Sunday, February 9, 2014

15yo Russian prodigy becomes youngest Olympic figure skating gold medalist

Fifteen-year-old Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya has become Russia’s youngest athlete to ever win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics after her splendid free skate in the team figure skating event.
She is six days younger than US figure skater Tara Lipinski was when she won a gold medal in Nagano in 1998. Her victory makes her the youngest Olympic Gold medalist in figure skating history.
Previously, our report mistakenly stated that Lipnitskaya had become the youngest Olympic champion in the history of the Winter Games, for which we apologize. The youngest female Olympic gold medalist in history was South Korean short track speed skater Kim Yun-Mi. She won her medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer at the age of 13. Lipnitskaya's phenomenal performances in the short program and free skate in the figure skating team competition left Iceberg Skating Palace speechless. She received a standing ovation. She has emerged as perhaps the biggest challenge to her rivals: Italian, Canadian, Japanese, and American female figure skaters.
In her spectacular debut at the Winter Olympics, she easily outskated far more experienced competitors including Carolina Kostner of Italy, for whom this is her third Olympics, and Japan's Mao Asada, who is competing in her second Games.
Although the Olympics is the first event of such scale for Yulia, she did not seem nervous. With no visible anxiety, she stood on the ice and performed as though she did it every day.
Her nearly inhuman flexibility, combined with brilliant rotation on her spins and deft soaring jumps, left the audience amazed and impressed the judges. She showed the second-best result ever in ladies’ free skating at the Sunday event, scoring 141.51 points and earning a combined total of 214.41 points. The current record holder is South Korean figure skater Kim Yuna, who was the 2010 Olympic champion in ladies' singles with 150.06 and 228.56 points, respectively. Yulia said that in the so-called zone of "tears and kisses," where skaters await results, the festive atmosphere reigned after her performance.
After her sensational free skate program to music from “Schindler’s List,” Yulia modestly told journalists that this was not her best performance. “For me, this skate was not the best. We will work on mistakes so that on the individual championship there are no flaws,” she said. “It was annoying that I failed the last rotation,” she confessed. “And, yes, I could strengthen jumps. In the individual tournament, I set the highest goals.” She will now fly back home to Moscow, where she trains, and return to Sochi in several days to compete for gold in the individual event.
Born in the city of Yekaterinburg, located in the Ural Mountains, Yulia first stood on the ice at age four. By the age of 10, she had won every tournament in her city, which meant it was time to make a decision: move to the capital city of Moscow and continue her career, or leave the sport. When the question about moving to Moscow appeared, her mother Daniela did not hesitate to abandon everything and leave with her daughter. It wasn't easy, but she believed Yulia would be able to show excellent results at various competitions. Yulia lived up to those expectations. Yulia’s success was followed by a silver medal at the senior level of the 2012 Russian Championships and a gold at the 2012 Russian Junior Championships. It was there that she set her first record, achieving the ladies’ World Junior record with a combined total of 187.05 points on the free skate. Throughout the entire 2011–2012 season, Yulia had no falls on the ice in any her competitions.

Pashto Song... Shama Ashna

Malala Yousafzai Nominated For 2014 Children's Nobel Prize

Malala Yousafzai, the valiant young warrior for the right to education in Pakistan, has been nominated for the 2014 Children's Nobel Prize for her "courageous and dangerous fight for girls' right to education", the World's Children's Prize website said. The Swedish based foundation recognizes children's champions who inspire children throughout the world because of their outstanding work for children whose rights have been violated.
The World's Children's Prize Child Jury, comprising around 15 children from across the globe, selects three final candidates for the award every year. The award programme, launched in 2000, is supported by 60,000 schools with 29.3 million students in 109 countries and over 600 organizations.
The other two nominees for the prestigious prize are the John Wood from the United States of America for his outstanding contribution for libraries and education access to millions of Children in 10 countries and the other is Indira Ranamagar, a Nepali child rights activist, who has been actively involving for prisoners' children in Nepal for the past 20-years.
The 16-year-old activist Malala, who survived a brutal Taliban attack in 2012 and last year's Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, started to speak out for girls' rights at the age of 11, when the Taliban banned girls from going to school in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, the website stated. The website goes on to say that Malala is determined to continue her struggle for every child's right to an education. "She believes that education is the future, and that one child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world".

Pakistan: Al Qaeda cell active in Karachi university

The Federal government today directed Pakistani authorities to investigate the existence of an al-Qaeda affiliated organisation in the University of Karachi. The Interior Ministry has written letters to paramilitary rangers and police to investigate the existence of the organisation called "Ashab" on the university campus, GEO news reported. The report said the group was a cell of the terrorist network, al-Qaeda. The Interior Ministry has directed the law enforcement and investigating agencies to seek help from the Vice Chancellor of the Karachi University. "The VC should be asked to investigate and pinpoint the persons involved in the distribution of some objectionable material on the university campus," the report said. Police and investigating agencies have in the past reported the existence of cells of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan operating out of Pakistan's biggest city Karachi. But this is the first time that the Interior Ministry has talked about the existence of an al-Qaeda cell on the Karachi university campus. In recent months, police and rangers have unearthed and arrested some members of the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islaami from the Punjab university students' hostel for being part of al-Qaeda networks.

