Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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Turkey still thinks this guy holding a baby bear is a terrorist. Is he?

By Ishaan Tharoor
The photo above, of a Kurdish fighter nursing an orphaned baby bear, is a controversial one. It appeared on The Washington Post's front page on March 8, 2008, alongside a dispatch by Post correspondent Joshua Partlow from northern Iraq, where he was among Kurdish rebels battling an offensive by the Turkish army. The fighters belonged to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has waged a three-decades-long insurgency against Turkey.
The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Ankara, as well as by Washington and many other Western governments. It has the blood of thousands on its hands, say its detractors. Critics attacked The Post's story as romanticizing the outfit, particularly with the inclusion of such cuddly images. The reaction led to a meticulous report from the paper's ombudsman a week later that said the story needed "more history and context" and cited a lengthy criticism from Turkey's then deputy chief of mission at its Washington embassy.
Burak Akcapar said the story "was sympathetic and glorified an infamous and deadly terrorist organization," which was "indiscriminate in who [it kills]." He was also unimpressed by the image of the PKK fighter holding the baby bear, which, Partlow and photographer Andrea Bruce were told, had lost its mother amid Turkish bombing of PKK positions. "I don't understand why a terrorist is carrying a baby milk bottle," said Akcapar.
Six years later, and the Turkish government is still adamant fighters like the man pictured are terrorists. But there is an increasing number of people who disagree.
As the Post has covered extensively, the PKK and a web of other Kurdish militias are leading the ground war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. In the past month, global attention has focused on the embattled Syrian border town of Kobane, a Kurdish bastion that the jihadists of the Islamic State have failed to capture.
Air strikes by the U.S. and coalition partners have helped stanch the extremists' advance, but the U.S. has been frustrated by Turkey's apparent reticence to come to the Kurds' aid. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees the People's Protection Units -- the Syrian Kurdish militia holding out in Kobane, which is also know by its acronym, YPG -- as a PKK proxy.
Speaking to Turkish media last week, Erdogan denounced reports of American officials meeting with the PYD, the Syrian Kurdish political organization to which the YPG is the military wing. "At the moment, the PYD is equal with the PKK for us. It is also a terrorist organization," he said.
Others are less convinced. A chorus of Western pundits want the U.S. and other European governments to consider removing the PKK from their terror watch lists. They see the pesh merga of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and the YPG and PKK militias as forces for good. They say the Kurds' courage and sacrifice stand in stark contrast to the relative inaction of Erdogan's government, which has sparked heated Kurdish protests in Turkey and elsewhere.
Writing in the New Republic, outspoken French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy argues that "the Kurds are our most solid allies in the long-term war that jihadism has declared against us" (given his history of moralizing, one imagines "us" means the liberal, democratic West). The "Kurds" here include the PKK, says Levy, whom he likens to the Irish Republican Army, an organization that after years of armed struggle renounced violence and entered democratic politics.
The PKK is in the midst of a protracted peace process with Erdogan's government. Despite Erdogan's current bluster, he has done much more to reconcile the nation's minority Kurdish population than his predecessors.
Roughly 30 million Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria; the ethnic group was one of the largest not to win its own nation-state at the end of World War I and the collapse of some of Europe's great empires. In Turkey, earlier authoritarian nationalist regimes persecuted the Kurds and suppressed their language and culture to the point that it was once illegal to use certain letters to spell distinct Kurdish words.
The PKK emerged in this context as a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group fighting for a separate Kurdish homeland in Turkey. At the peak of their militancy, they employed a host of terror tactics that included car-bombings, hostage-taking, night-time raids and executions. As late as May 2013, the State Department still described the PKK as one of the deadliest terror groups operating in Europe.
But another narrative surrounding the Kurdish militias has gained far more traction in recent months as the world frets about the threat of the Islamic State. Levy, and other supporters of the Kurds, applaud them for their supposed anti-fundamentalist worldview. In Kurdish areas, Levy writes, "one finds a level of gender equality, a respect for secularism and minorities, and a modern, moderate, and ecumenical conception of Islam that are, to say the least, rare in the region."
Images of female Kurdish fighters, dressed like their male counterparts, have become a meme. The Iraqi Kurdish government, which has a sophisticated lobbying operation in Washington, has marketed its autonomous region in Iraq as an enlightened oasis in a troubled region.
The PKK, a secular organization which has the sympathy of some in the Turkish left, arguably fits into this liberal narrative. And as more influential voices in the West speak up on their behalf, Turkey may have new reasons to worry about that charming image of one rebel and his little bear.

