Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Video: President Obama Holds a Press Conference with President Hollande of France

U.S. condemns Afghan decision to go ahead with detainee release

U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday condemned a decision by the Afghan government to proceed with plans to release additional detainees that the United States believes pose a militant threat. The detainees have become one more issue fueling tension in U.S.-Afghan ties, as foreign troops, who have been in Afghanistan since 2001, steadily withdraw. The U.S. director of national intelligence said on Tuesday he did not expect President Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement with Washington. "United States Forces-Afghanistan has learned that 65 dangerous individuals from a group of 88 detainees under dispute have been ordered released from the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan," the U.S. military force said in a statement. "The release of these detainees is a major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan," it said. "Some previously-released individuals have already returned to the fight, and this subsequent release will allow dangerous insurgents back into Afghan cities and villages." An Afghan government official said the prisoners could be released in a few days. The Pentagon believes it will happen on Thursday, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters in Washington. President Barack Obama's administration has been pressing Karzai to sign a bilateral security pact that would allow some U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond a deadline at the end of this year. But there has been little sign of him complying. The detainees in question are among 650 held at Bagram prison north of Kabul, whom Afghan authorities have marked for release on grounds of insufficient proof to prosecute them. Washington objects to freeing a total of 88 prisoners it regards as a threat to security. Last month, U.S. officials objected to Afghanistan after the government directed the Afghan Review Board, a government body, to release 37 of the 88 detainees. Tuesday's development appears to put those prisoners, and 28 others, closer to release. "The attorney general ordered Bagram prison authorities (to) release 65 prisoners because they was no incriminating evidence against them," said Basir Azizi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's attorney general. The Pentagon's Warren said in reply to reporters' questions that "it is the U.S. position that these (detainees) are threats to U.S. forces, and should they take up arms against us, we will take immediate action." "Of course we would try to kill or capture them, as the battlefield situation presents."

Illegal hunting on the rise in Afghanistan

By Navin Singh Khadka
Illegal wildlife hunting is on the rise in Afghanistan - threatening several key species, campaigners say.
Officials admit it is happening in most provinces despite regulations banning hunting, including a decree by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
There have been claims hunting is carried out by locals and by foreign nationals from Middle Eastern countries.
However, Afghan officials could not confirm this to BBC News.
The country has listed nearly 150 wild animals and birds as at-risk within its territory but there are no detailed records of how many have been killed or poached.
Authorities say the ongoing conflict has made monitoring almost impossible.
But environmentalists have accused some politicians of using illegal wildlife hunting as a means to secure the backing of influential individuals from countries in the Gulf region for their electoral campaigns in Afghanistan. "With the election campaign heating up, some groups and elements that are close to a few [Middle East] countries are bringing people from those places to secure further support to their candidacy," said Abdul Rahman Salahi, a civil activist with the Herat Professional Council.
"Because of the methods adopted by some politicians and the fact that the international forces are leaving Afghanistan, people are quite worried that illegal hunting will now go up."
Traditional hunting
Herat recently saw a street protest against alleged illegal hunting.
"Our demo is against a number of [foreign nationals] who have come to the west of Afghanistan where they have violated Afghan law by hunting wild animals," Khalil Parsa, head of the Afghan Network of Civil Societies, told BBC Persian radio during the protest.
Visuals showing people wearing traditional Arabian male dress arriving in Afghanistan with falcons have been posted on the internet and local media have covered the issue widely.
Officials say that they saw the media reports, but found no clear evidence during their investigation. They added that strict instructions have been issued to local authorities to look out for illegal hunting. But some international organisations working on wildlife conservation also say that foreign nationals have been involved. "Even during the war, people from the Middle East were going there for traditional hunting, which they do using falcons," said Ejaz Ahamad of WWF in Pakistan.
Abdul Wali Modaqiq, deputy chief of Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency admitted illegal hunting was on the rise.
"Of course, it has gone up in most of our provinces for food and recreation," he told the BBC. "In the last few decades, we have indeed lost some species of wild animals and birds because of illegal hunting. But I cannot confirm if [foreign nationals] are involved in all this, although I have heard about them through the media." When another incident of alleged illegal hunting was reported in Herat last year, the government promised an investigation. But conservationists say nothing came of it.
"Hunting using falcons is a tradition in Arab regions," said Raghida Haddad, executive editor of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia magazine, published by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development.
"But after each hunting season, dozens of falcons are released into the wild... so that their population remains healthy.
"As per the alleged hunting in Afghanistan by people from our region, we have no idea about it." Some Afghan officials agree that illegal hunting has pushed animals like the brown and black bear, Asiatic cheetah, lynx, ibex, Siberian crane and Houbara bustard onto the list of at-risk species in Afghanistan. In neighbouring Pakistan, the federal government allows dignitaries from the Gulf region to hunt Houbara bustard, a migratory bird from Central Asia.
"This is done to respect bilateral relations with the Gulf countries," say officials with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has listed the bird as vulnerable. "The principle threat is from hunting by Middle Eastern falconers, largely but not exclusively on the species' wintering grounds." A recent court order has put an interim ban on hunting of the migratory bird. Pakistan media reported that the court had asked the government to notify all 33 hunting permit holders from Gulf countries to arrange for representation during the next hearing. Meanwhile, the chief of Kabul Zoo, Aziz Gul Saqib, said: "We know that illegal hunting is going on in many places of our country but we have not been able to control such activities.
"At present, creating awareness against such practices has been our main measure and we hope it will work."

