Friday, October 24, 2014

Saudi Arabia's Women Problem

Ahead of the anniversary of a protest against the ban on female drivers, the country is warning women not to get behind the wheel again.
One of the lesser-noted tendrils of the Arab Spring, which kicked off in earnest in 2011 and has been all but declared over, is the ongoing movement to end the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia.
The decades-long ban, which technically stems from religious custom rather than an actual Saudi traffic law, also has a history of being challenged. In November 1990, with the region roiling from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a group of 47 women joined together in a convoy and cruised down a major street in Riyadh in a "drive-in" protest. One of the rationales for choosing the moment was that a national emergency required their male custodians to be elsewhere.
The women gained immediate fame for their protest, but as Katherine Zoepf writes, not the kind that would lend their cause protection: "The forty-seven women, still collectively known in the kingdom as 'the drivers,' were detained, fired from their jobs, and widely pilloried."
One person who remembers the backlash against "the drivers" is Manal al-Sharif. As she told The Wall Street Journal last year: "When I was a kid they sent brochures all around the country, with the names of the women and their house numbers, encouraging people to call them and tell them to come back to Islam. They said these women had sex with American troops. They said they took off their hijabs and burned them."
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Sharif became a driver herself. In May 2011, she uploaded a video of herself driving around the Saudi city of Khobar. It went viral and garnered international support, but inspired threats against her at home. A week later, after she set off behind the wheel again, she was quickly spotted by police.
“They called the religious police, I was taken into interrogation and then they let me go," she recounted earlier this year as she received one in her growing collection of awards and honors. "But they came again to my house at 2 a.m. and took me to jail.” She remained in jail for the next nine days.
A few weeks after Sharif's ordeal, with the movement gaining steam, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton incited a diplomatic incident after offering her support for the issue during a visit to Riyadh.
What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them, but I want to underscore the fact that this is not coming from outside of their country. This is the women themselves, seeking to be recognized.
Last year, a campaign called on Saudi women to defy the driving ban on October 26. The efforts were briefly given momentum after a Saudi cleric issued this doozy of a statement in which he warned that driving has a "physiological impact on women and could affect her ovaries and push the pelvis higher as a result of which their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees."
Dozens of women reportedly participated, but some said the reach was limited after the Saudi Interior Ministry warned that defying the ban would bring consequences.
A few weeks after last year's demonstration, Secretary of State John Kerry eschewed the Hillary approach during an official visit. Kerry said that while he is proud of gender equality in America, when it comes to driving, "it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure choices and timing for whatever events."
On Thursday, ahead of a renewed push to recreate the "drive-in" on the one-year anniversary, Saudi officials once again warned against defying the ban. Their reasoning? The protests represent "an opportunity for predators to undermine social cohesion."

Turkey's U.S. relations show strain as Washington's patience wears thin

The U.S. decision to air-drop weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria on the same day Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan dismissed them as terrorists is the latest false note in the increasingly discordant mood music coming out of Washington and Ankara.
No matter how much officials on both sides publicly insist there is harmony, differences in strategy over the fight against Islamic State and the fate of the beleaguered Syrian border town of Kobani are straining relations between the Washington and its key regional ally, leaving Turkey increasingly isolated.
On Saturday Erdogan briefed journalists on board his lavish new presidential jet, saying it would be inappropriate for the United States to arm the Kurdish PYD which controls Kobani, besieged by Islamic State forces for more than a month.
Less than an hour after the plane touched down in Istanbul, President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan by telephone, notifying him that weapons drops to Kobani's defender's were going ahead.
"U.S. actions certainly humiliated Erdogan. The story of the air-drop is one of Turkish irrelevance," said Aaron Stein, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
An op-ed by an Erdogan adviser published on Monday after the drops reiterated Turkey's opposition to helping the PYD, and highlighting the apparent gap between Ankara and Washington.
Hours later Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would work with the United States to allow Iraqi Kurdish 'peshmerga' fighters to go to the defense of Kobani.
Senior Turkish officials paint the change of stance in a positive light. But Erdogan has kept up his attack on U.S. tactics, and the focus on Kobani.
"Now there's this situation called Kobani. What's the significance for it? Around 200,000 people came to my country and there are no civilians left inside apart from 2,000 PYD fighters," he said on Thursday, branding the PYD terrorists.
But Turkey's stance has little bearing on the direction of the coalition, and on Washington's actions, Stein believes.
"I don't think Turkey is buckling under the pressure (to do more), I think people are just ignoring Turkey."
Senior U.S. officials acknowledged Turkey’s unhappiness with the air drops to the Syrian Kurds, and said they explained it to Ankara as a temporary fix, which would not be necessary if Turkey would allowed safe passage of Iraqi peshmerga fighters to Kobani to aid in the city’s defense.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the weapons drop a “momentary effort.” Describing Obama’s talks with Erdogan and his own with top Turkish officials, Kerry said: “What we did say very clearly is, ‘Help us to get the peshmerga or other groups in there who will continue this, and we don't need to do that’ (weapons resupply)."
Another senior U.S. official said: “So what we did was actually pretty limited but basically designed to create a bridge to get to a place where the resupply was coming in via Turkey from the Kurdish peshmerga.”
A third senior U.S. official, while acknowledging remaining tensions, said the high-level diplomacy, including Obama’s phone talk with Erdogan, had at least prevented a further breakdown in relations between the two NATO allies.
The two countries still remain divided, however, over Washington’s request to use Incirlik air base to support military operations in Syria, with Erdogan demanding that the anti-Islamic State coalition set up a no-fly zone over Syria.
And U.S. suspicions remain about Turkey’s sympathies in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.
A U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States believes Turkey is playing a double game in Syria, lending at least covert moral support to Islamic State while avoiding doing so in public.
The official did not know if Turkey was providing financial or military support to Islamic State, but said Washington believes Turkey is partnering with Qatar in providing support to Islamist factions and militias in Libya.
The official said that the United States believes that Turkey’s ruling AK party has long had a policy of covertly seeking accommodations, if not actually trying to ingratiate itself, with Islamist groups.
Turkey has so far been a reluctant member of the U.S.-led coalition to tackle Islamic State, radical Sunni Muslim fighters who have seized swathes of territory in northern Syria and Iraq.
Ankara points to humanitarian efforts that have seen it give shelter to nearly 2 million Syrians since the beginning of the war in 2011 as proof of its commitment to the region.
But Turkey has also made it clear it sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a bigger threat than Islamic State, and has demanded the creation of safe areas in northern Syria and a no-fly zone before it will take a more active military role.
Despite praise for its treatment of refugees, Turkey's failure to join the bombing campaign against Islamic State has brought criticism in western media.
Repeated denials by Turkish officials have failed to quell rumors that Ankara allowed arms and fighters to flow to radical groups in Syria as part of a strategy to topple Assad.
Earlier this month, in another awkward episode, Erdogan demanded and received an apology from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden for saying Turkey and other countries had backed extremists and whipped up sectarian conflict.
"Turkey has a perception problem... and perceptions can be more important than the truth," said Osman Bahadir Dincer, of the Ankara based think-tank, USAK.
At home, the Turkish government's attitude has generally gone down well with a public who have little appetite for foreign policy adventures, amidst an economic slowdown and under the strain of hosting half of all Syrian refugees.
But deadly protests by Kurds furious at Ankara's failure to help their kin in Kobani hint at the domestic dangers of regional spillover. They also risk derailing a fragile peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), aimed at ending a simmering 30-year insurgency.
In foreign relations, the picture is different.
Privately, diplomats from friendly countries express frustration, aware that Turkey's geographical position and military power make it a vital, if increasingly mistrusted, regional ally.
"To be frank, Turkish politicians may be outstanding masters of domestic statecraft, but they are junior leaguers when it comes to foreign policy at a time when ISIS threatens to destabilize the region," said Atilla Yesilada, an economist with New-York based Global Source Partners.
The decision to allow Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters to cross into Syria has been welcomed by officials in Washington, and may be the first sign of Turkey softening its opposition to America's strategic focus on Islamic State.
But the month-long delay before acting has hurt Turkey internationally, and deepened the sense that its desire to be a major regional player is not backed up by its ability, according to one European diplomat based in Ankara.
Turkey's refusal to back down on demanding the removal of Assad and the creation of safe zones has baffled and infuriated partners, who agree with the ideas in principle, but do not see them as priorities, the diplomat said.
Turkey's leaders have never been afraid of sticking to their guns in the face of international opinion. Both Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolgu are driven by a vision of the Middle East united by a Turkish brand of political Islam. Both believe their foreign policy is supported by moral imperatives, and that they are on the right side of history.
But unless Ankara aligns itself more closely with international opinion it will become ever more isolated, and its goals will remain out of reach, many experts believe.

