Monday, July 28, 2014

Michael Jackson - Love Never Felt So Good

The affinity between Sunni militants and Saudi rulers

Peter Custers
Which story line sounds the more credible – one linking the rebel movement IS (the Islamic State) to policies pursued by Iran or one linking the Sunni extremist force to Iran’s adversary Saudi Arabia?
In June this year, fighters belonging to IS - a rebel movement that had previously established its foothold in the oil-rich areas of north-eastern Syria – succeeded in capturing Mosul, a city surrounded by oil fields in northern Iraq. Ever since, commentators in the world’s media have been speculating on the origins of the dreaded organisation’s military success.
It is admitted that the occupation of Mosul and vast tracts of the Sunni-dominated portion of Iraq would not have been possible except for the fact that IS forged a broad grassroots’ alliance expressing deep discontent by Iraq’s minority Sunnis with the policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. Nor would Mosul have fallen but for the dramatic desertion by top-officers of Iraq’s state army.
Yet various observers have meanwhile focused on the political economy behind the advance of IS. Some experts from US think tanks have discussed the likely sources of IS finance, pinpointing private donors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Other writers instead have connected IS reliance on black market sales of oil in Kurdish territory with Iranian exports of crude, described as “illegal”.
I propose putting the spotlight on the methods of war financing used by IS, but first it is necessary to highlight the movement’s complete sectarianism.
Soon after the occupation of Mosul, rebels blew up and bulldozed shrines and mosques in the city belonging to Shiite Muslims. Pictures on the demolition of these buildings were circulated widely by the world’s mainstream media. Unfortunately, few Western journalists cared to draw attention to the role which destruction of shrines has played in the history of Islam.
Contrary to Catholicism, the veneration of saints at Sufi and Shiite tombs and shrines basically reflects heterodox tendencies within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, Sunni orthodoxy and especially its Saudi variety, Wahhabism, either condemns intercession or, at the least, considers the worshipping of saints at tombs to be unacceptable. Islam’s minority of Shiites, and its mystical current of Sufism, freely engage in such worship - and this throughout the Muslim world.
IS work of demolition in Iraq can in no way be equated with practices of Iran’s Shiite rulers. Instead, they express the extremist movement’s affinity with policies long championed by Saudi Arabia. Ever since the founding of the Saudi state, numerous Shiite and Sufi shrines have been rased to the ground at the behest of this country’s Wahhabi dynasty. What does the political economy behind IS’ military advance in Syria and Iraq tell us about the organisation’s affinities? First, in one sense, the IS strategy might be interpreted as rather novel.
Whereas the extraction of raw materials is a war strategy pursued by numerous rebel movements in the global South – see, for example, UNITA’s extraction of diamonds in the context of Angola’s civil war, and the trade in coltan by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo – rarely has a Southern rebel movement succeeded in turning crude oil into its chief source of revenue.
Indeed, whereas IS originally relied on private funders in Saudi Arabia to build up a force of trained fighters, the organisation has consciously targeted regions in Syria and Iraq harbouring major oil fields and (in the case of Iraq) oil refineries. By laying siege to the oil refinery at Baiji, responsible for processing one-third of oil consumed in Iraq, IS hoped to undermine the state’s control of oil resources. Further, some US$450 mn was stolen by IS fighters from a subsidiary of Iraq’s central bank after the occupation of Mosul. This reportedly was all income from oil extraction. Some observers put the cash income which IS derives from smuggled oil at US$1 mn dollars a day.
IS is thus a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority.
Yet though IS’ methodology of reliance on oil for financing of its war campaigns is novel for a rebel movement, such use of oil is not unique in the context of the Middle East. Ever since the 1970s, most oil-rich countries of the region have squandered a major part of their income from the exports of crude by (indirectly) exchanging their main natural resource against means of destruction – weapon systems bought on the international market.
And while Iran under the Shah was equally enticed into opting for this form of trade in the 1970s, – it is the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia which all the way through from the oil crisis of 1973 onwards and up to today has functioned as the central axe of such a trade mechanism.
Witness, for instance, the 1980s oil-for-arms (!) ‘barter deal’ between the Saudi kingdom and the United Kingdom, the so-called ‘Al Yamamah’ deal, and the 60 billion dollar, largest-ever international arms’ agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States clinched in 2010. Forward to 2014, and an Iraq desperately struggling to survive. A section of the world’s media has already announced its impending demise, predicting a split of the country into three portions – Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite. On the other hand, some commentators have advised that the United States should now change gear and line up with Iran, in order to help the Iraqi government overcome its domestic political crisis.
Yet the United States and its European allies for long, too long, have bent over to service the Wahhabi state. Even as Western politicians loudly proclaimed their allegiance to democracy and secularism, they failed to oppose or counter Saudi Arabia’s oppression of, and utter discrimination against, Shiite citizens.
For over 40 years they opted to close their eyes and supply Saudi Arabia with massive quantities of fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry, in exchange for the country’s crude. Playing the role of a wise elderly senior brother, the United States has recently advised Iraq’s prime minister al-Maliki, known for his sectarian approach, that he should be more ‘inclusive’, meaning sensitive towards Iraq’s minority Sunni population.
But has the United States’ prime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia ever been chastised over its systematic discrimination of Shiites? Has it ever been put to task for its cruel oppression of heterodox Muslims? And has the United States ever pondered the implications of the trading mechanism of disparate exchange it sponsored – for the future of democracy, food sovereignty and people’s welfare in the Middle East?
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Bilawal Bhutto's message on Eid ul Fitr
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has extended Eid-ul-Fitr greetings to entire Pakistani nation and the Muslim Ummah the world over and stressed upon the people to utilize this auspicious feast to spread Islamic principles of love, brotherhood, peace, tolerance and tranquility among the human race.
“Israeli killing machines are mowing down Palestinians in Ghaza and terrorists are slaughtering Pakistanis in cities and villages from Peshawar to Karachi. An Eid at such juncture should reiterate our commitment to the protection of the people and defence of our land against the onslaughts.
Families of our heroes like soldiers who are fighting against the monster of terrorism and the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) must be our partners in Eid celebrations,” he added.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said this Eid-ul-Fitr provides all of us a chance to share our joys with them so that their pains could be mitigated and sense of nationhood strengthened.
It may be recalled that PPP Patron-In-Chief had already instructed his Party leaders including Parliamentarians, Ministers, Office-Bearers and Workers to join the families of soldiers defending our life, dignity and land besides the IDPs who vacated their homes and preferred camps to stay temporarily so that Operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists succeeds in shortest possible time.
“Soldiers of Pakistan Army are rendering great sacrifices in their jehad against foreign and local terrorists in North Waziristan and PPP leaders and workers should join their families back home as sons and daughters to celebrate Eidul Fitr together,” he had stated in his statement on the before Eid.

