Monday, June 23, 2014

‘Don’t take photos’: HRW slams Bahrain for targeting photogs over protests coverage

The Human Rights Watch has slammed Bahrain authorities for targeting photographers who cover anti-government protests. At least 25 cameramen have been held up in the country since 2011, with 4 award-winning correspondents still charged or in jail.
On Sunday, Hussain Hubail, who won a 2013 award, is to appeal a five-year sentence for taking part in an “illegal gathering” and inciting hatred of the government.
Then, on Wednesday, Ahmed Humaidan, who also took award-winning photos of protests and recently won the 2014 John Aubochon Press Freedom Award, will launch an appeal against his 10-year sentence for allegations that he attacked a police station.
Both have been mistreated while in pre-trial detention, their family members told Human Rights Watch.
“The images that Ahmed Humaidan and Hussain Hubail captured portray a reality that the Bahraini government would prefer that the world – and other Bahrainis – not see,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch.
“Throwing photographers in jail isn’t going to keep either the protests or the accounts of what happens in Bahrain out of the world’s sight,” he added.
Last year, two other photographers were targeted. They told HRW that security forces arrested them due to their occupation and later subjected them to tortures in custody.
Ahmed Fardan, a photojournalist whose photograph of protests in Bahrain won first prize in Freedom House’s “Images of Repression and Freedom” contest last April, faces charges of participating in an “illegal gathering” on December 16, 2013, at which 60 people allegedly attacked police vehicles. He was detained December 26. “The first question they asked me was, ‘Where is your camera?’” he said. Then, the police confiscated the two cameras, hard drives, and flash drives from the room he was staying in. The man was taken to Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) headquarters, where police blindfolded and handcuffed him in a cell known as “the freezer,” as it was kept very cold, he said.
The first trial in Fardan’s case is set to take place on September 14, 2014.
Plainclothes officers also arrested Sayed Ahmed Mousawi, another award-winning photographer, and his brother Mohamed at 5am on February 10 – without presenting a warrant. The photographer’s father told the HRW that the security forces beat and humiliated his son. Eventually, he reportedly signed a confession to curb further punishment – both physical and psychological.
A few weeks ago, though, a judge authorized his detention for a further 45 days, although he has yet to be formally charged.
HRW recounts several other cases of photo and video correspondents arrested in Bahrain. According to their sources, at least 25 photographers or cameramen have been detained in the Gulf Kingdom since 2011.
The main cause for the widespread arrests of photographers is that they “have played a leading role in challenging the authorities’ version of events,” said the former head of the photography department of Al Watan newspaper, Abdullah Hassan.
Abdullah Hassan was himself fired by government media three years ago, along with three other journalists. He says he was arrested and beaten.
“Why do you take pictures? Where do you publish them?” an officer who identified himself as “high-ranking” asked Hassan, then told him, “you will never find another job.”
Last year, Hassan was hired by Al Ayam newspaper, but fired four days later due to “orders from above.”
All the government’s alleged actions are against the current country’s legislation, HRW said. In particular, article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of expression – and so does article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified.
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice,” HRW said.
In May, the rights group issued a damning report on Bahrain’s justice system detailing its selective application, broken promises and a further descent into savage violence by the security state in the three years since the country’s own Arab Spring.
Since 2011 the country has been beset by massive street demonstrations with the opposition demanding the establishment of a constitutional government in the Shia-majority state, ruled by a Sunni monarchy. On the eve of the three-year anniversary of the Arab Spring-inspired protests this past February, lese-majeste became a crime punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
The US government has been reluctant to criticize the small island country, which hosts its strategically vital Fifth US Fleet.

Saudi Arabia: Five Men Given Six Years' Prison for Insulting the Kingdom's Flag
Five young Shiite men in Saudi Arabia have been sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly insulting the Kingdom's flag.
Middle East Online reported that the men were prosecuted after they had allegedly lowered a flag and replaced it with a black banner during a demonstration in a school in Qatif, Eastern Province.
The five men replaced an official plaque on which was written "The Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" with one stating "The Kingdom of Qatif of Tomorrow".
In addition to the jail sentence, the men were also banned from travelling, the Saudi Press Agency reported. They were given 30 days to appeal the verdict.
In Saudi Arabia, flag desecration is considered as an act of blasphemy against Islam and is thus punishable with fines, imprisonment, corporal punishment and even death. Furthermore, atheism is considered as terrorism.
Although article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, to which Saudi Arabia is party, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, anyone who renounces Islam is treated as an enemy of the state.
Eastern Provice – where about 2m Shiites live - was rocked by protests led by members of the Islamic faction in 2011 and 2012.
The protests eased after some Shiite dignitaries from Qatif agreed with King Abdullah to promote peace dialogues between the two religious groups.

Syria rebel groups recruit child soldiers, says rights watchdog

At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
Two years later, at the age of 14, he became a child soldier, training to join the ranks of rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra. He learned how to use weapons, make bombs and use mines. But when it came to fighting on the front line, he was scared. "Then our sheikh came to encourage us to go fight and gave us speeches about jihad," Omar told Human Rights Watch. "So after two days, I went to front line."
Omar is just one of many boys being used on the battlefield in Syria's civil war, according to an HRW report released Monday. Many are forced to fight in battle. Others must act as snipers, man checkpoints, spy on opposing forces or carry out other, equally dangerous tasks.
Amr, 17, told Human Rights Watch that he first joined the Daoud Brigade, an Islamist rebel group, when he was 15. He later agreed to sign up for a suicide attack mission, feeling socially pressured to sign the volunteer list. Other children had also signed on, he said.
With Syria entering its fourth year of civil war, grim accounts of child soldiers being used on the battlefield are now emerging. Though the specific number of child fighters in Syria is unknown, the Violations Documenting Center, a Syrian monitoring group, has documented 194 deaths of "non-civilian" male children since 2011.
Of the 25 boys interviewed by HRW for the report, many reported joining opposition forces simply to follow a relative or friend. Others become opposition fighters because of circumstance -- living in battle zones or suffering at the hands of government forces. The report demands the discharge of all soldiers under the age of 18 in Syria and warns anyone backing such organizations of being potentially complicit in war crimes.
It also accuses the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a powerful jihadist group, of recruiting children through free schooling campaigns.
Pro-government militias were not investigated in the HRW report, which cited logistical and security concerns. Enlisting anyone under age 18 in armed conflict is a violation of international law.