Pakistan: Say no to dialogue

By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The only negotiation that can happen between the state and the Taliban is on the time and mode of surrender — nothing else. Anything beyond that is specifically barred by the constitution
In February 1948, Mr Jinnah said, “In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims — Hindus, Christians and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”
Jinnah was a Khoja Shia Mohammaden by faith. Fatima Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan filed a joint affidavit to this effect. The Khoja Jamaat in Bombay confirmed on several occasions that Jinnah remained a member of that Jamaat, paying his dues regularly and fully. His main lieutenant, Zafrullah Khan, was an Ahmedi. Jogindranath Mandal, who represented the Muslims in the interim government on behalf of the Muslim League, and then became Pakistan’s first law minister, was a scheduled caste Hindu. The idea that the state that Jinnah founded would, in 2014, be subject to callous, bigoted interpretations of two committees of mullahs of one sect no less is preposterous. Under the Taliban’s version of shariat, a Shia Khoja Mohammaden like Jinnah is a kafir (infidel), punishable by death. An Ahmedi to them is a blaspheming apostate and a Hindu is a polytheist, both categories deserving of capital punishment.
One of the mullahs on the Taliban committee is Samiul Haq, disparagingly known as ‘Maulana Sandwich’. He has the audacity to claim that the Taliban are fighting for the supremacy of the constitution. Nothing can be farthest from the truth. Pakistan may have enacted a number of Islamic provisions in its constitution, but the constitution of Pakistan envisages a democratic state run by the representatives of the people. The constitution of Pakistan does not give the Council of Islamic Ideology the power to rule or make the law. That is the preserve of the members of the legislatures elected by the people. The constitution envisages no decision-making role to the mullahs.
Maulana Abdul Aziz, the Lal Masjid imam, is more ideologically consistent when he says that the constitution is a man-made document. He wants the state to bend down and kneel in front of the Taliban. The terms of reference of the negotiations are to be the Quran and Sunnah, according to him. The question again is: who is the interpreter? We, the people of Pakistan, Muslim or non-Muslim, Shia or Sunni, reject the interpretations of murderers, crooks and those who escape in the dead of night in burqas. Such cowards who attack civilians and kill innocents with impunity for disagreeing with them cannot be the interpreters of Islam or Pakistan’s constitution.
A state like Pakistan cannot negotiate with the Taliban. We are talking about the 27th largest economy in the world according to purchasing power parity. Its armed forces on active duty are the eighth largest in the world. This country has about 30 million Shias. There are close to four million Christians and four million Hindus who call themselves Pakistanis. There are also four million Ahmedis who have been forced to call themselves non-Muslims. In total, Pakistan has in excess of 43 million Pakistanis who do not subscribe to Sunni Islam. Within Sunnis, the clear majority is of Barelvis who disagree with the Deobandi school of thought to which the Taliban belong. Within the Deobandis, a significant section disagrees with Taliban ideology. All in all, a very tiny minority will accept the Taliban and their dictates. Their numbers cannot exceed more than half a million. Why then is the state so willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the Taliban?
The answer lies in the cynical use of the Taliban factor by politicians like Imran Khan and Munawar Hassan. Of the two, one would have hoped that Imran Khan would have been driven by the higher objective of Pakistan’s survival and success. Unfortunately, Imran Khan has calculated that the Taliban factor can be used as a stick to beat the central government with. The central government, under Mian Nawaz Sharif, has therefore been hard pressed to out-Taliban the Taliban. Here is the problem though. Negotiating with the Taliban will mean the unravelling of the Pakistani state. Not only will it lend legal justification to all groups and rag tag outfits waging an armed struggle to seek the state’s attention by engaging in violence, it will also impute redundancy to the constitution as a whole. As we stand, many of the articles of that document have already become redundant. This, however, will be an abrogation of the constitution. Article six for one is a clear example. Here you have two mullahs, Maulana Samiul Haq and Maulana Abdul Aziz, clearly flouting the constitution, abetting and collaborating in the overthrow of the constitution and yet they are free men. As long as such characters are allowed to roam around freely, trying General Musharraf for treason is discriminatory.
The state needs to act and act fast. The only negotiation that can happen between the state and the Taliban is on the time and mode of surrender — nothing else. Anything beyond that, especially in so far as acceptance of demands is concerned, is specifically barred by the constitution. Taliban sympathisers and supporters need to be rounded up and tried for treason as soon as possible. Similarly, if the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government offers to allow an office for the Taliban in Peshawar, it should be dismissed forthwith and the province ought to be placed under Governor’s Rule. Remember, a society driven by fear cannot fight. What is the most the Taliban can do? Kill more of us? We should say to them: do your worst; Pakistanis are not afraid of the craven who hide in caves. As the great Muslim ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, once said, “One day of the life of a tiger is preferable to a hundred years of a jackal’s.” We face a cowardly foe, who attacks without warning and attacks only innocent civilians including women and children. Each one of us, therefore, needs to find in ourselves the courage to defy. Say no to dialogue, or there is annihilation that awaits our country.

