Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bahrain arrests 29 ahead of revolution anniv.

The Bahraini regime has arrested 29 protesters on the eve of the third anniversary of the revolution that shook the Persian Gulf kingdom.
The Interior Ministry said on Thursday that the protesters were detained in several villages across the country because of ‘rioting and vandalism,’ Reuters reported.
The ministry also threatened to take action against any calls to hold rallies and stepped up police patrols.
Bahrain's main opposition group al-Wefaq called for demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa regime on Friday. Bahrain has been the scene of almost daily protests against the Al Khalifa regime since February 2011, when thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets, calling for the royal family to leave power. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini regime in its crackdown on peaceful protesters. According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested. Physicians for Human Rights say doctors and nurses have been detained, tortured, or disappeared because they have "evidence of atrocities committed by the authorities, security forces, and riot police" in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.


Ahmed Rushdi-Ay Abre-Karam Aj

Ko Ko Korina - May Ray Khayalon Pay Chaey Hai -Ahmed Rushdi

Day 63 of #VBMPLongMarch: Banuk Farzana Majeed and Mama Qadeer addressing the crowd

#VBMPLongMarch reaches to Lahore city

Day 63: #VBMPLongMarch reaches to Lahore city from Faiz Baluch on Vimeo.

Today was day 90 of #VBMPLongMarch from Quetta and 63 from Karachi to Islamabad for safe release of thousands of abducted Baloch from torture cells of Pakistani military and its secret agencies. Today VBMPLongMarchers started their walk from Thokar Niaz Baig and entered to Lahore city. Hundreds of people have joined the long march and showed their support to the families.

Pakistan's religious minorities struggle amidst roiling currents

By Jaweed Kaleem
Every Sunday, thousands celebrate Mass at St. Peter's, a three-floor, 21,000-square-foot Catholic church that's the biggest in Pakistan. Dressed in their best tunics and loose cotton pants, worshippers sit barefoot in the pew-less building -- a style adapted from nearby mosques -- as they sing hymns to the sounds of drums and a piano. As the sun sets, a light shines in a 24-hour prayer room, something common in Western nations but a rarity here.

