Friday, January 17, 2014
A suicide bomber reportedly detonated himself inside a Lebanese restaurant frequented by foreigners in a central neighborhood of Kabul late Friday night. There were confirmed casualties from the attack, but the exact number is unknown. According to Ministry of Interior (MoI) spokesman Sediq Sediqqi, Afghan security forces have cordoned off the area around the restaurant, called Taverna du Liban, which sits in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of the capital known to house a number of embassies. Police officials have indicated there could still be gunmen inside the restaurant. Bystanders told TOLOnews' reporter on the scene that scattered gunshots were heard before and after the explosion. Initial reports indicate that employees of the restaurant were amongst the casualties. Six injured civilians have been spotted by TOLOnews reporters, but whether they were inside or outside the resaurant at the time of the attack is unknown. Taverna du Liban is a popular restaurant in Kabul with high security and the reputation for hosting foreign diplomats and aid workers. It is known to draw crowds on Friday nights. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, though it bares the usualy markings of a Taliban assault. There have been a number of high-profile Taliban attacks in the capital since the start of 2014, after the country saw one of the bloodiest fighting seasons of the 13-year war last year. Despite claiming to only target Afghan security forces, government officails and foreigners, Taliban attacks, especially in urban settings such as Kabul, often result in predominantely Afghan citizens being killed or injured. The United Nations has attributed over 70 percent of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan to Taliban attacks.
An interview with author Ram Mashru on human security issues in India.Ram Mashru is author of the new book Human InSecurity: Fear, Deprivation and Abuse in India, which goes behind the news to consider the factors driving some of the stories of India’s social and political ills. The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda spoke with Mashru recently about his book and the potential ways India could improve its record on human security. You begin your book by asking the question, famously posed by The New York Times: Does India’s democracy get more credit than it deserves? What is your answer to that question? The distinction I draw is a basic one, between India as a formal democracy and India as a substantive democracy. The former – India’s election capabilities, the size of its electorate, high voter turnout, etc. – is certainly impressive, and institutions like the Electoral Commission bolster India’s reputation as an exemplary democracy, but in a limited sense. If we switch to India’s substantive democratic record we must ask questions about the country’s performance on human rights, development, minority rights, law and order, etc. On these issues there is a great deal to be critical about. Do I think India’s democracy gets more credit than it deserves? Only to the extent that an appraisal of India as “the world’s largest democracy” distracts attention away from a regrettable record on gender equality, tribal rights, corruption etc. Professor Varshney argues, in his latest book Battles Half Won, that India is an electoral wonder but that it performs poorly between elections. This is the view I encourage. The tones used to discuss India have shifted significantly since The New York Times article, and I cite it as one of the first examples I came across of an attempt to challenge the dominant discourse. The article itself is tentative in its criticism and since then India’s performance as a democracy has, rightly, attracted more and more scrutiny. We can attribute this shift to a whole series of changes: a more trenchant press, more interest in India as it rises on the international stage, the investigations of human rights organizations and development professionals, and shocking cases such as the horrific Delhi gang rape. These changes have all chipped away at India’s dubious reputation as a shining post-colonial success story. Of course, compared to Bangladesh, where the elections earlier this month were deadly and undemocratic, India is a shining regional example. But the argument that India is a relatively stable and successful democracy is compatible with the argument that it has a lamentable record on development and rights. As I read your book, I recalled the somewhat caricatured debate now in India that one might call the two-state theory of India: that there is an “India” and there is a “Bharat.” Observers that buy into this schema would categorize the country’s booming middle-class with its increasing embrace of issue-based politics and modernity fall as “India,” and argue that the “chronic social and political ills” that you set out to investigate are the vestiges of “Bharat” and endure outside India’s runaway urban enclaves. Do you buy this characterization of India? Is it possible for India’s governors to engineer synchronicity between the demands of the urban elites and the downtrodden poor? I don’t buy this distinction at all; it’s a fallacy. It’s a right-wing construction of India, which was invoked following the Delhi gang rape, for example, when nationalist ideologues sought to explain away violence against women. It’s an expedient dichotomy that can only be sustained ideologically. It is historically, geographically and empirically baseless. The Bharat-India divide crudely fits the rural-urban one, and the entirety of the “Indian case” disproves the assumptions we may have about rural-urban divides, in modernization theory terms. A lot of the problems we associate with rural areas in developing countries exist in urban areas: poor sanitation in urban slums is a prime example. Equally, a lot of the benefits we associate with urban areas are also illusory: according to a recent report, 12 million people are set to “reverse migrate” back to rural areas to return to the agricultural sector by 2019 due to a shortage of industrial jobs in urban areas. Shocking levels of violence against women – best evidenced by figures on feticide and rape – are proof that “chronic social and political ills” persist in urban areas and are even exacerbated by them. The problems I explore – torture, displacement-induced deprivation and inter-ethnic violence – are not particular to urban or rural areas. In fact, the Hindu-Muslim riots in Uttar Pradesh spread from the town of Muzaffarnagar to the surrounding rural areas. Indeed, with high levels of rural-urban migration, with urban poverty traps and with the decentralization of administrative power to the local, rural level through Panchayat Raj the boundaries between “rural” and “urban” India are fluid. You astutely note that identity has been an important feature in Indian politics, with politicians striving to capture voting blocks by appealing to broad group identities. With the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in New Delhi, commentators have noted a