Monday, May 12, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls : Experts scour video footage for clues on Nigerian schoolgirls

Deutsche Welle
US experts have been poring over video footage to try to trace more than 200 schoolgirls that were abducted. Nigeria has rejected an offer by the Islamist group Boko Haram to return the girls in a prisoner exchange.
US officials said on Monday that their experts were closely examining a video released by Boko Haram for any clues about the whereabouts of more than 200 girls who were abducted. "We are providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "Our intelligence experts are combing through every detail of the video for clues that might help ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls," said Psaki. "We have no reason to question its authenticity."
The video was purported to show some 130 of the girls wearing gray Islamic veils and chanting verses from the Koran, with treetops in the background. It is thought the footage may provide vital clues that could help with the search. Another senior White House official, who did not wish to be named, said the assistance being provided now involved surveillance using manned US aircraft.
"We have shared commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and are flying manned ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets over Nigeria, with the government's permission," the official told reporters. However, an official statement, including details of the aircraft and where they had come from, was not immediately available. Multi-national effort
A 30-strong team from the US arrived last week in Nigeria, to help in the search for the girls who are aged between 16 and 18. Almost 200 girls were snatched from their boarding school in the northeast of the country on April 14. The act sparked public outrage, including a prominent Twitter campaign, with France subsequently offering to host a summit to discuss the Boko Haram threat.
Britain and France have also deployed experts to Nigeria, with London saying its aim, as well as finding the girls, was to assist in the defeat of the Boko Haram network as a whole. China, Israel and Spain have all offered help of their own.
The Nigerian government on Monday said it would not agree to a deal proposed by Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau in the video, offering the girls' safe return only in exchange for captured fighters. Boko Haram's violent campaign to impose a strict brand of Shariah law on Nigeria has killed more than 1,500 people this year alone. Thousands more have died since the group's campaign of violence erupted in 2009.

East Ukraine rebels seek to join Russia after vote

Pro-Moscow rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk called on Monday for their region to become part of Russia, a day after staging a referendum that overwhelmingly supported self-rule.
Moscow, however, stopped short of endorsing their bid for annexation.
Announcing the result of the vote in one of the two provinces where it was held, a leader of the "People's Republic of Donetsk", Denis Pushilin, said it was now an independent state and would appeal to join the Russian Federation. "The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world. For us, the history of Russia is our history," Pushilin told a news conference.
"Based on the will of the people and on the restoration of a historic justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider the absorption of the Donetsk People's Republic into the Russian Federation," he said.
Donetsk separatists said more than 80 percent of voters had supported independence.
In neighbouring Luhansk, more than 96 percent of voters supported independence, rebel leaders said, adding they might now hold a second referendum on joining Russia, similar to one held in Crimea, a Ukrainian region Moscow seized and annexed in March.
Donetsk and Luhansk together are home to 6.5 million people and produce around a third of Ukraine's industrial output, creating the biggest new self-proclaimed independent states in Europe since the break-ups of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union itself more than 20 years ago.
West refuses to recognise ‘illegal’ referendum
The government in Kiev and its Western backers say the exercise was absurd and with no legal basis. They point to alleged insecure polling stations, old voter lists, ballots that could be easily reproduced, and self-proclaimed election officials openly promoting secession. They argue that residents who support a united Ukraine were most likely to have stayed home out of fear of rebel gunmen and to avoid lending the vote credibility.
Unlike in Crimea, Moscow has stopped short of recognising the two regions as independent from Kiev and has said nothing to suggest it would endorse their absorption into Russia. President Vladimir Putin even called last week for the referendum to be postponed.
But Moscow indicated clearly on Monday that it intends to use the results of the referendums to put pressure on the government in Kiev to recognise the rebels in the east as a legitimate side in talks.
"We believe that the results of the referendum should be brought to life within the framework of dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
It accused the Kiev government of a "criminal lack of readiness for dialogue with their own people".
Some Western analysts argue that Russia’s stance appears calculated to entrench Moscow's allies in control of Ukraine's industrial heartland without taking the sort of overt steps - sending in ground forces or formally recognising the regions' split from Kiev - that might invite tough sanctions from the West.
The mayor of Slaviansk, a small city in the Donetsk region that has become the most heavily fortified rebel redoubt, said Ukrainian troops were now occupiers, and Russian troops should be invited to help defend the area.
"They should go," Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said of Ukrainian forces. "We're going to defend our territory."
As for bringing in Russian forces, he stated, "I support this. We need Russian troops to provide stability and a peaceful life in the region's future."
Industrial heartland
Losing control of Donetsk and Luhansk would be a crippling blow for Ukraine, a country of around 45 million people the size of France, which is facing bankruptcy after half a year of turmoil.
Donetsk and Luhansk produce more than 15 percent of Ukraine's GDP, including around a third of its industrial output from the giant steel smelters and other heavy industry of the Donbass, one of Europe's most productive coal producing regions.
If they slip out of Kiev's control without being formally absorbed by Moscow, they would become by far the biggest and most economically important of the self-proclaimed independent statelets Russia protects in other parts of the ex-Soviet Union.
The International Monetary Fund, which is arranging a bailout of Ukraine's finances, has said it would have to renegotiate if Kiev lost control of the east. The government in Kiev and Western nations accuse Russia of stirring up unrest in the east following the overthrow of a pro-Moscow president in February by protesters demanding closer links with Europe. President Oleksander Turchinov accused the Kremlin of trying to disrupt a Ukrainian presidential election later this month.
In March, Putin overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy by announcing Russia's right to intervene in Ukraine, seizing and annexing Crimea and massing tens of thousands of troops on the frontier. Putin said last week he had withdrawn the troops from the border area, but Washington and NATO said this was not true. They also say Russian special forces are active on the ground, which Moscow denies.
Eastern Ukraine has been plagued by turmoil as Kiev has staged a largely failed military operation to regain control of towns held by the separatists.
Authorities said that 49 people have been killed in violence in the region of Donetsk since March 13.

