Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Nigerians in US Rally for Kidnapped Girls Back Home

The threat by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram to sell the scores of school girls it says it kidnapped three weeks ago has sparked outrage around the world and prompted calls for action.
The United States says it will send a team of experts to Nigeria to help in the search for the more than 250 girls and Britain is offering help as well. Eight more girls were reported kidnapped this week.
Meanwhile, rallies were held Tuesday in Washington and New York to press for their freedom.
They marched and brandished signs in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, calling for action.
Nicole Lee, a human rights lawyer, said just because the kidnapping happened in Nigeria doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care. “Everybody, no matter what our race or citizenship, needs to really care and understand that if it can happen there, it can happen here. Human trafficking is all over the planet,” said Lee.
Nigerian Omolola Adele-Oso, the lead organizer of Tuesday's rally, called on her government to do more.
“It’s your responsibility to keep your citizens safe. It’s also the responsibility of the government that everyone should get a fair education and not live in fear,” said Adele-Oso.
In a video released Monday, Boko Haram leader Abubaker Shekau claimed responsibility for the mid-April abduction of several hundred school girls and threatened to sell them.
"Just because I took some little girls in [getting a] Western education, everybody is making noise… I took the girls and I will sell them off," he threatened.
The announcement dismayed relatives and generated widespread outrage. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he spoke to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and promised help. “Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell to provide expertise on intelligence and hostage negotiations and to help facilitate information sharing and victim assistance. President Jonathan was very happy to receive this offer and is ready to move on it immediately,” said Kerry. Yet some Nigerians have been critical of the government, saying President Jonathan's administration has not done enough to secure the girls' release. And for Nigerians living abroad, the frustration of feeling helpless is tangible. At a New York rally, there were more calls for action. Bukola Oreofe, executive director of the Nigeria Democratic Liberty Forum was among the participants. “What [President Jonathan] has to do is summon his security agencies, his armed forces, the intelligence agencies and go after Boko Haram,” said Oreofe.
Nigeria just recently became Africa's biggest economy; outpacing South Africa’s. It hoped to highlight the sub-Saharan country's potential investment destination as it prepares to host its first World Economic Forum in a few days. But the event will most likely be overshadowed by the recent bombings and kidnapping incidents by the militant group Boko Haram. Right now what's trending on social media is not the WEF but the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Ukraine crisis: Russia's Putin 'backs' 25 May election

Russia's President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine's presidential election on 25 May is a step "in the right direction".
But he said the vote would decide nothing unless the rights of "all citizens" were protected.
Mr Putin also urged pro-Russian activists in south-eastern Ukraine to call off a series of independence referendums planned for this weekend.
It comes amid high tension between Russia and Kiev, and its allies in the West, over the crisis in Ukraine.
Moscow says it will protect the rights of the largely Russian-speaking people in the south and east against what it calls an undemocratic government in Kiev.
Kiev has rejected pro-Russian activists' demands for greater autonomy, fearing it could lead to the break-up of the country, and has sent in troops in recent weeks to seize back official buildings occupied by rebels.
Earlier on Wednesday, pro-Russian separatists took back the city hall in the southern Ukrainian port of Mariupol after it was briefly taken over by Ukrainian government forces.
'Conditions for dialogue'
President Putin was speaking after talks in Moscow with Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss president and current chairman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
In what appeared to be a softer stance than in recent weeks, Mr Putin said he had pulled back Russian forces from the border with Ukraine after "we were told constantly about concerns" over their positioning.
He said the troops were now "in places of regular exercises, at training grounds", but a Nato official told the BBC it had "not seen any significant change to the disposition of troops along the border". Mr Putin also said he had appealed for the referendums on greater autonomy planned for 11 May in southern and eastern Ukraine to be postponed "in order that conditions necessary for dialogue are created".
On the forthcoming presidential elections, he said: "I would like to stress that... while they are a move in the right direction, [they] will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held."
Shortly before Mr Putin spoke, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague repeated the West's view that Russia was "trying to orchestrate conflict and provocation" in Ukraine's east and south.
Tensions have been high since Kremlin-backed forces seized control of the Crimean peninsula, which then voted to join Russia in a March referendum that Kiev and the West deemed to be illegal.
That followed the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February by pro-Western protesters.

