Saturday, March 15, 2014
After all military options have failed, it's high time for UN-sponsored roundtable talks in Afghanistan.
2014 is a high stakes year for Afghanistan. Presidential elections are due to be held in April and the US is withdrawing its troops by the end of the year. But looking closer, these actions are not entirely what they appear to be. The elections are being shunned by most armed opposition groups, particularly by the Taliban that controls areas just a few kilometres outside the capital Kabul, in places such as Wardak and Logar. During the last presidential elections in 2009, accusations of fraud and ballot-stuffing seriously discredited the outcome and it took the mediation of Senator John Kerry, then Chair of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, to settle the case between President Hamid Karzai and the then front runner up Dr Abdullah Abdullah.Washington is in the process of withdrawing most of its troops by the end of this year, but it's very likely, per the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), that it will leave behind a significant contingent of around 10,000 troops, preserving the ability to engage in ground and air operations - in particular the capability to launch cross-border drone strikes. Pivotal year There is also a measure of theatrics displayed by Karzai, who initially pushed for the BSA agreement and gathered a Loya Jirga to get it approved, and now refuses to sign it - allegedly because the US is not setting up direct negotiations between his government and the Taliban leadership. But Karzai is on his way out and all the major candidates, jockeying to replace him, have declared they have no qualms signing the BSA - which they view as a type of life insurance policy for their administration, should they win. Whereas neither the US withdrawal nor the presidential elections are exactly what they appear to be, 2014 can still be viewed as a pivotal year for the war-afflicted Afghans. The US, which launched a full military intervention in that country in October of 2001 and, along with its allies, remained there for the past 13 years, is about to significantly downsize its military presence and consequently reduce - somewhat - its influence over the country's affairs. And a new president, as imperfect as his election may turn out to be, could be viewed as a better partner for talks by the armed opposition groups than his predecessor. This is why I believe 2014 presents a good opportunity for the United Nations - still perceived by most as a neutral entity and representing the good will of the international community - to initiate a crucial comeback and play once again a determining part in seeking a diplomatic/negotiated resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. In the past, following the Soviet Intervention of December 1979 and over the years, the UN played a key role in efforts to reach a negotiated resolution to the conflicts in Afghanistan while making sure that the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity were respected. The UN struck a master coup with the successful negotiations that led to the Geneva Accords of 1988. In the following years, the UN remained involved every step of the way in a number of negotiation talks among Afghan, regional and other international concerned parties to bring peace and stability back to Afghanistan. At the same time, the UN worked to the best of its abilities to alleviate the pain and suffering of civilian population through the work of its many agencies. UN sponsorship However, since 2001, the UN has played a rather minor diplomatic role and has been subservient to a course designed in Washington that stressed on a military outcome. As we all know by now, that strategy simply did not work. Today we find ourselves almost where we started more than a decade ago; and we may very well go back to a situation in many ways similar to the one prevalent during the 1990s. The reality is that the international community is better off with a peaceful Afghanistan than one that is unstable, one that constitutes a major threat to regional and international stability. It is also true that, at the end of the day, Afghans on all sides of the divide are above all Afghans, and need to be included in the process. This is why I believe it is high time for the UN, in accordance with the fundaments of its mission, to make a strong comeback on the diplomatic/negotiations scene of the Afghan conflict. In order to speed up the process, it is essential that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon moves in a way that shows his resolve and, through him, that of the international community, by inviting all Afghan parties/groups to participate in UN-sponsored discussions to reach a political resolution to the conflict, without preconditions. Secondly, he should appoint a high profile personality - such as a former president or a former head of government - as his Special Representative for Afghanistan. And finally, he should set a date and a location for the first round of discussions. I sincerely hope that Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon realises how 2014 can be an opportunity for the UN to revamp its policy and standing towards the Afghan conflict. This is the time to energetically push, in accordance with the UN's core mission, for conflict-resolution through diplomatic means. All military options have failed. Afghans aspire for peace and they need hope. It is high time for roundtable talks and negotiations to take centre stage.