Bahrain Court Suspends Main Opposition Group

A Bahraini court ordered the activities of the country's main Shiite opposition group to be suspended on Tuesday, less than a month before parliamentary elections are to be held.
The ruling against Al-Wefaq means the group effectively cannot operate for three months in the Gulf island kingdom. It is prevented from organizing rallies and press conferences, issuing statements or using its offices, lawyer Abdullah al-Shamlawi told The Associated Press.
Al-Wefaq earlier this month announced it was boycotting elections scheduled for November 22. It does not feel the government has engaged in genuine reconciliation efforts following widespread protests directed at the Sunni monarchy that began in 2011 and were dominated by the kingdom's majority Shiites.
It slammed Tuesday's decision in a statement and vowed to "continue in its struggle for democratic transition and justice."
"Al Wefaq considers the measure irrational and irresponsible," it said, accusing the Bahraini leadership of "ruling with an iron fist" and attempting to crush the political life of the country. "The regime is heading to a unilateral life and replacing the people with sham foundations and projects," it said.
Al-Wefaq head Ali Salman told the AP he was surprised by the verdict.
"We will appeal for sure and will continue on our peaceful struggle and path," he said.
There was no immediate comment from government officials.
Al-Wefaq was established in 2002 after the announcement of political reforms the previous year.
Bahrain's Justice Ministry, headed by a member of the royal family, earlier this year filed a lawsuit against Al-Wefaq that led to Tuesday's decision. It said it was taking the group to court so it can "correct its legal status" after it failed to comply with rules of transparency when holding general meetings, according to a report at the time by the state news agency.
The lawsuit was filed just weeks after Al-Wefaq members met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, who was subsequently ordered to leave Bahrain. The expulsion has strained relations between Bahrain and longtime ally the United States, which bases the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in the country.
U.S.-based group Human Rights First warned that the move would likely increase instability in Bahrain as elections approach.
"With less than four weeks until Bahrain's parliamentary elections, the decision to suspend al Wefaq looks far from coincidental," said Brian Dooley, director of the organization's human rights defenders program. "Stifling peaceful dissent is inviting trouble, especially when political tensions are so high."

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Obama Warns Against Ebola Quarantines

President Barack Obama says American health workers who volunteer to fight Ebola in West Africa should be applauded and not discouraged. His remarks come as some U.S. states go against federal recommendations on how to handle workers who have had contact with Ebola patients.
Without mentioning any state by name, the president on Tuesday said policies on quarantines and isolation of health workers who have had contact with Ebola patients should not be such that they discourage Americans from helping fight the disease.
“Those workers who are willing and able and dedicated to go over there in a really tough job, that they’re applauded, thanked and supported. That should be our priority," said President Obama.
The president made his remarks after the states of New York and New Jersey ordered the quarantine of health care workers who have had contact with Ebola patients. In one New Jersey case, a nurse returning from treating Ebola victims in West Africa was held in a tent. The incident caused outrage among some medical experts.
The administration has rejected calls for a ban on travel to and from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and recommended against automatic quarantines of people arriving from those countries.
Obama reminded Americans Tuesday that only two people have been infected with Ebola on U.S. soil. He said officials should be guided by science, not fear, in dealing with the disease.
The president warned that restricting the movement of health workers would be counterproductive.
“We have to keep leading the global response. America cannot look like it is shying away because other people are watching what we do and if we don’t have robust international response in West Africa, then we are actually endangering ourselves here back home," said Obama.
The president spoke as he left the White House on a campaign trip to the state of Wisconsin ahead of congressional elections next week.
Obama’s Democratic party is concerned that fear of Ebola may cost it votes in the elections, since some people accuse the administration of not doing enough to protect Americans from an outbreak on U.S. soil.
Surrounded by hospital staff Tuesday at her news conference, nurse Vinson thanked the professionals at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta who contributed to her care.
But she said that "while this is a day for celebration and gratitude," she asks people to "not lose focus" on the thousands of families who continue to labor under the burden of Ebola in West Africa.
The head of the hospital's serious communicable disease unit, Dr. Bruce Ribner, said hospital staff determined Vinson is free of infection after what he described as "a rigorous course of treatment and thorough testing." He said she can return to her family, community and life "without any concerns" about transmitting the virus to others.
Dr. Ribner said "anxiety" about Ebola in the U.S. is understandable, but that health care workers "must not let fear get in the way" of their primary mission of caring for patients with serious diseases.
Another nurse forced into quarantine in New Jersey last week, after returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, is now back in her home state of Maine.
Maine officials say Kaci Hickox is expected to quarantine herself at home through the 21-day maximum Ebola incubation period. But her lawyer says she does not need to be in isolation because she shows no symptoms. She had described the way she was treated in New Jersey as "inhumane."
Hickox was the first person to be quarantined under New Jersey's new policy requiring isolation for all health care workers returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - the three countries hardest hit by Ebola.
The Obama administration and medical experts have criticized mandatory quarantine rules in states including New Jersey as excessive.
Meanwhile, humanitarian groups in Australia are criticizing the government's policy to impose a blanket ban on visas for citizens of the three West African nations affected by the Ebola virus outbreak. The new policy cancels non-permanent or temporary visas for travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Permanent visa holders who have not yet arrived in Australia are being asked to submit to a 21-day quarantine period.
Announced by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, the policy makes Australia the first wealthy nation to close its immigration doors in response to the Ebola outbreak.
Despite some suspected cases, medical authorities say there have been no confirmed Ebola cases in Australia.
In response, Sierra Leone Information Minister Alpha Kanu said on Tuesday that Australia's move was “too draconian.” Kanu said that measures at Sierra Leone's Freetown airport had successfully prevented anyone flying out of the country with Ebola.
The visa ban has triggered widespread criticism from aid groups and professional health workers who call the response to the outbreak "narrow.”
Health workers said the country has monitoring and quarantine policies in place that will protect against Ebola’s spread, without stoking public fears over travel bans.
WHO response
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended against imposing travel or trade bans on the affected nations, arguing that those nations are in need of international help, not isolation, to defeat the outbreak.
The WHO said on Tuesday that it has been difficult to get across its simple message that people who do not display symptoms of Ebola are not contagious and cannot transmit the disease to others.
WHO spokesman Tarek Jasarevic exhibited a bit of frustration when he repeated the U.N. health agency’s recommendation advising against mandatory quarantine. Jasarevic said health workers who go to West Africa to fight Ebola know how to monitor themselves for symptoms of the disease when they return home.
“We desperately need international health workers. We keep calling for health workers," Jasarevic said. "They are really the key to this response. And these people should not be treated when coming home in a way that they would be stigmatized by the rest of the population.”
However, similar to Australia, several other countries in Africa and the Caribbean have toughened entry rules or banned visas for travelers from the three worst-affected countries.
US, UN response
The U.S. government has drawn up new health rules calling for returning medics to be monitored for symptoms of Ebola, not placed in quarantine.
But the states of New York, New Jersey and Illinois are standing by their decisions to quarantine health workers for the duration of the 21-day incubation period.
Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have appealed to Australia to send personnel to fight the spreading Ebola virus.
So far Australia has donated aid but not medical workers. The government said it resisted sending personnel because of the long, 30-hour journey back to Australia for ill patients.
The WHO said it feared the quarantine measures could put people off volunteering to go to Africa.
"This is not an African crisis ... it is a global crisis," said Kim, who was visiting Ethiopia.
"We'll need a steady state of at least 5,000 health workers from outside the region, ... Those health workers cannot work continuously, there needs to be a rotation," Kim said. "So we will need many thousands of health workers over the next months to a year to bring this epidemic under control."
The three worst-hit countries - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - are sorely lacking in medical infrastructure and funds due to a series of interlinked civil wars.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide : Grenade attack at Karachi Imambargah kills child, injures seven

