A predominantly Muslim nation, Turkey has occasionally seen anti-Christian campaigns, some with tragic consequences. But the scale of protests against New Year’s celebrations this year was unprecedented. Previously, some Islamic media would denounce the festivities as un-Islamic, but never before have we seen acts threatening those who celebrate.As fellow Al-Monitor contributor Pinar Tremblay described, members of Turkey’s tiny Christian minority were already depressed, bemoaning the increasingly subdued fashion of their Christmas celebrations and the “long gone memory” of times past, when Christians and Muslims shared holidays.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Turkish prosecutors want a policeman to go to jail for three years for tear-gassing a protester who became known as the "woman in red", reports say.
The protests began as a peaceful demonstration against plans to redevelop Istanbul's Gezi park - one of the last green spaces in the city. But they escalated into an unprecedented show of defiance against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government after a heavy-handed police operation to clear the site. Ms Sungur, an academic at Istanbul's Technical University who was wearing a red dress, had gone to join the protests but found herself in front of a line of riot police. One of them bent down and fired tear gas at her, leaving her gasping for breath. Reuters photographer Osman Orsal captured the moment, and the images soon went viral on social media, in cartoons and as stickers and posters used by other protesters.
Egyptian officials say voters have overwhelmingly approved a constitution drafted by the military-installed government and boycotted by the opposition. The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday preliminary results showed that 95 percent of participants approved the draft. "Turnout so far may exceed 55 percent and the approval of the constitution is perhaps more than 95 percent," Major General Abdel Fattah Othman, director of public relations for the ministry, told private satellite channel Al-Hayat. The result could pave the way for the army chief to announce his candidacy for president. The two-day referendum which ended on Wednesday evening was marred by violent clashes between security forces and protesters. At least 11 people were killed and nearly 450 people, mostly Muslim Brotherhood supporters, were also arrested in the past two days. The official results of the constitutional referendum are expected to be announced on Sunday. Some 53 million Egyptians were eligible to vote in the referendum. If passed, the constitution will replace the country’s previous one, approved under former President Mohamed Morsi in December 2012. A coalition led by the Muslim Brotherhood has boycotted the vote on the constitution and called on the Egyptians to vote against it. The Egyptian army removed Morsi from power on July 3, 2013. It then suspended the constitution, dissolved the parliament, and appointed the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmoud Mansour, as interim president. More than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes since Morsi's ouster, and thousands of others have been arrested, including the top leadership of the Brotherhood.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced a new public-private manufacturing hub in North Carolina during his visit to the state, seeking to bolster an industry that he considers essential to raising middle class incomes. The manufacturing hub in Raleigh is a consortium of 18 businesses and six universities that will be led by North Carolina State University and will lead an institute to develop high-power electronic chips. Obama had called for three such hubs in his State of the Union speech a year ago. The other two have yet to be selected. Backed by $70 million in federal funding, the hub would connect manufacturers with emerging research on energy-efficient chips that would help make electronic devices smaller and faster. Companies involved include ABB, APEI, Avogy, Cree, Delphi, Delta Products, DfR Solutions, Gridbridge, and Hesse Mechantronics, among others. Eager to press economic themes in an election year after struggling with the rollout of his healthcare plan, Obama has said he would like to create a network of 45 manufacturing hubs around the country, but that would require money from Congress, which has not been as enthusiastic about the idea. "I don't want the next big job creating discovery, the research and technology, to be in Germany, or China or Japan; I want it to be right here in the United States of America," Obama said on the North Carolina State University campus following a tour of Vacon, which manufactures components used in electronic engines. "Where I can act on my own I'm going to do so, and today I'm here to act," he said. "Manufacturing is a bright spot in this economy." While manufacturing accounts for only about 12 percent of the economy, it has been the key driver of recovery from the 2007-09 recession. Its continued show of strength is combining with improving fortunes in other sectors of the economy to set a foundation for sustained strong growth this year. But problems persist. Intel said a major chip factory it had built in Chandler, Arizona, will not open for the forseeable future. Obama, on the campaign trail in 2012, had held up the facility as an example of U.S. manufacturing potential. Although manufacturing output has recovered well from the recession, job growth in the sector has not tracked the gains, said Peter Ward, professor of operations management at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. "The number of jobs in manufacturing don't reflect the bounce back in output," Ward said. "Manufacturers are doing more with less." Obama's decision to bail out the auto industry was key to helping the manufacturing sector recover, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "I think the Obama Administration has been generally manufacturing friendly, certainly in rhetoric but also in substance," Zandi said. While the president can take some credit for increased demand for goods and services, gains in manufacturing come from management decisions and worker productivity, Ward said. "I really have a pretty hard time putting a causal link between any president and what happens in the manufacturing economy," he said. "It's much more the management and performance of smart managers and smart workers who are out there doing it." Obama said he plans to soon unveil two more manufacturing hubs focused on digital manufacturing and lightweight metals manufacturing. The government will spend a total of $200 million on the three centers, which will be matched by money from private companies, universities, and state governments. UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE Obama's efforts to spur stronger economic growth have been overshadowed by his inability so far to persuade Congress to approve legislation extending emergency unemployment insurance for people who have been out of work for at least six months. The president has said the benefits would provide 1.5 million Americans a much-needed cushion and also would boost growth. Despite pressure from the administration, Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate rejected one another's proposals on Monday. While they vowed to keep working to find middle ground, a compromise appears unlikely before next week's Senate recess. The measure would also have to pass the Republican-led House of Representatives. Obama's presence in North Carolina comes as the Republican-dominated state government has carried out a conservative agenda, cutting jobless benefits, banning same-sex marriage, and freezing pay for teachers. In that environment, North Carolina's Democratic Senator Kay Hagen faces a tough reelection battle in November. She was not with Obama during the trip, citing the need to participate in votes in Washington - although Obama thanked her for her hard work during his speech. Analysts said it would not serve her to be too closely associated with Obama, whose bungled healthcare law roll-out has reduced his popularity ratings in the state. "Kay Hagen is suddenly reluctant to associate herself with Obama," the Republican National Committee said in a statement.
