money for daily needs, and I am very far from Lahore so my family cannot help me.” She concluded the letter by asking Pope Francis to accept her best wishes for the New Year saying: I know you pray for me with all your heart. And this gives me confidence that one day my freedom will be possible. Certain to be remembered in your prayers, I greet you with affection. Asia Bibi, your daughter in the faith.
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/asia-bibi-writes-a-letter-to-pope-francis/#sthash.T1f4Iu0r.dpuf

Three valves of Musharraf's heart blocked: report

The medical report showed that three valves of former president Pervez Musharraf’s heart are blocked while he is suffering from kidney disease as well, Dunya News reported on Tuesday.
According to sources, the medical report was prepared by senior doctors of the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC).
The report is likely to be present at 11:00am in the special court, sources told. It is pertinent to mention here that the special court set up to try former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for treason on Monday demanded a medical report after he missed another hearing following a heart complaint. The three-judge bench adjourned the case to Tuesday and asked for a report on his condition to be submitted to explain his continued absence from proceedings.
The 70-year-old former president was rushed to a military hospital on Thursday after falling ill while being taken to hear treason charges against him at the tribunal in Islamabad. Musharraf's camp says the treason allegations, which relate to his imposition of emergency rule in November 2007, are politically motivated and his lawyers have challenged the authority of the tribunal.
Aside from the treason allegations, Musharraf also faces trial over the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the death of a rebel leader, a deadly raid on a radical mosque and the detention of judges.

Electricity Crisis in Balochistan

By Adnan Aamir
The word Balochistan has become synonymous with crises and problems in present day Pakistan. There are a lot of problems faced by Balochistan ranging from insurgency, deprivation, kidnappings for ransom, corruption and complete collapse of government machinery amongst other problems. However, one problem in Balochistan often overshadowed by security related problems is the electricity crisis of the troubled province. Electricity crisis is a major problem for entire Pakistan but in Balochistan its much bigger crisis and beyond control to say the least.
To sum up the problem in one phrase, the load shedding in Balochistan will not end even if the country has surplus electricity. The reason is hidden in the obsolete and weak transmission network of electricity in Balochistan. The total electricity demand of Balochistan in peak season is around 1620 MW, equal to total demand of Multan region alone. The demand falls to 1200 MW in winter season. The primary problem is that electricity transmission network has the capacity of 700 MW and to be on safe side 650 MW is transmitted. These statistics were provided by Federal Minister for Water and Power, Khawja Asif in National Assembly. This means that when there is no load shedding in rest of the country in winter season, people in Balochistan continue to suffer the worst load shedding or load management as Wapda calls it. This is a serious problem and should not be overlooked in context of wider electricity crisis in entire country.
The effects of prolonged load shedding have been devastating for the people of Balochistan. Most of people in rural areas are farmers and since there is no canal irrigation system in most of Balochistan, electricity-powered tube wells are the only source of water for irrigation. Using other fuels such as diesel to run the tube wells increases the costs multifold and makes it unaffordable for the farmers. This means that livelihood of most of people has been taken away from them because of load shedding of electricity. Quetta has minimal load shedding because QESCO, the electricity distribution company in Balochistan, can’t supply uninterrupted electricity to all cities so it does to the biggest one. In other districts, people get electricity for only 2 to 4 hours in Summer and maximum 8 to 12 hours in winter when there is no load shedding in cities like Lahore. Considering the population of Balochistan, which is less than city of Lahore; this is a travesty of justice.
Apart from that most of the Balochistan suffers from low voltage problem. It’s because only one transmission line provides electricity to the province through Guddu in Sindh. Few years back, work on two new transmission lines began to solve the electricity crisis in Balochistan. One transmission line connects Dadu to Khuzadr and the other one connects Dera Ghazi Khan to Loralai. The estimated cost of these two transmission lines is 10 billion rupees. These were scheduled to complete in 2011 but even now there is no sign of a definite completion date of these transmission lines. Even after their completion these will add 730 MW in system. The new capacity of electricity distribution infrastructure in Balochistan will be 1430 MW and still there will be a shortfall of 200 MW in peak season. So, if government has started a project to solve electricity crisis, it should, at least, solve the problem completely when and if the project is ever completed.
To rub salt to wounds, State minister for Water and Power, Abid Sher Ali, declares people of Balochistan electricity thieves. Balochistan is not the sole target of bad mouthing by him and one day he lets loose his tirade against KESC and another day people of Khyber Pakhtunkhaw are electricity thieves according to the person who got his ministry due to his relations with the ruling Sharif family. People like Abid Sher Ali are fanning the Anti-Punjab sentiments in smaller provinces. When people get only two hours electricity daily then how much electricity they can steal or use unmetered. There are some people who are involved in electricity theft but it’s only possible due to corrupt staff of QESCO, who takes bribe to allow such theft.
In Balochistan 1700 MW of electricity is produced but most of that is transmitted to Sindh. Entire electricity production of 1000 MW plant of HUBCO and 520 MW UCH Power Plant is transferred outside Balochistan. According to a study conducted by Alternative Energy Development Board’s Rural Electrification Project for Southern Balochistan, 5000 MW of electricity can be produced in southern Balochistan only though wind Turbines. No one is interested in funding the project of wind turbines not even the Balochistan government which gets almost 200 Billion rupees annually from divisible pool of Federal government.
The electricity crisis in Balochistan is smaller in magnitude and can be easily resolved. Government of Balochistan and specially the Federal Ministry of Water and Power needs to show commitment and sincerity towards solving this problem. The two aforementioned transmission lines should be completed on war footings. If the Babus in Islamabad are not releasing funds for these projects based on concocted excuses then Government of Balochistan should finance them. Electricity should also be imported from Iran in higher quantities. Given the sense of deprivation in the province and its small population, it should be declared a load shedding free province. This can be made possible in short span of time and without using too much resource. Solving this problem, to some extent, can reduce the sense of deprivation in Balochistan.