Eastern Ukraine's residents don't want to have anything to do with Kiev, it's now a fact
In eastern Ukraine, the majority of residents of Donetsk and Lugansk regions have voted for self-determination. Sunday’s referendum was held amid the ongoing punitive operation by the Kiev regime. The final results of the vote will be announced later on Monday. For more on this issue the Voice of Russia spoke to Dr. Marcus Papadoupulos, British political analyst, publisher and editor of Politics First magazine.
The results of the plebiscites in Donetsk and Lugansk regions were predictable. They’re actually on the verge of breaking away from Ukraine. Do you think it’s a possible scenario?
According to the electorate of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions that is exactly what people want. And they don’t just want it by a small margin, they want it by a very large majority. And that is democracy, regardless of what the US Government says, regardless of what the EU says and regardless of what the illegitimate authorities in Kiev say. The people in the eastern region of Ukraine are very concerned that the President who they elected has been overthrown, they are very concerned about the nature of the people in Kiev and, therefore, they’ve decided to opt for self-rule.
Could the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics emerge as independent countries, could they separate completely? It is conceivable. In the last hour or so the Lugansk region appealed to the UN to recognize its independence. So, it is possible that they could become independent. Of course, the Western governments will not recognize their independence, like they didn’t recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But there will certainly be countries that will recognize the independence.
We are hearing from the Western politicians that it is illegal, that there is no basis for having these referendums. I would argue there is every basis. The Ukrainian Constitution was severely violated, one could argue destroyed, when President Yanukovych, who remains a democratically elected leader of Ukraine, was overthrown. The Ukraine’s Constitution went out of the window instantly when he was overthrown. You have these repugnant neo-Nazi groups, ultra-nationalist groups coming to power in Kiev who are threatening the Russian speakers of Ukraine – they repealed the Russian language law, they are destroying the Russian cultural monuments. So, what on earth did the international community expect the people in those regions to do? Holding this referendum was a response to those events back in February.
That’s not my opinion, when I say –the majority of the people in Donbas don’t want to have anything to do with Kiev – that is not my opinion, it is now a fact. There were two referendums held over the weekend. Nearly 90% of people in the Donetsk region said they want nothing to do with Kiev. In the Lugansk region over 90%, I believe it is about 96%, have said they want self-rule. That is democracy.
And we are hearing allegations of improper behavior, it want perfect. Well, tell me where is an election held and it is perfect? There is no such thing as perfection and there is certainly no such thing in elections. Let’s not forget, in the presidential elections in America in 2000 African Americans in Florida were intimidated by voting by police blocks at the end of their neighbourhoods. We don’t hear much about that in the American press! We don’t hear much about that in the British press!
However, all you had to do over the weekend was have a look at the footage. The queues…thousands of people were queuing up to vote in Donetsk and Lugansk. They are a reflection of their concern about Kiev and a reflection of how Kiev no longer represents them.
Read more:

US says Eastern Ukraine vote illegal

FDA approves 'Star Wars' robotic arm for amputees

'Star Wars' robotic arm, developed in part by the Pentagon for its amputee veterans, earns FDA approval. Mana Rabiee reports.

Washington Monument reopens after earthquake repairs

Report cites Afghan villagers eating grass under Taliban siege

Residents of an Afghan village blockaded by Taliban fighters have resorted to eating grass due to food shortages, according to a report released on Monday revealing the country's worsening insurgency.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said that the withdrawal of US-led troops had coincided with renewed ethnic and tribal feuds, government forces fighting each other and mistreatment of locals by Afghan soldiers and police.
It added that neighbouring Pakistan had failed to crack down on safe havens from where Taliban leaders are able to direct the insurgency that erupted after the militants were ousted from power in 2001.
The ICG report detailed how Ghorak village in the southern province of Kandahar has been under seige by the Taliban for months, leading to a severe lack of food. “Ghorak's district centre remains under government control today, but Taliban roadblocks restrict the food supply,” it said. “People in the besieged pro-government enclave say they have resorted to boiling and eating grass.”
The ICG cited an unnamed resident in Ghorak who was interviewed by telephone last month.
“We have been speaking to these residents for some years,” Graeme Smith, ICG's Kabul-based analyst, told AFP.
“They were already starting to have trouble keeping grocery stores stocked with food last year. Eating grass is one detail that illustrates the problems with supply lines and the isolation of outlying districts.”
The ICG report concluded that “the overall trend is one of escalating violence and insurgent attacks” in Afghanistan, where Nato combat troops have pulled out of many areas where they had been fighting the Taliban for years.
The insurgents “are blocking roads, capturing rural territory and trying to overwhelm district administration centres,” it said.
“With less risk of attack from international forces, they are massing bigger groups of fighters and getting into an increasing number of face-to-face ground engagements with Afghan security personnel.”
All remaining 51,000 Nato combat troops will depart Afghanistan by December, but several thousand US soldiers may remain on a training and counter-terrorism mission if a deal is struck between Kabul and Washington.
“While retaining a contingent of foreign soldiers would not be sufficient on its own to keep the insurgency at bay, its absence could prove extremely problematic,” the ICG report said.

Expert calls for int'l actions in China's anti-terror fight

In addition to enhancing domestic capacity to fight terrorism, it is vital for China to cut terrorists' international connections to win the battle, an anti-terrorism expert said in an article carried by the Monday edition of the People's Daily.
"The changing international environment was an important factor that led to China's worsening terror threats in such a short period," Zhang Jiadong with Fudan University said in the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China, referring to the latest string of terror attacks.
An explosion at a railway station in Urumqi, regional capital of northwest China's Xinjiang, on April 30 followed terrorist attacks at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming in March and at China's iconic Tian'anmen Square in Beijing last October.
Zhang said the international terrorism tide has rippled across to China.
Citing a government report of the United States, he said five of the six countries most frequently hit by terror attacks in 2013 were China's neighbors, with more than 4,600 terror attacks occurring within their borders last year.
"Despite a relatively good security situation, it's difficult for China to stand aloof," he said.
Following the U.S. strategic shift from anti-terrorism to conventional security, terrorists gradually begin to expand their targets to countries other than the U.S., according to Zhang.
The conflicts between China's rise and anti-China forces also play their part in the mounting terror threats, he said.
The problem of "East Turkistan" separatist forces is actually a conspiracy of political organizations operating under the pretext of "democracy and human rights" and terrorism groups harboring religious extremism, according to Zhang.
"Terrorism is an international problem," he said. "Without the political, economic, technical and public opinion support abroad, terrorist groups usually cannot survive, let alone expand."
Zhang called for efforts to set up and consolidate anti-terror mechanisms, such as the regional anti-terrorist structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and proposed the establishment of an Asian anti-terror framework to enhance exchanges and coordination in the field.
He suggested China create a set of counter measures to give necessary warnings or even punitive responses to overseas organizations that unscrupulously support domestic terrorist forces, he said.
China should also take initiative to take part in international anti-terror cooperation because many anti-China terrorist forces base their leading organs and training bases abroad, Zhang said.

