Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Grief, anger after South Korea ferry disaster

President al-Assad to scholars: Clergymen have pivotal role in consolidating true concepts in face of wrong terms
President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday clergymen and scholars have pivotal role in consolidating true concepts against wrong terms because the most dangerous attempts which target the region and Islamic world are the West attempt to strike ideology and faith in society through gradual change in terms. President al-Assad, meeting a group of scholars, clergymen, mosque preachers, affirmed that stances of clergymen who have showed courage and high national responsibility in face of the big pressures to which they were subjected in order to change their stances or abandon the word of right are appreciated stances.
The President added that scholars' steadfastness was a basic factor in the Syrian society struggle. President al-Assad said an example on the west's attempt to change the terms is to separate Arabism with its human and civilized concept, not ethnics from Islam, aiming at creating a state of destabilization on the social and political levels.
The President affirmed that the plague which hits the Islamic world is the plague of political Islam, adding that its collapse has returned Islam to its normal role, namely, Dawah (inviting for true Islam.) President al-Assad said combating terrorism and extremism won’t be only through condemnation or refutation, but through consolidating principles of true Islam though innovating the religious mentality to keep up with society development through using brain, logic and dialogue which is open to the other, based on conviction, not intimidation.
The President pointed out the basic role of scholars and clergymen in Syria and Bilad al-Sham to achieve this goal in light of the fact that Islam in Bilad al-Sham was and still is the basis which protects the true Islam. President al-Assad affirmed the need for institutionalizing the religious work away from individualism to create a broader vision and overcome mistakes, adding that the first step taken in this regard was establishing jurisprudence of the crisis in order to strengthen the common ideological bases as Muslims in the face of fatwas of sedition which try to divide our societies.

Lebanon sends aid to citizens trapped in Syria war

1000s behind bars in Saudi Arabia, activist says

A prominent Saudi opposition figure says thousands of political prisoners are being held behind bars in the kingdom.
Sa'ad al-Faqih, the head of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, said on Wednesday that the number of jailed activists ranged from 25,000 to 30,000.
Faqih also accused the government of stepping up the crackdown on dissent since the beginning of the year.
The Saudi activist said the crackdown is a response to online videos that criticize the ruling Al Saud family and censure the increase in corruption and injustice across the country.
Protests against the Al Saud family have intensified since November 2011, when security forces opened fire on protesters in Qatif in Eastern Province, killing five people and leaving scores more injured.
Last October, rights group Amnesty International censured Saudi authorities for not addressing the “dire human rights situation” in the kingdom.
The group also handed in a paper to the United Nations, which included information regarding a “new wave of repression against civil society, which has taken place over the last two years.”

China: Containment unlikely in Asian geopolitics
Is it for containing China? This is a question that will be haunting the whole of East Asia during US President Obama's ongoing trip to this area. Tokyo and Manila hope it is, but the facts will prove it is only their wishful thinking.
Obama's four-country visit should have been done last October. But it was delayed because of the debt ceiling crisis and government shutdown. When voices about the US declining are rising dramatically, the top priority of Obama's trip is to reassure its Asian allies to keep their faith in Washington.
Washington keeps declaring that it doesn't pick sides in terms of the Sino-Japanese and Sino-Philippine territorial disputes. But it explicitly shows favor for Tokyo and Manila when frictions in these areas take place.
Washington tries to kill two birds with one stone by supporting its allies while avoiding irritating China, a delicate way to maintain the balance between business profits and political influence.
Obama putting off the October trip has already sent a signal that Asian allies must make way for US domestic affairs.
While in order to revive its declining economy, the US depends much more on China than these allies. Washington cannot bear a strategic confrontation of containment and counter-containment with China.
China's Asia policy keeps holding the strategic initiative with restraint. Washington and its allies' arrangements to contain China will probably end up in vain. They have no chips to bargain with China. In fact, both the US and its allies are calculating how to benefit from China's growth.
China's rise has become the biggest variable in the Asia-Pacific strategic framework. China shows to the world that it is committed to utilizing its power in a peaceful and restrained manner, and the US has also basically recognized a stronger China.
These two new developments are shaping a new Asia-Pacific order during China's rise. There will be a new balance in this area, and no countries are able to break it.
Obama's rebalance toward Asia is a rearrangement of the US presence in this area to maximize its interests. But the US is not powerful or ambitious enough to contain China in this area, or even strangle China before it rises to be a global power.
It is just an illusion for some Asian countries to contain China. In fact, there are many controversies concerning China's rise within the US-led alliance.
Japan and the Philippines want a tough stand against China, but are also worried that Asia might become the victim of a Cold War-like confrontation between the US and China.
Containing China is a plausible option for several Asian countries, but it will be proven impossible in the real Asian geopolitical game.
Obama should know that his actions and remarks during this trip will keep making headlines, but he had better not stir up a situation that is even beyond his own control.

China denies U.S.-Japan alliance's Diaoyu Islands bearing

The US-Japan alliance, a bilateral arrangement made in the Cold War, should not undermine China's territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights, a Chinese spokesman said on Wednesday.
The comment came after U.S. President Barack Obama said the Diaoyu Islands "fall within the scope of Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security" in an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper ahead of his arrival in Tokyo on Wednesday.
"We firmly oppose putting the Diaoyu Islands within the scope of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a daily news briefing.
Qin urged the United States to respect facts, take a responsible attitude, and honor its commitment of not taking sides on territorial sovereignty issues.
He also said the United States should be cautious with its words and deeds so as to play a constructive role in regional peace and stability.
He said China's stance on the Diaoyu Islands is consistent and clear, since these islands are an inherent part of Chinese territory and China holds indisputable sovereignty over them.
Japan's occupation of the islands are "illegal and invalid." Its provocations on the issue are "unjustified," the spokesman said.
"No one can shake our determination to safeguard national territorial sovereignty and maritime interests," Qin added.
Japan occupied the Diaoyu Islands during the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. After World War II, the islands were returned to China in accordance with such international legal documents as the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation.
In 1951, Japan, the United States and a number of other countries signed the Treaty of San Francisco, with China being excluded from it, and the treaty placed the Nansei Islands south of the 29th parallel of North Latitude under the United States' trusteeship. The Nansei Islands placed under the U.S. administration did not include Diaoyu Islands, however.
The United States arbitrarily expanded its jurisdiction to include the Diaoyu Islands later, despite the Chinese government's firm opposition.
In 1971, Japan and the United States signed the Okinawa Reversion Agreement, which provided that the Ryukyu Islands and the Diaoyu Islands would be "returned" to Japan. The move triggered strong opposition from the Chinese government and people. As China and Japan were normalizing relations and concluding the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship in the 1970s, the then leaders of the two countries, acting in the larger interest of China-Japan relations, reached consensus on "leaving the issue of Diaoyu Dao (Islands) to be resolved later."
In 2012, Tokyo moved unilaterally to "purchase" and "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands, seriously straining China-Japan relations.