In his final address to Afghanistan’s parliament on Saturday, President Hamid Karzai told the United States its soldiers can leave at the end of the year because his military, which already protects 93% of the country, was ready to take over entirely. He reiterated his stance that he would not sign a pact with the US that would provide for a residual force of troops to remain behind after the final withdrawal, unless peace could first be established. The Afghan president has come under heavy pressure to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, with a council of notables that he himself convened recommending that he sign the pact. The force would train and mentor Afghan troops, and some US special forces would also be left behind to hunt down al-Qaida. All 10 candidates seeking the presidency in 5 April elections have said they would sign the security agreement. But Karzai himself does not appear to want his legacy to include a commitment to a longer foreign troop presence in his country. Karzai was brought to power in the wake of the 2001 US-led invasion and subsequently won two presidential elections – in 2004 and again in 2009. But he has in recent years espoused a combative nationalism, with his hour-long speech on Saturday no exception. “I want to say to all those foreign countries who maybe out of habit or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere,” he said. Karzai said the war in Afghanistan was “imposed” on his nation, presumably by the 2001 invasion, and told the United States it could bring peace to Afghanistan if it went after terrorist sanctuaries and countries that supported terrorism, a reference to Pakistan. Pakistan has a complicated relationship with the Taliban. It backed the group before their 2001 overthrow, and although now it is at war with its own militants, Afghan insurgents sometimes find refuge on its territory. Karzai told parliament, which was holding its opening session for this term, that security forces were strong enough to defend Afghanistan without the help of international troops. Karzai steps down after next month’s presidential elections. Under Afghanistan’s constitution, he is banned from seeking a third term. Relations between Karzai and the US have been on a downward spiral since his re-election in 2009, in which the US and several other countries charged widespread fraud. Karzai in turn accused them of interference. In his speech, Karzai again urged Taliban insurgents to join the peace process, while accusing Pakistan of protecting the Taliban leadership. He suggested that Pakistan was behind the killing earlier this year of a Taliban leader who supported the peace process. No one has taken responsibility for the attack. Throughout his speech Karzai spoke of his accomplishments over the last 12 years, saying schools were functioning, rights were being given to women, energy projects were coming online and the Afghan currency had been stabilised. Karzai said that when he first took power his country was isolated and nothing was functioning. “I know the future president will protect these gains and priorities and will do the best for peace in the country and I, as an Afghan citizen, will support peace and will cooperate.” Afghanistan’s current parliament plans to tackle a number of key issues, including a controversial law on the elimination of violence against women. Meanwhile the Taliban released two Afghan army personnel, captured during last month’s deadly raids on two military check points, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement on Saturday. The men were freed after elders in the region interceded on their behalf and the military agreed to hand over to the Taliban the bodies of their comrades left behind on the battlefield. The attacks on 23 February left 21 Afghan army personnel dead. Several insurgents were also killed.
Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council’s resolution declaring the upcoming referendum on the future status of autonomous republic of Crimea invalid and urging all states not to recognize its results. China abstained as 13 council members supported the resolution and Russia voted against.
The draft resolution noted that the Ukrainian government in Kiev has not authorized the referendum and said that it cannot be valid. “This referendum can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea; and calls upon all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of Crimea on the basis of this referendum and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status,” the documents reads. Moscow has a veto right as one of five permanent members of the Security Council. It was “no secret that Russia would vote against the US draft resolution,” Russia’s envoy at the UN Vitaly Churkin said ahead of the voting. He added that Moscow would respect the choice of Crimeans. “We cannot accept its basic assumption: to declare illegal the planned March 16 referendum where there residents of the Republic of Crimea should decide on their future,” Churkin said, explaining Moscow’s decision to veto the proposed document. “The philosophy of the authors of the draft runs counter to one of the basic principles of the international law – the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Article 1 of the UN Charter,” the Russian diplomat said.