The success of St. Peter's, which cost $3.8 million to build -- making it the most expensive in the nation when it opened two years ago -- has been hailed as a sign of progress for Christians and religious minorities. Yet beyond its bold size and growing attendance, the difficulties parishioners face stand out here as much as at any other non-Muslim house of worship in this overwhelmingly Islamic country. Guards are outside to protect worshippers from would-be suicide bombers and attackers. Prayers for recent Christian martyrs are said regularly during services. Priests use nonalcoholic wine or grape juice during Holy Communion, partly because it's cheaper, but also to avoid inflaming Muslims who believe drinking is sinful.
While global leaders have focused efforts in this part of the world on fighting the increasing sway of extremists, activists and human rights observers have noticed a different problem spreading inside Pakistan: the targeting of religious minorities. This month, a Pew Research Center report named Pakistan, which is 96 percent Muslim, one of the most hostile nations for religious minorities. Pew placed the country among the top five overall for restrictions on religion, singling out its anti-blasphemy statutes. Courts frequently use such laws to give death or lifetime-jail sentences to minorities accused of insulting Islam. Often, their crime is as simple as openly professing their own faiths. A study on Pakistan from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom counted more than 200 attacks among religious groups and 1,800 casualties resulting from religion-related violence between 2012 and mid-2013, one of the highest rates in the world.
The problem isn't limited to Christians. All religious minorities in Pakistan face daily reminders of their plight, including discriminatory laws, forced conversions, and bombs and shootings aimed at minority-sect Muslims, such as Shiites and Ahmadis. According to human rights groups, public school textbooks regularly demonize minorities and emphasize the nation's Islamic roots over contributions from people of other faiths. Labor studies have shown minorities stuck on the lower rung of the economy, often working as servants, sweepers and day laborers. Newspapers occasionally report on businesses that deny non-Muslim customers.
"Things have gone from bad to worse to very much worse," said Robert George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan group that monitors religious rights abuses and advises the president, Congress and State Department on foreign policy.
But despite an overall grim picture, stories of minority empowerment are slowly growing, from sparkling new houses of worship like St. Peter's to burgeoning, organized self-defense efforts among non-Muslims. A host of interfaith activist movements is blossoming, pushing for multi-faith education and less violence, while gaining support from pastors and universities. A handful of minority leaders are now speaking internationally in the media and through religious and human rights organizations. They hope diplomatic pressure from the U.S. -- a strident political ally and source of aid to the nation -- and global religious leaders can strengthen the climate for minorities here. A more tolerant Pakistan, they say, would translate into another goal for many: less tolerance for terrorists.
"The same people who have declared the West to be their enemy are the ones who have declared non-Muslims and even Shiite Muslims here to be the same," said Michelle Chaudhry, the founder of the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, a Pakistani nonprofit that focuses on promoting interfaith cooperation and education for non-Muslims. "As terrorism has gotten worse since Sept. 11, so has the situation among minorities."
It used to be different. Before British colonial India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, more than one-fifth of the population of what would become Pakistan was non-Muslim. Most fled to India during the creation of the Muslim state, though largely peaceful relations among faiths continued during Pakistan's early decades. But in 1978, the nation began a 10-year process of "Islamization" under military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. He pushed to convert secular laws into religious ones, installing Sharia courts and enacting anti-blasphemy statutes. Through the 1990s and 2000s, conservative Islamic movements gained cultural and political sway, subverting the region's historically more open approach to faith, including non-Islamic traditions. Today, religious minorities total just 9 million among 183 million Pakistanis. The biggest groups are Christians and Hindus, each of which accounts for less than 2 percent of the population. Smaller are the numbers of Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Bahá'ís, Jews and Ahmadi Muslims. Shiite Muslims make up about a quarter of Pakistanis, but they, too, find themselves increasingly persecuted by dominating Sunni factions. Though Pakistan's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, reports of forced conversions to Islam, kidnappings of non-Muslims, job discrimination, blasphemy arrests and razings of minority houses of worship are frequent. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 34 people were charged with blasphemy in 2013. The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch reports that at least 16 people are on death row in the country for blasphemy, and 20 are serving life sentences.
Pakistanis recognize the religious tensions -- in a recent Pew survey, 57 percent singled out religious conflict as a major national problem. And some are taking matters into their own hands.
In Akhtar Colony, a poor, mostly Christian neighborhood, retired Pakistani navy officer Munawar Chouhan has offered free self-defense courses for amateur church security guards since early fall. His school caters exclusively to Christians in their teens and 20s, whom he recruits through newspaper ads, then trains out of an office. Chouhan drills volunteers in security sweep techniques, using diagrams and beat-up mannequins to demonstrate how to detect bombs and guns. They learn to spot bulky clothing, unfamiliar faces, and unclaimed bags and purses.
"There are always two sides to Pakistan and two sides to being a non-Muslim in this country," said Chouhan.
He began his classes after Pakistani Taliban-linked suicide bombers killed 78 worshippers and injured 130 others in September at a Catholic church in Peshawar, a northwestern provincial capital near Afghanistan. "For every good story, there's a bad one. We need to protect our own, or no one else will," Chouhan said. A Catholic and a parishioner at St. Peter's, Chouhan, like most minorities, has adopted the Islamic greeting of "assalamualaikum" ("peace be upon you"). He has trained at least 75 guards, and dispatched them to churches around the city. He has no doubt that his program keeps suspicious characters away from houses of worship, though his students have yet to catch a would-be attacker. "For people that can feel helpless in being part of their religion, we are giving them a way to take charge again," he said.
The program is one of many. In Peshawar and Lahore, Christian leaders have mandated that churches train volunteer guards; some have added security fences and metal detectors. The Catholic Church -- Catholicism is Pakistan's biggest Christian denomination -- has started at least 15 city-based "community protection groups," ecumenical networks tasked with monitoring threats to local churches and human rights violations among Christians, such as coerced marriages to Muslims. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association, a group of former members of the army, now provides free guards outside dozens of churches around the country on Sundays.
"We are fighting for our survival," said William Sadiq, a Protestant activist who works with Chouhan and runs the Action Committee for Human Rights, a social service organization in Karachi. "If the extremists see more of us standing up for ourselves, they might begin to stand down."
Religious tensions haven't gone unnoticed among Pakistan's leaders. The government, which celebrates a National Minorities Day each August, regularly makes public statements supporting freedom of religion for Christians and other communities. During a speech in December, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lamented ongoing religious conflicts, and described Jesus as a role model for people of all faiths.
Pakistan maintains a federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, though the office is largely tasked with overseeing Islamic pilgrimages, such as the hajj to Saudi Arabia. A federal office dedicated to minority affairs was closed in 2011 after government authorities said minority issues were best dealt with on a local level.
In an interview, one of the highest ranking government officials who oversees minority issues dismissed the idea that non-Muslims face unique hurdles inside Pakistan. "As many problems as there are for minorities, they also exist for Muslims," said Pir Muhammad Amin-ul-Hasnat Shah, the nation's minister of state for religious affairs and interfaith harmony. "What's happening here is not discrimination against minorities, but there's simply a difficult state of affairs for everyone here in Pakistan."
Shah declined to comment on a spate of recent blasphemy arrests, such as one in January of a mentally ill man who a Pakistani court sentenced to death for saying he was Islam's prophet. Shah said legislators planned to discuss blasphemy statutes in upcoming meetings. "We are researching such issues," he said. But minority leaders like Sadiq and Chouhan believe such assurances are often just lip service. Activists regularly complain about a lack of legal and police protection for religious minorities. A handful of successive legislative attempts to reform the nation's anti-blasphemy laws were promptly shut down after popular protests.
The sentiment is echoed among Catholic leaders, who say the violence they face is misdirected anger at the West, as Christians are blamed for drone strikes and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. After the September attack in Peshawar, Bishop Joseph Coutts, Karachi's leading Catholic who oversees St. Peter's, demanded the government amp up church safeguards and "seriously tackle" intolerance that had reached "alarming proportions." Weeks later, during a visit to the Vatican for a conference, Coutts broadened his request, calling on international Christian leaders to "put pressure on the government to ensure the human rights of minorities." Even small acts, such as the personal greetings Pope Francis sent to the world's Muslims during Ramadan, could help "dispel the image of the Christian West as an enemy of Muslims," the bishop said, and patch up a sour impression that grew during Pope Benedict XVI's reign. Benedict ignited outrage among Muslims after a speech in 2006 where he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who called Islam "evil and inhuman." In 2011, when the Vatican under Benedict called on Pakistan to repeal its anti-blasphemy laws, protests against Christians erupted again.
Francis, who has been heralded for his largely successful outreach to non-Christians, could have a positive impact on the status of Catholics in Pakistan, said the Rev. Francis Gulzar, a priest at St. John's Catholic Church in Youhanabad. The community of 100,000 Christians is outside the major cultural capital of Lahore, a city where Christian-Muslim tensions have been on the rise.
Gulzar acknowledged that while international gestures are not the solution to problems among Pakistan's minorities, "if [Pope Francis] keeps speaking kindly about Islam, it could resonate to make Muslims have a better view of Christians in their own nation."
American outreach to Pakistan has always been a trickier beast. While the U.S. has asked for cooperation in the war on terrorism as a condition for providing aid -- a $33 million package to Pakistan was approved by the president in January -- requests from American organizations and Pakistani Christian denominations to the U.S. to restrict funds or exercise diplomatic pressure to protect minorities haven't been successful. Since 2002, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has unsuccessfully petitioned the State Department to name Pakistan a "country of particular concern" for religious freedom violations. The move would open up several options for the president, including putting in a formal request to Pakistan, recalling the American ambassador and economic sanctions. Other countries on the list include Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
Human rights groups also are making another request: for the White House to appoint a new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a State Department officer who acts as the top international watchdog on religion. In particular, they want the president to name someone who is familiar with religious freedom in areas such as Syria and Pakistan. The position has been open since the prior ambassador, the Rev. Suzan Cook, resigned in October. The White House declined to give a timeline for a new appointment, and the office, which Congress created in 1998, has been criticized as ineffective.
John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University who focuses on international Christian-Muslim relations, said policy discussions have shied away from religious rights in Pakistan in part because of disagreements over how far U.S. influence should go and fears of backlash.
"There are circles in D.C. that say 'should we really be involved in religion? … Should we put conditions on helping an economy that's hurting?'" said Esposito, who has traveled frequently to the region and taken part in interfaith exchanges in Pakistan. "It's a sensitive territory. You don't want the U.S. or anyone else to take too heavy-handed of an approach or they will be seen as meddling ... Pakistanis are also making huge strides in interfaith harmony on their own despite hurdles."
Case in point: In Lahore, where local authorities last year banned a private grammar school from teaching a comparative religion course, the city's Center for Dialogue and Action launched an interfaith cooperation course and national speaker series at Forman Christian College in January. The first of its kind in the nation, the class is called Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniat (Knowledge, Decorum and Humanity). In a few large cities, university students have formed chapters of Interfaith Youth Action, a growing multi-faith nonprofit that hosts religious dialogues and tours houses of worship. In December, Rawalpindi's St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the seat of Islamabad's Catholic diocese, held three Christmas Masses in Urdu and English, and showcased caroling by its popular English-language choir, now in its third year.
Muslims have also joined in the fight to protect minorities. Last fall, dozens of activists with the group Pakistan for All traveled between cities, forming human chains during Sunday services around churches throughout the country, and ending their tour at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Islamabad. Wherever it went, the group chanted one of its slogans: "one nation, one blood." The demonstrations brought international media attention. Questions remain about whether rising efforts among minorities to organize themselves, coupled with support from Muslims and pressure from outsiders will work in favor of non-Muslims in Pakistan. Will shining the light on minorities simply draw more negative attention to groups that historically have operated quietly inside the nation's borders?
To activists like Chouhan, the Karachi Catholic who teaches the city's youth in his security academy, the benefits outweigh the risks. "All we can do is live day by day and try to help each other where we can," he said. "All we can do is pray and hope for a better future."