Islamabad hides behind Taliban talks

By Shams uz Zaman
"Dialogue" has become a buzz word in Pakistani media, with no real understanding of the process's benefits or consequences.
The are heated arguments on Pakistani TV talk over whether a military operation or negotiations are the best solution to the Taliban insurgency. This has raised a plethora of confused ideas and apprehensions as to what lies ahead. The debate is illustrative of the country's divide between seculars and liberals against the religious and conservatives. These divisions run deep in society.
It is easy to advocate either military action or a peace initiative in a studio, holding a cup of coffee and with a cigar between your teeth. It is an entirely different story when it comes to translating either policy into a real course of action.
Liberalism has a different meaning in Pakistan than in the West. The foundations of modern liberal thought were laid during the times of Renaissance in the 16th century. These imply a personal belief in human rights, freedom of speech and peace.
In Pakistani society, being liberal means you are a wealthy person enjoying a Western lifestyle, who has contempt for religious values, is fond of liquor, yells for military action and who applies double standards towards religion, terrorism and policy towards India. Pakistani society as a whole is usually averse to liberalism. The country is sentimentally attached to core religious values, despite the fact that Pakistanis violate these with complete impunity.
On terrorism, Pakistani society stands divided. Everyone wants the violence to end, but they don't know the way forward. Calls for military action, which usually comes from liberal circles, are viewed with great suspicion as common citizens sees the liberals as a threat to their religious values.
A successful military operation of the magnitude of the Swat operation in 2009 would not only require immense political will, but huge financial and military resources as well. The Swat operation not only resulted in an exodus of about 2 million people, there were thousands of civilian and military causalities and it depleted the country's military equipment and hardware.
Pakistan has still not economically recovered from the cost of that successful operation in Swat, and yet the situation there remains fragile. If a military operation of a similar size is undertaken in tribal areas, the incurring cost would be several times more, not only in terms of fatalities but also for hardware as well. The blowback in settled areas and the overall economic cost would also be a devastating blow for the already ailing Pakistani economy.
Although the dialogue has launched, with the first formal meeting between Pakistan's government and a Taliban-nominated team held in Islamabad on Thursday, questions remain over how the talks will be structured.
Firstly, the Taliban are not a monolithic militant ideologue but rather a complex network of ideological, sectarian and criminal groups temporarily bonded together in a common cause of fighting the government forces. This raises the question of who exactly to talk to? Secondly, despite the fact that democratic institutions have apparently strengthened, any decision on the national issues can't be taken by the government until the time armed forces overtly or covertly endorse it - and it is clear the army has no appetite for talks.
It remains unclear what the current talks aim to achieve? One possibility is that the government launched them as a last resort, because it knows it lacks the funds to conduct a major offensive. Or maybe the government wants a quick redux of talks-deal-military operation like in Swat. A military operation this time might just involve aerial bombings and shelling with little deployments, until and unless the US or any other international donor agencies opts to provide funding for it. Small-scale military operations are already routine, but these don't get much coverage in media. These assaults have anyway not been decisive, and it is their fallout which is being witnessed in the settled areas of Pakistan.
Other factors suggest the talks have little chance of success. One of the underlying demands of religiously motivated Taliban is imposition of the Sharia law in Pakistan. But the Taliban's Sharia involves some primordial tribal practices which actually have nothing to do with Islam, and which would fetch no support from the common masses.
Even if the Taliban agreed to dump the tribal culture from their Sharia model, the implementation of Islamic Law would under no circumstances be acceptable to any segment of the ruling elite. The structure of a classical Islamic society pivots around the core tenets of equality and justice, and these would be seen as a direct threat to the elite's unchallenged authority. In theory, under such an arrangement all the assets, perks and privileges of the ruling class could withdrawn by the masses and any infringement of the socio-politico order dealt with by strict punitive measures. The equality clauses would bring the elites under the scrutiny of the general public, which at anytime could demand they justify the sources of their wealth - on pain of losing their limbs.
This contradiction suggests that the talks are just a gimmick the ruling class is using to fool the masses. There are other stakeholders in shape of hostile intelligence agencies which would love to see the negotiations fail and Pakistan recoil back into an unending cycle of violence. Talks are likely to meet some dead end either after a drone strike or a major terrorist act by any of the stake holder. And even if things go smoothly, the government would refuse to accept Sharia law.
The situation for the ruling elite could become horrific once the bulk of US troops leave Afghanistan and the flow of aid dries up for Pakistan. If this happens, the ruling elite will either have to take a flight out of the country or join the masses back in the Stone Age.