shift, at least among urban elites, to issue-based politics. Do you think these commentators are correct, and if so, is the shift from identity to issue-based politics a sign of maturity in Indian democracy? The politics of identity cannot be totally discounted; it is central to any representative democracy. Rather, what is clear is that AAP don’t claim to represent a particularly identity-based interest group and didn’t rely on one for their stunning success in the Delhi polls. I’m not sure about maturity, I think India’s electoral system is highly sophisticated and has long been so, but there has been a transition and it is a strategic one. In relation to identity- and issue-based politics, I think two complementary forces are at work. The first is a sharper focus on (populist) policies, and the second is the increased toxicity of “minority-ism.” Firstly, the AAP’s focus on corruption and transparency capitalized successfully on widespread frustration with decades of venal Congress government. But we must acknowledge that this, on its own, wasn’t the golden ticket. The AAP is in office now because of (i) powerful anti-incumbency sentiments and (ii) alliance building. Further, I’m not convinced that, analytically, the AAP’s message is that distinct from Modi’s mantra of development. Modi deserves credit for setting the national debate. India’s shaky economic performance has helped him a great deal. The BJP are, compared to their competitors (with the AAP a new exception), the best strategists and I think the BJP can be said to have campaigned effectively on issues. Modi, I would argue, has dealt a double blow to the politics of old by (i) emphasizing the issue of development and (ii) by arguing that development trumps identities. He did this in Kashmir when promising to turn the state from a “separate” one into a “super” one, and when campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, the state with India’s largest Muslim minority population, where he urged people of all creeds to unite behind the development. Secondly, being seen to pander to minority groups has become increasingly politically costly. Congress are vulnerable to the “pseudo-secularism” charge – of granting concessions to minority groups in the name of secularism – and Modi, by referring to Gandhi as “shehzade” (Urdu for prince) and by his rhetoric on the “burkha of secularism” has poisoned the issue of minority rights. Whether Modi’s characterization of Congress’s record is fair or not is irrelevant. I think there are powerful majoritarian undercurrents in India and the shift to populist issue-based electioneering, which has emphasized the universality of development and transparency, has further discredited policies that may be deemed “minority-ist.” Of course, the question of communal harmony is a separate one. It is an issue that has forced its way onto the national agenda and is a factor that will play in the minds of voters at the ballot box. India’s marginalized and subaltern groups have paid the highest price for India’s industrialization and development – was B.R. Ambedkar right when he said that economics will always triumph over ethics when the two clash? Can India simultaneously pursue its development goals while safeguarding human security? Firstly, human security and development are not in conflict. In fact they are complementary. Mahboob ul-Haq listed economic growth as one of the seven priorities of Human Security, on that basis the benefits of growth “trickle down.” We only need to look at India’s Maoist insurgency, in part a backlash stemming from underdevelopment, to see that growth, human security and national security are interlinked. Indeed poverty reduction was one of Nehru’s initial priorities for similar reasons, with the aim that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Professor Varshney put forward the idea of “elite politics” to explain how the Rao administration were able to implement the landmark 1991 economic reforms. The idea that India’s has a dual-track political system, with some policies aimed at India’s moneyed elites and others that cater to the poor and dispossessed, is true beyond the economic sphere. Dam construction is a prime example of this. There are a number of alternatives to the program of large-scale development construction: water-load irrigation and building smaller dams, for example. And yet, what India’s policy elite has chosen to do is build enormous headline-grabbing schemes that displace millions without rehabilitating them, all to service the country’s commercial and industrial needs. According to data from India’s Planning Commission, income inequality in India across several states is at its highest since 1973 – a divergence that has coincided with a period of meteoric economic growth. When talking about the conflict between economics and ethics, Ambedkar was referring to the Indian case and its data like the recent Planning Commission findings that vindicate his observation. Can you describe the phenomenon of “middle-class environmentalism” in India? Why is it problematic? Middle-class environmentalism is the co-opting of environmental activism by wealthy, urban interest groups. It is characterized by calls for urban renewal and pollution reduction, policies that entail the displacement of the homeless, the destruction of slums and the seizure of land for green urban spaces. “Middle-class environmentalism” is linked to liberalization, and the increasing assertiveness of India’s wealthy, urban class. It’s wrapped up in the politics of control (monopolizing urban and green spaces), the re-ordering of urban areas and the regulation of urban population. The problem is the asymmetry: middle-class environmentalists are a broad church, they tend to be better organized, more vocal and have better access to the ears of influence. The urban poor aren’t as effective at mobilizing to resist these campaigns of displacement and exclusion. You describe the troubling prevalence of police inflicted torture in India’s prison. What policies can abate the prevalence of this trend? India’s collective conscience was tested after the horrific Delhi gang rape and, as well as grief and shock we saw huge amounts of anger, a lot of which was expressed through calls for the accused (as they then were) to be sodomized, castrated and electrocuted. The popular support for state-sanctioned violence was startling and this attitude, that torture is justifiable, even if only in extreme cases, poses the greatest challenge to prohibiting it. There are a number of obvious and urgent remedial steps: punishing officials guilty of torture, ensuring violence and deaths in custody are recorded, establishing an external regulator to provide training and enforce standards, access to justice for victims etc. But these steps are preventative, not curative, and we can’t expect these sorts of changes to eliminate torture when so many in India, citizens and people in positions of authority alike, approve of it. If states are the greatest threat to human security, should non-state actors fill the gap? What can NGOs do for human