At least 8 Shia mourners including 7 women were injured and a 9-months-baby ‘Batool’ was martyred after a hand grande bomb was thrown on Islamic Research Center (IRC) Imambargah-Hussainia in Karachi’s Ayesha Manzil area,The Shia Post reported on Tuesday night.
According to an eyewitness source, a pro-ISIS takfiri terrorist of Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) threw a hand grande bomb from a nearby Flyover, outside the IRC Imambargah.
All injured were shifted to Aga Khan University Hospital.
Initial reports suggest that a Muharram majlis was taking place at Islamic Research Center (IRC) Imambargah at the time of the blast. A prominent Shia leader of Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslmeen, Allama Hassan Zafar Naqvi was recited the Majlis-e-Aza.
Yesterday, MWM leader Naqvi, criticized the ruling government over their Saudi agenda that have destroyed the country.
Rescue officials have been dispatched to the site whereas security and police have cordoned off the area.
MWM Chief, Secretary General, Allama Raja Nasir Abbas Jafri has condmned the attack and expressed his deep sorrows on the martyrdom of 9-months-old Batool baby.
Muharram Observances, is a set of rituals associated with Shia Islam, which takes place in Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Many of the events associated with the ritual take place in congregation halls known as Hussainia.
The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and a Shia Imam, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid ibn-e-Moavia I at Karbala.
Every year during Muharram, Shia Muslims across the globe mourn the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, and his 72 followers in the battle of Karbala.

Afghanistan’s Ghani Visits China in First Official Trip

Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani is on his first official trip to China amid optimism back home that increased Chinese diplomatic and economic engagement are important for bringing peace to his war-shattered country.
President Ghani will have a busy schedule during his four-day visit to Beijing, where he will hold “in-depth” talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on bilateral and “issues of common interests.”
Ghani will also lead a delegation of Afghan businessmen at a meeting of Chinese investors in his bid to persuade them to develop the mining industry in his war-shattered country.
Afghans believe that China’s economic and diplomatic support can help their country overcome economic and security challenges after NATO troops withdraw from the country in December.
Janan Mosazai, Afghanistan's ambassador to neighboring Pakistan, said China is currently the largest investor in his country and bilateral cooperation has expanded in multiple areas.
“Over the past 13 years we have laid down the foundation of a very close enduring long-term relationship with China and both countries are determined to further develop and strengthen these relations in the years to come, starting with President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s state visit to Beijing,” said Mosazai.
In an interview published Tuesday by China’s state-backed Xinhua media organization, Ghani said he sees Afghanistan as a hub for regional trade and investment and he expects relations with China to expand.
China has largely avoided deepening its involvement in Afghanistan’s geopolitical affairs and confined its role to an economic investor in the country’s natural resource and energy sectors. It has invested nearly $7.5 billion and intends to enhance the Chinese economic footprint in Afghanistan.
In the last two years, however, Beijing has actively sought to redefine its relations with Kabul and has appointed a special envoy to Afghanistan to further its objective.
Sun Weidong, China's ambassador to neighboring Pakistan, made clear the importance of political stability for peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan.
"China believes that the national reconciliation is an inevitable course for Afghanistan to achieve national stability and the prosperity,” said Weidong. China is hosting this year’s Heart of Asia Istanbul Conference on October 31, a gathering of regional countries around Afghanistan that discuss ways to promote Afghan national reconciliation and peaceful reconstruction.
Ghani will also attend the event. Mosazai said the conference will go a long way in promoting regional peace.
“The fact that China, a key participant of the process, is hosting this ministerial conference at this historic juncture is testament to the importance and significance of this process to our collective efforts for better relations and closer cooperation in our region,” said Mosazai.
China is concerned that a security breakdown in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international forces could fuel Uighur separatism in its restive Xinjiang border region. The Muslim insurgency, some Chinese officials suspect, has links to Islamist militants hiding in border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghan officials also believe China can use its influence with its long-term strategic partner, Pakistan, to persuade it to help Kabul promote reconciliation with the Taliban. Afghan officials have long believed the Taliban directs its insurgency in Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan.