Bilawal Bhutto prays for early recovery of Edhi
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has prayed for early recovery of Pakistan’s renowned philanthropist and humanitarian figure Abdul Sattar Edhi who has been hospitalized in ICU for his kidney problems. In a press release, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Abdul Sattar Edhi deserves prayers in every home in Pakistan for his services to humanity in the country and abroad.
It may be recalled that Edhi’s kidneys failed last year and doctors advised dialysis for rest of his life. PPP Patron-In-Chief said Edhi had introduced great form of social service in Pakistan in private sector and despite threats and intimidation by anti-people elements he continued serving the suffering masses without any fear.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called for special prayers in worship places of all religions including mosques, churches, temples, and gurdwaras across the country for swift and safe recovery of Abdul Sattar Edhi.


Parliament on Tuesday voted unanimously to lift a ban on YouTube, in a non-binding resolution that was nonetheless welcomed by free speech campaigners as an important symbolic move.
The video-sharing website has been blocked in Pakistan since September 2012 over its hosting of the Innocence of Muslims movie that sparked furious protests around the world. A U.S. appeals court in February ordered Google, which owns YouTube, to remove the film after a lawsuit brought by an actress who says she was tricked into appearing in it, but the Pakistani ban remains in place.
Shazia Marri, a lawmaker from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who put forward the resolution, said students and researchers were suffering as a result of the blackout. “We have been disconnected from the world by the ban on YouTube,” she said. The deputy speaker of the house Murtaza Javed Abbasi later read out the resolution and all the lawmakers voted in its favor. “The house resolves that government may take immediate steps for opening of YouTube,” he said.
Responding to the resolution, state health minister Saira Afzal Tarar said the government was in favor of lifting the ban but it was in the hands of the courts. “YouTube has been banned on the orders of Supreme Court and there is another case regarding the ban in Lahore High Court and the matter is sub judice. However the House can suggest names to form a committee to work on the issue,” she said.
After the vote, Marri said it was time for Pakistan to give up what she termed its “double standard.”
“The Pakistani Taliban launches their website and the [government] does not take action against it, but it maintains a ban on YouTube,” she said. It was the PPP government that initially imposed the ban. Marri defended this, saying religious hardliners at the time were “outraged.”
Though the resolution is not legally binding, it was seen as a positive step by anti-censorship campaigners.
Shahzad Ahmed, director of a group called Bytes for All that campaigns against Internet censorship and has asked a court to overturn the ban, said it was a “very welcome” move. “It’s great news and I think it’s time for the political leadership to take the lead in resolving the issue,” he said.
But some observers remained doubtful. Newspaper columnist and commentator Harris Khalique said the government was reluctant to lift the ban as it doesn’t want to confront the religious groups. “Slapping a ban on YouTube was purely political but garbed in respect for religion,” he said. “It is a ridiculous way of appeasing the orthodox religious groups who are in a minority but create a huge nuisance.”
Free speech campaigners in Pakistan have long complained of creeping censorship in the name of protecting religion or preventing obscenity. In November 2011 the telecommunications authority tried to ban nearly 1,700 “obscene” words from text messages, which included innocuous terms such as “lotion,” “athlete’s foot” and “idiot.”
In 2010 Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over its hosting of allegedly blasphemous pages. It continues to restrict thousands of online links.