China angered by U.S. protectionism

The Ministry of Commerce (MOC) announced on Monday that China is strongly dissatisfied with the United States for its anti-dumping and countervailing probes into Chinese exports of photovoltaic products.
"China is also strongly dissatisfied with the U.S. in leaving the photovoltaic trade dispute to escalate," the MOC announced after the U.S. Commerce Department on Friday set preliminary dumping margins on imported photovoltaic products from China.
The department made its preliminary affirmative determination that crystalline silicon photovoltaic products from Chinese mainland and Taiwan had been sold in the United States at dumping margins ranging from 26.33 percent to 165.04 percent, and 27.59 percent to 44.18 percent, respectively.
The MOC said that the U.S. disregarded facts and lacked legal support by using contradictory rules of origin against Chinese photovoltaic products frequently, which is abuse of trade remedy measures.
"Frequent use of trade remedy measures will not help the U.S. solve its own problems in its photovoltaic industry. China hopes the U.S. uses discretion during the probe and ends investigations as soon as possible," the MOC said.
It said that the U.S. trade remedy measures launched in 2012 against Chinese photovoltaic products had seriously affected the normal trade of such products.
The MOC said that trade disputes are unavoidable, and the U.S. government has the responsibility to put trade frictions under control before they impede Sino-U.S. trade and economic relations.
According to the U.S. commerce department, punitive duties would be imposed after both the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) made affirmative final rulings, which are scheduled on Dec. 15, 2014 and Jan. 29, 2015, respectively. If the ITC makes a negative determination, the investigations will be terminated.

UN Chief: Gaza in 'Critical Condition'

Decrying the deaths and displacement of civilians, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate break in the violence in Gaza, a territory in "critical condition."
"In the name of humanity, the violence must stop," he told reporters Monday from the organization's New York headquarters, hours after the U.N. Security Council called for "an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire" in Gaza to allow for urgent aid to reach civilians.
"More suffering and siege conditions will only hurt innocent civilians, further isolate Israel, empower extremists on all sides, and leave our world far less safe,'' Ban said. The 21-day conflict between Israel and Hamas militants already has killed more than 1,037 people and displaced at least 167,000 Palestinians, the U.N.'s main agency in Gaza said. Most of the Palestinian dead have been civilians. Israel says it has lost 43 soldiers and three civilians.
Explosion that rocked a hospital and nearby park Monday killed at least 10 people and threatened to escalate tensions. Palestinians contended an Israeli missile hit Shifa Hospital; the Israelis said the attack came from a failed Hamas rocket.
The U.N. council adopted the presidential statement at an emergency meeting just after midnight Sunday as Muslims started celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Hours before the U.N. action, U.S. President Barack Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand an "immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire."
But Netanyahu rejected the demand, later telling U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon that it dealt with "the needs of a murderous terrorist group that attacks Israeli civilians" while neglecting the security needs of the Jewish state.
In a CBS television interview, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal demanded that Israel end its occupation of Gaza and said he would not recognize Israel's right to exist, a position that has prevented any direct negotiations between the two sides.
UN calls for truce
The U.N.'s secretary-general, who just wrapped up six days of shuttle diplomacy to eight Middle East countries, on Monday repeated his call for calm.
"The temporary weekend pause in fighting brought a brief respite to war weary civilians; it also revealed how much the massive Israeli assault has devastated the lives of the people of Gaza," Ban said. "We saw scenes of indiscriminate destruction. Some described it as a manmade hurricane.”
Ban said that beyond a cease-fire, the warring sides have a responsibility to resolve long-standing root causes of their years-long conflict "to break the seemingly endless cycle of violence and suffering." He said Israel must end its blockade of Gaza and "nearly half century of occupation," while Palestinians must agree to "security for Israel."
The U.N. chief said Israeli missiles have battered Gaza and rockets from Hamas militants have randomly hit Israel. He said no country would accept the threat of rockets from above and tunnels from below, but all occupying powers have an international, legal obligation to protect civilians.
Ban added that about 10 percent of Gaza’s population has sought refuge at U.N. facilities. He said the casualty and damage figures raise serious questions about proportionality.
Last week, a U.N.-run school in northern Gaza was shelled and more than a dozen civilians were killed. Ban has been reluctant to assign blame, saying he has ordered a full investigation. Israel's military, which hit two other U.N. shelters in recent days, has not claimed the attack, but acknowledged fighting in the area the day the school was struck.
Ban said U.N. staff told him there is no safe place in Gaza.
“The people of Gaza have nowhere to run; they are trapped and besieged on a speck of land. Every area is a civilian area. Every home, every school, every refuge has become a target.”
He said both sides have a responsibility to stop fighting, begin talking and address the root causes of the conflict, including Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza.