Zardari calls upon Party to reach out to IDPs

Co -Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party former President Asif Ai Zardari has asked the Party leadership to reach out to internally displaced persons in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and render all possible assistance in their relief and rehabilitation.
A large number of tribal families have moved out of North Waziristan due to operation against militant hideouts adding to the already bulging population of IDPs in the province. Official estimates put the figures of registered IDPs at over four lacs with many more still pouring in.
The internally displaced persons IDPs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are our heroes and heroines who are undergoing untold sufferings and miseries in the nation’s drive against militants and they must not be left alone in their hour of tribulation he said in a message conveyed to the Party leaderships at the centre and in all the provinces today. Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the former President today directed the provincial President PPP Khanzada Khan to draw up a workable plan in consultation with the Party officials for the rehabilitation of IDPs in the province involving also party chapters in other provinces in providing material assistance in the gigantic task.
Special attention should be given to providing transport, shelter, food and health care besides cash relief to the streams of people pouring out of troubled tribal regions.
The Spokesperson said that the former President also directed the Parliamentarians of Party to raise a strong voice in the Parliament for addressing the problems faced by the IDPs and for setting up of Victims’ Rehabilitation Fund for the relief and rehabilitation of the internally displaced persons.
He also directed the Party parliamentarians to brief the international community and the diplomats about the humanitarian crisis and the need for international assistance in the relief and rehabilitation of IDPs. The fight against militants is a global fight and the world community must also fulfill its responsibilities in providing generous assistance for the relief and rehabilitation of the displaced families, he said.
Mr. Zardari said that besides being a huge humanitarian issue, the displaced persons were also a national asset in the fight against militants. We must do everything possible to make the displaced persons believe that the sacrifices made by them in leaving their hearth and homes and living in tented camps in scorching heat are being recognized and that they are not being abandoned.
Abandoning the IDPs or mishandling the issue will give handle to the opponents of the operation to demand an end to the fight against militants, the former President warned. The honor that the state and society will give and the extent to which we mitigate the sufferings of the internally displaced persons is critical to sustaining the support of the people in the fight against militants the Spokesperson quoted the former President as saying.
The former President also asked the provincial Party President of Khyber Pakhtunkhwah to keep him regularly posted with the plans drawn and the assistance rendered to the internally displaced persons.

No, President Obama Did Not Break the Middle East

A short response to an unfair charge by a former Bush administration official
A brief note on a new Elliott Abrams essay in Politico Magazine that appears under the eye-catching headline, “The Man Who Broke the Middle East.” The man in question is not Sykes or Picot or Nasser or Saddam or Khomeini or George W. Bush or Nouri al-Maliki, but Barack Obama. I often agree with Elliott, but I could not let this one go by without a response. Don’t worry. This won’t take long.
Here is Elliott’s thesis:
The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace, for the surge in Iraq had beaten down the al Qaeda-linked groups. U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good. Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home. Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained.
A few points. The first is to note that the Middle East Obama inherited in early 2009 was literally at war—Israel and the Gaza-based Hamas were going at each other hard until nearly the day of Obama's inauguration. Obama managed to extract himself from that one without breaking the Middle East.
In reference to a “contained” Iran, I would only note that Iran in 2009 was moving steadily toward nuclearization, and nothing that the Bush administration, in which Elliott served, had done seemed to be slowing Iran down. Flash forward to today—the Obama administration (with huge help from Congress) implemented a set of sanctions so punishing that it forced Iran into negotiations. (Obama, it should be said, did a very good job bringing allies on board with this program.) Iran's nuclear program is currently frozen. The Bush administration never managed to freeze Iran's nuclear apparatus in place. I'm not optimistic about the prospects for success in these negotiations (neither is Obama), but the president should get credit for leading a campaign that gave a negotiated solution to the nuclear question a fighting chance.
It's also worth noting that when Obama came to power, he discovered that the Bush administration had done no detailed thinking about ways to confront Iran, either militarily or through negotiations. There was rhetoric, but no actual planning. Obama applied himself to this problem in ways that Bush simply did not.
Elliott writes that, in 2009, U.S. relations with Arab allies were good. But these relations, in many cases, were built on lies and morally dubious accommodations. He states that "the most populous Arab country is Egypt, where Obama stuck too long with Hosni Mubarak as the Arab Spring arrived, and then with the Army, and then the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, and now is embracing the Army again."
Let's break this down for a minute. It was the policy of several administrations to maintain close relations with Egypt's military rulers. It was Bush administration policy to maintain close relations with Mubarak. Perhaps the 2011 uprising in Egypt could have been avoided had the Bush administration, in honoring its "Freedom Doctrine," engineered Mubarak's smooth departure several years before Cairo exploded. Obama inherited a dysfunctional relationship with Egypt from his predecessor. This is not to excuse the administration's faltering and sometimes contradictory approach to the Egypt problem today, but simply to set it in some context.
On the peace process, Elliott writes,
Obama began with the view that there was no issue in the Middle East more central than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Five years later he has lost the confidence of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and watched his second secretary of state squander endless efforts in a doomed quest for a comprehensive peace. Obama embittered relations with America’s closest ally in the region and achieved nothing whatsoever in the “peace process.” The end result in the summer of 2014 is to see the Palestinian Authority turn to a deal with Hamas for new elections that—if they are held, which admittedly is unlikely—would usher the terrorist group into a power-sharing deal. This is not progress.
I'm sure Elliott remembers that in 2006, the Bush administration helped bring the terrorist group Hamas to power, by engineering elections that neither the Palestinian Authority nor Israel actually wanted. I'm sure he also remembers that President Bush (along with a series of presidents before him) failed utterly to bring about a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. It seems a bit unfair to single-out Obama for failing at something presidents of both parties, for 40 years, have also failed to accomplish.
On Syria and Iraq, Elliott is on somewhat firmer ground. I've argued that an earlier intervention in Syria, in the form of support for what was then a more-moderate rebel coalition, might—might—have changed the balance of power.
On a deeper level, the idea of blaming any American president for the terrible state of the Middle East seems somewhat dubious. I argue this question with myself and with my friends all the time, because I do recognize that the U.S. has a singular role to play in the world's most volatile and dysfunctional region, and I agree with Robert Kagan, who argues that superpowers don't have the luxury of taking vacations from responsibility. But on the other hand, conditions in Iraq, while aggravated by certain Obama policies, cannot be pinned on him alone. For that matter, the man who truly broke Iraq was not George W. Bush, but Saddam Hussein, who through murder, rape, pillage, torture, and genocide destroyed millions of Iraqi lives.
What I would like is to read Elliott on this question: To what extent is this really about us at all?