ISIS Probably Beheads Kurdish Iconic Female Freedom Fighter “Rehana”

ISIS takfiri terrorists fighting over the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani probably beheaded the Kurdish fighter ‘Rehana’ known as a prominent female Kurdish “freedom fighter”.
The young famous soldier defended Kobani over the past few weeks and killed over 100 ISIS militants. Rehana’s picture holding her gun and making a V-sign was widely-distributed on social networks and now a picture of an ISIS militant holding her decapitated head is making the rounds. It is estimated that female fighters form about 30% of the Kurdish forces defending Kobani. All of them are volunteers according to the leader of the female fighters, Mayass Abdo.
The woman, known by the pseudonym Rehana, was celebrated as a symbol of hope for the embattled Syrian border town after a journalist tweeted a picture of her making a ‘V-sign’, claiming that she’d personally killed 100 Isis militants.
The message was retweeted over 5,000 times, but there are now claims Rehana, who fought for the Kurdish YPJ, or Women’s Defense Unit, may have been killed after gruesome pictures began circulating on Twitter of an Isis fighter purportedly holding aloft her head. The town of Kobane has become a crucial battleground in the war against ISIL, representing the gateway to northern Syria and the Turkish border. This brave and unique force of women are highly trained, committed and fearless, in a fight that represents the survival of an entire people. They believe that in their fight there is no difference between a man and a woman, but are aware they fight an enemy that routinely rapes the women it captures before butchering them or selling them into slavery.
Now there is speculation that Rehana has been captured or killed, with gruesome photos purporting to show her decapitated body circulating on social media. But the death is unconfirmed.

Video Report - Endless arms flow fuels bloody Syrian war

The end of Syria's 4-year civil war looks even further away with every shot fired. RT's Maria Finoshina reports on a steady flow of arms into the country that is fueling the conflict.

Video Report - Explosions rock Kobani as jets strike Islamic State targets

“Thank you, Dr Salk!” - Jonas Salk 100th Birthday: Google Doodle celebrates the anniversary of scientist who developed polio vaccine

Google has celebrated the 100th birthday of Dr Jonas Salk, the American scientists who developed the first successful polio vaccine, with a Doodle on its homepage.
The heart-warming illustration depicts two children holding up a sign reading “Thank you, Dr Salk!” – a tribute to the virologist’s work against a disease whose main victims were children.
In the two years before his vaccine was made widely available, the average number of polio cases in the US was more than 45,000. By 1962, that number had dropped to 910.
Salk graduated from New York University School of Medicine in 1939 with his M.D. degree, and soon started work as a staff physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
He would then apply his talents to the field of research, becoming a fellow at the University of Michigan where he worked to develop a flu vaccine at the request of the US Army.
By 1947, he was appointed director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the institution where he developed the techniques that would help him discover a vaccine for polio. Salk re-worked the established idea of a vaccine by suggesting that immunity could be established in the body by using inactivated viruses.
The virologist’s research soon caught the attention of Basil O'Connor, president of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation), whose organisation funded Salk's efforts to develop a vaccine against the devastating disease.
The resulting vaccine was tested first in monkeys and then in patients at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children (now The Watson Institute), who already had polio.
Polio-free volunteers, including Salk, his laboratory staff, his wife and their children, were given the vaccine – none of whom reacted badly to the experimental drug.
In 1954, national testing began on one million children, ages six to nine, who became known as the Polio Pioneers: half received the vaccine, and half received a placebo. On April 12, 1955, the vaccine was declared safe and effective. Salk chose not to patent the vaccine and did not earn any money from his discovery, preferring to see it distributed as widely as possible.
Salk died at age 80 on 23 June, 1995.