Afghan Forces’ Killings of Civilians Rose in 2013

New York Times
The Afghan government’s share of blame for civilian casualties rose drastically last year, largely reflecting an intensification in the ground conflict between insurgents and Afghan troops, according to a new report from the United Nations released Saturday. The report highlighted how significantly the nature of the conflict has changed, as American and NATO forces handed over most of the responsibility for security to the Afghans last year. Despite a series of high-profile complaints by President Hamid Karzai, the United Nations’ 2013 Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict said that only 3 percent of civilian casualties were caused by international forces last year.
At the same time, a decline in civilian deaths seen in 2012 was reversed, with 2,959 killed last year — nearly the same as the civilian toll in the war’s worst year, 2011, the United Nations said. Over all, civilian casualties, totaling 8,615, were up by 14 percent last year over 2012. While the Taliban insurgents and their allies continued to cause by far the most civilian casualties — three-fourths of the total in 2013 — the report expressed concern about the rapid rise in the number of civilians killed in ground fighting between government and insurgent forces, as well as the increase in deaths attributed to government forces. Civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces increased 59 percent last year, while those arising from ground engagements rose 128 percent, the report said. Among the 3 percent of civilian casualties caused by international military forces, the single biggest factor was airstrikes, according to data in the report. It cited 182 civilian deaths and injuries caused by 54 airstrikes last year. Of those, 19 were drone attacks, which more than tripled the civilian casualties from such strikes over 2012. Previously, drone strikes in Afghanistan were rare compared with those in neighboring Pakistan. While quick to criticize the Americans for episodes that killed civilians, Mr. Karzai has been far less outspoken on such actions by the insurgents and his own government’s forces, said Hadi Marifat, a Kabul spokesman for the Center for Civilians in Conflict, an advocacy group. “He has been selectively highlighting cases of civilian casualties for political lobbies externally, but quite reluctant to criticize the casualties caused by the Taliban, and that is a concern for all of us; there is a need to depoliticize this issue,” Mr. Marifat said. Adela Raz, a spokeswoman for Mr. Karzai, said his office had condemned deadly attacks carried out by insurgents as well as by international forces. She said Mr. Karzai “has always said that civilian casualties should not only be decreased but completely ended.” She added, “The president’s position in this regard has always been clear.” The International Security Assistance Force, as the American-led coalition is called, issued a statement praising the United Nations report, but adding that its “training mission includes instilling a culture of civilian casualty reduction within Afghan security ministries.” I.S.A.F. said 7,500 Afghan security personnel had been trained since 2012 in detecting and counteracting improvised explosive devices, which, as in previous years, remain the single largest killer of civilians, according to the United Nations. Last year, the second biggest killer of civilians became ground engagements — the year before, that dubious distinction went to suicide attacks — another indicator that government forces and insurgents were fighting many more ground battles than they had in the past, with civilians often caught between them. “Afghan security forces’ lead responsibility for security brings with it increased responsibility for civilian protection,” Jan Kubis, the United Nations head in Afghanistan, said in a statement about the report.
At a news conference, Mr. Kubis directed his harshest criticism at the Taliban insurgents and the civilian deaths they caused. “I would like to stress the overwhelming majority is because of the activities and acts of the antigovernment elements, and these are the only elements that are targeting civilians, directly targeting civilians,” he said. “This is a major difference between them and those that are, unfortunately, killed in action, for example, of pro-government forces against antigovernment elements.” The Taliban have justified attacks on places like restaurants and mosques by saying the presence of pro-government figures there justified the killing of civilians. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, complained in a statement emailed to journalists that the United Nations had not given the insurgents an advance copy of the report, but asserted that such reports in the past had been “prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul but released under the name of the United Nations.” “Our mujahedeen have been seriously ordered by his excellency the emir of the faithful that they are required to avoid civilian casualties,” Mr. Mujahid said, referring to Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, by an honorific title. He also called the report “one-sided.” The report documented numerous instances, however, in which the insurgents deliberately hit civilian targets. It said the Taliban publicly claimed responsibility for 153 attacks that caused civilian casualties last year, three times the number of such claims in 2012. The 2013 attacks killed 302 civilians. In addition, the insurgents continued a trend to increased numbers of targeted attacks on such noncombatants as elders, election workers and mullahs. Attacks on mullahs and religious sites tripled in 2013, with 27 episodes claiming 18 lives, including mullahs and religious scholars killed for expressing pro-government views, the report said. Mr. Kubis said the Taliban’s attacks on civilians “might border on war crimes.” He continued, “They will be held accountable sooner or later.”

​US to pump $300mn into Afghanistan to end ‘war economy’ – report

Washington will announce on Monday a massive aid package to Afghanistan, which it hopes will assist the war-torn country get back on its feet after 12 years of playing host to foreign troops, Reuters has learned.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) will announce three new development programs worth almost $300 million to wean Afghanistan off its 'war economy,' which is heavily subsidized today by opium exports – a trade that had been practically squashed while the country was under Taliban rule.
Under the USAID initiative, $125 million will go to reviving Afghanistan's food and farm sector, and another $77 million to opening up the country to greater international trade and investment. The last program, valued at about $100 million, would seek to assist Afghanistan’s educational system.
"The question is, what can we do now to make sure Afghanistan is as healthy, sustainable and feasible as possible going forward," Larry Sampler, the agency's chief official for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told Reuters.
Sampler said the three-stage cash injections would help buffer Afghanistan as the war economy winds down, together with the foreign military operation.
The promise of a cash handout by USAID comes as Washington is trying to get Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security pact needed to keep US troops there after this year.
Karzai has thus far refused to sign over US demands that its troops receive immunity from Afghan courts in any future criminal cases.