Modi on course for election victory, India's exit polls show

Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is set to become India's next prime minister, exit polls showed on Monday, with his opposition party and its allies forecast to sweep to a parliamentary majority in the world's biggest ever election.
Indian elections are notoriously hard to call, however, due to the country's diverse electorate and a parliamentary system in which local candidates hold great sway. Pre-election opinion polls and post-voting exit polls both have a patchy record.
Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has electrified the lengthy contest with a media-savvy campaign that has hinged on vows to kickstart India's economy and create jobs.
Yet much depends on Modi winning enough seats to form a stable government that will allow him to push through his promised reforms.
India's staggered voting, spread over five weeks to reach the country's 815 million voters and move security forces around its varied terrain, ended at 1800 IST (08:30 a.m. EDT) on Monday. Results are due on May 16. Research group C-Voter predicted 289 seats for the National Democratic Alliance headed by the BJP, with just 101 seats for the alliance led by the Congress party - which would be the ruling party's worst ever result.
Another poll, by Cicero for the India Today group, showed the NDA hitting between 261 and 283 seats. A majority of 272 is needed to form a government, although that is often achieved with outside support from regional parties.
Several national exit polls over-estimated the BJP's seat share in the last two general elections in 2004 and 2009. The ruling Congress party went on to form coalition governments on both occasions.
"We will only know if this 'Modi wave' has really happened after the election results," said Praveen Rai, a political analyst at the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), who published a report on exit polls last month. "It still might be more of a media wave, a manufactured wave." CSDS has put together a survey canvassing voters at least a day after they cast their ballots that was due to be released by the CNN-IBN news channel later on Monday.
Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and a crucial political battleground, is particularly tricky for pollsters to forecast because it is a caste-sensitive state where some voters are afraid to speak frankly about who they chose, said Rai.
C-Voter said its poll was based on a sample of 166,901 randomly selected respondents in all 543 seats up for election. The pollster said its margin of error is +\-3 percent at a national level.
India's stock markets have in recent days hit record highs on hopes that the exit polls would show the BJP and its allies winning a majority. The Nifty breached the psychologically key level of 7,000 points for the first time on Monday, breaking a record high of 6,871.35 that it hit on Friday.
The benchmark BSE Sensex also hit an all-time high and the rupee rallied to its strongest levels in 10 months on Monday.
Should Modi fall short of a majority when the results come in on May 16, he will need to strike a coalition deal with some of India's increasingly powerful regional parties.
Modi is a polarizing figure whose critics accuse him of turning a blind eye to religious riots in 2002 in the state of Gujarat, where he is chief minister. More than 1,000 people - most of them Muslims - were killed in the violence. Modi denies the accusations and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.

E.Ukraine referendum: Report from Donetsk as landlslide supports self-rule

President al-Assad: Syria is steadily moving towards victory
President Bashar al-Assad stressed Sunday that Syria is steadily heading towards victory thanks to the great sacrifices of its army and the steadfastness of its people of all spectra. During a meeting with a delegation of cultural, educational, religious and social representatives from Hama province, the President said while the state is moving forward with combating terrorism, it will continue to support and boost the national reconciliation efforts anywhere until security and stability are restored to all the Syrian areas. He asserted that the state pays great attention to the file of the missing, noting that several achievements have been made in this regard. The President hailed the "honorable patriotic position" of the people of Hama who, like the citizens of the other Syrian provinces, "have provided an example of patriotism, credibility and rejection of the attempts at sowing discord among the people of the homeland." Discussions during the meeting dealt with the situation in Hama, including the various service, security and livelihood aspects, in addition to the basic needs of the residents, which President al-Assad affirmed they will be considered as soon as possible and met according to the capabilities available. The delegation members, for their part, shed light on certain problems in the province, particularly in rural areas, and spoke of the efforts exerted by the notables in cooperation with the state institutions to achieve more of local reconciliations.