Mistrust and polio in Pakistan

By James Carroll
IN THE thick of the Ebola crisis, memories of another plague intrude. Tomorrow is the centenary of the birth of Jonas Salk, the doctor whose 1955 vaccine defeated polio. (1952 saw 57,000 U.S. cases of the disease; 1962 saw less than one thousand.) Because of what Salk began, health experts expected that by now polio — like smallpox — would be eliminated. It did not happen and not only because of the vagaries of nature.
There is an upsurge of polio in several countries today, but only in Pakistan is the virus uptick extreme. It was announced last week that for the first time in 14 years, the number of known infections there now exceeds 200, and many other Pakistanis are certainly infected.
Hundreds of thousands of children are unvaccinated, not least because a primitive Taliban leadership, controlling large sections of territory, regards polio vaccination programs as an American plot aimed at deliberate infections or at intelligence gathering related to drone strikes.
Vaccination workers have been targeted, and 50 of them have been killed since 2012. The Taliban threatens to kill parents who have their children vaccinated.
This is nuts, right? In 2003, certain Islamic leaders in Nigeria condemned polio vaccination programs as a US plot to spread AIDS, but that pernicious lie was overcome because there was no basis to it. Polio is almost eliminated from Nigeria, which records less than 10 cases this year.
But, alas, the story is different in Pakistan. Insane Taliban paranoia about the vaccination program is based in fact: In 2011, the CIA notoriously used a vaccination program as cover to obtain DNA samples from people in and around Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad in hopes of confirming his presence there. When the ruse was eventually exposed, an uproar of protest from nongovernmental organizations and public health experts followed, but the damage was done. American intelligence operatives had corrupted one of the most important — and benign — activities humans can undertake.
In Washington, the jubilation over the killing of bin Laden trumped any expression of regret about the counterfeit health operation then or later. It was only last May that an unapologetic White House announced that the CIA would cease using vaccination programs as cover. After bin Laden’s death, a chest-thumping CIA director, Leon Panetta, crowed, “Few events in recent history have carried the same impact.” Given the comeback of polio that his agency helped stimulate, Panetta’s claim turns out to be truer than he thought.
One of the most striking things about the tragic outbreak of Ebola is the way in which fear, escalating into panic, can undercut the trust that is essential to individual treatment of those who fall ill, as well as to broader prevention strategies that might slow the spread of the disease. Without social trust, there can be no effective treatment at the micro level, and no real mitigation at the macro level. Yet anguish can put people at the mercy of the worst sort of paranoid fears, as is obvious in the United States with its Ebola terrors far more imagined than real. The effect of public hysteria in America is to further undermine a sense of commonality with the human family. So, for example, when a politician like Scott Brown says that Ebola “underscores the need to secure our borders,” he manifests what Susan Sontag called “the language of political paranoia, with its characteristic distrust of a pluralistic world.”
But in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, another sort of vulnerability is at play. Those impoverished countries — at actual and present risk of being decimated by Ebola — already had prior reason to regard the affluent world with suspicion. The global economy normally cares nothing for such nations, which can make current expressions of concern ring hollow. As infected individuals can hand themselves over to caretakers only by believing in their good will, so desperately poor post-colonial nations can accept intrusions on sovereignty, like the presence of US soldiers building health care facilities, only by assuming that international intentions are benign.
That is what was at stake when the CIA, with breathtaking cynicism, turned a vaccination program into a violent tactic of revenge. Because the United States, with its many heroic health care workers at risk today, is on a true mission of healing in West Africa, the Obama administration should more fully reckon with its recent crime against Jonas Salk’s children in Pakistan, and against the fragile tissue of trust on which the world’s health depends.

Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Efforts Slammed by WHO Group

A global body issued a scathing report Monday on Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate polio, saying the country was the biggest obstacle to the goal of stopping world-wide transmission of the disease by the end of 2014.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, an international partnership of the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Unicef and national governments, said in the report that Pakistan’s anti-polio program was a “disaster” that threatened other efforts to eradicate the crippling disease.
“It continues to flounder hopelessly, as the virus flourishes,” the report said. “Home to 80% of the world’s polio cases, Pakistan is now the major stumbling block to global polio eradication.”
The report comes weeks after Pakistan reported the highest number of polio cases in 14 years. This year so far, 220 cases have been confirmed, compared with 93 cases in the whole of last year.
The Independent Monitoring Board, a group of expert advisers to the global body, wrote the report, which calls on Pakistan to immediately hand over its polio eradication program to the National Disaster Management Authority, a federal agency that usually handles natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.
Government officials said the spike in cases this year is because of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people as a result of the army’s offensive against militants in North Waziristan, a tribal region near the border with Afghanistan where the Taliban banned vaccinations in 2012. Over 80% of polio cases in Pakistan this year are from the tribal areas and the adjacent Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
The Independent Monitoring Board said the displacement of people from insecure areas where vaccinations weren’t previously possible is an opportunity to inoculate them. The report added, however, that cases from Pakistan’s troubled northwest aren’t the only issue.
“Insecurity also cannot explain the polio cases that have occurred in Punjab, or excuse those that have occurred in numerous districts of Karachi, the country’s largest city and main port,” the report said.
Punjab, in the east of the country, is Pakistan’s richest and most populated province, while the giant port city of Karachi is home to at least 18 million people.
‘Home to 80% of the world’s polio cases, Pakistan is now the major stumbling block to global polio eradication.’ “It is clear that the level of political commitment, the extent of engagement of regional and local leaders, the quality of public health leadership and management, and the involvement of civil society are totally inadequate,” the report said. “Pakistan puts the entire global goal in jeopardy.”

Video - A polio documentary from Pakistan

Malik Ayub Sumbal

The Final Punch Promo by Malik Ayub Sumbal from Malik Ayub Sumbal on Vimeo.