The photos Saudi Arabia doesn't want seen – and proof Islam's most holy relics are being demolished in Mecca
The key Islamic heritage site, including Prophet Mohammed’s shrine, is to be bulldozed, as Saudi Arabia plans a $ 6 billion expansion of Medina’s holy Masjid an-Nabawi Mosque. However, Muslims remain silent on the possible destruction. Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, is planned to start as soon as the annual Hajj pilgrimage comes to a close at the end of November. “After the Hajj this year, in one months’ time, the bulldozers will move in and will start to demolish the last part of Mecca, the grand mosque which is at least 1,000 years old,” Dr. Irfan Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told RT. After the reconstruction, the mosque is expected to become the world’s largest building, with a capacity for 1.6 million people. And while the need to expand does exist as more pilgrims are flocking to holy sites every year, nothing has been said on how the project will affect the surroundings of the mosque, also historic sites. Concerns are growing that the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will come at the price of three of the world’s oldest mosques nearby, which hold the tombs of Prophet Mohammed and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar. The expansion project which will cost 25 billion SAR (more than US $6 billion) reportedly requires razing holy sites, as old as the seventh century. The Saudis insist that colossal expansion of both Mecca and Medina is essential to make a way for the growing numbers of pilgrims. Both Mecca and Medina host 12 million visiting pilgrims each year and this number is expected to increase to 17 million by 2025. Authorities and hotel developers are working hard to keep pace, however, the expansions have cost the oldest cities their historical surroundings as sky scrapers, luxury hotels and shopping malls are being erected amongst Islamic heritage. A room in a hotel or apartment in a historic area may cost up to $ 500 per night. And that’s all in or near Mecca, a place where the Prophet Mohammed insisted all Muslims would be equal. “They just want to make a lot of money from the super-rich elite pilgrims, but for the poor pilgrims it is getting very expensive and they cannot afford it,” Dr. Irfan Al Alawi said. Jabal Omar complex – a 40 tower ensemble – is being depicted as a new pearl of Mecca. When complete, it will consist of six five star hotels, seven 39 storey residential towers offering 520 restaurants, 4, 360 commercial and retail shops. But to build this tourist attraction the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimated that 95 percent of sacred sites and shrines in the two cities have been destroyed in the past twenty years. The Prophet’s birthplace was turned into a library and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, was replaced with a public toilet block. Also the expansion and development might threaten many locals homes, but so far most Muslims have remained silent on the issue. “Mecca is a holy sanctuary as stated in the Quran it is no ordinary city. The Muslims remain silent against the Saudi Wahhabi destruction because they fear they will not be allowed to visit the Kindom again,” said Dr. Al Alawi. The fact that there is no reaction on possible destruction has raised talks about hypocrisy because Muslims are turning a blind eye to that their faith people are going to ruin sacred sites. “Some of the Sunni channels based in the United Kingdom are influenced by Saudi petro dollars and dare not to speak against the destruction, but yet are one of the first to condemn the movie made by non Muslims,” Dr. Al Alawi said.
Unjustified interference & Repression of Saudi women:-' Religious Police Tell Saudi Women To Stop Playing On Swings'
A picture of religious police busting a group of women on a swing set in Saudi Arabia went viral on the country's social networks. Saudi Arabic newspapers printed the shot of officers from the country’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—the police force tasked with keeping religious authority—stepping in after several male bystanders heckled the women for their inappropriate behavior. The picture made a buzz on social media and was supported by some Saudis, according to Arab news sources. “Some viewers of the picture supported the move by the Commission members on the grounds women using the swing could encourage men to harass or molest them,” wrote the Saudi Arabic language daily Al Sada. “Others said they believe the act is not acceptable as it amounted to an unjustified interference and repression of women by the Commission.” Emirates 24/7 also reported that the religious police shut down a restaurant that allegedly allowed the mixing of genders, prohibited in most public places under Saudi law. “Sources said they shut the restaurant after it was found to be violating local laws, including allowing mixing between men and women, operating obscene TV channels and serving shisha in closed places,” wrote the Sabq daily newspaper. Many Saudi women are celebrating a victory, however, with the suspension of a program that sends a text message to their male relatives when they travel outside the country. In the Gulf kingdom all women have a male guardian, who would be notified every time they crossed the border, according to the program. Many Saudi women denounced the measure as demeaning and humiliating. The system will reportedly undergo an amendment process.