VIDEO: New Boko Haram video claims to show missing Nigerian schoolgirls

CNN exclusive: Nigerian girl who escaped Boko Haram says she still feels afraid

The terrifying news began to spread before the gun-wielding Islamist militants made it into Chibok last month. Villagers began to receive cell phone calls that the feared extremist group Boko Haram was on the way. No one knew what the attack would entail, that it would mean hundreds of schoolgirls plucked from their beds by a group of extremists who would later threaten to sell them. "It's like they were coming for a shopping trip," a villager who witnessed the attack told CNN. Some lucky girls managed to escape that night when, after they were loaded into cargo trucks, they made a dash for freedom. "We would rather die than go," one of the girls told CNN. "We ran into the bush. We ran and we ran."
With fear in her eyes and voice, the young woman, who asked not to be identified, described the experience to a CNN crew that made the long, dangerous trip to her village.
She said she and two friends who had also escaped saw something on fire and headed in that direction, presuming it was building in the village that had been set ablaze. Normally, Chibok is pitch black at night.
Officials have said that Boko Haram militants abducted 276 girls from the boarding school on April 14 and that some escaped into a forest.
Villagers said they passed along warnings to local police that the terrorists were on their way that night. They said they received phone calls from family and friends from surrounding villages and were told that there was a convoy of cargo trucks, pickups and motorcycles heading their way.
One villager said he was told, "They are coming for you. Run!"
The villagers said police called for reinforcements, but none came. Everyone, including the police, fled into the bush during the attack. But the girls were asleep in their dorms. The stories appear to confirm an Amnesty International report that the government couldn't put together enough troops to head off the attack.
The girl who described her escape to CNN was still shaken up by the events. When asked to describe what her kidnappers wore, she responded: "I feel afraid."
Her school is closed, but if it were open, she says, she wouldn't go back.
Difficult journey
There are many checkpoints on the roads from the capital of Abuja to Chibok. Some of these are manned by the military. Others have local vigilantes, armed with machetes, posted there.
The stops are too many to count and have turned what should be an eight- to 10-hour trip into a journey that took CNN's crew four days.
At each checkpoint, someone will ask where you are headed, poke his head in the vehicle and look around. Sometimes, he will ask to check passports. The absence of a security stop is noticeable when cars turn off the main, paved road onto the clay-topped, pothole-filled path to Chibok. There are no checkpoints for the last hour.
The village is home to hundreds of people, and despite the abduction, life appears to be almost normal. Children play in the streets; men and women go to work.
The primary place of business in town, the open-air market, is busy even after nightfall, though not for long. At the stands, villagers try to charge their mobile phones through power strips attached to gasoline-powered generators. Rarely does electricity flow through the grid. Solar-powered streetlights never work. When the women, children and elderly go to sleep, the young men station themselves throughout the village. Every group has its own area of operation where the men -- who work during the day and must get very little sleep -- do security patrols throughout the night. Each of them carries a machete, a poisoned bow and arrow or, in some cases, a homemade gun. Many in the village said they hope this will help put pressure on the government to do more to find their girls. International effort Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said Saturday that he was worried about the girls and thanked other countries, including the United States, that have pledged support in finding them. "We promise the world that we must get these girls out," Jonathan said. CIA Director John Brennan told the TV network Fusion that the United States is doing "everything we can" to determine the girls' location, a mission President Barack Obama has made a priority. U.S. and British officials are in Abuja to help Nigeria's government look for the girls, plan rescue missions and advise on ways to subdue Boko Haram. China and France are also helping in the search. A statement from Jonathan's office Sunday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to send a team of counterterrorism experts. Several senior officials at the U.S. State Department told CNN that Washington offered assistance in the immediate aftermath of the mass abduction, echoing comments last week by Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. has been engaged since Day 1. Nigeria turned down the offer until it became apparent that the situation needed a greater response. Nigeria denies receiving warning Scrutiny of the Nigerian government's response to the kidnappings escalated after a report Friday from Amnesty International that says authorities knew at least four hours before the attack that Boko Haram was on its way. The Amnesty International report alleges that Nigerian commanders were unable to raise enough troops to respond. A military contingent of between 15 and 17 soldiers and a handful of police officers in Chibok were unable to fend off as many as 200 Boko Haram fighters who stole the girls from their beds, the report says. The Nigerian government said it responded with troops, helicopters and airplanes in the immediate aftermath of the mass abduction. Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty wrote an opinion piece for Sunday's editions of the Independent newspaper of Britain that said the organization stands by its claims.
Many have died in violence
Nigerian officials have frequently been criticized for failing to prevent Boko Haram's deadly attacks, particularly in the terror group's stronghold of northeastern Nigeria. At least 2,000 people have died in violence in northern Nigeria this year, Amnesty said. The most recent Boko Haram attack killed at least 310 people in a town that had been used as a staging ground for troops searching for the missing girls. The International Criminal Court said the number and intensity of attacks has risen sharply this year. It called on Boko Haram to release the girls immediately. "The troubling phenomenon of targeting females during conflict, this time, in Borno state, cannot be tolerated and must be stopped," said prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. "No stone should be left unturned to bring those responsible for such atrocious acts to justice, either in Nigeria or at the ICC."
Disagreement on where girls might be
The girls who remain missing probably have been separated and taken out of the country, some officials have said. "I abducted your girls," Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video released last week. "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell." U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, who serves as Pentagon press secretary, said officials believe that the girls "have been broken up into smaller groups" but declined to detail how they came to the conclusion. His sentiment has been echoed by others. "The search must be in Niger, Cameroon and Chad, to see if we can find information," said Gordon Brown, a former UK prime minister and the U.N.'s special envoy for global education. But Jonathan believes the girls are still in Nigeria, somewhere in the Sambisa forest. "If they move that number of girls into Cameroon, people will see. So I believe they are still in Nigeria," he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron promised Sunday that Britain "will do what we can" to help find the girls. He made the comments as he held a sign bearing the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag on the BBC's "Andrew Marr Show." Cameron and Pope Francis are the latest high-profile supporters of the social media campaign. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of herself with a similar poster last week. The Pope tweeted Saturday: "Let us all join in prayer for the immediate release of the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria.
Also Saturday, Michelle Obama condemned the "unconscionable" kidnapping of the girls, saying in the weekly White House address that it was the work of "a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education.

Bahrain: 170 anti-government protesters arrested in April

Bahrain’s main opposition bloc Al-Wefaq says some 170 protesters, including 29 children, were arrested by regime forces in April.
The group said in a report posted on its website on Saturday that 89 of the arrests took place during home raids, 42 on the streets and 15 others at checkpoints.
Six other protesters were arrested through summons while the cases of the remaining 18 were unknown, according to Al-Wefaq’s Liberties and Human Rights Department (LHRD).
The LHRD also reported that some 837 sporadic demonstrations were held across the kingdom in April, while some 195 of them were repressed by regime forces. At least 58 protesters were injured in the crackdown, most of them being targeted by birdshots.
On April 3, two journalists were also injured during crackdown on protesters during a funeral of a protester in Eker Village.
Bahraini forces also raided 174 homes and other places in April, with inhabitants saying all were carried out without presenting legal permission and that in some cases doors were broken.
On April 23, the kingdom expelled Ayatollah Hussein al-Najati, the representative of Iraq-based Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Manama accuses Najati of not being transparent and says he did not have the official approval of the regime.
Two female activists were also sentenced to five years in jail for "plotting to disrupt the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix held in April 2013."
The LHRD also documented 20 cases of vandalism of private properties, including cars being damaged by tear gas canisters fired by security forces during anti-regime protests. Some 12 cases of confiscation of private belongings, including cell phones, were also reported.
Last month, 12 anti-regime activists were sentenced to life in prison and two others to 15 years over charges of “spying for external parties.” Nine others were also given life sentences for being “involved in explosions.”
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa family to relinquish power.