security in India? I argue in the book that the Indian state has threatened human security in five ways. First, by silencing the activists and organizations campaigning for change; second, by failing to ensure the law is enforced; third, through the use of coercion; fourth, by disregarding international standards; and fifth, by failing to adopt a comprehensive approach to ensuring individual well-being. NGOs can’t correct these alone. Of course NGOs have an important role to play, but their contribution, though necessary, is insufficient. When scholars like Ayoob argue that states pose the greatest threats to human security they do so, firstly, to identify the source of the threat and, secondly, to focus efforts to eliminate the threat. Identifying the state as a threat leads us to correcting harmful government practices. The most effective method, and its one that ul-Haq envisages, is co-operation between the state and NGOs. A great, recent example of co-operation delivering results is India’s very successful polio-vaccination program. Though the disease may reappear, India is celebrating the fact that it has not recorded a new case of polio in three years. This came about through collaboration between the World Health Organization, INGOs such as Rotary International, state governments and members of civil society. The “polio model” of sustained, multi-layered state and non-state co-operation is the way forward, particularly in the context of scarce state resources. The major obstacle to this multi-pronged service delivery however is India’s assault on non-state groups. As I explain in the book, India’s government has debilitated human-rights organizations and until this ends, the role played by NGOs will be negligible. Finally, it’s an election year in India and things don’t look great for the Indian National Congress. Should the BJP win, can Indians expect the human security situation to improve or are the solutions to these issues outside of the realm of state and government? How concerned are you by Narendra Modi’s record with communal violence? On Modi’s record on communal harmony, he has tried very hard to cast himself as a moderate figure. Only time will tell if this is sincere or if it is an electoral strategy to win votes. There is also the argument that Modi will operate under more constraints as Prime Minister than he had to as Chief Minister of Gujarat, so the strictures of office will prevent the nightmare of communal breakdown that many fear from materializing. Having said that, even though he has not been found guilty in a court of law, his failure to do more to prevent the 2002 pogrom, the continued subordination of Muslims in Gujarat and Modi’s equivocation since the massacre are all cause for concern. Realizing individual security is a complex endeavor and would require policymakers to do a lot more on several levels. If Modi delivers on his promise of development, he would be doing a lot to improve individual wellbeing. But this is only one facet of the problem. In the book, I include a conservative list of India’s human security concerns: “water scarcity, environmental stress, food security, malnutrition, poor health services, displacement, human trafficking slavery, chronic youth unemployment and gender justice.” (p22). Modi has played his policy cards very close to his chest so it is difficult to know what, if anything, he intends to do about these concerns.
The panel, which included five intelligence and legal experts, recommended in a 300-page report that any operation to spy on foreign leaders would have to pass a rigorous test that weighs the potential economic or diplomatic costs if the operation becomes public.To prevent harm to the credibility of American technology firms, it also recommended that the N.S.A. stop weakening encryption technologies for computer networks and using flaws in common computer programs as a basis for mounting cyber-attacks. By embracing some of these proposals – stricter standards on surveillance of foreign leaders – while brushing aside others – storing bulk telephone data with private companies – the president is balancing sometimes conflicting demands from Silicon Valley, the intelligence agencies, and the pinstriped world of diplomacy. Mr. Obama has already rejected one recommendation: splitting command of the N.S.A., which conducts surveillance, from the U.S. Cyber Command, the Pentagon’s cyber-warfare unit, to avoid concentrating too much power in the hands of a single individual. The speech has been weeks in the making, aides said, after a long Christmas break in Hawaii during which Mr. Obama weighed the 46 recommendations made by his panel of advisers. For a president trained as a constitutional lawyer, who began his career as a critic of government spying, the speech is likely to lay bare the evolution of Mr. Obama’s thinking, after five years in which he has absorbed a stream of threats in his presidential daily briefing.
Preparations for the Olympics in Sochi are being conducted normally, and all facilities are ready, said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting of the government on January 16th. Medvedev stressed out that the authorities need to be absolutely confident of strict implementation of government guarantees in preparing and holding the Games. According to the head of the government, there has been modern port, communications, transportation and energy infrastructure provided in Sochi. The environmental program has been executed as well. Medvedev said that visitors of the Sochi Games should not have any problems in terms of safety and comfort. The prime minister also praised the city's preparations for the Olympics. "I will not even comment security issues, as there are people dealing with them separately. Questions of interaction between emergency services and health care - I will not speak platitudes," Medvedev said. Obviously, everyone's presence in Sochi must be comfortable and safe. Practically all objects and facilities are ready. "In general, everything works. The city has changed, no matter what we may have heard. It has become more well-maintained, and obtained a much better architectural shape," said Medvedev.
Only promotion to underage is banned, Russia's president said at a meeting with Sochi Olympics volunteers on FridayRussian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that no kind of criminal or administrative responsibility for homosexual relations exists in Russia unlike it does in many other countries and no-one is nabbed here for practicing such relationships. Still, the president reminded of the law banning the promotion of homosexuality and paedophilia to underage children. “We don't outlaw anything and don't nab anyone,” Putin said at a meeting with Sochi Olympics volunteers on Friday. “Our law prescribes no responsibility for these kinds of relationships unlike laws in some other countries do.” For example, several U.S. states envisage criminal responsibility for homosexual connections, he said. “That’s why you can feel safe and free here but please leave our children in peace,” Putin said.
