Friday, October 31, 2014

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Turkey Sultan unveils new palace: Another break with symbols of secular state

Ecologists denounce ‘White Palace’ as environmental blight and opposition says it is evidence of Erdogan autocratic tendencies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday unveiled a new presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara, denounced by ecologists as an environmental blight and by the opposition as evidence of his autocratic tendencies.
Erdogan hosted his first official event at the new palace, a ceremony congratulating dignitaries on the annual republic day marking the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923 out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
The complex, located in the Bestepe (Five Hills) area, has become known as the Ak Saray -- the White Palace.
An immense project -- built at a reported cost of $350 million -- has an area of 200,000 square metres (21,50,000 square feet), 1,000 rooms and architecture that is supposed to marry modernism and the traditions of the mediaeval Seljuk dynasty.
Erdogan cancelled an evening reception that was to be held Wednesday evening at the palace because of a mining disaster in the southern Karaman province that has left 18 miners trapped.
"It would not be appropriate to hold this reception at such a time," Erdogan told reporters in televised comments inside the palace, before heading to the scene of the disaster.
According to Turkish media reports, invitations for the reception had been sent out to 2,500 couples.
The palace will become the new home of the Turkish presidency, marking an historic break with the Cankaya presidential palace in downtown Ankara.
The Cankaya has been the seat of the Turkish president ever since the modern republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became president and for many has been a symbol of Turkey's modern history as a progressive secular state.
From Ataturk to Erdogan, it has been the home of 12 Turkish presidents.
The move to the new palace is a vivid symbol of what Erdogan touts as his drive towards a "new Turkey".
But for the opposition, the new palace marks another betrayal by Erdogan of Turkey's secular heritage bequeathed by Ataturk who based the republic on a strict separation of religion and state.
The opposition accuses Erdogan, who became president in August after over a decade as prime minister, of imposing a gradual Islamisation and riding roughshod over Turkey's democracy.
For them, Erdogan has rubbed more salt into the wound by opening the palace on republic day, the dearest of all Turkish holidays for secularists.
Umut Oran, a deputy for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) ridiculed the extravagance of the palace, saying that with the same funds Turkey could have sent three satellites to Mars.
"What could have been done with that money?" he asked according to the Dogan news agency, claiming the presidency's budget was three times that of the British royal family.
The Bestepe complex had initially been envisaged for the Turkish prime minister but in the end Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his staff will move into the Cankaya.
The name of the palace, Ak Saray, is also a play on the name of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which is known to its followers as the AK Party.
The post of president has been a largely ceremonial role in recent years. But Erdogan has vowed to wield real power, something he has clearly done in his first weeks in office.
The new complex is also controversial among environmental activists because hundreds of trees were cut down to make way for it, even though it was one of the best preserved green spaces in the city.
Furthermore, the palace has been built on land where Ataturk created a forest farm that was then donated to the state. Erdogan in March defied a court order halting the construction.
According to Turkish media, the design of one of the offices is based on the White House's oval office.

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Feminist activist detained in Saudi Arabia over 'calls for women’s liberation'

Rori Donaghy
A complaint is being investigated against Souad al-Shammary she broke the law in the process of campaigning for increased women's rights
One of Saudi Arabia’s best known feminists was arrested this week and is being held for questioning on accusations she has “insulted Islam” by advocating greater women’s rights and supporting calls for a secular society.
Souad al-Shammary has been detained at a prison in Jeddah since 28 October after being summoned for interrogation, according to a family friend.
Shammary is a co-founder of the Saudi Liberals forum and was one of the first women to defend legal cases in court. She has played a prominent role in a campaign for women to be allowed the right to drive and regularly appears in the media to debate feminist issues.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where it is illegal for women to drive. Authorities tolerate little dissent and have regularly jailed activists who call for political reform.
Religious conservatives, opposed to Shammary’s activism, are said to have filed a complaint that referred to her “calls for women’s liberation”; “demanding the separation of society from religion”; and “demanding the end of male guardianship over women”.
“Her enemies, large in number, are very well known in Saudi Arabia,” said Hassnae Bouazza, a Dutch-Moroccan writer who is a close friend of Shammary. “Religious conservatives have called for her to be arrested, even murdered, on a regular basis. The conservative clergy really hate her.”
Earlier this year Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, formerly an imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, called for Shammary to be tried for insulting the Prophet after criticising the idea – popular among religious conservatives – that Muslims should grow beards to make them distinct from nonbelievers.
The conservative Imam also said he had prayed for her to “become blind and to lose the use of a hand”.
Bouazza explained the original case against the Jeddah-based Shammary was brought in the capital Riyadh and she had refused to attend police requests for questioning.
“A few weeks ago the case was transferred to Jeddah authorities and she knew there was no way to ignore the call – she was expecting to be arrested,” Bouazza said.
Shammary’s family are unsure about how the case will progress – she is yet to appear in court – but her situation has similarities to that of Raif Badawi.
Badawi – Shammary’s co-founder of the Saudi Liberals – was sentenced to ten years in prison, 1,000 lashes and fined $266,000 earlier this year for “insulting Islam”. He was also convicted of violating the Gulf state’s technology law for setting up the Saudi Liberals website.
Shammary’s friend Bouazza acknowledged similarities with the Badawi case but expressed hope it will not have the same conclusion.
“I hope it won’t get that far [conviction] – that’s part of the reason we have gone public on her arrest. We hope it could help stop her case getting to the point where she could be convicted and face a similar punishment to Raif [Badawi],” she said.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have not released any statements about Shammary’s arrest and did not respond to requests for comment on Friday, a public holiday in the kingdom.
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Pakistan: Asia Bibi losing hope on death row: family