Afghan love story film shortlisted at Sydney Film Festival

An Afghan documentary film based on a true love story has been shortlisted to receive award at this year’s Sydney Film Festival (SFF).
The film – Love Marriage in Kabul is produced and directed by an Afghan-Australian filmmaker Amin Palangi which features the efforts and fight of an Afghan-Australian woman Mahboda Rawi for a love marriage. The winning film which will be announced during the Closing Night Gala on Sunday 15 June at the State Theatre will receive Australian Documentary Foundation Prize.
Love Marriage in Kabul is among the 10 Australian documentary films vying for the $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award.
Mahboda Rawadi is a Sydneysider who established an orphanage in Kabul following the death of her son. “The story follows Mahboda Rawi as she fights for a love marriage to happen in Kabul between one of the first orphans she has rescued, and the girl next door,” Palangi quoted in a report by Arts Hub said.
Palangi who has multiple trips between Australian and Afghanistan to make the feature lenght documentary said hopes that Love Marriage in Kabul will illuminate audiences to the traditions and challenges of marriage from this side of the world.
He said, “The audience that I had in mind for this story was an audience who are not necessarily Afghani to be honest.” “I made this film because there were a lot of stereotypes about Afghanistan, especially Afghani women, and I think that through this story – because it is a love story essentially – that Australian audiences and international audiences will hopefully connect with the story in a different way,” Palangi added.
He also added that he wanted to challenge the perceived power roles of women in Afghanistan. “‘I’m hoping to showcase the enthusiasm and power of this women. When you see the way she negotiates her way around Afghanistan, the way pushes men around, she’s very different to what you would normally see,” he said.
He said, “Those are the misconceptions that I would to challenge and hopefully change.”

Washington mounts pressure on Pakistan to tame Taliban

The United States is exerting more pressure on Pakistan to act against Taliban militants in the country's tribal regions and to help stop cross-border attacks that could lead to instability in Afghanistan after the pullout of U.S.-led NATO forces from the country within in the next few months.
The U.S. believes the Taliban militants and al-Qaida remnants are using Pakistan's tribal areas in planning cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
Washington has sent some of its top military leaders and diplomats to Pakistan over the past few weeks to urge the country' s leaders to go after the armed groups in the restive border regions.
William J. Burns, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, who wrapped up his visit to Pakistan late last week, urged Pakistani leaders to dismantle what he called "safe heavens" in the tribal regions and stop attacks into neighbor countries from Pakistani soil.
"We support the Prime Minister's efforts to reestablish authority over all Pakistani territory in whatever way Pakistan deems appropriate, and especially urge him to sustain pressure on militant groups, deny them a safe-haven, and prevent cross-border attacks," William Burns said in a statement issued at the conclusion of his visit to Islamabad on May 9.
According to the statement, Burns has told Pakistani leaders that countering cross-border attacks and shutting down the Taliban safe havens are critical not only for Pakistan's long-term peace and prosperity but also for positive relations between Pakistan and all its neighbors, including Afghanistan.
The statement from the senior U.S. diplomat, who met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Army Gen. Raheel Sharif, is a clear message to Pakistan to establish firm control over all of its volatile border regions to stop the militants from crossing into Afghanistan.
The porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan runs some 2, 500 km and despite deployment of thousands of troops by both countries, militants continue to nomad crossing the border through rugged mountains and launch attacks inside Afghanistan.
Pakistan has repeatedly suggested fencing of the border but the Afghan government stayed reserved on the idea, saying that the move will divide the Pushton ethnic group accommodates across border.
As concerns are fast growing about the possible intensification of fighting in Afghanistan in the coming weeks as the Taliban have announced their "spring offensive", against foreign and Afghan forces, the U.S. is asking Pakistani leaders to stop militants from crossing into the neighboring country. Washington is hardly keen to see a destabilized Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops. Meanwhile, the Afghan government routinely claims that Pakistan is helping and sheltering Afghan Taliban.
The Afghan side suspects that Pakistani militants will seek a new battle field in Afghanistan, as the Pakistani Taliban are involved in peace talks with the government.
A week earlier before Burn's trip, Gen. Lloyd Austin, Commander U.S. Central Command, also visited Pakistan and met with Gen. Raheel Sharif, chief of the Pakistani Army. The two commanders reportedly discussed security issues and the post-NATO Afghanistan.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins also met with top Pakistani civilian and military leaders during his three-day visit last month. Dobbins told a Congressional Committee this month that "Pakistan was not taking appropriate measures to curb terrorism in the country as the religious seminaries in the tribal regions and Balochistan, in southwestern border province, were the cause of attacks inside Afghanistan and India."
The U.S. also wants Pakistan to encourage the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiation table to find out a political solution ahead of the NATO withdrawal.
The U.S. and Afghanistan believe Pakistan has influence on the Afghan Taliban and it can do a lot in the reconciliation process.

Gunmen kill Pakistan Navy official in Karachi

Unknown gunmen attacked a Pakistan Navy official near the Karasaz area on Karachi's Shahrah-e-Faisal on Monday, DawnNews reported. Security and rescue teams reached the attack site situated on the port city's main artery. The targeted Navy man was rushed to a hospital for treatment where he succumbed to his wounds during treatment. Police sources said that the incident appeared to be sectarian motivated, although reports in the media indicated the killing could have been the result of a failed robbery. Earlier this month, a security guard of the Pakistan Navy was shot dead by robbers in an attack on the car of a senior navy officer in Defence Phase II. Another Pakistan navy officer was shot dead and his Swedish wife wounded in a similar attack in September last year. Earlier on Feb 27, a lieutenant commander of the Pakistan Navy was wounded in an attack in Karachi’s Keamari area who later succumbed to his injuries. In another incident on Feb 7 2031, a naval officer and his wife were injured in a mysterious explosion in their car near the city’s Karsaz area.