Pakistan - Airstrikes Kill 33 Suspected Militants In North Waziristan: ISPR

Pakistani jets and helicopter gunships attacked suspected militant hideouts in restive North Waziristan tribal agency on Monday and killed at least 33 terrorists, the military said.
The strikes took place in the Datta Khel and Gharlamai districts of the remote tribal region.
“In two different aerial engagements in North Waziristan today, nine terrorist hideouts were destroyed killing a total of 33 terrorists,” a military statement said.
Local security officials said the militants killed in the Datta Khel area were mostly Uzbeks and others who belonged to the Haqqani network. In a separate incident on Monday, at least nine soldiers were injured when militants targeted a security forces vehicle with an improvised explosive device (IED) in Charmang tehsil of Bajaur tribal agency.
The injured included seven Frontier Corps (FC) personnel and two Levies men.
Pakistan has been battling extremist militants in its semi-autonomous tribal belt since 2004, after the army entered the region to search for Al Qaeda fighters who had fled across the border following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
In June, the military began an offensive dubbed Operation Zarb-i-Azb against militant hideouts in North Waziristan after a bloody raid on Karachi Airport ended faltering peace talks between the government and Pakistani Taliban militants.
North Waziristan is a major base for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group of extremist militants mainly based in the remote tribal areas.
The military 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. The offensive has driven out over 800,000 residents from North Waziristan, where the army says it has cleared 90 percent of the tribal region.

Pakistan: Salman Taseer's killer incited shooting of blasphemy accused in Adiyala

A policeman jailed for murdering then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in a religiously-motivated attack incited a prison guard to shoot an elderly British man convicted of blasphemy, according to an internal inquiry.
Mohammad Asghar, whom British doctors say is seriously mentally ill, was shot and wounded by a guard at Adiyala jail in Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad, last month.
The 70-year-old was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January for claiming to be a prophet of Islam in a case that has prompted concern from British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The prison guard Mohammad Yousuf had spent more than two weeks guarding Mumtaz Qadri, a senior jail official said.
He said an initial inquiry by a four-member committee found that Qadri had also prepared two other prison officers to hunt down blasphemy convicts in the prison.
“The accused (Yousuf) was deployed outside the cell of Mumtaz Qadri during the incident and he had confessed to taking religious lessons from him,” the jail official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The claims will heighten concerns about staff being radicalised by hardline inmates in Pakistan’s ageing and overcrowded prisons.
Qadri, who was Taseer’s bodyguard, shot him dead at an Islamabad coffee shop over the politician’s call for Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws to be reformed.
Qadri was feted as a hero by a wide section of the public including lawyers, and was even showered with rose petals as he arrived at court for a trial hearing.
The official’s account of events was supported by three other prisoners held in the same part of the jail, who said guards regularly took religious instruction from Qadri.
“I was sleeping when I woke to the sound of gunshots and I saw the prison staff grabbing one of their fellows while Asghar was lying on the ground in a pool of blood,” an inmate living next to Asghar’s cell told AFP.
A second prisoner who saw the attack said a guard appeared in the wing and demanded to know where Asghar was.
“The prison staff usually shout at us and I thought Asghar’s family or lawyers must have sent him something, so I didn’t pay any attention, but then I heard the first gunshot,” the prisoner told AFP.
He said Asghar was trying to hide in the bathroom area of his cell while the gunman was firing at him.
“He was lucky that he reached the bathroom and the other prison staff arrived to grab the assassin, otherwise he would have been killed”, he said.
Asghar, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in Britain in 2010, had declared his prophethood in court and included a reference to it on his business card, a government prosecutor said at the time of his trial.

Pakistan second to last in global gender equality report

Ranked 141 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report, Pakistan comes second to last in terms of gender equality worldwide.
The report – published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Tuesday – quantifies the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracks their progress over time. It seeks to measure one important aspect of gender equality: the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas — health, education, economy and politics.
According to the report, Pakistan is ranked 141 in terms of economic participation and opportunity for women, 132 in terms of education attainment, 119 for health and survival and 85 for political empowerment.
Since 2006, when the WEF first began issuing its annual Global Gender Gap Reports, women in Pakistan have seen their access to economic participation and opportunity gone down to 141 from 112.
Below is a chart showing Pakistan’s performance in other categories over the years.
Workplace gender gap
WEF said that the worldwide gender gap in the workplace had barely narrowed in the past nine years. While women are rapidly closing the gender gap with men in areas like health and education, inequality at work is not expected to be erased until 2095, the report added.
“Based on this trajectory, with all else remaining equal, it will take 81 years for the world to close this gap completely,” the WEF said in a statement.
The world would be better served to speed up the process, according to WEF founder and chief Klaus Schwab. “Achieving gender equality is obviously necessary for economic reasons. Only those economies who have full access to all their talent will remain competitive and will prosper,” he said.
The report, which covered 142 countries, looked at how nations distribute access to healthcare, education, political participation and resources and opportunities between women and men.
Almost all the countries had made progress towards closing the gap in access to healthcare, with 35 nations filling it completely, while 25 countries had shut the education access gap, the report showed.
Even more than in the workplace, political participation lagged stubbornly behind, with women still accounting for just 21% of the world’s decision makers, according to the report.
Yet, this was the area where most progress had been made in recent years.
“In the case of politics, globally, there are now 26% more female parliamentarians and 50% more female ministers than nine years ago,” said the report’s lead author Saadia Zahidi.
“These are far-reaching changes,” she said, stressing though that much remained to be done and that the “pace of change must in some areas be accelerated.”
The five Nordic countries, led by Iceland, clearly remained the most gender-equal.
They were joined by Nicaragua, Rwanda, Ireland, the Philippines and Belgium in the top 10, while Yemen remained at the bottom of the chart for the ninth year in a row.
The United States meanwhile climbed three spots from last year to 20th, after narrowing its wage gap and hiking the number of women in parliamentary and ministerial level positions.
France catapulted from 45th to 16th place, also due to a narrowing wage gap but mainly thanks to increasing numbers of women in politics, including near-parity in the number of government ministers.