The Malaysian Prime Minister stopped short of calling the disappearance of Flight 370 a hijacking, but he said Saturday that the jet veered off course, likely due to deliberate action taken by someone aboard. With that revelation on Day 8, the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane refocused on the crew and passengers and widened to a larger swath of geography. The passenger jetliner disappeared March 8, en route from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China. "Evidence is consistent with someone acting deliberately from inside the plane," Prime Minister Najib Razak said, officially confirming the plane's disappearance was not caused by an accident. "Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, we are investigating all major possibilities on what caused MH370 to deviate," he said. Military radar showed the jetliner flew in a westerly direction back over the peninsula before turning northwest toward the Bay of Bengal or southwest into the Indian Ocean, Najib said. "Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," he said. Investigators, he said, have confirmed by looking at the raw satellite data that the plane in question was the Malaysia Airlines jet. The same conclusion was reached by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the Malaysian authorities, all of whom were working separately with the same data, he said. Pilot's home searched Shortly after Najib spoke with reporters, a source close to the investigation told CNN that Malaysian police had searched the home of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53. Shah lives in a gated community in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur. Police made no comment about their activities at the home of co-pilot, Fariq Ab Hamid, 27. Two vans exited the home carrying small bags, similar to shopping bags, but it was unclear whether the bags were taken from the home. Kazakhstan to Indian Ocean As the focus of the investigation has shifted, so too has the focus of the search. Information from international and Malaysian officials indicate that the jet may have flown for more than seven hours after the last contact with the pilots. The area of the search has broadened. The plane's last communication with the satellite, Najib said, was in one of two possible corridors: a northern corridor stretching from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand and a southern corridor stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean. "Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia," the Prime Minister said. "Shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft's transponder was switched off. From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force primary radar showed that an aircraft -- which was believed but not confirmed to be MH370 -- did turn back." International effort Given that the new search area involves a number of countries, the relevant foreign embassies have been given access to the new information. Malaysia's Foreign Ministry will brief the governments that had passengers aboard the plane and will brief the relatives of its 239 passengers and crew. The search now involves 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft, Najib said. Shortly after Najib delivered his remarks, China demanded that Malaysia provide more information on the investigation. China is sending technical experts to join the investigation. Most of the passengers aboard were Chinese. Plane was taking 'strange path' Hours before Najib's announcement, U.S. officials told CNN the flight had made drastic changes in altitude and direction after disappearing from civilian radar. The more U.S. officials learn about the flight, "the more difficult to write off" the idea that some type of human intervention was involved, an official familiar with the investigation said. CNN has learned that a classified analysis of electronic and satellite data suggests the flight may have crashed in the Bay of Bengal or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. Taken together, the data point toward a possible scenario in which someone may have taken control of the plane for some unknown purpose. The jetliner was flying "a strange path," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. The details of the radar readings were first reported by The New York Times on Friday. Malaysian military radar showed the plane climbing to 45,000 feet -- which is above its approved altitude limit -- soon after disappearing from civilian radar screens and then dropping to 23,000 feet before climbing again, the official said. Air traffic controllers outside Kuala Lumpur said they lost contact with the plane on March 8 at 1:30 a.m. local time, about 45 minutes after takeoff. The Prime Minister said its last communication with a satellite was at 8:11 a.m. the same day, but its precise location was unclear. Najib noted that theories and conspiracy theories on what happened abound. "There has been intense speculation," Najib said. "We understand the desperate need for information on behalf of the families and those watching around the world. But we have a responsibility to the investigation and the families to only release information that has been corroborated."