Yousuf Mahmood EID MUBARAK New Afghan Song

Report: U.S.-Provided Weapons To Afghans Have Gone Missing, Sparking Insurgent Fears

Weapons bought and paid for by the United States for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have gone missing, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released on July 28.
The Department of Defense has provided the ANSF with 747,000 weapons since 2004 for approximately $626 million, and cannot account for all of their whereabouts due to poor recordkeeping.
The United States also provided Afghan forces with more than 112,000 excess weapons, and the Department of Defense has no authority to recapture or remove them, according to the report.
The Inspector General concluded that due to the Afghan government's inability to account for or dispose of the weapons, that there is "real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the ANSF, and Afghan civilians."
The report comes at a perilous moment in Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported on July 26 that Taliban fighters are making key advances near Kabul, beyond their strongholds.
The Afghan government also remains fragile, as a presidential election audit has been troubled with delays and sharp disagreements between the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.
The report reveals that the Department of Defense's recordkeeping is loaded with discrepancies and errors.
Of 474,823 serial numbers in one database named OVERLORD, the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, 43 percent had missing information and/or duplication.
OVERLORD also had over 50,000 serial numbers with no shipping or receiving dates, raising questions of their whereabouts.
The Afghan government has no standardized accounting for the weapons, instead relying on documents, handwritten records and some spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel.
The Inspector General visited the Central Supply Depot, controlled by Afghans with assistance from U.S. advisors, and found many discrepancies.
For instance, there were 740 missing M16 rifles, 112 missing M23 pistols and 24 missing M2 machine guns.
The excess arms provided to Afghans have resulted in 83,184 more AK-47 rifles, 5,186 more RPK machine guns, and 5,834 more GP-25/30 Grenade Launchers.
The report notes that the issue of excess weapons will likely worsen in coming years due to projected decreasing numbers of Afghan security forces, but weapons are still slated to be provided at a higher force level.

Afghanistan: Families of Taliban's Victims in Ghor Search for Answers

With the Eid holiday being celebrated across Afghanistan, family members of the 16 Afghans who were massacred by Taliban gunmen alongside a rural road in Ghor province last Friday have been left with unanswered questions and frustration regarding the government policies many believe led to the killings.
Muhammad Akbar, one of the men martyred on Friday, left behind a wife, five children and two elderly parents. Nek Bakht, his wife, said that her husband was not in the government or associated with any political group; he was simply a labor worker who worked from day to night to support his kids. "What can I say now, why did the Taliban kill them?" she asked.
"I want my dad, now I want the government to kill the killers of my father," said Sakina, Muhammad Akbar's seven year old daughter.
Muhammad Akbar's parents have made pleas for help now that their son - the only breadwinner in their family - is gone. "To the President, Ministry of Interior and Defense, National Directorate of Security and international community: help us, we cannot be tortured anymore," said Haji Muhammad, the father of Muhammad Akbar.
Akbar was one of 16 people who were traveling in two vans through Ghor's rural Lal and Sarjungal districts when they were stopped by Taliban militants, separated from the larger group of passengers and then mercilessly executed one-by-one. Women and children were among those killed, and all of the victims were ethnic Hazaras, a minority group long persecuted by the Taliban.
Muhammad Ibrahim lost his daughter, son-in-law, sister and two nephews. He told TOLOnews his daughter, Latifa, and her husband, Nawruz, were planning to spend the first days of their marriage at Band-Amir Lake in Bamyan province.
"It was 5:30 in the morning when I found out that the Taliban killed passengers from three vehicles in Lal and Sarjangal districts," Muhammad Ibrahim said. "When I went to the hospital, I saw the bodies of five family members - how would you feel to see the bodies of five of your own family members at once?"
For many of the family members of the victims, but also members of the general public and civil society, despair over the senseless death of those killed in the Ghor massacre has been accompanied by anger toward the government policies that many believe allowed the incident to occur. Security officials have confirmed that at least two of the men who led the slaughter were Taliban militants that had recently been released from custody by the Afghan government.
Groups of local residents and activists gathered in different parts of the country such as Kabul, Herat, Ghor and Balkh over the weekend to demonstrate in solidarity with the victims and in opposition to the Taliban and the policies they believe have empowered the insurgent group.
"Our message to the government is that if the government pays the slightest value to the rights of citizens of this country and their blood, then it must stop supporting the Taliban," civil society activist Barry Salam said.
The Ghor Governor on Saturday suggested the releasing of the two men identified as having been in the killing was a result of pressure from members of Parliament and others in the government. The Afghan government has come under a lot of fire from Afghans and foreign governments alike over the past couple years for freeing large numbers of suspected insurgents.
"They are not human, I see them as inhuman, not as an enemy," another activist named Najeeb Paikan said about the Taliban.
"If you want to do Jihad, then go to Gaza for Jihad, why turn Ghor or Paktika into Gaza?" asked Sakina Hussaini, a member of the Herat Provincial Council.
President Hamid Karzai has been one of the biggest proponents of the releases over the past year, arguing that many Afghans were arrested by foreign forces without due cause. The matter has contributed to the souring of relations between Kabul and Washington. The Presidential Palace has reportedly assigned a committee of seven members to review and investigate the Ghor incident. And President Karzai has supposedly ordered the families of the victims to be given 100,000 AFN.
The past couple months have seen a number of devastating attacks on Afghan civilians by the Taliban. Earlier in July, a suicide bombing in Urgoon district of Paktika province left scores of dead and wounded in one of the bloodiest attacks so far in 2014. A similar attack was carried in Khuwaja Ghar district of Takhar province earlier last week even, killing six and wounding over 30 civilians.