Kerry assures Iraqis of U.S. support if they unite against militants

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Iraqi leaders Monday as radical Sunni militants continue their march toward Baghdad during the country's tensest time since the U.S. withdrawal of troops in 2011.
"The future of Iraq depends on decisions made in the next few days and weeks," Kerry said after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man who some observers say needs to step down.
Al-Maliki has agreed to a July 1 deadline to form a new government, a requirement for U.S. assistance in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Kerry said.
"Our support will be intense, sustained," and will be effective if Iraqi leaders unite to face the militant threat, he said.
With al-Maliki's Shiite-led government losing more ground to ISIS, Kerry implored the leader to rise above "sectarian motivations" to become more inclusive and make the government more representative of Iraq's population.
Kerry also met with Iraq's foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.
Al-Malaki's office issued a statement after his meeting with Kerry, saying the Prime Minister told Kerry the current situation "poses a threat" not only to Iraq but the region as well. Al-Malaki "called on the countries of the world, especially countries in the region, to take it seriously," the statement said.
But outside the rooms of high-level talks, parts of Iraq are falling by the day. Here's the latest on the crisis that is spilling far beyond Iraq's borders:
At least 71 prisoners and five police officers were killed Monday when militants attacked an Iraqi police convoy transferring inmates from one prison to another, police said.
Five militants were also killed. It was not immediately clear whether ISIS was behind the attack.
The convoy was traveling from Hilla, a predominately Shiite city south of Baghdad, to another prison north of the city. Police did not provide further details about the attack.
Iraq's military is accusing ISIS of carrying out massacres. "Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers have been beheaded and hung and their bodies have been desecrated," said Iraq's military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta. "Why has the U.N. not decried these atrocious crimes, which are among the biggest crimes against humanity?"
ISIS captures more ground
ISIS militants advanced toward Baghdad over the weekend from the north and the west. At least 70% of Anbar province is now under the control of ISIS, two security officials in the region told CNN. ISIS is on a mission to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria. Militants have taken over the Tal Afar airbase in northern Iraq as well as the city of Tal Afar, officials said.
On Monday, Iraqi troops prepared to recapture the airbase, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abu al-Waleed said. "At least 1,000 Iraqi troops have amassed to the north of Tal Afar and are firing rockets at militants in control of the city," he said. The fighters also seized the western Anbar town of Rutba, 70 miles (113 kilometers) from the borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, security sources in Baghdad and Anbar told CNN on Sunday.
Then there's Qaim. ISIS captured the city along the Syrian border Saturday, and the militants now enjoy a stronghold and a number of other towns in Anbar province. The fighters have a direct line to the western outskirts of Baghdad. Sharia law spreads
One of ISIS' biggest victories came when it took over Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, this month. On Sunday, witnesses said militants paraded around the city in vehicles, announcing on loudspeakers that they have decided to form Islamic Sharia courts in Mosul.
Sharia law covers religious and nonreligious aspects of life, and ISIS has begun imposing Sharia law in the towns it controls. Boys and girls must be separated at school. Women must wear the niqab, or full veil, in public. Music is banned, and fasting is enforced during Ramadan.
The military denies huge losses
But Iraq's military said it's not losing as much ground to ISIS as some may think. The military made a "strategic withdrawal" in some areas, Atta, the military spokesman, told reporters.
He said the withdrawals were part of a campaign to "open all these fronts so we can strengthen our positions." But Atta did not detail the specific locations.
Two security officials told CNN that Iraqi forces have withdrawn from Haditha, 168 miles (about 270 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
But even if some withdrawals were strategic, it's unclear when or how Iraqi forces could retake areas now in the hands of well-armed ISIS fighters.
The military said it has fought back against militants with airstrikes. Officials showed reporters footage of airstrikes they said took place in Tal Afar.
Atta said the video showed a "large number of ISIS forces fleeing these strikes" that left up to 50 people dead.
Recruiting station gets pummeled
Apparently, those trying to join Iraqi forces are at risk before they even enlist. In the Shiite-dominated Hilla, at least four people were killed in a shelling attack on a recruiting station. Another 34 people were wounded. Hundreds of predominantly Shiite men went to the recruiting station to answer a call to arms to protect Iraq. U.S. sends more help The U.S. will have a greater presence in Iraq aside from Kerry's visit this week. About 300 U.S. military advisers will arrive, a senior defense official said. They will not be deployed all at once. In addition, some U.S. military personnel already at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will be reassigned and become advisers, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
But Obama said there's only so much the United States can do.
"Part of the task now is to see whether Iraqi leaders are prepared to rise above sectarian motivations, come together, compromise," Obama told CNN's Kate Bolduan. "If they can't, there's not going to be a military solution to this problem. There's no amount of American firepower that's going to be able to hold the country together, and I've made that very clear to Mr. Maliki and all the other leadership inside of Iraq."
How has ISIS become one of the richest ever militant groups?