Afghanistan troops urge Karzai to sign security deal with US

Officers in the Afghan army fighting to contain the Taliban insurgency have called on the country's President, Hamid Karzai, to sign a security agreement that would keep a small number of American troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year.
The Washington Post reports that soldiers have openly called for Karzai to sign the deal in the Afghan media, despite being officially made to keep silent on the topic. One general who called for the agreement's signing in an interview with a Kabul television station last month told the Post that he was later placed on leave by officials at Afghanistan's Defense Ministry and expects to be formally fired soon.
"If the international community leaves, there is no question that we will lose ground to the Taliban." Col. Mohammad Dost told The Post. "It's the biggest worry for every soldier now."
"If the Americans leave, Afghanistan will be a lone sheep, left in the desert for the wolves to eat," Capt. Abdul Zahir told the paper.
The security agreement was reached between Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this past November and was ratified by the loya jirga council of prominent Afghans days later. However, Karzai has refused to sign the deal himself, appearing content to leave the matter to his successor. Afghans will vote on their next President April 5.
The agreement not only governs the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan past 2014, but also ensures a steady supply of funding for the Afghan security forces. Afghan soldiers tell the Post that without U.S. support, they would not be paid their salaries. Even if Congress does appropriate funding for Afghan forces in the event the agreement goes unsigned, oversight of its distribution would be impossible without U.S. troops on the ground.
The U.S. has reportedly spent $50 billion on various aspects of the 352,000-man Afghan security forces. Without the ongoing presence of the estimated 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops called for by the agreement's implementation, Afghan soldiers say that they would lose such military resources as artillery training, logistical assistance, and aerial support from U.S. jets and helicopters.

Peshawar: Cop among three killed in shootout

A cop from special force among two other persons were killed in an exchange of fire between the police and a target killer here at Shiekhaan Village Badabair on Saturday evening. According to police control a man was planting explosive material near a floor mill in Shiekhaan village Badbair and opened fire on two passersby when they questioned him .The two passers by died on spot. Police rushed to sport and killed the accused when he tried to flee. However, a policeman was also killed in the exchange of fire.

Pakistan: Another gun placed at PTI’s temple

Pakistan Today
Donor claims PTI has been hijacked, accuses leadership of mishandling party funds Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf cannot ensure provision of justice to the common people when it cannot provide justice to its own worker, claimed Pakistani-American donor Mehboob Aslam while holding a press conference at the residence of a PTI’s founder member Akbar Babar on Sunday. Aslam said Imran Khan was surrounded by opportunists and land grabbers, who were being consulted to run the party affairs while ideological workers had been sidelined. He said he had worked for the party in the US and had raised funds worth $ 3 million for the 2008 general elections. “However, when I visited Pakistan, reviewed the causes of the party’s defeat in the polls and talked with ideological workers, I found that the party had been hijacked by corrupt and bankrupt people, who had been assigned important responsibilities in the party,” he claimed. He said the money he sent had been used in the intra party elections, while the party tickets were even sold. He said Imran mistreated him when he went to him to complain against the alleged misappropriation and his minions kicked him out.

The man who sold Pakistan

WE’RE already in the middle of it, so why not try and figure out the likely small print. Here’s an idea for the draft agreement:
“The Federal Government shall be under an obligation to take steps to enforce the Shariah, to establish salat, to administer zakat, to promote amr bil ma'roof and nahi anil munkar (to prescribe what is right and to forbid what is wrong), to eradicate corruption at all levels and to provide substantial socio-economic justice, in accordance with the principles of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”
Sound familiar? It should. That’s the operational part of the 15th Amendment that never was.
If you’re the conspiratorial or cynical sort, here’s a theory for the ages: the once-upon-a-time would-be amirul momineen is about to pull off the greatest political bait-and-switch this country, or perhaps any country, has ever seen. Nawazul Sharif the amirul momineen. And this time, no one would see it coming — or even blame him for wanting it. It’s the TTP, stupid. If only. If only that were true. The heart almost aches for it to be true. Anything but the tawdriness and ugliness of protecting Punjab over and above everything else. Amirul momineen would at least suggest a higher purpose.
No, there’s another villain in this piece. Imran Khan. Taliban Khan. The man who smashed this country on the rocks of extremism.
Oh, here we go again, the Khanistas will bleat. Blame Imran for everything. If a dog crosses a road, blame Imran. It’s not even Imran’s government, they will yell. He’s in charge of nothing. All true. But that still doesn’t make him any less of a villain. In fact, precisely because he is in charge of nothing, he has the freedom to drag us all to ruin.
(KP is a bit prize that the PTI doesn’t even pretend to care about much; it’s Punjab the party really craves.)
The problem with Khan, the problem for all of us, is as simple as it’s ugly: he’s mainstreamed extremism.
Made it sexy, dressed it up, foisted it off on an audience that didn’t really understand what he is selling or why; packaged it as the little blue pill that will make all our troubles go away. Without Khan, the right-wing wouldn’t disappear. Without Khan, there would still be the Taliban. Without Khan, there’d still be plenty of merchants of hate, bigotry and xenophobia. Without Khan, there’d still be a bunch of apologists. But without Khan, none of that wouldn’t be as mainstream as it is with Taliban Khan running around.
Let’s play a little game. Imagine there was no Imran. No Taliban Khan on the national stage, no handsome mug and mischievous eyes plastered all over the country and shipped inside every TV. There’s just Zia and his progeny.
So, the usual is playing out. The Taliban are blowing up stuff and themselves, kidnapping a few here and there, issuing their usual threats of taking over the country, etc, etc. Par for the course, really. Nobody really knows what to do about it. The boys are still playing their games. The pols too weak and scared. The public confused. Then in walk the original apologists, the political extension of the extremist set. The usual chappies: Fazlu, Jamaatis, Sandwich, et al. And throw in some of the latter-day saints, like Burqa Avenger, aka Abdul Aziz. And they all have the same message: Taliban misunderstood; all they need is some love; all we — Pakistan — need is some Islam; and all will be good. And boo to the Americans and their evil plans. Folk listen for a bit, folk yawn, folk go back to their business and have some chai and samosas and laugh about it all. Those goofy chaps, folk tell themselves, always taking themselves so seriously and pretending nobody knows what they’re all about. Extremism stays where it belongs: on the margins. Because there’s no one credible to sell it to the centre and the mainstream. Until Imran. Taliban Khan’s greatest gift is his power of simplification. Simplification allows you to obfuscate. And obfuscation sells to helluva lot more people than the direct approach — if what you’re selling is the right-wing.
So Taliban Khan arrives with his simplistic formulae. Step one: Pakistan is broken, but Pakistan can be fixed, if only we had a more honest, more patriotic ruling class. Step two: Pakistan doesn’t have a more honest, more patriotic ruling class because they’re corrupt and beholden to outside interests. Step three: Anything that goes wrong inside Pakistan is because of the corrupt, unpatriotic ruling class. Step four: Taliban rose from among the people, a people oppressed by a corrupt and unpatriotic ruling class.
Step five: Taliban are misunderstood, and deliberately so by a corrupt and unpatriotic ruling class that is beholden to self-interest and outside powers.
See how that works?
It mainstreams hate, bigotry and xenophobia without ever sounding hateful, bigoted or xenophobic. It’s all couched in the language of understanding and pain and transferring blame. And boy, has it sold. That handsome mug, those plaintive eyes, that soft, colloquial Urdu, those open hands — an irresistible package hawking irresistible simplicities. And just like that, it’s mainstream. Your high-school kid, your average housewife, your gent on a charpai, your trousered and shirted office 9-to-5-er, every one of them a little Khanista. Drinking from the fountain of refreshing truth, oblivious to its source. Lapping up Imran. Lapping up Taliban Khan, the man who sold Pakistan.

