Wednesday, February 12, 2014

French Prez Visits Le Google, Le Facebook and Le Twitter

France’s president met with Silicon Valley and government leaders in the heart of tech country Wednesday, just days after a French regulator hit Google with an embarrassing regulatory slap and after years of efforts to wrest more taxes from tech firms. President Francois Hollande was greeted at San Francisco City Hall by Mayor Ed Lee, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz as school children waved French and American flags on the stairway of the rotunda. More than 300 French companies have offices in California, and a large portion of U.S. investments in France are from California, Hollande told the crowd at a City Hall reception in his honor. “It is here in California that the world of tomorrow is being invented,” Hollande said. “For centuries, France has wanted to change the world. Together, we can.” Later in the day, Hollande and members of his cabinet had lunch at a French restaurant with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and Twitter chairman and co-founder Jack Dorsey. Most of the luncheon was closed to the media, and no details of the discussions were released. Hollande points to the U.S. tech industry as an economic success that he hopes to replicate at home. But he’s also been among the leaders of Europe’s fight to prevent what the continent sees as a systematic attempt by tech firms to invade privacy and avoid paying their corporate fair share. Hollande later met with French entrepreneurs and inaugurated an office in the gritty Dogpatch neighborhood aimed at supporting their efforts to gain a foothold in Silicon Valley. That meeting also was mostly private. Marie Buhot-Launay, who heads marketing for the office, said staff members were giddy that Hollande was throwing government support behind the venture, given the intense competition French innovators face from competitors in Germany, Finland and Ireland. “For French entrepreneurs, the American dream still exists and especially in Silicon Valley,” she said. “This new support will really help them accelerate their growth, and help us scale up the services we provide and build a larger network of mentors and investors in France and in the U.S.” The French leader visited the region during his three-day state visit to the U.S. He was also scheduled to tour a science museum and mingle with French expats at a hotel gala before returning to Paris later Wednesday. Google, Facebook and Twitter have faced scrutiny by European regulators over privacy, hate speech and data protection issues. Over the weekend, Google posted a statement on its French website noting that France’s digital privacy watchdog found the search giant in violation of rules on ensuring data privacy. In late 2012, Twitter agreed to pull racist and anti-Semitic tweets under a pair of French hash tags after a Jewish group threatened to sue the social network for running afoul of national laws against hate speech. Hollande’s advisers insist his first priority was to meet leading dynamos of American Internet innovation, even though the president would press France’s principles on issues such as privacy, taxes and hate speech. Burton Lee, a lecturer in European Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Stanford University engineering school, said socialist Hollande “does not seem to deeply understand technology-based innovation, entrepreneurship or product design.” He said Hollande’s proposed 75 percent income tax on the wealthy has definitely created tension between the French administration and the nation’s tech entrepreneur and angel investor communities.
Read more: French Leader in California for Tech Talks |

Gulzar Alam:-Perzo me pa bamoona na ye Pekhawara

Pakistan:Pashtuns: thrown under the sharia bus?