Russia: No Reason to Doubt US Running the Show in Ukraine – Lavrov

The visit of US Vice President Joseph Biden to Kiev this week and the subsequent restart of a military operation against protesters is evidence the US is controlling the actions of Ukrainian authorities, Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov said Wednesday.
“Now that Joe Biden visited Kiev this counterterrorist operation was declared in the active phase again,” Lavrov said during an English-language interview with the RT news channel.
“It’s quite telling that they chose the moment of the Vice President of the United States to announce the resumption of this operation, because the launching of this operation happened immediately after [CIA Director] John Brennan’s visit to Kiev,” the foreign minister said.
“So I don’t have any reasons not to believe that the Americans are running the show in a very close way,” he added. US Vice President Joseph Biden arrived in Kiev on a two-day visit Monday to meet with Ukrainian authorities as the country struggles to find a way out of a deep economic and political crisis.

Pakistan Army Seeks to Take GEO TV Off Air Over Spy Allegation
By Khurrum Anis and Augustine Anthony
Pakistan’s Defense Ministry is seeking to cancel the Geo television channel’s license after it aired comments accusing the country’s main spy agency of involvement in a gun attack on the host of one its talk shows.
The ministry has lodged a complaint with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory, or PEMRA, asking it to take Geo News television off the air after it broadcast reports alleging officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, ISI, were behind the April 19 attack on Hamid Mir, a ministry spokeswoman said yesterday. She asked to be not be identified citing departmental policy.
“The clash between institutions is becoming a precedent,” Umbreen Javed, head of the political science department at the University of Punjab said by phone. “This is not a good trend for democracy, which is still in its early phase and is still immature.”
The row reflects the dominant role of Pakistan’s army and its powerful spy agency in domestic politics as well as key security policies. The army has ruled the country for more than half of its 67-year-old history and has resisted attempts by the past governments to exert control over ISI. In 2008, a few months after taking office, the government of then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced it had exercised its constitutional authority over the ISI to transfer its oversight to the civilian Interior Ministry, an announcement it retracted within hours.
In last week’s incident, a gunman sprayed bullets on Mir’s car after he left the Karachi airport and fled with the help of an accomplice on a motorbike, according to reports broadcast on Geo TV. Mir was struck by six bullets and survived the attack. Soon afterward, Geo aired comments accusing some members of the ISI of involvement.
Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir, appeared on the channel and said his brother had been under threat from the ISI. A few hours later, the army’s press office issued a statement condemning the shooting, while also criticizing the attack on the ISI “without any evidence.”
Kamran Khan, Geo’s senior analyst, yesterday said in live comments on the channel that the defense ministry had filed an application to PEMRA expressing its reservations with the network. PEMRA will now issue a notice to Geo after which the channel will present its position.
“Geo will cooperate with any action or initiative that falls within the legal and constitutional parameters,” Khan said by phone yesterday. “We will show our cooperation and present our viewpoint.”
Fourth Deadliest
Over the last three years, Mir had on two occasions told Amnesty International he believed his life was under threat from different quarters, including the ISI and the Pakistani Taliban, David Griffiths, deputy Asia Pacific director of the the London-based organization, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Pakistan is ranked the fourth-deadliest country for media personnel, according to a 2013 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. As many as 54 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, the organization said.
Saleem Shahzad, a correspondent for the Italian news agency AKI and the Hong Kong-based website Asia Times Online, was found dead in May 2011 after a human rights group said he had reported threats from intelligence officers over his coverage of alleged links between the military and Islamic militant guerrillas.
Police in November defused an explosive device attached to Mir’s car, according to the Associated Press. A week before that incident, Mir had hosted programs that included reports on deadly attacks against Pakistan’s Shiite minority sect.

Pakistani Media Under Attack: Geo transmission snapped in different cities of Pakistan

Transmission of Geo channels have been blocked in many parts of the county. In Hyderabad, transmission has been shut in Saddar and Cantonment areas while in Karachi’s Malir Cantt, numbers of Geo Entertainment and Geo Super have also been changed. Similar complaints were received from Murree where all the channels of Geo have been snapped after directives from the Muree Station Headquarters. All Geo channels have been put on last numbers in Multan city and its Cantonment areas. According to reports, the transmission of Geo has been forcibly shut in different areas of Okara, Peshawar, Quetta and Dera Ghazi Khan.

Obama looks to salvage Asia 'pivot' as allies fret over China

Video:Obama, Japan's Abe dine at venerable sushi restaurant

President Obama arrives for summit, to assure security ties are solid

Japan Times
U.S. President Barack Obama arrived Wednesday evening at Haneda airport at the start of a seven-day Asia tour in which he is expected to reaffirm America’s commitment to maintaining regional security. Obama is scheduled to hold a 105-minute summit Thursday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and is expected to issue a joint statement reaffirming the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance as a stabilizer in the Asia-Pacific region.
Obama will stay in Tokyo for 2½ days before moving on to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines to meet with other top leaders. The cancelation of a previous Asia tour last October raised doubts about U.S. credibility as a regional partner. This trip is seen by many as a test of Obama’s ability to recover his reputation among Asian leaders.
Obama, who has been portrayed by his critics as weak in his responses to international crises in Syria and Crimea, will be scrutinized closely by regional powers keen to gauge Washington’s willingness to take a proactive role in his administration’s “rebalancing” strategy, ostensibly designed to counter a resurgent China.
In remarks published by the Yomiuri newspaper Wednesday, the president assured Japan that the Senkaku Islands are covered by a long-standing bilateral security treaty that obliges America to come to Japan’s defense. “The policy of the United States is clear — the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of . . . the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,” Obama said in a written reply to the newspaper. “And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands,” he said.
Japanese officials in Tokyo have said that, among key pledges, Abe and Obama will reaffirm the strength of the Japan-U.S. military alliance and oppose China’s “one-sided attempt to change the status quo by force,” — an apparent reference to Beijing’s muscle-flexing in the East and South China Seas.
The level of detail Obama is willing to give in public — particularly on the U.S. position in relation to the Senkaku Islands dispute — will be a key focus of public attention in Japan. The islets, administrated by Japan but claimed by China, are also known as Diaoyu in Chinese. “We’d like to use (the Obama-Abe meeting as) an opportunity to send out a signal that the Japan-U.S. alliance is playing a leading role to contribute to peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a daily news conference Wednesday morning.
“While the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region is becoming severer . . . an attempt to change the status quo with force in the background is not tolerable,” Suga added. Obama is also expected to use the Asia tour as an opportunity to shore up the strained trilateral alliance between the U.S., Japan and South Korea, aimed at maintaining stability in East Asia. “We encourage Japan to continue to work with its neighbors to resolve concerns over history in an amicable way through dialogue,” a U.S. Department of State spokeswoman said Tuesday in Washington during a daily press briefing. “We believe the strong and constructive relations between countries in the region promote peace and stability and are . . . in their interest and the interest of the United States,” she said. Suga appeared to downplay questions over economic issues during a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday, as negotiators from the two countries continued last-minute efforts to narrow outstanding gaps over the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. The two countries are unlikely to reach agreements on key issues, including tariffs on U.S. pork and beer exports and Japanese exports of automobiles, before the Obama-Abe meeting on Thursday.
“We’d like to strengthen economic ties between Japan and the U.S., too,” Suga said.
Obama’s visit as a “state guest” — the highest status afforded to the country’s foreign visitors — has concerned some Japanese diplomats, who appear worried that the U.S. may now be putting less emphasis on its diplomacy with Japan. First lady Michelle Obama will not be accompanying the president on the tour, though her one-week stay in China in March garnered huge amounts of media attention both in China and abroad.
Obama’s itinerary in Japan remained unconfirmed as late as April 14. The president had originally planned to stay in Tokyo for just one night, but Washington extended his stay to two nights amid requests from Tokyo. A two-night stay is considered the minimum necessary to accord him the status of “state guest,” and arrange for ceremonies with Emperor Akihito.
Speaking during the same news conference, Suga emphasized the significance of Obama’s visit, pointing out that this was the first time in 18 years Japan would be welcoming a U.S. president as a state guest.
“This is a symbol showing (the fact) that the Japan-U.S. ties remain unshakable,” he told reporters. “I hope the personal ties (between Obama and Abe) will deepen (during this visit).”