It would seem Ishaq Dar did the impossible. He promised to bring down the value of the dollar to double digits in 100 days, and he kept true to his word. Of course this would not have been possible if Pakistan was not blessed with the company of such good friends. In his statement he said “a friendly country” had injected $ 1.5 billion into the Pakistan Development Fund (PDF) which among other reasons, had led to the appreciation of the rupee. This anonymous country is allegedly Saudi Arabia and the terms of the loan still remain a mystery. But does that matter? We have the money. The economy is steadily improving. To Ishaq Dar, it does not. But to the rest of us, it absolutely should. If this money had been loaned to Pakistan by the US, questions would have popped up about the ‘strings attached’ and how it would affect the government and the people as a whole. But so far, not many are concerned that this magnanimous gesture by the Saudis might not be as selfless as it is made out to be. The dots are there. One need only glance at them to understand the way this has been running. Nawaz Sharif made it a priority to visit Saudi Arabia before other countries. General Raheel Sharif also made a trip, with his best sales pitch for JF-17s at hand. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline has been sidelined with no substantial reasons cited. And now, Pakistan’s policy on Syria is ambiguous, with rumors that we will not be neutral any longer with the more condemnable suspicion of selling weapons to the rebels in a conflict that does not need any more bloodshed. Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N have always had close ties with the oil kingdom in the Middle East. If it were only a question of maintaining a good relationship with a friendly country then this loan would not have been a problem. But a close relationship with Saudi,is dangerous intimacy. There comes with it an inherent bias against minority sects like the Shias and the support of questionable wars such as the one in Syria. On the other hand, we share a border with Iran, a Shia majority country, and Saudi Arabia’s rival in a conflict that extends to proxy warfare alongside direct hostilities. Pakistan has a multi-cultural society with a significant Shia population and alienating various minorities is not only inexcusable, its just not on the cards for us. Now more than ever, Pakistan must be very wary of this friendship, especially when you add $1.5 billion into the mix.
IMF sources reveal that they have been informed by the Pakistan government about the source of the $1.5 billion injected into the Pakistan Development Fund (PDF) in recent days, which the rupee’s dramatic appreciation against the dollar is being ascribed to. The source, according to these reports, is Saudi Arabia. So far, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and officials have been extremely cagey about the source of the injection. Although it has helped the rupee exchange rate to rise to Rs 98 and less against the dollar, the Senate saw an adjournment motion moved by the PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar seeking details of the source and the terms on which it has been accepted, including suspicions that it may have been in return for Pakistan’s support to the Saudi policy of helping the rebels in Syria, whom the Saudis have been backing to the hilt from day one. Senator Farhatullah Babar has cautioned the government against any adventurism by plunging Pakistan into another conflict when the effects of our involvement in Afghanistan have proved so damaging. Of course the masses are still waiting for the benefits of the rupee’s appreciation to be passed on to them after imports of POL products and other imported items will decline in price. Instead, it appears it is business as usual if the NEPRA permission to eight DISCOs to raise their electricity tariff by over Rs 2 per unit under the head of fuel adjustment charges is taken into account. The increase is not applicable to KESC or lifeline consumers, but will obviously feed into inflation. Food prices continue to rise, straining poor and even middle class families’ household budget. While foreign exchange reserves have risen by $ 702 million to $ 9,375.7 million in total for the week ending March 7 ($ 4,623 million held by the State Bank of Pakistan and $ 4,753 million by the commercial banks), with expected inflows from the IMF tranche of $ 540 million, launch of a Eurobond of $ 500 million in April and other expected inflows, the real test of the government’s confidence about actually receiving the inflows and controlling inflation will be reflected in the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP’s) announcement of the Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) today. The SBP raised rates 50 bps in September and November 2013 on a deteriorating balance of payments position and inflationary concerns. In January 2014 the SBP held the rate unchanged on the expectation of a reduction in inflation (which has yet to come to pass) and uncertainty regarding inflows. If the SBP is consistent with its previous practice, analysts expect a significant reduction in the base rate. If it does not, the positive spin being put on the economy’s indicators will receive a cold shower. While the explanation for the dramatic rise of the rupee is to be sought in friendly countries’ contribution to the PDF and other inflows in pocket or expected, exporters, particularly textiles, are bleating about the effect on their competitiveness. They demand compensation for their ‘losses’ as a result of the rupee’s rise, which obviously makes our exports more expensive in rupee terms. Whether the habitual concession-seekers of the textile sector succeed in their plea or not, the fact remains that the only people delighted so far with the dollar’s decline vis-à-vis the rupee is the government, which is boasting of a decline in public debt overnight of Rs 800 billion. The dollar’s downward trend may be flattening out since the market players may regard purchases of the dollar at these reduced rates a worthwhile investment after being stung by its rapid decline in recent days. However, no one should be carried away by this temporary (momentary?) rise of the rupee in the light of the hard work still required to boost the economic essentials of the country that depend, not the least, on tackling terrorism, law and order, and the crippling energy crisis.