Dr Mohammad Taqi
The narrative that the Pashtuns, especially the tribesmen, crave sharia has been mainstreamed in Pakistan to the extent that even the most knowledgeable and liberal are falling for it
The political shura (council) members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have now met with their intermediaries, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI’s) Professor Ibrahim Khan and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) Samiul Haq faction’s Maulana Yusuf Shah. The TTP reportedly gave a laundry list of demands to its intercessors who had been ferried to, no marks for guessing, the North Waziristan Agency (NWA), in a government helicopter. The TTP’s demands, whether interim or final, include the imposition of sharia, reparations for their losses, release of their prisoners and a halt to US drone strikes. No surprises there either. However, what is alarming is the government’s condition that “the scope of the talks should remain confined to areas affected by violence, not the whole country”.
It is unclear how the government is defining the affected areas when three provinces reel under terror continuously. The government’s functionaries and at least one member of the committee appointed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) man, Mr Rustam Shah Mohmand, have been zeroing in on FATA only. It looks like the Punjab-based ruling and opposition parties have put only FATA and possibly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the chopping block. The problems with this malicious move are twofold: a) it implicitly pins the blame for TTP terrorism on the Pashtuns only, and b) it ignores the plight of the common people, especially the Shias and the Hanafi-Barelvi Sunnis, being slaughtered on a daily basis elsewhere in Pakistan by the TTP and its allied thugs. An ominous media campaign that combines an orientalist view of the Pashtuns being ‘noble savages’ and a fanciful reading of the sharia seems to be setting the stage for sacrificing the Pashtun ‘appendage’ areas on the altar of the presumed ‘core’ Pakistani state, i.e. Punjab.
When this odious mantra is spewed by the usual suspects — rightwing leaders, assorted clerics and media anchors that grew up on a steady diet of Pakistan Studies and Islamiat during General Ziaul Haq’s martial law — one might understand. However, when the voices that have served as Pakistan’s conscience join the chorus, one’s heart really sinks. One felt dejected reading one of Pakistan’s foremost progressives, the writers’ writer and a mentor to my mentors, the venerable Mr I A Rehman this past week. Rehman sahib wrote: “An issue on which complete clarity is required is the territorial limits of the bargain. The Taliban, if they can prove that they enjoy the trust of the population of FATA, may be free to discuss the system of administration appropriate for their special relationship with the state but they have no right to tell Islamabad how the rest of the country is to be governed...The creation of workable political, administrative and judicial institutions in FATA can be discussed but in that area too the government will have to take a stand that the basic rights of the vulnerable sections of society, especially women and minorities, cannot be compromised.” It felt like the distinguished human rights campaigner was not just considering ceding the Pashtun areas to the TTP hordes but was giving up on us as a people. I just hope that I misread the piece or read too much into it.
The narrative that the Pashtuns, especially the tribesmen, crave sharia has been mainstreamed in Pakistan to the extent that even the most knowledgeable and liberal are falling for it. Never mind that the venues of political and religious decision-making, the hujra and mosque, have traditionally been separate in Pashtun tribal society. The tribal jirga (court), which had lost its usual effectiveness a few decades ago, is being touted as the conflict resolution institution of choice in the second decade of the 21st century without realising that the Talibanisation imposed from above has decimated the societal structures that could support the jirga. More importantly, even at the turn of the 20th century, the jirga was not exactly the jury of peers it used to be in an egalitarian acephalous Pashtun tribal society that conceived it a millennium or so ago. The British, and then Pakistani governments had, as a policy, consistently tempered with the jirga system and handpicked Maliks who were awarded stipends and titles (maajab and lungi) to remain pliant.
Whether good or bad, those tribal elders were slaughtered wholesale by the Taliban. According to The New York Times reporters Carlotta Gall and Ismail Khan, 200 tribal elders were killed in the NWA in just 2005 to 2006. That violent spree has never ended. How could then one go about determining whether the TTP “enjoys the trust of the people of FATA” to grant them those hapless lands? Indeed, how could the tribal people let out even a whimper, let alone freely express their scorn for the TTP when the state, and sadly the intelligentsia, appear on the verge of abandoning them? The TTP’s relentless assault on the Awami National Party (ANP), killing its leaders and cadres, was a major factor in its electoral rout, as the state stood by idly. The ANP’s replacement by the pro-Taliban PTI has provided the TTP the same ideological, political and operational space as its antecedents enjoyed during the 2002-2007 rule of the religious conglomerate Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. Mr Imran Khan continues to insist that the TTP respects the constitution despite the terrorist spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, consistently deriding it on the record.
The TTP remains an ideologically anchored outfit keen to spread its brand of sharia across not just provincial but state boundaries as well. The tactical restraint the TTP and its allies have shown in Punjab helps it bide time till things become clearer in Afghanistan, ward off a potential military action and perhaps bag sections of FATA in the interim. However, in this sordid saga, the grand prize remains the Pakistani state, which the TTP may never get but, in its mind, deems imperative for helping and waging the global jihad. The Punjab-based rulers can try to encapsulate the TTP within the Pashtun lands but they are sitting on the powder keg of jihadism with assorted ‘jaishes’ and ‘lashkars’ headquartered in their province. The reprieve bought at the expense of the Pashtuns will run out in years, not decades.
The Pashtun political leadership, as bruised and battered as it is, has to get its act together. The Pashtun leaders, especially those in parliament, have a massive, historic responsibility at a time when those rulers who love highways, underpasses and flyovers in Lahore appear set to throw the Pashtuns under the sharia bus.

Syria peace talks falter, more influence from outside

Second round of Geneva II talks between the Syrian government and opposition mediated by an international envoy faltered into the third day Wednesday, seeing increased influence from outside. The third day's negotiations adjourned at the noon, and the two sides persisted in their own positions, without budging an inch. The opposition presented a 22-point document to outline their proposed steps and principles to guide the transitional process in Syria, said Louay al-Safi, the opposition delegation's spokesman, adding that the paper included the establishment of transitional governing body, the ceasefire and release of prisoner, etc. Meanwhile, Syria Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad reaffirmed that stopping the violence and terrorism should top the agenda. He stressed that they were ready to discuss all issues of Geneva communique, adopted in 2012, but only after the discussion over the item of halting violence and terrorism in the war-torn country. In an effort to solve the sticking point, the mediator of Geneva II conference, UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi noted Tuesday that he suggested the two sides in a memorandum sent by himself to them in advance of this fresh round of talks to discuss the two issues in parallel, saying that "they are both important matters." However, it seemed that so far the current round of negotiations did not witness progress in this regard. Brahimi met with Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov in the morning before he met with the two delegations "simultaneously". It was reported that the meeting between the senior Russian diplomat and the special envoy involved discussions over the agenda and priorities of negotiations, as well as measures to bring the ongoing round of Geneva II conference forward. The UN-Russia-U.S. trilateral meeting was brought one day earlier than the schedule. Corinne Momal-Vanian, spokeswoman with the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), said that Brahimi would meet Gatilov and Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Thursday afternoon. Al-Safi said that at the moment their delegation haven't scheduled any talks at the upcoming trilateral meeting.