Outgoing Karzai says Afghans need new president

Afghanistan's outgoing leader Hamid Karzai said on Monday that his nation needs a new president and urged for a speedy conclusion to the ballot audit that will determine his successor.
In a speech marking the start of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday that follows the fasting month of Ramadan, Karzai said that Afghans "want to have an outcome to the election as soon as possible, so that this country can have its president soon."
After fraud was alleged by both presidential contenders, all 8 million ballots cast in the second round of the Afghan presidential vote in June are being audited under national and international supervision.
The process is key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year.
In his speech, Karzai also expressed sympathy with the suffering of Gaza Palestinians in the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war, and said the Afghans "remember the people of Palestine in Gaza who get killed brutally, night and day."
Karzai also reiterated calls on the Taliban to join the country's peace process and stop killing other Afghans.
"I call upon the leaders of the Taliban to stop fighting Afghans," Karzai said. "I call on them to live in peace and dignity with their brothers and sisters."
The peace process has been virtually on hold until after the new president is chosen. The two candidates — former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — are awaiting the results of the audit.
In his own message ahead of the Eid holiday, the reclusive leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, dealt a blow to the peace prospects last Friday, when he warned that a bilateral security pact allowing thousands of U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year will mean more fighting.
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U.S.-Supplied Weapons Vulnerable After Afghanistan Withdrawal

When Afghanistan fought the Soviet Union during the 1980s, the CIA sent shoulder-launched, surface-to-air Stinger missiles to the mujahedeen fighters battling the Red Army. When the Soviets left, many of the missiles went missing, and CIA operatives – including Robert Baer – were assigned to track them down.
Finding the Stingers was a top priority for the agency because of fears they could be used by militant groups like al-Qaida, which was then based in Afghanistan and in 2001 carried out terrorist attacks against the U.S. The lack of controls for those missiles haunted American officials for years.
“There was no plan,” Baer says about efforts to supply weapons to the mujahedeen. “Congress told the CIA basically to give them weapons to fight the Red Army, even though they knew it would be hard to track and control them.”
Weapons are once again at risk of falling into the wrong hands in Afghanistan, as the U.S. military prepares to leave the country after more than a decade of war. About $4 billion in used equipment will be scrapped, destroyed or sold, and there are concerns some weapons may once again wind up with militants in the region.

Zoe Viccaji a Pakistani Christian female singer and song writer

Zoe Viccaji is singer and song writer, she made her debut as a playback singer in Coke Studio’s. She has sung many songs which includes some English and Urdu songs.
She has worked with the like’s of String’s, Bilal Khan etc. Zoe songs, Jo Chaho and Bichra Yar made huge impact on her career. These songs got very popular. Zoe recently sing the title song of drama ‘Tanhaiyan Aik Naye Silsiley’.
Zoe has a sister named, Rachel, who is also a singer. Sanam Saeed, Meera Ansari, Mariam Azmi and Meher Jaffri are her very close friends. She like’s to spend her time with her friends.
Zoe Viccaji was glad to be part of Coke Studio’s, She said ‘It was an educating experience, i spend my early life abroad but through this platform i came on touch with Pakistani music’.
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Pakistan's Power load shedding : Protests across country after Ramazan
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has said that if the worst load shedding were not brought to the end, the PPP would give a call for protests, all over country after Ramazan.
Senior PPP leader Senator Raza Rabbani said this during a protest outside the main office of the k-Electric against the load shedding in the province.
The ruling political party in Sindh, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had announced to stage a sit-in at the divisional headquarters in front of the offices of K Electric, WAPDA, HESCO and SESCO to protest against the load shedding of electricity. The protesters have demanded that Sindh should be given proper proportion of the electricity it deserves. Several provincial ministers, MPAs, and party workers participated in the protest. While addressing the protest, Rabbani said that after light showers in the city, a breakdown for more than 24 hours shows that the K-Electric authorities were not capable of running the department.
He said that after Ramazan, the PPP would carry protests against the worst load shedding, which would be held in Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Gujranwala, and other parts of country. Rabbani said that the federal government paid the circular debt, stating that the power crises would end soon, but the situation remains the same.
The PPP leader was of the view that privatisation of the state institutions would not be allowed in any case. Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said that the K-Electric was busy in doing the worst load shedding. Even at the water pumps, unnecessary load shedding was being done which is causing hurdles in the provision of million of gallons of water to the residents. Memon said that the massive power breakdown on Friday hampered the industrial production in the port city and that the citizens also suffered in the process.
PPP leader Nisar Khurho said that the federal government was repeating its past mistakes by creating an artificial shortfall of electricity in the province. He said that the electricity shortfall was artificial and said that the federal government holds the responsibility for it. He alleged that the ruling PML-N’s government was taking revenge from the people of Sindh for not voting for them. Khurho further alleged that on matters of water and power, Sindh is being treated like an adopted child, which would not be tolerated. Hyderabad, Thatta, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur, Larkana, and Jacobabad are facing power cuts of up to eighteen hours against which the citizens staged protests in several areas.

Pakistani sunni muslims: 'So what if she is 8-months old? She is Ahmadi(Muslim), kill her!'