Pakistan: "Christians in danger, police and judiciary in lethargy"
"Religious minorities in Pakistan, and especially Christians, have become the constant target of masses of extremists": says Ijaz Inayat Masih, Anglican Bishop of Karachi in a note sent to Fides, launching an alarm about the deteriorating condition of religious minorities in the country. "Over the last few years - he says - religious minorities have been targeted, their villages burned, accused in false cases of blasphemy, victims of intimidation, forced marriages and forced conversions.
"The Bishop recalls the case of the Judge of the High Court of Lahore, Iqbal Bhatti, who acquitted the Christian Salamat Masih, in a trial for blasphemy: the judge was killed outside the courthouse in 1996. Blasphemy is a sore point: "When a Christian is accused of blasphemy, the people of a neighborhood gather to punish the culprit, burning him alive or lynching him. The police and the government have never punished such acts. The Bishop cites the responsibility of the institutions, speaking of " lethargic attitude of the police, public prosecutor and the judiciary". After the killing of Judge Iqbal Bhatti, the police often endorses the need to defend Islam, taking the side of the extremists or yielding to their pressure. The result, says the Bishop, is that there are many people in prison, on the basis of false accusations or hasty trials.
The Bishop points out a new, subtle form of psychological pressure: the extremists target Christians and try to extort money from them by threatening a fatwa against them, using the Islamic religion to blackmail.
Several cases of this kind have taken place in Karachi, defined as "a stronghold of Islamic extremists". Bishop Ijaz Inayat Masih concludes leaving open the question of whether the country wants to continue to keep in force the rule of law.