Pakistan : Textbook tinkering

The contents of Pakistani textbooks have come under particular scrutiny, especially after the events of 9/11. As many scholars and analysts have noted, there is considerable material in our schoolbooks that promotes obscurantism, while the fudging of historical facts has left generations of Pakistanis confused and ill-informed about the past and its impact on the present.
And most efforts at reform have met with stiff resistance from certain quarters that prefer their own hard-line ideas. In the latest case, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa education department has decided to remove content from a grade 10 Pashto book that discusses the problems confronting society.
The demand for removal of the chapter came from the Jamaat-i-Islami, the PTI’s junior partner in the KP coalition government; reportedly the Jamaat put immense pressure on Imran Khan’s party to remove the material, amongst other demands, indicating that it would otherwise withdraw its support.
The material in question discusses instability in Pakistan caused by the arrival of Afghan refugees, the negative effects of overpopulation, as well as the exploitation of the poor and uneducated by forces claiming to be ‘pious’.
Though the changes were implemented in the last few years of KP’s former ANP-led government, they date back to 2006 when education was steered by the centre. An education officer told this paper the material could “create a bad impression of the state” amongst students, while a JI activist said the offending text “would increase hatred in society”.
Earlier this year, the Jamaat had also objected to material in KP textbooks that included pictures of Christmas cakes and girls without dupattas.
KP is not the only province where political interference in the writing and editing of educational texts occurs; the practice is spread across the country.
Nearly all political parties tinker with curricula when in power to suit ideological or religious compulsions, with the JI pursuing ‘Islamisation’ of education with particular zeal. However, the results of this meddling have been troubling; instead of empowering young minds with the spirit of inquiry, we end up feeding ideological shibboleths and historical inaccuracies to students.
If anything, students need to be encouraged to discuss the world around them so that they can understand and accommodate different points of view. The writing and editing of textbooks should be left to educationists and academics and must be totally free from political interference. The PTI, in particular, which talks of a ‘new Pakistan’, must realise this in the province it rules.

Pakistan: Polio emergency

IF it is obvious that Pakistan — its population and its relations with the rest of the world — is in grave danger thanks to the growing presence of polio, it is also clear that neither the centre nor the provincial administrations have taken any action to prove they care about the threat.
On Saturday came a report by the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. It is a damning indictment of our failure to battle the “Pakistan poliovirus”.
The latter is being transported abroad, giving us the dubious distinction of harbouring 80pc of the world’s polio cases. The report has called domestic efforts to tackle the challenge a “disaster”, adding that “nothing short of transformative action will do”.
What has the state’s response been to this clarion call? As reported on Monday, Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar said that “since the IMB report was issued over the weekend, we have not been able to review its recommendations thoroughly”.
A high-level meeting will be called “in a day or two”, she further promised, before reiterating that Pakistan knew best which of the IMB’s recommendations should be implemented.
If Pakistan does indeed know best, why has the polio eradication initiative — spread over two decades and having soaked up millions upon millions of dollars given largely by international donors — produced such an impressive state of shambles?
Pakistan is the only country where the virus is spreading, and as the IMB said in a letter to the Unicef executive director, if this country is not somehow induced into urgently implementing its recommendations, “hundreds of millions of dollars [would have to be] spent every year solely to keep [the] Pakistan poliovirus out of other countries”.
There are too many serious questions. Why are there cases of children having succumbed to the virus even though they had received the OPV? Possible answer: because the follow-up dosage schedule was not followed.
If access to children in North and South Waziristan made vaccination difficult, why do tens of thousands remain unvaccinated even though, having fled the military operation, they are now mainly housed in IDP camps in accessible areas?
Perhaps because the state’s coordination has been poor. Why is the virus surfacing in areas earlier thought to be polio-free, such as Punjab and Balochistan?
We do know that the central and provincial governments’ infrastructure is in utter disarray. Why are there still refusals in urban areas such as Karachi? Because nowhere do we see the government making any concerted effort to take control of the narrative and right the wrongs the vaccination campaign has suffered at the hands of various actors.
The picture is dismal, and the sluggishness of the authorities shocking. Currently, it is anybody’s guess what it will take to jolt the state out of its torpor. Meanwhile, other countries might start to pull up their drawbridges.