Security Fears Threaten US Future in Afghanistan

Warily watching to see how many U.S. troops might remain in Afghanistan next year, American diplomats and aid workers are facing a drawdown of their own as security threats and dwindling resources limit their 12-year push to develop the mostly primitive nation.
Nearly $100 billion has been spent since 2001 on U.S. projects to better Afghan lives after generations of war and isolation, including boosting security forces, educating young girls and launching mobile phone technology.
But the State Department's ability to continue aid programs, or start new ones, hinges largely on Afghanistan's security — and whether officials can travel to project sites to make sure the money is being spent wisely. A long-delayed decision on whether as many as 10,000 American forces will remain in Afghanistan after the war ends this year will determine how deeply the aid will be cut.
It's an all-too-familiar pattern of anxiety for diplomats who saw years of development projects in Iraq wither away after U.S. troops withdrew in 2011 because of reduced resources and increased security threats.
"It was not ... particularly pleasant to have to take a very large program down to a very small program in a very short period of time," said Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who oversaw a gutting of State Department aid to Iraqi police forces two years ago. Violence in Iraq has surged ever since.
Brownfield said he is already anticipating fewer personnel and less money for local legal programs in Afghanistan, including fighting drug traffic and helping prosecutions and prison systems. But he's waiting to see how many security forces might remain before he can predict how deep the cuts will be.
"My intent is to have established a policy and a strategy that can adjust to these realities without having to do the savage surgery that I was required to do in Iraq in 2012," Brownfield said.
Congress already is seeking to cut all foreign assistance to Afghanistan by half, he said.
"There's a credibility question," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who until last summer chaired a panel on south and central Asia on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We have plenty of reasons to make sure when the military engagement ends that we really maintain both a diplomatic presence and strategy."
However, he said, "it's very hard for most taxpayers to support" keeping a large military presence in Afghanistan. Negotiations over whether foreign military forces should remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in December have snarled over Afghan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign a security agreement with the United States. Without such an agreement, allies have said NATO forces will not remain.
On Tuesday, U.S. military officials said the number of American troops in Afghanistan could drop to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, and would mainly focus on specific skills needed for training and counterterrorism missions if U.S. forces do stay beyond 2014. It generally takes about 10 months to shut down a massive military base, but officials said the Pentagon is prepared to do it in a much shorter — although far more expensive — timeline. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because they were not authorized to be named while discussing the plans.
So far, the U.S. has allocated $96 billion to build up Afghanistan — more than half of it to train and equip the nation's estimated 344,000 security forces. Continued support for the Afghan troops, which are expected to grow by another 8,000, will be a key predictor to the country's stability after 2014.
"If American troops aren't there, the administration's ability to sustain funding for the (Afghan national security forces) gets a lot more problematic," said Stephen Biddle, a national security and defense expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "And if that goes away, the whole show collapses. It's very hard to imagine road projects, wells, schools, clinics — the kinds of things we've been sinking into money into — surviving in that kind of environment."
This week, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced a $300 million package of aid to bolster Afghan agriculture projects and provide administrative degree programs at universities. It also will build on Afghan trade and tax programs to ultimately help Kabul gain accession to the World Trade Organization. Larry Sampler, who heads USAID operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in an interview that if the new programs are unable to be properly monitored "we'll pull the plug." But he said USAID has years of experience working in "pretty dodgy places," and described a number of ways to make sure the money is properly spent even if American officials are unable to personally visit project sites due to security threats.
"We're not dependent on international military forces anywhere in the world like we have been in Afghanistan," Sampler said. "And as international military forces leave, Afghanistan will more closely begin resembling a normal operating environment for USAID."
By 2015, officials predict that American aid workers, investigators, auditors and other non-specified U.S. employees will be able to get to only 21 percent of Afghanistan — down from nearly 50 percent in 2009. The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction said the new limits were the result of the drawdown of U.S. troops. When American forces left Iraq at the end of 2011, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad found itself with neither the resources that the military had nor the ability to travel much of the country. It also lost what former Ambassador James F. Jeffrey in an interview called a "buy-in" from the Iraqi government to continue on its own the programs that the U.S. troops had begun.
"Based on my experience in Iraq, we risk failure in Afghanistan if we do not have a continued U.S. military presence and have to rely on only an embassy to continue comprehensive nation building, security assistance and counter-terrorism," Jeffrey said.

