Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Music: Afsha Zabi

President Obama Holds a Press Conference with Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands

President Obama Speaks at the Nuclear Security Summit

Celebrations in Crimea; concerns in Kiev

Pentagon Disapproves of Afghan President's Support for Crimea Seizure

The United States on Monday voiced disagreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decision to back Russia's annexation of Crimea, a move made all the more striking by Washington's role as a chief opponent to recent Russian moves in Ukraine.
Karzai, increasingly at odds with Western nations who have backed his leadership of Afghanistan for over a dozen years, over the weekend came out in support of the results of a recent referendum that led to Russia's annexation of the Crimean region, according to a government statement cited by media.
At the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters that the comments by the Afghan leader, preparing to step down after elections next month, were “clearly not helpful.”
“While he's certainly entitled to his opinion, it's our opinion here in the United States - and I believe I can speak for us as a NATO partner, that it's the opinion of the alliance - that Russia is absolutely in violation of international obligations, violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Kirby said.
The Obama administration and other major industrialized nations on Monday warned Russia that it could face damaging economic sanctions if President Vladimir Putin takes further actions to destabilize Ukraine following the seizure of Crimea.
Moscow formally annexed Crimea on March 21, five days after newly installed pro-Moscow regional leaders held a referendum that yielded an overwhelming vote to join Russia. Kiev and the West have denounced the annexation as illegal. Only a handful of other countries, such as Venezuela and Syria, have come out in support of the move. Afghanistan was occupied by Russian soldiers during the 1980s in support of the Moscow-allied government of the day.
Karzai has clashed with increasing openness with the United States and other Western powers in recent years, as he has sought to assert his government's independence and grappled with internal pressure over civilian casualties and corruption associated with the billions of dollars donor countries have spent on aid projects since 2001.
Even as NATO nations withdraw their forces, and over a dozen years after the toppling of the Taliban government launched Karzai to power, Afghanistan is expected to remain heavily reliant on foreign assistance.
While the United States has sought to keep a small force in Afghanistan after the end of this year, it remains unclear whether the Afghan government will sign a bilateral agreement authorizing a post-2014 force.

Karzai: Foreign hand in Kabul attack

Afghanistan’s presidency said its spy agency believes that a foreign intelligence service, rather than a homegrown militant group, was behind the attack on a Kabul hotel last week that killed nine people, including two children and four foreigners. A statement from President Hamid Karzai’s office said the spy agency briefed Afghanistan’s top security officials. In that briefing the agency said: “The attack on the Serena Hotel was a direct attack by an intelligence service outside the country.” It did not specify which country was purportedly responsible for the assault, but Afghanistan routinely accuses Pakistan of sending militants across the border to wage attacks. Pakistan offered no immediate response to the allegations.

Afghanistan: Taliban militants attack Kabul election office

Militants stormed a local election commission office in the Darul Aman area of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday morning, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said. Two explosions have occurred in the area and a gun battle between the attackers and Afghan security forces is still going on, spokesman Sediq Sidiqqi said. It's not yet clear how many assailants are involved. "We still cannot provide details on casualties. There is fear of possible casualties, both civilian and police," he tweeted. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes less than two weeks before Afghanistan holds presidential elections. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an e-mail that the group's armed suicide attackers had managed to enter the election commission office after causing a large explosion. The election commission office is near the home of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, but his house did not appear to be the target of the attack. He was campaigning in eastern Paktia province Tuesday. The Taliban has vowed to use force to disrupt the presidential election to be held on April 5. The group also claimed an attack last week on the central Serena Hotel in which nine people died, some of them Afghan and some foreigners. Six people were also injured. Among those killed were Sardar Ahmad, a senior reporter for the Agence France-Presse news agency, his wife and two of his three young children.


COMMUNITY LEADERS HAVE CLAIMED EXCAVATION WORK FOR AN UNDERPASS NEAR CLIFTON IS DAMAGING THE 150-YEAR-OLD RATNESHWAR MAHADEV TEMPLE. Hindus in Karachi on Monday urged authorities to halt construction work on an underpass, which they say endangers a 150-year-old temple.
The minority community said vibrations from excavation work on a road being built just meters away from the Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple could cause irreparable damage to the building’s structure. In response, Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Monday ordered local authorities to provide an impact report within two weeks, but a Hindu community leader said that might be too late to save the temple.
“Heavy machinery is at work right now and it is our request that the court issue a stay order,” said Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council. The temple has long been a fixture on the city’s Clifton Beach, a popular recreation spot adjacent to Karachi’s most upmarket neighborhood. According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, the temple holds a Grand Mela every year, attracting some 25,000 pilgrims.
Construction of the underpass is being financed by developer Bahria Town, which wants a road to link up to a skyscraper it is building some hundreds of meters away from the temple. But Vankwani said even the skyscraper was built on “evacuee property”—land abandoned by Hindus at the time of Partition. Under the law, such property is meant to be protected by the government.
Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said construction work “would vandalize the very face of a historical part of the city.”
Officials at Bahria Town could not be reached for comment immediately.

