Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Video: President Obama Speaks on the Economy

Kerry gets a diplomatic win in Afghanistan

HIS MARATHON effort to broker Middle East peace stalled, and the ultimatum he gave Russia to pull back from eastern Ukraine has been ignored. But Secretary of State John Kerry scored a big diplomatic victory last week: He persuaded both candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential run-off to accept a UN-led audit of all 8 million ballots in the wake of allegations of massive fraud.
His intervention came just as one candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to set up a parallel administration, which raised the specter of the country splitting along ethnic lines. Kerry’s message — that the United States would not maintain funding for Afghanistan if its leaders went to war with each other over the election — appears to have worked. Kerry’s mediation, during 12 hours of meetings at the US embassy in Kabul, appears to have pulled the country back from the brink for now. Some ordinary Afghans gratefully called for Kerry to be given Afghan citizenship so that he would be eligible to run for president of Afghanistan in the future. “I wish if we could elect him as our president, but we cannot,” one shopkeeper in Kabul told NBC News.
It is still too early to breathe a sigh of relief. There is no guarantee that the country will have a peaceful handover of power once the results of the audit are announced in the coming weeks. Although the two candidates have agreed to abide by the results of the audit, their supporters could still erupt into civil unrest. There are fears that Hamid Karzai, the current president, could use such a situation as a pretext to prolong his own term in office.
One thing is clear: The next president of Afghanistan should seek to amend the Afghans’ election laws and constitution in ways that would avoid a repeat of this confusion in the future — for instance, by clarifying how to settle election disputes and creating a position of prime minister. Until that happens, the behind-the-scenes wrangling over Afghanistan’s next government will continue. John Kerry may be forced to come back sooner than he wants.

Many dead in car bomb explosion at Afghanistan market

Pakistan: Pervez Ilahi Welcomes Asif Zardari’s Statement Against Government


Dunya News - Pervez Ilahi welcomes Asif Zardari... by dunyanews
Pakistan Muslim League (Q) central leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Ilahi has said that Nawaz Sharif has become “Mera Sultan” (the famous character of an Ottoman Caliph played in a Turkish drama). Former Chief Minister Punjab Ch Pervez Ilahi also blamed Nawaz Sharif of having sold Punjab in the NFC award for becoming third time Prime Minister of Pakistan. PML-Q leader was talking to the media at his residence in Lahore today (Tuesday). While addressing the press conference Pervez Ilahiz said that the rulers are slave to their ego. He praised Asif Ali Zardari for his anti-government statement. Ch Pervez Ilahi recalled PML-Q’s reconciliation with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). He said that Zardari is an experienced politician and hoped he would continue to raise his voice against the government.

Worst load shedding in Pakistan's history, massive breakdown feared

The reduction in electricity production has sparked the fear of massive breakdown
The electricity load shedding hit the worst of Pakistan’s history on Sunday as the electricity shortfall hit seven thousand six hundred megawatts, Dunya News reported.

Dunya News - Worst load shedding in Pakistan's... by dunyanews
Contrary to the government’s claims, the worst electricity load shedding during the Seher, Iftar and Taraveeh prayer time has become a routing matter, leaving the fasting citizens miserable in the month of Ramazan.
The electricity shortfall of 7600 megawatt has resulted in increase of the loadshedding duration. The current electricity demand is twenty two thousand megawatts whereas the production is fourteen thousand four hundred megawatts.
According to sources, the transmission system is unable to bear the load of fifteen thousand megawatts. The reduction in electricity production has sparked the fear of massive breakdown. Currently, up to fourteen hours load shedding in urban areas and up to eighteen thousand hours in rural areas is being carried out.
Reportedly, the worst load shedding has left those fasting miserable because of scorching heat.
The government’s claims of no load shedding during Seher, Iftar and Taraveeh timings turned out to be false promises as Lahore is seeing the worst form of electricity load shedding. The areas where transformers are working are also seeing an increase in load shedding owing to ‘saving the system’.
The water shortage has also become a routine matter after several hours of load shedding in various cities. The electricity shortage has sparked the fear of a massive breakdown.