Judge orders to demolish slum settlements of Christians in Capital of Pakistan

By:Shamim Masih
Life is so precious, and everyone in the world would love to live safe and sound life but the people living suburb in Islamabad
(slum areas) are forced to live this kind of life there. I feel pity to think of the circumstances they are living in, how ignorant they are of the harsh realities of life, and the struggling future they have to face, may be they would not ever get the chance to see the bright colors of life. I had been visiting the slum areas since 2009, I used to imagine about slums and people living there, all I can say, it’s pathetic life they will with. It is really eye opening to actually see how people live over there. Houses are made of mud and some with bricks and cement, unpaved streets and the living conditions are outrageous, which differentiate it from the normal living places. People inhale the toxic gases from the nearby ganda naala (seasonal drainage) and God knows how they tolerate its foul smell.
Most of the inhabitants are Christians, migrated from different parts of the country and have been settled here in search of jobs and for better future for three decades. These people don’t take care of their health and hygiene. No organization work for the children like sponsoring a child’s education and nutrition expenses. On Friday, a local court ordered the Capital Development Authority – CDA official to remove all illegal “katchi Abbadi”. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddique of the Islamabad High Court – IHC directed the CDA to clear all settlements from the capital within a month. There are ten colonies (slum settlements) in different sectors of the capital, like Tent colony, 66 quarters, 48 quarters, katchiabadi G-8/1, 100 quarters, France colony, Essa Nagri, Dhuke Najju, Haq bhahu, and Muslim colony. The CDA official estimated that there would be around 5000 families in and around these slums. I wonder that if the Capital Development Authority will take action as per the High Court Judge, where these five thousands families will settle. There is a need to promote responsibility and healthy behaviors among the people so as to improve the social and economic status of the people of the community. Instead they are going to demolish and wanted to remove them. Human rights worker, Basharat Khokher met CDA manager, Amir Ahmed Ali and requested him to take care of the necessary measures for the displaced families. If it happens, UNHCR should come in front and should manage the IDPs

Pakistan’s Walk towards “Sharia”