Indian Foreign Policy Under Narendra Modi

By Sudha Ramachandran
The frontrunner in the Indian elections has revealed little on foreign policy. How would it change? The likely defeat of the Congress Party in India’s 16th general election has prompted considerable debate about the impact a change of guard in Delhi will have on foreign policy. What would India’s foreign policy look like in the event of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government coming to power, either on its own or with the support of allies?
Many in India and abroad believe that India’s foreign policy is poised for a “sea change” under a BJP government, especially one headed by the strident Narendra Modi.
According to Sreeram Chaulia, professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India, foreign policy under Modi-led government will see greater emphasis on commercial diplomacy, “more assertive actions in response to [Pakistan backed] cross-border terrorism,” greater attention to long-term policy planning with a view to formulating grand strategy for scenarios in 2020 and beyond, “a bigger role for the military in shaping India’s national security and formulating doctrines,” and a greater say for the states in the government’s formulation and execution of foreign policy.
Not much is known of Modi’s foreign policy thinking. Even the BJP’s election manifesto, which is said to carry his “definite imprint,” sheds little light; just a over a page of the 52-page document is devoted to foreign policy.
A controversial and polarizing figure, Modi has often poured scorn on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s “soft” response to terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan and to Chinese incursions into Indian territory. This has contributed to a widely held perception that he will be tough in his response to Pakistan-backed terrorism and would not baulk at the use of force. Modi is also expected to take a tougher stand in dealing with India’s territorial disputes with Pakistan and China.
What “tough” might mean in practice is unclear at this point, and how far Modi will go is hotly debated. Some have even argued that he may reserve the right to use tactical nuclear weapons against Pakistan in response to a major terrorist attack. Most, of course, don’t go that far.
According to Chaulia, in dealing with terrorism emanating from Pakistan, Modi could go for “clinical counter-strikes” and covert operations, including targeted assassinations of key figures in the Pakistan-based, anti-India terrorist network. But he “will try to avoid war with Pakistan at all costs because of the obvious danger of nuclear exchange,” he says.
While agreeing that Modi will appear tough with Pakistan, T P Sreenivasan, a former diplomat who spent 37 years with the Indian Foreign Service, argues that “this toughness will not go beyond a point” as he will realize soon that with “war not an option anymore, a tough approach will go only so far.”
In fact, foreign policy under Modi, Sreenivasn says, “will not change in any significant way.” It would be “continuity rather than change, because former diplomats would be advising Modi, foreign policy not being his forte.” Changes if any will be in nuance and not fundamental in nature.
Indeed, a striking feature of India’s foreign policy is its continuity. Certainly there have been shifts, but as Manjari Chatterjee Miller points out in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, “the broad shape of Indian foreign policy has remained the same for nearly five decades.” Even when shifts do occur, they are not “sudden,” “have rarely, if ever, been political,” and “have had little to do with the prime minister’s political ideology.”
It is in emphasis and style rather than substance that the Modi government’s foreign policy will differ from that of the UPA. Modi will be less patient with Pakistan and can be expected to base his relations with all of India’s neighbors (and not just Pakistan and China) on reciprocity. But like another BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004), Modi would try to reach a final settlement with Pakistan on Kashmir, Chaulia says.
In fact, Modi is reported to have already reached out to Pakistan by sending his emissaries to confer with its leadership.
Vajpayee was assertive in his conduct of foreign policy. Within three months of coming to power, his government conducted a string of nuclear tests, declared India to be a nuclear weapon state, and abandoned the decades-old policy of nuclear ambiguity. His government’s relations with Pakistan were often tense; the two countries fought a near-war at Kargil in 1999 and tensions soared repeatedly over major terrorist attacks in India. Following a terrorist attack on India’s parliament in 2001, the Vajpayee government ordered a massive, year-long mobilization of the security forces along the India-Pakistan border to push Pakistan to dismantle the anti-India terrorist network on its soil.
This toughness notwithstanding, Vajpayee also set in motion a peace process with Pakistan, engaged in dialogue with it at the highest level, reached a ceasefire agreement that remains in force and initiated a direct bus service between the two countries.
So will Modi mix toughness with talks in dealing with Pakistan as did Vajpayee?
Modi’s critics point out that unlike Vajpayee he is not liberal in his outlook and has not demonstrated the vision that would be required to pursue a lasting peace.
What could force Modi to moderate his positions, however, is the priority he is expected to give economic development at home. That will require regional stability if it is to succeed and could force Modi to tone down his confrontationist approach and reach out to India’s neighbors.
Sreenivasan says that Modi’s emphasis on economic matters will require him to adopt a “soft policy towards the rich countries.” In this, the U.S. will be of “primary interest” to the Modi government, he says. Indeed, shared economic interests will see Modi and the U.S. put aside past differences – since 2005, the U.S. has denied Modi a visa over his complicity in the Gujarat riots of 2002 – and do business with each other.
However, it is with Asian powers such as Japan, China and Singapore that Modi’s economic diplomacy will be the most energetic. Having established strong economic ties with these countries as chief minister of Gujarat, he is likely to build on this foundation. In this Japan will hold special appeal to Modi. Not only is it a rich non-Western country in Asia, and thus more acceptable to the BJP’s thinking, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s own nationalistic and militaristic policies will strike a chord with Modi. Modi’s efforts to attract foreign investment to Gujarat are revealing of his likely economic diplomacy as prime minister. As chief minister he built a strong relationship with China, visited it at least four times and successfully attracted Chinese investment into Gujarat. Neither his nationalist outlook nor national security concerns stood in the way of his wooing of Beijing. As prime minister, he can be expected to court China for investment, setting aside the “expansionist attitude” with which he has labelled Beijing.
Modi is expected to allow state governments a greater say in the formulation and execution of foreign policy. He has said that states that have special links with other countries, whether due to shared borders, historical links, or cultural commonalities should be consulted in framing policies and crafting strategies with that country. He has spoken of India’s 30 states as partners in his government’s execution of foreign policy and of wanting to entrust them with “the task of forging beneficial foreign relations with at least 30 corresponding partner countries.”
However, it is doubtful that Modi would treat non-BJP state governments, especially those of the Congress, as partners in his foreign policy execution. He may cede to demands from non-BJP regional parties in power in the states that are his allies in government. For instance, should the All-India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam, the party in power in Tamil Nadu, join his government, Modi could be expected to allow its views to prevail in the crafting of India’s policy to Sri Lanka. But much will depend on how dependent he is on the AIADMK.
Overall, Modi is likely to be comfortable with federalizing foreign policy only with regard to the states courting foreign investment. On other matters it will be his government that calls the shots.
Of course, all this assumes that Modi will be able to form a government, on its own or with allies. Should that assumption prove false, then India may well end up with a coalition of regional and national parties. Such a coalition is very likely to be unstable, with little in common among its constituents. Preoccupied with survival and pulling in different directions, expect Indian foreign policy to be somewhat chaotic, lacking the robustness or purpose that could be expected of a strong BJP government.