Yesterday, On Friday at noon, nine innocent people died and forty-five were reported injured in a blast in Peshawar; minutes later, a blast in Quetta ended the lives of eleven Pakistanis and wounded forty-two. The timing might indicate that both the blasts were synchronized and the result of efforts either by one major terrorist organization or coordinated endeavors of two splinter groups. Whatever, the views of leaders, for the people talks or no talks, violence is the result in any instance. People are now asking the question: Why go through the efforts of peace negotiations and spend time and energy on the process when bombs continue to kill Pakistanis, nevertheless. The issue of how to deal with the TTP is becoming evermore complex, as each act of violence by militants and at the same time their overtures for peace are now being interpreted from different and opposing angles. If one is a supporter of talks, one can say that the TTP and many of its affiliated groups are in favour of peace talks. If one, however, is of a mind that the only way to end militancy is through a relentless military operation; then one may say the Taliban announcement of ceasefire is just a hoax and militants are carrying out acts of violence while raising the ruse of talks. Amidst this confusing situation, the Taliban peace talks committee which went to North Waziristan and held parleys with the TTP Shura on its return on Friday has struck very hopeful notes in a general sort of way. But even the positive expectations of the committee did not clear the situation as it did not disclose the particulars of the TTP conditions for peace and as such it is hard for others to share the committee members' enthusiasm regarding the prospects of putting an end to militancy in the country. The Taliban spokesman Shahid Ullah Shahid has, however, disclaimed and condemned the both acts of violence. The Frontier Post in its editorials, when Nawaz Sharif initially showed willingness to talk with Taliban, had warned the Islamabad government of falling into the pitfall of confusion and putting the whole nation in a perplexing situation if it accepted the Taliban talks offer without TTP guaranteeing that there will be not acts of terror from its side or of its affiliate groups. Now, each blast that takes place anywhere in Pakistan, it discredits the TTP claim of being an umbrella organization of all hues of Taliban. At the same time, it weakens both the PML-N and PTI leaders' stance that talks is the only solution to ending violence. The continued acts of terror are hardening the ordinary people's stance against Taliban. The pressure of popular opinion has become so great that even Imran Khan, the staunchest supporter of talks, has given a public statement that if negations fail, he will support an all out operation against the militants. A division, apparently, has taken place among the various groups of Taliban between those who want to continue talks and those who want to carry on with violence. Seemingly, the TTP has indicated by its insistence on keeping the ceasefire intact that it wants peace. Many, however, are perplexed at the Talibans main group's sudden offer of peace talks two months ago and now its persistence to keep the truce alive when previously it doubted the loyalty of the leaders and the ordinary people towards Islam. Some say the supply of funds and arms which kept the Taliban going as a fighting force is dwindling after US announcement to quit Afghanistan and Washington's interests in the area though are the same, its strategy has changed. Now it wants strong and stable Pakistan and Afghanistan to take care of its global interests, therefore, it does not want to weaken the governments of these two countries. The Strong and fighting fit Pakistani Taliban can only be destructive towards US global policy. The other theory being that the Taliban are waiting for warm weather before they can launch their offensive against Pak forces. To dispel these negative notions, TTP has to show its sincerity for talks by helping in creating conditions conducive for the same. In spite of the fact that Nawaz Sharif government did not demand or get iron clad assurance of non-violence during the peace process, the TTP cannot escape its responsibility by just condemning or distancing itself from the violent acts of the so said small terrorist groups. The TTP, if it is not involved in a double game of blasts-and-talks policy, has to convince through reasoning its sister terrorist groups or come out swinging and subdue the bands that do not quit violence. The Frontier Post strongly believes that, other than cementing the already anti-terrorist public opinion against Taliban, the talks-and-blasts situation is not going to serve any useful purpose. Nobody wants war and bloodshed but where peaceful means are not appreciated, war is the only option left. The government, instead of waiting for more Pakistanis to die, should launch a full scale offensive; nothing will be achieved by delaying the inevitable.