by Sunny Gill
Negotiators representing Pakistani Taliban insurgents said that there could be no peace until Pakistan embraces Islamic Sharia Law and US-led forces withdraw completely from the neighboring Afghanistan. Sami ul Haq, founder of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the head of the TTP’s three man talks team, said that there could be no peace in the region while there is NO SHARIA but democracy. The tough conditions appear to deal a blow to hopes that peace talks with the Pakistani government could end the TTP insurgency that has rocked the country since 2007.
Religion is not meant to be – and never was – forced upon an individual against his or her own will. Unfortunately, Pakistan is facing terrorism and some Islamic fundamentalists want to impose their rigid rituals and rights on non-Muslims. The Pakistani government is in a state of confusion about whether to confront them, which could lead to even more rabid mobs in the short-term, or allow the terrorizing of innocents to continue. Amidst all of this turmoil, government is again wasting time in attempting to negotiate, all the while knowing that this process will bring no solid result.
Taliban peacekeeping troops and Pakistani government negotiators are meeting to devise a strategy for formally kick-starting a much-awaited dialogue process. The Taliban had nominated five prominent figures – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf; PTI Chairman, Imran Khan, Jamiat Ullma-e-Islam JUI-S; Chief Maulana Sami ul Haq, Jamaat-e-Islamai JI leader; Prof. Mohammad Ibrahim, JUI-F politician Mufti Kifayat ullah; and Lal Masjid prayer leader Maulana Abdul Aziz – to act as intermediaries between them and the government’s negotiating team. Imran Khan strongly opposes the military operation in North Waziristan. He is also leading the campaign in Pakistan against US Drone attacks of terrorist outfits.
Earlier, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid has said that Pakistani people have been fed-up with the anti-Islam system of democracy and are looking toward the Taliban for “change”. He further stated that Taliban have spilled out to different cities of Pakistan and now their aim is to make Islamabad the stronghold of Islam. This would mean every decision being made according to Sharia law. TTP fellow negotiator Maulana Abdul Aziz also said the TTP’s long-held commitment to imposing Sharia law across Pakistan was not open to debate. Without Sharia law, the Taliban won’t accept (the talks) even one percent.
Terrorism in Pakistan has become a highly vicious reality in recent years. The annual death toll from terrorist attacks has risen up to approximately 60,000 in last 13th years. According to the government of Pakistan, the direct and indirect economic costs of terrorism from 2000-2010 was $68 billion. Former Presidents Asif Ali Zardari, and Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, had to admit that terrorist outfits were “deliberately created” and looked after by previous governments as a policy to achieve some short-term strategic objectives. This began with Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s controversial ISLAMIZATION policies of the 1980s, under which conflicts were started against Russian involvement in Afghanistan. Zia’s tenure as president included when Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan-Soviet War was well under way, which led to a greater invasion of ideologically driven Mujahideen into the Tribal areas (“FATA”) of Pakistan; it amplified the Kalashnikov Culture and drugs from Golden Crescent.
Zia, who was an extremist Muslim while he was the president of Pakistan, tried to impose Sharia in Pakistan. He was even the person who introduced the famous Blasphemy Law in Pakistan. He wishes and desires that Pakistan should be a State under the Sharia.
When Zia took over in 1977, he used religion as a tool to oppress people and to punish anyone who dared to speak against him. It was during his reign that hundreds of people – including journalists – were publicly lashed. It was on his instructions that the Hudood Laws were formulated. He is the one who started the process of changing things for the worse. In 1984, he instructed the textbook boards to prepare books which showed that ‘Pakistan was not formed on the basis of race, language or geography but based on a common religious experience’. Students should be told about how Pakistan was created on Islamic Ideology. He also instructed them to eliminate the role of Minorities from the books. In 80s he welcomed Mujahideen from Arab, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Indonesia and other part of world to fight against the USSR. He puts Pakistan into fire by establishing thousands of Mudassa’s to train these Mujahideen. This was the time When Osama Bin laden along with thousands of Arab terrorist enters in Pakistan. And Pakistan becomes the nursery of Muslim extremists. Zia made every possible effort to make Pakistan pure Sharia country. Even after the Afghan-soviet war these Mujahideen were never disarmed, later on these groups were activated as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkut-ul-Mujahideen, Saipa-e-Shaba and some of them join the Al-Qaeeda led by Bin Laden.
In 1996, Afghanistan was taken over by these Mujahideens (Talibans). They spread from Pakistan into Afghanistan and formed a Government as the ISLAMIC EMIRATE OF AFGHANISTAN. It gained the Diplomatic recognition from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab emirates. Mohammad Omar (Mullah Omar) who was the Spiritual leader of Taliban, becomes its Amirul momineen. Al-Qaeda supported the Taliban with thousands of fighters from Pakistan and other parts of the Arab world. They were financially supported by Saudi Arabia. The Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies, burned vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes during their rule from 1996 to 2001. After the 9/11 tragedy, the U.S. and its allies declared war against the Taliban (Terrorists) and called it a “war on terror”. In December 2001, they were removed from power by the U.S. and its allies. The Taliban fled and went into hiding only to later regroup as an insurgency movement against the Karzai Administration and the NATO-led International Security Assistance force (ISAF).
After 9/11 Pakistan also supported the U.S. The Pakistani Army and political government supported the U.S. and its allies in the fight against the Taliban.
On 28th March, 2013 Pakistani Intelligence agencies told the Supreme Court that Pakistan has lost 49,000 lives since the attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon in the United States on September 11, 2001. More than 24,000 people, both civilians and troops were killed in terrorist attacks during the period between 2001 and 2008. The last five years have proved costlier, in human terms. Another 25,000-plus people died during military offensives against Taliban insurgents in the restive tribal regions since 2008. At least 49,000 people, armed forces have suffered 15,681 casualties while fighting Taliban militants in the tribal areas since 2008 – with 2009 being the deadliest year for them.
Since 2008, almost 9,000 people and security men were killed by bombers. As many as 5,152 civilians have been killed, 5,678 injured, in bomb blasts and suicide attacks since 2008. According to the report, there have been 235 suicide hits, 9,257 rocket attacks and 4,256 bomb explosions in the last five years. More than 200 members of tribal peace committees, or Peace Lashkars – including volunteers and chieftains – were also killed along with 275 wounded in targeted attacks by Taliban in the last three years. The report also revealed that 1,030 schools and colleges were destroyed by Taliban insurgents in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa from 2009 to 2013.
Since 2008 to 2013, 1,479 soldiers were killed and 5,745 others were injured. The report said that those who died include 675 men of the paramilitary Frontier Corps while 1,978 others were injured. A total of 1,717 policemen lost their lives in five years.
Suffering of Religious Minorities in Pakistan, After 9/11 The Original Constitution of Pakistan did not discriminate against Religious minorities in Pakistan but the Amendments made by the Military ruler Zia-ul-Haq has awakened the Islamization and promotes extremism in the society. The controversial Hudood Ordinance and Sharia Courts have given so much strengthen to all the radical Muslims. Later on, when Muhammad Nawaz Sharif took charge as elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, he enforced Shariat Bill in May 1991, and promoted the Anti-Christian Elements in the society. The Amendment made by Zia-ul-Haq – and empowerment provided by the Sharif’s Government – created new war between the Religious minorities in Pakistan. This whole system de-stabilized the peace and harmony, putting Christians and other Religious minorities into a hellish situation. Minorities who were already in a grave situation after these implications were put into fire. After 9/11, Christians and other minorities went through a hard time. Muslim extremists backed by the Taliban ideology, made their lives miserable. Hundreds of attacks have been faced by Christians, Hindu’s, Ahemdi’s and Shia’s in last 5 years. Christians who played a vital role in the development of Pakistan are now leaving Pakistan for the security of their lives. During the last 8 months, thousands of Christians left Pakistan and took refuge in THAILAND, SRILANKA, MALAYSIA and other South Asian countries, waiting for the decision of UNHCR. Thousands of Hindus migrated to India last year. Hundreds of thousands of Shia- and Ahmedis have already left Pakistan and the rest are making efforts to leave the country.
How dialogues will effect Religious Minorities in Pakistan.
A country, which has a long history of Brutal killings of innocent people and targeting and demolishing places of worship of Minorities, is now heading towards the enforcement of Sharia demanded by the Taliban, which has a history of hating other Religions / faiths. The Taliban is now actually having serious dialogue with the current Government of Pakistan. One of the examples of their hatred for other religion is that while they were in the power in Afghanistan, they destroyed the Buddha statues: If these talks will be successful, then there will be no Church or any place of Worship for the Minorities, just like in Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by the same Sharia law the Taliban would like to impose on Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, which is providing the financial support to the Taliban, want to create an Islamic Emirate State in accordance with Sharia and the Taliban is their agent. Over the last few years, it has been observed that several cases of blasphemy have been registered against the minorities in Pakistan. If the Sharia law is imposed – as demanded by the Taliban – there will be no end to the persecution of these innocent people. Those who have already been falsely accused of blasphemy and who are sitting in jails, will be given death sentences without any further trials.
We have even seen the extremism at its peak in this modern time. Two Christian brothers were shot in the courtyard, two died while in the police custody. One Lahore High court judge Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti was killed on 17th October, 1997 after acquitting Salamat Masih, 14, and Rehmat Masih, 46, on February 23, 1995 of having committed blasphemy. My apprehension is that after the implementation of the Sharia demand by Taliban, there will be no place for minorities in Pakistan. Even the Modern Muslim will be in great trouble.
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/sharia/#sthash.0XmCpkDn.dpuf