Protest Against Demolishing Slums In Front Of CDA Offices

The decision by Capital Development Authority (CDA) to demolish at least a dozen unofficial slum neighborhoods in Islamabad starting from the last week of March has been meet up with protest outside its offices.
Islamabad’s full unofficial neighborhoods have been long painstaking blemish on the ‘planned’ city’s master sketch. In 1960, when Islamabad was conceived by Greek architect Constantinos Doxiadis, it was envisioned as a city without the poor. The city’s elite planned to keep it that manner.
150,000 of Islamabad’s population of 500,000 live in these unofficial settlements. Slum inhabitant of Islamabad live under poverty line, they do not have basic necessities of life like health, education, sanitation and shelter. Most of the inhabitants in these colonies in Islamabad suburbs are Christians, who migrated to the capital from different parts of the country in search of jobs. They have been settled here for three decades. They live in houses made of mud and clay, some of them are mixture of bricks and mud, and only 10 percent of them lives in houses made of cement and bricks.
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/protest-against-demolishing-slums-in-front-of-cda-offices/#sthash.Sr1Qsuob.dpuf

Pakistan: Human Rights Comission seeks steps to protect Hindu temple in Clifton

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has urged the chief justice of Pakistan to protect over-150-year-old Hindu temple that is threatened by under-construction underpasses and flyover in Clifton. In a letter to the chief justice on Friday, HRCP chief Zohra Yusuf noted that business interests in complicity with Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) officials had started the construction of multiple underpasses and flyover around Clifton seafront without any prior notice. She noted that such a major venture “which would vandalise the very face of a historical part of the city, has not undergone the environmental impact assessment (with public hearings) mandated by the laws.” She expressed HRCP’s deep concern over the adverse impact that this project could have on Shri Ratneshwar Mahadev temple located within the radius of a few metres from one of the underpasses. She noted that every year thousands of Hindus devotees visited the temple located near the Jehangir Kothari Parade. “Ground vibrations from excavation and from the eventual high-density traffic running so close to the temple could cause collapse of this irreplaceable place of worship,” the HRCP chief said. “The Laxmi Narayan Mandir, located at Native Jetty, near the Jinnah Bridge on M. A. Jinnah Road, had its access, privacy and environs severely affected a few years ago by another commercial project, Port Grand,” she recalled. Ms Yusuf urged the chief justice to summon KMC officials to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to protect the temple.