Watchdog organisation is apprehensive about ongoing human rights violationsThere is “sharp contradiction” between the aspirations for rights and freedoms in the constitution and the reality on the ground, said Amnesty International’s North Africa researcher Diana El-Tahawy. As the referendum on the draft constitution resumed on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported eight deaths from clashes occurring on the first day of the two-day long vote. International human rights watchdog Amnesty International has been monitoring the environment in which the referendum was held, and has shown concern primarily over the restrictions over a No vote and the deadly clashes which occurred on Tuesday between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. El-Tahawy described Tuesday’s violence as a “pattern of excessive use of force by the authorities against those they see as opponent.” She added that even though the death toll was smaller than the death tolls reported in similar clashes during the summer of 2013, the existence of the pattern itself was alarming. “We don’t believe that the referendum will improve [Egyptians’ suffering from] human rights violations,” El-Tahawy said, adding that the organisation is apprehensive about continued violations conducted with impunity. She reflected the organisation’s aspirations for “proper and impartial investigations into the killing of thousands of protesters not just during the [pro-Mohamed Morsi] Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in, but throughout the past three years.” Among those who headed to the polling stations to cast their votes, only a few voters who disapproved of the draft constitution could be spotted. “Egypt is now going through a polarised climate,” El-Tahawy said. “Both public and private-owned media outlets are giving a lot of space for those campaigning for a Yes vote. Voting No is often considered treachery or support for the Muslim Brotherhood.” El-Tahawy said such atmosphere prompts citizens to exercise self-censorship, adding that dissent is generally punished by the authorities. At least six members of the Misr Al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) Party have been allegedly arrested during the week while campaigning for a Novote. “Such cases deterred others in terms of expressing their views,” El-Tahawy said. Amnesty International had already made public its reservations on the draft constitution. In a statement the organisation released in December, Amnesty said the text falls short of Egypt’s international human rights obligations despite fixing some deficiencies in the 2012 constitution. The international human rights watchdog criticised the draft for giving the military sweeping powers. Amnesty doubted that, with the excessive autonomy the draft grants the military, real transitional justice, as addressed in the draft, could be implemented. The organisation also criticised the draft for discriminating against foreign nationals and allowing the placement of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.
The protection of the basic human rights and freedoms in the European Union remains ineffective and incomplete, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its report evaluating the human rights situation in the EU in 2013. “In conditions of the ongoing financial-economic crisis in Europe, the number of gross violations of the rights of minorities, refugees and immigrants and infringements on citizens’ rights has increased,” it said. The ministry voiced concern over insufficient protection of the rights of children, gender inequality, abuse of power by police, violations of the rights of convicts, and the involvement of a whole number of EU countries in the CIA’s program of secret jail, as well as mass intrusions into the private life of individuals and encroachments on the freedom of speech and the press in the EU. The above facts make it “obvious that the existing system of protection of the basic human rights and freedoms in the EU continues to be ineffective and incomplete,” the ministry concluded. In its assessment of the human rights situation in the EU, the ministry relied on authoritative international sources, including reports by the UN Human Rights Council, documents of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), reports by the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, and information provided by human rights experts, journalists and nongovernmental organizations. Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_01_15/Protection-of-human-rights-freedoms-in-EU-ineffective-incomplete-Russia-8875/
Back in the 1970s, a Jewish organization commissioned a poll to investigate anti-Semitism in the United States. The poll included several open-ended questions. One asked, “Is there anything in particular you like about Jewish people?” The answers were recorded verbatim. One respondent — a worker from Pittsburgh — answered, “What I like about them is that they are hardworking, aggressive and know how to get ahead.” The next question asked, “Is there anything in particular you don’t like about Jewish people?” His answer: “They’re too pushy and aggressive.” The puzzled interviewer asked, “Isn’t that what you just said you like about them?” The respondent answered, “Yes. What I like about them is also what I don’t like about them.” Now, consider New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who just won a landslide re-election in a Democratic state. And a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. What people like about Christie is his forcefulness. He is not a guy to be trifled with. People like that in a leader. What people don’t like about Christie is his bullying. He punishes anyone who gets in his way. Consider, after a Democratic state senator crossed him, according to the Washington Post, she claims the governor asked his people “to take the bat out on me.” (She now keeps two baseball bats in her office, one with Christie’s name on it and one with her name on it.) People don’t like leaders who get what they want by bullying. Forcefulness and bullying are different sides of the same quality. What people like about Christie is also what they don’t like. A Republican communication strategist told the Post, “If Governor Christie were anyone else, he’d have to change the way he does things. But because this is the defining part of his persona, he needs to stick with it.” The good turns into the bad. That’s not unusual in politics. During his first term, what people liked about President George W. Bush was his resolve (“The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”). During his second term, what they didn’t like was his stubbornness. In 2006, when Bush spurned the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for a new course in Iraq, the Democratic National Committee called him “the most stubborn man on earth.”
President Bill Clinton’s empathy got him elected in 1992. He “felt your pain” at a time when millions of Americans were hurting. Incumbent President George H.W. Bush was famously out of touch. But when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke during Clinton’s second term, his empathy turned into slickness (“It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”). President Jimmy Carter’s moralism had the same effect. It was a welcome breath of fresh air after the Watergate scandal. During the “malaise” crisis of 1979, however, it turned into sanctimoniousness. (“Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.”) Then, Barack Obama’s thoughtfulness was a great relief after the impetuousness of President George W. Bush. But too much thoughtfulness can make a leader seem ineffectual. William Shakespeare, the greatest observer of human nature the world has known, made just this point with “Hamlet.” Ronald Reagan’s political journey, however, was in the opposite direction. At first, Reagan’s radicalism made voters wary of him. Yet, by the end of the 1980 campaign, they began to admire Reagan’s conviction — a quality missing from Carter, the wishy-washy incumbent. Reagan turned the bad into the good. It’s called crossing the line. There’s a fine line between conviction and radicalism, between moralism and sanctimoniousness, between thoughtfulness and ineffectualness, between resolve and stubbornness. Christie may have crossed the line between forcefulness and bullying. What won Christie 60 percent of the vote in November is now turning off most New Jersey voters. According to a new Monmouth University poll, Christie’s favorability rating among New Jersey voters has dropped from 70 percent a year ago to 44 percent. Christie’s misfortune is that the good turned into the bad before he could even run for president. The odds of the controversy dying seem slim. Huge numbers of Americans have to deal with traffic problems. The idea that someone would deliberately cause a four-day traffic jam is outrageous. As an act of political retribution, it doesn’t even make sense. Thousands of innocent people were hurt. The politician reportedly being targeted — the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who failed to endorse Christie’s re-election — had no idea that that this had anything to do with politics. Or with him. If the person you are taking revenge on doesn’t even know it, what’s the point? It’s hard to believe that Christie knew nothing about what his aides were up to. There will now be investigations, lawsuits and possible criminal charges. The staff members accused of setting the plot are likely to cooperate with prosecutors who hold the threat of prison over their heads. They will talk, and they may say things that could doom Christie’s political prospects. The story of Christie’s fall has great dramatic potential. It could make for the best New Jersey political movie since “American Hustle.” How about John Goodman starring in “Trafficking in Revenge’’?