By Imran Khalid
As Pakistanis prepare for the end of Ramazan and the arrival of Eid, we come across the news that an Ahmadi residence was set on fire by a mob, killing a mother and her two daughters, five-year-old Kainat and eight-month-old Hira. As are most religious crimes of vengeance, this incident also has roots in our archaic notion of blasphemy.
People are only too keen to take justice into their own hands when it comes to religious sentiments, as this incident shows. Minorities bear the brunt of such accusations, although blasphemy laws have been used against Sunni Muslims as well to settle land and financial disputes, Ahmadis are not the only ones being targeted – Shias and even Barelvis have been accused for not being “true” to Islam.
The blame for such hate rests not only with the extremist elements in our society who have hijacked religion for their degenerate purposes but also with the state. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government adopted a law in the early 1970s, which declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. What was politically expedient for Bhutto then, and Ziaul Haq later, is a crisis for Pakistan today.
Even as Pakistan has sought to secure its physical borders, it is losing the battle for its soul within its boundaries. The biggest threat to Pakistan’s existence comes from within. Our children are growing up with a hatred for their fellow Pakistanis. Newspapers regularly publish articles bashing the Ahmadis. The prejudice against them is deep seated and officially sanctioned.
Blasphemy laws are being abused and those accused can rest assured that their last rites have been read, regardless of their religious affiliation. The Hindu community is heading east across the border due to forced conversion of Hindu girls, the Sikh community has seen its religious sites disfigured by extremists, the Christian community fears that another set of “Gojra riots” are just around the corner and no amount of military hardware can resolve our predicament.
There is an urgent need for the federal and provincial governments to take stock of this crisis of identity facing Pakistan. It is a crisis that could well have been avoided if the words of Pakistan’s founding father had been heeded to. On August 11, 1947, three days before independence, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah spoke to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. He was adamant when he said,
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state. You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
It is to these words that we should turn to for guidance and inspiration. We cannot just hedge our bets anymore and hope for the best. We cannot afford to lose another Kainat or Hira to such viciousness.

Pakistan: Lahore Model Town inquiry : 'Passing The Buck'

The Model Town inquiry has come to an end and we await the report. The CM claimed in his affidavit that he ordered the police to retreat from the Minhajul Quran International (MQI) Secretariat to prevent any further clashes or worsened law and order situation as soon as he saw the incident on television. He later set out for Model town, where he had to meet a foreign delegation. He said that Rana Sanaullah had chaired a meeting on June 16 and agreed to remove the barricades outside the MQI, which was not to his knowledge. He chided the former Principal Secretary Tauqir Shah for not informing him of this. It is hard to imagine, that a man who is a notorious micro-manager of all business that ensues in Lahore, was clueless about the killing of over a dozen civilians at the order of his officials.
The amount of skirting around the issue has been remarkable. Earlier, Asad Ali Khan, Deputy Director ISI, appeared before the tribunal and submitted an analysis report. This was indeed a unique tribunal, where Sharif ordered the investigation and a single judge tribunal will give a verdict. One could argue that the CM should have enough respect for those dead and the tribunal, to give his statements in person, but the affidavit was delivered by Punjab Advocate General Hanif Khatana.
The thinking behind the way the government has handled the incident raises many questions. The opposition has been arguing for the past month that Sanaullah has been made the scapegoat so the CM can save face. When Sanaullah resigned, the CM was apologetically singing his praises, but now he has been categorically blamed for the incident. There is a clear attempt to create a legal separation between the CM and Shah and Sanaullah. It remains to be seen now, if Sanaullah will accept this quietly. If yes, has a deal been made that will reveal itself at a later time? Has the CM been advised to take the matter more seriously than he had been doing? Is this all for a theatre of political perception, or is there any truth at all to Sharif’s story? The lack of responsibility, accountability and truth twisting in the case has been shameful. The country is in tatters, and the ruling party just a machine producing weak excuses, and weak scapegoats, for its failures.