Leasing out Pakistan

Najam Sethi
The Saudi Kingdom has granted $1.5b to the Nawaz Sharif government. Another such donation will accrue in due course. A quick fix of $3b is a lot of free money for Pakistan’s forex-strapped economy that is struggling to cope with significant international debt payments and a rising trade gap that is putting pressure on the rupee and fuelling inflation. Indeed, the Saudi injection has reversed the rapid fall of the rupee, proving that the finance minister, Ishaq Dar, was not bluffing when he warned exporters six weeks ago not to hoard their dollars. Why then all the hush-hush about the Good Samaritan who has eventually bailed him out?
Significantly, the PMLN government has been at pains to hide the Saudi largesse. But after we discovered that the cause of the sudden reversal in the fortunes of the rupee was due to an uplifting shot in the arm of the State Bank, we were told not to ask about the “friendly” source and amount of funds. Then, after we found out about the donor, we were told that the Saudi “donation” was a measure of the personal relationship between our prime minister and the Saudi monarch. That is when our happy surprise turned to suspicious incredulity and the game became crystal clear.
A clutch of high-powered Saudis, including the Crown Prince, has descended upon Islamabad in recent weeks. The prime minister and the Pakistan army chief have made unexplained flying visits to the Kingdom. In due course a joint statement or communiqué was issued from Islamabad stressing the demand for a “transitional” government in Syria while emphasizing that there was no change in Pakistan’s position on the issue. Indeed, the foreign office spokesperson, an apparently haughty lady, was quite aggressive in ticking off inquiring hacks who argued that the demand for a transitional government amounted to a veritable “regime change” in Syria and smacked of a definite policy about-turn. Mr Sartaj Aziz, the de facto foreign minister, has also executed some verbal gymnastics to try and obscure the truth. But we, the public, are not stupid or ill-informed. We are not ready to buy this story hook, line and sinker. We know there are no free lunches, let alone free feasts, in relations amongst nations. So what’s the $3b quid pro quo?
The truth is that Pakistan has agreed to supply, among other weapons, anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to the Saudis. Mr Aziz says the End-User Certificate conditions will guarantee that these are not used outside Saudi Arabia. This is a load of nonsense. Why the Saudis should suddenly turn to Pakistan for these weapons when traditionally they have tapped the US and Europe has, however, given the game away. These potential game-changing weapons are clearly meant for use by Saudi-backed Wahhabi-Salafist rebels in Syria who are fighting to overthrow the Baathist secular Asad regime. The Americans haven’t supplied the Saudis because they don’t want such radical Islamist forces any more than Al-Qaeda to succeed in Syria and are therefore having serious second thoughts about regime change in Syria. Indeed, the Saudis’ sudden embrace of Pakistan portends shifting sands in the Middle-East.
The Saudis and the Emirates-Gulfdoms are feeling insecure because of the Shia revival in their heartlands. This is because the restless Shias are sitting on their oil reserves. Iran, too, is unremitting in opposing Saudi influence. Iraq and Qatar, two competitive energy suppliers, are not playing ball either. Egypt and Libya haven’t bought into the Saudi Islamist line. Worse, the Americans are seeking negotiated nuclear solutions in Iran instead of succumbing to Saudi pressure for military action. And American self-reliance on shale gas is the first definite step against continued dependence on Saudi oil.
On the heels of the Saudi VVIPs now comes the King of Bahrain to Islamabad. The PMLN government claims that foreign investment deals are in the offing. But the small print betrays the real motive behind “renewed manpower exports”. The Bahraini Emir wants well-trained and equipped Pakistani military mercenaries to beef up his police and security forces to repress the rising democratic impulses of the majority Shia populations. It is as simple as that.
It is the same old treacherous story. Since independence in 1947, the Pakistani ruling classes and military establishment have lived off rents from leasing out their “services” to the highest foreign bidder instead of standing on their own feet and not meddling in other peoples business. In the 1950s, 60s and 80s, they sold their services to the Americans, first against the USSR and then against the Taliban; now, in the 2010s, they are rolling up their sleeves to stir the Middle-East cauldron at the behest of a rich “friend”. The extremist Sunni blow back from the first lease to the US in the shape of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is now primed for escalation and blow back during the proposed second lease to the Saudi-Emirates network. We are making another irrevocable blunder, so help us Allah.
- See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/leasing-out-pakistan/#sthash.1RVncGs5.CF7UWctu.dpuf

Allowing extremists to hijack Pakistan

Religious right having a field day with PML-N’s blessings
The Muslim League which takes pride in being the creator of Pakistan is gradually surrendering its legacy to religious parties, thus providing space to those who opposed the creation of Pakistan. At the three gatherings organized by them on March 23 speakers talked about ‘enforcement of Sharia’ and ‘Pakistan Ideology’, terms that find no place in the Lahore Resolution or the papers of the Quaid spread over hundreds of published pages.
The ‘Message of Peace Conference’ organized by Wafaqul Madaris in Karachi made the preposterous claim that the seminaries were repositories of Pakistan’s ideology and a force that guarded the ideological and geographical borders of the country. The government was warned that any curbs on them would be resisted with full force. In other words the madrassas are to be considered a state within a state and none dare interfere in their activities.
Jamaat e Islami which not only opposed the demand for Pakistan but also poked fun on the appearance, lifestyle and moderate views of the All India Muslim League leaders held ‘Tahaffuz e Shariat Conference’ in Karachi on March 23. It maintained that it shared the views of its Taliban ‘brothers’ on Sharia though it wanted its enforcement though peaceful means. The speakers warned Sharif against improving relations with India.
A similarly outrageous claim was made at the so-called ‘Revival of Pakistan Ideology March’ organized by Jamaat ud Dawah where speakers compared Hafiz Saeed with Jinnah, maintaining that while Jinnah was the leader of the Muslims before 1947, Hafiz Saeed led the community today. Nothing could be more farcical than the comparison of a highly enlightened parliamentarian, strongly believing in democracy, modernity, rule of law and who created a nation state with a cleric having a primitive outlook, and considers democracy a conspiracy against Islam and wants to replace it with Khilafa. Like Jamaat e Islami, the JuD chief also strongly rejected friendship and trade with India, which he termed Pakistan’s eternal enemy. Muslim majority states in India like Kashmir and Bengal, he said, would be amalgamated in Pakistan in the days to come. A PML-N MNA paid glowing tributes to Hafiz Saeed at the rally.
While the participation of Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan Day celebrations remained confined to the presidency, the religious organisations stole the day by holding marches, rallies and public gatherings. They freely propagated views that negated the concept of Pakistan as enunciated by Jinnah. The extremists who want Pakistan to be turned into a violent state perennially at war against its neighbours had a field day on March 23. The handling of Taliban with kid gloves by Ch Nisar indicates there are elements in the PML-N having a soft corner for extremism. The government’s patronage of religious parties allows them to spread hatred against other religions and neighbouring countries that makes society intolerant on the one hand and isolates Pakistan internationally on the other.