Life on the razor’s edge in Pakistan

Speaking up against the blasphemy law in Pakistan often has fatal consequences as the few who do speak up face death threats
When 69-year-old British Pakistani, Mohammad Asghar came to Rawalpindi in 2010, he was shocked to find that one of the two properties he owned there was occupied by a notorious land grabber. He filed a complaint against him before leaving for the Haj pilgrimage but it was Asghar who was arrested on his return. His crime was that he claimed to be the Holy Prophet and wrote letters in his name and even printed visiting cards, for which he was charged with blasphemy, a criminal offence punishable with death under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
While awarding the death sentence on January 23, 2014, the sessions court which conducted the trial in Adiala jail disregarded his extensive medical records from Scotland in which it is evident he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. An affidavit in June 2011 submitted to the court by Dr. Jane McLennan, a consultant psychiatrist of Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh, where Asghar lived with his family, says that he was her patient in February and March 2010. Records showed that in 1993, he was first referred to psychiatric services and treated for depression. In 2000 he suffered a cerebrovascular stroke and as a result walked with a limp, needing the support of a walking stick. He also suffered from psychiatric symptoms after the stroke which included depression and delusionary beliefs of a paranoid and grandiose nature. He had auditory hallucinations and persecutory delusions, believing that his home was bugged by the Pakistani and international media and that he was being persecuted for having written to Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, telling them the Iraq war was wrong, the affidavit said. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital on February 17, 2010, under an emergency detention certificate after expressing paranoid delusions regarding a Pakistani TV network and the police. He was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia by Dr. McLennan when he was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital. She stressed that though he presented a good social facade, those without sufficient professional training might miss the indicators of his illness. This does not detract in any way from the severity of his illness or nullify the mental illness diagnosis, she said. He also had no insight into his illness and did not think he needed treatment and could not see his beliefs and actions were not rational.
When he was discharged from hospital on March 18, 2010, he required vigorous and ongoing treatment as he remained mentally unwell. However, neither he nor his family had any insight into his mental illness and the need for treatment and neither he nor they engaged with ongoing treatment. When he was visited by his community psychiatric nurse in March 2010, he was clearly exhibiting symptoms of paranoid psychosis. Dr. McLennan said that it seems unlikely that Asghar continued with his medication after he travelled to Pakistan. Even during his time in the Scotland hospital, he often referred to himself as being a very holy man. “If his condition worsened, as it seems to have done, he may have described himself in more exaggerated terms, while not meaning to commit blasphemy,” she said.
He was receiving basic medication and his condition would deteriorate as long as he remained in prison, she pointed out in the affidavit. The probability of him attempting to take his own life is significant and may be increased if he remains in prison, she added, while recommending a comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation plan. Sure enough, Asghar tried to commit suicide on January 8, 2012 and had to be hospitalised. However, the trial court did not take evidence from the hospital into account, and a hastily summoned medical panel certified him as normal. His lawyers were thrown out in October 2013 and not allowed to be present when the verdict was pronounced.
There has been much outrage in the U.K. and elsewhere after this latest conviction. Under Section 295-C of the PPC “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” Asghar’s lawyers say that all the evidence against him was produced by the complainant in the form of letters and visiting cards in which he claimed to be the Holy Prophet. While an appeal against the conviction has been filed in the Islamabad High Court, there are serious concerns about his health after his lawyers finally managed to meet him in jail.
Other convictions
This is not the first case where a mentally ill person has been convicted for blasphemy. Two years ago, a mentally ill girl Rimsha Masih was sentenced to death for blasphemy but she was finally acquitted by the court in 2012 and granted asylum in Canada. Her fellow Christian neighbours were forced to flee their homes in Meherabad and live in precarious housing conditions in Islamabad. Rimsha’s persecutor, a cleric, was acquitted in 2013 of filing false charges.
Aasia Bibi, a Christian from the Punjab province, became the first woman in the country’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, according to Human Rights Watch. In 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and former federal minister, a Roman Catholic, Shahbaz Bhatti were killed for anti-blasphemy law statements and for supporting Aasia Bibi who continues to languish in jail. Her appeal is yet to be heard by the High Court. Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, is lodged in the same jail as Mr. Asghar and his death sentence is yet to be confirmed by the High Court. Former U.S. Ambassador Sherry Rehman faced threats after she proposed a bill banning the death penalty for blasphemy.
Targeting minorities
According to media reports, over 1,200 people have been charged with blasphemy from 1986 till 2010. The Human Rights Watch World Report 2014 says that abuses are rife under the country’s blasphemy law, which is used against religious minorities, often to settle personal disputes. Dozens of people were charged with the offence in 2013. At least 16 people remained on death row for blasphemy, while another 20 were serving life sentences.
In its State of Human Rights in 2012 report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) says, “Abuse of the blasphemy law continues to take a heavy toll in terms of human lives and harassment of citizens. A well thought-out plan should be put into place to make the citizens aware of the havoc that the abuse of this law has caused and how important it is to insert safeguards that can prevent that abuse.” Sections 295 to 295-C of the PPC are generally referred to as the blasphemy code. The punishments for offences under these provisions include death (under Section 295-C), life imprisonment, imprisonment for various periods and a fine. Pakistan has not executed anyone under Section 295-C. However, many of the accused have been killed by extremists outside the courts or in prisons, according to the HRCP.
Speaking up against the blasphemy law often has fatal consequences and the few who do speak up, face death threats. With little chance of the law being amended, minorities and those who stand up for them continue to live on an unrelenting razor’s edge.