Syria's foreign minister said on Friday that Damascus is prepared to exchange prisoners with the rebel camp and would take swift steps towards doing so. "I informed (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov of our principled position in favour of an agreement to exchange those held in Syrian prisons for those taken by the other side," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said following talks with his Russian counterpart. "We are ready to exchange lists and develop the necessary mechanism for accomplishing these goals."
د پیښور تبلیغي مرکز کې دننه په بمي چاودنه کې د وژل شمېره لسو تنو ته رسیدلې ده او ۵۶ کسان ژوبل دي د تبلیغي مرکز مشرانو تر خپلمنځي مشورې پس خبریالانو ته وویل چې دا د ګیس د سلینډر یوه چاودنه وه او د خپل مصلحت په بنیاد یې د چاودنې له اصل نوعیت ښودلو نه ډډه وکړه خو پولیس چارواکې وايي، دا یوه بمي چاودنه وه او په دې بمي چاودنه کې پنځه کلو ګرامه باروت کارول شوي دي، چې د ِغوړو په ډبي کې اېښودل شوي ول- په تبلیغي مرکز کې دننه هغه مهال چاودنه وشوه چې تیر ماښام د شب جمعی لپاره راغلی په زرګونو خلک د ماښام په لمانځه ولاړ وو، له پېښې سمدستي روستو یو عینی شاهد خالد احمد په لیډي ریډینګ روغتون کې مشال ریډیو ته وویل: ”په دویم رکعت کې چې خلک رکعو ته ښکته شول نو چاودنه وشوه، او د اودسونو کولو له ځای او د مشرانو کوټې سره نزدې چاودنه وشوه، بیا ځینې مړي اوځینې زخمیان پراته ول هغه مو روغتون ته ورسول، په دې پېښه موږ دومره ویلی شو چې ټول ملک کې حالات خراب دي او دې حالاتو کې چې څومره خلک مري نو ټول بې ګناه مري او دې ظالمانو ته دې خدای هدایت وکړی او که هدایت یې په نصیب کې نه وی نو خدای دې دا خلک پخپله تباه کړي" په تبلیغي مرکز کې د تبلیغ مشرانو د دی پېښې په اړه د مشوری روستو خبریالانو ته وویل چې دا د ګیس سېلنډر یوه چاودنه وه خو د پېښې د نوعیت په اړه د بم ډسپوزل سکواډ مشر اې آی جي شفقت ملک خبریالانو ته وویل چې دا یوه بمي چاودنه وه او پنځه کلو ګرامه باروت پکې کارول شوي ول: "لومړۍ خبره خو دا ده چې دا د ټاکلي وخت چاودنه وه، ځانمرګی برید نه وو، د غوړو ډبي کې باروت کېښودل شوي ول، او په یو بیګ کې پټ کړل شوي ول" د بېړندویه ډلې کارکوونکې یوې امدادي ادارې الخدمت فاونډیشن یو کارکوونکی محمد بلال مشال ریډيو ته وویل چې د وړوکي سلنډر چاودنه دومره زیان نشي اړولی او دا یوه بمي چاودنه ده: "کوم وخت چې تازه تازه دا پیښه رامنځ ته شوه نو هغه وخت درې مړه وو او شل زخمیان وو خو بیا روستو رو رو د مړو او ټپیانو شمیره زیاتېدله او د آخیری شمېرې ترمخه لس مړه ديی او ۵۶ نور ژوبل دي، د سلنډر امکان موږ بالکل ردوو، دا سلنډر چاودنه بالکل نه وه ځکه چې د سلنډر بمي چاودنه دومره تباهي نه کوي" له پېښې روستو د پښتونخوا د پولیسو مشر ناصر خان دراني د پیښور تبلیغي مر کز دوره وکړه، نوموړي مشال راډيو ته وویل، چې پولیس د تره ګرۍ پېښو د مخنیوی لپاره چمتو ولاړ دی او هم په دې وجه پر دوی هره ورځ بریدونه ترسره کېږي خو د ولس په تعاون به دوی د ترهګرۍ ضد دا جنګ ګټي: "دا مهال داسې ورځ کله کله وي چې په پولیسو یا د پولیسو په چوکۍ یا د پولیسو پر افسرانو برید نه وي ترسره شوی، پولیس نه یواځې دا بریدونه په شا تمبوی بلکې برید کوونکې هم وژني، البته کله چې هغوی پولیس یواځې مومی یا د ګزمې پرمهال وي نو د بریدونو کوشش کوي خو موږ به د دې مخنیوی هم کوو، او دا ټول شیان د دې جنګ برخه ده او ماته یقین دی چې دوی به د تره ګرۍ ضد دا جنګ ګټي" په پیښور تبلیغي مرکز کې له بمي چاودنې روستو سیاسي مشران او حکومتي استازي د پېښور لیډي ریډینګ روغتون ته ورغله او د دې پېښې غندنه یې وکړه. پر دې مهال د عوامي نیشنل ګوند غلام احمد بلور وویل چې د دوی په تېر حکومت کې هم تره ګر بریدونه شوی ول خو په تبلیغي مرکز یا چرچ برید نه وو شوي تردې دمه د دې پېښې پړه هېڅ یوې وسلوالې ډلې نه ده قبوله کړې او د تحریک طالبان پاکستان ویاند شاهد الله ویلې دي دوی له دې پېښې سره هیڅ ډول تړاو نه لري.