President Obama hugs Ebola-free nurse
Before Nina Pham headed back home to Dallas, Texas, she made one exciting final stop.
The 26 year old nurse, who is now Ebola free, met with President Obama in the Oval Office this afternoon, where the president gave Pham a big hug.
He wasn't the only one to hug Pham Friday.
On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, told reporters that Pham "is cured of Ebola," following multiple tests that confirmed it. Fauci hugged her too.
Pham was first diagnosed earlier this month after treating Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. She was the first person to be diagnosed with the disease on U.S. soil days after Duncan died from Ebola. She came to the Washington region for treatment, attended by caregivers in hazmat suits.
Her diagnosis caused an uproar among politicians who are now calling for tougher restrictions on travelers coming from three of the Ebola stricken countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The administration has pushed back against calls for a travel ban, saying it will hurt more than help fight the disease in West Africa.
Read more:

US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

A U.S. nurse diagnosed with Ebola after caring for a Liberian patient has been found virus-free and has been discharged from the National Institutes of Health in suburban Washington.
Nina Pham, a nurse at a Dallas, Texas, hospital that treated the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, told reporters and supporters Friday she is grateful for her recovery. She was flown in last week for treatment at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland.
She added that she is mindful of others who are still struggling with the illness, particularly another Dallas nurse, Amber Vinson, who was also infected after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
"Although I no longer have Ebola, I know it may be a while before I get my strength back," said Pham. She asked for privacy as she recovered further. She planned to head back to Dallas to reunite with her family and her dog Bentley.
Pham visited Friday with President Barack Obama, who shook her hand.
"She is cured of Ebola. Let’s get that clear," Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday.
Fauci said the 26-year-old was not given any experimental drugs while at NIH. It’s unclear why one Ebola patient recovers and another does not, he said, noting Pham’s youth and previous good health may have helped her beat the virus.
Pham had gotten a transfusion of blood plasma from Ebola survivor Kent Brantly, an American physician who had contracted the virus while treating patients in Liberia.
WHO anticipates vaccine
An official with the World Health Organization predicts hundreds of thousands of Ebola vaccine doses will be ready by June.
Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general, told reporters Friday that two leading vaccine candidates are already in clinical trials and five more experimental vaccines are being developed for clinical trials next year.
"Before the end of first half of 2015 … we could have available a few hundred thousand doses. That could be 200,000 – it could be less or could be more,'' Kieny said after a meeting in Geneva of industry executives, global health experts, drug regulators and funders.
Donor countries have committed to finance the research, Kieny said. “There is a broad understanding that money will not be an issue" in developing an Ebola vaccine, Reuters news agency quoted her as saying.
New York confirms case
On Thursday, a New York City doctor who recently treated Ebola victims in Guinea became the first person in the U.S. city to be diagnosed with the virus.
Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the case late Thursday, saying Dr. Craig Spencer has been placed in isolation at Belleview Hospital Center and the general public has no cause for alarm.
"Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract," de Blasio said. "… New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an infected person's bodily fluids are not at all at risk."
Spencer on Thursday had notified the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, with whom he’d worked, that he had a high fever and nausea – two symptoms of Ebola.
Officials are looking for anyone who may have had contact with Spencer. He is the fourth person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, and the first in New York.
Mali case may signal setback
The West African nation of Mali on Thursday also reported its first case of Ebola, in what many warn could be another major setback to African efforts to contain the disease.
Health Minister Ousmane Kone said on state television the patient is a 2-year-old girl who was brought to a hospital from neighboring Guinea. She had traveled with her grandmother, Kone said, adding, "It is possible that these two people arrived at a time when the symptoms were not detectable."
The girl's condition is improving, thanks to quick treatment in the western town of Kayes, Kone said.
The Ebola outbreak – concentrated in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – has killed close to 4,900 people. There are almost 10,000 confirmed or probable cases.
EU secures $1.25 billion to fight Ebola
European Union leaders on Friday announced they have secured $1.25 billion to help fight the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The announcement followed a summit of EU member nations in Brussels on Thursday.
So far, there have only been scattered cases of Ebola reported in the United States and Europe.
Even so, U.S. government health officials are ordering travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to monitor their health for 21 days and give local health departments daily reports.
The monitoring program starts Monday in six eastern states – Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia – where the majority of those travelers arrive. They will be given an Ebola kit, including a thermometer, upon arriving at airports.
New York called ‘ready’
In the latest case in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Dr. Spencer was familiar with symptoms and handled himself appropriately once he experienced symptoms.
Cuomo said the city is "as ready as one can be for this circumstance" and has been preparing for weeks to handle a possible Ebola case.
The White House said President Barack Obama spoke separately late Thursday with de Blasio and Cuomo, assuring them both of "any additional federal support necessary."
Obama also noted "the extensive preparations that New York City and, in particular, Bellevue Hospital Center … have undertaken to prepare for this contingency."
The earlier Ebola cases in the U.S. include a Liberian man who died two weeks ago at a hospital in Dallas, Texas. Two nurses who treated him are hospitalized and reportedly doing well.