Pashtun nationalists reject Shareat of Deobandi Taliban Terrorist

LUBP appreciates the vocal truth by Pashtun nationalist Facebook page, Justice For Pashtuns: Post by Justice for Pashtuns. The post is clear in condemnation of Deobandi Taliban of TTP-ASWJ. The rejection of a minority view of sharia is not surprising. According to the post Deobandis only make up eleven percent of the population of Khyber Pakhtunkwa and FATA areas. The same principle applies to the rest of Pakistan where Deobandi’ faith is no more than 20 percent of the population. They have heavy funding from the Saudi Wahhabis/Salafis which enables them to build a large number of Madrassas and organize politically and through terrorist organizations like TTP, ASWJ or LEJ as well as others. The fundamental fact remains that Deobandis are a small minority of the population and their intolerant version of sharia, which is in essence the Saudi version of sharia, is not acceptable by eighty percent or more of Pakistan. This perversion of sharia is clearly Riyal induced. The older Deobandi ulema dating to pre oil money tended to be much more moderate. The Saudis continue to encourage the lunatic fringe of Wahhabized Deobandism because it legitimizes their own brutal Monarchy. Very simply the more converts they have to the Wahhabized thinking within the Arabian Peninsula and outside it the more legitimate is the “caliphate” of the “custodians of the two holy mosques”.
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BALOCHISTAN: Fighting for the disappeared

Since 1948, the people of Balochistan have been embroiled in a bitter struggle against the State of Pakistan. According to the State, it is a form of rebellion, an insurgency, and therefore the military has been employed to fight against the Baloch.
This has resulted in horrific stories about torture being inflicted on the Baloch, extra-judicial killings, abduction of civilians and most recently, a mass grave.
For the Baloch, their fight is one for respect and recognition of their ethnicity, and not be lumped with other provinces as simply 'Pakistani' as a means of retaining their ethnicity as their defining identity. Consequently, the Baloch have suffered heavily. And they've decided to fight back in a democratic, peaceful manner.
In 2005, General Musharraf tried to break Baloch resilience by launching a brutish operation which resulted in the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Despite a new government in 2008, the fight between the Baloch and the Pakistani military intensified, with sectarian killings adding fuel to the fire.
At the same time, the number of missing people rose exponentially, resulting in the creation of a peaceful association by the families of the disappeared - Voice for Baloch Missing Persons - whose main objective is to bring the humanitarian crisis in Balochistan to the fore.
While there is much debate about the official number of missing people, according to VBMP vice-president Mama Qadeer, it is a staggering figure of 18,000 - and counting.
According to the protesters, the missing are political workers. Ask the opposition and they are likely to brand them terrorists or traitors. Either way, where are the missing people? If they have been killed, are extra-judicial killings justified?
The Supreme Court took notice of the 'missing persons' case in August 2013 and since then it has put pressure on the military to provide answers in the form of physical evidence, ordering that the missing be presented before court or if somebody has been taken in as a criminal then he be tried. But judicial interest has not been enough to placate the Baloch, who have been suffering for decades. In October 2013, the VBMP decided to fight for its people's right, but not by guns or resistance. The association decided to conduct a 'walk' where each step which would take them closer to where they hoped their voices would be heard and their loved ones would finally be recovered or put to rest.
This VBMP Long March started on October 27 2013 and reached Karachi on November 23. Since then they have crossed miles and miles on foot, peacefully crossing cities including Hyderabad, Multan and Lahore. The VBPM Long March has its eyes on its final stop, Islamabad, where the aim is to peacefully protest in front of the Supreme Court to seek justice for their loved ones.
However, this Long March could potentially be a cause for friction between the state, military and judiciary as the Supreme Court is putting pressure on the military to account for the missing. This can be detrimental for the State, which needs both military and judicial support in tackling terrorism and remaining united in the face of an Islamist militant organisation, the TTP.
But this long march stands for so much more than justice - it is also a powerful democratic exercise. It is an example of the dignified manner with which the Baloch have decided to take up their cause. It symbolises the peaceful nature of people who have been suppressed for too long a period. And it could potentially change the relationship between the State and Balochistan for the better, only if handled with the fairness that these civilians deserve.
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Legalized Spousal Abuse Is Coming to Afghanistan