Video:Protests over Obama Asia trip

Protests in the Philippines and Japan as Obama begins Asia visit.

Video: Obama arrives in Japan for tension-filled Asia trip

Naheed Akhtar " Shab E Gham Mujhse Milkar Aise Royi " |GHAZAL|

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari marks zero tolerance for negligence during calamities
Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari chaired a meeting on flood preparedness and requested Chief Minister Sindh to direct the administration to have zero tolerance to any delinquency or negligence in dealing with any natural calamity arising out of the coming monsoon season in the province.
The briefing was arranged at Bilawal House today by Sindh government for the Patron-In-Chief to apprise him about the preparations by different concerned departments to face the situation following monsoon. The meeting was attended among others by Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Hashaam Riaz Sheikh, Chief of Staff Chairman PPP, Minister for works and services Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, Minister for local Government Sharjeel Inam Memon, Minister for Agriculture Ali Nawaz Mehar, Finance advisor Murad Ali Shah, P. Secretary to CM Rai Sikander, Chief Secretary Sajjad Salim Hotiana, Secretary Health, Secretary Works & Services, Secretary Local Government, Secretary Agriculture, Secretary Planning & Development, Secretary Finance, Home Secretary, Commissioner Karachi, Commissioner Sukkur, Commissioner Hyderabad, Commissioner Larkana and Commissioner Mirpur Khas, Relief Commissioner, DG PDMA, Media Advisor Jameel Soomro and Chief Metrologist. On the occasion, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stressed for a monsoon contingency plan and better coordination among the concerned departments besides establishment of flood monitoring cell. He said there should be clear demarcation of responsibility of each department and authority while role of Irrigation Department remains key in case of floods ,he requested cm sindh to take public representatives on board and form committees to prevent deliberate breaches as well as. Strict law will be introduced and measures will be taken against those who are found guilty of breaches, he added. PPP Patron-In-Chief said rescue and rehabilitation plans should also be ready though the Met office has predicted 40% less rains during coming monsoon.

Afghanistan Delays Election Results
Afghanistan's election commission has delayed releasing preliminary results from the country's April 5 presidential election to allow more time to investigate possible fraud.
A vote count was expected on Thursday, but the Independent Election Commission said results will now be released on Saturday.
Election officials say the extra time is necessary to ensure that possible irregularities are thoroughly investigated. Some seven million ballots were cast on election day. Partial results put former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in the lead with 44 percent followed by former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani with 33 percent.
It is unclear whether Abdullah and Ghani will receive more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a second round election.
Abdullah was the runner-up in the 2009 election won by President Hamid Karzai, amid allegations of irregularities and ballot fraud.
The winner of the April 5 election will replace Karzai who could not run again because of constitutional limits. The next president will oversee a transition during which a majority of international troops will be withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Final election results are due to be released on May 14.

Amnesty International's Recommendations for Afghanistan's Next President

Amnesty International released a list of recommendations for Afghanistan's next president on their website Monday evening addressing the basic human rights of the country. In the recommendation to the future president, Amnesty International asks that he support human rights by implementing international treaties to bring justice to the nation. Amnesty International's recommendations were retrieved from their website and the list is as follows:
1. Fulfill the Human Rights of Women and Girls
This not only means protecting and promoting women's and girls' rights and security, but also supporting women's engagement so that they are not marginalized but are leaders and participants in this transfer of power. Currently, women's human rights defenders face threats, intimidation and attack without adequate government protection. Violence against women and girls continues to be rife across the country and implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women continues to be limited. The new president must make supporting ALL of women's human rights one of his top priorities.
2. Abolish the Death Penalty
Trial proceedings in Afghanistan fall short of international standards of fair trial and by the end of 2013, more than 300 people remained on death row, with 174 death sentences issued in 2013 across Afghanistan. Judicial decisions are largely based on confessions from the accused, which are often coerced, including through torture or other ill-treatment. The new president must take immediate action to end the death penalty in Afghanistan.
3. Fulfilling Afghanistan's International Human Rights Obligations
Afghanistan's Constitution explicitly commits it to abide by international conventions that Afghanistan has signed and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The new president must ensure that Afghanistan abides by international law and support the work of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) to monitor respect for human rights in Afghanistan as well as to foster and protect it.
4. Ensure Accountability for Alleged War Crimes by Afghan and International Forces
The new President must ensure that all allegations of civilian casualties and harm resulting from national and international military operations are fully investigated and that a credible independent mechanism to monitor, investigate, report and provide remedy is created.
5. Help Internally Displaced People
According to UNHCR, there are around 600,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan, largely as a result of the conflict. Many experience multiple human rights violations including forced evictions, inadequate housing and lack of access to affordable food, water, health and education, sometimes leading to further instability in otherwise relatively stable urban areas. The new president must ensure that all necessary measures are taken to minimize displacement in areas affected by military operations; and help expand access for humanitarian actors seeking to meet the emergency needs of all IDPs and displacement-affected communities.
6. End Impunity for Past Human Rights Abuses and War Crimes
Inadequate investigations and accountability have hindered justice for past human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The new Afghan president must guarantee prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial judicial investigation of human rights abuses and war crimes, in accordance with international law and standards.
7. Protect and Respect Freedom of Expression
The new president must protect and respect freedom of expression in Afghanistan. Since 2001, more than 450 journalists and other media workers in Afghanistan, including 54 in 2013, have been killed, injured, beaten, threatened or detained.
Afghan journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to report on cases of corruption and criminal activity by government officials and members of the Afghan parliament, as well as reporting on cases of other human rights violations committed by the Taliban.
After the release of the recommendation list, civil and human rights institutions inside Afghanistan call for the government to not only consider, but apply and practice these recommendations.
"Based on the Afghan constitution the government is obligated to protect and respect human and civil rights of the citizens," Executive Director of Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said. "Like many other areas of social, cultural and economical issues there must be effective programs to support and develop human rights."
Afghanistan Civil Society Foundation (ACSF) also welcomes the proposal asking the government to put it into practice.
"Upcoming government must pay close attention and make it a priority to pledge international treaties," Head of Afghanistan Civil Society Foundation (ACSF).
Amnesty International adds that Election Day in Afghanistan was successful calling the next five years a chance for great opportunity to implement these recommendations.
The next president of Afghanistan is due to start his responsibilities in two months.

Hole in Afghan budget stirs unease as West starts packing bags

A $375 million hole in the Afghan budget is threatening public projects and civil servants' salaries, officials say, putting the aid-dependent economy under stress just as Afghanistan awaits a new leader and foreign troops prepare to go home.
U.S., U.N. and Afghan finance ministry officials have discussed ways to resolve what they say has become a critical situation for the budget, with civil projects most at risk as international assistance starts to taper off.
"If the political situation of the country does not become normal and businesses do not start again soon this problem will become even more worrying," Alhaj Muhammad Aqa, director general of the treasury at the finance ministry, told Reuters on Wednesday. "We will not only face problems in paying salaries of employees but we will have difficulties in other issues too."
Funding for security will not be affected, as costs are met by foreign governments which recognize that any chance of stability in Afghanistan rests on quelling the Taliban insurgency.
At the start of the month, Afghans voted for a new president to replace Hamid Karzai who steps down after 12 years in power. The international community poured billions of dollars of aid into Afghanistan during Karzai's rule, but the country's next leader could struggle to receive the same levels of support.
Preliminary final election results are due on Saturday, but early tallies show no outright winner, meaning further delays in the political transition. A run-off would occur in late May or early June.
Of the two frontrunners, ex-World Bank official Ashraf Ghani has called for radical economic reforms, while former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah campaigned on job creation and fighting corruption.
"We have to put pressure on the international community to help us cope with this problem," Aqa said. "This will become bigger if the presidential election goes to a second round." Officials put the growing hole in the $7.6 billion budget down to a sharp decline in domestic revenue, forcing some development projects to be put on hold. So far this year, the shortfall stands at $375 million due to falling customs, the finance ministry says.
About a third of the overall budget is earmarked for development projects, ranging from building schools and hospitals to roads.
Employees of a project producing electronic identification cards, a task jointly managed by the interior and communications ministries, said they have been told their jobs might go.
"The head of the treasury department of the finance ministry came with his team to our office and told us that there is a shortfall of around $500 million and they have to cut from every development project," Homayun Mohtat, head of the electronic ID card department, said.
Some employees said they had not been paid for months.
International assistance covers $5 billion of this year's budget, with the remainder filled by domestic revenue raising, mainly in the form of customs duties.
But customs revenue and imports are down since the start of the year, the finance ministry says. Taxes and exports contribute little to the state finances.
The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan Jan Kubis said last week Afghan revenue was much less than expected and the budget was a major problem. He said international donors and the finance ministry were meeting to agree a way to cover the hole.
The U.N. office in Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy in Kabul declined further comment. In January, U.S. lawmakers halved development aid to $1.2 billion for the 2014 fiscal year and with most foreign troops due to leave by the year's end, the new Afghan administration is being left, more than ever, to stand on its own feet.
After a dozen years of massive international aid efforts, Afghanistan is still one of the world's poorest countries. The U.S. decision to cut aid is also expected to shape the contributions of other donor nations.
Foreign powers have poured billions of dollars of aid into Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but the country's next leader is unlikely to receive the same levels of financial support.
The prospect of dwindling inflows of foreign aid could stoke uncertainty as the United States and other NATO countries move to end their long war in Afghanistan, and as Washington seeks an agreement that would permit some U.S. forces to stay there beyond 2014.


What Pakistan wants from India

Election watchers in Pakistan realise that much would depend on the extent of the BJP’s mandate and who its allies would be in an expected coalition government.
Pakistanis have been watching the election scene in India with considerable trepidation. The intellectual elite and some sections of the media are aware that détente has progressed better whenever strong leadership has existed in both countries. However, an almost visceral dislike of Narendra Modi seems to blur perspectives, not only on account of the 2002 Gujarat riots but also in expectation of a turn towards ultra-nationalism, accompanied by chest-thumping, anti-Pakistani belligerence and a revival of Hindutva politics.
Observing that the umbrella secular vote, normally spearheaded by the Congress, has come under severe strain mainly because of anti-incumbency, analysts question whether there will be a new articulation of ‘post-Nehruvian centrism,’ leading to an embrace of the unfettered market model of ‘Modinomics.’ Doubts have been raised over whether this will lead to exclusivism or provide a mask for religious supremacism. While acknowledging the impact of Indian Muslims as an aspirational community in at least 110 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats, they are depicted as fragilely trying to negotiate space between victimhood and tokenism, without benefitting adequately from opportunities for education, employment or material security.
What India needs to understand
Pakistanis hope that decision-makers in the new Indian government would try to understand that Pakistan has changed in the last five years. As was observable in the 2013 election campaign, its parliamentary mainstream no longer claims to think obsessively about India. Democrats across the political spectrum in Pakistan want better regional co-operation in future, premised on mutually beneficial terms of trade, though they believe trade alone will not alter the baggage of the past.
There is a need to correctly assess the nuances of political transitions underway in Pakistan. These include the rise of a ‘nativised,’ right-of-centre bourgeoisie that occupies urban space, the emergence of newly empowered religio-political groups and a changing balance of power between institutions of state.
Pervez Musharraf’s indictment reveals that the military’s undisputed dominance may be eroding. Even its interference in the trade policy has to be seen in this light. From being a hegemon, the military may have become a veto player, still capable of influencing major decisions with regard to crucial issues of security and foreign policy. This is a major shift in Pakistan’s politics but transition to complete civilian supremacy may take a while.
An erstwhile partner of military dictators, Pakistan’s judiciary has asserted an independent stance for a while now, not hesitating to drag ubiquitous ‘agencies’ of state to court to explain disappearance of missing persons. Sadly, this has not been accompanied by alacrity to bring radical Islamic militants, including the seven arrested terrorists implicated in the Mumbai attacks of November, 2008, to book. Though this causes enough embarrassment or even introspection in the establishment, public opinion in Pakistan finds it difficult to counter frequent or repeated criticism from India on this account. Neither do Pakistani politicians and the media react well to macho, high-octane rhetoric from India, either in response to domestic posturing in Pakistan on Kashmir or international border incidents.
While it would be naïve to expect too much to change too quickly, election watchers in Pakistan realise that much would depend on the extent of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s mandate and who its allies would be in an expected coalition government. They assess, however, that regional coalition partners may not substantially impact the formulation of policies by the new government. There is a view, though, that compulsions of a rightist political lineage may force a BJP government to reverse ongoing peace initiatives or escalate tensions in Kashmir.
How then should relationships be forged with the new dispensation? How would Pakistan react to a possible policy of complete neglect — benign or otherwise? No easy answers appear evident at this stage. The way forward may have to be found through a mix of middle-of-the-road approaches accommodating reasonable expectations with respect to long-pending or contentious bilateral issues. Gradual visa relaxations for selected categories, easing of barter lists in cross-border trade, and opening up of more village-level meeting points and routes as between Kargil and Skardu are ways forward. While Mr. Modi’s stated inflexibility on Sir Creek is noted, retired Pakistani defence services personnel on Track II dialogues point to recent flexibility, through new joint surveys of the disputed land border, re-location of missing boundary pillars and exchange of non-papers including maps of old maritime boundary claims. These have brought considerable clarity in respective positions. India still relies on the median line principle, especially with respect to the base point from where the maritime boundary would be delineated. Give and take is possible to resolve this ‘low hanging’ dispute if political will can be built up, avoiding media hype to interpret this as a win or loss for one side or the other.
For some time now, especially after the Gyari avalanche in April 2012, Pakistan has been quite keen to resolve the Siachen dispute. This again signals a new flexibility in erstwhile military positions through Track II mediatory contacts, for possible agreement to a way forward. However, since then, the Indian position has hardened with strategists holding that control of the Siachen/Saltoro heights are not only technologically affordable now but tactically and strategically a desirable objective in the context of evolving threats from China. State sponsorship of terror Peace-loving Pakistanis acknowledge that any new subversive attacks from across the border on the Mumbai 26/11 model could elicit a much more drastic reaction from a BJP government. They know these are usually undertaken by terrorist outfits — support to whom the Pakistani military may not be ready to give up just yet, despite more serious domestic threats which it faces from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. There is grudging awareness that while these outfits can be curbed by the Army/Inter-Services Intelligence, they do enjoy certain clout in civil society. It may take more for civil society pressures to work from within to promote introspection and forsake use of such asymmetric options by the military.
If this does not happen, security mechanisms and the counter-terror grid in India would have to be honed further. Personal security threats to VIPs would continue. There can be no scope for complacency. Without lowering its guard on security in the homeland, the Indian establishment may have to think long and hard about evolving better covert responses to terror modules in a calibrated manner.

CPJ condemns move by Pakistan's ISI against Geo TV

The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by actions brought by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) against Geo Television today. In its complaint to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, the ISI accused Geo's parent company, the Independent Media Corporation, of conducting a "false and scandalous campaign undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of state institution (ISI) and its officers."
The media regulator has the authority to shut down broadcasters based on such complaints, and has done so under previous administrations of Pakistan.
"We call on the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority not to act on this spurious complaint, and we call on Pakistan's security services to recognize the critical role of the media and exercise tolerance and maturity," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage."
Tension between Pakistan's military and intelligence communities and much of the media swiftly escalated following an assassination attempt on Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir on April 19. Mir was hit with six rounds from assailants on motorcycles as his car was traveling between Karachi's airport and the center of the city. Mir is severely wounded and recovering in the hospital. Geo TV has broadcast accusations that the ISI was involved in the murder attempt.

Pakistani Military Wants GEO TV Station Closed

Pakistan's Defense Ministry has requested the country's top-rated television station be closed after the station alleged that Pakistan's intelligence agency was behind the attempted killing of a leading journalist.
The ministry wrote to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority late on April 22 asking that it cancel the broadcasting license of Geo television.
The ministry complained about broadcasts on Geo that alleged that the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency was connected to an assassination attempt on the station's popular talk-show host, Hamid Mir.
Mir was shot three times while in his car on April 19 and is currently recovering in a hospital.
The New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists posted a copy of the Defense Ministry's letter on its website that accuses Geo of launching "a vicious campaign, libelous and scandalous in nature."

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: ''3 More Shias Shot Martyred In Pakistan''
At least three more Shia Muslims have been martyred by Deobandi Takfiri terrorists of Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhagvi in different parts of Pakistan, The Shia Post reported on April 23, 2014.
KARACHI: A Shia Muslim Ejaz Hussain s/o Najaf Shah, aged-36, was shot martyred afterhe was attacked in Nusrat Bhutto Colony area. The martyr was traveling to his duty as a Bank Manager. He was resident of Gilgit-Biltistan.
His funeral prayer was offered at Miyanwali Colony Gilgiti Muhalla area of Karachi after Zohrain Prayer.
DERA ISMAIL KHAN: In village Shah-Dawo area of Tehsil Paharpur the terrorists of Pro-Taliban Lashkar-e-Jhagvi killed a Shia Muslim Nazar Abbas.
According to reports, a Shia Muslim Moharram ali has been abducted by Sipah-e-Sahaba (ASWJ) terrorists.
FAISALABAD: The Takfiri Deobandi/ Wahabi pro-Taliban terrorists of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba shot martyred a Shia Youth Syed Ahsan Zaidi in Ghokowal area.
The martyr was attacked on his shop.
Last years two Shia brothers Jafar Ali Hyder Ali were also shot martyred at the same location.

Pakistan: Chairman of Baloch student Organisation abducted, comrades announce hunger strike till death
Senior Chairperson of the Baloch Student Organisation (Azad), Banuk Karima Baloch, revealed on Tuesday that the chairman of BSO-Azad, Zahid Kurd Baloch, has been abducted from Quetta on 18 March 2014. She said Zahid Baloch was abducted during a raid on a political meeting of the Organisation.
She expressed these during a press conference outside Karachi Press Club where they set up a hunger strike on to death protest camp for the release of their chairman. She said, “We expect you [media/journalists] to make our voices heard in the right mediums around the world.”
She added, “Baloch Students Organization - Azad (BSO-A) is a progressive democratic student organization that believes in peaceful struggle and has been striving for the Baloch rights including the right for freedom. In the struggle for these aims, BSO-Azad has been clear and open on its strategy since day one; which is, not only believing and advocating peaceful democratic struggle but also becoming an exemplary lead in it.
“Although BSO-Azad has been strictly committed to its democratic struggle, powerful Pakistani state elements could never tolerate our mere existence. From past 5 years, there has been an unannounced deadly crackdown against BSO-Azad that has left hundreds of our peaceful activists being abducted and dozens extra judicially murdered. In addition, BSO-Azad has also been unlawfully banned to carry out any political activity. Despite all of these brutalities, BSO-Azad has not compromised on its principal of peaceful democratic struggle.
“On March 18, 2014 at 5pm, Pakistani secret agencies and security forces abducted BSO-Azad Chairman Zahid Baloch also known as Baloch Khan from Quetta. I, along three other senior members of BSO-Azad are eyewitnesses to this incident of forced disappearance. Zahid Baloch was abducted in presence of dozens of other independent eye-witnesses. We did not disclose about his abduction because we hoped that they would bring him to surface at some point.”
She said the Organisation was deeply concerned about Chairman Zahid Baloch's safety because life is under serious threat. She urged the UN and world organizations to play there vital role in safe recovery of all BSO-Azad leaders.
She said: “After several CC meetings and thorough debates and discussions, BSO-Azad has decided to sit on a hunger strike till death protest against the abduction of student leader Zahid Baloch. This hunger strike till death will continue until Chairman Zahid Baloch is not recovered.
“We urge the UN to assure protection of our hunger strike protesters as this is part of our peaceful democratic struggle. We urge world groups to build pressure on Pakistan and insure safe recovery of student leader Zahid Baloch.”

Pakistan's under-funded Police :Trouble In Charsadda

While much of the media, public, and politicians’ attention in recent days has centred on the attack on one prominent anchor from one prominent media house, the country’s ‘existential war’ against terrorism seems near forgotten. But a deadly reminder came this week in the form of an explosion near a police vehicle in Charsadda, killing three people and leaving over 30, including 14 policemen, injured. While scores of people were at the Tehsil Bazar when the explosion occurred, the target of the attack was clearly the police. Indeed, the attack is being seen as part of a larger campaign against police patrol teams who are visible, who are everywhere and who are not heavily armed - not just in Charsadda but all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and across the country.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, but suspicion has fallen on Pakistani Taliban insurgents who often target law enforcement forces and public places with bombings and shooting attacks. The police are no match for the well-armed, well-trained, battle-hardened militants. Twelve years into the war on militancy, Pakistan’s police are chronically under-funded.
This year’s federal budget gave the military about $6 billion and the police $686 million, a lopsided allocation mirrored in the disbursement of foreign aid.
How many more such attacks will occur before the state decides to take note? For how long will the people of these troubled areas be left to defend themselves in a lop-sided battle they have little chance of winning? At a moment when the Taliban have called off their ceasefire with the government, shouldn’t the state be better prepared for such attacks? For a country in the stranglehold of terrorist violence, the police cannot remain under-equipped and poorly trained. The government can only stamp out terror if it invests in the police.

Pakistan: The question:Who shot Hamid Mir?

Who shot Hamid Mir? Amidst the condemnations, the recriminations, the fighting and the posturing this one essential question has been lost in the din. Everyone from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on down has had their say and most have come down on the side of justice and truth. Nawaz visited the Aga Khan Hospital to inquire after Mir’s health and promised to bring his attackers to justice. The Senate, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies passed resolutions condemning the attack and a judicial commission comprising three Supreme Court justices have been tasked with investigating the incident. Many everyday working journalists have taken to the streets protesting this obvious attempt to silence the media. All this should be reassuring, not just to Hamid Mir himself, but to the entire journalist community. Today it is Hamid Mir whose life is under threat; tomorrow it could be any one of us. But even though those in power have said the right things, there are many reasons to be wary. The biggest disappointment has been the reaction of small-minded media organisations – and some ‘journalists’ – who have used the near-death of one from their fraternity to push forward their agendas in the name of patriotism.
The vendetta being pursued has reached such unprecedented heights that an experienced and veteran journalist like Imtiaz Alam, someone who has survived the many periods of media repression and has the scars to show for it, felt compelled to resign from his position as a talk-show host rather than be used in service of maligning a fellow journalist. The response from the military has been no better. The mere mention of the dreaded ISI was enough for the military apparatus to spring into action. The ISI is more concerned with protecting its own reputation and insisting that criticising it is out of bounds rather than finding those behind the attack so that its name can be cleared. Army Chief Raheel Sharif’s visit to the ISI headquarters seems designed to support the agency at a time when its performance and actions are getting a public airing. Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed has tried to play down talk of a civilian-military rift with the good intention of not letting things get worse. But for once state institutions need to move beyond their parochial interests. Who shot Hamid Mir? That is the only question everyone should be trying to answer.

Pakistan: Media under attack

Freedom comes at a price, but for the media in Pakistan the price is rather high, almost unaffordable. Since 1992 about 80 journalists have been murdered and many more injured - an unenviable distinction that puts our country among the most dangerous places in the world for working journalists. And the irony is that no one gets caught and punished. Whether the judicial commission set up to investigate the murder attempt on the life of television anchorperson Hamid Mir will help bring to book the criminals we are not optimistic, given the track record of such moves. If anyone involved in killing a journalist or attacking a media house was ever punished there is no example. Of course, there is all the fury and fulmination over such incidents but nothing happens the day after, till there is another such ghastly incident. But this must come to an end. Media acts as the lungs of society and in today's Pakistan its role is all the more critical. Given the enormity of challenges to the lives of people - ranging from misconceived national 'interests' to political pressures to evil designs of the underworld - journalists and media houses are in the line of fire. But there is no escape for them from this high-risk obligation. So let this be the test case for the media to secure its constitutional right of informing the people and for the government to decide how far it can go in delivering on its constitutional responsibility to ensure the media's right to inform and the peoples' right to be informed.
But how to go about it, for reasons not yet clear there are problems from the very word go. Within minutes of the incident the media house to which Mir worked for started accusing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate particularly its head Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam of masterminding the murderous attack. And, for that it copiously cited his brother and some of his colleagues with whom he had purportedly shared his fears. To an average viewer this was a bit unprofessional, in that a premier media outlet was maligning the country's premier intelligence agency and its chief even before the aggrieved party had filed its complaint with the police. Probably, finding it no more digestible the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) department which speaks for the armed forces and its branches including the ISI directorate returned the fire. Curtly rejecting this wild allegation the ISPR questioned its authenticity and warned that 'legal and constitutional litigation against this shameful allegation' was being deliberated.
No less significantly, it asserted that the allegation by the concerned media outlet has 'resulted in gross insult and degrading of the army as an institution'. Realising, perhaps, that its channel has overplayed its hand, the media group issued a statement which 'clarified that it has not put the blame on any institution or section of any institution (read ISI)'. And that 'Mir had sent written and video statements to his colleagues and friends and members of family where security risks and threats to his life had been clearly identified... has been categorical in stating that some individuals in the security agencies have been after him for a while'. So, in essence, while the media group has disowned any role as a media house in what was broadcast by it, but has not disowned Mir's fears. Therefore, it is important that the ISI should help find the truth in the matter. It's just possible that having learnt that Mir has sent a video to a world body of journalists, accusing ISI of planning to harm him and whether some third-party or rival foreign intelligence outfit attacked him rightly assuming that ISI will earn the flak - who knows. For a change, therefore, the inquiry commission should seek help from all relevant quarters including the ISI and make public its verdict within the three-week mandated timeframe.

Pakistan: PEMRA committee formed to review govt application against Geo TV network
A three-member committee has been formed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to review the application filed by the Defence Ministry against Geo TV network for alleging that an intelligence agency of Pakistan was involved in attack over its anchor Hamid Mir, a private news channel reported.
On Tuesday, the Defence Ministry had moved PEMRA under PEMRA Ordinance 2002, section 33 and 36 for taking a legal action against Geo TV for framing allegations against Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
According to a statement, the ministry also provided the authority with the relevant evidence suggesting the media group’s involvement in tarnishing the image of the intelligence agency.
“The news channel has breached the code of conduct by accusing Director General (DG) of the ISI Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam of masterminding the attempt on senior journalist Hamid Mir,” the statement said. It added that action would be taken against the channel’s editorial and management team.
The PEMRA committee formed includes Pervez Rathore, Syed Ismail Shah and Israr Abbas. They will be reviewing the application and report to PEMRA with the facts.
According to PEMRA officials, Geo TV network would be provided a full opportunity for explanation of the actions it is being charged for.
On Saturday, Geo News’s anchorperson Hamid Mir was injured in attack by gunmen in Karachi. Geo News had showed a portrait of the ISI Chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam, alleging that his agency was involved in the attack on Mir.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa:-PTI: ‘Pressure group’ announces boycott of parliamentary committees

The Express Tribune
Disgruntled MPAs of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have decided to boycott parliamentary committee meetings until their grievances are addressed, The Express Tribune learnt on Tuesday.
According to sources privy to a meeting, the pressure group has objections over two major portfolios given to PTI’s coalition partners in the government.
The insider added a meeting was held among four pressure group lawmakers on Monday in the chambers of the assembly’s deputy speaker in which the MPAs expressed reservations on the allocation of portfolios.
“The disgruntled members claim that by giving two major portfolios to coalition partners, PTI will have to face the public’s resentment,” the insider added.
Requesting anonymity, a PTI MPA said the people of K-P gave PTI the mandate but the credit of governance will go to Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan (AJIP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) since they have the health and local government ministries, respectively.
“Are we not competent enough to run the health ministry,” the unhappy lawmaker questioned.
He added the pressure group members will not attend meetings of parliamentary committees until their grievances are addressed.
“Imran Khan promised that our issues will be addressed in three months, and notifications of the appointment of newly-inducted ministers into the provincial cabinet will be put on hold,” said the lawmaker. “People have expectations from us (PTI) but we will never be able to facilitate them, particularly in the matters of health and local government. This will be detrimental for us,” he added.
Another PTI legislator said, “Our resignations are still with the deputy speaker and whenever we feel that we are being taken lightly, we will not hesitate to give a green signal to the deputy speaker to accept them.” “If one MPA leaves the assembly, the entire group will follow,” he added, reiterating the pressure group’s pledge.

Pakistan's Healthcare crisis: In Pindi hospitals, no nurses but beds aplenty

The Express Tribune
As if the healthcare services available in the garrison city’s government hospitals were not already problematic, a dire shortage of nursing staff is making matters worse.
Data provided by hospital administrations reveals that the nurse-to-patient ratio in the three hospitals ranges from 1:12 to 1:16 during duty hours.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Nursing Superintendent Mumtaz Begum of Benazir Bhutto Hospital said that the general wards were understaffed to the extent that only one nurse was on duty.
“According to the Pakistan Nursing Council (PNC) criterion, there should be one nurse for 10 beds in general, and six nurses per patient in critical areas such as the intensive care unit, coronary care unit, emergency, dialysis and operation theatres. But here, one nurse is looking after two to five patients,” said Mumtaz. The 400-bed hospital has 155 sanctioned nursing posts, six of which are lying vacant. Moreover, 12 posts for head nurses out of a total of 26 have not been filled.
The data provided shows that 4,000 patients visit the hospital daily. “On average, 300 patients are admitted every day, while 1,200 patients are treated in the emergency wards daily,” said Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Muhammad Asif Raza Chauhan.
“Each nurse is performing the duties of five nurses which is unfair on them and violates rules and regulations,” said a senior doctor at Benazir Bhutto Hospital, requesting anonymity. Considered the biggest medical facility of the city, Holy Family Hospital is also grappling with the overarching dearth of nursing staff.
According to hospital records, the 864-bed facility treated around 1 million patients last year.
It receives 1,500 patients daily, while 250 to 300 patients are admitted on a daily basis. There are currently 269 vacant posts, while 800 nurses are required.
District Headquarters Hospital Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Ijaz Sohail Chaudhry said, “Keeping in view the number of patients the hospital receives, the number of nursing staff is disproportionately low.” There are 120 nurses in the hospital, although it receives the bulk of the city’s patients relative to other hospitals, he added. However, he was unable to quote accurate figures.
Earlier, Health Adviser to the Punjab Chief Minister Khwaja Salman Rafique had claimed during a press conference in Rawalpindi that at least 13,000 nurses will be recruited for hospitals across the province to improve health services.
Citing this claim, the hospitals administrations have demanded the provincial government to start recruitment at the earliest to ensure the efficient provision of proper healthcare facilities.
According to the PNC website, there are 24 public health nursing schools in the private and public sectors offering basic nursing health programmes.
A report uploaded on the website mentions that one college of nursing was established in 1951, after which it took 30 years to add more.
Three additional colleges were set up in late 1981, while another was established in 2001. It also mentions that over 2,000 registered nurses, 1,200 midwives and 300 plus lady health visitors are trained in the country every year.