Pakistan: Senior journalists Reject Imran's Allegations

Senior journalists Reject Imran's Allegations... by GeoNews

Pakistan eyes Colombo as ISI looks South

After security was tightened along the borders in the north with Nepal and Bangladesh, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence has been trying to build a base in Sri Lanka to gain entry to India, say experts. The arrest of suspected ISI agent Sakir Hussain from Sri Lanka in Chennai on Tuesday is an indicator of the accuracy of this line of thinking.
Central agencies, who made the arrest, believe that Hussain, 37, was in Chennai as he had been tasked by a senior official in the Pakistan high commission in Colombo with recruiting youth from south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, for circulation of fake currency and terror activities. Hussain's confession has made Indian agencies take a closer look at Pakistan's plans in Colombo.
Col R Hariharan, a retired military intelligence specialist on South Asia, said the ISI had been trying to gain a larger foothold in Sri Lanka to execute its designs on India. "A few years back, the Pakistan government appointed a retired army person in its high commission in Colombo. He had direct links with ISI, which is keen on finding an entry point in south India using Colombo as a foothold," Hariharan told TOI. He said gold and counterfeit currency smugglers had found it easy to run operations from Colombo.
Investigating officers in the Sakir Hussain case said he was trying to recruit smalltime smugglers in Chennai and other parts of TN. Intelligence officials recalled the arrest of Thanjavur-based trader A Tamim Ansari, who police suspected was a Pakistani agent, in Trichy when he was on his way to board a flight to Sri Lanka with a bunch of secret Indian naval documents and compact discs loaded with maps.
A senior intelligence official also recalled the arrest of a senior leader of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). "The organization was banned after one of its leaders attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) in early 2000. He used Colombo as transit for his trip," the official pointed out.
A central intelligence agency recently alerted the state police that four Sri Lankan citizens with ISI connections were likely to enter Tamil Nadu. Hariharan said the integrated structure involving central intelligence and police organizations in states were not yet fully in place. "It has to progress at a faster pace with greater commitment both at the central and state levels," he said.
Officials said that the launch of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) was a crucial initiative and its successful implementation could improve the country's real time response to terror attacks.

ISI still desperate for sand samples of nuclear test area in Pokhran

The Times of India
Sixteen years after India created history by becoming the sixth country to have tested nuclear bombs and joining the elite nuclear club on May 11, 1998, Pak intelligence agency, ISI, is making a lot of efforts to get a sample of the sand in Pokhran. The ISI even today, is reportedly trying to spy this area and get the sand samples of the area in Pokhran where the nuclear tests were conducted.
At the tail end of Pokaran field firing range, the spot where nuclear test was done, is under strict vigil and ISI has not been able to succeed in its efforts. The 3.5km long road is closely guarded and one has to pass four strictly guarded gates to get there. Even till today, the then director of United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), George Tenent feels disappointed at not being able to get the hint of the nuclear test conducted by India in 1998.
According to an intelligence source, "ISI had launched its spies and agents whose objective was to take sand from this place. ISI wants to test the sand and analyze how the testing was done scientifically and technically. But due to the alertness of BSF jawans, their objective so far has not seen the light of the day."
Defence spokesperson SD Goswami said, "Guarding and protecting the defence land is the responsibility of the local military authority. As such, all defence land falls under restricted area zone where permission for civilian freedom of movement is strictly monitored and depends on case to case."
May 11 has been officially declared as the National Technology Day in India to commemorate the first of the five tests that were carried out on the 16th anniversary of Pokhran II. After the nuclear test done on May 11 and 13, 1988, the place is under strict Army vigil even today and no person can enter it for several kilometres without Army's permission.
Just 16 years ago, Buddha smiled at Pokaran area in Jaisalmer. In hind sight, 'Smiling Buddha' a (MEA designation: Pokhran-I) was the code name of India's first nuclear weapon explosion, which took place on May 18, 1974. As a sheer coincidence, after a long silence, on May 11, 1988 in the same Pokaran range, three nuclear explosions were done and that day, too, was Buddha Purnima.
It may be recalled that missile man and former president APJ Abdul Kalam, for the success of the series of nuclear tests, in a confidential manner stayed here for over two months under a pseudo name along with two scientist friends at Khetolai field firing range. For the implementation of these tests secretly, a chess table was laid and even America's chief intelligence agencies could not get a hint of the same.

Definition of a Traitor in Pakistan

By Jeeyand Baloch
Pakistani society is a divided and confused society. They are confused about everything. After 67 years of independence, general masses still wonder that creation of Pakistan was a right decision or not. Pakistan’s relation with America is as old as its creation, but still people are not sure whether US is our foe or confidant. There is perplexity regarding negotiating with Taliban. Moreover, there is also confusion on the definition of traitor in Pakistan. As compared to civilized world, definition of a traitor is totally opposite in Pakistan. Anyone who says that Pakistan should be a welfare state rather than a security state. He is labeled as a traitor. A welfare state in which children should get free schooling, free health care facility for every person, salary for the jobless people. This idea of a welfare state which is according to the interest of common people but it is contradictory to the interest of a specific group and this group for the sake of protecting its own interest has termed the proponent of welfare state theory as traitor. If someone talks about amiable relation with India, he also gets the certificate of a traitor. Bulk of the budget is spent on defense and reason given for this spending is hostile relations with India. Friendly relation with India will cut the defense budget and can be used for development projects which are so badly needed in this underdeveloped country. Apart from this, India is the second largest population of the world; even the super powers want the market access of India. Trade with the neighbor next door can boost the weak economy of Pakistan and it will bring prosperity for the people on both sides of the border, but normal relation with India will undermine the importance of a particular lobby. So, to show their significance among masses they issue certificate of traitor to those who talk about friendly with India. Demanding what is your constitutional right also comes in the category of a traitor. Going back to the history, Bengalis asked for their rights and they were declared as traitors and one million of them were butchered and it resulted in breakup of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. Baloch masses who since the inception of Pakistan have been demanding their just constitutional rights have been declared as enemy of the state and agent of RAW and MOSSAD. Anyone who dares to speak for the religious minorities he is termed as a traitor. Pakistan which was created on the ideology of Islam and to speak for the minorities is against the ideology of this Islamic state. These definitions of traitor fit well in the context of Hamid Mir. He always spoke for harmonious relation with India. He always gave fair coverage to Baloch missing person cases who are victim of hatred and brutalitay by the establishment. He raised his voice for Shia Hazara minority. It seems that humanity is lost in the country of 200 million people. Hamid Mir who received six bullets and is in hospital fighting between life and death, his opponents have started their campaign against Mr. Mir on streets and social media. People are calling him as an Indian agent and spokesperson of Baloch Freedom Fighters. It is common for the journalist and politicians belonging to smaller provinces to get the title of a traitor. Hamid Mir is the second Punjabi journalist who has got this title. The first Punjabi journalist who got the certificate of traitor was his father Late Waris Mir. Like his son Mr.Waris Mir also spoke for the oppressed nations and minorities. He warned that military operation in East Pakistan will break Pakistan. The authority concerned paid no heed to his judicious words and massacred innocent Bengalis and outcome of this atrocity was East Pakistan Debacle. Those who were responsible for East Pakistan Debacle were held accountable but people like Mr. Waris Mir were blamed for this catastrophe. Hamid Mir like his father has always warned the establishment that army operation in Balochistan would result in another East Pakistan Debacle. But, they have learnt nothing from their past follies. Hamid Mir is very unfortunate because he belongs to a country where people can’t differentiate between a traitor and patriot .Here those who abrogate constitution and derail the democracy are the sole patriots.