Pakistani Taliban Talks To Taliban: 'Committees can do only as much'

'Committees can do only as much'
Those who thought Taliban are down and out and the talks exercise was launched to let them slip away from the back door must review and revise their thinking. Taliban are neither down nor out; they are very much there and want to be accepted as Pakistan's principal stakeholder. Met even halfway a laundry list of demands their leadership is said to have handed over to their interlocutors, we would be a carbon copy of Mulla Omar-ruled Afghanistan. Of these, the three that are of critical importance to the cause of peace in the country are (1) release all prisoners including foreigners and drop criminal charges against Taliban, (2) withdraw army from tribal areas and close down checkpoints and (3) replace democratic system with Islamic system. If these are the 'some encouraging response' from the TTP Shura, as Maulana Samiul Haq would like us to believe, what more the TTP could have demanded. And all of this, he says, is nothing but a 'breakthrough' because the Taliban leadership is ready to hold talks within the 'constitutional limits'. The government is talking to the outlaws who not only question the very basis of our constitutional edifice but want complete amnesty for the horrendous brutality they committed against the people of Pakistan - what a joke. The Irfan Siddiqui-led committee is not the government itself as some would like to argue it is nothing but hogwash. We don't know if some people want to see Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan's Amirul Momineen, but would be definitely moving a step closer to this honorific position though he decides to meet the TTP even halfway. Earlier when Maulana Samiul Haq met the prime minister and claimed he was tasked to initiate peace parleys with Taliban, his claim was rebuffed by the prime minister office. But a month later he is at the head of a team appointed by the Taliban now. What is all this cooking up in the government kitchen?
Before the so-called peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban proceed any further Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to take the nation into confidence, at least on the following points. One, what rationale is for the apparent move to concede Fata to the Taliban, like Swat was handed over to Maulana Fazlullah. And is it what majority of the tribal people want? Two, what guarantee is that with peace deal cut with Fazlullah-headed TTP its myriad affiliates active elsewhere will too give up on their armed struggle against democratic Pakistan. This is an important issue given the fact that even as the committees of the two sides are in talks the welter of terrorism refuses to abate. One would also like to know if such a deal will secure the life and limb of the Hazaras. Three, if thanks to its terrorist record the TTP in being approached for peace talks why not other terrorists and outlawed entities' like the ones in Balochistan. Can government accommodate their demands also, some of which are as critical as of the TTP in terms of their acceptance under the constitution? No wonder then as the government seems to be surrendering to the dictates of sword-wielding Taliban others with identical but had taken the back seat have returned to the field to demand their slice of the pie. By holding peace talks with the Taliban the government may have initiated a whole new ballgame - which it cannot win at least in the present circumstances. In fact it can backfire, particularly if what the government committee agrees is not upheld by the people and endorsed by the parliament. Consider the complexity of the issue: even the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf which was never short on the need to talk to the Taliban is not prepared to be their representative. Before the committees go any further it would be in the fitness of things that the parliament should get involved. It wants talks with Taliban but is it ready to agree to its demands as reported by the media. Meeting these demands would demand a constitutional cover and that only the parliament can give. The parliamentary resolutions in support of talks with Taliban, yes these are there on record. But now the situation dictates moving beyond the non-binding resolutions and to evolve a hard-nosed, realistic approach to rid Pakistan of demons of extremism and terrorism once for all - of course, not forgetting that military operation is the second best option.