Syria hands over 100% of declared chem weapons stockpile

'ISIS: Baghdad next, oil production will dive, price will rise'

Ukraine crisis to dominate EU foreign ministers meeting

Pakistan's Polio: Mission Impossible

By Hiba Mahamadi
“By 2012, we had almost eliminated polio in Pakistan. Then the killings started,” Aziz Memon, Chairman Pakistan National Polio Plus Committee Rotary International, tells Newsline, referring to the security crisis that has stunted the country’s anti-polio campaign in recent years. Although mistrust of the anti-polio campaign (the vaccines are rumoured to contain pig fat and cause infertility) has been popular for years, the infamous Shakil Afridi affair, in May 2011, added fuel to the fire. Afridi is a doctor from Peshawar accused of using a fake vaccination campaign – incidentally, it was Hepatitis B, not polio, as was widely reported – to gain access to a number of houses in Abbotabad, in order to locate the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden through his children, identifying them by their DNA samples. It was after this incident that the Taliban leaders, led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, banned all anti-polio campaigns in North and South Waziristan.
Since July 2012, no child has been vaccinated in that area, says Dr Elias Durray, WHO’s Chief Coordinator for Polio Eradication in Pakistan. In July 2012, two doctors associated with the campaign were gunned down in Karachi and, on December 18, four female polio workers were killed and two male workers injured on the same day in three separate incidents in Karachi. According to Dr Altaf Bosan, 69 workers, including guards, have been killed in the course of Pakistan’s polio eradication campaign since December 2012.
Aziz Memon believes that the security situation in high-risk areas like FATA and Gadap makes it difficult for the government to effect legislation: “What can they do?” he asks. He says the mindset of the tribal leaders stands as a huge roadblock to the anti-polio campaign in Pakistan. When asked about the mindset of the several jirgas, maulvis and ulemas he has met with in the course of his work, Memon responds, rather sarcastically, “I don’t know if they have a mind.” He elaborates, that no thinking person can watch while their loved ones suffer the dreadful effects of polio despite having a cure in hand. “They’re hurting their own children,” he says.
Clarifying the notion that such a mindset only exists among the uneducated, Nadia Naqi, winner of the International Centre For Journalists Vaccine Story Contest in 2013, says that this disconnect with the anti-polio campaign “is not just rampant among the uneducated classes, but is across the board.” And it all stems from a “trust deficit” between the public and the authorities. “The educated classes don’t trust the government or the vaccines it provides. The media campaign run by the government is also not taken seriously.” Eliminating polio in Pakistan, therefore, is not so straightforward, and according to Dr Durray, “Pakistan’s polio eradication programme has faced challenges not faced by any public health programme anywhere in the world.” Despite all this, Aziz Memon still maintains that “the situation is not bad at all.” He refers to the fact that despite the alarming figures – 59 polio cases by early May and 67 by the end of the month – until 2012, Pakistan was doing very well in the anti-polio campaign, having eliminated 90 per cent of the virus from the country. Dr Ali Faisal Saleem, a senior instructor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Aga Khan University, specialising in infectious diseases, childhood vaccines and childhood malnutrition, tells Newsline that “there hasn’t been a single case of wild type 2 poliovirus in Pakistan since 1999 or wild type 3 poliovirus since November 2012. Currently, only wild type 1 poliovirus has been reported in the country.”
In those parts of Pakistan where the security situation is relatively better, the polio vaccination campaign moves quite smoothly. Mohammad Arshad has worked at Karachi Cantt railway station as a vaccinator for the last 12 years, and is head of operations at the exit point. His team administers OPV to approximately 800–900 children a day. The awareness level among their parents is high, Arshad says, adding that, “Only a few people refuse the drops for their children, otherwise the majority of the passengers want their children to be vaccinated.” Talking about possible improvements to the current vaccination system at the station, Arshad says, “The railway administration should make vaccination mandatory for all travellers. The trains should also be double-checked so that no child is looked over.” Arshad also shares that any untoward incident involving a polio vaccinator anywhere in the country “spreads chaos and fear among our workers,” but he is confident because “Cantt station is inside a boundary, and there is no such problem over here.”
But security issues and a lack of awareness are not the only reasons for Pakistan’s poor performance in the race to eliminate polio. Dr Saleem is currently working on a WHO-funded research project to identify polio eradication strategies in Pakistan and, according to him, although it is true that “we tend to vaccinate the same children all the time,” mainly because it is easier to administer drops to children in safer areas than penetrate into the Northern Areas, malnutrition also plays a key role in reducing the efficacy of polio vaccination campaigns. “A very important issue in Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign is chronic malnutrition. Our recently completed polio vaccine trial in chronically malnourished children found that the immunity level to the polio virus in these children was lower compared to relatively better nourished children, despite the former having received many polio drops.”
Moreover, the “administration and execution” of polio campaigns in the country – and this has nothing to do with security issues in certain pockets – are another reason for the high number of polio cases, according to Dr Memon. He says success rates as high as 100–120 per cent have been recorded in the past, whereas the real figure is closer to 80 per cent (this issue was recently raised in the Senate as well). People making up the paper work are inefficient. “And then there’s the money that goes into the coffers,” he adds.
Although Mohammad Arshad credits the media for the high level of polio awareness in Pakistan today, others paint quite another picture. In the noise that erupted following the WHO recommendations, the Minister of State for National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar, commented, “It is the media which has created panic in the country.” Aziz Memon agrees that journalists tend to portray the negative aspect of any story, as they are taught that only “negative news is news, while positive news is not.” One example of such journalism is a newspaper report, published in November 2011, claiming that vaccines purchased using funds provided by the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation had proved fatal or debilitating to populations in Pakistan and other regional countries. But, while figures for deaths that had occurred in other countries were reported, no hardcore facts were provided for Pakistan. Even if such reports which discourage the anti-polio drive are true, which Dr Memon says he highly doubts, the fatalities represent only a small percentage compared to all those children who have been successfully vaccinated against the virus (in 2004, 30 million children under the age of five years required polio vaccinations in Pakistan): “This cluster of so-called reported deaths, where do they fit in?” he asks. Journalists are “jumpy, they do not have the time and the energy which they should apply in exploring a report before giving it to the people,” Dr Memon says, citing the recent example of a report that claimed 46 children in Thatta had died due to rubella, whereas his own enquiries revealed that less than 10 deaths had occurred and all due to measles, not rubella. “What has already been done [to eradicate polio], the media does not want to talk about. But, if just one new case of polio is discovered in the country, it is reported,” says Aziz Memon.
But, Nadia Naqi believes that such “panic” is precisely the need of the hour as it gets people thinking about polio. On the other hand, she also says that “while the media in Pakistan has done a lot [for the anti-polio campaign], most channels do not discuss the issue during their primetime segment. They probably think political issues are more important,” she says.
While health issues are simply not on the government’s list of priorities – “Just look at the government’s spending on health, it’s never been up to the mark,” Naqi says, citing the condition of public hospitals – this laissez-faire attitude is not just limited to the ruling elite. “For people in Pakistan to be health-conscious, and it’s unfortunate, they need to suffer first. Unless they themselves contract the disease they never become serious about tackling it. We just don’t take health seriously,” says Naqi. Then, many vaccinators themselves lack the passion for their work simply because “they are not permanent employees, they are not paid on time and only get about Rs 450 for a day’s work…” There is not just a lack of political will, but also public will.
Still, there is hope. The May 5 WHO Temporary Recommendations, no matter how ill-suited and disgraceful for Pakistan, have helped rouse the country. “Now everyone is waking up,” Dr Memon says. For example, in a cabinet meeting on May 15, the government decided to make polio drops for all children travelling from FATA to the rest of the country mandatory and the army was given the duty of overseeing this process. Dr Durray maintains that “it is possible to eradicate the polio virus in 12 months and, from China’s example, we know that it can be stopped in even less than that time.” Although, back in December 2012, Durray had the same thing to say – that polio could be eradicated in Pakistan within the next year, unaware that the threat to Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign had only just begun.
Nevertheless, Dr Memon is positive, because “the steps taken in the last few days prove that there are ways to work around the security problem, and access the impenetrable Northern Areas. If we have the will, we’ll find a way.” All that is required is a final push to completely eliminate the virus from the country, and perhaps the WHO recommendations will provide just that.