Nina Strochlic
A proposed law would ban relatives of accused child abusers, rapists and murderers from testifying against them in court—and women’s rights advocates are terrified that it spells a return to Taliban-era repression. Nelosar was 15 years old when she was married off to a man more than twice her age. When she told her father she did not want to marry and wanted to continue her education instead, he replied that he would kill her if she didn’t comply. She entered into the marriage, but was ruthlessly beaten by her in-laws and her husband. “I never loved him, but I had to stay,” Nelosar (not her real name) says.
Just two months ago, with the support of her children, she applied for a divorce from the man she says abused her their entire marriage. Now 41 years old, Nelosar works as a caregiver for senior citizens and lives in Queens, New York. Her husband stopped beating her when they moved here because he feared the police, but the verbal attacks continued. She couldn’t divorce him in Afghanistan, but says she’s thrilled to live in the United States where the law is in her favor. “There should be law that supports women, not abuses them,” Nelosar says.
But in Afghanistan, a dangerous bill has slipped through two houses of Parliament and is poised to devastate women’s rights advocates and victims of abuse. The law would ban all family members of accused criminals—be they abusers, rapists, murderers—from being questioned by police or testifying against them in court. Doctors and psychiatrists would also be barred from providing evidence. In most domestic cases it would be virtually impossible to get a conviction. The bill awaits the signature of President Hamid Karzai—as of last Sunday, he had 15 days to veto it before it automatically goes into effect.
Activists warn it’s the latest in a series of setbacks that could propel Afghanistan back to a time when women had no rights or freedoms under Taliban rule. And as U.S. and NATO troops depart this year and a long-term security agreement is on the rocks, the climate for Afghanistan’s women and girls is growing more unpredictable.
The proposed law would allow men to abuse their wives, children, and sisters without threat of judicial repercussion. It would quash any legal consequences for cases of honor killings, child marriage, and domestic violence—in a country where 87 percent of women have experienced some form of abuse. In family-centric Afghanistan, there would be few unrelated witnesses in such cases. If this law was in place three months ago, the father of a 16-year-old girl named Nabiza would not be serving a 12-year prison sentence. He was arrested by police after Nabiza’s mother reported him, and was jailed thanks to testimony from Nabiza, her mother, and uncles. Another recent case in which a woman observed her husband murder a loan officer would similarly have gone unpunished.
It’s a familiar limitation for Nelosar, who hasn’t been back to her homeland in 20 years. “At that point when I was there, the situation was worse because [I heard] stories of women reporting to the police, but they were returned to families and in-laws because police told them, ‘Your husband has right to beat you, you need to accept this,’” she says.
“If this law is signed we will go backwards, slowly back to the Taliban era,” says Manizha Naderi, executive director of advocacy group Women for Afghan Women. Four little words in the bill, a criminal procedure code that parliament has been drafting for years, could destroy the gains made for women’s rights in the years since. Buried in Article 26 of the 128-page draft, a section outlining people who cannot be questioned as witnesses lists: “Relatives of the accused.” Naderi says that two months ago, she and other advocacy groups pressured lawmakers to change the section preventing family members from testifying, so it instead stopped them from being compelled to testify. But suddenly, as it came up for a vote last month, the offending segment had been reverted back to its original form, thanks to parliamentarians Naderi describes as conservative and uneducated or undereducated.
Women for Afghan Women has been jockeying for a meeting with President Karzai, but in the meantime they’ve drafted a letter to him urging a rejection of the bill on the grounds it that it “is illegal and contrary to fundamental Islamic tenets.” As they point out, the Koran specifically states that the truth should be revealed in order to “stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin.” Naderi warns that if Karzai signs something unconstitutional it could create a ripple effect, paving the way for other illegal laws to go on the books.
But activists are nervous, saying that Karzai has become increasingly unpredictable in the months leading up to the April election that will strip him of executive power after nearly 14 years. “His first motivating factor is he wants to negotiate with Taliban,” Naderi says of a recent revelation that Karzai has been holding secret talks with the Taliban. “This could be a way of appeasing the Taliban and saying ‘I’m on your side.’” Right now, there’s no telling what the president will do, says Heather Barr, senior Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. Karzai may be quick to ratify it in hopes of wrapping things up in his last few months of power, or he could leave behind the controversial issue for his successor. Six years ago, Karzai signed the groundbreaking Elimination of Violence Against Women law, which criminalized rape, child marriage, and other abuses for the very first time. “If this law passes it will basically rip the heart out of that law,” Barr says.
Before that 2009 legislation, bringing a case of abuse to court “would have been virtually unheard of.” In the years since, progress has been slow—the number of cases is still in the low hundreds, and there are some provinces where no cases have been reported yet—but moving forward. In 2013, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan found a 28 percent rise in reported violence against women. But now it appears those gains are reversible. After 12 years of advancement, the past nine months have seen a series of setbacks for women’s rights. In July, parliament lowered its quota for female lawmakers on provincial councils from 25 percent to 20 percent. Lawmakers also blocked an effort to endorse the 2009 anti-violence law in May, and in November, a draft of a law that would reinstate public execution by stoning was scrapped after it leaked to the media. A current bill in front of parliament awaiting a vote would allow men more authority over children, including the right to marry an adopted female child.
“Men within Afghan society always been unhappy with these changes that they see as challenges to Islam or tradition,” Barr says of the liberties afforded in the 2009 law. “They’ve been biding their time waiting for a chance to put things back to where they think they ought to be.” This fragile crossroads is another reason that the International Violence Against Women Act needs to be passed by the American Congress, says Christine Hart, the policy and government affairs manager for the D.C.-based Women Thrive Worldwide. IVAWA—which was reintroduced to the House in November and will be brought to the Senate in the next few weeks—would make preventative measures against gender-based violence a permanent addition to U.S. foreign policy and strengthen diplomatic weight behind gender equality. In Afghanistan, U.S. agencies would have to incorporate gender-based violence concerns into trainings and programs.
Hart is hoping that Secretary of State John Kerry will speak out against the bill, but for now the only American acknowledgement comes from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which is “extremely concerned.” The bill has also been criticized by the EU’s foreign policy chief. But for months, HRW’s Barr says, there was “deafening silence” from the world. There must be incentives, she says, to keep Afghanistan on track as international involvement on the ground disappears. Money going to the Afghan police force should be earmarked for programs eliminating gender-based violence, and a message should be sent to the government that any reversals on gender issues are unacceptable.
“These opponents of women’s rights have said to themselves, ‘We don’t have to wait to 2015 after the troop withdrawal, we can get started now,’” Barr says of recent backsliding. “And unfortunately, the lack of involvement by the international community proved them right.”