A Pakistani Christian woman condemned to death four years ago for blasphemy is losing hope that she will be freed or pardoned, her husband, forced into hiding by his wife's conviction, told AFP Friday.
Asia Bibi has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) during an argument with a Muslim woman.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) confirmed the death sentence two weeks ago, dashing hopes it might be commuted to a jail term.
Speaking to AFP after visiting Bibi for the first time since the Lahore court's ruling, her husband Ashiq Masih said it had come as a crushing blow.
“Asia was hopeful that her appeal would be admitted and she would be freed, but now she has lost hope,” Masih told AFP.
“She was distraught, weeping for most of the time I had with her, appealing to the Supreme Court and president to use their powers to give her justice.”
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the majority Muslim country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence.
Masih, 50, lives in hiding with two of his five children and has to keep his identity secret as he scrapes together a living as a daily labourer. He visits his wife once a month, making a five and a half hour journey to her jail in Multan in southern Punjab.
Reaching the condemned cell, where Bibi lives in her white prison uniform, clutching a Bible for blessings despite being illiterate, involves yet more hours of checks and screening.
Controversial case
The allegations against Asia Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with.
She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl. A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.
Amnesty International has raised “serious concerns” about the fairness of her trial and has called for her release.
The family insists the case against her was fabricated, the allegations invented to settle the personal dispute – an abuse of the blasphemy law that campaigners say is all too common.
“We were surprised by the order of the high court confirming her death sentence,” Masih said.
Three of Ashiq's children are married and he lives with daughters Esha, 14, who has problems walking and speaking, and Esham, 13.
Despite four years of separation, the memory of their mother is still vivid for the girls, and they made a card to send her in prison on Mothers' Day.
“We miss her. We want her to be with us as soon as possible,” Esham, dressed in her white school uniform, told AFP.
“I still remember the days when we used to sleep with her. She used to change our clothes and cook our favourite food for us.”
Also vivid is the memory of the day the family's lives changed forever.
“I came back from school and some people had taken my mother from home and were beating her. Her clothes were torn,” Esham recalled.
“I asked them to change her clothes but they pushed me to the wall of the room. They were asking her to become a Muslim if she wanted to save her life while she kept saying she had done nothing.”
Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy and has had a de-facto moratorium on civilian executions since 2008.
But anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes, and prison is no safe haven.
An elderly British man with severe mental illness, sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan in January, was shot by a prison guard last month.
An internal investigation has found that the guard had been radicalised and goaded into the shooting by Mumtaz Qadri, a police bodyguard who murdered the Punjab governor in 2011 for suggesting reform of the blasphemy laws.

Pakistan - Bombing of All Saints Church - "We are still begging for justice" - Peshawar Anglicans

Anglican Alliance] In a recent visit to the Diocese of Peshawar, Pakistan, Andy Bowerman, Co-Director for the Anglican Alliance, heard from those affected by the bombing of All Saints Church last year. He writes this reflection.
“Last year was the worst year of my life. I do not see things getting better in the near future,” says Uzma Insar, a 33-year-old homemaker, who belongs to the Christian community of Peshawar. Uzma lost her two children on September 22, 2013, when two suicide bombers blew up All Saints Church located inside the Kohati Gate of the old walled city of Peshawar after a Sunday service, killing nearly 100 worshippers.
She tells me that she remembers she tried to convince her nine-year-old daughter, Nehar, who was running a fever that day, and her 11-year-old son Eshan Gohar to miss Sunday school at the church. “They were excited to attend school, as they had done their homework and wanted to show it in the class,” she says. For Uzma time has not moved on, it’s frozen. She vividly recalls every detail of the explosion – the two blasts and then destruction, smoke, painful cries, blood, bodies. “I wish I had not lived to see it at all”, she says quietly.
The explosion had critically injured Uzma. She was kept in the intensive care unit for a week and then in the ward for two months, where her injuries were treated. One year on, Uzma and her community members live under the shadow of the two blasts. She says there is no respite from fear. “I could not weep or smile for two months after the incident. I had to go through psychological counselling for a month to feel anything like normal,” says Uzma’s husband Insar Gohar.
The tragic incident has however enabled him to find what he calls a deeper faith. “We go to church regularly but avoid the All Saints Church. We go to other churches because All Saints Church reminds us of our children,” he says. “But we count it as a privilege that we have been enabled by God’s grace to go through this trial and come out with a stronger faith.”
Insar is part of the religious counselling programme and visits the survivors of the bomb attack at their homes. Many are still dealing not just with the physical but the mental affects of the tragic events.
All of the Christian families that I met in the Kohati area of Peshawar have a heart-wrenching story to tell. According to data collected by the Diocese of Peshawar, the September 2013 attack, left 54 children orphaned, 16 widows, seven widowers. Five people that were critically injured are still recovering and seven others have been significantly disabled.
Several people belonging to the Christian community have already moved from Peshawar to Sri Lanka and Malaysia. “Most of the families who have links or resources have either left the area or are in the process of moving,” says Danish Younis, 35, who was injured in the blast.
Danish goes to the church regularly but feels the place has changed. “We have to go through strict security checks. There are signs of destruction from the blasts on the walls of the church. Every visit to the church reminds me of September 22, 2013. My two children were also with me. They were saved but I saw dozens of children getting killed,” he says, adding, “It is not easy to forget those scenes.”
Although the religious leaders of the community still preach faith and hope, Rev. Joseph John, priest at Diocese of Peshawar says, “the current situation is difficult. Yes, there is hope because ours is the God of hope but the entire Christian community feels insecure after the attack”.
Rev Joseph continued, “There is a danger that the church will lose its identity. It is no more the All Saints Church — but the church that was attacked in September 2013 when nearly 100 people were killed.”
Haroon Sarab Diyal, chairman of All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement and executive member of Commission for Peace and Minority Rights, says every second non-Muslim Pakistanis (he refuses to use the word minority for them) and even members of some Muslim sects want to leave this country: “Nine members of the Sikh community were killed in Peshawar in the last year. In January, this year, a Hindu temple was attacked,” he said.
The Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, I.A. Rehman said “Minorities in Pakistan are increasingly feeling insecure since the present government came to power in June last year. He referred to their 2013 annual report saying that the last year was “one of the darkest ” for Christians in Pakistan, with the deadliest ever attack on the community mounted in Peshawar in September.
A year on, and the Christian community in Peshawar is still waiting for justice and fulfillment of promises by the government. “We are still begging for justice,” says Bishop Humphrey Peters, Diocese of Peshawar and Anglican Alliance board member. “But we don’t simply want handouts from people, we want recognition and them to support us to be the church that God has called us to be”
The federal government pledged to fund Rs200 million for an endowment for orphans and widows. “We decided to develop a church house for orphans and widows with the promised amount but it has not been released yet. The struggle for justice and compensation has already become too long,” says Bishop Humphrey.

Pakistan - 3 more polio cases surface in Balochistan, toll hits 235

Three more polio cases emerged in Balochistan on Friday, raising the toll of this year to 235. According to details, the National Health Institute has confirmed presence of the polio virus in at least three children in Qila Abdullah district. The sources said that paramedical staff in the Balochistan province faces political interference causing difficulties in fight against the polio epidemic. The total number of polio cases in the province has reached 10.

Video - Bilawal Bhutto - Public Appeal for Cyclone Nilofer

Public Appeal for Cyclone Nilofer by Jaannisaar

Bilawal, Aseefa meet Malala in Birmingham

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his sister Aseefa Bhutto Zardari met Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and her family in Birmingham on Thursday, according to a tweet by Bilawal.
“Met Malala @MalalaFund to congratulate her on winning the #NobelPeacePrice,” stated Bilawal’s tweet.
The siblings spent their morning with the Yousafzai family in their home in Birmingham.
Prior to that, Bilawal met Member of Parliament Rehman Chishti, as well as Lord Hussain, Baron of Luton. According to Bilawal’s tweet, he discussed the Kashmir issue and the immigration of Pakistanis to Britain with the two.
After Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month, Bilawal spoke to her on the phone on October 11 and invited her to work with him for the transformation of education in Sindh.
“Every girl of Pakistan has the potential to become Benazir Bhutto,” Bilawal said.

Pakistan names women's tournament after Malala

Pakistan's cricket authorities have named their under-21 women's tournament after Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai in an effort to encourage girls to take up the game.
Malala, who campaigns for the right of all children to go to school, survived a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012 and earlier this month became the youngest ever winner of the Nobel peace prize.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said the Under-21 women's event to be held in December this year would be dedicated to Malala.
“PCB has decided to honour Malala, Pakistan's young Nobel laureate for peace 2014, by naming its inaugural Under-21 national women cricket championship 2014-2015 after her,” said a PCB release.
PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan said he hoped the move would give female cricketers “inspiration and stimulus to excel”.
Khan said PCB has been focusing on women's cricket.
“Our women cricketers have gradually picked up and only last month the women's team has retained the Asian Games gold at Incheon,” he said.
The tournament is scheduled to be held in December with 12 regional teams taking part from all over Pakistan.

3 Reasons Modi Is Misguided on Pakistan

By David J. Karl
The new Indian government has pursued a noticeably harder line toward Pakistan-based terrorism than its predecessor. During the recent electoral campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a “zero-tolerance policy” and promised to “Talk to Pakistan in Pakistan’s language because it won’t learn lessons until then.” He has responded to the ongoing firefights along the Kashmir divide with aggressive shelling. Consonant with his tough-guy image, he boasts that “The enemy has realised that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated,” and displaying his skill in wordplay he proclaims that “This is not the time for empty talk [‘boli’] … but for bullet [‘goli’] for our soldiers.”
Mr. Modi’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, stated last week that while New Delhi is willing to talk with Islamabad, “effective deterrence” is key to dealing with Pakistan. Referring to the cross-border skirmishes in Kashmir, Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley similarly warns that “Our conventional strength is far more than theirs and therefore if they persist with this, the cost to them would be unaffordable. They will also feel the pain of this kind of adventurism.” And a senior government official reports that “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses.”
The merits of this tougher posture have sparked a lively debate within India. Some observers caution that “machismo has never worked as a plan against Pakistan” and that an approach based solely on coercion is “a dangerous game” that could easily spin out of control. A former Indian envoy to Pakistan contends that a policy of escalatory response is “what the Pakistani army wants and we are falling into this trap.” Others, however, argue (here, here and here) that Mr. Modi has no choice but to reply robustly to what are deliberate Pakistani tests of his resolve.
But beyond this debate, there are other problems associated with Modi’s new line toward Pakistan that have so far escaped much notice. The first is that the coercive policy does not differentiate between jihadi groups over which Pakistan has some control and those that operate entirely in defiance of the Pakistani state and view triggering conflict between New Delhi and Islamabad as a way to advance their own interests.
This problem is rooted in what can be called the Sorcerer’s Apprentice syndrome, from Goethe’s classic tale about the dangers of Pakistan’s habit of conjuring up proxies it cannot ultimately handle. A timely example occurred two months ago when jihadi forces assaulted a naval dockyard in Karachi, apparently with the aim of seizing a Pakistani frigate that would be used to attack Indian warships with anti-ship missiles. So far, New Delhi shows no evidence of even recognizing the deterrence conundrum raised by such actions.
The risks of this approach are compounded by a second, even more basic, problem. The Modi government seems to believe that it can pursue a get-tough approach without the bother of engaging Islamabad diplomatically. Despite Modi’s active courting of India’s other neighbors, a leading spokesman of his political party argues that New Delhi has no interest or reason to focus on Pakistan until Islamabad proves its credibility as a negotiating partner by lifting the shadow of terrorism. According to media reports, Modi’s government is in no mood to take the first step to de-escalate cross-border tensions or resume diplomatic talks.
In August, New Delhi abruptly cancelled foreign secretary-level talks on the grounds that the Pakistani ambassador had continued with the longstanding practice of meeting with Kashmiri separatists. This reaction may have been right in principle. But in practical terms, it amounted to a demand that Pakistan – which draws much of its national identity from the Kashmir conflict – make a significant diplomatic concession without receiving anything of importance in return. This was certainly no deal that any civilian government in Islamabad could accept as the price for merely beginning a conversation with Modi’s team, much less one that was then embroiled in a deep political crisis at home and uncertain of the military leadership’s allegiances.
More recently, New Delhi has rebuffed other diplomatic overtures from Islamabad and Mr. Modi failed to take the time to meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when both were in New York for last month’s annual conclave of the U.N. General Assembly.
Indeed, the Indian government is in danger of becoming captive to its hawkish rhetoric. Defense Minister Jaitley emphasizes that “Of course we can talk to Pakistan, but it is up to Pakistan to create an atmosphere for talks.” Given the turmoil inside Pakistan, it will be difficult to start any sort of meaningful dialogue with Islamabad as long as that condition is strictly insisted upon.
A third problem is even more fundamental. Mr. Modi appears to believe he can revitalize India’s great-power prospects without the trouble of reaching a basic accommodation with Pakistan. Yet New Delhi’s continuous ructions with Islamabad have constantly proven vexatious to its larger ambitions. They sap precious national resources (including the armed forces) and divert the attention of those leaders who prefer to look to larger arenas. They also create a paradox: India yearns for a place in the first ranks of world power and yet cannot establish much sway over its own neighbors. Despite the common civilizational and historical links that permeate South Asia, New Delhi has been unable to integrate the region in the same way that Beijing has economically stitched together the much more culturally diverse and geographically disperse East Asian area.
Ignoring Pakistan may well score short-term political points at home but it is a poor strategy for the longer-term items on Mr. Modi’s agenda.
Crafting the right blend of deterrence credibility and substantive engagement with rival states is a hard task for any government. But so far, the Modi government seems fixated one objective while paying little heed to the other.

Behind India’s Pakistan quandary

Faced with Pakistan’s firing across the LoC, India has no option but to respond. However, in general, more subtle strategies to contain and counter threats from Pakistan would be in the country’s interest.
Pakistan’s annual ritual of raising the Kashmir issue and the outdated U.N. resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) has been followed by similar statements in Pakistan, including by the Chief of Army Staff, Raheel Sharif. Young Bilawal Bhutto has vowed to wrest every inch of Kashmir from India! The National Assembly has called for a diplomatic offensive. Pakistan’s desire to internationalise the Kashmir issue has been mentioned as one of the plausible reasons for the recent ceasefire violations by it.
Left to Pakistan, the Kashmir issue would never go off the international radar screen. However, Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise it cannot succeed in the face of a mature Indian response. For starters, the international scenario has completely changed from the days when Pakistan’s theatrics on Kashmir attracted international attention. India has come a long way since then. Above all, Pakistan is not the same, both in its capacity to mobilise international opinion and the priorities of its people.
Manifestos and Kashmir issue
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N)’s manifesto for the May 2013 election in Pakistan contained the following paragraph on Kashmir: “Special efforts will be made to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN resolutions and the 1999 Lahore Accord and in consonance with the aspirations of the people of the territory for their inherent right of self-determination.” Significantly, this paragraph found a place in a three-page chapter on foreign policy and national security, beginning at page 80 of the 103-page document, with the first 79 pages devoted to bread-and-butter issues such as economic revival, energy security, agriculture and food security, a new framework for social change, democratic governance, science and technology, the employment challenge, speedy justice, etc.
The chapter began by acknowledging that Pakistan was at war within and isolated abroad, its independence and sovereignty stood compromised, its economic weaknesses were forcing it to go around with a begging bowl in hand; while foreign states undertook unilateral strikes on its territory, non-state actors used it as a sanctuary to pursue their own agendas, oblivious to Pakistan’s interests and the country’s social, economic and political schisms were creating grave misgivings even in the minds of its friends. It noted that Pakistan is located at an important junction of South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia. Therefore, it could be a bridge between the energy-rich Central Asia and Iran on the one side and energy-deficit countries like China and India on the other and could also become a flourishing transit economy as the shortest land route from western China to the Arabian Sea, while linking India with Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics. The paragraph on Kashmir figured at among the policy objectives listed in this chapter. It was preceded and succeeded by others such as establishing cordial and cooperative ties with Pakistan’s neighbours, making foreign policy formulation the sole preserve of elected representatives, making sure that all civil and military institutions, “including those dealing with security and/or intelligence matters” act as per the directives of the federal government, and according special importance to promotion of external trade, etc.
The manifesto of the other major party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had similar prioritisation with the first 60 out of 74 pages devoted to empowerment for all, inclusive and equitable growth, infrastructure and a new social contract, etc. However, the following reference figured on page 73: “We support the rights of the Kashmiri people and during our current government we initiated and continued to pursue a dialogue process agenda with India, including on Kashmir. We will not allow lack of progress on one agenda to impede progress on the others. Without prejudice to the UN Security Council Resolutions, we support open and safe borders at the Line of Control [LoC] to socially unite the Kashmiri people. We note that India and China have a border dispute and yet enjoy tension free relations.”
Ties with India
This did not imply that Pakistan’s major parties were about to jettison the Kashmir issue. Far from it. However, since political parties trim the sails of their manifestos to the winds of public opinion, the two manifestos were a good indicator of the priorities of the Pakistani people and the issues agitating their mind. To be sure, a civil or military leader in Pakistan can still whip up short-term hysteria on Kashmir, especially in periods of tension with India. But in a reflection of the public mood, India was not an issue of even marginal consequence in determining the choices of voters in the May 2013 election. The manifestos were unusual in their candour and content and a departure from the influential security state narrative, which ranks confronting “enemy India” over the welfare and progress of the Pakistani people. However, what has transpired after the 2013 election is extraordinarily usual for Pakistan and India-Pakistan relations.
Soon after the election, the Pakistani media reported that the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kayani, had advised the Prime Minister-elect, Nawaz Sharif, to go slow on relations with India. Subsequently, the killing of five Indian soldiers in a Pakistani ambush at the LoC in the Poonch sector in August 2013 put paid to the efforts of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to revive the peace process with the Nawaz Sharif government. During the visit of Mr. Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif to India in December 2013, it was decided to take the trade agenda forward, with India agreeing to give significantly improved market access to Pakistani products in return for Pakistan moving to a non-discriminatory market access regime (euphemism for Most Favoured Nation). However, Pakistan baulked at the eleventh hour, reportedly because of opposition by the army and the reluctance of the Nawaz government to clinch such an important deal with the outgoing Indian government on the eve of elections. Whatever the reason, Pakistan has failed to seal the trade deal, widely acknowledged by its top economists and businessmen to be in its interest, in spite of the positive attitude of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on the issue. The promise generated by Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in in May 2014 was cut short by the meeting of the Pakistan envoy with the Hurriyat leaders.
From recent events, it appears that the security state paradigm, which is revisionist not only regarding accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, but also India’s leading role in South Asia and beyond, is on the ascendant again in Pakistan. Pakistan’s adversarial posture towards India has entailed heavy costs for us and significantly heavier costs for the smaller Pakistani economy. The gap between the two economies is growing. Therefore, sustenance of this posture by Pakistan would imply increasing detriment to its economy and the well-being of its people who, more than Kashmir, crave better governance and economic opportunities. The imperatives underlying the candour and constructive ideas in the manifestos mentioned remain unchanged. Therefore, it would be wrong to assume that the thinking underpinning those ideas has vanished or should count for nothing in our policy formulation.
Countering threats
Pakistani provocations, not entirely missing in periods of dialogue, tend to increase in its absence. Some are attempts to infuse life into its flagging “Kashmir cause” and drag us into verbal duels in the international arena, but have no impact on the ground situation. These, therefore, deserve cursory dismissal. References to Kashmir at the U.N. and the Pakistan-inspired hackneyed resolutions by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are some examples. We did well in responding to the Pakistani reference to Jammu and Kashmir at the UNGA at the level of a First Secretary, while offering, in Mr. Modi’s speech, dialogue without the shadow of terror.
There are, on the other hand, provocations which impact the ground situation adversely for us. These include Pakistan’s continued harbouring of anti-India terror groups, infiltration of terrorists across the LoC and attempts to destabilise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India. Such efforts need to be thwarted resolutely. Faced with Pakistan’s firing across the LoC, we have no option but to respond. However, in general, more subtle strategies to contain and counter threats from Pakistan would be in our interest.
Finally, the jingoistic and threatening rhetoric in a section of our media in response to each provocation from Pakistan does us no good. Our growing power ought to be felt by our adversaries and not flaunted. Threatening language tends to drive a significant number in Pakistan, who think constructively of relations with India, into the arms of the security state proponents.

Pakistan: Imran Khan in his labyrinth

His obstinacy is depriving him of erstwhile allies
Led by false hopes Imran Khan has landed himself in a cul-de-sac. It has suddenly dawned upon him now that the army and courts won’t support any move against the status quo. One is not sure how long this moment of lucidity remains. Instead of going round and round and reaching the same dead end, he needs to stop for a while, relax and do some thinking. Unless he does so it may not be long before workers, tired of unproductive protest marches, start ditching him.
Despite all the commitment on the part of his workers and spending huge amount of funds, Khan has failed to get Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. A good leader has to try a new set of tactics when the old ones fail. It is not a matter of shame to change course or stage a retreat when necessary. The resignations sent by his MNAs have yet not been accepted. Would it not be more sensible to try now to achieve his objectives through Parliament? By returning to NA the PTI can play a key role in evolving the much needed electoral reforms.
Imran Khan’s obstinacy is depriving him of erstwhile allies. The first to part company was Tahirul Qadri. He needs now to take note of Sirjul Haq’s remarks whose Jamaat-e-Islami is a part of the coalition led by the PTI in KP. The unbending stance taken by Nawaz Shrif and Imran Khan has led Haq to maintain that “both are playing dirty politics for their own benefits”, and that the both are “two sides of the same coin”.
Despite its confrontationist politics, the PTI is considered to be a party with a modern outlook. Khan needs to review what kind of an image the PTI is acquiring by following JI’s ideological lead. On Wednesday the KP Assembly put aside a resolution for Malala Yousafzai whose Nobel brought honour to KP and Pakistan. Instead the Assembly passed another resolution to press the US for freeing Aafia Siddiqui.

Deprived province: ‘Flawed policy main obstacle in development’

The Express Tribune
Scholars on Thursday emphasised that development activities and political participation were to go hand in hand if economic progress was sought in Balochistan.
Speaking at a conference on “Balochistan: Enhancing the Pace of Development and Prosperity” they stressed that the main obstacle to development has been flawed official policies which pursue programmes and plans without involving the public.
Inaugurating the conference, organised by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed explained the standing committee on defence, of which he is the head, had initiated the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package.
Secretary Ministry of Communications and former chief secretary of Balochistan, Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad, presented an overview of the development work in the province.”It is no wonder that today Balochistan has the lowest social indices,” he said. He added that this year, for the first time, 90 per cent of the allocated funds were disbursed.
Vice-Chancellor of the Agriculture University, Faisalabad, Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan added to the discussion saying that Balochistan had 33 million acres of cultivable land which was about the same as in Punjab.
“Only the problem of water scarcity has been neglected otherwise Balochistan could have been a source of food security for the entire country,” he said.

Pakistan: The PTI circus

The PTI may have a flair for drama but possesses precious little regard for democratic norms. Ever since Imran Khan announced that all his MNAs would resign from the National Assembly, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has made clear that each MNA would have to confirm their intention to vacate their seats alone and in person. The thinking behind this is that the MNAs may have been pressurised to resign by Imran against their will. There is some reason to believe this may be the case since only 25 of the party’s 33 legislators showed up at the National Assembly, with one member being sick and Imran himself staying away. This means at least six PTI MNAs may not wish to resign and there are reports that a total of 15 want to retain their seats and had been assured by Shah Mehmood Qureshi that there would be no resignations handed in. Whether those reports are true or not, it is undeniable that the MNAs were there to provoke further controversy rather than follow the speaker’s rules. They showed up en masse and wanted to collectively confirm their resignations. The only reason they would do this is the worry that the MNAs would waver if the party leadership wasn’t around to pressure them. Now the PTI wants to clarify its stance by writing to the ECP, but this is likely another distraction since the power of the election body to involve itself in parliamentary matters is limited.
Opposition leader Khursheed Shah has now urged the MNAs to not be afraid of the party leadership and follow the procedures for resigning. One cannot help but remember how Shah Mehmood Qureshi, after giving his fiery speech at the joint session of parliament, was asked by the speaker to come to his office to confirm his resignation but chose to ignore that and flamboyantly walked out. The double game it seems the PTI has been playing all along is to press for the dismissal of the government but to retain its seats if that doesn’t work out. Had the PTI MNAs resigned and the government survived, the party would have lost seats in the next Senate elections. This mix of revolutionary fervour on the surface and calculating pragmatism underneath is an unappealing combination. The negotiating jirga team has urged the government not to accept the resignations with the rationale that it will box the PTI into a corner and possibly lead to midterm elections. But the system should be strong enough to survive this prolonged drama, no matter how it ends.

Pakistan: Imran, Siraj befooling masses
Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Zahid Khan has criticized Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Ameer Sirajul Haq, Geo News reported.
In a statement, Zahid Khan said Sirajul Haq and Imran Khan were support for each other and they were merely befooling the masses through their statements.
He said Sirajul Haq will not quit the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because he knows this way the PTI government will be paralyzed.

Pakistan: Politics of resignation

ON Wednesday, as most — though, tellingly, not all — PTI MNAs went to parliament to confirm their resignations, Asad Umar joked on Twitter that it was more difficult to resign than to get elected.
While there are some obvious punchlines in the cat-and-mouse game between the PTI MNAs and Speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq, the issue of PTI resignations remains a serious and complex matter.
To be sure, there are no real legal or constitutional impediments to resigning from parliament — anyone who wants to resign can and should be able to do so. The matter is purely political: for several reasons, the PML-N, and possibly the speaker in particular, would rather the PTI not resign from parliament.
For one, a National Assembly without the party that garnered the second highest votes in the May 2013 general election would lose some of its claim to completeness and representativeness. For another, a spate of by-elections nationally would allow the PTI, even if it only backs so-called independent candidates, to keep in the spotlight the issue of alleged rigging in 2013 and would act as a mini-referendum on the PML-N government.
Perhaps most importantly, the PML-N and Mr Sadiq are hoping that the PTI will reconsider —– knowing full well that the push for resignations has come not from the MNAs themselves but from PTI chief Imran Khan.
Yet, the PML-N seems singularly unwilling to do the very thing that could possibly get the PTI to reconsider on the issue of resignations: pushing ahead aggressively with electoral reforms. Having seen off the immediate threat from the anti-government protests led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, the PML-N leadership seems to have slipped back into complacent mode, determined to work on an agenda of its own choosing. But electoral reforms are very much a political and governance necessity and for the PML-N to pretend they are not — or that the issue can be tackled leisurely at a time of the PML-N’s choosing — is to set up further problems for the party.
Even on the nomination of a permanent chief election commissioner, the PML-N seems content to work in tandem with the PPP to delay an appointment, ostensibly because electoral reforms should be finalised first, even though there is no urgency on the electoral reforms front to begin with.
Yet, for everything the PML-N does wrong, the PTI more than matches it in terms of stubbornness and bloody-mindedness. Having spent much of the year focusing on electoral reforms, the PTI seems least interested in the latter now, for what else could justify its wanting to resign from parliament and taking itself out of the electoral reforms process altogether?
Even the Supreme Court, in throwing out challenges to the 2013 election, has indicated that the correct path to all things election-related is to follow laid-down procedure.

Pakistan: Lesson for the PTI

The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed all the three petitions seeking the annulment of the 2013 general elections on the grounds of rigging. According to the SC, it cannot entertain a petition based on mere allegations, unless there is proof that the 2013 general elections were rigged. The court opined that it is not the job of the SC to investigate allegations of rigging. On the issue of maintainability, the court stressed the importance of the election tribunals as the right forum to file such petitions. The petitioners, according to the court, also lacked locus standi to file the petitions, and unless the parliamentarians were made a party to the petition, since they would be the direct affectees of any decision given in the case, the petition could not be taken up.
According to legal experts, the SC should not have been involved in political matters and it was a wrong step by the petitioners to knock at the doors of the SC. However, by dismissing the petitions the court has closed the door to the elements trying to gain concessions from the court. After the ending of the sit-in by Dr Tahirul Qadri, all eyes were set on Imran’s expected decision to call it a day. Imran’s persistence to the contrary is now being seen as a tactic to wait for the SC’s decision on the petitions filed to render the 2013 elections null and void. There were speculations that any hint about rigging in the general election by the court could be used as another launching pad by Imran to intensify his protest and agitation against the government. The SC has done the right thing by refusing to be dragged into political matters for which other forums for redress of grievances exist. For the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), the lesson is that it should agree to the proposal floated by the government of appointing a judicial commission to probe into the allegations of rigging. This straightforward and simple formula could have ended the animosity between the PTI and the government right in the initial days of the dharnas (sit-ins) but the PTI has irrationally stuck to its demand for the resignation of the prime minister. Such petulance is not a sign of mature minds. Imran Khan should revisit his maximalist demand before he loses totally loses credibility on the touchstone of being a responsible politician.

Pakistan: Will we de-radicalise?

The bloodthirsty Mumtaz Qadri appears to be on a lifelong mission to turn the country into a nation of pious murderers. An inquiry report has revealed shocking facts regarding the shooting in Adiala Jail earlier this month that left one blasphemy accused dead and another wounded. The prison guard who shot the blasphemy accused Muhammad Asghar, a mentally ill 70-year-old Briton, it turns out got his spiritual training from the murderer of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. The guard had spent two weeks deployed on duty to watch over Mumtaz Qadri in confinement, during which the latter corrupted his mind with his extremist indoctrination and incited him to kill Muhammad Asghar. The report also suggests that Qadri enjoys a venerable status within the prison in the eyes of the staff and other inmates. Moreover, he had two other guards lined up for carrying out similar assassinations. How much our security forces have been radicalised should be evident by now as almost every violent incursion into military bases and institutions involves radicalised insiders. The situation is alarming when a cowardly cold-blooded murderer who shot the very person in the back he was supposed to be guarding enjoys immunity and privileges even while he is in prison. The fact that the guard he influenced managed to smuggle weapons into the prison speaks volumes of our prison security regime.
The problem is bigger than it seems at first glance. It is not only about the facilities Qadri has been given during imprisonment. One should not forget that the lawyers community and other rightists garlanded and showered this person with flowers after he committed the murder. It is the fanatical mindset that has permeated into wide sections of our society. Ironically, our judiciary, considered to have attained independence after its restoration in 2009, has failed to provide justice by sitting on Qadri’s appeal against his death sentence. Such an atmosphere is obviously going to persist unless the state comes up with a powerful counter-narrative that will not only serve to reverse the increasing radicalism, which has even infected parts of our security forces, but will challenge the credibility of this existing zealot ideology. Right now, whoever speaks against the charade of justice present in our judicial system in blasphemy cases is threatened with death. First Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatii and then a lawyer, all of them spoke against the abuse of the blasphemy law and all of them got assassinated. Here is the corollary: those who stand with the fanatical extremism will get a safe haven and treatment like Qadri while those who try to challenge it will meet the fate of Taseer and Bhatti.