The World Food Program on Monday began distributing aid for hundreds of thousands of people who have fled a military operation in Pakistan, as refugees clashed with authorities over delays.
Pakistan began a long-awaited military offensive aimed at eliminating Taliban militants from their stronghold in the North Waziristan tribal district last week, following a brazen attack on the country’s busiest airport in Karachi.
The operation, involving airstrikes, tanks and heavy artillery has forced the exodus of more than 400,000 people, mainly to the nearby town of Bannu just outside the tribal zone. It has left nearly 280 militants dead, according to the Army, but the figure cannot be independently verified.
Safiullah Khan, an official with a local non-governmental organization partnered with the WFP, said a food distribution point in Bannu had begun providing rations including wheat flour, cooking oil, lentils and high energy biscuits. “We have made all necessary arrangements, which are enough to cater to ration needs of 15,000 families on daily basis,” he said.
Around 2,000 people had gathered at a local football ground where the food center was set up to wait for the first consignment of trucks. They later scuffled with police when distribution was delayed by several hours, who fired in the air to disperse the protestors.
Noor Bat Khan, a 60-year-old resident from Esori village in North Waziristan criticized authorities for taking so long to act and not creating enough centers. “The authorities should set up more distribution points as it will be difficult for the displaced persons to wait for their turn in scorching heat,” he said.
According to a government spokesman, a total of 404,819 people have so far left North Waziristan after the start of the military offensive.
Meanwhile influential warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur held talks with a tribal jirga, or council, in North Waziristan where he repeated a threat to join forces with the Taliban if the offensive continued. “Bahadur said he would not launch any retaliatory action against military troops operating in the region until the middle of August provided the government agrees to stop the offensive enabling the refugees to return to their homes,” said a spokesman for the jirga, Malik Fida.
Bahadur fought against the Soviets during their occupation of Afghanistan and later against U.S. forces after 2001, but signed a peace deal with the Pakistani military in 2006.

Qardi reaches Jinnah Hospital to inquire health of PAT workers

Chief of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Dr Tahirul Qadri along with Governor Punjab Chaudhy Sarwar and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi reached Jinnah Hospital, where he would inquire after the health of the Model Town violence victims. Dr Tahirul Qadri had refused to sit in any vehicle provided by the Punjab government and demanded the governor Punjab to accompany his convoy. He waited for arrival of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and they left in Elahi’s vehicle for hospital.
Tough security arrangements were made at the hospital, where hundreds of PAT workers had gathered to have a glimpse of their leader.
Earlier after nine hours long stay in plane finally Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief, Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, came out of plane at Lahore airport after successful negotiations with Governor Punjab Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, Abbtakk reported.
Dr Qadri gave up his demand of provision of military security and said that he would leave for his home under the security of his personal guards as he can’t trust the Punjab government and police. He demanded the authorities to bring his bullet-proof vehicle to tarmac and that the journey of his convoy should be broadcast live on the media. After coming out of the plane Tahir Ul Qadri said that he will leave the airport in Pervez Elahi car. Qadri also said that he will first go to Jinnah hospital to inquire about the health of their party workers,who were injured in Model Town incident. Governor Punjab Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar hold negotiations with Qadri inside the plane and convinced him to disembark from the flight. The governor assured Qadri that the government would provide tight security to him.
Hundreds of PAT workers were gathered to welcomed Tahir-ul-Qadri at airport.
Earlier Dr Tahirul Qadri refused to sit in any vehicle provided by the Punjab government and demanded the governor Punjab to accompany his convoy.
He further demanded to reinstall the barriers near his residence within 24 hours that were earlier removed and ended up in a bloody clash leaving ten killed in Model Town, Lahore.
The administration is mulling over Qadri’s demands and the final decision will be taken post deliberations.
Earlier when his plane landed at Lahore airport, Dr Tahirul Qadri refused to leave the plane and talk to the government representatives, saying that he would only speak to the representative of armed forces.
Dr Qadri told the reporters from inside the aircraft that he would not disembark till his security is guaranteed by the military.
Addressing a press conference, Dr Qadri said that thousands of supporters were present at the Islamabad airport and questioned that why their sentiments were being hurt by diverting his flight to Lahore and asking him to exit the plane. He said that he is a Pakistani citizen and it is his right to land anywhere he wanted. Dr Qadri said that it was not a right decision to divert his flight.
The PAT leader said that dictatorship rules Pakistan instead of democracy. He demanded an explanation for diverting his flight to Lahore.
Dr Qadri said that he will not exit the plane until any official of the armed forces arrives at the scene and provides him security. He agreed to leave for his residence in the military protection. On the other hand, a large number of PAT supporters arrived at the Lahore airport after their leader’s flight was diverted from Islamabad.