Released Afghan prisoners pose threat to NATO and civilians - US

The United States warned Thursday that the 65 alleged Taliban militants released from prison without trial by the Afghan government posed a threat not only to NATO and Afghan troops, but also to Afghan civilians. "Many of these men who have been released, their primary weapon of choice has been the IED, which of course poses not just a threat to coalition forces and Afghan forces, but also Afghan civilians," said Marie Harf, a spokeswoman at the US State Department in Washington. The US believes that some of the individuals previously released from the Bagram prison already "returned to the fight" and that the new releases could continue to "fill the ranks of the insurgency," Harf said. The US has repeatedly called for all prisoners detained by NATO forces to be prosecuted in the Afghan court system and under Afghan law.
The United States has harshly criticised Afghanistan's release of 65 alleged Taliban fighters from jail, saying it was "a deeply regrettable" decision that could lead to further violence in the war-torn country. "The Afghan government bears responsibility for the results of its decision," the US embassy said. "We urge it to make every effort to ensure that those released do not commit new acts of violence and terror."

65 prisoners in Afghanistan freed

Peshawar church attack: SC seeks report on security of worship places

The Supreme Court Thursday ordered the Attorney General of Pakistan and all provincial Advocate Generals to submit a detailed report pertaining to number of worship places of minorities and their security arrangements. A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, resumed hearing of a suo motu case on Peshawar Church attack. The attack on All Saints church in the provincial capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after a service in Sep last year is believed to be the deadliest ever to target the country’s small Christian minority killing more than 80 people. During the hearing, the chief justice insisted to submit provincial reports regarding the number and security arrangements of minorities worship places. He expressed annoyance over absence of the Advocate General Punjab, saying it is unfortunate that section officers represented the province despite the court direction. Jamil Sheikh, a section officer of the Punjab home department appeared before the court to represent the province and Advocate Generals of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh assured the court that reports will soon be submitted in the court. Dr Ramesh Kumar, a representative of Justice Help Line presented the problems of the minorities in writing. Upon this, the court ordered to include these problems and complaints in the record and also advised Sindh government to submit a detailed report in this regard during the next hearing. The court also asked about the government’s announcement of compensation to the victims of church blast. Advocate General KP replied that the governor had announced Rs100 million and Rs60.7 million had already been distributed among the affectees. He, however, told the court that the province so far could not receive Rs 100 million announced by the federal government. Later, the court adjourned the hearing till February 20.


Pakistani Taliban, whose intermediaries are currently holding peace talks with the government, Thursday claimed responsibility for an attack on police vehicles in Karachi that killed at least 12 police officers and injured dozens others.
At least 11 policemen were killed and 47 others injured when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a police bus in Southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, Feb. 13, 2014. Thursday morning, police said
The bomb hit a police bus and van when they were heading for duties. The Taliban spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, said the attack was aimed at taking revenge of Taliban members who have been killed in Karachi and other cities in recent days by the police and Rangers. “Our 20 members have been killed in encounters in a month,” Shahid said in a statement. “As there is no formal ceasefire, the Taliban will carry out attacks in defence. We have the right to take such steps.” It is very sad to see the Pakistani Govt bend on their Knees to facilitate the Saudi Sponsred Taliban Terrorist, while they are killing the Innocent Pakistani Citizens. The Lot of Pakistani Politicians , Bureaucrats , and Members of the Judiciary who are on the Pay Roll of the Saudi Monarchy and the US Govt , and have earned Benefits for more than three decades , in creating the Mess which was created by the then President Zia ul Haq, who dragged the whole Nation into terrorism and Corruption , for his Personal Benefits , who not only sold the Weapons and the Most vital Interests of Pakistan to the enemies of Pakistan , And now his off Shoots and Off Springs have brought Pakistan Near to a total Disaster . And as the Taliban and their Ideological Off springs have been Nurtured in every part of Pakistan, as they have been well placed in the Most strategic Parts of Pakistan , to control the Nervous System of Pakistan , But the Sons of Soil and the True Patriots of Pakistan , especially the Shia Community have Openly challenged these Taliban Devils , and have confronted them at each and every level , Making them their most vicious enemy . As now it is the time for Do and Die Situation , to save the Pakistan from the Taliban Terrorist as if now they are not being encountered , then the Integrity of Pakistan is 100% at stake , and they as per their Plan will tear apart the First Muslim Nuclear State of the World into several Parts , and the Saudi Monarchy which is even investing heavily in these Taliban Terrorist ,working on their One Point agenda of acquiring the Nuclear Weapons of Pakistan , with the help of these Talibans . To become a Nuclear State by a Planned State Dacoity .