PTI welcomes Zardari’s endorsement

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader, Shah Mehmood Qureshi Tuesday welcomed the Co-chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Asif Ali Zardari’s backing of his party’s demand for a vote recount.
Talking to Samaa TV, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said if Asif Zardari deems PTI’s demand legitimate then he and his party workers should come out in response to PTI’s call for a long march on Islamabad on August 14.
Qureshi also invited all other parties to take part in the long march.
Earlier today, PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said what harm would transpire if ballot recount is conducted in four constituencies.
“Be it Punjab or Sindh, a vote recount should be undertaken,” Zardari had asserted.

Zardari reminds Nawaz” You are elected PM not King”

Former President Asif Ali Zardari asks Nawaz Sharif to stop interfering in provincial matters and reminding him that he was democratically elected Prime Minister, not a ‘King’.
The Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairperson also said that the prime minister, leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, should take into account the demands made by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regarding the re-counting of votes in four constituencies.
Zardari said that the premier should not be afraid to go ahead with the re-counting of the votes. He said Nawaz had made several promises to the public, which he has been unable to keep, adding that the public is suffering with water, power and gas shortages.
Zardari, comparing the PPP and PML-N governments, said that load-shedding and circular debt had increased with the present government.

Former President Zardari says heavens will not fall down if votes in 4 constituencies were recounted

Former President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed surprise and dismay over the continued foot dragging by the government on the demand to recount votes in four constituencies in Lahore saying “heavens will not fall down if the demand was accepted”. Recounting of votes in constituencies where there are complaints and demands voiced for it should be carried out whether such constituencies are in Punjab or Sindh or elsewhere, Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar quoted the former President as saying in a statement today.
The Spokesperson said that the former President made these remarks feeling anguished about the deepening controversy over recounting in four constituencies in Lahore and wondered as to why the Prime Minister felt so nervous about it.
Recounting in forty constituencies may be carried out if needed instead of the four as demanded at present he said.
People had elected Mian Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister of the country and not as absolute monarch or to interfere in other provinces, he said.
He said that the PPP has accepted the poll results for the sake of democracy and democratic process but it cannot abandon the people who are undergoing unimaginable hardships compounded by load shedding and water shortages in sweltering heat and the crisis in the industrial sector due to continued load shedding.

Blasphemous Oppression In The Name of Islam: Hold Pakistan Accountable For Persecuting Religious Minorities