Gulf states step up policing of online media: watchdog

Fearful of Arab Spring-inspired unrest, Gulf monarchies have stepped up efforts to monitor and control the media, particularly online, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Wednesday. Saudi Arabia, which is on the group's "Enemies of the Internet" list and ranks 164 out of 179 on its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, has been particularly aggressive in policing the Internet, including by arresting those who post critical articles or comments, it said. "Fearing the spread of the Arab Spring, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula have reinforced surveillance and control of the media, starting with the Internet, which has come to be a place where people express themselves with a freedom not found in the traditional media," the group said in a statement. "As a result, the cyber-police of the Gulf monarchies are on the lookout for any online article, post or tweet critical of government policy." Kuwait topped the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries on the press freedom list but dropped 14 points to rank 91st worldwide. The GCC also includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Bahrain and Oman improved slightly on the list but the other four dropped. Last year Saudi censors paid particular attention to calls for lifting the conservative kingdom's controversial ban on women driving, a popular topic online. Asharq Al-Awsat columnist Tariq al-Mubarak was arrested in October on various charges, some related to a column criticising the ban. In July, a court sentenced the founder of the now-censored Saudi Liberals website, Raef Badawi, to seven years in jail and 600 lashes, after he posted an article about St. Valentine that allegedly denigrated the religious police, RSF said. In Kuwait, authorities have zeroed in on any perceived criticism of Islam, and a number of tweeters have been jailed for posting comments deemed offensive to the emir. In Oman, discussion of the long-ruling sultan is considered taboo, and netizens have been given long jail terms, although some have subsequently been pardoned. Bahrain's monarchy has cracked down on coverage of protests related to the Arab Spring uprising which was crushed almost exactly three years ago. And the UAE has handed long jail sentences to two people who tweeted about the trial of scores of Emiratis accused of belonging to a local party linked to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, RSF said.

Lindsey Graham: Cut Off Afghan Aid If Karzai Frees Prisoners

In reaction to the release of Bagram Prisoners by President Karzai, U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, has asked that the developmental aide to Afghanistan stop until after the elections. While speaking at the Armed Forces Committee, Mr. Graham, a long-term supporter of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, strongly condemned the release of Bagram prisoners and called it a major step back in Kabul-Washington relations. "88 detainees are the subject of this dispute; our forces have evaluated these forces as very dangerous, the afghan people and the coalition forces. We have only requested that they go through the Afghan legal system. President Karzai has basically side stepped his own rule of law, he has ordered the Attorney General to take over these files and immediate release of 65 detainees without ever going through the Afghan legal system, which has about 70% conviction rate. I will be introducing a resolution condemning this action of President Karzai, I will be urging my colleagues, to cut all developmental aide off the Afghanistan as a response until after the next election" said Graham. "President Karzai in my view is single handedly destroying this relationship that is erratic behavior that his outrageous statement as Mr. Chairman mentioned, are doing great damage. And I want the people of Afghanistan to know that we are in for a supportive relationship, political, militarily and economically but actions like this make it really hard for an American Politician to do business as usual in Afghanistan" Graham added. This is while tensions over signing the Bilateral Security Agreement continue between Kabul and Washington, with President Karzai emphasizing on his preconditions. James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who also spoke at the Armed Forces Committee said that he does not think President Karzai will sign the agreement. "It's my own view, not necessarily company policies; I don't believe President Karzai is going to sign it," said Clapper. The delay in signing the Kabul-washington Bilateral Security Agreement as well as the release of Bagram prisoners without any court order have worsened Kabul-Washington relations. This is while the Afghan Attorney General's office is planning on the immediate release of 65 of the 88 prisoners. Attorney General's Office has said that these prisoners will be released after their files are reviewed.

In Turkey, troubling signs of authoritarianism

The government gave itself the power last week to block Internet sites and track individual users without court review.
When Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003 as Turkey's prime minister, questions arose about how his Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party might alter a nation accustomed to nearly a century of official secularism. It turns out the world should have been more concerned with a move toward authoritarianism, which seemed to accelerate last week under a new law through which the government gave itself the authority to block Internet sites and track individual online users without court review.
Critics speculate that the government hopes both to limit a corruption probe into some of Erdogan's allies and to squelch protests and demonstrations, thus muzzling one of the fundamental rights of citizens in a democracy. The law would help the government disrupt protests before they could come together and hunt down organizers through their Internet use. It also would allow the government, which already has a poor record on press freedoms, to monitor the contacts of investigative journalists. Those are the moves of a dictatorship, not a democracy, and they raise significant concerns for the international community given Turkey's status as a key United States ally, a member of NATO and a would-be member of the European Union.
The measure has drawn sharp, and warranted, criticism from within Turkey and from such international organizations as the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that an existing version of the law that allowed judges to block certain sites — YouTube is among those affected — violates the European Convention on Human Rights. Instead of revising the law to meet the convention's free-expression standards, Turkey opted instead to move further along the road to repression by letting the government act without even the thin imprimatur of judicial review.
Last summer, the government responded to demonstrations with tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests. Those protests, like those that grew out of the Arab Spring movement, were organized in part via social media, which Erdogan — who denied this past weekend that the new law will impede free speech — has described as "a scourge" and "a menace." So the immediate question is, how will he wield his new powers?
Turkey needs to reverse course, and the U.S. should urge it to do so. Past American alignment with repressive governments has often complicated diplomatic efforts, and contributed to skepticism around the world about how strongly the U.S. supports human rights. Turkey is an important and welcome ally in a turbulent region. This would be a good time for both countries to show leadership in protecting free expression and the fundamentals of democracy.,0,7228499.story#ixzz2t9TDVHak