“It was one of the most saddening experiences when I saw her lying on the hospital bed, most of her body burnt,” says Mukhtaran Mai, in an interview with Dawn. Her voice thickens with tears but she swallows them back. ‘A’ was a student of first year and a resident of Meerwala as is Mukhtaran. After she had filed the FIR, she found out that one of her ‘rapists’ were set free on bail. Mukhtaran alleges the investigating officer was bought for Rs70,000. “She first came to me two days after the incident, asking for help. I offered her shelter at my home for survivors of sexual harassment but she refused the offer, saying she wanted to stay with her family. My team and I were with her throughout but after learning what the police had done, she was shocked.” Mukhtaran said her team’s psychologist kept explaining to her not to lose heart because these things took time and that the case was yet to go to court. But like many other young women who are left confused, depressed and angry, ‘A’ was impatient. And when she went to the police station again, the officer involved hid himself in his room, not appearing and she doused herself with a bottle of petrol and set herself on fire. The Nishtar Hospital in Multan where she was admitted announced her to be in a precarious condition with 80pc burns and she succumbed to the burns on Friday. But was it really burn injuries that killed her or it was the level of injustice that women in the country have to face everyday? Even the Punjab government seems to have taken its time to respond. On Friday, women’s rights activists protested in front of the Punjab Assembly to show their anger at the Muzaffargarh police and insisted that the Punjab government should itself take action and do some research as to why number of crimes against women was on the rise in the province. They demanded that the accused, including police officer involved, must be dealt with strictly. In a press statement, Zohra Yousuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was common knowledge that only the courageous rape survivors in the country took the matter to police or court. “It leads to only one conclusion: she had become convinced that she would not get justice. It is sad and ironic that only a week after celebrating the International Women’s Day with such fanfare the state and its justice system have let a woman down so brazenly.” Meanwhile, Mukhtaran Mai, who herself is a rape survivor, says that problems are deep rooted and many. “The problem starts with the government and police and ends with the judiciary but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The concept of sexual harassment does not seem to exist in Pakistani society. Men look at women as mere commodities.” Referring to her own case, she says: “It takes a lot of consistent courage to face the men who have assaulted you. Sometimes when I get out of the school, I see those men in front of it, sitting under a tree and when I go past them, they comment and whistle at me. But women cannot go on living in fear.” Psychiatrist Dr Nazia says rape leaves a feeling of hopelessness and paranoia which is exacerbated with the lack of justice in the country’s judicial and police systems. “The mentality of the rapist is not normal. He yearns to exert his power and male dominance sexually. This mentality cannot be changed in an individual but only through collective change.” Incidents of rape in the country are far from falling. Statistics presented to the Senate in October 2013 showed that about 10,703 rape cases were registered in Pakistan since 2009. These were only the ones which were reported. Most cases occurred in Punjab and experts believed that this might be only because of a higher population. However, Mukhtaran Mai is of the opinion that huge supporters of the “rape-friendly” culture in Pakistan are the ‘Biradari’ and feudal systems.