Doug Bandow
The world is aflame. Religious minorities are among those who suffer most from increasing conflict. Pakistan is one of the worst homes for non-Muslims. The U.S. government should designate that nation as a “Country of Particular Concern” for failing to protect religious liberty, the most basic right of conscience.
Religious persecution is a global scourge. Many of the worst oppressors are Muslim nations. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iraq, and Egypt are all important international actors. All also mistreat, or acquiesce in the mistreatment of, anyone not a Muslim. Some of them even victimize Muslims—of the wrong variety. (In Syria it is opponents of the government which do most of the persecuting.)
Islamabad is another frequent offender. The most recent State Department report on religious liberty in Pakistan noted that “The constitution and other laws and policies officially restrict religious freedom and, in practice, the government enforced many of these restrictions. The government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom continued to be poor.”
Minority faiths face violent attack. Believers are killed, churches are bombed, buses are attacked, homes are destroyed, social gatherings are targeted. Warned the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its recent report: “In the past year, conditions hit an all-time low due to chronic sectarian violence targeting mostly Shia Muslims but also Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus.” Last year the Commission cited a spike in violence against Shiites as well as “numerous attacks against innocent Pakistanis” of other religions.
Although Islamabad did not launch these assaults, it did little to prevent or redress them. Even when scores or more are killed at a time there often is no effective response. Explained State: “The government’s limited capacity and will to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of increasing extremist attacks against religious minorities and on members of the Muslim majority promoting tolerance, allowed the climate of impunity to continue.” Indeed, top government officials have been gunned down for defending freedom of conscience.
The most common tool of persecution may be a charge of blasphemy. Said USCIRF: “The country’s blasphemy laws, used predominantly in Punjab province, but also nationwide, target members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently result in imprisonment.” Two years ago a mentally handicapped 12-year-old Christian girl was charged; after an international outcry even the authorities became embarrassed and the case was dismissed, an unusual outcome.
The blasphemy laws are made for abuse. Explained the Commission, “The so-called crime carries the death penalty or life in prison, does not require proof of intent or evidence to be presented after allegations are made, and does not include penalties for false allegations.” In fact, courts hesitate to even hear evidence, lest doing so also be considered another act of blasphemy. With evidence unnecessary, the charge has become a weapon routinely used in personal and business disputes, including a means to exact revenge for imagined offenses.
Between 1986 and 2006 695 people were charged with blasphemy. Today 16 people are on death row and another 20 are serving life sentences. Three Christians have been sentenced to death in the last few months. Many other Pakistanis are in prison waiting for trial, including English professor Junaid Hafeez, accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. Penalties are not limited to the law. Explained the group Freedom House: “Regardless of the motives behind their charges and the outcome of their cases, those accused of blasphemy are subject to job discrimination, ostracism from their communities and neighborhoods, and even physical violence and murder at the hands of angry mobs, forcing many to live in fear.” Since 1990 at least 52 people charged with blasphemy have been killed before reaching trial.
Judges who acquitted defendants and politicians who talked of reforming the blasphemy laws also have been assassinated. In May gunmen killed Rashid Rehman, a human rights lawyer who was defending Hafeez. Previously fellow attorneys threatened Rehman, “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist any more.” A pamphlet circulated after the murder asserting that Rehman met his “rightful end.” He was the first defense lawyer killed. He probably won’t be the last.
Pakistan has jailed more people for blasphemy than any other nation, but it is not the only country which punishes religious free speech. An incredible 14 of 20 countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa criminalize blasphemy. Nine of 50 in the Asia Pacific, seven of 45 in Europe and three of 48 in SubSaharan Africa also do so. Eleven of 35 nations in the Americas have blasphemy laws. In the U.S. several states, including Massachusetts and Michigan, retain blasphemy laws, though they do not enforce them.
The group Freedom House published a detailed report on the detrimental impact of blasphemy laws on human rights. Put simply, these measures “impose undue restrictions on freedom of expression” and are “prone to arbitrary or overly broad application, particularly in settings where there are no checks and balances in place to prevent abuses.” Freedom House highlighted Algeria, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Poland, as well as Pakistan.
In March the Commission made much the same point, issuing a special report entitled “Prisoners of Belief: Individuals Jailed Under Blasphemy Laws.” Victims include three atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, numerous Iranian Bahai’s, Christians, and Sufi and Sunni Muslims, 63 Sunnis and Christians in Egypt, an atheist writer in Kazakhstan, scores of Indonesians, and a Saudi blogger. Even Greece and Turkey have charged people with blasphemy.
The Arab Spring was supposed to bring liberty to the Mideast, but it had the opposite effect in some countries. For instance, in Kuwait, perhaps the most liberal Gulf State, the Islamist-dominated Assembly elected in early 2012 voted to impose the death penalty on Muslims convicted of blasphemy. The Emir blocked the law and later changed the election rules, resulting in election of a more moderate legislature.
Blasphemy prosecutions have been initiated in post-revolution Egypt and even Tunisia, viewed as the most successful participant in the Arab Spring. USCIRF commissioners Zuhdi Jasser and Katrina Lantos Swett wrote: “Rather than giving rise to greater individual liberty, this trend could turn the Arab Spring into a repressive winter, with forces of intolerance and tyranny dashing hopes for genuine freedom and liberal democracy.”
Nevertheless, Pakistan remains a particular problem. The country’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, emphasized the importance of religious liberty. But Pakistan became more Islamic over time, a process accelerated by dictator Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. His government not only criminalized blasphemy, but, noted Freedom House, enacted new laws which imposed “harsh Shari’a punishments for extramarital sex, theft, and violations of the prohibition of alcohol.”
The impact of such laws fell most heavily on religious minorities and liberals. Discrimination, intolerance, and violence have become pervasive. Noted Freedom House: “it is clear that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are used politically and applied disproportionately to non-Muslims. Although many other countries have laws against blasphemy, the situation in Pakistan is unique in its severity and its particular effects on religious minorities.” Intolerance has become the norm.
Unfortunately, there are spillover impacts from abusive blasphemy prosecutions. Blasphemy laws are bad in Western nations. They are far worse in the Muslim world. The problem is particularly severe in Pakistan. Warned Freedom House: “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws foster an environment of intolerance and impunity, and lead to violations of a broad range of human rights, including the obvious rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion, as well as freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; the right to due process and a fair trial; freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and the right to life and security of the person.”
Obviously, there is little the U.S. can do directly about policy in Pakistan. However, the International Religious Freedom Act empowers the State Department to designate countries as Countries of Particular Concern. Noted USCIRF: “Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated” as CPCs. State should remedy that lapse.
For some, religious liberty is but an afterthought, an esoteric principle with little practical impact. However, the willingness of foreign governments to respect freedom of conscience acts as the famed canary in the mine. A state which fails to protect the right of individuals to respond to their belief (or unbelief) in God is more likely to leave other essential liberties unprotected. And a society in which the life and dignity of the human person is not respected is more likely to become a hothouse for violent ideas, beliefs, and actions.
As we see in Pakistan today. Rising religious extremism, exemplified by abusive blasphemy prosecutions, threatens the integrity of the Pakistani state—and the security of its nuclear weapons. Although outsiders cannot reform policy in Pakistan, they can highlight a problem that endangers people not only in that nation but ultimately in many others around the world, including America.