Pakistan: Govt not negotiating but begging TTP to spare their lives

The Express Tribune
Taking a jibe at the federal government for holding talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Sharjeel Inam Memon on Tuesday said the government was not negotiating but begging TTP to spare their lives.
Speaking to the media in Karachi, Memon said it was saddening to see the government was trying to reason with the very people it should be fighting.
“The terrorists should be eliminated; the ones who have spread chaos in the country.” Pointing out the various segments of the society targeted by the TTP, the minister said “they have attacked our army, attacked our schools, our madrassahs, our shops, our imambargahs and our mosques.”
Memon lamented that pro-talks political parties were calling these attackers patriots and brothers. Admitting that all parties had given the mandate to hold talks, Memon said innocent lives were still being lost while the government negotiates.
“I do not condemn the peace talks nor do I approve of them,” Memon added.
Thar tragedy
The PPP leader stated that the federal government had promised to provide aid to the victims of the Tharparkar drought, but making promises and following through on them are two different things. He claimed that the Sindh government had not received a single paisa from the federal government, even though the prime minister had promised that funds would be provided for the victims.
When asked about progress of relief activities in the district, Memon said that wheat was given to all of the drought victims. “The government is carrying out relief work in all locations affected by the drought,” he stated. In response to an accusation that he was passing the entire blame on to the federal government, Memon said that this was a natural calamity and no one could be held responsible for the deaths in Tharparkar. “It is a bitter fact that child mortality in Pakistan is the highest in the world”, Memon stated, adding that 600 children die in the country every day.
Express News reported that two more children succumbed to hunger in Thar, taking the death toll to more than 182 infants and children in the drought-hit district in the last four months. The government, however, accepts only about 100 of these deaths.

Pakistan's March 23: A dark message

IT is meant to be a day when Pakistanis celebrate Pakistan and the idea of one nation, but March 23 took on a surreal and disturbing meaning this year. Across the country, rallies were held by the religious and political right, and even militant organisations, all trying to reinvent the meaning of Pakistan and propagate an ideology rooted in a narrow and intolerant version of Islam. The show of force by the far right can be explained by several factors. One, with the TTP-government talks dominating the national conversation in recent weeks, other players in the militancy and right-wing spectrum perhaps felt the need to remind the country of their existence and relevance — and also to establish that the TTP alone will not set the agenda of the far right and militant club.
Two, the state has surrendered the narrative space to the far right by progressively withdrawing from the symbolic parades and events that traditionally used to be held on March 23. True, this year the presidency did try and revive in a small way the pomp and ceremony that used to be identified with March 23, but security concerns still hang heavy and no one in either the civilian or political leadership seems inclined to run the risk of holding a big public event anymore. Three, the state continues to show an extraordinary acceptance of certain stripes of militancy. Among the many groups holding public events in Pakistan on Sunday, some still continue to be perceived as being close to the army-led security establishment. And the PML-N, as per its habit of old, seems to have once again offered extraordinary concessions to some extremist organisations regarding their visibility and pervasiveness in Punjab and even nationally in a Faustian bargain that can at best be described as misguided and naive.
The problem is that neither the government of the day nor the permanent state/security establishment has ever seemed to understand that short-term concessions have long-term impacts. Allowing extremist groups to appropriate March 23, to become the loudest and most vocal of lobbies when it comes to articulating a vision and identity for Pakistan, to package hate and intolerance as piety and faith, all of that will help nudge this country further to the right and towards a future where fear and hate will dominate. What should March 23 stand for? For liberty, for self-determination, for democracy and the rights of all, for freedom from coercion and violence, for the economic and social progress of a citizenry of 200 million, for equality of all before the law and in the eyes of the state. Those are the values that the country should be celebrating on March 23. Instead, too many had to shut their ears to the dark message that dominated on Sunday.