Pakistan's draconian Blasphemy Law : Another One Bites the dust
Salmaan Taseer lost his life in January,2011 because he was brave enough to challenge the draconian Blasphemy Law present in Pakistan. His assasin was garlanded by lawyers in Rawalpindi District Court. The Judge who sentenced Mr. Taseer’s assasin had to flee Pakistan to save his life. Salmaan Taseer’s party distanced itself from his position and any space present for a logical discourse on blasphemy law vanished after Mr. Taseer’s brutal murder. Blasphemy-related deaths and vigilante actions in Pakistan have multiplied in number since 2011. The most recent victim was Mr. Rashid Rehman, a lawyer and member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan(HRCP).
Mr. Rashid was representing Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Multan’s Bahauddin Zikriya University(BZU). Junaid Hafeez is a Fulbright Scholar and his rapid ascension in academia ruffled more than a few feathers. Mr. Junaid promoted liberalism, equality and feminism among his students. He was also active on a facebook group with similar agenda. 0n 13th march 2013, pamphlets were distributed by students of English department at BZU, belonging to right-wing fascist student group, Islami Jamiat Tulaba(IJT). The pamphlets asserted that Mr. Junaid was a blasphemer because he was administrator of a facebook group where an anonymous person posted blasphemous comments about Islam’s holiest personalities. The pamphlets(and the dimwits who wrote those) were alleging “guilt by association”.
Following the pamphlet distribution, a mob gathered inside the university premises and later an FIR(First Information Report) was registered at a nearby police station. Mr. Junaid was arrested on these flimsy charges and he is currently present behind bars, for a crime he never even committed.
Enter Rashid Rehman. Mr.Rashid had dealt with cases related to human rights violations and he took this case on humanitarian basis. Mr. Rashid had to face threats since the first hearing of this case from the so-called Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat(TTNR), or “Movement to Protect Honor of Holy Prophet”. Members of the clergy have formed sham associations like this since the inception of Pakistan, to claim political mileage and to carve out a space for their retrogressive brand of politics.
Rashid Rehman took the threats seriously and informed the district authorities about those threats and applied for additional security measures.
On 7th May, 2014, Dawn reported,
“Human Rights Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was gunned down by unidentified attackers in Multan, late on Wednesday night.Initial reports suggest that Khan was targeted by two gunmen inside his office at Kachehri Chowk.Sources told that two clean-shaven young men barged into Advocate Khan’s office and shot him dead. Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was a coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The senior lawyer was defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy and had complained that he had been receiving threats on his life.”
IJT goons have a history of inciting violence against minorities and those who stand up for rights of minorities. In 1974, the Anti-Ahmaddiya campaign across Pakistan was led by IJT and resulted in loss of lives and ultimately, declaration of Ahmadis as Non-Muslims by the National Assembly through a constitutional amendment. Barelvi groups such as TTNR have sprung up in the last few decades, and have adopted the language of violence as much as their Deobandi counterparts.
Mr. Rashid’s assasination has been mourned by the few liberals left in the country and has sent a shockwave of fear across the blogosphere. Anyone who opposes Blasphemy Law, or the concept behind the law, or anyone who even defends people who have been accused of Blasphemy, are in danger of losing their lives. The message which is to be learnt from this incident: Shut Up and Carry On with your miserable lives.
Will the killers of Rashid Rehman be brought to justice? Who will ensure the writ of state in this matter? For How long will the state abdicate its responsibility of protecting its citizens from murderous zealots? The future is bleak, there is very little hope left for sane, rational voices in this country.

Pakistan: Terrorists as strategic assets
Last month the establishment had presumably warned the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network to choose between the TTP and the state of Pakistan if they wanted to stay friends with Islamabad. The TTP leadership, including its present chief Mullah Fazlullah, owe allegiance to Mullah Umar whom they consider as Amirul Momineen, or the leader of the faithful. Haqqanis, on the other hand, have allowed the TTP leadership to move freely in areas of North Waziristan under their control. That the TTP declined to extend the ceasefire indicates that the warning did not have any effect. A number of other developments also corroborate this. Attacks on civilians and those in uniform continue. On Saturday, an explosion in Peshawar killed at least three noncombatants and a remote controlled IED blast injured four security personnel in North Waziristan. What is even more significant is Fazlullah’s move to sack Khan Said Sajna as Ameer of South Waziristan. Sajna is reportedly in favour of holding talks with Pakistan. As if to cock a snook at Pakistan, the TTP chief has nominated Khalid Omar Khorasani, who had ordered the decapitation of 23 troops taken hostage, to appoint a new commander for South Waziristan in place of Said. Both Fazlullah and Khorasani operate from inside Afghanistan where the government in Kabul has provided them shelter to launch attacks inside Pakistan.
It appears that Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis were unwilling to oblige Pakistan. With the so called “Spring Offensive” having started last Monday, they are relying on the support of Fazlullah and his men in the fight against the multinational army and Afghan troops. Soon the Afghan government would discover that it was a folly on its part to provide Pakistani militant groups safe havens.
It is time Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US realised the need of eliminating all brands of terrorists from the region. As long as governments continue to treat bands of terrorists as strategic assets, there will be no peace in Pakistan, Afghanistan or India. The policy of setting one militant group against another in the long run results in creating more enemies than before and is therefore to be avoided. There have been reports in the media that Taliban groups from Punjab, that include LeJ and Jaish-e-Muhammad, are poised for joining hands with the Afghan Taliban. While shortsighted elements in the echelons of power might think this would provide them a breather, a more comprehensive view of national security would require elimination of all these group through mutual cooperation by Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.