Turkey fails to improve press freedom record: Reporters Without Borders

Turkey has failed to make any improvements in its press freedom record and continues to rank among the “world’s biggest prisons for journalists,” according to the latest index released by Paris-based media group Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Turkey ranked 154th out of 180 countries surveyed in the World Press Freedom Index released by RWB on Feb. 12, behind war-torn nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. “Despite its regional aspirations, Turkey registered no improvement and continues to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists,” said the report. The Gezi Park protests, which initially started last May against a construction plan in the heart of Istanbul and spread across the country after the harsh police crackdowns, increased self-censorship across the media, the report added. “The Gezi Park revolt highlighted the repressive methods used by the security forces, the increase in self-censorship and the dangers of the prime minister’s populist discourse,” said the report. “2014 is likely to be a decisive year for the future of civil liberties in Turkey,” it also said, citing the upcoming local elections and the unpredictability of the peace process on the long-running Kurdish issue. In Turkey, dozens of journalists have been detained on the pretext of the “fight against terrorism,” above all those who cover the Kurdish issue, the RWB report added. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the bottom three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent, state the RWB on its website. The crisis in Syria (unchanged at 177th) has had dramatic repercussions throughout the region, reinforcing media polarization in Lebanon (106th, -4), encouraging the Jordanian authorities to tighten their grip, and accelerating the spiral of violence in Iraq (153rd, -2), where tension between Shiites and Sunnis is growing. In Iran (173rd, +2), one of the Middle East’s key countries, there has so far been no implementation of the promises to improve freedom of information made by the new president, Hassan Rouhani. Meanwhile, countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, according to the report. This is been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The United Kingdom (33rd, -3) distinguished itself in the war on terror by the disgraceful pressure it put on The Guardian newspaper, said the report, adding that both the U.S. and U.K. authorities seem obsessed with hunting down whistleblowers instead of adopting legislation to rein in abusive surveillance practices that negate privacy. Good news came in the form of declines in violence against journalists, direct censorship and misuse of judicial proceedings in Panama (87th, +25), the Dominican Republic (68th, +13), Bolivia (94th, +16) and Ecuador (94th, +25), although in Ecuador the level of media polarization is still high and often detrimental to public debate, according to the index.

6 Million Americans Without a Voice

The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy, yet nearly six million Americans are denied that right, in many cases for life, because they have been convicted of a crime. Some states disenfranchise more than 7 percent of their adult citizens.
In an unflinching speech before a civil rights conference Tuesday morning, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. described this shameful aspect of our justice system for what it is: a “profoundly outdated” practice that is unjust and counterproductive.
State laws that disenfranchise people who have served their time “defy the principles — of accountability and rehabilitation — that guide our criminal justice policies,” Mr. Holder said in urging state lawmakers to repeal them. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”
Felon disenfranchisement laws lie at the intersection of two issues on which Mr. Holder has become increasingly outspoken: criminal justice reform and voting rights. While he has no direct authority to change state laws, the weight of his words can help pave a path for legislative action in both Congress and statehouses around the country.
In recent years, many states have made it easier to regain the right to vote after a conviction, either through legislation or by executive action. But a handful of states, particularly in the South, continue to be guided by the ghosts of the post-Civil War era, when disenfranchisement laws were aimed at newly freed blacks. The brunt of today’s laws that prohibit felons from voting still falls disproportionately on minorities, who make up more than one-third of those affected. In Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, more than one in five African-Americans cannot vote because of a conviction.
Despite some progress, the United States remains an extreme outlier in allowing lifetime voting bans. Most industrialized nations allow all nonincarcerated people to vote, and many even allow voting in prison.
Adding insult to injury, felon disenfranchisement laws — which are explicitly permitted by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — are devoid of both logic and supporting evidence. They undermine the citizenship of people who have paid their debt to society, and possibly at a cost to public safety. As Mr. Holder pointed out, a study by a parole commission in Florida found that formerly incarcerated people banned from voting were three times as likely to re-offend as those who were allowed to vote.
Mass disenfranchisement also has serious political consequences. According to a 2002 study, disenfranchisement laws may have determined the outcome of seven Senate races — and thus control of the Senate throughout the 1990s — and a presidential election. While George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes in 2000, more than 800,000 Floridians with criminal records were barred from voting. Regardless of which party might benefit most at the polls, repealing felon disenfranchisement laws is in the interest of upholding American ideals. And it has increasing bipartisan support; Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, Republicans who have promoted criminal-justice reform on a larger scale, are also pushing to scale back or end these laws. Even after someone has completed a sentence, Senator Paul said in September, “the punishment and stigma continues for the rest of their life, harming their families and hampering their ability to re-enter society.”
Mr. Paul is wise to focus on the importance of re-entry, since 95 percent of incarcerated people are eventually released. The restoration of the right to vote should be automatic, as soon as a person is released from prison. There is no good reason to keep punishing people who have served their time by denying them the most fundamental democratic right.

Celebrity guests attend state dinner for Hollande

Famous faces arrive for Obamas' state dinner for French President Francois Hollande at the White House, and watch the presidents' toasts.

Video: President Obama Speaks on Raising the Minimum Wage

Najam Sethi’s appointment as PCB Chairman is a reward for fixing 35 punctures in elections for Nawaz Sharif