014 will be a busy political year in the United States. President Barack Obama will outline his policy priorities when he delivers his State of the Union address on January 28. In November, voters will head to the polls to elect a new Congress, an outcome with potentially enormous political stakes for the president, as well as for lawmakers from both major political parties. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has a political preview from Washington.
President Obama holds his first cabinet meeting of the year, and says he will not wait for legislation to advance his 2014 priorities.
A Danish woman was gang-raped in the Indian capital after getting lost and asking a group of men for directions, police and reports said Wednesday, the latest high-profile case of sexual assault against women in the country. The 51-year-old woman was attacked late Tuesday at knife-point by the group of more than six men after losing her way to her hotel in a popular backpacker area of New Delhi, according to local media reports. "She lost her way when this incident happened. Currently, the concerned police team has identified suspects and is interrogating them. The investigation is on," Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP. The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told her friend about the attack when she eventually reached her hotel in Paharganj near the city's central Connaught Place, Bhagat said. The woman had approached the group for directions near the New Delhi Railway Station after visiting a city museum, but they took her to a secluded spot before raping her at knifepoint, the Press Trust of India news agency reported citing unnamed police sources. The Danish embassy did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment. According to The Times of India newspaper, the women had been in India for about a week, travelling first to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, before arriving in New Delhi on Tuesday. The case comes weeks after a Polish woman was allegedly drugged and raped by a taxi driver while travelling with her two-year-old daughter to New Delhi. Last month India marked the first anniversary of the death of a student who was gang-raped on a moving Delhi bus in an attack that sent shockwaves across the nation. The gang-rape triggered massive protests over the levels of violence against women, but in the last 12 months reported cases of local and foreign women being attacked have shot up significantly. A judge last month sentenced three Nepalese men to 20 years in jail for the gang-rape of a US tourist in June in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. Six men were sentenced to life in prison last July for the gang-rape and robbery of a 39-year-old Swiss woman cyclist who had been holidaying in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
http://www.pajhwok.com/Painting a grim picture of the Afghan economy, the World Bank (WB) on Wednesday estimated the country’s growth rate at 3.1 percent in the year 2013; which is a sharp drop from 14.4 percent in the previous year. “Growth in Afghanistan weakened sharply to an estimated 3.1 percent in 2013 from an exceptionally high 14.4 percent in 2012,” the WB said in its Global Economic Prospects (GEP) report released Wednesday. The WB said the withdrawal of international forces would affect Afghanistan, as previously donor-financed expenditure would need to be financed from budget expenditure. “Afghanistan’s GDP growth is projected at 3.5 percent for 2014 (a slight improvement from an estimated 3.1 percent in 2013), before rising gradually to around five percent as the security situation stabilizes and mining projects come online,” the Bank said. As the presence of international forces in Afghanistan winds down, reductions in Coalition Support Funds for Pakistan are likely to be offset by continued disbursements under the IMF’s extended fund facility and robust inflows of remittances, it said. In Afghanistan, the combination of political transition and withdrawal of international forces in 2014 could pose risks to the country’s fiscal sustainability and growth, the bank said. The GDP growth in South Asia is projected to improve to 5.7 percent in 2014, rising gradually to 6.7 percent in 2016, led mainly by recovering high income import demand and regional investment. Global GDP growth is projected to firm from 2.4 percent in 2013 to 3.2 percent this year, stabilizing at 3.4 percent and 3.5 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively, with much of the initial acceleration reflecting stronger growth in high-income economies. “We expect developing country growth to rise above 5 percent in 2014, with some countries doing considerably better, with Angola at 8 percent, China 7.7 percent, and India at 6.2 percent,” said Kaushik Basu, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the WB.
http://www.afghanistantimes.af/India is set to host two back-to-back international conclaves on Afghanistan at a time when the US is stepping up pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the proposed Bilateral Security Agreement between Kabul and Washington DC. The International Contact Group on Afghanistan and Pakistan will meet in New Delhi on Thursday. This will be followed by another meeting of the senior officials of the countries involved with the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan on Friday. The conclaves are going to be the first multinational brainstorming of 2014, a watershed year for Afghanistan, which will witness both security and political transitions over the next 11 months. The International Contact Group on Afghanistan and Pakistan is a bloc of 53 countries. It was initially launched as Special Representatives’ Group in 2009 and was later renamed as International Contact Group on Afghanistan. Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan, S K Lamba, will represent India in the meet on Thursday, said official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin. He said Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh would represent India in the 10th meeting of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan (also known as Heart of Asia process). Fourteen member states, 16 supporting members and 11 international organizations had been invited for the meeting.