Polio and Pakistan

Inayatullah Rustamani
Today polio is rife in Pakistan due to its full engagement in the war by being a close US ally and spending everything there. The travel bans on Pakistanis will further weaken Pakistan’s efforts to fight the crippling polio disease
Inevitably, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Pakistan a polio-exporting country and has imposed travel bans on its citizens. WHO’s Emergency Committee members and its expert advisors held a two-day meeting on the alarming spread of polio on April 28 and 29 in Geneva. The meeting declared 10 countries polio-infected, including three countries as polio-exporting countries — Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon. Travel restrictions have been imposed on polio-exporting countries by requiring polio vaccination certificates from their citizens before flying abroad. The WHO team has prescribed certain hard conditions for the polio-exporting countries before the travel ban can be lifted. First, these countries each have to declare a national public health emergency. Second, aspiring travellers should receive a dose of OPV or inactivated polio-virus vaccine (IPV) between four weeks to 12 months prior to any international travel. Third, the travel restrictions will be lifted if the polio-exporting country does not export the polio virus. And last, the country should maintain documentation of the complete application of top level and quality polio eradication activities in the affected areas.
Pakistan tops Syria and Cameroon in exporting the polio virus. The given WHO conditions are very hard to implement in Pakistan in the prevalent conditions. The federal government has pleaded that it has no money to buy polio vaccines on an urgent basis and has appealed to WHO for the provision of polio vaccines. However, the federal government has money for the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) Youth Business Loan and the PM’s Laptop Scheme. Failing to meet the WHO conditions would mean the continuation of travel restrictions and addition to the sufferings of air travellers. It is very bizarre that first international cricket teams refused to play cricket in Pakistan owing to security threats, and now Pakistani citizens are not allowed without polio vaccination certificates to fly to foreign countries because of the threat of polio that they carry.
It is alarming that out of 59 polio cases within the first four months of this year, 40 cases have been reported from North Waziristan, while the remaining are in other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Karachi. Not a single case has been reported from Punjab and Balochistan this year. This high number of polio cases has not emerged overnight. In 2013, there were 91 polio cases and in the preceding year there were 58. Pakistan was close to being a polio-free country but the disclosure of the spying incident that located al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden by Dr Shakil Afridi while administering polio drops brought a strong reaction and propaganda by religious groups against polio vaccinations. The fanatics first told the illiterate masses that the polio drops are un-Islamic as they claim they contain male and female infertility chemicals. They also frequently attack polio workers and threaten parents with dire consequences if they administer polio drops to their children. This has all added to the increase of polio in Pakistan. Then Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gillani launched an anti-polio drive in 2010 and appointed Asifa Bhutto Zardari, the daughter of former PM the late Benazir Bhutto, as a goodwill ambassador for polio eradication. She tried to create awareness among the masses about the crippling effects of polio and worked hard to contain it. The militants, being arch-rivals of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), tried hard not to allow polio drives in the tribal areas. This is the reason that today it is now a hub of the polio virus. Militants attack immunisation teams; they have killed some 56 polio workers since December 2012. The militants’ attacks are to discourage the meagre daily wage earning polio workers. The health sector of the country is a completely neglected sector. A very small budget is allocated to this very crucial sector. The government allocated a total of Rs 35.6 billion for the health sector in the annual budget for the fiscal year 2013-14. With this meagre budget, a crippling disease like polio cannot be combated and finally eradicated. Pakistan has to do much by banking on its own revenues. This disease affects our children and brings infamy to Pakistan. Thus the government of Pakistan has to allocate much to the health sector to fight a pitched battle against this paralysing disease. It was incumbent on the Pakistani representative present in the WHO meeting to save Pakistani citizens from travel restrictions by explaining to them that there has been a rise of polio cases due to intensified terror strikes in the country.
The world community must not forget the sacrifices of Pakistan in the war on terror and must play its role to lift the travel restrictions on Pakistani citizens. Today, polio is rife in Pakistan due to its full engagement in the war by being a close US ally and spending everything there. The travel bans on Pakistanis will further weaken Pakistan’s efforts to fight the crippling polio disease. This country should not be pushed to a state of isolation by disconnecting its citizens from the world. The travel restrictions on Pakistanis mean leaving Pakistan alone at a most difficult time when Islamabad is already struggling with terrorism, an energy crisis and threats to democracy. Polio is not a Pakistan-specific disease, the way the WHO has tried to portray it by punishing all Pakistanis. The presence of this virus anywhere is a threat to everywhere. This was the time of the world community to stand by Pakistan to tackle the polio virus, rather than leaving Islamabad alone.

Pakistan: The wages of violence

LONG after every vestige of the blood and gore has faded, long after the cacophony of headlines has receded into the past, the memory of violence lingers. It impresses itself in a myriad ways on the lives of survivors: in the physical wounds, the emotional toll, the lost livelihoods. Over the last few years in Pakistan, violence has become synonymous with terrorism, which has claimed over 50,000 lives. However, as a recently released British Council report, Next Generation: Insecure Lives, Untold Stories, explores, that is only part of the picture. Violence in our society has evolved into a pervasive, multi-dimensional malaise that, if left unchecked, threatens to unravel the gains painstakingly accrued over the past decades. The potential for long-term and far-reaching repercussions is very real, for violence impacts not only survivors, but those who witness it, as well as victims’ family members, sometimes in life-altering ways. Given Pakistan’s age demographics, the British Council report looks at the issue from the point of view of a critical segment of Pakistani population: its youth.
Two-thirds of Pakistanis are under 30 years old, with the median age being only 21. This youth bulge could be a potential asset but in the absence of policies for a more equitable and inclusive society, the frustrations simmering in this demographic may further nudge the country towards instability. The report gives voice to over 1,800 stories of young people across Pakistan and includes a national survey of more than 5,000 such individuals. Together they offer a glimpse into what the study describes as “the public health crisis that is emerging from the trauma of conflict and violence”. A significant minority of respondents — 22pc — said they had directly experienced violence themselves or knew someone who had.
Violence in Pakistan is often rooted in cultural and economic factors, but in many respects it is an indictment of a state that has long shirked its responsibilities towards its citizens. There is among Pakistanis in general a profound disillusionment with the institutions of the state to safeguard their rights. Where young people are concerned, the psychological fallout of dashed hopes and thwarted ambitions engenders depression and mental illness, fuels rage, and further perpetuates the cycle of violence. In a society awash with guns, a culture of machismo, and the paucity of legal means of recourse, violence is increasingly seen as an acceptable way of settling disputes. In the process, society is fragmented along ethnic and sectarian lines. A divided polity is scarcely equipped to fight the existential crisis that Pakistan faces today. There must be a concerted effort by the state to address the underlying factors that perpetrate this culture of violence. The time for band-aid solutions is long gone.