Thursday, October 16, 2014
A Pakistani court upheld the death penalty on Thursday against a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, her lawyer said, in a case that drew global headlines after two prominent politicians who tried to help her were assassinated.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairperson, Pakistan Peoples Party today paid visit to Dargah of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and laid floral wreath at the grave of great Sufi Saint of Sindh in Sehwan. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari remained at the Dargah for some time and offered Fateha. It may be recalled that Chairperson PPP had also visited the Dargahs of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Clifton, and Dulha Shah Sabzwari Bukhari in Kharadar, Karachi two days back.
Michael KugelmanFor U.S. combat troops, the end is in sight: By Dec. 31, most of them will have been withdrawn. Unfortunately for Afghans, and their neighbors affected by the withdrawal, the war all but promises to continue–indefinitely. The Taliban has no incentive to stop fighting the Afghan state. Why should it, when Taliban forces are in position to make battlefield gains? Foreign troops are headed for the exits, and Afghan security forces–despite improvements in capacity–remain a major work in progress. The Taliban, though weakened by coalition forces’ firepower, remains a potent enemy, as evidenced by offensives launched in recent months. The sanctuaries that the Taliban and its Haqqani network allies enjoyed in Pakistan remain intact, even after a recent Pakistani countermilitancy operation in North Waziristan, which appears to have targeted other militant groups. As for the bilateral security agreement signed Sept. 30, it means that nearly 10,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan next year. That’s a huge psychological boost for Afghans, as it ensures continuous flows of much-needed training for Afghan forces and of overall civilian and military aid. But a modest residual troop presence–especially one with a non-combat mandate–won’t produce large-scale stabilization. The drawdown could also dangerously ratchet up tensions between South Asian countries that don’t get along. In recent weeks, Afghan accusations of Pakistani complicity in some attacks have reached a crescendo. Last weekend, the Afghan government issued an ominous invitation to the Taliban: With foreign troops leaving, insurgents should end their war on the Afghan state and unite with Kabul against more serious “external” (read: Pakistani) threats. And India-Pakistan relations could plunge into crisis. Pakistani anti-India militants fighting in Afghanistan–including Lashkar-e-Taiba–could respond to the departure of foreign troops by redirecting their attention, and attacks, to India. New Delhi’s new nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, would not sit nearly as quietly as his predecessor if a terror attack linked to Pakistan were perpetrated in India. Here’s the good news: While it has become fashionable to compare Afghanistan to Iraq and to predict that the former will go the way of the latter, it may not be that bad. They’re two very different cases. Afghanistan’s ethnic divides are not as stark or violent as Iraq’s sectarian divisions. The Taliban is too divided and degraded to seize large expanses of territory as Islamic State militants have done in Iraq. Perhaps most important, over the past 13 years, particularly recent ones, Afghanistan has been on an upward (albeit shaky) trajectory. Civil and human rights have deepened, as has democratization overall. By contrast, Iraq was in a downward spiral when the U.S. withdrew. Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government was systematically disenfranchising Sunnis, and sectarian bloodshed quickly followed. Meanwhile, despite their chilly ties, Kabul and Islamabad do engage in high-level diplomacy, including military-to-military talks. And tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad are less likely to escalate into conflict than in decades past, when the two countries fought three wars, because both countries now have nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, this much is clear: Even if the war in Afghanistan is ending for U.S. combat forces, it isn’t ending for Afghans anytime soon.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Over 200 lawmakers of Pakistan's Parliament and provincial assemblies were on Wednesday temporarily suspended by the Election Commission for failing to submit the annual details of their assets. Under the Constitution, the lawmakers are bound to report every year the details of their wealth by September 30 which can be extended by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for 15 days. The ECP had set October 15 as the deadline for the submission of assets. A total of 210 lawmakers failed to submit their details of assets and liabilities. In a notification issued at the end of deadline, the ECP directed that those failing to comply cannot attend the session of their respective assemblies during the period of suspension. However, the members can get their membership restored anytime by fulfilling the legal obligation. Those suspended included 40 members of the National Assembly, two members of the Senate, 98 members of the Punjab assembly, 28 members of the Sindh assembly, 33 members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, and nine members of the Balochistan assembly. Among the prominent members suspended are chief of right wing Jammat-i-Islami Sirajul Haq and Chairman of National Assembly Committee of Foreign Affairs Awais Khan Leghari. The majority of those suspended belong to ruling PML-N of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, inherits a government that is running out of money and losing ground to the insurgency. As foreign troops withdraw, the new government must stay united and move quickly on reforms.
In its latest report, Afghanistan’s Political Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the politics surrounding the deeply contested 2014 presidential election, analysing threats and opportunities. Any election during an escalating civil war will never reflect the full breadth of popular opinion, and the polls were marred by substantial fraud. Still, the most peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history creates opportunities to improve governance, reduce corruption and steer the country toward greater stability.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:The formation of a national unity government including Ghani and his election rival Abdullah Abdullah presents opportunities to stabilise the transition, preventing further erosion of state cohesion – but it also poses risks, particularly of factionalism within Kabul. Afghanistan and its donors must focus on the stability of the government while implementing the reforms promised in Ghani’s manifesto. Ethnic tensions became more acute during the second round, in particular, as ethnic Pashtuns and Uzbeks rallied in large numbers around Ghani and his running mate Abdul Rashid Dostum; at the same time, Abdullah’s ticket became identified mainly with ethnic Tajiks and some Hazara factions. Reducing such mistrust will be crucial if this political transition is to survive. Some of the political fallout from such a divisive process could be addressed with a transparent review of lessons to be applied to strengthen the 2015 parliamentary and 2019 presidential elections. Such a review, with the potential for reconsidering laws, regulations and even the constitution, may allow for some dilution of the winner-takes-all presidential system. In the short term, Ghani and Abdullah must steer the government through urgent business, including satisfying the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), to prevent Afghanistan from being blacklisted by financial institutions and ensure continued donor support. “Ghani and Abdullah will need to continue serving as voices of restraint as they strive to make the unity government function, and they deserve to receive international support in these efforts” says says Graeme Smith, Afghanistan Senior Analyst. “The Afghan government cannot afford to drift, and any disunity in Kabul will affect the country’s ability to fight its battles and pay its bills”. “While the two candidates’ power-sharing deals may be imperfect, they have also opened a conversation about revising the overly centralised presidential system”, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser. “Afghanistan needs constitutional reforms to dilute some powers of the presidency and give more responsibilities to elected local officials. This would help mitigate factional tensions in the government and lower the stakes in future elections”.
World Health Organization has warned today that Ebola virus might spread to Pakistan sooner or later. Speaking to British media, WHO Representative in Pakistan Dr Michel Thieren said that since Ebola virus was spreading faster across the world, Pakistan was also at a high risk of it. He suggested Pakistan government to take speedy precautionary measures and steps against the deadly disease. According to Dr Michel, international passengers can carry the virus anywhere they travel. Michel stated that no measures at the airport can be taken to prevent the virus from spreading in the country. Enhanced screening for Ebola can be introduced at airports though. Therefore, government can’t be held responsible for it. However, raising awareness about the possible indications of the virus amongst the masses and the security officials at the airport can be the most effective way to defend against Ebola. Earlier, the Ministry of National Health on Wednesday prepared an emergency plan to deal with the Ebola virus; as per which, the incoming passengers from African countries will be screened and medical personnel will be trained. According to the details, a high level meeting to discuss how to deal with the deadly Ebola virus took place in Islamabad. The meeting approved creation of ‘Ebola counters’ at the airports, temporary clinics and special wards in the hospitals. It was also decided that the Pakistan army personnel arriving from the peace keeping mission would be monitored for twenty one days. The provincial governments had also been directed to arrange screening and monitoring of passengers coming from African countries. World Health Organization’s (WHO) Dr Michel has already termed Ebola virus a big threat and recommended training of medical staff. As per WHO, there are no Ebola affected patients in Pakistan right now, however, if even a single affected patient entered in country without screening can cause the outbreak.
Pakistan Army on Thursday said it had killed 21 militants in air strikes in a restive tribal district near the Afghan border, a region where it has been battling Islamist groups for more than a decade. The attacks took place early morning in the Tirah valley of Khyber district, where the Taliban and another banned militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, have taken refuge, the military said in a statement. Pakistan has been battling Islamist groups in its semi-autonomous tribal belt since 2004 after its army entered the region to search for Al-Qaeda fighters that had fled across the border following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. In June, the army began an operation in the North Waziristan agency after a bloody raid on Karachi Airport ended faltering peace talks between the government and militants. North Waziristan is a major base for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), which began its campaign against the state in 2007. The United States has long called for action against militant groups in North Waziristan who have used the area as a staging post for attacks against NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s army says it has killed more than a thousand militants and lost 86 soldiers since the start of the operation. But the toll and identity of those killed is difficult to verify because journalists do not have regular access to the conflict zones. Critics charge that many of the dead were non-combatants. In July, an air strike in North Waziristan district that the military said killed 35 militants in fact claimed the lives of 37 civilians, according to multiple accounts by residents.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo on Wednesday has said that the PPP was in competition with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) because both of the parties were the rightist parties representing the upper middle class. Addressing a press conference, he said that the PPP predominantly represented the lower middle class with liberal and progressive orientations that harmonised with political philosophy of its founding leaders. He said that the PPP was supporting democracy to attain political stability in the country that should not be treated as support to the present government. He further said that no country could develop on a sustainable basis without political stability and economic development as they are intimately linked. Wattoo said that former president Asif Ali Zardari’s two-week tour of Punjab had infused new energy in the party rank and file as a result of extensive interaction with leaders and workers hailing from seven divisions of central Punjab. He said that Co-Chairman Zardari had conveyed his deep appreciations to the PPP Punjab leaders and others who made his tour a big success. The PPP leader further said that Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari would come to Punjab soon because the task of organisation of the party was focus of their attention. He added that his focus was also on the organisational aspects of the PPP Punjab chapter and that he intended to complete it within next two months. He claimed once the organisation of the party was complete at all tiers then no political force would be able to defeat the PPP. He said that the PPP Punjab was confident to send as many as 25,000 people to Karachi to participate in the October 18 rally that would be addressed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He also confirmed that he did not see the holding of local bodies elections in the province because the provincial government did not want to empower the people at grass-roots level. He, however, observed that the PPP was ready to contest local bodies elections any time and would surprise many because the party was in a position to win the same. The PPP suffered the political setback in the May 2013 elections because the mandate was stolen through returning officers (ROs), he added. PPP Punjab Secretary General Tanvir Ashraf Kaira and other party leaders were also present.
The assault on Malala left all of Pakistan with a heartrending grief to nurse along with her loved ones. This prize is an acknowledgement of her valour, courage and resistanceMalala Yousafzai has become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, rightly deserved for her heroic struggle for girls’ right to education. She is indeed an international icon of resistance, women’s empowerment and right to education. She is the prized daughter of the nation, who at such a young age has earned a name and fame worldwide. Malala Yousafzai is undoubtedly an epitome of exceptionally enviable courage and boldness, who stood by her beliefs unflinchingly and, despite her very young age, she did not budge an inch from her noble stance in the face of dire threats. Leaders belonging to the ruling and opposition parties have congratulated Malala on winning the prestigious award. Though she is being revered the world over, a few people from international and local opinion makers’ circles are whining about how the Nobel Peace Prize should have been given to someone who has contributed towards peace or for efforts to eliminate war. It was indeed the prerogative of the Nobel Prize Committee to believe that education makes people civilised, in turn reducing turmoil and war to create a climate conducive to peace. The five-member Nobel committee, while taking the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala, stated: “Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.” The assault on Malala left all of Pakistan with a heartrending grief to nurse along with her loved ones. This prize is an acknowledgement of her valour, courage and resistance, and that she defied the accursed thugs who not only attacked her, they pierced the very heart of this nation. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility, and vowed to attack her again if she survived. With this dastardly attack, they demonstrated how bestial they innately are. Attacking a child is not bravery; it is outright cowardice. This savage attack should have at least served to pull our clerical orders out of their own conceit, making them declare in unambiguous words that Islam abhors the killing of innocents, old men, women and children under any circumstances. Malala had been receiving threats from the militants yet no security was provided to her whereas scores of police personnel are deputed for the security of hundreds of ministers, politicos and other government functionaries. Of course, the attackers had descended from the hills from across the border where Pakistani fugitive militants like Fazlullah and Faqir Mohammad are ensconced. They have found safe haven in the neighbouring Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Unfortunately, the civil security apparatus in Pakistan, whose job it is essentially to fight urban terrorism, was found lacking. Secondly, some terror apologists were condoning the vile acts of the militants, who felt emboldened by the support. Apart from killings, the militants destroyed not only girls’ schools but boys’ schools also and the civil administration could not stop them. Extremists and terrorists who are raising the banner of Islam are in fact striking at the very foundation of the faith. In Pakistan, books and schools have been torched and destroyed, and human beings have been killed by suicide bombers. In Pakistan, militants have burned hundreds of schools to the ground, especially girls schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Maulana Fazlullah, now chief of the TTP, had been broadcasting through an illegal FM radio station in Imam Dheri village, discouraging girls from going to school. Keeping up their attacks on schools, the insurgents destroyed schools in Mingora as well; the official count was more than 135 schools. These thugs do not understand that the foremost feature of man’s characteristics is that God granted him knowledge of the names of things, which made him superior to the angels and, as such, the latter were commanded by the Lord Creator to prostrate to him. Religious scholars have not seriously tried to ignite the internal combustible spirit in us and convert the release into useful energy with the potential for change and to find a niche in the comity of nations. They did not reach the innermost recesses of the conscious and subconscious minds of the people to inculcate in them an urge or desire to search for truth and reality. More than 1,400 years ago, Islam gave the message of peace, justice, human dignity, reason and light. Its rejection of outdated customs and traditions is enough evidence that Islam is an active and radical religion. Those who misinterpret Islam as a dogmatic and conservative upholder of obscurantism in fact deviate from the simple, rational and humane spirit of Islam. Unfortunately, there was no coherent plan by the administration to take the militants head on. The armed forces and paramilitaries are rendering tremendous sacrifices in fighting this war. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is successfully progressing and, according to military sources, 80 percent of North Waziristan has been cleared of the terrorists and militants. The military is determined to cleanse FATA and other areas where militants are hiding. Unfortunately, a couple of political parties and religious groups, in pursuance of their political interests, appear to have lost sight of the collective national goals of fighting and eliminating the scourge of terrorism. They have been creating fear in the minds of the people and government functionaries that, in the event of an operation being launched against the militants in FATA, the blowback would be disastrous. But they have been proved wrong, and the terror apologists are now quiet for the moment. The government should maintain its resolve to eliminate terrorism using an assorted counter-terrorism strategy. It should take steps to expedite relief to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and look after them properly, as they are the ones who will prove to be a bulwark against terrorists and militants after they return to their cities and towns.
Afghan security forces said Thursday they have captured two senior leaders of the feared Haqqani network, a hardline group behind sophisticated attacks on Afghan and Nato forces. Anas Haqqani, the son of the network's founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, was arrested late Tuesday along with Hafiz Rashid, another commander, by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency, officials said. “We hope that these two arrests will have direct consequences on the network and their centre of command,” NDS spokesman Haseeb Sediqi said. Anas played an important role in the network's "strategic decision-making" and frequently travelled to Gulf states to get funding, Sediqi said. The Haqqanis have been blamed for spectacular attacks on Afghan government and Nato targets across Afghanistan as well as for kidnappings and murders. The Haqqani network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani — an Afghan guerrilla leader bankrolled by the United States to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now in his 70s and frail, he is believed to live with his family in Pakistan. In the 1980s Jalaluddin was close to the CIA and Pakistani intelligence. He allied himself to the Taliban after they took power in Kabul in 1996, serving as a cabinet minister under the militia's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. When American troops arrived after the 9/11 attacks, Haqqani sought refuge in Pakistan's tribal district of North Waziristan and became one of the first anti-US commanders based in the border areas. He has training bases in eastern Afghanistan and is close to Al-Qaeda. His fighters are active across east and southeast Afghanistan and in the capital Kabul. The network is militarily the most capable of the Afghan Taliban factions and operates independently but remains loyal to Mullah Omar. Unidentified gunmen attacked and killed Nasiruddin Haqqani, the group's chief fundraiser and another son of its founder, on the edge of Islamabad last year. A car bomb attack that killed more than 40 people in the Urgun district of Afghanistan's Paktika province in July was blamed on the Haqqani network. Many key Haqqani members are thought to have fled back to Afghanistan in June, when the Pakistani army launched a major operation against militants in North Waziristan.