Jonathan SteeleThis is the year of the big Afghan retreat. By December British and American troops will have left the country after 12 disastrous years. After spending billions of dollars to promote good governance, economic development and women's rights, they will depart from a state that is among the three most corrupt in the world, has rates of infant mortality that match the worst in sub-Saharan Africa and ranks 175th on the UN's chart for gender equality. No wonder the gap between official western statements and the views of most Afghans remains huge. Rarely has a foreign occupation created so much misunderstanding between invaders and local people. Afghans welcomed the flight of the Taliban in 2001 but also hoped for punitive action against the other warlords who had terrorised them before the Taliban emerged. Instead, they saw them reinstalled in power and soon become the prime beneficiaries of western largesse. Whether the departure of foreign troops is total is not yet clear. After negotiating a pact that would allow about 10,000 US troops to remain indefinitely, Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign it unless he gets more concessions. This leaves open the possibility that, as happened in Iraq in 2011, the talks will collapse and the US will be forced to abandon the bases it hasdeveloped since 2001. Recently leaked conclusions from the US's latest national intelligence estimate paint a picture of "chaos" in Afghanistan if all US troops depart. While this may be designed to frighten Afghan politicians into signing the pact, the intelligence estimate predicts declining security even if some troops remain. Yet only a minority of Afghans are worried. A poll, financed by the US government and conducted by Glevum Associates in the run-up to the presidential election in April, has found that no more than 40% of those surveyed felt it was important for candidates to support troops staying after 2014. This chimes in with the general Afghan perception, articulated repeatedly by Karzai, that US and British troops have caused excessive death and destruction. Security in Helmand was better before the British came, he said last year. His position is, of course, ambiguous. Without US support he would never have become president. But torn between loyalty to his protectors and paymasters and the need to express the feelings of most Afghans, he has become increasingly critical of the foreign occupation as his time in office runs out. In Whitehall and Washington, where officials and generals peddle the propaganda of success, Karzai's line creates exasperation. They should look at another survey published last month, by the US-based Asia Foundation, which found that 77% of Afghans said they would be afraid to encounter international forces. What then of April's elections, touted as another milestone of progress? Almost all of the 11 candidates have faced serious allegations of graft. Seven are warlords linked to allegations of war crimes. The worst is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a hardline Islamist who will go down in history as the man who invited Osama bin Laden to settle in Afghanistan in 1996. That such a man could be tolerated as an acceptable potential president reveals the cynicism of the official western discourse on good governance. The one good thing about the election is that candidates are crossing the ethnic divide in their choice of running mates. Even Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun who is the most progressive of the candidates and one of the two front-runners, has felt it necessary to pick the ruthless Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum as his vice-president. If these pragmatic alliances can help to prevent a resurgence of fighting, they will have achieved something. But the fact that avoiding civil war is Afghanistan's top priority as western troops depart is the biggest indictment of the west's 12 years of failure. As for the resurgent Taliban, rather than trying to destroy them by force the west should have sought to negotiate. Neither Karzai nor western policy ever embraced this option seriously. There has been much talk of "reconciliation", but it was only a euphemism for a surrender in which individual Taliban were expected to abandon their armed struggle. Now, with the west on the way out, Washington's appetite for a U-turn is nil. The chance that Afghan's new president will talk to the Taliban is not much greater: 2014 will not be a good year.
Stephen J. Hadley was national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.U.S. officials are struggling again with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. After painful and prolonged negotiations, they concluded a draft bilateral security agreement last year that lays the foundation for leaving U.S military forces in Afghanistan after 2014. It is expected to involve 8,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops with counterterrorism, training and other responsibilities in support of Afghan forces. Most U.S. experts on Afghanistan believe that such a residual force is critical if Afghan forces are to continue to professionalize. Only with such help will they have a reasonable chance of containing the Taliban and giving Afghan authorities the space to negotiate a political settlement that includes the Taliban. Some NATO forces would remain, but only if U.S. troops stay. Most experts believe that without residual forces, the billions of dollars in financial support promised for Afghan security forces and for Afghanistan’s economic development will not materialize. Few believe that any Afghan government would survive long without this assistance. So the stakes are high — for Afghanistan and for preserving the investment of lives and treasure that the United States and its coalition allies have made over the past 12 years. Initially Karzai said he would sign the agreement after a loya jirga, a traditional congregation of Afghan leaders, approved the pact. The loya jirga approved the deal in November, but Karzai demanded further concessions: an end to counterterrorism raids into Afghan homes at night, active U.S. support for the peace process with the Taliban and non-interference in the April presidential election that will determine Karzai’s successor. Lately, he has threatened to leave the matter to his successor. U.S. officials have responded by pressuring Karzai directly and indirectly. They have set a succession of deadlines and said the agreement must be signed in “weeks, not months.” So far, nothing has worked. U.S. officials need an alternative approach. One option would be for President Obama to make a public statement praising Afghanistan’s progress in assuming responsibility for its security; improving the education, health and well-being of its citizens; and preparing for the April election. To support that progress, Obama would say, he has directed U.S. forces to curtail all but essential night raids. He is committed to facilitating the peace process, he would note, and pledges full support for an election free from all outside influences. These statements would not represent a major U.S. policy change, but together they would offer Karzai a face-saver if he wishes to sign the security agreement. Next, Obama could announce the number of troops that he is prepared to leave in Afghanistan post-2014 and direct the Pentagon to develop plans on that basis. He would call on our NATO allies to announce similar force commitments. This step would go a long way toward reassuring Afghan presidential candidates, and the Afghan people, of the United States’ post-2014 presence. The lack of such reassurance has become a source of serious instability, threatening the election and the morale of Afghan security forces. For similar reasons, Obama should resist any pressure to set a date for the termination of the post-2014 U.S. deployment. Third, Obama could state that while he is willing to sign the bilateral security agreement with Karzai, he also is willing to sign it with the next Afghan president. U.S. officials should stop pressuring Karzai — or anyone else — for a signature before the April election. Such pressure only strengthens Karzai’s hand, encourages further delay and makes the United States look desperate. Obama should make clear that his commitment of troops is dependent on the bilateral security agreement being signed. But a signing by a new Afghan president would give more than enough time to complete the necessary U.S. military planning before year’s end. Indeed, experts say that even without the deal, U.S. forces could remain in Afghanistan after 2014 under the existing status-of-forces agreement, though our allies would have to negotiate new agreements for their forces with the new Afghan government. Washington Post-ABC News polling last month suggested that more than 60 percent of Americans believe the Afghan war was not worth fighting. But the same poll also found that 55 percent support leaving some U.S. forces for training and “anti-insurgency” operations. And lawmakers’ public statements suggest that a post-2014 deployment would have bipartisan support in Congress. Obama should avoid any suggestion that he might embrace a “zero option” and leave no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Almost every Afghan expert believes that would destabilize Afghanistan, threaten the outcome of the election and risk the collapse of Afghan security forces. This would profoundly affect U.S. security interests. Afghanistan again would become a haven for terrorists — who, history shows, would attack U.S. interests and territory. Afghanistan would contribute to destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan. And the Afghan people would forfeit the progress they have made, with our help, in building a more tolerant, inclusive, secure and prosperous society. Afghanistan’s presidential election is less than three months away. U.S. policy must not be based on frustration with Karzai’s mercurial behavior but on ensuring the election of a legitimate successor to Karzai with whom the United States can sign a security agreement that is overwhelmingly in the interests of both countries.