The confinement of four Saudi princesses is a reminder that the Gulf states are evil empires, especially if you are a woman

In the country where Islam’s most precious shrine is located, there is no equality, no dignity, no basic humanity extended to daughters, sisters, or mothers A story appeared this weekend which has really shaken me up. It was about four Arab princesses – Sahar, 42, Jawaher, 38, Maha, 41, and Hala, 39 – daughters of the ailing King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who have, allegedly, been held under palace arrest, for 13 years. He has given his sons control over the captives. They are allowed no visitors or staff. Two are held in one gilded, echoing cage, the other two in another. Their mother Alanoud Alfayez, 57, lives in London and has been trying all these years to free her daughters who are unmarried, childless and fading away. Hala has serious mental problems. Two of the sisters contacted the British-Lebanese Sunday Times writer, Hala Jaber, via email and she wrote about their cruel incarceration. Jaber is an inspiring award-winning investigative journalist. I am in awe of her, more so now than ever before.
She did what I should have. She proved herself a worthy, honourable journalist; I failed. About eight years ago (I think) I was contacted by Alanoud Alfayez. I invited her to my home and she arrived with a big bunch of flowers. She was in her forties and incredibly beautiful. Her perfume overpowered the scent of the pink lilies she’d brought. She told me about her life, a fairy tale. She was from a well-connected Jordanian family and they had arranged for her to marry Abdullah when she was only 15. He was then a top chap in the army, much older, handsome and urbane. He won her heart and she became his second wife. In time he became the ruler. Afterwards he took several other wives and fathered over 30 children. She had her daughters, one after another. She must have been pregnant for most of those years.
The girls were beautiful, loved and spoilt by their father. Unusually, he allowed them to travel, to go on skiing trips and filled their lives with money and things. They went to college, developed ambitions and discovered talents. And then, suddenly, their mum was set adrift – her husband decided to divorce her and did, just by telling her, the way they can in Islam. She went to Jordan with her children. Abdullah wooed her back, didn’t keep his promises and he divorced her again, but kept the daughters. She fled to London in 2002. When we talked, I felt she still loved him.
He is punishing her for going away, by slowly letting his daughters lose their heads and hopes. I listened and witnessed her distress. Then I gave her contact details for Anthony Lester, QC, now a peer. Perhaps he could give her legal advice, I said, and maybe find a way of helping to release her daughters. I thought she had got what she prayed for because she never contacted me again. Now all these years have gone by. I think perhaps I thought someone who was so wealthy and privileged would find a way. I want to apologise to this mother for the careless assumptions I made.
Saudi Arabia is an evil empire, as are other Gulf States. In these nations the oppression of women is institutionalised and embedded. A Human Rights Watch report states unambiguously that Saudi rulers have failed to protect nine million females and nine million foreign workers. Although there is now the first ever female editor of a newspaper, Samayya Jabari, Saudi Arabia is a hellhole, its rules and rulers – best mates with our politicians – monsters.
When Muslims go on pilgrimage to Mecca, men and women perform the rituals together, dressed the same. They are all the same and equal in the sight of God.
But in the country where Islam’s most precious shrine is located, there is no equality, no dignity, no basic humanity extended to daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers. Saudi feminists say their mothers and grandmothers could travel without permission. Now they can’t. Last July a car chased by the religious police crashed. The driver was killed. His wife needed her hand amputated but doctors couldn’t operate because no male relatives had authorised the procedure.
When I taught English as a foreign language, a student, another princess, killed herself in London because she didn’t want to go back home. She turned on the gold taps in her bath and got in after taking an overdose. She left me a gold pendant with the name of Allah, which a servant smuggled to me. He told me, “She will have a happy life in paradise. Not easy to be a princess in my country.”
Economic and resource dependency have made our politicians cowardly. They say nothing about these violations or the Saudi takeover of Islam in Britain. Please, let some of them speak up for these four sisters before they too float off to paradise.