Pakistan: Wattoo for unity to defeat terrorists
Punjab PPP president Mian Manzoor Wattoo has appreciated the stance of Bilawal Bhutto for urging the political leadership to shun their political differences and support the soldiers who are fighting the war against terrorists.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Manzoor Wattoo said it was the time for politicians to prioritise their strategy and defeat the worst enemy which was in the shape of extremism and terrorism posing threat to the country. Mian Manzoor Wattoo rejected widespread arrests of the PAT workers by the government, adding there was no justification for such an action because peaceful protest was the moral, political and constitutional right in a democratic dispensation.
He called upon the Punjab government to release the PAT workers and desist from using coercive methods to subvert the normal political activity within the ambit of the constitution.
He maintained that the PAT workers were known for their adherence to discipline, therefore, they would not take law into their hands. The pre-emptive arrests will only make things difficult for the government and therefore should not be acted upon, he observed.

Ye ada ye naaz ye andaz aapka (Ahmed Rushdi & Mala)

Qadri finally comes out of plane

After successful negotiations with Governor Punjab, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief, Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, finally came out of plane at Lahore airport where hundreds of his supporters welcomed him, SAMAA reported. Earlier, Governor Punjab Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar came to meet Qadri inside the plane and successfully convinced him to disembark from the flight.

Video: A mass exodus out of Pakistan's North Waziristan as army readies ground offensive

Pakistan: Who are the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) ?

Operating from Pakistani territory since more than a decade, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has fought shoulder to shoulder with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
But they began as a semi-criminal group, under the name Adolat, led by Juma Namangani, a soldier of the USSR army, and a firebrand cleric named Tahir Yuldashev. Both men sought to use religion to justify their organisation’s existence but sustained themselves through extorting businessmen and traders in Uzbekistan.
As Uzbekistan gained independence from the former Soviet Union on September 1, 1991, both Namangani and Yuldashev believed in a different direction of nationhood and statecraft than held by the country’s first president, Islam Karimov. They wanted their hardline views imposed on the country while Karimov, a dictator in the Soviet mold, saw the need for a more secular nation.
Namangani and Yuldashev thus attacked Karimov and his regime, prompting a ruthless retaliation from the government against their organisation. In 1992, the IMU was banned, its cadres decimated, and Namangani and Yuldashev both, fled to Afghanistan.
Of course groups such as what later became the IMU had been encouraged as strategic assets during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was still intact. As argued by Brigadier (retd) Mohammad Yousaf, author of The Bear Trap, the Quran as well as jihadist propaganda was translated into Uzbek in 1984 and smuggled into Central Asia as an ideological counterweight to Communism. After the disintegration of the USSR, Islamic extremism in Central Asia began to take root and burgeon — till Karimov chucked the IMU out of Uzbekistan.
But Yuldashev and his warriors weren’t going to remain restricted to Afghanistan; soon, IMU warriors would cross into Pakistan, and find ideological allies in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
In Pakistan, the Uzbeks were recognised as fierce fighters and fiercely loyal – they were part of the inner circle of al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, also serving as their personal bodyguards. Their ideological bent was rabidly Anti-Shia – something that worked for them as they went about making alliances with other like-minded Islamist groups.
Political developments and a ceasefire agreement in Central Asia meant that the Uzbeks lost their allies, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) led by Said Abdullah Nuri. The IRPT would later support Ahmad Shah Masood’s forces in Afghanistan. This sparked the formation of the IMU in 1998, as a force that was insistent on imposing its brand of Islam in Uzbekistan.
In 1999, the IMU became allies of the Taliban, but suffered the loss of Namangani in November 2001. The United States had attacked Afghanistan in the wake of the 9-11 attacks on America; one of the attacks killed Namangani but Yuldashev managed to join the warring resistance.
Yuldashev became sole commander of the IMU in late 2001/early 2002, as the organisation moved to and settled in South Waziristan. In a state of being permanently homeless and permanently at war since 1992, the IMU appeared to have weakened.
But South Waziristan afforded an opportunity for the IMU to regroup, reorganise, and even build a semblance of a life for themselves. Local tribes took in members of the IMU as guests; some even offered their daughters’ hand in marriage to the Uzbek warriors.
The IMU’s alignment with the Taliban meant that the Uzbek warriors periodically clashed with Pakistani armed forces. These clashes, in turn, sparked a reaction from the tribes hosting the Uzbeks, who bore the brunt of counterattacks from Pakistani forces.
In 2007, the IMU was evicted from South Waziristan by Taliban warlord Maulvi Nazir, in part because he believed that Uzbek fighters offended local customs and acted like an “occupation force” in Pashtun land.
As they moved to other territories, they soon found patronage from Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. “When the IMU joined Baitullah Mehsud’s faction of the Taliban, it had to accept Mehsud’s priorities, foremost of which was fighting the Pakistani state,” writes Jacob Zenn, in his paper The Indigenization of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The Uzbeks would also find legitimacy from faith-based parties in Pakistan. Under the guise of protecting the “ummah,” Sunni Takfiri groups welcomed the Uzbeks, providing them with relief and funds.

Pakistan: Needed: an interior minister
Ch Nisar had one job to do, and he failed to do that
Whatever else Ch Nisar might have been looking after for more than a year, it was by no means the Interior Ministry. He simply failed to activate the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA), which was supposed to be the centrepiece of PML-N government’s security policy. Nisar delayed the establishment of the Directorate of Intelligence Security (DIS). The National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) which maintained strategic coordination between civilian and military agencies during the Swat and South Waziristan operations was first closed down and then allowed to become dormant. The gross negligence has made the major cities vulnerable to terrorist attacks. On Sunday the prime minister directed Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block cellular roaming on Afghan mobile phone SIMs in Pakistan, something that the interior minister should have done early this year when pressed by Sindh and KP governments for action.
After the breakdown of talks with the TTP, Ch Nisar should have admitted the failure of his shortsighted policy. He ought to have subsequently given total attention to the improvement of security in urban areas. What he did instead was turning into a recluse and failing to appear in the NA. Opposition leader Khursheed Shah has expressed annoyance over the absence of interior minister calling on him to come and face the situation and questions of the parliamentarians.
On Sunday Nisar asked police to bolster Islamabad’s security as the country was in a war-like situation because of the military operation in North Waziristan. He also told police to work out a foolproof plan ahead of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s arrival. He ordered a special contingent of Islamabad police with the support of Punjab police and Rangers to be deployed at Faizabad to stop PAT workers from entering the city. What Nawaz Sharif needs to do under the circumstances is to appoint a man with a wider vision and less rigidity as a new interior minister while handing over to Nisar the responsibility of looking after Islamabad alone.