State Minister for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali has alleged that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government was providing protection to power thieves in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Geo News reported. Addressing a press conference here Friday, Abid Sher Ali said KP Minister Shah Farman himself was involved in power stealing. He said there were more than one billion line losses in Farman’s constituency. The state minister demanded of the provincial government to ask Farman for resignation. He said PESCO officials are being thrashed and kidnapped for ransom in KP, adding that various feeders in the province were incurring billions of loss to national exchequer. Abid Sher Ali said dams were not the personal property of anyone but the property of the people of Pakistan. Abid advised PTI chairman Imran Khan to build new dams if he wanted free electricity. ‘You cannot get electricity without payment,’, he added.
indiatimes.comThe World Health Organization on Friday declared Pakistan's troubled northwestern city of Peshawar as the world's "largest reservoir" of polio and called for urgent action to boost vaccination. Almost every polio case in 2013 in Pakistan, one of only three countries where the crippling disease remains endemic, could be linked genetically to strains of the virus circulating in Peshawar, said the WHO. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, and adjoining tribal districts where Taliban and al-Qaida linked militants have hideouts are particular polio hotspots. Efforts to stamp out the disease have been hampered by opposition from militant groups, who see vaccination campaigns as cover for espionage, as well as long-running rumours about the drops causing infertility. "With more than 90 percent of the current polio cases in the country genetically linked to Peshawar, the (city) is now the largest reservoir of endemic poliovirus in the world," the WHO said in a statement. Polio is also endemic in Afghanistan and Nigeria, but of the three countries only Pakistan saw a rise in cases from 2012 to 2013, said the global health body. Tests have found that 83 out of the 91 polio cases in Pakistan last year were genetically linked to strains in Peshawar, while 12 out of 13 cases reported in Afghanistan were also linked.
A 51-year-old Danish tourist was recently gang-raped near a popular shopping area in New Delhi after she got lost and approached a group of men for directions back to her hotel, according to police. Just a few days earlier, an 18-year-old German charity worker said she had been assaulted by a fellow passenger on a train in southern India. The attacker is believed to be a migrant worker from the northern state of Bihar.
Urvashi Bhutalia says there are some positive signs that society is changing for the better. There is now a societal debate about rape, she points out, and more cases are being reported now than in the past. She also says that a recently-introduced law is a good first step. However, real change will only be made possible through education, she insists. "At village level, women's quotas in the councils have already made a difference. This is urgently needed at national level." She and other women's rights activists in India are well aware that the process will be long and drawn-out.
U.S. military officials say they have obtained new video of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was taken captive in Afghanistan more than four years ago. Officials say the video was taken recently and shows Bergdahl to be frail and in poor health. They hope it will help them learn more about where he is and who is captors are.
indiatimes.comRejecting an "exit strategy" for Afghanistan, India on Thursday pitched for "closest international support" to prevent decade-long achievements from going "waste" in the war-torn country, where the US plans a total pull-out by this year end in absence of bilateral security agreement (BSA). Addressing the meeting of International Contact Group (ICG) on Afghanistan-Pakistan, attended by representatives from 53 countries, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said Afghanistan was at a critical juncture and required steadfast support from the international community. Reiterating India's support for peace and security in Afghanistan, he said what faces that country was "not anymore intrinsic tribal differences" of ethnic divisions but it was "clearly terrorism and continuability of some armed opposition groups to launch attacks on innocent civilians and legitimate Afghan government". Asserting that the focus of the international community should be that these "terrorist groups and inspiration and support that they get from outside Afghanistan must be curtailed and contained", Khurshid said there should not be lack of will by international community to tackle the surge of terrorism and it should not be allowed to hide behind alibis and allow the achievements of 12 years to "go to waste" or "slip away". Nothing justifies terrorism and "closest international cooperation" was required to defeat this scourge, he said and asserted that "India is and will remain committed to Afghanistan for all times to come, even beyond 2014 which is critical year for many ... People may have many strategies but one strategy India rejects is an exit strategy for Afghanistan." Later, addressing a press conference, US deputy special representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan Laurel Miller said the US has been consistently maintaining that the BSA should be signed promptly and that her government strongly backs the peace process in the war-ravaged country. "Our position remains that this agreement should be signed promptly," she said.Rejecting an "exit strategy" for Afghanistan, India on Thursday pitched for "closest international support" to prevent decade-long achievements from going "waste" in the war-torn country, where the US plans a total pull-out by this year end in absence of bilateral security agreement (BSA). Addressing the meeting of International Contact Group (ICG) on Afghanistan-Pakistan, attended by representatives from 53 countries, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said Afghanistan was at a critical juncture and required steadfast support from the international community. Reiterating India's support for peace and security in Afghanistan, he said what faces that country was "not anymore intrinsic tribal differences" of ethnic divisions but it was "clearly terrorism and continuability of some armed opposition groups to launch attacks on innocent civilians and legitimate Afghan government". Asserting that the focus of the international community should be that these "terrorist groups and inspiration and support that they get from outside Afghanistan must be curtailed and contained", Khurshid said there should not be lack of will by international community to tackle the surge of terrorism and it should not be allowed to hide behind alibis and allow the achievements of 12 years to "go to waste" or "slip away". Nothing justifies terrorism and "closest international cooperation" was required to defeat this scourge, he said and asserted that "India is and will remain committed to Afghanistan for all times to come, even beyond 2014 which is critical year for many ... People may have many strategies but one strategy India rejects is an exit strategy for Afghanistan." Later, addressing a press conference, US deputy special representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan Laurel Miller said the US has been consistently