The Return of Journalist Killers in Balochistan

Within a week after the election of a new president for the Balochistan Union of Journalists (B.U.J.), the largest representative organization of journalists in the province, a journalist and his driver were shot dead in Balochistan’s Jaffarabad District. Mohammad Afzal Khawaja, a reporter for Daily Balochistan Times (English) and its sister publication in Urdu, Zamana, was killed by unknown armed men when he was returning home from Jacobabad district in neighboring Sindh province.
The motives behind his killing are still unclear as no group has accepted responsibility for the tragic incident. It is also premature to state whether or not Mr. Khawaja’s journalistic activities were the actual cause for his murder. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (P.F.U.J.) has alleged that the reporter was gunned down in an encounter with the local police. The confusion surrounding the reporter’s death aside, it is the government’s responsibility to investigate the causes of the shooting that led to the killing of the journalist and punishing the elements responsible for such alarming incidents.
Chief Minister Balochistan Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch has condemned the killing of Mr. Khawaja but that is certainly not enough because Balochistan has, unfortunately, become a fertile land for those who murder journalists and easily get away with it. Prior to this killing, the Chief Minister, on January 19, 2014, pledged to establish a judicial commission to probe the murder of different journalists across the province. Furthermore, the Chief Minister also promised to provide financial assistance to the families of slain reporters.
On February 7, A delegation of the B.U.J., headed by the newly elected president Irfan Saeed, met with Balochistan’s Inspector General (I.G.) Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera to ask for immediate government action to arrest the elements responsible for the killing of the Balochistan Times reporter. The I.G. promised that the police department would take all measures to ensure the speedy arrest and trial of the murderers of the reporter. The journalists’ delegation was assured that the police would update them about any progress made in connection to the murdered reporter’s case. Mr. Khawaja’s killing once again highlights the deplorable working conditions of rural journalists whose lives remain under constant threat from various quarters. When reporters are threatened from all sides, ranging from armed nationalist groups to government intelligence agencies and influential tribal chiefs and political figures, it is very hard to trace the actual culprits in a mysterious murder.
While the Committee to Protect Journalists (C.P.J.) has described Balochistan as the ‘epicenter of attacks on Pakistani press‘, the rural areas of the province remain the deadliest regions to report from. Journalists working in those far-flung areas hardly have any support of the media organizations they work for. What is encouraging in Mr. Khawaja’s case is the proactive response of the B.U.J., which previously used to distance itself from the issues of reporters working at district level. Today, the greatest threat to press freedom in Balochistan persists at district level. According to Dawn, at least 30 reporters have been killed in Balochistan in Quetta, Khuzdar, Kalat, Hub, Turbat, Gwadar, Pasni and Panjgur since 2009.
Balochistan will continue to remain a tough assignment for reporters as long as the ongoing political conflict is not resolved. The future of reporting totally hinges upon the relationship between the government, the nationalists and extremist religious groups. By failing to arrest and punish the elements responsible for attacks on journalists, the government would be emboldening the forces that are determined to muzzle the media. The government has repeatedly promised, after each murder of a journalist, to bring the perpetrators to book but we do not have even a single case to cite where the Balochistan government fulfilled its promises. When such cases go unpunished, they send a wave of warning and insecurity among the rest of the journalists who justifiably fear they could be the next target of attackers on the media.
As seen in our editorial picture, the total number of journalists in Sibi district who came out to protest against the killing of Mr. Khawaja was only nine. This could also be the total number of journalists working in the entire district. That said, nine people do not constitute a strong and protective professional community. If you work in such a small district, you would certainly calculate the risks and also the people who would hopefully get out to protest if you become the victim of a similar assault.
Instability in Balochistan only keeps increasing people’s curiosity as to what is actually happening in the province. There are regular sectarian attacks, cases of disappearances, torture, murder and even now reports of mass graves. Therefore, a Press that does not operate under constant threats and warnings is extremely essential for the people of Balochistan and the rest of the world to remain informed as what actually is happening in Balochistan. The government’s failure to protect journalists is in fact the failure of the whole democratic rule in the province.