Pakistan: Terrorism playing havoc with national economy

Opposition Leader in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah Thursday said that deteriorating law and order situation across the country was playing havoc with the national economy. Talking to APP, he said the government should focus all its attention towards this core issue because until and unless we do not overcome this menace, we cannot strengthen our economy. “Due to terrorism, our country is going backwards day by day and we are lagging behind other nations on the globe,” he added. Khursheed Shah said that the opposition has given full mandate to the government to cope with deteriorating law and order situation of the country and ready to provide all possible assistance into this regard in future. He was of the view that `Pakistan comes first’ and democracy is the best system to run the government. The extremists have not only hurt the country economically but have also destroyed the image of Islam in the eyes of the world and this was part of a big conspiracy, he maintained.

Peshawar: We need answers

Peshawar’s residents could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss over peace talks is about. Two further attacks – a triple explosion at a cinema on Tuesday that killed 13 people and then on Wednesday an attack at the house of a person whose brother was in the police and had been killed by militants last year – will prompt many to lose faith in the negotiation process that has only just kicked off unless both the government and the TTP can explain why attacks are still continuing. Both the central government and the provincial PTI government claim that these attacks are an attempt to sabotage talks with the TTP. Such an evasive answer will not suffice. If they know who is behind the attacks and are not theorising in lieu of real answers then they need to tell the nation who this outside force is. The government has never been shy about pointing the finger at outside sources before, having repeatedly said that India was involved in troubles in Balochistan. Why the hesitation to name names now? Until we get convincing answers the only conclusion that can be reached is that the government is clueless about who is behind the continuing attacks or thinks that the TTP is responsible but does not want to sabotage the peace process.
The TTP, for its part, has never been hesitant to claim responsibility for attacks but now vows that it has nothing to do with the violence. One reasonable theory could be that elements within the TTP are opposed to any compromise with the government and so are operating as before, with the added determination to stymie talks. Not so, says TTP negotiator Maulana Samiul Haq, who says that every group within the TTP is committed to dialogue. We can never fully expect the TTP to level with us and neither should the government. Our law-enforcement agencies should then be even more alert and raise their investigative game. Knowing who is behind the attacks will determine the future course of negotiations so, apart from improving security in vulnerable areas, tracking down the culprits and ascertaining their affiliation should be a priority. Above all, the residents of Peshawar should not be left to feel like they are pawns in a larger game between the government, the TTP and some unknown, unnamed third force. After over a decade of suffering they deserve better than to be left to their own devices while everyone else pursues what they consider to be loftier goals.

Pakistan: ‘Peace’ and blood

We have come to the point where the government is now officially living in a fool’s paradise, and a bloody one at that. Ever since the so-called ‘peace’ talks started, the militants have increased the frequency and ferocity of their attacks against the state and its people. On Wednesday, a major armed attack took place against nine members of the same family, belonging to an anti-Taliban peace lashkar (militia) in Mashukhel, near Peshawar. The brutal massacre occurred in their home where the militants threw hand grenades at the house and, after locking the women of the house in a separate room, shot the men. This follows Tuesday’s bomb attack on a cinema in Peshawar, killing as many as 12 people. As little as one week before, another cinema in Peshawar was bombed, killing four. This does not include the brutal attack yesterday on a police bus in Karachi, killing as many as 13 police officials and injuring more than 57 others. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the Karachi attack and have shied away from owning up to the bloodbaths in Peshawar. They are not fooling anyone except, apparently, the folk we have in government.
Whether the talks continue or die a quick death, one thing is abundantly clear: we are ‘negotiating’ from a position of weakness. With each and every hit, the terrorists are showing us their brute might and hammering the government right into the ground. The government has put all its eggs in the one basket of peace and talks without insisting unequivocally for one thing — that attacks must cease. The representatives of the people must demonstrate that they are serious about peace itself and not just appeasing the Taliban. By confining the scope of the talks to FATA and maybe Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government has given the Taliban the leverage of playing with fire in the rest of the country. This is why they are backing away from claiming responsibility for the Peshawar attacks but are quick to take all the limelight for the Karachi slaying. In this weak ‘attempt’ to show that they are following the ‘rules’ of the talks, the Taliban are hitting us from every angle, and they will win if something drastic and final is not done to stop them.
This is an idiotic government, which has decided not too see what is staring it in the face. How can the government not negotiate a proper ceasefire and terms for the entire country? How can FATA or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa be made bargaining chips in this dance of cowering before the militants? What a ridiculous pit the government has dug for itself. With the mantra of peace being chanted from every page of the ruling elite’s gameplan, we see a stark contrast in the militants’ determination to slaughter and plunder the country and its innocent citizens. We have only two choices open to us now: concede the entire country to this band of madmen or demand, once and for all, a ceasefire on our terms or the promise of decisive military operations against each and every militant left standing.