Pakistan: Dead in the water

After the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) negotiating team flew to North Waziristan by helicopter to consult the TTP’s political shura (council), the government was left holding the baby of their 15 demands. If the TTP wish list is anything to go by, the government-initiated negotiations are dead in the water. The demands include introducing the TTP version of Sharia in the courts, teaching it in schools, withdrawing the army from the tribal areas, halting drone attacks, and cutting all ties with the US. However, these are secondary to their primary demand to immediately implement their peculiar tribal-religious legal and political system across the country. Most telling is the demand to hand over control of the tribal areas to ‘local forces’ and remove military check posts while pulling the military out. No one in Pakistan, the TTP included, is under any illusions about what their demands amount to: the deconstruction of Pakistan and the creation of a new state in which the TTP rules the roost according to its version of Sharia, which dooms women to life as dispossessed chattel and everyone else to second class citizenship subject to arbitrary sentences of death and mutilation. Of course, the TTP version of Sharia doesn’t include the relevant Islamic legal injunctions on women’s inheritance, rights for minorities, or the personal aspect of religion; these are subsumed by the tribal mindset that dominates its leadership. This should tell the government something, i.e. the TTP will find a way to ignore what they don’t like and will go so far as to find scriptural justification for it, as past broken peace deals have proved. Even acceding to a limited number of demands, particularly those relevant on the ground in the tribal areas, means ceding a portion of the country to the militants. What the TTP are asking for is tribal territory to be placed under their control, with the high likelihood that if ‘their’ Sharia is not implemented in the rest of Pakistan, they will continue waging war against the state.
Mao Tse Tung famously said, “A small compromise today means a bigger war tomorrow.” The government should keep this in mind when discussing the TTP proposals. The TTP will never stop attacking Pakistan until they are able to implement the kind of political order we saw in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Conceding space now will simply give them greater opportunity to wage war against the state later. That they will claim to be part of Pakistan while doing so is not a panacea, but a way to use Pakistan’s sovereignty to shield them from foreign powers who won’t tolerate a Taliban state anywhere anymore. After all, they currently claim to be fighting for Pakistan’s constitution, as absurd a claim as any made by them over the years. The TTP is apparently not interested in the subtleties and gradations of negotiated peace, as most people said from the start. Their way is the Bush way: you’re either with us or against us. That they may hold off attacks for a year, or six months, is not reason enough for the state to quietly surrender to their whims. In fact, attacks continue despite negotiations, the most recent on a shrine in Karachi which bore the hallmarks of the TTP modus operandi. The people of Pakistan have paid, and are still paying, a high price in the battle against extremism. If the government concedes now to demands that give the TTP greater strategic opportunity, those sacrifices will have been in vain. More importantly, the government should recognise that whatever its own leanings, and despite what the TTP says, the people of Pakistan have repeatedly rejected the extreme views of religious fundamentalists in favour of democratic governance. As representatives of the people, the government can’t accept demands that allow enemies of the people and state to regroup and gain strategic advantage.

Pakistan: Real stakeholders not part of peace talks

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan expressed his criticism of the peace talks with the Taliban, stating that the real stakeholders were not part of the process. Ahsan expressing his views on the talks told senators that there should have been a woman, minority and member of the Shia sect included in the dialogue process. “The decision is for our destiny and the Taliban are holding talks with the Taliban.” Ahsan said that the release of prisoners and not Sharia law was the main issue for the Taliban and the talks illustrated the retreat of the government. The PPP senator added that only 30 per cent of the Taliban were in the tribal areas and the remaining along with their supporters were spread all over the country. “The accused behind a bombing in Karachi is a local and not from FATA.”

Bilawal Bhutto condemns Peshawar cinema blasts

Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks on a cinema in Peshawar today, which resulted into loss of precious human lives and called it an inhuman and beastly act. In a statement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that mosques, schools, hospitals, cinemas and other public places are being attacked by the terrorists to keep the people illiterate, maimed and spiritually hollow to hold the masses of Pakistan captive. “Terrorists need to be dealt with an iron hand instead of appeasing them to protect Pakistan and its founding ideology”, he added. PPP Patron sympathized with the families of victims who lost their lives and limbs in the blasts and expressed solidarity with them. He also stressed that special arrangements should be made for timely treatment of all those injured in the attack.

Peshawar cinema hit by deadly Pakistan blasts

At least 10 people have been killed and many injured in a suspected grenade attack at a cinema in Peshawar in north-west Pakistan, officials say. No group has said it carried out the attack, but cinema owners say they had received warnings from militants to shut down their businesses. It comes almost two weeks after explosions at another cinema in the city killed five people. Peshawar has suffered numerous bomb and gun attacks over the years. The attack took place at about 15:40 local time (10:40 GMT) while a film was showing inside the cinema. One report suggests that up to 80 people were inside the hall when three grenades were hurled at the patrons. In the last 48 hours the city of Peshawar and surrounding areas, bordering Pakistan's restive tribal belt, have been hit by several small but deadly bomb attacks. Much of the violence to have hit Peshawar in recent years has come at the hand of Taliban militants. Taliban and government representatives are currently engaged in preliminary peace efforts aimed at charting a "roadmap" for negotiations. One of the five conditions set by the government before talks can begin in earnest is a cessation of hostilities.