At least 18 tribesmen were kidnapped by armed gunmen from Badhber area on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The incident took place on Saturday at 2 am. Official sources said that about 60 to 70 armed gunmen raided Faqeer Kalley in Mashokhel area of Badbher, some one kilometres away from the main city and kidnapped 18 people from the village. The local people and the police said the kidnapped people belonged to the Shinwari tribe of Afridis. Badhber police have registered a case against three commanders of the banned religious outfit Lashkar-e-Islam for kidnapping of eleven tribesmen. Commanders Khalid, Sherkhel and Izzat have been nominated in the FIR. One of the kidnapped persons has managed to escape from the kidnappers and has reached back home who phoned the police that the Khyber Agency-based Lashkar-e-Islam kidnapped the tribesmen. Peshawar lies on the edge of Pakistan's tribal areas which have been labelled by Washington as the main sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the country. The city has seen frequent attacks by militants in the past few years, with targets ranging from civilians to policemen and other law enforcement personnel. Separately, the political administration of Khyber Agency has also suspended the polio vaccination drive scheduled to begin on March 17 due to the law and order situation.
A court in Pakistan on Saturday reduced by 10 years the jail term handed down to a Pakistani doctor who helped the United States track down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a blow to his supporters who have been fighting for his release. Shakil Afridi, hailed as a hero by U.S. officials, was arrested after U.S. soldiers killed bin Laden in May 2011 in a raid in a northern Pakistani town that outraged Pakistan and plunged relations between the strategic partners to a new low.Pakistan arrested Afridi and sentenced him to 33 years in jail for being a member of a militant group, a charge he denies. On Saturday, a court in the city of Peshawar reduced his sentence to 23 years following repeated calls by the United States and his legal team for his release. "We will receive a complete court order on Monday and will then challenge it at the FATA Tribunal," said Afridi's lawyer, Qamar Nadeem, referring to a higher tribal court. Afridi has become a new irritant in the complex ties between Washington and Islamabad that have been deteriorating over past years despite Pakistan's pivotal role to U.S. interests in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and nuclear security. The day after Afridi was sentenced, the U.S. Senate expressed its anger by voting to dock Islamabad $33 million in aid - $1 million for every year of the term. Pakistan has accused the doctor of running a fake vaccination campaign in which he collected DNA samples to help the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency track down bin Laden.
An 18-year-old girl is dead because those who had the power to help her just didn’t care. This girl from Muzaffargarh had been gang-raped by five men and, unlike most victims who are taught by society that being raped is somehow their fault and something they should be ashamed about, she had the courage to go to the police and identify the rapists. It didn’t make an iota of a difference. After a cursory investigation the police submitted a report to the local court that allowed them to be released on bail. This despite the fact that the police should have known that the girl did not come from a privileged background and would surely be in danger of being targeted by the accused. Their release was the last straw. The girl died after setting herself on fire outside the police station. Her mother says she was ‘tortured’ and treated with contempt. Just to rub even further salt into gaping wounds, an FIR for suicide has been lodged against her. This was no suicide. The girl was murdered, first by the men who so brutally raped her and then by the authorities that treated her case so casually. Justice for rape victims is hard to find and that is mostly the case because the men who hold the levers of power have no interest in dealing with crimes against women. The ‘suicide’ has illustrated the agony and frustration the victims suffer. Consider the MNA from this girl’s area. In recent weeks Jamshed Dasti has been in the headlines for his moral crusade against alcohol consumption and partying in the parliamentary lodges. But his past shows how selective that morality is. Mukhtaran Mai, another victim of gang rape in Muzaffargarh, had revealed how Dasti threatened her and her family with dire consequences unless she withdrew her case in the Supreme Court against her rapists. Publically, Dasti castigated Mukhtaran Mai for distorting the image of Islam and being a puppet of NGOs. Keep in mind too that she was gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council. In both the Mukhtaran Mai and the teenage girl cases we see how the weak and powerless are preyed upon and treated not as autonomous human beings but the property of others who can be used and discarded at will. That rape can be committed with such impunity is down to the culture of our country, where you have the Council of Islamic Ideology only grudgingly accepting the use of DNA evidence in rape cases and still saying it is of less value than the testimony of four men. Little wonder then that survivors of rape either live in silence or fight fruitless battles for justice. Justice, and the ability to deliver it, is a basic pillar of a state’s legitimacy. In our country that pillar seems to have crumbled. Building it up again is the only way to avoid incidents as horrific as the one in Muzaffargarh. No citizen, no 18-year-old, should feel they have no choice but to take such drastic measures. Others have felt the same way, setting themselves alight outside governors’ houses, assemblies or press clubs. Is there anyone to hear them? We cannot continue to pretend any longer that we do not hear their cries for help and their screams of pain. Or can we?