Former President Zardari denounces govt attitude towards IDPs as callous

Co Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party former President Asif Ali Zardari has called upon the government to give up its callous attitude towards the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of North Waziristan stranded in camps in Bannu and gear up the relief and rehabilitation work on a war footing.
The IDPs are our national heroes in the war against terror and neglecting them in this hour of trial is a criminal and callous act that will not be condoned under any circumstance and Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar quoted the former President as saying in a statement today.
Asif Zardari said that their neglect by the government on the one hand and the reports that some charity organizations of defunct militant groups are secretly engaged in indoctrinating the vulnerable displaced people using the cover of philanthropy is a sure recipe to turn the IDPs into sympathizers of militants and extremists.
This is a grim prospect Pakistan can ill afford, the former President warned.
Recalling the IDP crisis faced by the PPP coalition government in 2009 as a result of action against militants in Swat and the way the crisis was handled and the refugess safely rehabilitated in their homes in a matter of few months the former President said there is no reason why the challenge posed by the displacement of people from NWA cannot be handled.
The PPP Co Chair said that in the wake of horrendous floods and huge displacements caused by it in 2010 the PPP government had invited Secretary General UN ban Ki Moon who launched a global appeal to help the flood victims. He said that war against terror is a global fight and if the international community is supposed to assist Pakistan in it there is no reason why the international community must not be asked to help in the rehabilitation of the IDPs in accordance with the recognized principles of such assistance.
The government should shed its ego and invite the civil society, the NGOs and indeed mobilise the entire nation to assist in the relief and rehabilitation of IDPs, he said.
Special attention must be paid to the vulnerable groups among the IDPs including women and children, prevention of epidemic and trauma rehabilitation, he said.
The Co Chairman PPP also reiterated his call to the Party rank and file to reach out to the displaced families and provide them relief, the Spokesperson said.