Pakistan: Asking for moon

If these are the TTP\'s demands for peace, the outlawed militant outfit is really asking for nothing short of the moon. It is demanding overall fundamental change in the nation\'s prevalent political, financial, educational and judicial systems. The democratic order it wants to be thrown out lock, stock and barrel and replaced by what it calls Islamic system. It expects its decisive say in the country\'s foreign affairs. Not just that. It wants all its native and foreign prisoners released and quashing of criminal cases against its people. And on a platter, the militants want the control of the tribal areas under the cover of a demand for the army\'s withdrawal from these regions and handing over the charge of their security to what they call local forces, that in plain language means levies and khasadars. What else the demands to this effect could aim at if not this? Fabulously-funded as they are and well-stocked with deadly weapons supplies as they are, could a khasadar or a levies personnel, at best armed with an obsolete gun, face up to a charging horde of the banned outfit or its equally-lethally-equipped bloodletting cohorts. And yet the prime minister says that the talks with the outlawed outfit are moving in the right direction. Is it, really? Indeed, by every reckoning, the government is now in a bind of its own making and has at the same time pushed the nation into a downright unenviable predicament. With these demands and their leaking, the outlawed outfit has arguably played its cards very cleverly. Of course, its demand like end to the US drone incursions in our territory goes in tune with the widespread public outcry and anger over this American adventurism. But the other demands are patently aimed at particular segments of the polity and are potentially going to strike a responsive chord among the targeted sections of public. Unmistakably, its demands for reorientation of the country\'s political, financial, judicial and educational systems are intended to further deepen its appeal to the polity\'s conservative sections and spawn and expand it beyond as well. But quite lethal are its canny demands for recompense of drone attacks\' as well as military operations\' victims and removal of security check-posts. With a corrupt, apathetic and unresponsive political administration in place to administer the tribal region all though these past several years, there is a very fertile ground for these demands to appeal to the tribal people massively and generate positive feelings for the militants to the state\'s utter grief. So indifferent has been the political administration throughout to local residents\' distresses and miseries caused by anti-militancy security operations in the region that a public feeling of anger and animus against the state has perceptibly bred over there. Never has this administration been seen acting feelingly and humanely to aid the distressed populace afflicted by the operations by way of collateral damage or displacement internally. What to speak of being proactive to come to the aid of the distressed and put some balm on their wound with some help in reconstructing their devastated lives, this lackadaisical mandarinate has bothered not ever to look after the internally displaced any tenderly. It stayed lukewarm and apathetic even when the courts took compassionate notice of the tribal IDPs\' doleful plight in refugee camps of the settled areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and intervened to order relief and succour for them. It always has been more intent on washing its hands of these woebegone tribal people than helping and aiding them out. The security check-posts have caused no little resentment among the region\'s natives, either. They generally complain sourly of impolite and crude behaviour of the security staff there. No lesser they bemoan of being put to inordinate waiting at the posts, which they also complain have no shelter and essential facilities for the waiting public. More worrisomely, a public accusation is galore all over the region for sometime that security people take away valuable household goods during search operations. And truthfully or untruthfully, accusations of innocent residents being shot dead in search operations are gaining currency increasingly. In short, the growing public anti-state antipathy in the tribal region can neither be ignored nor underestimated. Rather, it has be taken fully into account in all earnestness and the impact of the banned outfit\'s demands on the public mind in the region has to be realised in all its ramifications. For, it has the dire implications for the ultimate security and stability of the state. Indeed, the evidently unthoughtful talks foray of the government with the outlawed outfit is palpably working as a big catalyst for other violent groups and other gangs operating in the country, giving potent fillip to their vile activities. The insurgents in Balochistan have visibly become more active over these days, killing people, blowing up gas pipelines, blasting off rail tracks and attacking murderously security personnel, their posts and convoys with increasing frequency. Other fissiparous elements in the country\'s other parts will arguably take heart from the weakness of the state that the government has put on display with this talks move and conclude they, too, can exact from the government what they want at gunpoint. Verily, the government has put the nation in a quagmire it would not come out without being bruised hurtfully.

Pakistan: Talks only with those who accept constitution, state: PPP, ANP

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) have demanded of the government to hold talks only with those who accept the Constitution and the state of Pakistan. Speaking on point of order during the Senate session presided by Nayer Hussain Bukhari, Senator Raza Rabbani called for taking all the political parties on board over Taliban talks besides setting up a parliamentary committee to be briefed daily on progress of dialogue process. ANP Senator Haji Adil warned of opposition if talks were held with those who don’t recognize the Constitution.