Pakistan: Govt crushing opponents by using state machinery

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain on Sunday strongly condemned raids on the offices of Pakistan Awami Tehreek across Punjab, with large scale arrests of its workers. Termed the government action as ‘state brutality’, MQM chief said, “Instead of arresting and punishing people responsible for the tragic incident on June 17 in Model Town, Lahore, the government has resorted to arresting leaders and workers of PAT and subjecting them to state brutality. The government’s action is highly condemnable.” The MQM chief said, “At a time when our armed forces have started operation against terrorists and making great sacrifices, we need unity among the people of the country. However, the government is busy in crushing its opponents at this critical stage by using state machinery, which is incomprehensible.” Altaf said it was the constitutional right of a party to hold public gatherings and receive their leader. He said it would be unconstitutional and undemocratic to deprive a party of its right by using state power. “It is a dictatorial act and highly condemnable. It should be stopped and PAT leaders and workers should be released. Raids should be stopped. The government should not put hurdles in the way of their preparations to receive their leader.”

Pakistan: Marri goes after PM’s guard dogs in parliament

Sniffer dogs for the security of the Prime Minister House made their presence felt in the National Assembly on Saturday when an opposition member vilified the government for the unnecessary spending on their purchase and getting it approved by the parliament.
Referring to a supplementary grant of Rs2.4 million spent on the purchase of six sniffer dogs for the PM House, Shazia Marri of the PPP said while the entire country was burning, the government only seemed concerned about protection of the country’s chief executive.
The mention of the chief executive (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) by Ms Marri ruffled feathers of a few ruling lawmakers who wanted to retort. However, the speaker disallowed them.
While Tehmina Daultana shouted at Ms Marri for taking up the issue of sniffer dogs, minister for defence production Rana Tanvir said the government was willing to provide as many dogs as she (Ms Marri) required.
Continuing with her speech, Ms Marri said: “I am not saying that the government shouldn’t take necessary measures for the safety of the Prime Minister House. But what about the rest of the country? We do need same sniffer dogs for the Karachi airport which recently suffered a terrorist attack. Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also suffering at the hands of terrorists. They also need the same level of attention.”
Hitting out at the government for what she said taking cosmetic measures to deal with the menace of terrorism, Ms Marri asked whether the government had forgotten its much talked about new Internal Security Policy (ISP).
At the time of ISP’s presentation before the house early this year, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had sought appreciation from the opposition benches for the initiative of the government, added Ms Marri. “But I don’t see separate allocation for the ISP.”
Addressing the interior minister, she said the PPP would definitely appreciate his efforts once he implemented this policy.
She also attacked the Punjab government, saying they were ignoring extremists’ breeding grounds in South Punjab. “The time has come to address the root cause of the problem,” she added.

Happy 61st Birthday Benazir Bhutto, there is none like you!
Article by Aseef Waheed Media Cell Bilawal House
June 21st is one of the longest days of the year. But its significance is much more than just that. It is also the day when Pakistan’s great leader was born 61 years ago. Benazir Bhutto was a brave and dauntless leader. With her charisma, intelligence, wisdom, knowledge and compassion she was an ideal woman in many ways.
Tested through fire, she never abandoned her ideals and belief in the freedom of humanity from tyranny. In a male-dominated and Islamic society, she became the first woman elected ruler of a Muslim country in modern history. She stood bravely against both the tyranny of terrorism as well as the tyranny of dictatorship. She was an embodiment of courage and endurance who did not allow her personal tragedies to stand in the way of her larger commitment towards her people. In the end, she was martyred for her courage and pursuit of freedom for her people.
From getting the best of education, being a great leader to a conscientious mother, she has done it all. She fought for democracy until death and she worked selflessly for the Federation of Pakistan. She gave the supreme sacrifice for the people of her country and their democratic rights, and gave up her life so that the torch of freedom could burn in the night of dictatorship.
She spread knowledge by building colleges and universities, especially of professional studies and vocational training. She opened the way for the middle classes to develop and prosper in the fields of medicine, engineering, law and other specialist studies. She had also fought for women’s health, social, discrimination issues and was against violence towards women. She planned to set up women police stations, banks and also courts. She was in the forefront to form the council of women world leaders.
As a politician, daughter, sister, wife and mother, she fulfilled her responsibilities to the best of imaginable capabilities. She was a Benazir in every manner, thus being an icon to many women the world over, especially Muslim women. Traditionally, Muslim women are stuck to household chores and would not venture outside. But Benazir’s zest for life and her charisma was so good that she became a role model to many. She was a woman of honour who gave honour and raised the honour of her country and the people; she gave them an identity.
She was a heartthrob to millions and continues to rule their hearts and minds even today. Her entire life is a role model, not only for the people of Pakistan but also the world. She may not be physically with us today but her ideals and vision continues to enlighten our path. Her intelligence and charm has left an everlasting print in everybody’s mind. She will live forever in the chronicles of history. She is a fine example for young people to emulate as they build independent lives and take our society forward in this, still young, century. She is a shining example inspiring generations of Pakistanis, Asians and Muslims to reach the heights of greatness; she taught us to dedicate our lives selflessly to our country, to our people and to the pristine values of justice, equality and freedom in this struggling country of ours.
During one of her speeches in London, she said,
“I appeal to the youth of Pakistan to come forward and unite for the restoration of democracy and constitutional rule. I have great faith in the youth of Pakistan. I know the youth will redeem my faith in them. You, the youth, are our successor generation. To you we pass the torch of leadership, our democratic vision baptised in the sacred blood of our martyrs. Dear students, dear youth, fight for what you believe in. Fight for democracy. Fight for our exploited and impoverished people. Remember, it is better to live like a lion for one day than live like a jackal for a thousand years. I wish you all success and happiness, my dear daughters and sons of Pakistan.”
Today, her courageous outlook has set an example for future generations. We do not have many parallels in history to her life. Mere words are insufficient to pay tribute to a leader who lived and died solely for her nation and its people.