Pakistan: Gender dimensions of bonded labour in brick kilns

By Haroon Mustafa Janjua
One becomes a bonded labourer when one is made to work towards repayment of a loan. This loan is often taken by a family member who has since died.
In Pakistan, bonded labour exists in several forms, especially in the rural areas and in certain disadvantaged geographic regions. The bonded labour problem is a consequence of poverty, backwardness, illiteracy and old customs. Workers in the brick kiln industry are among the most vulnerable segments of the workforce. Invariably located on the outskirts of many cities and towns in Pakistan, this industry exclusively utilises those under debt bondage. Women comprise a substantial majority of debt-bonded workers. Due to the remoteness of brick kilns, its workers do not receive any support or services including education, healthcare, financial support and other welfare provided by the state to its citizens.
The phenomenon of bonded labour is very common in the brick kiln sector, in all the provinces of Pakistan, with a majority of brick kilns located in Punjab. Despite the judgment of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan and the promulgation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Rules 1995, complaints of bonded labour continue to be reported in society. The government of Pakistan has announced a national policy and plan of action on bonded labour.
The gender dimension of the problem has so far remained largely ignored. While both genders are vulnerable to bondage, it is the women who bear the brunt of advances and loans received by their men folk. As women have little influence in the household’s monetary matters and are often illiterate, with restrictions on their mobility, they are vulnerable to the subjection of bonded labour. Amna Bhatti, as a brick kiln worker, spent 50 years of her life shaping mud into bricks in a major brick kiln based in Mandra, Rawalpindi. Since she was illiterate she could not do any other work. She came to know of a nearby brick kiln and went there in search of work and shelter. She started by paying off her parents’ debt and now she is paying off her late husband’s. She will probably spend the rest of her life as a bonded labourer. Mrs Bhatti was 10 when she started working at the kiln to pay off her parents’ debt. Now, at 60, she is paying off Rs 250,000, a debt her deceased husband left behind when he died 12 years ago.
The brick kilns are classified as factories under the Factories Act 1934. The factories have to be registered under this act with the directorate of labour welfare, which is the inspectorate of factories. However, due to their rural and distant locations, very few brick kilns have registered as factories and continue to operate in the informal sector. Although, in 2007, subsequent to the order of the SC and under the directions of the government of Punjab, the provincial government’s district level units of the labour and human resource department launched a vigourous campaign to register brick kilns under the Factories Act 1934.
One becomes a bonded labourer when one is made to work towards repayment of a loan. This loan is often taken by a family member who has since died. There are no reliable records and statistics on the number of Pakistanis living and working as bonded labourers.
Inspecting officers have paid visits to brick kilns and have collected data about employment and ownership, and have filed papers for their registration. According to the registration data compiled by the directorate of labour welfare, there are a total of 3,836 brick kilns in Punjab. Out of these, 3,579 kilns, 97,455 workers were registered. The remaining 257 kilns were not registered till September 2008 due to various reasons including incomplete information or closure of the work at the kiln.
Today, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates a minimum of 11.7 million people are forced into bonded labour in the Asia-Pacific region while over one million men, women and children are employed as bonded labourers in brick kilns. Most of them are in debt bondage. Ali Raza, the Punjab labour officer at the department says, “Until recently, there was no concept of social security for the brick kiln workers. In fact, as highlighted in another session on social security, only 2.1 million of the 57 million workers in Pakistan have access to social security.” The brick kiln workers and their families reside in the shelters provided by the brick kiln owners. These shelters are poorly maintained, the water supply is inadequate, it is cramped and animals and humans live together.
Slavery is alive in the 21st century. In an era in which advancements in human rights are spreading far and wide, many Pakistani women are still caught in the vicious circle of bonded labour. There is an urgent need to bring education and literacy to the brick kiln workers. This is one action that can greatly reduce bonded labour in society. Education is the greatest tool for empowerment. Girls’ education is even more vital as girls can educate the next generations; educated girls are not likely to be exploited through bondage. There is a need to provide adequate and hygienic housing facilities at the brick kilns. The lack of toilet facilities increases the vulnerability of female workers to harassment.
The major cause of bonded labour is the economic dependence of the families on advances and loans from the employers. By increasing the access of women to microfinance, they can be empowered and their exploitation checked. The workers and family members in the brick kilns and public at large, and other stakeholders, need to be made aware of the gender dimensions of the work in brick kilns. Awareness campaigns, through documentaries, illustrated booklets, leaflets, posters and street theatre can be launched in order to undermine this malaise.

Pakistan: PML-N’s troubles within

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have done his best to woo back Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan but friction between the two has merely deepened the divisions within the ruling party in the garrison city. Rawalpindi’s party organisation is by now effectively divided into three groups of which the rivalry between the Sardar Naseem group (patronised by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan) and the Hanif Abbasi group (patronised by Hamza Shahbaz) is an open secret.
As recently as Thursday, July 24, the Iftar held by PML-N Rawalpindi was attended by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and other ‘likeminded’ N Leaguers but Hanif Abbasi and his allies were not even invited. These divisions date back to last year’s general election when the party lost three seats in Rawalpindi district to PTI. This relatively poor performance was blamed on Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan – most of the tickets had been awarded on his advice.
As a result, his influence weakened as soon as the party formed the government in Punjab after May 2013.
In last tenure of the PML-N, most bureaucratic and police appointments in all the four districts of Rawalpindi Division were made on his recommendations. But after the 2013 elections, Hamza Shahbaz – unofficially – began calling the shots in Rawalpindi Division including in the appointments of officials.
“Hamza Shahbaz wanted his handpicked men in Rawalpindi while ignoring the old workers,” said a PML-N worker. Consequently, even the local leaders close to Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan were sidelined. The faultlines deepened with Hanif Abbasi’s appointment as chairman of the monitoring committee for Metro Bus Project.
A senior PML-N leader, who did not want to be named, said: “Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was not in favour of Abbasi being given such a high profile post,” adding that Abbasi is said to be close to Khawaja Asif, Hamza Shahbaz and real estate tycoon Malik Riaz.Riaz works in collaboration with the political rivals of Khan in Rawalpindi. Similarly, Asif and Khan reportedly do not even talk to each other.In fact, Khan’s discomfort with Abbasi was such that he tried to reconcile Sharif senior with Sheikh Rashid.
“Before May 11, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan tried to bring Sheikh Rashid Ahmed back into the PML-N fold but Nawaz Sharif refused to accept him,” he said.
He explained that had Rashid returned to the PML-N, Hanif Abbasi would have become irrelevant – Abbasi is now the PML-N candidate for the seat that Rashid traditionally used to win for the party till 2002 when he joined then president general Pervez Musharraf.
One party man points out that the divisions were made clear on the occasion of the cricket match for IDPs in Rawalpindi on July 19.
The PML-N parliamentarians from Pindi - Tahira Aurangzeb and Malik Ibrar – as well as some of those who had contested the 2013 election but lost - Sardar Naseem, Malik Shakil Awan – attended the event but refused to meet Punjab Law Minister Rana Mashood in the presence of Hanif Abbasi.
He had to meet them separately after the match at the Commissioner’s Office.
This is not the only tell tale sign of the troubles within.
Sardar Naseem and Malik Shakil Awan are also members of the monitoring committee for Metro Bus Project but they have refused to attend the committee meetings.
“Sardar Naseem, Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry and Malik Shakil Awan attended the first meeting of the Metro Bus Service Monitoring Committee and then they stopped coming,” said a senior official of City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) requesting not to be named.
A senior party leader claimed that those who no longer attend the meeting are not taken on board. “We were not invited to a meeting held in Lahore two weeks ago. When we have no role in decision making, then why bother attending the meetings,” he said.
When contacted, Sardar Naseem said that he was busy with party work in “Gujranwala and the Rawalpindi Divisional affairs” while Malik Shakil Awan told Dawn that “my presence is not necessary in such meetings.”
According to an official, the differences have kept the PML-N party office on Iqbal Road closed for the last one year.
Once Sardar Naseem lost PP-12 in 2013, those who oppose him wanted fresh party elections. However, Naseem and those close to him (including Chaudhry Nisar) did not encourage a fresh election.
But observers claim that to avoid the opponents, Sardar Naseem stopped using the Iqbal Road office and now operates out of a room in the Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) offices. When contacted, Naseem admitted to the groupings within the party. “One group is of the old workers while the other is being patronised by some leaders from Lahore.”
However, while he insisted that groupings were not unusual in political parties, he added that some newcomers would end up harming the party.
He added that he and others were held responsible for losing some seats in last year’s election as the party announced the tickets 19 days before the polling day. “However, the party also lost the seat where the candidate “had been announced five years ago.”
This was an indirect reference to Abbasi, who lost a seat in Rawalpindi city.