Pakistan - the Israeli stall : Ignorance Reigns Supreme

The episode involving the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) and the Israeli stall exhibited for the “Global Village”, one of the routine events that make up the Model United Nations, has revealed the intolerance and ineptitude plaguing our society as well as institutions, academic or otherwise. It is difficult to argue that this controversy could have been completely avoided but that has no bearing on the series of mistakes that were committed and are still being made. For starters, the university should have made an assessment of the prevalent environment. If the IIUI is yet to evolve intellectually to a stage where harmless activities such as MUNs, which have been conducted by several universities and schools for years, will not be tolerated, then perhaps they should be avoided altogether. Of course, there is another way. You can communicate with the students, explain to them the purpose of such events, and take them on board. Context is important here. Attendees erected a stall for Israel in an Islamic university with Palestanian students present on campus as well as a heavy presence of Jamat-e-Islami’s notorious student wing, the Islami Jamiat Tuleba (IJI). Perhaps it would have been wise of the administration to consult student organisations and especially the Palestinians in order to cater to their sensitivities. This is not to be confused with seeking permission, since one cannot expect the IJI to comprehend reasonable ideas far too complicated for its collective intelligence. Still, measures aimed at placating emotions and spreading awareness would have been a smart move. Those in charge of organising such events have a certain responsibility towards participants and their respective institutions, which was not fulfilled on this occasion.
Now, the IIUI has completely disowned the event and taken action against the dean and student adviser. “Strict disciplinary action” may be taken against students who put up the controversial stall. This is yet another error. In a MUN, participants are supposed to represent countries which are a part of the United Nations. Israel happens to be one of them. The aim of the “Global Village” is to give them an opportunity to learn about different countries, their cultures, popular cuisines, traditional attires and so on. The stall for Israel was one of the many put up by participants during the exhibition. It wasn’t a conscious provocation, a deliberate insult or a malicious attempt to ‘promote Israel’ contrary to what is being propagated. The university administration should take ownership of the event, and explain facts to people instead of appeasing them and kneeling before raging mobs. An ideal situation would have been this: the stall is allowed to remain intact, the Palestinians are given the freedom to protest peacefully and the IJI goons are taken to task for causing disruption and threatening with violence to pressurise the administration. If nothing else, this entire episode makes it clear why this country needs more events such as MUN to counter intolerance, prejudice and misinformation in a dignified way.

Pakistan - Muhajir - 'Spawning ethnic politics'

Clinging to Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah’s statement in which he characterised the word muhajir (migrant) as a swear word, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) observed a ‘black day’ on October 26 as a continuation of its protest against the PPP. Though the rest of the country completely ignored it, parts of urban Sindh did oblige the MQM’s call as certain cities witnessed a complete shutter down and a few demonstrations here and there. In Karachi, while addressing a rally, MQM leaders came down harshly on the PPP and especially Khursheed Shah for alleged discriminatory behaviour against the Urdu-speaking community. Since Shah made that statement, MQM is insistent on painting the issue in a religious hue by calling it blasphemous as the word muhajir carries a historical significance in Islam. Unable to find satisfactory space in national politics, the MQM keeps on tapping the sensitive subject of ethnicity. In accordance with its earlier demand of dividing Sindh into more administrative units, this time it has announced to drive a countrywide campaign asking for 20 provinces in the country. Tall claims such as these exceed even the tolerable limits of opportunism. How exactly they plan to execute these declarations remains a mystery. The Constitution, in this regard, leaves no ambiguity and clearly says that whoever wishes to carve out a new province from the existing ones needs two third majorities both in parliament and in the relevant provincial Assembly. Current circumstances do not seem to be favouring the MQM if they desire to adopt a democratic way of achieving their declared aim as they have already quit the Sindh government and do not have sufficient representation in the other legislatures.
The MQM time and again fans the muhajir issue just to keep the pot boiling and extract whatever concessions are the flavour of the day. The Sindhis however, are determined to not allow the division of the province under any circumstances and the weight of justice is on their side as being the original sons of the soil gives them a historical and moral high ground. It is in the light of MQM’s ethnic politics that the PPP’s coalition strategy in the province has gone through many ups and downs. Surely none of this has proved helpful in improving the troubled situation of the province. Logic and democracy demand equal opportunity for all citizens irrespective of ethnicity. Difficult allies the MQM may be, but it is up to these two parties whether they adopt a policy of reconciliation and work under the umbrella of one identity as Sindhis, or else keep maligning each other’s image by dwelling on the ethnic divide in the province.

Pakistan : Unanimous resolution in NA slams ‘hooliganism’ in London march

The lawmakers in National Assembly on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution on the occasion of Kashmir Black Day to extend moral, political and diplomatic support to the just struggle of people of Jammu and Kashmir and took strong exception to the act of sabotage in London by some miscreants when a million march was held to show solidarity with the Kashmiri people.
The resolution about Kashmir paid glowing tribute to valiant people of Jammu and Kashmir for resisting the Indian occupation despite brutal atrocities perpetrated by Indian security forces with impunity. The house also showed concern over the gross violation of human rights of Kashmiri people including the denial of their inalienable right to self-determination. It also denounced the killing of innocent Kashmiris, continued arrests and detention of Kashmiri leaders. “This house calls upon India to release all political prisoners especially the leadership of Kashmir people”, it urged.
Another resolution to condemn the suicide attack on JUI-F chief Fazlur Rahman also sailed unanimously in the House which showed solidarity him amidst voices that termed it part of international conspiracy to destabilise the country. Fazl who appeared for the first time after the suicide attack on his vehicle few days back burst out at the forces that, he said, do not like his views and claimed that international forces and their proxies inside the country were pushing the country towards anarchy.
“We will foil all the conspiracies to push the country towards anarchy,” a calm and composed Fazl resolved and said that an international conspiracy has been hatched against the democratic system. He pointed out that no politician is a safe in the country. In his outburst, Fazl also questioned the role of bureaucracy that he alleged was fuelling sectarianism in the country by quoting an incident in Balochistan where the deputy commissioner of a district wanted to invite a sectarian religious leader to give a sermon at a mosque. Fazl said the US and western world was backing new militant organisations in the Muslim world.