Bhutto siblings open up about years in exile from Pakistan

By Rob Crilly
Benazir Bhutto’s three children describe growing up in Pakistan’s grandest political dynasty, their years overseas and a tearful return
The children of Benazir Bhutto have spoken together for the first time about their years in self-imposed exile, driven from their homeland by threats and court cases. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 25, has been anointed as the former prime minister’s political heir and has moved centre stage in recent weeks organising a major cultural festival. In an interview with Hello Pakistan to promote the event, he and his two sisters describe how they grew up longing to return to their homeland. Bakhtawar, 24, who has worked for a number of charities assisting flood and earthquake victims, said their mother juggled running the Pakistan People’s Party with bringing up three young children. “We always wanted to return back to Pakistan, my mother frequently spoke about returning home and we often reminisced about our memories of Bilawal House,” said the Edinburgh University graduate, referring to the family home in Karachi.
“Tragically, we came back for our mother’s funeral. It was not the sort of homecoming we had planned…” Mrs Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack as she left a campaign rally in 2007, weeks after she flew back into the country for the first time in almost nine years. Her return was possible only after corruption charges against her were dropped as part of a deal to restore democracy and usher Pervez Musharraf out of office. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, spent eight years in prison after being arrested in the late 1990s, years which weighed heavily on his young children as they grew up in Dubai. Aseefa, 21, said: “It was a very traumatic time for all three of us. I was only three years old when my father was imprisoned and it wasn’t until I was eleven when he was finally released. My childhood was quite bereft.” She was famously the first Pakistani baby to be vaccinated against polio after her mother launched a major immunisation drive in 1994 and has since become a national ambassador for the campaign. Senior diplomats wonder whether she might have more campaigning fire in her belly than her brother – roundly criticised for staying away during last year’s general election - and whether she might ultimately emerge as the keeper of the Bhutto political flame. In recent months, however, Bilawal has developed a higher profile, improving his Urdu and carving out an outspoken leftist position on tackling extremism and reforming the economy. He became the third generation to run the family party when his mother died, just as she had inherited the post when her father was hanged after a military coup. “I never planned to be doing this,” he said. “Like my mother, this crown of thorns was entrusted to me at a very young age. I see it as both an honour and an opportunity.”