PPP gives PML-N 15-day ultimatum to end loadshedding
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leaders said in a statement that Sindh’s population is being punished, suffering from shortage of electiricty, water and gas, because it rejected Pakistan Mulism League-N (PML-N), adding that if load shedding is not controlled within 15 days then a massive protest from Karachi till Khyber will take place.
According to the Karachi division of PPP, a protest was staged outside the office of K-electric (KE) in which key members of PPP as well as members of the Sindh National Assembly.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) also expressed its solidarity with PPP and condemned this worst load shedding, and demanded action from KE.
Raza Rabbani while addressing the rally said that PPP had decided against the privatization of KE and selling to foreign investors because that would have increased unemployment, adding that the ruling government had made a claim of eliminating load shedding in 30 days but on the contrary Karachi including Sindh was facing the worst of load shedding.
Rabbani said that of load shedding is not eliminated within 30 days then a protest will be staged from Karachi till Khyber.
Sharjeel Memon while addressing the rally said that KE and WAPDA are on the same page in terms of their workings, adding that PML-N is targeting Karachi with 20 hours of load shedding because the people rejected them.
PPP leaders while addressing the rally said that action should be taken against KE and its administration. On the other hand, many party workers in various cities protested against load shedding on PPP’s call. Many rallies were staged against load shedding in various cities including Sukkur, Tharparkar and Hyderabad, Khairpur, Dado and Nawabshah.

Fault of the regulators: Pakistan failed where Bangladesh didn’t

The Express Tribune
In 1986, the Bangladeshi government introduced landmark regulations for its emerging garment export industry, called the back-to-back Letter of Credit (LC).
Under the rules, banks would pay the suppliers directly for raw material acquired by the factory. The buyer would tell the bank the specifics of the raw material — including the value, supplier’s name and the date when the material was needed. The bank would ensure that as soon as the supplier delivered the raw materials and furnished proof of delivery, he got paid by the bank within a specified period. With this arrangement, the factory owners could raise funds up to 75% of the value of their orders. In short, a factory exporting $10 million every year could buy raw materials worth $7.5 million without spending its own money.
When the factory consumed these raw materials and shipped its orders, money the bank had already paid was deducted from factory’s export earnings. The balance was then transferred to the factory’s bank account — the only money the factory ever touched. Under these regulations, the factory owner had no access to capital but had an easy access to raw materials.
This is an important distinction. In Pakistan, factory owners can get preferential export credit for buying raw materials and meeting working capital requirements. But once they lay their hands on this easy money, it proves tragic. In the long run, they squander this money to enact their personal dreams of grandeur, and prematurely. But, in Bangladesh, factory owners could only become rich by processing and shipping more orders. Ironically, in both countries, banks try to help the exporters but in radically different ways. In Bangladesh, banks lend indirectly by making thousands of relatively smaller payments to the suppliers of raw materials. There is no big, tempting tranche of working capital given to the factory.
These rules brought nothing short of a revolutionary change in the behavior of all players. The focus shifted to performing and fulfilling orders at hand. A playing field was set that systematically rewarded order performance and closed all access to cheaper credit. Everyone had to work hard to get paid with no danger of payment default; so long as one fulfilled the orders. Also, the only way for the factory owners to get rich was to increase their capacity and to export more orders.
However, the relationship between expansion and getting wealthier has remained muddled in Pakistan. Securing cheap credit and then defaulting on it has long been a risk-free road to riches.
Under these standards, the few large garment exporters in Pakistan must possess the integrity worthy of Jinnah. In Bangladesh, sensible regulations ensure that neither bankers nor the factory owners are tested for their integrity. All garment factories start small. A large size makes no sense as in the beginning no buyer is ready to place large orders. But once they have gained customer confidence, larger orders follow.
In a Darwinian world, the size of a garment factory is an indication of how well it has operated and survived. Currently, out of the 5,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, 400 have an annual sales turnover that is greater than $50 million. In Pakistan, starting a decade earlier than Bangladesh’s, there are less than a dozen factories of this size. In Bangladesh, a garment factory is 40 times more likely to cross the $50 million mark than a Pakistani factory. The Pakistan ones just do not live long enough to grow into large enterprises; they usually die a premature death.
These stark differences cannot be explained by some mystical quality of Bangladeshi entrepreneurship. Extremism, which is currently the single most important hindrance in our path to growth, did not seriously come into play until 2008. Bangladesh already had an unassailable lead by then.
That country is not naturally predisposed toward garment exports either. If anyone, it should have been Pakistan. Bangladesh does not produce any cotton. Instead, it imports yarn from India or Pakistan at a higher cost. Only recently, it has developed a small and nascent textile sector, mostly manned by Pakistani staff. On the other hand, Pakistan has been a major textile player for the last 50 years and has always produced its own fabric. Bangladesh imports it. Always intrigued by Bangladesh’s success, during my frequent interactions with Bangladeshi owners of garment factories, my stock question to them has been to name the single most important factor that helped jump Bangladeshi garment exports from $100 million in 1986 to $23.5 billion in 2014. Their near identical response always acknowledges the regulations on back-to-back LCs as one of the most important reasons.
For long, our regulators have heeded to industry demands of more and cheaper credit. We can see through the textile packages that have been released, time after time right until the latest one in 2009-2014 Textile Policy. All these packages have common themes with little variations. They provide preferential interest rate, authorise duty-free import of machinery and raw materials, attempt to keep the income tax rate lower and offer subsidies on sales under various inventive names. And yet, our garment export sales have remained flat.
Clearly, the very few Pakistani success stories seem to be outliers in a playing field that encourages an entrepreneur to self-destruct and choke himself on cheap credit, while forgetting all about performing on his order or aim for expansion. Making his access to credit even easier under ever newer policies is like lending to a casino guest already on a losing streak. Entrepreneurs are humans and shall always remain vulnerable to temptations. Good regulations can cause a world of change in their behavior and trigger a cascading effect that can lift an entire nation out of poverty. It certainly is not too late for Pakistan to learn from Bangladesh and enact similar regulations.