Defected Saudi Prince also Supports the Call of the Imprisoned Princesses to support the Uprising

Defected Saudi prince who left the royal family of Al Saud for their widespread corruptions has voiced support to the imprisoned daughters of Saudi King Abdullah who are under house arrest in the city of Jeddah.
In a post on his Facebook page, Prince Khalid Bin Farhan al-Saud praised Princess Sahar and her three sisters for their support for the uprising by “the oppressed people of the city of Qatif” in Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
Prince Farhan defected from the royal family in July 2013, saying that the Saudi authorities “lie and pretend that the regime obeys Islamic rules”.
His remarks came only days after the 42-year-old princess called on people in the kingdom to continue their anti-regime demonstrations.
Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher Al Saud are the daughters of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who are reportedly being confined in a royal compound.
They have not been allowed to leave the compound for 13 years.
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.
Activists say there are over 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan-Backed Indian Mujahideen: Down But Certainly Not Out! – Analysis
By Ajai Sahni
The Indian Mujahideen (IM) has been declared by many as one of the most lethal Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist organisations operating in India, and has been the most prominent presence in terrorist attacks outside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after 2008. At the same time, there is speculation that the organisation is now teetering on the edge of collapse, with much of its top leadership in jail and the remaining principals in Pakistan.
This latter perception has gained greater currency with the string of arrests between August 2013 and March 2014, and indeed, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has made the claim that, “The Indian Mujahideen cadre is almost finished with the capture of prominent IM leaders.”
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 219 Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and IM cadres have been arrested since 2008 (data till April 15, 2014) in cases relating to terrorism. The most significant of a recent spate of arrests has included Yasin Bhatkal, IM’s ‘operations chief’ in India, officially arrested on Aug 28, 2013, in Bihar’s Raxaul town on the Indo-Nepal border; Zia-ur-Rahman aka Waqas, a Pakistani and the organisation’s ‘top bomb maker’, officially arrested from Ajmer in Rajasthan on March 22, 2014; and Tehseen Akhtar, Yasin Bhatkal’s successor as ‘operations chief’ in India, officially arrested on March 25, 2014, from Naxalbari in Darjeeling District, West Bengal. It is significant that each of these three arrests involved crucial assistance from security agencies in Bangladesh or Nepal, indicating a high measure of counter-terrorism (CT) cooperation between India and these countries.
Nevertheless, neither assessment – that the IM is the most dangerous Islamist terrorist group in India, or that it is now ‘almost finished’ – is an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground.
The former conclusion is based on a singular misreading of the data. On the surface, of course, an overwhelming proportion of all Islamist terrorist attacks outside J&K over the past few years have been engineered by, or are believed to have involved, the IM. These include several high-profile urban attacks, prominent among which are the repeat attacks in Hyderabad and Delhi, and major explosions in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Varanasi, Mumbai, Pune and Jaipur, among others. In all, however, just 15 attacks have been claimed by or attributed to IM since the Nov 27, 2007, serial bombings in courts in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow, with a total of 312 fatalities (some earlier attacks have also been arguably attributed to the group by a few commentators). Between 2007 and 2014 (till April 27), Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist attacks resulted in a total of 3,114 fatalities, including 2,598 in J&K and 516 across the rest of India.
Significantly, the more recent of IM’s attacks have been far from effective. The twin blasts of Feb 21, 2013, in Hyderabad killed 17. However, the April 17, 2013, bomb blast in Bangalore injured 17, but resulted in no deaths. On July 7, as many as 13 bombs were planted in and around the Bodh Gaya temple complex, of which 10 exploded, but there were no fatalities and just two people were injured. On Oct 27, 2013, 10 explosions (and another two devices that failed to detonate) targeting densely crowded areas in Patna, including Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime minister designate Narendra Modi’s Hunkar Rally resulted in just seven fatalities.
No terrorist threat should be underplayed, but in the current profile of Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorism in India the IM has played, at worst, a limited role. Other groups, particularly the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami have had a much more devastating profile, and retain far greater strike capabilities even today. These groups are, however, being held in abeyance for the time being by their Pakistani handlers due to a range of extraneous factors, including most prominently international pressure on Pakistan post-26/11, the country’s own difficulties with domestic terrorism, the tactical decision to project an ‘Indian’ face to terrorism in India, and the strategic priority the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) currently ascribes to its Afghan campaigns, as against the Indian operations, which have been calibrated downwards.
Nevertheless, IM’s potential is far from negligible or neutralized, and while significantly damaged by the arrest of much of the operational leadership on Indian soil, its capacities for renewal and future terrorism remain substantial. This is particularly the case because of the location of its entire top leadership and a significant fraction of its operational cadres, in Pakistan; and continuous and generous support to the organisation from the ISI, including the facilitation of linkages with a range of other Islamist terrorist formations. Some commentators have drawn solace from disclosures suggesting a split – possibly a three-way division – in the organisation in Pakistan, but this may prove deceptive.
The reported fracture into splinters headed, respectively, by the Bhatkal brothers, Amir Reza Khan and Mohammad Sajid aka Bada Sajid, may in fact lead to greater operational diversification and independence under a loose coordinating arrangement administered by the ISI. Crucially, the Pakistan-based IM factions continue to exercise some influence over elements in the widely dispersed network of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), and have drawn cadres and operatives from it. However, this network is clearly not yielding any overwhelming armies of enthusiastic recruits, and the recent spate of IM arrests have included Pakistani nationals Zia-ur-Rehman aka Waqas, Muhammad Fahim and Muhammad Abdul Walid, indicating that the ISI has been forced to fall back on Pakistani recruits.
Like other Islamist terrorist groups operating in India, IM is a pawn of Pakistan’s military-intelligence complex, and its potential for escalation will remain as long as its leaders and cadres are located in complete safety in Pakistan, and as long as the Pakistani establishment continues to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