Tahirul Qadri's flight 'diverted to Lahore airport'

According to the Emirates website, flight EK 612 has been diverted to Lahore's Allama Iqbal international Airport. Earlier news reports cited the Islamabad Airport website as saying the aircraft has landed in Islamabad.
"The government knew if Dr Qadri was allowed to land in Islamabad, a revolution would have taken place. They were afraid," a PAT supporter told DawnNews."The government could not tolerate the number of people who are out on the streets to support Dr Qadri."

Qadri’s Islamabad arrival : Road blocks, traffic jams irk commuters in twin cities

The Express Tribune
Residents of the twin cities were blindsided on Sunday after the district administrations started blocking major roads by placing heavy containers without any prior public announcement ahead of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s arrival on Monday morning. Security was tightened and deployment on the checkpoints lining all entry and exit routes for the two cities was increased. Leave for all law enforcement personnel were also cancelled. The closure of major roads sparked massive traffic jams. Thousands of commuters were stranded on Airport Road, Peshawar Road, IJ Principal Road and Murree Road in the scorching heat.
Ammar Chowk, Sohan Chowk and Katchery Chowk were closed for traffic, while containers were also placed on GT Road near Tarnol. The City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) also blocked Rawal Road near Chandni Chowk. Peshawar Road was blocked off with trucks near the Pirwadhai flyover, while Airport Road near Jinnah Park was closed using containers. Many citizens were left with no choice but to travel by foot to reach their destinations as no public transport was available. Islamabad saw fewer containers, but the red zone had been effectively walled off.
Moreover, shopkeepers and traders were also asked to close down their businesses. The traders expressed anger over closure of the markets. “We were not informed about the closure of roads beforehand. It has completely taken all of us by surprise,” said Ibrar Ahmed, a rickshaw driver.
Usually in cases such as arrival of Tahirul Qadri, traffic plan is issued at least a day beforehand but on Sunday the police first blocked the roads and issued the traffic plan several hours later. People who were visiting markets were unable to find any transport to return to their homes, while those who came to hospitals were stranded there.
“This is unjust. If Dr Qadri is coming, let him come. There is no need to block the roads,” commented Zubair Zafar, a motorist who also exchanged harsh words with a policeman near Jinnah Park for not allowing him to cross the blockade. The situation also affected those going to the airport. “I am getting late and may miss my flight. Please let me reach the airport,” a passenger pled with a police officer. He said that if there were any security threats, deploying extra police personnel was the solution, rather than blocking the roads for traffic.
Moreover, all roads leading to Benazir Bhutto International Airport were sealed. Streets that connect to Airport Road were also closed with barriers and line with police personnel.
People with confirmed tickets were allowed entry and later shuttle service was started for them to take them to the airport from points where roads were blocked. Long queues of people were seen outside the airport, waiting for their turn to get their luggage checked and allowed entry.
The administrations of the twin cities have reportedly decided to suspend mobile phone service on Monday and hold joint army and rangers patrols in Islamabad.
Hospitals are on high alert and the leave of doctors and nurses have been cancelled. Dr Asif Qadir Mir, a medical superintendent at Benazir Bhutto Hospital, said they were ready to cope with any kind of emergency. City Police Officer Rawalpindi Humyun Bashir Tarar said roads leading to airport were blocked for security reasons, while claiming no Qadri supporters had been arrested. PAT supporters had also started arriving in Rawalpindi to receive their leader. “We are here to receive him and will go to the airport no matter what,” said Amina Bibi, who came from Chakwal.
Meanwhile, the Rawalpindi District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sajid Zafar Dal imposed Section 144 in the district. Dal justified the move by saying his office had received intelligence reports regarding security threats in the city. He said PAT supporters were asked to hold their public gathering in Rawat as it would be easier to ensure their security there. After they refused, the administration had no choice but to impose Section 144, Dal added.

Pakistan: Unnecessary apprehensions

THE democratic project must be kept on track, the PML-N government must shoulder its responsibilities with care and caution, and those opting for the politics of protest must stay within the ambit of the Constitution and the law — that, taken together, is the minimum that ought to be expected of the country’s political, military and social leadership in the days and weeks ahead. But whether everyone — or anyone — will behave responsibly is a question to which there is no clear answer yet. At the time of writing these words, with Tahirul Qadri hours away from arriving in Islamabad/Rawalpindi and the government seemingly already in lockdown mode — or is it panic mode? — it is difficult to make sense of quite why apprehension is rising and events have taken an air of threatening to spin out of control.
While the PML-N has acted to sideline key advisers in Punjab over the violence in Lahore this week, the sense of deep outrage has lingered on because of the N-League’s near-total mishandling of the situation. Perhaps the PML-N ought to remind itself of basic electoral maths and democratic facts. The party won an overwhelming majority in the Punjab Assembly a year ago and is into its seventh consecutive year in provincial office. In Islamabad, the PML-N has a majority in parliament and an opposition that, other than the PTI’s barbs, is largely focused on supporting the PML-N’s policy initiatives on the security and economic front. And, for all the rumours of friction with the army leadership, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has played a sensible innings for the most part and focused on bringing stability to the country in order to prepare it for economic revival. The PML-N, then, ought to be able to allow those opting for the politics of protest to exercise their democratic right without being unduly troubled.
Once again, for all the rumours and allegations of behind-the-scenes support by anti-democratic forces for Tahirul Qadri, the fact remains that the country has already seen off a challenge by Mr Qadri once before. This time, with the PTI sitting on the fence as opposed to throwing its support wholeheartedly behind the democratic process, there may be some greater noise surrounding whatever Mr Qadri and his on-again, off-again political allies may choose, but the fundamental calculus ought not to change. The PML-N governments in Islamabad and Lahore can and should step back and therefore deny their opponents the very thing they seek most: the oxygen of publicity and overreaction by the state. As for Mr Qadri and whoever chooses to join his cause, there is an onus of responsibility on their shoulders too. By all means, their right to protest against the government and its policies is sacrosanct and should not be violated. But there is a thin line between democratic dissent and an incitement to violence — and it is far from clear that the PML-N’s would-be tormenters understand where that line ought to be drawn. With a military operation under way in North Waziristan and the state’s resources drawn towards protecting against blowback in the cities and towns, there must be hope that better sense will prevail in Mr Qadri’s camp and his actions will not exacerbate political tensions.