Pakistan: Violent mob sets fire to Ahmadi Muslim's homes in Gujranwala under police watch

While the local police watched, Ahmadi houses are set on fire by a Islamist mob in People's Colony of Gujranwala town in the central Punjab, a Province of Pakistan.
The incident stated in the evening on Sunday, July 27th.
According to Mr. Saleem-ud Din, the Ahmadiyya community representative in Pakistan, the fire truck responding to to the fire were turned back by the mob and the local police was keeping away all help from the burning structures.
A large contingent of police was unwilling to stop the violent mob and multiple houses were on fire as of the last reports .
There is no confirmed information available yet as to the safety and security of the occupant of the houses on fire however unconfirmed reports say several women and children have sustained serious injuries and burns.
"Pakistanis celebrate end of Ramadan by burning down Ahmadi houses," said Imarn Jattala, chief editor of Ahmadiyya Times, in a social media post.
Dr. Basharat Nazir, national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the UK, stated through his private Twitter account that the ultimate fault for the anti-Ahmadiyya crimes rest with the government of Pakistan.
"Pakistan govt continues to refuse that Ordinance XX makes Ahmadis a fair game for arson, murder, harassment anytime anywhere." wrote Dr. Nazir.
"These were attacks on Ahmadis, pure and simple, the source said. "And those who tried to protect themselves from beatings were termed as 'clashing.'" "Reporters like Asad Kharal of Express Tribune made a liberal use of the word 'clashes' and insinuated that Ahmadis started it when they attacked some individuals who have come to protest about blasphemous materials posted on Facebook," the source further added.
Kamal went on to say that 7 Ahmadis who were injured, suffered so because they decided to "lock up themselves in their houses."
Tahir Imran, a BBC New Media Journalist & Social Media Producer for @BBCUrdu, reported that first Gujranwalla police DSP, Malik Afzal, "blatantly lied" that there were no attacks on Ahmadis at all.
"The DSP Poeple's Colony Malik Afzal termed the burning & ransacking of these houses as "protest on the road & burning few tires"," Tahir Imran posted in his Twitter timeline.
[Update] According to Ahmadiyya spokesperson, Mr. Saleem-ud Din, 3 Ahmadis have died from the fires and four other are critically injured. The dead are identified as 55 year old Bashiran Bibi, 7 year old Hira and her sister Kainat.
[Update] In a latest confirmation by the Ahmadiyya spokesperson, the death toll has now increased to 4 as an unborn baby died in her mothers womb due to suffocation and fire at their home. The miscarriage was suffered at the hospital where the pregnant woman was being treated for the injuries suffered due to the fire.

Pakistan: Three Ahmadi Muslims, including two minors, killed in Gujranwala

Four members of the Ahmadi community were killed late on Sunday and four others were severely injured when an angry mob on attacked and burnt five houses belonging to members of the community over alleged blasphemy, a report published on the BBC Urdu website said.
Those who died in the attack include a 55-year-old woman Bashiran, a minor girl Kianat, 7-year-old girl Hira and an unborn child who died due to suffocation.
The injured were rushed to the district headquarters hospital and their condition is said to be critical.
The BBC Urdu report quoted Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of the People's Colony Circle as saying that the trouble started with an allegedly blasphemous post on Facebook by an Ahmadi youth, following which the mob began protesting and eventually attacked and damaged homes belonging to members of the Ahmadi community.
According to police and eyewitnesses, there were seven to eight houses of the Ahmadi community in the vicinity. However, following the violence all Ahmadi families in the area managed to flee.