How We Should Protect Girls’ Schools in Balochistan

The Baloch Hal
A couple of recent attacks on private schools and a widely circulated threatening letter from a covert religious extremist group has triggered restlessness among school administrators, female student and their parents in Panjgur district. A relatively unknown religious extremist group has asked all private schools to stop educating girls. The reason provided by the armed group is the same as used across the world by extremist outfits to justify banning girls’ education: the “corrupting influence” western education causes on girls’ character.
These warnings are alarming considering that fact that Panjgur has remained one of Balochistan’s more advanced places in terms of education. A number of private schools run by local teachers and administrators have earned a great reputation for impartial quality education among male and female students in the Pakistan-Iran bordering town.
The warnings to the schools come in the wake of a robust military operation conducted by the Frontier Corps and its affiliated paramilitary partners in the district against what the F.C. describes as “Baloch militants”. (It’s illegal and unacceptable to call anyone a “militant” or a “terrorist” until proven guilty by a court of law and that principle is being flagrantly violated in Panjgur). In one such fresh attack, the F.C. Killed 10 local residents.
Hence, the issue of threats to private schools fails to gain ample attention of the local authorities and community leaders amid a massive confrontation between the security forces and the Baloch nationalists.
The threat to women’s education was not entirely unexpected considering the Pakistani government’s robust efforts to promote radical Islam as a tool to fight Baloch nationalism that has rapidly penetrated in the area.
What eventually happened was the logical culmination of support for extremist Islam. Whenever and wherever extremist religious movements have emerged, women’s rights, their mobility and access to education have become the first casualty. The groups that are seeking an end to girls’ education in Panjgur seem to have an agenda beyond stopping girls’ education. If they are not discouraged and disrupted at this point, they will emerge as a potential threat to the Baloch society.
Any calls against girls’ education are absolutely unacceptable and it is the responsibility of the Balochistan government to take immediate notice of these threats. Panjgur is the home district of Mr. Sabir Baloch, the Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan and Mr. Rehmat Baloch, Balochistan’s Health Minister. These senior officials should play their role in immediately addressing the matter.
In February 2010, this newspaper, after speaking to the heads of a private school in Gwadar, reported similar threats from a Baloch nationalist group that had described co-education at private schools contradictory to the Baloch code of conduct. Once the society at large denounced such a conservative approach adopted by the nationalists, the armed group was immediately compelled to disown its approach and make a public statement saying that it had not issued such a warning in the first place. While Baloch nationalists have not been hostile to girls’ education, the very concept of “Baloch honor” has oftentimes obstructed women’s access to education and freedom. The use of religion and nationalism to contain women’s access to education and mobility is both dangerous. Had the Baloch nationalists included women’s education and empowerment among their core values (such as ‘freedom”, “justice” etc.), Baloch women richly benefit from the ongoing nationalist movement.
The only antidote to religious restrictions on women’s education is to include women’s rights and powers as a core component of the Baloch progressive philosophy. The more we glorify and champion the cause of women’s education, equal right to employment and socio-economic empowerment, the more we will provide our society with a viable mechanism to thwart obscurantist ambitions. The future of Baloch progress and prosperity heavily depends on education and empowerment of our women and we must keep it on the top of the list of our social and political responsibilities.