BY TAHIR MEHDII understand I might be stepping over many toes. It indeed looks like comparing apples with oranges given the vast differences between the two societies, their political history and the nature of their polities. But, I insist it is worth a thought as at some levels we have a lot in common and I am not just referring to the pre-Partition history or our common linguistic and cultural roots, etc. It’s about our current politics. My defense against this blasphemous act, of comparing the politics of the two parties, is based on two points. Dare I elaborate? The cause célèbre for both the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in Pakistan and the Aam Aadmi Party in India has been corruption in government and politics. Corrupt politicians win elections and form governments that protect and promote corruption. They both identify ‘cleaning of the filth’ as the way forward – the way that will certainly make life easier for middle classes and might also benefit the lower, resource-less classes. That’s one. The other commonality is that they both find the voter stuck between ‘non-choices’. People may vote to victory party A or party B but governance approaches, economic policies and a lot more remains the same. Elections thus have become sterile and there is weariness with even ‘politics’. So both the parties presented themselves as a third option promising change and wanting to convert this weariness into a new political currency. The PTI remained unsuccessful in the 1997 and 2002 elections, boycotted in 2008 and fell way short of its own expectations in 2013, despite huge media hype. The AAP surprised everyone with a big win in its very first election and is giving restless days and sleepless nights to other established parties as the national elections, due in April-May, are approaching fast. Some say that success for the AAP has come a bit too early and that it will have impact on its development. But what the AAP might turn into in the years to come is a separate subject. So, are the voters in India more responsive to change than the ones in Pakistan? Some will jump to say yes. But I find it opportune to first have a look at the political approach of the two parties and their strategies for electoral success. I also earnestly believe that it has a few lessons for everyone wanting to see a political change in the real sense. Here is what the PTI lacked and faltered upon, compared with the AAP. The PTI promised the moon | The AAP is realistic about its capacity to deliver Have a look at the Aam Aadmi Party’s manifesto for the 2013 Delhi Elections. It reads like an NGO’s planned outputs, complete with Objectively Verifiable Indicators and Means of Verification. These are succinct, elaborate and completely practical. Consider for example, one agenda item – water, it promised households using up to 700 litres (per day) of free water; transparency in the functioning of the Delhi Water Board and in the long run city-wide rainwater harvesting. On the corruption front, a new law covering all public officers; time-bound investigation and swift disposal of corruption cases; cases against Ministers, MLAs and Secretaries to be completed within six months to a year.
Mai, now in her 40s, was raped to avenge her 12-year-old brother's alleged impropriety with a woman from a rival clan. Mai's story has fresh resonance since the brutal gang rape of a student on a New Delhi bus and her death a little over a year ago sparked international outrage about the levels of violence against women in India. "It's inspiring," said the opera's Indian-American composer Kamala Sankaram, who also sings the lead role. "This is a person who was completely illiterate and knew nothing of her rights and the laws of her country and yet she had the courage to step out," she told AFP. There is no staged recreation of the rape, which is instead portrayed by muffled shrieks of terror interspersed with a knife slashing open bags of sand.
Sankaram worked to recreate Mai's world by combining Hindustani music, Western composition, qawwali and Bollywood. "I am a sitar player as well as being a Western musician so I wanted to bring in elements of traditional culture but still keep it something acceptable to Western listeners," she said. Pakistan may be thousands of miles from New York but playwright and novelist Susan Yankowitz, who wrote the libretto, says the opera is about courage and universal vulnerability of women. "The main question that is repeated throughout the opera is where did you find your courage... In a dry season, someone must be the first drop of rain," Yankowitz told AFP. "The courage is to be the first drop of rain and that's what I hope people will take away from it and inspire people to take some action they would otherwise not have the courage to do."Compared to the majesty of New York's Metropolitan Opera House a couple of miles up the road, "Thumbprint" is a tiny production with a six-person chamber orchestra and cast of just six singers. Shown as part of a small chamber music opera festival in its second year, tickets cost just $25 for the 90-minute production, which organizers hope will eventually tour India and Pakistan. Unable to find a suitable sarangi player, Sankaram's score has been written for flute, violin, viola, piano (with harmonium on the side), and a brilliant double bass and percussionist. Most of the singers perform more than one part and the Baruch Performing Arts Center seats just 170 people. The run ends Saturday, but it's unclear what Mai makes of it all. Since the attack, she has set up a school for girls and won prominence in the West for her outspoken stance on the oppression of women. Manu Narayan, the Broadway star who has won rave reviews as an all-too-realistic unrepentant rapist, welcomed the opera and the Prototype opera festival as a vital platform for young composers. Bankruptcy forced New York City Opera to close last year. Some artists and musicians complain that original culture in New York City is being priced out of the metropolis by big business. Photo on right: Mukhtar Mai speaks during an interview with AFP at a shelter set up by her to protect helpless women in the village of Mirwala, on February 28, 2011. AFP "I think the music's spectacular," Narayan told AFP. "This festival is so wonderful. It really creates a very focused platform for new works and great stories that need to be told, and the story of Mukhtar Mai is one of the prime examples." - See more at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/gang-rape-of-pakistan-s-mukhtar-mai-inspires-new-york-opera/article1-1173131.aspx#sthash.RJyKfEm1.dpuf
BY Bina ShahAfter years of economic doldrums and creative drought, Pakistani movies are pulling in crowds at home and garnering awards at international film festivals. It’s a miraculous restart for an industry that has seen more highs and lows than a three-hour Bollywood blockbuster. Taking the power of storytelling into their own hands, Pakistani filmmakers are fashioning much-needed, nuanced portraits of their country — and cultivating a degree of national pride that hasn’t been felt for a long time. In 2012, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s “Saving Face,” about victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, earned the country its first Academy Award, in the best short documentary category. For local film buffs, the win was a harbinger of good things to come. In preparation for this year’s Oscars, for the first time in half a century Pakistan submitted a film for consideration in the best foreign-language film category. While the entry, “Zinda Bhaag” (“Run For Your Life”), failed to make the short list for nomination, “the very fact that we could select a movie that would represent us at the Oscars makes us proud,” says Ms. Obaid-Chinoy. The director believes that 2013 will “go down in history as the year that Pakistani cinema was reborn.” Pakistani cinema thrived in the 1960s, with political and romantic films like “Bombay-Wallah” (1961), “Shaheed” (“Martyr,” 1962) and “Armaan” (“Desire,” 1966), featuring the screen legends Waheed Murad, Nadeem Baig and the actress Shabnam, among others. It survived the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and went on to peak in the early 1970s with classics like “Umrao Jaan Ada” (“The Courtesan of Lucknow,” 1972) and “Aina” (“The Mirror,” 1977). At the height of the glory days, by conservative estimates, Pakistani studios released more than 100 films a year and some 700 cinemas were operating. In the 1980s, Mohammad Zia ul-Haq’s military dictatorship censored any films that tried to address weighty issues. That decade’s ultraconservative mores discouraged the participation of talented Pakistanis, especially women. The collapse was swift: “Lollywood,” Pakistan’s affectionate nickname for its Lahore-based film industry, churned out tasteless films replete with violence, choreographed disco numbers, melodramatic plotlines and poor acting. By the end of the 1990s, production had slowed to about 50 films each year. Hundreds of cinemas across the country were torn down. In 2006, Pervez Musharraf, as president, began to ease restrictions on the importation of Indian films, which had been banned in Pakistan since the war between the countries in 1965. The newly available Bollywood productions drew so many viewers that multiplexes were built to meet the demand. The new capacity, in turn, gave a new generation of Pakistanis, either trained abroad or already working in television and advertising, an incentive to start making movies of their own. With advances in digital filmmaking permitting lower budgets and an audience already exposed to high-quality international cinema, Pakistanis began to produce bold works.
Eight years later, high import taxes on equipment and lack of government support still impede industry growth, and financial investment by wealthy producers remains difficult to find. But Ms. Obaid-Chinoy is optimistic. The approximately 100 cinemas now operating in Pakistan (for a population of over 180 million) are “more than I’ve seen in my entire life,” she says.
Tired of the one-dimensionality of the portrayal of Pakistanis on Western screens (as terrorists, bombers, victims or collaborators), independent Pakistani filmmakers are telling other, more sophisticated, stories.With more than 20 films released in 2013, production is rising. One of last year’s releases, “Main Hoon Shahid Afridi” (“I Am Shahid Afridi”), about a small-time cricket league in the northeastern city of Sialkot, sends a powerful message of religious tolerance. “Josh” (“Against the Grain”), in which an upper-class woman investigates the kidnapping of her maid, imagines a world where social justice isn’t beyond the reach of the poor. In the deceptively quiet “Lamha” (“Seedlings”), the son of a wealthy couple is accidentally killed by a rickshaw driver. The film looks evenhandedly and with compassion at the different griefs suffered by the couple and the driver. “Zinda Bhaag,” the country’s 2014 Oscar entry, pays loving tribute to Lahore and 1970s Lollywood. The directors, Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, enlisted real Lahoris in the depiction of the grim realities faced by Pakistanis who attempt to escape economic hardship through illegal emigration. Equally unconventional were decisions to cast the Bollywood legend Naseeruddin Shah in a lead role, and to take postproduction to India instead of Malaysia or Thailand. These fresh approaches augur well for greater Indo-Pakistani cooperation, and have jump-started an industry declared all but dead a few years ago. Last year, Lollywood, too, stepped up its game. In “Waar” (“Strike”), an English-language thriller inspired by the 2009 Taliban attack on a police training center near Lahore, Pakistan is rived by the pressures of the “war on terror.” The film’s unabashed patriotism attracted huge audiences nationwide. “Waar,” which was Pakistan’s first big-budget film, earned some $1.9 million in just over one month, making it also the country’s highest-grossing film to date. Its success signals the eagerness of Pakistanis to discuss terrorism on their own terms. “We want to have the right to represent and choose our own narrative,” Ms. Obaid-Chinoy says, “rather than a narrative that is imposed on us.” Gloria Steinem has said that “every social justice movement that I know of” started with people “telling their life stories.” By this formulation, Pakistani cinema’s new wave hints at a country on the cusp of a major shift. Each film is at once a window into a dynamic country going through difficult times, and a blueprint for how its people might find their way to better days ahead. Bina Shah is the author of several novels, including “Slum Child,” and short-story collections.