Pakistan: Senate opp walks out over Imran’s statement

The opposition in the Upper House of parliament on Thursday staged a token walkout from the Senate against the government’s perceived silence over Imran Khan’s remarks that the prime minister had told him that there is 40 percent chance of success if a military operation is launched against the Taliban.
Opposition leader in Senate Raza Rabbani said the government has still not given an explanation over the statement of the PTI chief. He said around 20 terrorist attacks have occurred following the start of peace talks with the Taliban, and over 120 people have been killed in them. “This is a serious issue which puts defence of the country at stake.” Meanwhile, ANP’s Senator Zahid Khan claimed that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has totally failed to ensure protection of human lives and property. Later, the opposition members staged a symbolic walkout over the remarks of Imran Khan. Meanwhile, opposition leader in Senate Aitzaz Ahsan said the government seems to be completely paralysed, saying that the attacks have continued despite the government’s talks with the Taliban. He asked the prime minister and interior minister to end their “boycott” of Senate and take the parliamentarians into confidence. MQM’s Nasreen Jalil was of the view that if peace talks make progress efforts should be made to stop terrorist attacks, such as the one that occurred in Karachi. She said Imran Khan’s statement is like an insult to the whole nation. JUI-F’s Senator Ghulam Ali said all parties gave the mandate to the government for peace talks with the Taliban, and asked politicians to desist from projecting the peace talks in a negative way on TV shows. Leader of the House in Senate, Raja Zafarul Haq said there is a national consensus on seriously taking forward the dialogue process to root out terrorism from the country. Responding to the points of order raised by Aitzaz Ahsan and others ‚ he said that some foreign elements want to sabotage the dialogue process.
He said there are reports that a neighbouring country has spread its network in the country and is providing arms and finances to different elements to destabilise the country. He said the government is alive to the situation and will foil these nefarious designs. About the threats received by different parliamentarians‚ the leader of the House said that he will raise this issue with the Ministry of Interior so that security could be ensured to the parliamentarians. The Senate also began discussion on a motion regarding privatisation policy of the government. Commencing the debate‚ Mian Raza Rabbani described the government’s privatisation policy as anti-worker. He said the government should enhance its tax net by imposing tax on the affluent class, and the money generated from it should be spent to transform the state-owned enterprises into profitable entities. He said the privatisation policy was adopted over the direction of the IMF. During the recent meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), Sindh chief minister disapproved the privatisation of DISCOs and the PPP has the power to refer the privatisation policy to parliament for proper debate. “On one hand the government is generating money through privatisation while on other hand, through SROs culture, more than Rs 400 to Rs 500 billion exemptions were granted to elite class of the country.” He said the main purpose of the privatisation policy is to given state enterprises to near and dear ones of the government members on cheaper rate. He also made some recommendations about privatisation policy of the government.

Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns attack on Police Bus
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron in Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has strongly condemned the suicide attack on a Police Bus carrying personnel for security duties in the city near Razakabad Police Training Center.
PPP Patron in Chief expressed deep grief at the martyrdom of 11 policemen who laid down their lives on duty. He directed the Sindh government to arrange best possible medical treatment for all those injured in the incident. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said terrorism is the cancer, which can only be treated with the required surgery and called upon the leaders of all segments of society to rise and unite against this menace before it wipes out everyone. He said the state needs to cut the head of the monster of terror before it is too late.

Pakistan: 13 policemen killed in Karachi bombing

A bombing targeting a police bus on Thursday claimed the lives of 13 policemen and left 55 others injured, officials said. Senior police officials initially said the early morning blast was a suicide attack in which a small Suzuki van had smashed into the police bus. But Raja Umer Khatab, chief of the city's counter-terrorism unit, later said the van had been parked on the hard shoulder along the bus's route and was remotely detonated when the two vehicles were side by side. Security forces cordoned off the area and sealed the blast site. Traffic on National Highway was suspended after the security forces closed the main artery for any sort of commuting. The deceased and injured were shifted to Jinnah Hospital for medico-legal formalities and treatment respectively where six policemen were said to be in critical condition, according to the hospital sources. The responsibility of the attack was claimed by the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). A spokesman for the TTP says attacks will continue until a ceasefire is announced. Speaking to media outside JPMC, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said the targeted operation against terrorists would continue in Karachi. Memon said Thursday’s attack on the police was in retaliation to the ongoing operation. Several of the policemen injured in the attack spoke to Geo News and expressed their resolve to continue fighting terrorists in the city.