Pakistan: PPP opposes acquisition of fertile lands for installing power plants

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Punjab chapter has opposed the provincial government’s policy to acquire cultivable tracts of land from farmers to install coal-based power plants and has urged it to instead use barren government lands for this purpose.
In a statement on Tuesday, PPP Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo urged the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) government not to deprive poor farmers of their lands, especially in Muzaffargarh District. Wattoo castigated the Punjab government for its anti-farmers policies from the outset and said that acquisition of thousands of acres of farmlands in Muzaffargarh District for the purpose of establishing a power plant was one of its manifestations. He said that despite availability of sufficient barren lands owned by it in the area, the Punjab government was yet determined to deprive poor farmers of their only source of earning livelihood.
He said that the government was pushing farmers to resort to extreme actions like blocking national highways or launching a march towards the provincial capital to press the government for acceptance of their demands. The PPP Punjab president pointed out that any development strategy should be in harmony with imperatives of social and development notions including preservation of climate that would ensure sustainable development, which was an acceptable development strategy in the world.
He called upon the government to hold negotiations with farmers to work out a mutually agreed formula. However, he said, if acquisition of lands becomes indispensable, then farmers should be given compensation on market value of their lands, which was much higher than what the government was unilaterally offering them on the basis of its own assessment. Wattoo also said that formula for the assessment of value of the land should be carried out by Third Party evaluation. However, he stressed again that the government should give priority to setting up power plants on government lands. Source.

Pakistan's failure in eradicating polio

With polio still uncontrolled the WHO has finally recommended that Pakistanis travelling abroad should present a polio vaccination certificate. Earlier, WHO had declared India and 10 other Asian countries polio-free. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world, the other two being Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is yet to be eradicated.
Successive governments failed to take the issue of polio seriously despite the havoc it has wreaked in the country by making thousands of children suffer from a most debilitating and permanent physical damage. It is understandable why Pakistan is being shunned by the countries which have got rid of the endemic disease. The government failed to take note when Saudi Arabia clamped travel restrictions on visitors from Pakistan. In October 2011, WHO warned that if the polio virus was not contained, Pakistan could face serious consequences. None heeded the warning. Early this year India also placed restrictions on visitors from Pakistan.
Successive governments failed to sort out the ignorant clerics who declared that the polio vaccination was an American conspiracy to spread sterility among the Muslim community. They incited attacks on polio workers and the security personnel attached with them. The killings led to lulls in the campaigns causing hundreds of thousands of children missing polio vaccination.
The policy of appeasement towards the TTP by both the PML-N and PTI has led to more attacks on polio workers than ever before. In January, the WHO declared Peshawar as the largest endemic poliovirus reservoir in the world. With the terrorists from Pakistan’s polio infected tribal areas proceeding for jihad to Syria, they acted as carriers of the Pakistani strain of polio to countries of the Middle East, including Egypt and Israel. Earlier, 23 children in Sinkiang were affected by polio, and it was confirmed after DNA analysis that the virus had been transmitted from Pakistan. This too was presumably carried by the Chinese jihadists operating from the tribal areas.
Complacency regarding polio continues to mark the PML-N administration. State Minister for Health Services and Regulations Saira Afzal Tarar hopes to address the concerns of the WHO so that by the next assessment the travel restrictions are reversed. How can this happen when in December last year, 47,099 children were missed all over Pakistan because their parents refused the vaccination. While Punjab chief of Task Force on Polio Eradication claimed that no polio case had been reported in Punjab during the current year, samples taken the next day from two of Lahore’s Main Outfall pumping stations tested positive. To bring Pakistan out of growing isolation the government has to eradicate terrorism with an iron hand and stop the use of religion against polio vaccination. Terrorism and extremism have to be eradicated if the country is to survive and prosper and be regarded as a responsible member of the comity of nations.