Music Video - Billy Joel - We Didn't Start the Fire

Pashto Music Video - Gul panra and Rahim Shah

India asks Afghanistan to share information on detained Haqqani leaders

According to reports, India has asked the Afghan government to share information regarding the interrogation of two top Haqqani terrorist network leaders who were arrested by Afghan intelligence.
The request was reportedly made during Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval’s visit to Afghanistan.
Doval met with President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah and national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar. Atmar is understood to have assured Doval that Kabul would share all relevant information that may come out from interrogating the two Haqqani Network leaders – Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid, according to Indian newspaper Deccan Herald.
The Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist network and Lashkar-e-Taiba are accused of having role behind deadly attacks on Indian embassy in Kabul and Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat province.
New Delhi hopes that the interrogation of the two top Haqqani terrorist network leaders will reveal substantial details about network’s link with Pakistan’s military intelligence – Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
According to the Afghan intelligence – national directorate of security (NDS), the detained Haqqani terrorist network leaders included Anis Haqani, the brother of Sirajudin Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid the military commander of Haqqani network.

Residents pay price of India-Pakistan border skirmishes
Residents on border towns are paying the price of the decades-long animosity between the two neighbours with their blood.
Pakistan: India and Pakistan have once again traded fire across their borders in recent weeks, and the two nuclear rivals are putting the blame on each other for the border skirmishes.
The border town of Charwah Sector in Sialkot, which is overshadowed by Indian and Pakistani posts, feels the heat every time tensions mount between the two neighbours. Residents live in fear whenever both sides exchange fire across the border.
Farmers living just a few hundred metres away from the working boundary between India and Pakistan said they are in a constant state of fear, and blame the Indian forces for targeting their village. Residents said India fired the opening salvo as they were getting ready to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha. The attack claimed several lives and injured dozens of people.
"People vacate this town in the evening. They move to safer locations at night and come back in the morning,” said one of the town’s residents. "We feel scared when we visit our fields to harvest our crops, but we have to do it since this is our land and we don't have anywhere else to go,” said another resident.
Indian officials said Pakistan was using border fire to help infiltrate people into their territory, but that claim was denied by a senior Pakistan Rangers commander. He pointed out that Indians have erected a 3.7-metre high fence on the other side of the working boundary, installed high-resolution cameras and powerful searchlights to monitor the area and hence, prevented the possibility of any infiltration.
As India and Pakistan slug it out, one military hospital is witnessing an influx of innocent civilians who have received shrapnel injuries. While the blame game continues, residents on such border towns are paying the price of the decades-long animosity between the two countries with their blood.

Tuberculosis burden remains high in India and Pakistan

The WHO says that although tuberculosis is slowly declining, the number of TB cases, compared with its last year report, has risen. WHO's Philippe Glaziou tells DW why some Asian countries are more prone to the disease.
Around nine million people contracted tuberculosis (TB) last year - nearly half a million more than were reported in 2012 - of which 1.5 million didn't survive, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released on Wednesday, October 22.
With more complete data coming out of South Asian countries like Pakistan, the international health body found that TB was prevalent in the Asian continent. While India accounted for 24 percent, China registered 11 percent of global TB cases, the WHO noted.
In a DW interview, Philippe Glaziou, senior epidemiologist at the WHO's Global TB Programme in Geneva, Switzerland, says that although progress has been made in a number of Asian countries since 2000, the burden remains comparatively high in India and Pakistan.
DW: The latest WHO report states that the number of people who have contracted the disease is on the rise. Does the same apply to TB-related deaths?
Philippe Glaziou: Overall, the number of TB deaths (excluding HIV) in Asia (WHO Western Pacific Region and South East Asia Region combined) is actually not increasing but decreasing, at an average rate of 5.3 percent a year over 2005 – 2013, which makes up 831,000 estimated deaths in 2005, and 543,000 in 2013. Including HIV-associated TB deaths, the average decline was 5.5 percent a year - 930,000 in total in 2005, and 600,000 in 2013.
Why was the issue underestimated?
The burden of TB is best measured through state-of-the-art surveillance systems in countries with universal access to healthcare and very high coverage of TB case notifications. In other countries, TB prevalence surveys are a reliable, albeit costly way of measuring the burden of TB in the general population.
There has been an unprecedented rise in the number of prevalence surveys in the past few years. In particular, a survey in Nigeria allowed generating more accurate estimates of TB burden compared with previously uninformative estimates.
A nearly complete survey in Indonesia, with final results expected towards the end of this year, will likely have the same effect. It is not always the case that surveys indicate a higher burden than previously thought. In some other countries, such as Rwanda and Gambia, the survey actually found a lower burden than previously estimated and in many others, there was no significant difference with the previous estimate.
India, Pakistan and China have high case numbers, as your report shows. What makes these countries more prone to tuberculosis than others?
China has high numbers due to the sheer size of its population, but TB burden expressed per capita is now much lower in China than in India and Pakistan. Some major determinants of (high) TB burden are well known: poverty, overcrowding, high prevalence of tobacco smoking or diabetes, and poor TB control practices in the past, among others. HIV is a major determinant of TB in general, but the epidemics of HIV in the three countries are at low levels and have not affected national TB epidemics in very significant ways.
Declines in TB burden occur faster in countries with universal access to healthcare and high coverage of quality services, including laboratories. Progress has been made in all three countries since 2000, but the burden remains comparatively high in India and Pakistan.
Why can't the disease be controlled in these countries?
The reasons why the TB rates do not fall faster are multiple. They include the lack of universal access to medical care. In the absence of health insurance and social protection, the poorest do not access health services when they are sick. They need to borrow money and may not be able to afford a day off work.
This contributes to undiagnosed TB and sustained transmission in the community. In countries with a strong but insufficiently regulated private sector such as India and Pakistan, the quality of services and the quality of care may not reach high enough standards, leading to poor treatment outcomes in diagnosed TB cases, further contributing to sustained transmission.
Transmission also occurs in hospitals and clinics in the absence of effective infection control. Poor medical care leads to higher levels of drug resistance, in turn increasing transmission.
With currently available tools, the fastest decline in TB incidence observed at national level over a period of about one decade did not exceed 10 percent. The decline is slow because a very large number of people, about a third of the world population, are infected with the TB bacilli, but do not have the TB disease, and every year, a small proportion of those infected become sick with TB. To reach faster declines in TB incidence, a vaccine more effective than BCG to prevent the development of the disease is necessary.
Philippe Glaziou is a senior epidemiologist at the Global TB Programme of WHO. He leads the work on estimating the burden of TB and its time trends in every country.

India offers 'full cooperation' to Pakistan for polio eradication

India on Friday offered Pakistan "full cooperation" for eradicating polio from its soil and said it is a "cause for concern" for it that the neighboring country accounts for 85% of the world s polio cases.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan noted that previous attempts by the two countries for cooperation on this front have made no "significant progress" and lauded Pakistan s latest initiative to fight polio, saying a similar strategy paid off in India, which has successfully removed the crippling virus.
"I have been through the plan (Pak s) and find that the script is perfect. Pakistan has resolved to set up monitoring cells at the grassroots level. They are also talking of involving social groups, a strategy which worked wonderfully in India," he said on the occasion of World Polio Day.
Extending cooperation to Pakistan, Vardhan said India s social mobilization network for fight against polio has been lauded by leading international organizations, WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and United States Centre for Disease Control.
An official statement from the Health Ministry said the plan was originally conceived in Delhi in 1994 when Vardhan was the state s health minister.
"Pakistan today accounts for 85% of the world s polio cases today, a cause of concern for India," it said.
Recalling that the two countries had talked of institutionalizing cooperation on polio eradication through a joint working group following the foreign minister-level talks between them in September 2012, he said there was no significant progress on this front.
Vardhan stressed that India was exposed to the risk of polio outbreak again as the disease was "just a bus ride away" due to its presence in Pakistan.
Globally, more than 40 countries since 1998 which had been polio-free have suffered from one or more importations of wild polio virus.
The ministry will introduce the injectable polio vaccines in the Universal Immunization Programme from 2015, replacing oral vaccines.

Destroying Pakistan - The curse of the blasphemy law.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which turns 30 this year, has become only more deadly with age. Since blasphemy was made a capital crime under the nation’s secular penal code, the effect has been to suppress moderate influences, pushing “Pakistani society further out on the slippery slope of extremism,” said Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in Washington last week. With its large population and sensitive location, Pakistan is a place where any societal shift in the direction of the Taliban deserves the attention of all concerned about Islamic extremism. Instead, this is one more foreign threat that the Obama administration underestimates.
On October 16, for the first time, an appeals court affirmed a death sentence for blasphemy meted out to a woman. A Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after fellow field hands complained that, during a dispute, she had insulted the prophet of Islam. No evidence was produced, because to repeat blasphemy is blasphemous. Similarly, anyone who defends an accused blasphemer risks being labeled a blasphemer; two officials who made appeals on Bibi’s behalf—Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs—were assassinated in 2011. Bibi has one last legal recourse, an appeal to the federal Supreme Court, but now no public official dares speak up for her—or for any other blasphemy defendant.
Accusations of blasphemy are brought disproportionately against Pakistan’s Christians, some 2 percent of the population. Intent is not an element of the crime, and recent years have seen cases brought against illiterate, mentally disabled, and teenage Christians. Each case seems to heighten the sensitivities of the extremists and further fracture society. The flimsiest rumor of a Koran burning can spark hysteria ending in riots against entire Christian communities. Lahore’s St. Joseph Colony was torched last year in such a pogrom.
But blasphemy complaints against Muslims are also on the rise. Muslims now make up the largest defendant class; by contrast, during the entire 200 years of the British Raj, not a single blasphemy case against a Muslim is documented, according to the Islamabad Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). Particularly hard hit are the Ahmadis, who pride themselves on reconciling Islamic beliefs with modern principles of pluralism, secularism, and peace. In 1974, the constitution was amended to declare the group heretical, and two of the five penal code sections devoted to blasphemy are specific to them. A few months ago, in a not atypical case, an Ahmadi doctor was charged with blasphemy after two Pakistanis posing as patients accused him of “posing as a Muslim” because, at their request, he read from a Koran.
Increasingly, liberal thinkers among Pakistan’s majority Hanafi Muslims are accused of blasphemy. The law’s vagueness—it bans irreverent words about Islam “either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly”—means it can be used against almost anyone, for almost anything. Extremists aggressively manipulate perceptions. Emboldened and even legitimized by the law, some are dispensing with the legal process altogether, acting, often with impunity, as judge and executioner.
The most famous victim of this parody of justice is Malala Yousafzai, one of this year’s Nobel Peace laureates. The media have downplayed the whispering campaign accusing Malala of defaming Islam by challenging the cultural taboo against female education. The accusations have come not only from the Taliban, who shot her but failed to kill her two years ago. Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, pointed out in the Wall Street Journal the Twitter campaign #MalalaDrama, whereby hundreds of young followers of cricket hero Imran Khan have denounced Malala as a “tool of the evil West who is seeking to impose Western values on Islamic Pakistan.” She wisely remains in exile in the United Kingdom, even though Swat, her homeland, has been reclaimed from the Taliban. (Malala is Pakistan’s second Nobel laureate. Its first, Abdus Salam, awarded a Nobel in physics in 1979, was among the earliest Ahmadis driven from Pakistan. He died in exile, but after his remains were buried in Pakistan, a magistrate ordered that words identifying him as Pakistan’s first “Muslim” Nobel laureate be filed off his tombstone.)
Scholar Akbar Ahmed says that “perhaps dozens” of Pakistani reformist educators have faced blasphemy complaints lodged by their students. Junaid Hafeez, professor of English literature at a university in Multan, is currently on trial for his life for blasphemy. He allegedly insulted the prophet on Facebook, though again there is no evidence. Another, Professor Mohammed Younas Shaikh, who started “The Enlightenment” group in Islamabad as a forum for Muslims to discuss their faith in the contemporary context, was accused of blasphemy by a student and sentenced to death, though he managed later to emigrate.
Last month, Professor Shakeel Auj, dean of the Islamic Affairs Department at Karachi University and an acclaimed Koranic scholar, was shot to death by unknown assailants. While well within the Sunni mainstream, Auj espoused a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of Islamic jurisprudence conducive to expanded rights for women. This brought death threats, including from some of his faculty colleagues. His pleas for protection were ignored, and the four professors arrested for threatening him were out on bail when he was killed.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s Rahman told us that the lawyers’ association of which he has been a member for 40 years has also grown more extreme under the blasphemy regime. In 2008, the New York Times, reporting on then-president Pervez Musharraf’s threat to judicial independence, exclaimed that Pakistan’s lawyers were evidence that “there truly was a liberal tradition in Pakistan, buried beneath six decades of dictatorship, corruption and religious extremism” and attributed to such lawyers “perhaps the most consequential outpouring of liberal, democratic energy in the Islamic world in recent years.”
Three years later, lawyers in their trademark black suits were seen leading quite a different outpouring. This time its purpose was to cheer Mumtaz Qadri, assassin of Gov. Taseer and one of his security detail, who had said on television, “Salman Taseer is a blasphemer, and this is the punishment for a blasphemer.” Jarring reports showed members of the bar showering the defendant with rose petals as he entered the courthouse for his murder trial. Three hundred pro-bono lawyers signed his defense papers. After rendering a guilty verdict, the judge immediately went into hiding. The BBC entitled its report on the episode “Has Pakistan passed the tipping point of religious extremism?”
In 2000, no less an authority than the Lahore High Court chief justice, Mian Nazir Akhtar, gave a public statement to the effect that “no one had authority to pardon blasphemy and that anyone accused of blasphemy should be killed on the spot, as a religious obligation.” British writer and human rights activist Benedict Rogers commented on the thuggery accompanying the law: “Regularly, mobs of Muslims, often led by Mullahs, crowd into the courtroom, shouting threats at the judge if he does not rule in their favour. Defence lawyers receive death threats for taking on blasphemy cases. Mobs gather outside the courtroom, and physically threaten the lawyers as they leave.” Some 60 people have been murdered in connection with the blasphemy law, according to CRSS. On September 25, a prison policeman, in cold blood, shot and killed 42-year-old Reverend Zafar Bhatti, president of the Jesus World Mission, accused, without evidence, of blasphemy, and wounded his cellmate, Mohammed Asghar, a 70-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic on death row for blasphemy. Earlier, on May 7, for defending Professor Hafeez, Rashid Rehman, a lawyer of 20 years’ standing, became the fourth person working for Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission to be murdered. Two lawyers were among those who threatened him.
As part of its changing cultural climate, Pakistan has become an “increasingly harsh environment for journalists, particularly those considered liberal,” the BBC reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists cites scores of reporters killed. Media personalities either shot and wounded or threatened with death for blasphemy so far in 2014 include: Shoaib Adil, a publisher in Lahore whose current affairs magazine is considered a rare liberal voice in the Urdu media; Pakistan’s most famous television journalist, Hamid Mir; the country’s most popular television host, Shaista Wahdi; and television anchor and journalist Raza Rumi. The BBC noted that Adil, whose transgression was to publish an Ahmadi judge’s book, is not a Taliban target but “the victim of an everyday witch hunt by Pakistan’s powerful religious groups—the kind of witch hunt that’s so common and yet so scary that it never makes headlines.”
The United States lacks a diplomatic strategy to oppose Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Instead, it actually goes along with the idea of other countries’ criminalizing offensive speech. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, co-chairing a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), initiated the ongoing “Istanbul Process” to curb anti-Islamic blasphemy (also called religious “defamation,” “insult,” and “hate speech”). The administration has even had the United States cosponsor U.N. resolutions with the OIC—resolutions supported, needless to say, by Pakistan—intended to promote stricter global enforcement of hate speech bans.
We need to change course. Education, law, and the media—the backbone of secular civil society—are being dangerously undermined by Pakistan’s blasphemy regime. Raza Rumi, who in March narrowly escaped the assassin’s bullets that killed his driver, wrote, “If politicians, policymakers, judges and lawyers tremble in fear, we may as well surrender our birthright to those who would deny us it. This culture of fear, orchestrated by powerful clerics and frenzied mobs, has paralyzed the criminal justice system. Those enjoying positions of power appear helpless. And there is no counter-narrative to oppose the spread of extremist ideology.”
The United States should make an unapologetic defense of free speech in every appropriate forum and work to roll back this subversive secular law. We should lend moral support to the majority of Pakistanis who are struggling to retain a semblance of a democratic and pluralist society and peace in the region. To the world’s detriment, the administration underestimated the Islamic State. The damage will be all the greater if we continue to ignore the danger from Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Pakistan : The ulema’s marriage preoccupation

Ayaz Amir
The one progressive piece of legislation passed in our history was Ayub Khan’s Family Laws Ordinance, 1963. It proclaimed the birth of no women’s revolution but merely put some brakes, very weak ones, on the right of divorce and multiple marriages…the latter known otherwise as polygamy.
For divorce to become effective a man had to inform his union council and wait for a period of three months. During this time the parties could reconcile with each other, in which case the original divorce notice became ineffective. The male’s right to divorce was not withdrawn, it was only qualified to a small degree.
To contract a second marriage the male had to seek in writing permission from his first wife. In case he did not, and a second marriage was contracted, he could spend up to a month in prison (if I remember the law correctly).
As is to be seen, these were mild qualifications, the barest minimum that could be put in place to curb the male’s absolute sovereignty in the matrimonial field. But it was too much for the ulema, the learned in the faith, who were aghast, denouncing the Family Laws Ordinance as against the tenets of Islam. This law continues to bring the froth to their lips.
It therefore goes to the credit of successive Pakistani governments that this pressure has been resisted and the law remains on the statute books, continuing to provide some small protection to the nation’s mothers and sisters.
But the present Islamic Ideology Council headed by Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of the JUI-F – the party headed by Pakistan’s leading political gymnast, Maulana Fazlur Rehman – seems agitated by nothing so much as this law. Earlier this year, after solemn deliberations, it opined that a girl as young as nine years of age was eligible for marriage if the onset of puberty was visible. The requirement in the Family Laws Ordinance stipulating that only a girl attaining the age of 16 could get married was, according to the learned Maulana, against Islam.
In March this year, after another meeting of the council, the Maulana gave this as his considered opinion: “Shariah allows men to have more than one wife and we demand of the government to amend the relevant laws (again the Family Laws Ordinance) where a person has to seek prior permission from the existing wife/wives.”
Just this week the Maulana returned to the attack with a fresh exegesis, saying that a second, third or fourth marriage by a man could be no grounds for a woman to seek divorce from her husband. She could seek divorce on grounds of cruelty, etc, but the husband’s unfettered right to polygamy did not constitute a valid reason in Islam.
Child marriage too in the Maulana’s opinion is justified but only if solemnised by the father or the grandfather of the girl in good faith and not as part of any ritual. However, such a marriage could be consummated – that is, the girl could proceed to her in-laws – only on attaining puberty. On such finer points of principle modern Islamic theology, in the hands of such men of learning as the Maulana, seems to turn.
Other nations and other races are welcome to explore the cosmos and rack their minds about the age of the stars and the universe. But we are into dealing with basic principles first. The stables of science and knowledge may be closed to us for the most part but it should be heartening that as regards marriage and the procreation of the species we can be so creative.
Indeed, from the way the Maulana and his tribe go on about second, third and fourth marriages any outside observer could be forgiven for thinking that polygamy constitutes the most important pillar of the faith, all others being of secondary importance. There can be no greater disservice to Islam.
For what proviso does the faith lay down for the exercise of the matrimonial arms? That venture into this field only if you can treat everyone, which means your wives, equally. This is easier said than done. Who would be our leading authorities on the gender question? I think most of us would agree that by dint of their extensive researches in this field none would count greater than a) Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar, former Loin (sic) of Punjab, and b) Imran Khan. Put to the rack they would testify that keeping one woman happy was hard enough, let alone treating two or more equally, with the same amount of physical and emotional stimulus.
Women no doubt would say the same about men – that putting up with one was fulltime business. It is not a question of giving an equal amount of dinars to each of your wives. For equality means more than dinars.
In every Mughal harem there were hundreds of concubines and many wives but at any given moment the favourite was one…Noor Jahan or Mumtaz Mahal or Lal Kanwar (the last the dancing girl who became queen to Jahandar Shah). All lived in the palace but were all treated equally? In the presence of a Noor Jahan or a Mumtaz Mahal could the others be treated equally? Love is a jealous master and a jealous mistress. Its kingdom is not to be divided.
So the Islamic injunction is not as facile as it looks. It cuts to the heart of the matter. Treat them equally – the implication being that if you can’t, then the doors of polygamy are closed on you. Why are we so flexible with the concession but so much less strict with the condition?
It is like the Islamic injunction regarding adultery…that in order to prove its occurrence the evidence of four witnesses of unimpeachable integrity is required. And then the punishment for adultery is stoning to death. Barbaric, you will say. But look at the requirement. Whence will come your four witnesses of unimpeachable integrity who must render evidence not on hearsay – no, that is unacceptable – but who with their clear and naked eye must have witnessed the act. If any adulterer makes a spectacle of himself in front of four witnesses he deserves to be stoned, less for adultery than for his criminal lack of circumspection.
In the golden age of Islam, when the Abbasids held court in Baghdad, Islamic civilisation meant knowledge and understanding, culture and refinement, even song and dance. But anyone listening to our present interpreters of the faith would come away with the impression that Islam was about male domination, the segregation of women and the meting out of savage punishment. No wonder, the holy warriors of Swat could not abide Malala Yousafzai and sent a team of assassins to get rid of her. For some reason, yet to be adequately explored, fear of woman seems ingrained in the minds of the pious.
The Islam that moves Maulana Sherani and the Council of Islamic Ideology is so selective. Isn’t Islam also about the egalitarian society, the eradication of poverty, the spread of knowledge and learning? Did not the Holy Prophet, himself unlettered, say that to seek knowledge go far and wide if you must?
In today’s Pakistan we know of instances where mothers have drowned themselves and their children because of poverty. Is ours a welfare state? Do we have those provisions for the less fortunate that are to be found in the developed societies of the west? Has the Islamic Ideology Council ever discussed these issues? Has it ever recommended to governments that they spend more on health and education?
Cuba is in the forefront of countries fighting the Ebola menace, by its efforts putting even the United States to shame. It is a godless country but for its emphasis on health and education it is, in essence, a more Islamic country than all the world of Islam – save the Turkish republic and perhaps Malaysia – put together.
The renaissance of Islam will begin, if it ever does, when the realisation finally dawns on the Muslim mind that Islam is not about ritual or outward appearance as it is about the substance of things.

Pakistan: Council of Islamic Ideology’s idiosyncrasies

It is not the first time that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has surprised us with its narrow interpretation of Islamic laws on issues such as marriage and women. CII’s special interest in allowing unrestrained polygamy and its desire to deprive women of any right to decide about their married life has increased the nuisance value of this institution. It cannot accept the existence of strong, independent and self-reliant women in society. The mullahs conveniently invoke Islam when it suits them, but give it little respect when they interpret its message in socially regressive terms. This has been a general hypocritical approach followed through the years by these so-called Islamic scholars. However, the most interesting statement made by the Chairman of the CII, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, in the council’s 196th meeting was to declare the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance Act 2014 against Shariah. One would be interested to know, through which interpretive model of the Shariah has the Maulana arrived at this conclusion. The reason given by the Maulana that the Act has given the armed forces power over the civilian government, goes only to expose the blinkered view the CII uses to read, assess and interpret the political situation in the country.
If the CII wants the terrorists to take over the country, then that is a different story. But if it is genuinely interested in seeing this country restored to peace, Maulana Sherani and his clan should apologize to the country for this statement. On the other hand, who had promulgated the law, the army or the government? In spite of its several clauses impinging upon civil and human rights, the law has been passed unanimously by parliament in the interests of the state. The question arises, whose interest is the CII trying to defend by declaring the PPO un-Islamic? We need this country cleansed of all sorts of terrorists, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. In fact, the CII would do a great service if it could pass some kind of resolution on revising and updating the education policy pursued in the madrassas. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that much of the terrorism has arisen from these institutions.
In spite of all its idiosyncrasies, the CII has been careful and prudent enough to discourage people from indulging in hate speech, especially during the sensitive month of Muharram. Still, it is time the CCI should either be disbanded, since it has outlived its constitutional life, or it should revisit its views on its pronouncements that have violated the message of Islam and made us the laughing stock of the world.

Maternal mortality: Balochistan's women suffer in silence

Women remain the worst sufferers of the prevailing unrest in Pakistan's least developed but resource-rich province. Invisible and silent, the women in Balochistan are absent from the accounts that come out from the violence-ridden province.
The voices that do come out are almost always wails.
Women remain the worst sufferers of the prevailing unrest in Pakistan's least developed but resource-rich province. They live under the constant shadow of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and growing radicalisation. Basic health facilities, under the present circumstances, rank a distant last.
According to Pakistan Health Demographic Survey (PHDS), Balochistan stands first in terms of Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) as compared to other provinces of the country. Long distances, poor communication systems and lack of basic health facilities compound the problems of women. A large number of women lose the battle for life during pregnancy. “Out of 100,000 women, 785 die in Balochistan as compared to 272 in rest of the country,” the survey revealed. The situation is dire, health experts warn.
Except Quetta, the provincial capital of militancy-hit Balochistan, gynecologists are rare in remote areas of the province. Most of the pregnant women are treated by traditional, unskilled birth attendants. “Growing militarisation forced skilled birth attendants to flee from rural parts of the province,” Dr. Rukhsana Kasi, a well-known gynecologist tells Dawn.
Kasi terms the worsening law and order situation in the province as one of the underlying reasons behind increasing ratio of maternal mortality rate.
Most of the women are treated by unskilled and traditional birth attendants in poor the neighbourhoods of Quetta and the far-flung areas of the province, Kasi says. A dozen female patients accompanied by male members of their families waiting outside her clinic for check up.
The female patients outside refuse to share details of the problems they encounter with regards to their health conditions owing to tribal customs. However, Arshad Bugti, the Secretary Health Government of Balochistan says that besides militancy, poor transportation and lack of accommodation for doctors are important factors contributing to the increasing MMR rate. He says gynecologists or skilled birth attendants yearn to practice only in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, rather than the remote parts.
“We are concerned about increasing MMR ratio and trying to reduce it,” Bugti says, adding that currently the services of 7200 Lady Health Workers were regularised in order to ensure provision of basic health facilities and reduce the MMR rate. However, ground realities negate his claims and most of the LHWs do not perform their duties in remote areas.
Balochistan covers half of Pakistan in terms of area but its population is only five per cent of the entire country. Successive governments have failed to address the health issues across the province. Despite allocation of substantial amounts, medicines and other equipment is not available in the government-run hospitals of the province. Women are faced with a host of diseases as skilled birth attendants' numbers only amount to 30 per cent in the province, according the PHDS survey.
High blood pressure, anemia, bleeding before and after delivery remains the common problems of pregnant women, Kasi explains.
“No access to trained birth attendants or gynecologists imperils the lives of thousands of women,” she says.
During pregnancy, multiple vaccinations are required. But in Balochistan out of a total of 627 union councils there are no trained officials to administer these medicines in a whopping 247 union councils, an officer of the health department, who declined to be named, tells Dawn while quoting the official data. Most of the union councils are located in the least developed, militancy-hit remote districts of Balochistan, the officer informs.
During Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) government in Balochistan, doctors were being kidnapped and subjected to targeted killings. The growing fear prompted doctors and professors to leave the province. Dr. Haqdad Tareen, a senior member of Pakistan Medical Association (Balochistan Chapter) says that 29 doctors and professors have left the province owing to security threats during last five years.
Impunity remains the contributing factor behind the increase in kidnapping of doctors and people belonging to different walks of life in broad day light. Besides male, Tareen says, female doctors have also left different areas of the province owing to looming security threats.
A report released by Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) backs these claims and it too cites poverty, poor literacy rate, political instability and conflict as the main reasons behind increasing maternal mortality rate in the province. Apart from this, MSF says that the province is also prone to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. Many people live in remote areas and women have no access to clinics for medical consultations. On average, women in the province give birth to six to eight children and they have their first baby as early as 16. Most of the women are underweight and when they become pregnant their health worsens.
Nadeem Shahid, a health advocacy expert, says that the number of community mid-wives and lady health workers must be doubled to decrease the MMR in the province. He also points out that the lady health workers are simply not serving the troubled parts of the province.
“They are either treated by unskilled, aged-women or referred to any district headquarter,” Shahid says. Women are always referred to district head quarters hospital or Quetta city when a serious complication develops during pregnancy.
“Some of the women breathe their last on the way to Quetta.”
All of these complications mean that most of the women deliver at home attended by non-trained relatives or neighbours. These unskilled birth attendants often use a medication for uterus contractions available locally at a low price to speed up the delivery.
Dr Kasi says that wrongly administering this drug can lead to serious complications for both the mother and new born baby. “In worst cases, it leads to death.”

Pakistan: More Bloodshed In Balochistan

The situation in Balochistan remains grim as ever. On Thursday alone, there were at least three separate incidents which lay bare the state of law and order in the province during the days leading up to Muharram. Two people were killed and seven injured in an explosion near an FC convoy on Qambrani Road, Quetta. Another eight people belonging to the predominantly Shia Hazara community were killed and one injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their bus when they were returning after purchasing vegetables in the Hazar Ganji area of Quetta. Lastly, JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman was targeted by a suicide bomber in Quetta, but he remained unhurt owing to the bullet proof vehicle that had been provided to him by the Police. Unfortunately, another two people lost their lives and at least twenty-three sustained injuries in the incident. There are no good days in Balochistan. Thursday was just exceptionally horrific.
Which one of the three deserves most words? Perhaps it is time we accept the reality of the situation. The persecution of Hazaras will continue unabated. Political activities will remain exposed to similar attacks. Bombs will keep exploding near FC convoys. Hoping against them has absolutely no impact on the events that are bound to occur. We do not see any indicators – none – which would compel us to believe that the state will sooner or later overcome issues rapidly contributing to the disintegration of Balochistan. The situation cannot possibly improve in the absence of any meaningful and coherent effort. It can only deteriorate as it has, and it will not stop. What does the PML-N government plan to do about Balochistan? Does it have a concrete policy, or even suggestions to curb violence? We do not know. Other than regurgitating the standard stance on Balochistan, the one where they talk about inclusion and development, it has never offered much on the subject. Is Chief Minister Abdul Malik’s provincial government implementing its plan to prevent bloodshed, sectarian or otherwise? No, because there is no plan. Is the military or the FC able to see anything beyond the separatist insurgency? Is it taking serious action against known miscreants, especially sectarian elements who hold public rallies and call for the expulsion or murder of Shias and other minorities? No. And most unfortunately, there are allegations of patronage. Are the courts, the local administration and other institutions of the state doing any better? No. The result is completely predictable and natural.
Where is the sense of urgency, the panic that ought to have set in throughout Pakistan as tragedies unfold rountinely in Balochistan? Where is the political will? Where is the discourse on national television? How bad does it need to be for Balochistan to make the cut? As opposed to being regarded and ignored as a provincial problem, there is a need to establish it as a national issue – a top priority for the Parliament and other institutions. History will remember that when Balochistan was on fire, the rest of the country was busy finding shapes in the smoke.