Pakistan: A state of anarchy

THE deaths of innocent people in terrorist attacks are not mourned anymore. Growing fatalities are mere statistics. What matters is only the safety of the ruling elite; never mind even if it is achieved by giving in to the barbarians.
Hours after the carnage of almost 30 poor labourers and vendors in Islamabad’s fruit market the government announced the release of more Taliban prisoners. They were all non-combatants, we are told. So why were they held in the first place? Why were they not produced before any court of law to prove their innocence? No answer. That, however, would not satisfy the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan leaders. Some 800 other prisoners must be released too as a show of sincerity by the government, they demanded. Refusing to further extend the truce, the TTP vows to resume attacks on the security forces.
But it has not shaken the resolve of our national leaders to pursue the elusive negotiated peace. A statement issued after last week’s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security declared that peace be given yet another chance.
For sure it doesn’t matter if an army patrol is attacked in Peshawar, killing one soldier and injuring several others a day after the suspension of the ceasefire by the TTP. The fact is that the truce has never been fully complied with by the Taliban. But this government seems to have enormous patience to tolerate violence — no use of force come what may.
It has been several months now since the talks started, but there is nothing that can evoke even the slightest hope of them delivering peace. How many more chances is the government prepared to give to the militants while the erosion of its authority continues?
While the government still pins hopes on the talks making some headway, the TTP itself is broiled in bloody infighting that has killed dozens of militants. The fighting now seems to have stopped, but it has left the group more fragmented.
It is apparent that Mullah Fazlullah, now operating from across the border in Afghanistan, cannot keep the fractious group united. It was time for decisive action against the terror network. But the talks have provided Fazlullah and others a new lifeline. This despite the fact that he has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on Pakistan forces from across the border in Afghanistan. Why the government wants to keep a man perceived as the butcher of Swat alive is beyond comprehension.
It has been a win-win situation for the TTP as it engages in negotiations with the government. While the terrorist network has secured the release of many of its activists, it has not conceded even an inch on the ground. So what have the talks yielded so far that the government is so desperate to give them another chance?
It is clearly the TTP that is dictating the terms now. The biggest gain for the group is that it has now got the legitimacy to operate freely and propagate its violent narrative with impunity. The charade of talks has allowed the group to strengthen its lobby influencing mainstream politics. It is certainly a very dangerous situation for the country’s security.
What is most worrisome is that the government seems to now be losing control over the capital Islamabad too. The mushrooming growth of radical madressahs affiliated with illegally constructed mosques is virtually placing the city under siege.
Last week, the notorious cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque renamed an illegally occupied children library after the slain Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. After lying low for several years following his release from prison Maulana Abdul Aziz is once again at his vitriolic best, preaching the violent takeover of the state. But this brazen defiance of the law does not seem to worry a spineless administration.
The shrinking authority of the state has never been so palpable. The country has all the symptoms of a failing state with rising lawlessness and militant criminality. A weak and ineffective government has little practical control over much of its territory, including the nation’s capital.
It has lost the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force by embracing militant outfits challenging the very existence of this state. The events over the last few months bear testimony to the country’s rapid slide into anarchy and shameful abdication of the state of its responsibility to protect the lives of its people.
Tailpiece: Two leading journalists were shot at, one of them wounded, in broad daylight in the heart of Pakistan’s two biggest cities in the space of two weeks. But there is little hope of the culprits being brought to justice. The targeted attacks on Hamid Mir and Raza Rumi illustrate the deadly culture of intimidation and retribution used to silence critics.
Several journalists have been murdered in reprisal for their work over the past years. Hardly any case has been solved. This record of impunity has fostered an increasingly more violent climate for the press in the country. Not surprisingly, Pakistan today ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the media. These targeted attacks on journalists are, however, not isolated phenomena; they underscore widening ungoverned space conceded to non-state actors. The latest attacks involving high-profile media persons may have forced the government to take notice. But there seems to be no change in the government’s apathetic attitude in dealing with the rising militant violence.

Pakistan: Militant groups in Punjab

THE Punjab government, in response to a report in this newspaper, has furnished statistics pertaining to the last six months to show its commitment to tracking down militants and pursuing sectarian groups and hate-mongers in the province. It has also said that 3,500 cases have been registered against those who have resorted to activities such as delivering incendiary speeches and spreading hate literature. The official statistics and an accompanying statement, however, fail to inform us of what action it has taken on the piles of intelligence reports at its disposal about the growth of ‘sleeper’ cells of weapons-trained militants. There has also been the issue of allegations of an unannounced alliance forged by the ruling PML-N with a sectarian group made up of members of a proscribed outfit, ostensibly to ensure peace in the province.
True, there has been some positive activity in recent weeks. The provincial police have reportedly traced and arrested perpetrators involved in some high-profile attacks — but the government has yet to crack down on militants and sectarian organisations operating out of the province. For instance, no action has been taken to remove sectarian slogans scribbled on walls across the province, including major cities such as Lahore and Multan. Banned organisations collect funds with impunity and, in certain cases, act as final arbitrators in commercial and family disputes. Hate speeches are common and sectarian literature is distributed without fear of action. Other provinces may face the same situation, but that has to change, with Punjab showing equal resolve to deal with the problem as any other.
Punjab is the ‘birthplace’ of many sectarian and militant organisations. In the 1990s, it was at the centre of sectarian violence in the country. Violence has significantly declined in the province since the mid 2000s, but the militant organisations based in Punjab have grown both in size and operational capabilities and entrenched themselves deep in many parts. These organisations have cultivated close links with the banned Taliban in the tribal areas of Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan, and export cadres as well as violence to other parts of the country. In fact, some analysts argue, militancy in Punjab has elevated itself to an ideological phenomenon as violence has shifted to the conflict areas of the country. Or why would the strongest voices denouncing a military operation against the Taliban rise from here? The battle against militancy and sectarianism in Punjab cannot be won through half-hearted action. The government will have to increase its intelligence-gathering capacity and undertake a full-fledged operation to break up the underground networks of militant groups. More importantly, this fight will have to be fought on the ideological front as well.

Pakistan: Decimating the Houbara Bustard

News of our excesses has come out of Chaghai, Balochistan where, instead of preserving endangered wildlife, we are making every effort to wipe it off the face of the earth. It appears a Saudi prince has had the perverse ‘pleasure’ of hunting down as many as 2,100 Houbara Bustards in as little as 21 days, meaning that as many as 100 birds a day were killed for nothing more than ‘sport’. The prince apparently killed 1,977 birds and the remaining 123 were killed by other members of his entourage. The Houbara Bustard is a protected species and lives in wildlife preserves in Balochistan declared protected and safe areas. However, the prince also poached this bird in these protected areas. One would be forgiven for asking how this could even be possible but, lo and behold, the government has given these Saudi (and other Gulf) royals special permits allowing them to hunt the endangered bird. While in the larger scheme of things, considering the turmoil this country is going through, the issue may seem small to many, but it is the most befitting example of how we allow anyone of Saudi (or Gulf) descent to trample all over our sovereignty and right to protect what is ours. This is through no other fault but our own for not having the sense to protect this precious bird. This news has reached the media because of a report submitted by a divisional forest officer, detailing the hunting trip from January 11 to 31, 2014, right down to the number of birds killed per day. We should be thankful to this officer for revealing just how accommodating our governments are when it comes to pleasing the Arab sheikhs who have been given free rein to hunt the Houbara Bustard on our lands for years now. This is ironic considering that in their own countries, the Arab princes have declared the bustard a protected species and such violations are never allowed to occur. One wonders what the fate of the officer who compiled this report will be. It is not uncommon in our country to see people who do their job honestly and with a conscience get punished instead of rewarded. There are rumours that he has been ‘transferred’ from the forest department; one can only imagine his plight. The hunting of the threatened Houbara Bustard must come to an end; we must show some humanity and stop this butchery by our Gulf ‘friends’.