by Sarah Khan
Nawaz Sharif’s nepotism and corruption in favour of Najam Sethi and Jang Group is once again confirmed.
Nawaz Sharif has gifted the lucrative Pakistan Circket Board (PCB) to his preferred media group (Jang Group) toady, Najam Sethi for services rendered before, during and after elections. We have written on this before but the removal of a professional like Zaka Ashraf with solid cricket administration skills and a very successful track road is yet another example of nepotism and corruption by Nawaz Sharif.
Najam Sethi has no cricketing experience. His biggest past time is regurgitating ISI gossip in his typical pompous and chauvinistic tone. His typical method is venom for PPP, abuse for PTI and a soft corner for PML N and Pakistan army.
Indeed, Sethi has to offer explanation for the 35-puncture scandal, rigging in elections, that he and his team of liberstyle liberals including Nadeem Paracha, Ejaz Haider, Beena Sarwar, Raza Rumi and Hamid Mir are trying to hide or ignore. Of course, Sethi’s fake liberal puppies will never explain that one of the stated reasons for Zaka Ashraf’s dismissal was that he isolated Pakistan in the Big 3 decision. However, a recent report by BBC Urdu explains that it was Najam Sethi, not Zaka Ashraf, who represented Pakistan in that meeting and that it was Sethi who remained completely inactive and quiet on this issue when he was intermic chief of PCB. There’s high possibility that Sethi received kickback from India or UK to ensure smooth passing of the Big-3 structure. However, Zaka Ashraf was made a scapegoat for Sethi’s corruption and inefficiencies. “When the election tribunal rules on them we will know… who fixed the puncture and who was rewarded with the gift of the PCB chairmanship,” Imran Khan told reporters. “Fixing the punctures” refers to election rigging allegations. 35 punctures is a term used for alleged rigging in 35 constituencies facilitated by caretaker CM Najam Sethi during 11 May elections 2013 for which PTI has a proof. Najam Sethi also released 100 Deobandi terrorists of ASWJ (Sipah-e-Sahaba) who are killing innocent Sunni Barelvis and Shias across Pakistan.
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Bilawal Bhutto: Sindh Festival’s Cricket Tournaments will produce great cricketers for Pakistan team
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron in Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party said that Sindh Festival’s Cricket Tournaments will produce great cricketers for Pakistan team. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari watched the Final of Tournament between Shikarpur and Sukkur City Cricket team at Moin Khan Academy in Karachi today. Shikarpur team defeated Sukkur City team in a well-played fight. PPP Patron in Chief said that promoting sports at every level is one of the key activity for raising a healthy generation and everyone should work for encouragement of sports at every level. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he was confident that Pakistan will produce brilliant skippers for the national team and he dreams the best contribution from Sindh to the national level in the field of sports. He said PPP will continue to promote sports and other healthy activities to make the best out of youth for the national development and Sindh Festival and its programmes will go a long away in achieving the goal of a peaceful, vibrant and healthy society in the country. Ms. Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, Nisar Khuhro, Wasim Akram and others were also present on the occasion.

Pakistan: PML-N govt ignored minorities, while deciding Taliban talks, says activist

A representative of the minority Christian community has expressed reservation on the ongoing ‘peace talks’ process initiated by the government. Human Rights activist Khalid Shahzad, in a press statement, said the government had completely ignored the minorities and women while nominating the committee for negotiations with the banned terrorist outfit, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. “Minorities, particularly Shias and Christians, and representatives of women rights groups should have been included in the talks process as we believe that they are major stakeholders in the issue. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government first ignored us in the all parties conference as no representative of the minority communities or women were invited to the moot and now again it has deliberately kept us out of the consultation process,” he said. Shahzad said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks of equal rights for women and minorities during his foreign visits but his actions at home contradict his claims. “Nawaz Sharif must involve all stakeholders in the talks process to make it into a truly representative forum,” he said.
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Pakistan: Already a Shariah State?

By Javed Jabbar
May the miracle survive
The composition of the negotiating teams by the government and the TTP and the TTP’s declared agenda require reflection. First, the composition: there is no woman member. As the exclusion in the TTP team is predictable, why does the government team not include even a symbolic representative of 48 per cent of the country’s population (as per the 1998 census)? The presence of a woman would have actually been more than symbolic. Women have suffered even more than men due to the atrocities perpetrated by terrorists who use the sacred name of Islam as a cloak for their barbarity and their nefarious real aims?
As widows, wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, relations of soldiers, police and male citizens who were killed or seriously injured, women, in a sense, experience a fate worse than death. Thousands deal with deep trauma and torment every day as they face an uncertain, insecure future in a historically male-dominated society. As women are also likely to be the major victims of any concessions to the TTP’s version of Shariah, a woman’s presence in the official negotiating team would have ensured that the TTP recognised at the outset, that the human rights of women are non-negotiable.
Second, the agenda: TTP spokesmen frequently advocate the rule of Shariah. But they need to be reminded at the start that Pakistan is already a virtual Shariah state. As free unwanted advice to the official team, herewith are elements of the Shariah state of Pakistan which already exist.
To begin with, the Objectives Resolution of 1948 is a substantive part and the Preamble to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Then, Article 2 of the constitution states: “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan”. Article 31 titled “Islamic way of life” with two sub-clauses spells out in some detail – including the promotion of the Arabic language – steps to fulfil its provisions. Article 41, sub-clause 2 specifies that only a Muslim is eligible to be the president. Article 91, sub-clause 3 ensures that only a Muslim member of the National Assembly can be elected prime minister.
Article 203A in Chapter 3A refers to the status of the Federal Shariat Court and begins with the stricture that: “The provisions of this Chapter shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution”. Subsequently, Article 203B through Article 203J spell out in detail the role of the Federal Shariat Court.
In Part IX, “Islamic Provisions”, Articles 227 through 231 provide for all laws to be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah. They then go on to describe the composition and functions of the Islamic Ideology Council. There are the Blasphemy law, the Hudood Ordinance and other provisions that give legal status to questionable, even inhumane and distorted interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah.
To reinforce these legal provisions, segments of the state and society, directly or covertly facilitate the establishment, survival, expansion, funding and activities of religion-based organisations, some of which use verbal or physical violence to project their views. They also permit unregulated construction of mosques manned by prayer-leaders with no semblance of modern education; the easy availability of hate-based sectarian literature; the promotion of contrived religious piety through the media.
In banking, investment, insurance (takaful), enterprises that claim to be ‘Shariah-compliant’ are making steady progress. So credible have claims by even criminal elements misusing Islamic references become, that only recently a huge scam involving billions of rupees collected from innocent citizens by persons with religious titles is currently under investigation.
Pervasive societal observance of Ramazan, Muharram, the two Eids, Eid Miladun Nabi, Shab-e-Qadr, Shab-e-Barat, mandatory payments of Zakat, performance by millions each year of Haj and Umrah, journeys by many to other holy places across the country and overseas Muslim countries – all of these reflect an abundant, respectful practice of rituals, both as enjoined rituals, and those adopted by sheer practice over centuries.
Tragically, the continuation of unIslamic practices brazenly misusing Islam as a pretext to enforce them continues on an alarming scale even in 2014. These include the bizarre, sacrilegious act by some men of ‘marrying women to the Holy Quran’ in order to keep property within the family; falsely claiming ‘dishonour of a Muslim family to commit honour killings called ‘karo kari’ ; the use of jirgas and panchayats to mete out brutal punishments to women in the name of Islam ; the enforced isolation, concealment of women within burqas and inside households (‘chaar dewari’); the arbitrary limits to female education to prevent girls going beyond primary school to secondary level, college and university. Versions, good and bad, of a Shariah-based society are already visible facets of contemporary Pakistan.
So what more do the TTP and their ilk want? Obviously, they wish to abolish or deform any institution or manifestation which represents gender equity, scientific rationality and global values of humanism because these expose their ignorant primitivism.
The sheer existence and activism of parts of our state and society that are thoroughly Muslim without being narrow-minded, repressive and violent are a miracle. May the miracle survive and transcend the talks, even if it is all male-talk.

Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual report released Wednesday, citing Balochistan province as a hotspot for violence.
Seven reporters were killed in the line of duty in 2013, the report said, blaming the government’s “unwillingness to administer justice.” By comparison, 10 journalists were killed in Syria, eight in the Philippines and seven in Somalia.
Placing Pakistan as the 158th country out of 180 on its Press Freedom Index, the report noted: “The government appears powerless in the Taliban … and the military establishment, which is known as a ‘state within a state’ among many international observers.” Four of the deaths occurred in Balochistan, which is wracked by Islamist violence and a long-running ethnic separatist insurgency. Cameraman Imran Shaikh and his colleague Saif-ur-Rehman were among those killed after rushing to cover a bomb, which hit the provincial capital of Quetta in January 2013. Both men died after being hit by a second blast that occurred 10 minutes after the first.
Shaikh’s widow, Shazia Bano, said the family lived in constant threat, but he continued his work regardless. “He was not scared and used to say that it is our job and we have to do it … I used to force him to quit his job as journalist but he replied, what I should do if I quit?”
While Shaikh and Rehman were caught up in militant violence, other journalists fall victim to the powerful interests linked to the government or intelligence agencies. Riaz Baloch, another Baloch journalist who published a story about a pro-government figure linked to a car theft operation, said he was kidnapped, tortured, and detained for nearly 60 days. “They took me to mountains … where I was subjected to severe torture and I was asked … why I published the news.”
Pakistan’s Constitution theoretically protects freedom of speech, and the media is seen as having taken great strides in recent years. But certain subjects, particularly criticism concerning the Army and spy agencies, remain taboo. Last year Pakistan was placed 159 out of 179 countries in the index, with nine journalists killed.

Can education save Pakistan?