Police baton-charged and thrashed protesting nurses, leaving around four of them severely injured on The Mall near the Punjab Assembly on Friday. Around nine of the protesting ladies were also arrested. There were rumours that one of the injured, who was pregnant, died which caused panic among other nurses. After the incident, nurses at Ganga Ram Hospital, Mayo Hospital and many other hospitals boycotted their duties. Many of them from nearby Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and Services Hospital and Mayo Hospital later also joined their protesting fellows. There were also rumours that the torture of the nurse led to miscarriage. The Nurses moved from Cooper Road, where they had been protesting for the last couple of days, to The Mall on Friday afternoon and held a strong protest sit-in there. This caused great traffic mess on many adjacent roads. The police baton charged the protesting nurses to disperse them which resulted in the sad incident. Later, a large number of nurses from other hospitals joined the sit-in. For the last five days, these nurses boycotting their duties have been protesting against the Punjab government, demanding regularization of their services. Director General (DG) Health Punjab Dr Zahid Pervez said the injured nurse, Aasia of Lahore General Hospital (LGH), was admitted to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital along with some other nurses and her condition was stable. He said the news of the miscarriage were untrue and termed the reports about her death mere rumours. It is pertinent to mention that the government has been claiming that the services of the nurses working on ad-hoc basis could only be regularized once they cleared the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) examination. Meanwhile, addressing an emergent press conference, Advisor to the CM Punjab on Health Khawaja Salman Rafiq said the chief minister had ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident, adding that, on recommendations of the inquiry, a strict action would be taken against those responsible. He said there were conflicting reports as to what actually led to start of the sad incident, claiming it had already been decided at higher level that no action would be taken against the protesting nurses. He said judicial inquiry would determine as to how it all started. Media footage would also be used in this regard, he added. Khawaja Salman Rafiq claimed that almost 90 percent issues of the nurses had already been solved while the government was also extending contracts of the nurses working on ad-hoc basis. To a question, he said as per service rules, the services of the employees working on ad-hoc basis could not be regularized without PPSC. He said the Health Department had sent a requisition to the PPSC for the appointment of 1450 nurses, adding the protesting nurses could also apply for the same as they would be awarded extra marks of their experience. Several associations of doctors and paramedic staff and political parties strongly condemned the police torture of the nurses and termed the same inefficiency of the Punjab government. In a press release issued here, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) condemned the use of violence by Lahore police against protesting nurses, terming the same “unacceptable”. The PMA members expressed strong views on the police brutalities at an emergency meeting of PMA Lahore chaired by its President Dr Muhammad Tanveer Anwar. The nurses continued their protest on The Mall at Faisal Chowk till filing of this report.
The nurses of the government hospitals in different cities of the province of Punjab on Saturday morning also stopped working in support of the ad-hoc sit-in nurses, who yesterday were subjected to police baton charge and wanton arrests, Geo News reported.