maintaining that the BSA should be signed promptly and that her government strongly backs the peace process in the war-ravaged country. "Our position remains that this agreement should be signed promptly," she said. Laurel said delay in signing of the pact would erode the confidence of the Afghan people as well as create uncertainty among the international community. "If the agreement is not signed promptly, we, unfortunately, will be in a position in which we will need to plan for the possibility of having no military presence in Afghanistan after 2014. That is not an outcome that we desire. "We very strongly support peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and there is no genuine issue between us in terms of the objective," she said. The US wanted the BSA to be signed before the end of 2013, but Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai refused to ink the pact asking the US to first stop the searching and bombing of Afghan houses during military operations and support meaningful talks with Taliban led by only Afghan government. Miller also said that though Afghan president wants the US to launch the peace process and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, it was not very easy to do so. "Karzai has demanded in exchange for his signature on the agreement that the US deliver the Taliban to the peace table, that we create public launching of the peace talks between government of Afghanistan and Taliban. "We would like to see public launching of the peace talks between the two parties. It is not simply the power and capability of the US to make that happen. Moreover, the Taliban publicly oppose the conclusion of the BSA," she said. The US official said her country has also been asking Pakistan to play a positive role in the peace process. The chairman of the ICG, Michel Koch, who is German government's special envoy for Afghanistan, said the signing of the US-Afghan BSA will facilitate signing of similar agreement between Afghan government and Nato. He said ICG members welcomed the progress made by the Afghan Government in preparation for the 2014 elections, including efforts to update voter registration for the next year's presidential and provincial council elections. "They note the importance of level playing field for all candidates in the presidential election as essential for a fair contest. Contact group members reaffirmed their support for the election as essential for a fair contest," he said. In the meeting, Afghan government reiterated its assurances as to guaranteeing equal access to state resources. The contact group members also underscored the importance of a credible and impartial Independent electoral complaints commission and the speedy establishment of its nationwide operational structure. The members indicated their confidence in the capability of the Afghan security forces to ensure security for the elections. India was represented by its special envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan SK Lambah at ICG, which is the main forum for political coordination with respect to the international efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. Significantly, India is also hosting "Heart of Asia" (HoA) meeting on Friday, in which foreign secretary Sujatha Singh will represent the country. The HoA is part of the "Istanbul Process" which aims at achieving lasting stability and prosperity, anchored in a regional environment that was stable, economically integrated and conducive to shared prosperity. Laurel said delay in signing of the pact would erode the confidence of the Afghan people as well as create uncertainty among the international community. "If the agreement is not signed promptly, we, unfortunately, will be in a position in which we will need to plan for the possibility of having no military presence in Afghanistan after 2014. That is not an outcome that we desire. "We very strongly support peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and there is no genuine issue between us in terms of the objective," she said. The US wanted the BSA to be signed before the end of 2013, but Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai refused to ink the pact asking the US to first stop the searching and bombing of Afghan houses during military operations and support meaningful talks with Taliban led by only Afghan government. Miller also said that though Afghan president wants the US to launch the peace process and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, it was not very easy to do so. "Karzai has demanded in exchange for his signature on the agreement that the US deliver the Taliban to the peace table, that we create public launching of the peace talks between government of Afghanistan and Taliban. "We would like to see public launching of the peace talks between the two parties. It is not simply the power and capability of the US to make that happen. Moreover, the Taliban publicly oppose the conclusion of the BSA," she said. The US official said her country has also been asking Pakistan to play a positive role in the peace process. The chairman of the ICG, Michel Koch, who is German government's special envoy for Afghanistan, said the signing of the US-Afghan BSA will facilitate signing of similar agreement between Afghan government and Nato. He said ICG members welcomed the progress made by the Afghan Government in preparation for the 2014 elections, including efforts to update voter registration for the next year's presidential and provincial council elections. "They note the importance of level playing field for all candidates in the presidential election as essential for a fair contest. Contact group members reaffirmed their support for the election as essential for a fair contest," he said. In the meeting, Afghan government reiterated its assurances as to guaranteeing equal access to state resources. The contact group members also underscored the importance of a credible and impartial Independent electoral complaints commission and the speedy establishment of its nationwide operational structure. The members indicated their confidence in the capability of the Afghan security forces to ensure security for the elections. India was represented by its special envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan SK Lambah at ICG, which is the main forum for political coordination with respect to the international efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. Significantly, India is also hosting "Heart of Asia" (HoA) meeting on Friday, in which foreign secretary Sujatha Singh will represent the country. The HoA is part of the "Istanbul Process" which aims at achieving lasting stability and prosperity, anchored in a regional environment that was stable, economically integrated and conducive to shared prosperity.
Officials say a blast has derailed a passenger train in central Pakistan, killing three people and wounding at least 15 others. The explosion hit the train in the Rajanpur district of Punjab province on January 17. It derailed at least seven train carriages. AFP news agency quoted a senior police official as saying the explosion was caused by a bomb placed in a carriage. The Khushhal Khan Khattack Express was traveling from the northwestern city of Peshawar to the southern port of Karachi. Rescue work is under way. Since 2007, Pakistan has been gripped by a local Taliban-led insurgency, concentrated largely in the northwest. On January 16, a large explosion at an Islamic center in the northern town of Peshawar, killing at least five people and wounded more than 50 others.
The Express TribuneThe United States has warned that it could withhold $33 million of its allotted aid to Pakistan until Secretary of State John Kerry certifies that alleged CIA collaborator Dr Shakil Afridi has been released and cleared of all charges. The new $1.1 trillion spending bill, for the remaining part of the current fiscal year, appropriates military and non-military aid to Pakistan. But on page 1,327 of the 1,582-page document, the US government warns to withhold $33 million from the available assistance “until the Secretary of State reports to the Committees on Appropriations that Dr Shakil Afridi has been released from prison and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the United States in locating Osama bin Laden”. Separately in the spending bill, the US administration allots aid to Pakistan to the “counterterrorism and counterinsurgeny capabilities” of the country. Other funds will be appropriated for assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan, cross-border stabilisation and development programmes. The Congress also requires the US government to devise a “spend plan,” which shall include “achievable and sustainable goals, benchmarks for measuring progress, and expected results for combating poverty and furthering development.” Moreover, not later than six months of the ‘spend plan’ – and every six months thereafter until September 30, 2015 – the US Secretary of State is to submit a report on the status of these goals achieved to Committees of Appropriations for future allotment of funds. The spending bill was passed on Wednesday by an overwhelming majority in the US House of Representatives – its lower house – and the Senate, controlled by Democrats, is expected to pass it easily this week.
Could a Texas mayor really derail the treason trial of Pakistan’s former military strongman? That’s a possibility, after a dramatic twist Thursday in the ongoing court cas e against General Pervez Musharraf. A court in Islamabad was shown a letter from the ex-ruler’s longtime heart doctor, Arjumand Hashmi, who said Musharraf, 70, should be transferred to the United States for urgent treatment following an “alarming” deterioration in his condition. Pakistan-born Hashmi, who has been treating Musharraf since 2006, is the Director of Interventional Cardiology at the Paris Regional Medical Center in Paris, Texas. He is also mayor of the city, which has a population of about 25,000.
The bombshell letter prompted the court to commission a fresh report into Musharraf’s health, after prosecutors complained that the ex-ruler’s lawyers were using the letter as an excuse for his repeated non-attendance at trial hearings. It also prompted speculation in Pakistan that prosecutors could cut a deal with Musharraf – if his deteriorating health is verified - allowing the one-time ruler to choose between fleeing to permanent exile abroad or attend trial for treason, risking conviction and a possible death sentence. Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 and ruled until 2008, was once a staunch ally of then-U.S. president George W. Bush. There has been abundant local commentary doubting the extent of Musharraf’s of ill-health. He gave back-to-back media interviews and showing off his luxury home in the days prior to his Jan. 2 admission to a military hospital, and an initial report last week by the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology did not raise any red flags.
Akram Sheikh, the chief prosecutor in the case, told the court that Musharraf was “is hiding in a military hospital.” However, Musharraf’s biographer and longtime friend, Humayun Gauhar, believes the former ruler’s problems are genuine. “This is not a made up story,”Gauhar said from Islamabad Thursday. “I met him every night for dinner prior to his Jan. 2 medical incident and listened to him complain about the pain in the left side of his jaw and the problems he had chewing his food.” Gauhar said it was Musharraf’s police detail - not Musharraf himself - who insisted on hospital treatment. He also cast doubt on whether Musharraf would choose to live in exile – a move that would be interpreted in Pakistan as a flight from justice and a victory for his enemies in the civilian government. “He is determined to stay, to fight and to clear his name," Gauhar said.An independent report on Musharraf’s health will be issued on Jan. 24.
It is not hard to understand that if we focus on educating our girls, send them to college and gear them towards becoming financially independent and career oriented, we automatically delay their marriages and pregnanciesIn September last year, members of the Sindh Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution recommending that the provincial government declare 18 years as the minimum age for marriage. There are reports that the Sindh government is all set to table a bill that falls in line with this. The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 governs the minimum age for marriage in Pakistan. For the purposes of marriage, a “child” is defined as a person who, if a male, is under 18 years of age, and if a female, is under 16 years of age, whereas a “minor” is a person of either sex who is under 18 years of age. The law, among others, provides for punishments for marrying a child and for solemnising a child marriage, though it is unfortunate that no amendments were made in the quantum of fine or the duration of imprisonment in the past. A male adult who contracts a child marriage is punishable with simple imprisonment that may extend to one month or with a fine that may extend to Rs 1,000, or with both. Any person who performs, conducts or directs any child marriage is punishable with simple imprisonment, which may extend to one month, or with a fine that may extend to Rs 1,000, or with both, unless he proves that he had reason to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage. A parent or a guardian is liable for punishment where a minor contracts a child marriage and any person having charge of the minor, whether as parent or guardian or in any other capacity, lawful or unlawful, who does any act to promote the marriage or permits it to be solemnised, or negligently fails to prevent it from being solemnised, shall be punishable with simple imprisonment, which may extend to one month, or with a fine, which may extend to Rs 1,000, or with both. The law states: “It shall be presumed, unless and until the contrary is proved, that where a minor has contracted a child marriage, the person having charge of such minor has negligently failed to prevent the marriage from being solemnised.” The standard age of majority in Pakistan is 18 years though it varies under several statutes. The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), for the purposes of offence of rape, provides that sexual intercourse with a girl who is under 16 years of age, with or without her consent, amounts to rape. Under the highly discriminatory zina laws, an ‘adult’ means a person who has attained, for a male, the age of 18 years or for a female, the age of 16 years, or has attained puberty. The age of puberty varies under different sects, ranging from nine to 15 years. According to Muhammadan law, the end of the 15 years, or the attainment of puberty, is deemed to be the age of majority. The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939 gives a woman the right to obtain a decree for dissolution of her marriage on various grounds, including what is termed as the ‘option of puberty’. Provided that the marriage has not been consummated, a woman who has been given in marriage by her father or other guardian before she attained the age of 16 years can repudiate the marriage before attaining the age of 18 years. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a ‘child’ as “every human being below the age of 18 years”. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) states that the “betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.” There is no uniform set minimum legal age for marriage across the world. Most countries allow marriages from 15 years to 18 years. Most developed nations provide for parental consent and/or court orders for persons who wish to marry before attaining the prescribed legal age. Apart from the legal age for marriage, most nations, not Muslim ones, have a legal ‘age of consent’. This refers to the minimum age required where legal consent can be given to an act of a sexual nature without it constituting an offence. So, while a ‘child’ in these nations can legally have sexual relations with another person, he or she may not be allowed to marry until 18 years of age, unless the parents consent or a court allows it. Child marriages are indeed a grave issue — not only does it impact the health of a girl but it also places a huge amount of psychological burden on her. As I have written many a time before, we are still shy in talking about sexual reproductive health, let alone educating our children about their bodies. In countries like our own, poverty, lack of access to education and basic healthcare facilities are a major contributing factor towards child marriages; add to that our undesirable social customs. Our constitution provides for compulsory education until 16 years of age. It is not hard to understand that if we focus on educating our girls, send them to college and gear them towards becoming financially independent and career oriented, we automatically delay their marriages and pregnancies. While I am firmly against child marriages — and by that I mean the marriage of a person under 16 years of age — I simply cannot agree with raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 in isolation. First of all, we do not have a legal age of consent in Pakistan as our laws do not allow for sexual relations outside marriage. Day in and day out, the courts are flooded with cases of girls who have eloped and married of their own free will and consent — while I vehemently believe that any person who marries a girl under 16 years of age should be tried for rape — I cannot say that the girls who are over 16 should be punished for marrying whom they choose. If we try to do that, would that not constitute a violation of their fundamental rights to their body, life and liberty? In a repressed society like Pakistan, would they not be tried and convicted under the zina laws? Amidst the clamour that is being made to raise the minimum age to 18 years, has anyone paused to take into account that changes would need to be made to other statutes as well? The definition of rape would need to be amended to 18 years with or without consent and so would the criminal liability under the controversial zina ordinance to 18 years for a female, dispensing with ‘puberty’. The age for the option of puberty would need to be raised as would the one for interim custody under the guardianship law, which hands over custody of minor girls under 16 years to mothers, to 18 years. Has anyone considered making an amendment to the PPC, if the fear is to protect against forced child marriages? There is a provision, which criminalises forced marriage of a woman but would not an amendment to it serve the purpose? Why not raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 years, amend all the relevant laws but provide for court orders for persons aged 16 to 18 years of age who wish to marry of their own will and consent? Would that not be reasonable restraint?
Former President Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned blast in a Mosque in Peshawar in which several people have been reported killed and dozens injured.
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the bomb blast in a mosque in Peshawar
By Adeel SaeedExtreme winter cold in Pakistan's northern region is another burden the country's internally displaced people (IDPs) have to carry. "We are already embroiled in unexplainable difficulties due to displacement, but presently our biggest worry is the frosty weather, which is causing seasonal ailments," said Rahim Khan, who fled fighting in Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency in 2010 and took refuge at Jalozai camp in Nowshera District. "The weather has become very harsh, and it is almost impossible to cope with the biting cold while dwelling in tents covered with mere plastic sheets," Rahim told Central Asia Online.
Takfiri terrorists of TTP-ASWJ have shot martyred a Shia Doctor Syed Asif Hussain Zaidi s/o Syed Baqi Hussain Zaidi in Karachi’s Bufferzone area on Thursday late night, The Shia Post reported.
Britain’s Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP has said that it’s the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to protect its religious minorities from persecution by the extremist groups through vigorous action against those who perpetrate crimes in the name of religion and sects against Pakistanis. Speaking in the Houses of Commons at a reception organised by the New Horizons International Initiative on Peace and Tolerance and Pakistan Christians Concern about the situation of Christians in Muslim countries and how they are targeted, the attorney general said that Christians faced difficulties in various Islamic countries. He called on the government of Pakistan had an important role to play in changing “the underlying prejudices” and that always took time but the government should protect “all law abiding citizens of the country”. He said it was important to get out the message that the Pakistani government, its officials and the police would not tolerate minorities being targeted and would not tolerate those who persecuted them. “It’s a question of changing attitudes but it’s also about persuasion. It’s about building bridges and removing prejudices and making people understand that they are all same, all are patriotic and that diversity is welcome and most be accommodated. This is something we have learnt in Britain but it’s important that we promote it elsewhere too.” He said it’s clear that “everyone in Pakistan is suffering from terrorism. Terrorists need to be condemned and we must stop them collectively.” Others who spoke on this occasion included former Defence Minister Dr Liam Fox MP and parliamentarians Jason McCartney, Julian Smith, Alec Shell Brook, Alastair Burt, Steve Baker, Tony Baldry, Sir Edward Leigh, Canon Yaqub Masih, Christian leader and representatives of several embassies in London. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/uk-attorney-general-asks-pakistan-to-protect-minorities/#sthash.RBrURfDU.dpuf