Asher John
Education should not only train the younger generation to face and tackle the situations and challenges of a technological and ever-changing world but also prepare them to live in a civilised world that is at peace with itself.
The recent UNESCO report and Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) once again brought to the fore the plight and criminal neglect of education in Pakistan. Much has been written and said on this topic in recent days. Unfortunately, most of the writers and speakers repeated the same old mantra: we need to educate our children. None of the experts made any effort to go a little deeper and discuss the kind of education that needs to be imparted to our younger generation in order to make them responsible and educated members of a modern democracy. There are no two opinions on the need for education to survive in the modern world and that a good education is the best gift a society can bequeath to posterity, but we also need to realise that the wrong kind of education can do more harm than good.
The social and physical edifices of modern society stand upon the foundations of education. Uneven and weak foundations make a bad base and this is what we have in Pakistan: a society that is uneven and fragile, which can be attributed to the ignorance and indoctrination that we spread in the name of education. Education in its classic sense is a means to character building and furthering the cause of civilisation. Everyone seems to agree on this, so what is the problem? The issue that needs to be addressed concerns the fundamental meaning of the term ‘education’. Is just teaching our children skills sufficient to read, write and become cogs in the ever-expanding industrial behemoth of this capitalistic world enough? Or is their more to it than that?
To find an answer to this rather confounding question we will have to delve deeper and go back to the basics and redefine terms like ‘education’, ‘civilisation’ and ‘character’. The meaning of these terms has broadened with the passage of time. In today’s world, education is not only a conduit to pass on society’s collective will, knowledge and values to posterity but is also a means to equip young people with the necessary tools and skills to live in a society founded on the principles of democracy, tolerance and equality for all. In a more practical and physical sense, education should not only train the younger generation to face and tackle the situations and challenges of a technological and ever-changing world but also prepare them to live in a civilised world that is at peace with itself. In other words, the youth of a society should not only have a firm grasp on the values that their society as an entity believes in but should also be taught to respect and tolerate the values and beliefs of other societies and communities.
This leads to yet another question: what can education do to create a just, tolerant and democratic society? To achieve the goal of ‘education’ in its most modern and academic sense, societies have to devise and create curricula and syllabi that encourage critical thinking, and inspire a scientific approach based on objectivity towards issues and problems in everyday life. Members of an educated and enlightened society should have the mental capacity and intellectual courage to question everything. Syllabi that make students think critically and objectively are harbingers of success and happiness in a society. Education, which supports and emphasises scientific thinking, ultimately creates a populace that is not a blind follower of whatever they are told, and cannot be sacrificed on the altar of fake national ego and the political interests of certain groups and individuals.
An educated and academically robust citizenry is a great asset for any state. This kind of population is a must for a thriving economy, vibrant democracy and stable society. Education — not indoctrination based on falsification of history, distortion of culture and demonisation of others — is the only way to achieve prosperity and respect in the comity of nations for Pakistan. If the leaders and the rulers are interested, which they do not seem to be, in the nurturing of a democratic and educated society then they really need to address the root cause of the problem, which is ignorance and the uneducated illiterates that we produce through our present educational system. The first step in the right direction will be changing the curricula and syllabi and making them more thought provoking and objective. This will require a lot of courage, planning and guts on the part of the leadership but is the only way left for us to move forward. Yes, this will not solve all our problems overnight but it will be the first step in the right direction; this small step will be a giant leap for our educational system.

Pakistan: Appalling state of education

Disturbing revelations from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) indicate that as many as 16 percent of children in Punjab between the ages of six and 16 do not go to school. The remaining 84 percent are not much better off as they do not seem to be learning much. The survey was conducted on as many as 59,092 children and it found that, among other things, student competencies in learning the English language and Arithmetic were pathetic, and that students in class five had trouble constructing and reading sentences fit for class two students. These kinds of ‘achievements’ in education smack of a lacklustre attitude by the authorities in charge when it comes to opening up a brighter future for our upcoming generations. The Punjab government, whose ruling PML-N is also in power at the Centre, seems to have paid little heed to a matter it has been harping on about for some time now: education. We have seen the government of Nawaz Sharif, even before he became the prime minister last year, raise slogans of empowering the youth with knowledge and education but the ASER is enough to cause his credibility to fall flat in this area. We have seen how the laptop scheme and the Daanish school scheme have backfired. It is being reported now that some students who received their big, shiny new laptops went on to sell them in the open market. Equipping students with computer laboratories in their schools would have been far more useful than handing them machines they can pawn. All these showpiece projects seem to have been designed to exhibit interest in education when they do not address the fundamental problems of the existing educational structure. Even minimal standards of education have not been achieved because the real problems in education have not been tackled. Teachers are not properly trained and inexperienced staff is kept at deplorable wages. This results in classes where the student is not adequately helped to learn anything substantial. Our curriculum and textbooks are nowhere near being up to the mark. Drop out rates are huge because of these very reasons. Private schools show slightly better attendance and progress but they too can do better. These private schools should not be just money spinning enterprises. They must also provide a befitting education. With this kind of situation on our hands, is it any surprise that we are producing more ‘educated illiterates’ than ever before?

Pakistani Taliban threaten Kalash tribe, Ismailis in Chitral

The Pakistani Taliban have announced an “armed struggle” against an indigenous tribe and Ismaili Muslims in the picturesque northern Chitral Valley, calling on Sunnis to support their cause in a video.
The valley was once dominated by moderate Ismailis and is also home to the Kalash, a polytheistic people who claim descent from Alexander the Great and who have maintained separate cultural traditions to the predominantly Muslim country.
But migration in recent decades has meant that Sunni Muslims are now the majority in the area, while the Kalash way of life has come under threat by the Taliban, who have also carried out a number of attacks against security forces in the area. The Taliban's 50-minute long video released on February 2 on their media wing's website opens with a scenic view of the mountainous valley that is popular among domestic tourists and famed for its annual polo festival. The narrator warns the Kalash, who are thought to number only 3,500, to convert to Islam or face death.
“By the grace of Allah, an increasing number of people from the Kalash tribe are embracing Islam and we want to make it clear to the Kalash tribe that they will be eliminated along with their protectors, the Western agents if they don't embrace Islam,” he says.
The video also accuses international NGOs of creating an “Israel” like state in Chitral by attempting to protect the Kalash culture and take people away from Islam, and vows to foil their plans. A charitable organisation headed by the Aga Khan, the Ismailis' spiritual leader and a globally renowned philanthropist, is singled out for condemnation. “The Aga Khan Foundation is running 16 schools and 16 colleges and hostels where young men and women are given free education and brainwashed to keep them away from Islam,” the narrator says. He adds that the foundation's schools and hospitals, which are free for members of the public, are espionage tools in the hands of foreign powers.
The Kalash are also warned to stop producing wine, which they make from apples, mulberries and grapes.
“Western NGOs are promoting Kalash wine and we warn all those individuals and hotels selling it, they should stop production and selling of wine otherwise they will be sent to hell by the will of God.”