http://balochwarna.com/The Baloch march for freedom of political prisoners stopped about three kilometres away from Kandhkot on their day 33 from Karachi and day 60 from Quetta to Islamabad. They started their walked from Karampur area of Sindh walking on a rough road for more than 7 kilometre. However, the resolve and determination of the marchers remained unchanged. In a message posted on social media the #VBMPLongMarch participants said: “Walking on unmade road for 7 km hurts our feet but we have got the Will to March till victory.” In another similar message to Balochwarna news the marcher said: “It is hard to walk on this sort of road but we will continue to walk and face every difficulty for justice and safe recovery of our loved ones.” JSQM (Bashir Qureshi), Qaumi Awami Tehreek, Sindh Taraki Pansund Party, Baloch Community Ghouspur, JSM leader Riaz Chandio and residents of Karampur and Ghouspur have welcomed and joined the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons Long March for safe release of thousands of abducted Baloch. Messages of support: Mona Kazim Shah wrote on FaceBook: “They have been walking from Karachi now for 33days. They had walked from Quetta to Karachi in 27 days. So now they have walked a total of 60 days. “It is amazing show of Baloch determination to not to give in to physical hardships or mental stress of constant threat to their lives. A New and Glorious chapter of Human History and Baloch History is being written.” @mmatalpur: “Bless the feet that Walk for Justice & Baloch Rights. If you've walked with them you'll cry seeing this.” Mir Mohammad Talpur joined the long march from Karachi Press Club and walked with them for 16 days to Hala city of Sindh. @TonyDuheaume: “This Long March is for the freedom of their loved ones, support the Baloch in their plight!” @sarahahmed00: “lots of prayers for the marchers. Salute to your courage and persistence!” Meanwhile the leader of VBMP long march have thanked the Sindhi nationalist parties and people of Baloch people of Sindh for their support throughout the 33 days of walk in Sindh.
Serious differences have surfaced within the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan’s latest statement over the cold response of its party’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the martyred Aitzaz Hassan has proved that the cricketer-turned-politician was not satisfied with the performance of provincial government and Chief Minister Pervez Khattak in particular. The latest condemnation of Imran Khan over party’s negligence has startled quite a many party workers and media personnel. However, it wasn’t an eye-popping news for those who were close to the party leadership. It has been learnt that serious differences have surfaced within the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, leading to the formation of four groups within the party. The four groups formed by Asad Qaiser, Pervez Khattak, Murad Saeed and Azam Swati had been at loggerheads for the past one year. The sources also revealed that most of the important decisions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were taken by Imran khan and his advisers including Jahangir Tareen which had worsened the matters between the central leadership and provincial government. Terming it one the biggest problems in Khyber Pakhutnkhwa, the sources said the directives were issued by people who didn’t belong to the province. Though Pervez Khattak was appointed as the chief minister, yet most of the decisions were taken by Jahangir Tareen who had been considered the key player in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa affairs. Mainly the credit for all the reforms being taken so far goes to the PTI leaders who do not belong to Peshawar or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa instead of the local government and Pervez Khattak was not happy over this fact. He had been voicing out his reservations over the interference of Jahangir Tareen and other party leaders in the provincial matters. One of the journalists who is considered to be the authority over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa politics, Saleem Safi said that the party in Peshawar was divided in different groups since the May 11 general elections. Safi explained that Asad Qaiser, Pervez Khattak and incumbent MNA Murad Saeed were contesting for provincial leadership. Asad Qaiser was appointed as party’s provincial president after he bagged 60 votes, adding that three groups were formed at that time. Later, Pervez Khattak and Asad Qaiser raced for office of chief minister. It is important to mention that Pervez Khattak was the secretary general of Sherpao group and served as federal minister before joining PTI. The sources disclosed that Pervez Khattak was still in contact with Sherpao group, adding that Imran Khan had been informed about this liaison. Meanwhile, Pervez Khattak was becoming controversial and unpopular among the party members day by day. MNA Murad Saeed and Asad Qaiser had accused Khattak of supporting his own group including Sherpao ministers instead of PTI members in assembly. They also said that Pervez Khattak was providing funds to his group. According to sources, the latest reaction of Imran khan was due to the feedback he was getting from Asad Qaiser and Murad Saeed. Meanwhile, Pervez Khattak camp maintained that Imran Khan and his allies don’t let them work, holding central leadership responsible for bad governance. Furthermore, the appointment of Azam Swati as PTI president in KPK added fuel to the fire as the old party workers and leaders do not trust Swati. The party leaders protested on the appointment of Swati and didn’t even congratulate the new party president. PTI leaders including Asad Qasier and Murad Saeed also accused Azam Swati of forming a new group and bringing his own people into limelight, thus, forming the fourth group within the PTI. Due to the formation of four groups, the political pundits explained that Imran Khan is not in a position to replace Khattak despite his incompetence nor could the PTI chief open the Pandora ’s Box. Therefore, the best available option was to get his decisions implemented through Khattak since there was also a fear of Khattak forming his own group, the pundits added. The political analysts have also said that it would have been best had Imran Khan discussed the Aitzaz Hassan’s issue with his party members instead of publicly denouncing his KPK government in media. Meanwhile, the analysts also hinted that PTI was bringing few positive reforms in the province that may help the party in resolving internal issues and rising its popularity graph in public. All things considered, the public asks-- who is responsible for the chaos. Is it Imran Khan whose party’s government is forced to wait for his directives or is it the local government who couldn’t decide the matters on which they should consult with central leadership and matters that demand immediate action. Undoubtedly, Aitzaz Hassan’s bravery was one such incident that should have been immediately taken up by the local government and Imran Khan’s reaction is reasonable and surely justified.