Pakistan:A Talibanised society

By Saad Hafiz
The Islamists, who in the past repeatedly failed to win votes and could only influence the state without fully controlling it, have been replaced by armed extremists who see themselves as legitimate claimants to power
It is hard to argue against the notion that Pakistan is a fertile ground for extremist Islam, its causes and conflicts. Pakistan’s status as an ideological state has resulted in the proliferation of Islamic political groups of all kinds. The country’s constitution states that it is an Islamic state, religion is a way of life and that indoctrination, and no other competing ideology, is allowed. Moreover, national policies pursued since Pakistan’s creation have set the country’s trajectory away from the tolerant, syncretic and peaceful strands of Islam, and towards a harsh, literalist and limited version of Islamic values. Extremism is also driven by a pernicious mix of cultural and religious factors — the labyrinthine working through shame-honour/power-challenge codes, Islamic fatalism and the notion of violent jihad. It is a synthesis of radical nihilism, moral vigilantism, violence and power, with few linkages to more mainstream Islamic political and renewal movements globally. The pervasive jihadi mentality is firmly imbedded in Pakistani society, with the extensive and deep-pocketed network of extremist madrassas (seminaries) and mosques churning out new recruits at an alarming rate.
Extremists with different strategies flourish in Pakistan, while the writ of the state continues to weaken. Extremists can argue that because Pakistan is an Islamic state, actions aimed at imposing Islamic sharia across the country, even by force of arms, are consistent with the writ of the state. This line of thinking resonates with significant players in the political class, society and the media, who bat for the extremists. Operating under the umbrella of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), several extremist groups have received state patronage or at least tolerance at one time or another. Others have operated independently or with the support of fellow Islamist groups outside the country. Their primary mission is to fast-track their acquisition of national power. Extremist groups can quite easily dictate their ideology and terms of reference for ‘armed resistance’ or talks. With limited access to education and lacking a critical media, ordinary people can hardly be faulted when they increasingly question why the state is fighting the Taliban. Few people see anything inherently wrong with the extremist’s policies against women and religious minorities or Shia Muslims. The Islamists, who in the past repeatedly failed to win votes and could only influence the state without fully controlling it, have been replaced by armed extremists who see themselves as legitimate claimants to power. Pakistani leaders publically flaunt their own piety and support the deeper Islamisation of institutions and society. The Pakistani state’s approach to militant Islamism is a combination of a state of denial, lack of clarity and intransigence in accepting past ‘strategic’ mistakes; a specious distinction between good and bad Taliban is still made in official circles, politicians are often part of expedient political alignments with Islamist groups and the media amplifies Islamist views, including conspiracy theories to overpower counter-arguments against extremist beliefs. The spurious argument that the Taliban have been driven to extremism “because of the US’s policies” and that all will be well when “the US leaves the region” is regularly spouted. It is somewhat pointless, therefore, to keep harping on about the existential threat to Pakistan from extremist violence and terrorism if society itself has stopped viewing the grip of extremism as ultimately self-destructive. Sadly, trends do point to the Pakistani state and society continuing in a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, with all that implies for a horrible and troubled future. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how the Pakistani state and society can disengage itself from the suffocating embrace of extremism. Generally, it would require that society abandon grievance and victimhood, settle its differences and join its talents, energies and resources in a common endeavour to combat extremism for its own sake and by its own choice.
Politically, it will entail that the ruling elite stop manipulating the sentimental attachment of Pakistanis to Islam and de-emphasise the use of religion in the national discourse and narrative. The state has to stop projecting Pakistan as a citadel of Islam, and must curtail the freedom of organisation, funding and movement of extremists. The political will has to be found to firmly push back against the religious groups who are demanding the establishment of a theocratic state. Another step should be to rally the public behind the broader rollback of religious legislation that strengthens religious absolutism and obscurantism, at the expense of individual rights, freedom and liberty. Tactically, a vigorous programme to rein in the madrassas has to be implemented, despite the expected backlash from powerful conservative and religious groups. Moreover, cutting the umbilical cord between certain entities of the Pakistani state and extremist organisations and stopping the calibrated support for armed jihad focused on fighting battles outside Pakistan is needed. The formulation of a viable counter-extremist and counterterrorism policy, incorporating the use of overwhelming force if necessary, is also crucial. There is no guarantee that it will work but, looking at the fundamental trend lines in Pakistan, it is hard to be optimistic if things continue the way they are now.

Canadian and Indian High Commissioners call on separately on former President Asif Ali Zardari
Canadian High Commissioner in Islamabad Greg Giokas today called on the former President Asif Ali Zardari in Bialwal House Karachi. The two discussed matters of mutual interest. During the meeting Mr. Asif Ali Zardari appreciated the support extended by Canada to Pakistan in various fields and in supporting democracy in Pakistan in overcoming various challenges. Talking to the High Commissioner the former President underscored the significance of Pakistan as an important regional player in South Asia that could play an effective role for the stability, peace and prosperity of the region. He also highlighted the sacrifices rendered by the people and defence forces in fighting the terror threat and stressed the need for international community to help alleviate sufferings of the people in the war against militancy. He said that as President he had always been advocating the need for the international community to set up a victims’ fund for the rehabilitation of the victims of militancy. He said that the year 2014 was very crucial as security and political transition takes place in Afghanistan and the international forces begin to pull out of that country, which will have profound implications not only for Afghanistan but for all countries in the region. He said that a peaceful, economically stable and vibrant Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan and we would gladly play our due role in this regard. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari said that as a political party the PPP also had suffered hugely in the fight against militancy and recalled how its leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto laid down her life fighting militancy. The former President said that neutralizing the extremists whether through negotiations or use of force was only one part of the battle. The real battle he said was changing the militant mindset through creation and provision of opportunities to the people. He said that for this Pakistanis needed greater international support to give hope to the people through creation of jobs and economic opportunities The former President also hosted lunch in honor of Canadian High Commissioner Greg Giokas. The Canadian High Commissioner thanked the former President for the meeting.
Later in the afternoon the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad Dr. T.C.A. Raghavan also called on former President Asif Ali Zardari in Bilawal House in Karachi and discussed matters of mutual interest.
Felicitating once again the Indian High Commissioner on his appointment Mr. Asif Ali Zardari stressed the need for improved bilateral relations for the sake of well being of over a billion people of the two countries and for regional peace and security. There is no alternative to peace through an honorable resolution of disputes between the two countries he said adding that the absence of alternatives should help make the mind clear. The former President said that there was an increasing political consensus in Pakistan on seeking normalization of relations with India. He said that the PPP has long been in favour of trade with India,greater people to people contacts and strengthening SAARC as a trading bloc as instruments for normalization of relations. The Party under the leadership of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto proposed soft borders as far back as 1999. He said that the Party had introduced the concept of visa free travel in SAARC countries to groups of people including Parliamentarians and Judges and also introduced the South Asian Preferential Tariff Agreement. He said that the path to peace lay through confidence building, conflict management and creation of a trading bloc of nations to improve the living conditions of all people of South Asia. High Commissioner Dr. T C A Raghavan thanked the former President for the meeting. Patron in Chief of PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Bakhtwar Bhutto Zardari were also present in both the meetings.