Pakistan: Attacks in Quetta

ONE day, one provincial capital, three violent incidents — Quetta in particular, and Balochistan in general, appear to be slipping back towards outright anarchy and the state seems utterly clueless and impotent.
Start with the attack on the Shia Hazara community. With the majority of Hazaras settled in one particular zone in Quetta and the community under sustained and deadly threat, the law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus in the provincial capital ought surely to be able to do better to protect the community. Yet, whatever measures were taken in the wake of the devastating bombings in early 2013 on the Hazara community have clearly proved inadequate.
If preventing a drive-by shooting of a bus is fiendishly difficult, far more obvious is the failure to follow up on intelligence reports suggesting that Quetta is infested with sectarian militants with an explicit agenda of attacking the Hazaras.
All that ever seems to happen is after each terrible crime against the Hazaras, the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies briefly go into overdrive, raiding suspected terrorist hideouts, arresting people, etc before slipping back into complacency until the next hideous attack, when the cycle is repeated all over again.
Of course, if failure to defend a shocking vulnerable and under-siege community were not bad enough, the law-enforcement apparatus led by the paramilitary Frontier Corps was unable to even defend its own soldiers in a roadside bombing in Quetta yesterday.
Again, no counterterrorism system can be perfect and some attacks in a state of insurgency are inevitable, but that only underscores the wider point: whatever the army-led security establishment has done to counter terrorism and insurgency in the province over the past decade has not worked — indeed, is not working.
To add to that already chaotic scene came a third attack, this time on Fazlur Rehman in the evening. There are obvious possibilities for who can and would want to attack the JUI-F chief, including an unverified early claim of responsibility last evening, and those possibilities suggest that yesterday’s attack could have ramifications far beyond Quetta, given the maulana’s political base in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and his party’s presence in parts of Fata.
What is also clear is that across the spectrum of the country’s political leadership, there are very real and disturbing threats to the lives of politicians for any number of reasons.
Returning to Quetta, however, the signs are ominous. The attack against the Hazaras and the JUI-F chief in particular come in the run-up to Muharram, when security worries and religious sensitivities tend to spike.
The first priority of the provincial and federal governments and the law-enforcement and security apparatus should be to urgently reassess any and all plans for keeping the peace in Quetta in the uniquely challenging weeks ahead. Else, the forgotten problems of Quetta could burn right through to the front of the national stage.

The desperate struggle of Pakistan's polio 'martyrs'

Nadia Khan treasures two photos of her sister Sumbal: one showing her bright-eyed and smiling, the other blank-faced in death after she was gunned down by militants, a “martyr” in Pakistan's desperate fight against polio.
It was May 2013 and Sumbal and her friend Shirafat were vaccinating children against the crippling disease at a rough mudbrick house in the village of Badaber in the country's militant-plagued northwest.
Suddenly a motorbike pulled up and the man on the back opened fire, killing Shirafat on the spot and putting 18-year-old Sumbal into a coma.
For 10 days Nadia kept a bedside vigil, to no avail.
“I remember her last moment when she lost her breath in hospital, lying silently,” Nadia told AFP ahead of Friday's UN World Polio Day.
“She could not talk. We wished that at least she could have had her last words with us before passing away.
“Pakistan is one of only three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic, and efforts to stamp it out have been badly affected by attacks on vaccinators like Sumbal.
In the 2000s Pakistan looked on course to wipe out polio after a series of vaccination drives brought the number of cases down to just 28 in 2005, from more than 18,000 in 1993, according to Unicef data.
But from 2008 the epidemic rebounded and in 2014 hit a 15-year high, with 210 cases — 80 per cent of all the polio cases in the world.
The problem is concentrated in the northwest, wracked since 2007 by a homegrown Taliban insurgency, and the main city Peshawar has gained an unenviable reputation as the “world capital” of polio.
A Taliban ban on vaccination in North and South Waziristan tribal areas, on the Afghan border, has left hundreds of thousands of children unprotected from the virus.
Adding to the problem, many of the poorly-educated population believe unfounded rumours about the vaccine containing pork or being a Western plot to sterilise Muslims.
Suspicions grew after the CIA used a Pakistani doctor in 2011 to stage a hepatitis vaccination programme as cover to try to find Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Since December 2012, at least 30 polio vaccinators have been killed in Pakistan, along with nearly 30 police and security personnel guarding them.
Like Sumbal, Nadia too takes part in polio vaccination drives, but after her sister's murder their parents begged her to quit.
“I told them that I will continue my sister's mission and will keep on working until I complete her mission,” said Nadia from behind her veil.
The other victim of the attack, Shirafat Bibi, was gunned down just a few weeks before she was to be married.
She had carefully saved the $6 a day she earned for giving out polio drops to pay her dowry.
That fateful May morning, after getting a call asking her to vaccinate some children near her home, the 28-year-old embraced her mother Gul Khubana, who pleaded with her to stay at home.
“I told her that day not to go, even her father told her, but she said 'It will be my last visit and then I will quit this job and will not work'," Khubana told AFP.
After her death, the family was paid compensation and Shirafat's brother Bilal was taken on by the local authorities to do the same job.
Now it is Bilal who swallows his fear and tours poor villages on what the health teams in the area call the “jihad against polio”.
The health workers and police guards killed in the fight against polio are hailed as “martyrs” in Pakistan.
They work at the mercy of fate, just as the main victims of polio, the children left unvaccinated, live at the mercy of fate. A year ago, little Shakirullah used to run happily around his neighbourhood in Peshawar, but then at the start of the year the diagnosis came like a hammer blow: polio.
The disease has left his legs flaccid and useless, and now, aged just two and a half, he can no longer stay upright without support.
“Other children can play but our poor little boy can only crawl about like a toddler,” laments his uncle Rafiullah, who fears what the future holds for his nephew.
Life in Pakistan is tough for people with disabilities, and beggars with limbs ravaged by polio limping from car to car at traffic lights are a common sight.
Already this year, 350,000 young Pakistanis in the northwest have missed out on vaccination because of the perilous security situation, according to local authorities.
Even in the cities, resistance remains — last week in Peshawar 10 percent of children visited by vaccination teams refused the drops, set dead against this supposedly “un-Islamic” vaccine.
The UN says Pakistan has made “notable progress” in the fight to halt polio transmission, but the struggle remains a daunting one.

Three new polio cases reported in Pakistan

The total number of polio cases in Pakistan has risen to 220 after three new cases were reported in Sindh and Balochistan on Friday.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) sources, two cases were reported in Korangi, Karachi while the third surfaced in Zhob, Balochistan.
The new cases were reported in the backdrop of World Polio Day being observed globally. Only three countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have transmission of the polio virus.

World Polio Day: Pakistan still struggling to eradicate nuisance of polio

The total number of polio cases in Pakistan has risen to 220 after three new cases were reported in Sindh and Balochistan on Friday.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) sources, two cases were reported in Korangi, Karachi while the third surfaced in Zhob, Balochistan.
The new cases were reported in the backdrop of World Polio Day being observed globally. Only three countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have transmission of the polio virus.
In his message on World Polio Day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to eradicate polio from Pakistan.

Pakistan, Iran forces exchange fire at border
An exchange of fire took place between Pakistan and Iran border troops when the latter resorted to unprovoked shelling in Pakistani border town of Mashkel, Balochistan.
According to reports, Iranian forces fired five mortar shells in Pakistani territory. The shelling was responded by firing two mortar shells in Iranian territory by Pakistani troops.
Pakistan’s south-western Balochistan province shares around 800-km long border with Iran.
Border tension between the two neighbours has escalated in recent days.
Recently , one Frontier Corps personnel was martyred in unprovoked firing by Iranian troops.