Pakistan: From jihad to terrorism

AS he squatted under a TTP banner and toted his Kalashnikov, his face looked familiar, though his beard had grown much thicker and was perhaps dyed in henna, hiding the grey. After a long disappearance, Mast Gul resurfaced last week in North Waziristan with another militant commander claiming responsibility for a terrorist attack on a hotel in Peshawar that killed several Shias.
That takes me down memory lane more than 18 years ago when the burly young tribesman had returned to a hero’s welcome after leading a bloody, two-month siege of Charar Sharif, a 14th-century shrine in India-held Kashmir. The fighting killed several Indian soldiers and ended in the destruction of the historical holy place.
Working on a BBC documentary on Islamic blowback we travelled with Mast Gul for days filming his ‘victory’ processions in Punjab. Escorted by the top leadership of the Jamaat-i-Islami he was hailed as a great ‘Islamic warrior’. It was apparent that the JI was using him to boost its jihadi credentials and get maximum political mileage.
My most vivid memory was a reception for him at the Punjab University campus in Lahore. The jam-packed auditorium thundered with slogans of “jihad” as Mast Gul entered surrounded by armed militants in camouflage jackets. The atmosphere became more charged as he narrated the story of his encounter with Indian troops. “Kashmir will soon be liberated,” he vowed amid thunderous applause and salutary gunfire.
Such salutation was overwhelming for this tribal bumpkin known as a daredevil maverick to his acquaintances in Peshawar where he had resided. He was non-serious, often poking his colleagues with his Kalashnikov which he loved to keep by his side. He would randomly fire it to show off. The ‘hero of Charar Sharif’, however, was soon in oblivion after falling out with his patrons — until his reappearance last week. That was the time when militant groups openly operated under the state’s patronage, recruiting volunteers that mostly attracted young men like Mast Gul, fascinated by guns and with a love for adventure. There were others too motivated by religious belief.
The militant groups would demonstrate guerrilla training sessions on Lahore’s Mall Road and other city centres. Through graffiti, wall posters and pamphlets they invited young men for training. ‘Jihad is the shortest route to heaven’ was one of many exhortations.
Many ideologically indoctrinated men died fighting in various global jihad theatres from Kashmir to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. Pakistan had earned the unparalleled distinction of being the only country using militancy as a tool of its foreign and security policy, turning the country into a nursery for jihad. People like Mast Gul were certainly no aberration. The ruthless use of militancy for dangerous proxy wars has ultimately come back to haunt this country. The transition of Mast Gul from street urchin to jihadist and to ultimately ending up as a terrorist is also the story of many others.
A large number of militant fighters like Mast Gul have now taken up jihad inwards, killing their old patrons in security agencies as well as innocent Pakistanis. Their targets are also members of the Shia community and of other religious minorities: anyone who does not subscribe to their retrogressive worldview has to be eliminated.
Though the state’s change of tack after 9/11 may have precipitated Pakistan’s war within, it was only a matter of time before these motivated holy warriors turned against their own people in the name of religion. The culture of jihad sponsored by the mullah-military alliance was bound to catch up sooner or later. In fact, it would have been more catastrophic had Pakistan not decided to roll back its policy on militancy and withdraw its support for the Afghan Taliban regime.
It is utterly nonsensical to link the rise of violent militancy to the US occupation in Afghanistan or to drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Militancy has been deeply rooted in Pakistan for more than two decades. People like Mast Gul are certainly not the product of the post-9/11 situation. Therefore, it is an extremely flawed argument that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will bring an end to the jihadi narrative and lead subsequently to the winding down of terrorism. The militants are not fighting for Afghanistan but for the control of Pakistan.
There is no ambiguity whatsoever about what the militants want. They are seeking to impose their retrogressive ideology through brute force. For them democracy is an un-Islamic system and unacceptable. Their war against the Pakistani state has nothing to do with the presence of foreign forces — something that Taliban apologists like Imran Khan want us to believe. Mast Gul and his sort will not disappear post-2014 following the withdrawal of coalition forces across the border.
What an irony that the state is bowing before murderers and criminals like Mast Gul who proudly own the killing of innocent Pakistanis. There’s no precedence anywhere of a state acting so weakly before the terrorists challenging its authority.
What our political leadership does not realise is that conceding their retrogressive ideology would certainly inflame religious tensions and even lead to sectarian civil war in the country. As the state loses control, militant leaders of all hues are resurfacing to assert themselves and revive the jihad industry. This culture of militancy has to be rolled back before it is too late.

Nine killed in Peshawar attack

Gunmen Wednesday attacked the home of a pro-government militia leader in Pakistan's violence-plagued Peshawar, killing at least nine people, police said.
The attack occurred in the Budhher area of Peshawar, Dawn News reported. Geo News quoted police as saying more than a dozen attackers first hurled hand grenades at the home of Zafar Khan and locked the women inside the home.
The attackers took the male family members outside and killed them all, including two boys, aged 8 and 10, senior police official Rahim Shah said.
Khan, who was the chief of a local peace committee and member of a special police force, had been killed in another attack last Sunday, CNN said.
Dawn News said the attack appeared to be the result of religious rivalry between two extremist groups in the region. A day earlier in Peshawar, three grenade explosions during a movie showing inside the Shama Cinema killed 11 people and injured 25 others. The facility's owners were quoted as saying they had been receiving threats. A similar hand grenade attack inside another Peshawar movie house earlier this month killed five people and injured 20 others.
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