Pakistan grapples with polio fight

More than a month ago, the public health community celebrated the polio-free certification of Southeast Asia including India, viewed as a hopeful step toward global eradication.
But the euphoria has waned as concerns grow the virus is making a comeback and re-appearing in countries that had previously eliminated the disease within their borders.
Pakistan has seen major challenges in recent years, reporting 80% of polio cases this year.
The country faces challenges within its health system including restricted access to its federally administered tribal areas and violence against polio campaign health workers. Vaccine workers have been tortured, shot, bombed, and even have had their family members kidnapped.
"You have disruption of health services, vaccination services are broken where areas are no-go because there is mistrust and health teams are not allowed within the conflict area," said Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, who is co-director of The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada and also works in Pakistan. "In that particular circumstance, to imagine that business would be as usual is naïve."
While Pakistan faces hurdles, India's polio program has been lauded as a model for tackling polio. India's program "was largely internally funded, strongly managed," said Bhutta.
Once considered the hardest place to end polio, India boosted disease surveillance and immunization efforts to vaccinate hard-to-reach communities. To counter rumors and misgivings about the vaccine, social mobilizers, religious leaders and parents were included to increase understanding about immunizations.
"In Pakistan, that political will in terms of making this a national priority hasn't existed," Bhutta said. "They haven't invested enough in routine immunizations, which are critical to eradicating polio. You've got to get people aware of the importance of preventive strategies."
In 2014, the World Health Organization confirmed 74 new cases of polio -- 59 of them were in Pakistan. Within Pakistan, 46 of these cases have been from its restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which is located along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and retains internal autonomy.
The country with the second highest number of polio cases is Afghanistan, which reported four cases. But all of these are related to viruses that originated from Pakistan, according to the WHO.
Emergency measures recommended
On Monday, the WHO recommended emergency measures for three of the countries deemed as the greatest risk for further exporting the virus -- Syria, Cameroon and Pakistan. The organization called for residents of these countries to get vaccinated and show proof of polio immunization before international travel. It also calls for the head of state to declare polio a national public health emergency. "If the situation as of today and April 2014 went unchecked, it could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world's most serious vaccine preventable diseases," said Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration at the WHO. Pakistan has been establishing vaccination booths at its land borders with Afghanistan, China, India and also Iran, according to the WHO.
Bhutta said he wasn't surprised by the WHO's move, but worried the recommendation was a "Band-Aid measure" that's "not going get to the root of the problem." This may divert the vaccines and human resources from Pakistan communities that need them the most, to the huge number of travelers, Bhutta said. "I'm concerned that will take away from the main polio control program and that's the last thing anybody wanted." Pakistan is considered the only country that is "off track" in meeting its target to stop polio transmission, according to the WHO.
Militants in Pakistan have targeted anti-polio campaigns since U.S. intelligence officials used a fake vaccination program to aid their hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2011. Since then, militant groups, with connections to the Pakistani Taliban, have been opposing polio vaccinations and accusing health workers of pursuing a political agenda. Dozens have been killed in acts of violence carried out against polio vaccine workers.
Pakistan has tried to protect its health workers from violence. In Peshawar, authorities banned the riding of motorcycles during vaccine campaigns to prevent attacks, said Aylward.
Polio, which can cause permanent paralysis in hours, has been reported in 10 countries: Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria.