Friday, November 7, 2014
Thousands of people in Bahrain have held another anti-regime demonstration, calling on the ruling Al Khalifah regime to relinquish power. The Bahrainis participated in the protest rally which was held in the Persian Gulf state’s northeastern island of Sitra on Friday. The demonstrators chanted slogans against Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa during the protest rally. Bahraini people have staged several protests over the past few days to voice their anger at the Al Khalifa regime’s recent clampdown on the Shia mourners commemorating the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (PBUH), the third Shia Imam. On November 4, Bahraini soldiers in armored vehicles roamed the streets in the village of Nuwaidrat, situated about 10 kilometers (six miles) south of the capital Manama, as people marched through the streets to observe the rituals of Ashura, the 10th day of the lunar month of Muharram. Bahraini regime forces in riot gear then engaged in scuffles with the mourners and fired tear gas canisters to disperse them. Bahraini forces also targeted the mourners in several villages across the country on November 1, removing all banners, flags and black cloths commemorating the Ashura anniversary. Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and 72 of his loyal companions, were martyred on Ashura in the battle of Karbala against the second Umayyad caliph, Yazid I, in 680 AD. Imam Hussein was killed after he refused to pledge allegiance to the tyrant ruler. Bahrain’s Shia community has long complained of discrimination in the Shia-dominated Persian Gulf island state. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power.
The Republicans have come out the big winners from the US midterm election on Tuesday. The party now has a majority in the Senate, meaning it has control over both houses of Congress. As a result, US President Barack Obama will become a lame duck. It is Obama who will have to swallow the bitterest pill. The election can be seen as a referendum on his political achievements, one in which most voted "no." He will feel more restrained in the last two years of his tenure. The Americans have elected a Congress that counters the president. The US, even though a master of Western-style democracy, cannot manage the situation well. In the next two years, perhaps the US will not make any major decisions. Washington will be the stage for a showdown between the president and Congress. As for policies on China, Congress, which has often bashed China, may take an even tougher line in the future. Moreover, it may turn its dissatisfaction with the president into provoking China. But the Chinese people have become familiar with the American-style political farce. Changes in Sino-US relations will not be the biggest concern among all the other outcomes of the midterm elections. Besides Obama, it could be Hillary Clinton who worries most about the election results. US mainstream media regards her as the most likely Democratic candidate in the next presidential elections. However, since the Obama-led Democrats were defeated in the midterm election, she may have to bear the consequences. Past elections show that when the incumbent does not seek another term, the party that wins the midterms is likely to win the presidential elections. When the US apparently needs political determination to push forward domestic reforms, US systems continue to waste the country's political resources on partisan struggles. Is it something the US should be proud or shameful of? Even the Americans are debating this. Across the Pacific, China has been undergoing extensive reforms. The two countries have set a sharp contrast. In both countries, there are firm supporters for their countries as well as those who envy the systems of the other. Only time will tell the answer. Major changes will not occur in Washington any time soon. This is perhaps an opportunity for countries that have the ability to change. China should be one of them. More dissatisfaction with a changing China may result in more rivalry, but the current system in the US will not encourage a radical change in its China policies. Obama's pivot to Asia strategy has brought China many troubles. But generally, Obama's foreign policies can be seen as moderate. Sino-US relations may not degrade so much that they disintegrate, but a taste of bitterness will always linger.
There is no evidence confirming Kiev reports that Russia has allegedly moved tanks and artillery into eastern Ukraine, the Pentagon says. "I don't have any independent operational reporting that would confirm that report, that these formations have crossed the border," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said at a press briefing Friday. Earlier on Friday, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that Washington does not have independent confirmation of Kiev's claims that Russian tanks and artillery have allegedly moved into the Luhansk region. Since the beginning of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine in April, Kiev and the West have repeatedly accused Russia of intervening in the Ukrainian crisis, going as far as to claim that Moscow has sent troops and weapons to independence supporters in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. However, the United States and its partners have never supported their accusations with any evidence. The Ukrainian crisis escalated in mid-April, when Kiev launched a military operation against independence supporters in the country's southeastern regions, who refused to recognize the new government, which came to power as a result of the February coup.
Citing the need to get work done in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama sat down with Republican congressional leaders after their party’s sweep of midterm elections earlier this week. Going into Friday’s lunch at the executive mansion, the president and Republican congressional leaders stood firm and on opposite sides of at least on one issue, immigration. With Obama on Wednesday vowing to use his executive authority to reform the system… “What I am not going to do is just wait. I think it is fair to say that I have shown a lot of patience," said President Obama. Republican House Speaker John Boehner warned the president not to take such action. “I have made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally on his own, outside of his authority, he will poison the well, and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress," said Boehner. In a statement, Boehner repeated that sentiment during Friday’s lunch with President Obama, fellow Republican and likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leaders. To begin the meeting, President Obama struck a conciliatory tone and emphasized the need to work together. “I think they are frustrated by the gridlock. They would like to see more cooperation. And I think all of us have the responsibility, me in particular, to try to make that happen," said Obama. The president noted he is interested in good ideas, regardless of what party they come from, to build on the country’s economic momentum. He cited an unemployment rate that has dropped to 5.8 percent - the lowest in six years. In a statement issued after the lunch, Boehner also named jobs and the economy as a top priority of the American people. Earlier, Obama repeated possible areas of common ground with congressional leaders including on infrastructure and trade. “…whether that is putting people back to work through stronger manufacturing here in the United States, and selling more to countries around the world, one of the major topics that we are going to be discussing during my Asia trip next week," said Obama. But after the more than two-hour meeting, there were no public remarks from the president or congressional leaders. Lawmakers heard from top U.S. military commanders - who briefed them on the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria. President Obama on Friday authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 non-combat troops to Iraq to help train local forces. In a statement issued after the lunch, the White House said the president requested another $5.6 billion to support the strategy against the Islamic State. The president also called for Congress to approve emergency funding for another fight - this one against Ebola in West Africa. Both issues, along with passing a budget, remain top priorities in the coming weeks, as Obama and a new Congress try to forge a new way forward.
President Barack Obama is authorizing the U.S. military to deploy up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq as part of the mission to combat the Islamic State group. Obama is also asking Congress for more than $5 billion to help fund the fight. The White House says the troops won't serve in a combat role, but will train, advise and assist Iraqi military and Kurdish forces fighting IS. White House press secretary Josh Earnest says Obama has also authorized the additional personnel to operate at Iraqi military facilities outside Baghdad and Erbil. Until now, U.S. troops have been operating a joint operation center setup with Iraqi forces there. The announcement is part of a $5.6 billion funding request to Congress and came just after Obama met with congressional leaders Friday.
Obama reportedly sent his fourth letter to Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei to push for a nuclear deal and a united front on ISIS.On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month. In it, the president urged that the two countries work together on battling their mutual foe, ISIS, and also reportedly pushed for a long-term deal over Iran's disputed nuclear program. The negotiations over the latter are set to end on November 24 and are reportedly not going well. The White House, when asked about the letter, did not deny its existence, but also would not comment on it. On Thursday afternoon, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters: "I'm not in a position to discuss private correspondence between the president and any world leader. I can tell you that the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged." There are a number of particulars about this revelation that will likely become the subject of opinion pieces in the coming days. One will be the apparent linkage between striking a nuclear deal and the cooperation with Iran in the fight against ISIS. According to The Wall Street Journal, the letter emphasized "any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement." As Armin Rosen noted, in the past the administration stressed several times that there is no connection "between the nuclear negotiations ... and the host of other matters bearing on relations between the US and Iran." There's also the matter of priorities. When it comes down to it, the outcome of the slow-burning dispute over Iran's nuclear program is a more pressing matter for both Iran and the United States than the battle against ISIS is. Iran has been hit hard by unprecedented sanctions as a result of its nuclear ambitions, sanctions enacted through American-led efforts. For his part, President Obama has staked much of his foreign policy agenda (and credibility) on a pledge to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile, Reuters's Patricia Zengerle determined that House Speaker John Boehner was not a fan of the letter, saying of the fight against ISIS: "I don't trust the Iranians. I don't think we need to bring them into this." So why was the letter publicized? As Meir Javedanfar speculated, it makes it more difficult for Iran to walk away from the nuclear negotiations as the aggrieved party. He added that both President Obama and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani stand to gain from the letter: "I believe they both want a deal, and this letter increases pressure on the main obstacles to an agreement inside Iran, namely the hardline Iranian political elite who have been close to Ayatollah Khamenei for many years." http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/11/president-obama-tehran-Ayatollah-Khamenei-ISIS/382470/
President Obama said on Wednesday that he would act on his own by the end of the year to “improve” the immigration system, presumably by giving many — perhaps millions — of the country’s unauthorized immigrants temporary protection from deportation and permission to work. He has said this before, only to back off in deference to election-year politics. Now the election is over, and the only thing to say to the president is: Do it. Take executive action. Make it big. He must not give in to calls to wait. Six fruitless years is time enough for anyone to realize that waiting for Congress to help fix immigration is delusional. Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative John Boehner have warned Mr. Obama that executive action would destroy any chance of future legislation. But Republicans have had many, many opportunities to move on immigration, and never have. They killed bipartisan reform in 2006 and 2007, and again this year. The party, whose hard-core members tried to stoke national panic at the border this summer, shrieking about migrant children, Ebola and the Islamic State, is not ready to be reasoned with. The arguments for protecting a broad swath of immigrants through executive action, meanwhile, are firmly on Mr. Obama’s side. IT HONORS THE LAW Mr. Obama should direct the Department of Homeland Security to focus its limited enforcement resources on removing violent criminals, terrorists and other public-safety threats — and not people who have deep roots in this country and pose no threat. This use of discretion is customary and entirely legal. IT HELPS THE COUNTRY Having such a large immigrant population living here outside the law also undermines the law. Ever more stringent crackdowns waste resources by chasing down people who pose no threat. Allowing unauthorized immigrants to live and work without fear, and keeping families together, will boost the economy, undercut labor exploitation and ease the strain on law enforcement. This has been the goal of a comprehensive immigration overhaul. A deportation reprieve would not be permanent, but it would have many of the same benefits as legislative reform. IT CUTS TO THE HEART OF THE DEBATE For years the immigration discussion focused obsessively on border security and avoided the question of what do with 11 million immigrants already living here. If Mr. Obama acts, he will be declaring that this population has a stake in our country’s future. That is starkly opposed to the view espoused by Republican hard-liners like Senators Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions, Representatives Lamar Smith and Steve King, who take their cues from anti-immigration pressure groups that embody the country’s old strains of nativism. Millions of Americans-in-waiting need an answer. It should be a welcoming one. There is reason to worry that Mr. Obama’s as-yet-unannounced plan for executive action will be too cautious, small and narrow. He has not said how big a group might qualify for protection. He should start with those who would have qualified for legalization under the bill that passed in the Senate in 2013 but died in the House. That bill, a serious attempt at a once-in-a-generation overhaul, would have given millions with clean records a shot at legalization if they paid fines and back taxes and went to the back of the citizenship line, among other things. Mr. Obama strongly endorsed the bill. His executive action should be just as broad. There will surely be intense debate when Mr. Obama draws the lines that decide who might qualify for protection. Some simple questions should be his guide: Do the people he could help have strong bonds to the United States? Does deporting them serve the national interest? If it doesn’t, they should have a chance to stay.
The retired U.S. Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama bin Laden in the forehead has publicly identified himself amid a debate among members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces about whether they should break silence about their secret missions. The 38-year-old Robert O’Neill told “The Washington Post” newspaper in an interview that he fired the two shots that killed Bin Laden. One current and one former member of the Navy SEALS confirmed to The Associated Press that O’Neill was long known to have fired the shots that killed Bin Laden. O’Neill said he decided to go public because he feared his identity was going to be leaked by others after his name was published on November 3 by a website operated by former Special Forces troops. He is scheduled to be featured in lengthy segments next week on Fox TV News.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Afghan security forces were dying in increasing numbers because they have assumed a leading role in the fight against the Taliban. Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan’s eastern city of Herat on November 7, Stoltenberg said Afghan forces "have already been in the lead and have had the main responsibility already for almost a year.” Figures this week showed that the number of Afghan soldiers and police officers killed in battle reached 4,634 so far this year -- a 6.5 percent rise compared to 2013. The second-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, said on November 5 that "those numbers are not sustainable in the long-term." NATO is to conclude its combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Some 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops will remain in a training and support capacity.
Following the two presidential elections in Pakistan (2013) and Afghanistan (2014), both countries now have new presidents in office. The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been mainly based on mutual distrust and interpreted through a security paradigm. This needs to change because both countries share a long history, ethnic ties, lingual similarities and a similar religious background. Therefore, this relationship should not only be restricted to security-related matters. The new president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, offers an excellent opportunity to realize this dream. One of the first things he did directly after assuming the office of the presidency was to hold out an olive branch to his Pakistani counterpart, Mamnoon Hussain, and the Pakistani people. Having offered to develop and widen bilateral ties with Pakistan, Ashraf Ghani made a great step forward. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's positive approach to Ashraf Ghani's step is an important new beginning in bilateral relations. The economy is an important issue behind the problems between the two countries since millions of Afghan people have had to flee their country over the last four decades and settled along the borders of Pakistan. However, simply improving economic relations will not achieve positive results if there is no stability in Afghanistan and a lack of security in both countries generally. In order to turn the tide, Pakistan first needs to eliminate the multi-head system. Though of course Pakistan doesn't have two leaders in action, it is very well known that the Pakistani army could interfere in government business so that the dissimilarity in methods between civilian leadership and the Pakistani army becomes significant. Pakistan's contribution to post-2014 Afghanistan will be directly proportional to Pakistan's own security, stability and economic welfare. The better the situation in Afghanistan in the post-2014 era, the better the future is for Pakistan. According to a recent report published by the World Bank, Afghanistan is the worst country to invest in in Asia and the seventh worst in the entire world. As indicated in the report, this is a result of security threats related to the increased number of deadly attacks during the summer, the decreasing amount of international aid being provided since the withdrawal of NATO forces, corruption issues and many other internal problems that the brand new Ashraf Ghani administration is facing. Among them, Pakistan could help Afghanistan in terms of security threats and declining international aid, if not more. As long as Afghanistan faces these problems, they will continue to have a fragile investment environment, which will have spillover effects on Pakistan as well. The anti-government demonstrations, led by leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan and an Islamic scholar of Sufism and founder and leader of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Tahir-ul Qadri, that have been going on since August have damaged the profile of the Sharif government. These demonstrations led the Pakistani army to interfere in politics as a mediator between the demonstrators and the Sharif government. After nine years of military rule in Pakistan between 1999 and 2008, Asif Ali Zardari became president of the country. He was then replaced by Mamnoon Hussain in 2013 through a democratic election. Since then, the influence of the Pakistani military establishment has been on the decline. However, the reappearance of the Pakistani army in daily politics is not a good sign for the country's democratic process. According to a recent report titled "Resetting Pakistan's Relations with Afghanistan" published by the International Crisis Group (ICG), even though Pakistan has underlined its backing for a "united Afghanistan" several times, during a Crisis Group interview a former Pakistani military official conceded that the "defense establishment" differentiates a "Pashtun Afghanistan" and an "Afghanistan of others” that includes other ethnic groups such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. This military perspective has many issues behind it, including the close relations between Afghanistan and India that are fundamentally motivated by enmity towards Pakistan, the release of high-profile Taliban commanders/leaders depending on Pakistan's interests, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan's relationship with the Afghan Taliban, the United States' financial assistance to Pakistan arising from the ongoing war in Afghanistan and so forth. An approach to Afghanistan under the influence of this perspective cannot succeed. The ICG report also remarks that the Pakistani military's possible prevention of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's intention to start negotiations with the Taliban and Hizb-e İslami could weaken the Pakistani prime minister's endeavors for a better relationship with Afghanistan. Therefore, the Pakistani administration should take foreign policy in hand in order to implement its priorities. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continues to be committed to peace with Afghanistan; however, if his administration does not take any action, no changes can be realized. Reinforcing relations with neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, is a must for economic recovery in Pakistan. Acknowledging the fact that it is too hard to deal with the Pakistani army in terms of controlling the security-related issues and foreign policy for the Nawaz Sharif government and that it would be fanciful to think that this will change in a short span of time, the Sharif government should redirect bilateral relations with Afghanistan beyond the realm of security issues. Enhancing economic ties between the two countries and providing legal opportunities for the millions of Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan would be a good start to reviving the floundering relationship.
The wife of president Ashraf Ghani has surprised many Afghans by speaking out on women and internally displaced peopleWhen Ashraf Ghani gave his inaugural speech as he entered Afghanistan’s presidential palace in September, he did something few people expected of their country’s new leader – he praised the work of his wife Rula, and thanked her for her support. The former president Hamid Karzai never appeared in public with his wife during his 10 years in office. Now, Ghani was proclaiming that his spouse would wield political influence. Three weeks ago, she began making good on that promise, and set up an office in the palace to advise on how to improve conditions for the country’s at least 750,000 internally displaced people (IDPs). Rula Ghani is certainly aware that she is doing something exceptional for a presidential spouse in Afghanistan, and that her actions will not go without scrutiny. When the Guardian met her at the Arg, the heavily guarded palace designed to resemble a castle in the centre of Kabul, Rula Ghani was closely tailed by advisers and careful to state her opinions without ambiguity; she had recently been the subject of fierce criticism after a report published last week quoted her as saying she supported France’s ban on the niqab. After being derided by conservatives, and defended by rights activists, Afghanistan’s first lady claimed she had been “quoted out of context”. “People are saying I am against the chador,” she said, referring to the Islamic headscarf that she wears. “I am not. On the contrary. I am for traditional family values.” Born and raised in a Christian family in Lebanon, Rula met her future husband while studying political science at the American University in Beirut. She had previously studied at Sciences Po in Paris where the 1968 student riots helped ignite her political zest. She married in 1975 and spent the next couple of years in Afghanistan. Times were different then, she recalled, not least for women. The burqa, or chadari, which is now ubiquitous in many rural areas, was not very common, she said.
“It was very little used … only for trips between province and city,” she said, acknowledging that the dress has since become an integral part of Afghan culture. “Chadaris, as far as I’m concerned, I think should be a personal choice of the women and the members of her family. I personally would not wear a chadari.”Before the 1978 civil war, the Ghanis moved to the United States where he pursued a PhD, while she raised the couple’s two children. When Ashraf was appointed finance minister in 2002, they moved back to Afghanistan. In Kabul, Mrs Ghani volunteered for six years at Aschiana, a non-governmental organisation providing services to families of children who work in the streets, a lot of whom were IDPs. Decades of conflict have uprooted many families, and an increasing number are converging on the fringes of cities with few resources and little governmental support. “It’s really a desperate situation. It’s people who are almost deprived of identity,” she said. “They have nowhere to go, and nobody to help them, nobody to protect them.” She recalls a woman in an IDP camp who had been sleeping on the bare dirt with her infant child. One winter night, when rain had muddied the ground, they both froze to death. “I think no human being can accept that,” she said. In February, Afghanistan launched Asia’s first IDP policy. A first step to improving conditions for Afghanistan’s displaced people, she said, is to recognise that their settlements are unlikely to be temporary. “Everybody would love to have [IDPs] go back to the village they came from, or to the province they came from. And in many cases it’s not possible because facts on the ground have changed the situation, and there is nowhere for them to go back to,” she said. “The government needs to have a comprehensive policy, in which IDPs are no longer IDPs, but Afghan citizens who are facing problems of no housing, no job, no education, no water.” However, as she has already found, directing attention towards her policy issue and away from her persona will be a challenge. Religious scholars and political foes are already resorting to direct attacks, calling the mere presence of a Christian, foreign-born first lady in the palace a threat to Islam. “We need a Muslim president and his family needs to be Muslim,” Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, a conservative MP from Herat province, told the Guardian. “If Mr Ghani tries to live with a Christian wife, the nation will know about it, and eventually people will go to the palace and destroy it.” Other opponents, like the rabble-rousing governor Atta Muhammad Noor, have claimed that Rula Ghani and her children are not Afghan. Rula, who holds Afghan, Lebanese and American citizenship, has tried to deflect such criticism. She recently took an Afghan name, Bibi Gul, following her husband’s use during the election campaign of his tribal last name, Ahmadzai, to remind Pashtun voters of his roots. With her public profile, Mrs Ghani is a rarity in Afghan history but not a first. She has inevitably drawn comparisons to Queen Soraya, wife of Amanullah Khan who ruled the country from 1919. Soraya, whose ideas of modernity and women’s role in society both inspired and incensed, is blamed by some for ultimately forcing herself and her husband into exile in 1929. “People who want to criticise can always do it,” Mrs Ghani said with a smile, dismissing the notion that her personal views could cause political trouble for the president. “I don’t think my husband’s work depends on what I say and what I do. My husband stands on his own two feet.” Rula Ghani’s role in the presidential palace mirrors that of American first ladies and others, who often use their place in the limelight to advocate for issues close to their hearts. Michelle Obama fights childhood obesity, and Laura Bush championed Afghan women’s rights, both to worldwide admiration. Mrs Ghani says she is looking to inspire women in Afghanistan, which is still considered to be one of the worst countries in the world for women’s rights. “I want to let them know that they are very courageous women. Often during the war, men are absent. It’s the woman who carries the family,” she said. “The media, especially the international media, have presented an image of Afghan women as weak, as women that are really leading horrible lives. I don’t want to in any way diminish the problems that women are facing,” she said. “But women here in Afghanistan have played a very important role. And maybe it’s time that we should recognise them and celebrate them for that.”
Pakistani activists say that religious extremism and intolerance are no longer isolated phenomena in the Islamic country. The recent blasphemy killing of a Christian couple by an angry mob proves it yet again, they say."The punishment for insulting the Koran or Prophet Muhammad is death. No Muslim can tolerate it," Ahmed Jehanzaib, a shopkeeper in Karachi's Defense area, told DW. Blasphemy has always been a very sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic, where 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslims. But the blasphemy-related killings were not as frequent as they are now. Activists point out that religious intolerance has increased substantially in the South Asian country in the past decade, and is no longer an isolated phenomenon. The brutal murder of Shehzad and Shama – a young Christian couple – is proof, they say.
Collective intolerancePakistan has witnessed an unprecedented surge in Islamic extremism and religious fanaticism in the past decade. Islamist groups, including the Taliban, have repeatedly targeted religious minorities in the country to impose their strict shariah law on people. According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 2013 was one of the worst years for religious minorities in the country: Several people were charged with blasphemy, many places of worship were burnt down and houses were looted all over the country. Asad Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told DW that intolerance was definitely growing in Pakistan, and that many Pakistanis considered blasphemy an "unpardonable crime." But how and when did Pakistanis become so intolerant towards other religions and their followers? "The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hate-mongers and bigots who commit such crimes," Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed told DW. "Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society," he added. Butt blames former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq for this. "There was no such issue prior to the 1980s, but when Haq came into power he Islamized everything and mixed religion and politics," Butt said.
Blasphemy lawsThe murder of the Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan comes at a time when the death sentence of a 49-year-old Christian woman, Asia Bibi, has put the South Asian country's blasphemy laws under increased national and international scrutiny. Bibi has been languishing in prison for more than five years. The mother of five was arrested in June, 2009 after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam's prophet. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under the Islamic Republic's controversial blasphemy laws despite strong opposition from the national and international human rights groups. The slim hope that the Pakistani judiciary might pardon Bibi and eventually release her was dashed last month when the Lahore High Court (LHC) ruled to uphold her 2010 death sentence. Rights activists demand the reforms of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by Zia-ul-Haq in the mid 1980s. Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. But if you ask people on the streets whether they are in favor of the repeal of the controversial blasphemy law, their answer would most definitely be a no. "It is not about amending or repealing the law (blasphemy law), or making new laws; those who insult our religion should not go unpunished," Ali Asghar, a student in Lahore, told DW.
A 'test case for human rights'
Imran Nafees Siddiqui, an Islamabad-based civil society activist, says that the South Asian country's civil society should keep putting pressure on the government and the courts irrespective of the legal outcome of Asis Bibi's case."[The blasphemy law] is a man-made doctrine and not a divine revelation. The rights group should continue to demand Bibi's freedom. The media should also play an active role," Siddiqui told DW. "The public opinion carries a lot of weight and can also influence courts' decisions. We have to create an alternative narrative to defeat the extremist discourse in the country. It is a test case for the rights of minorities in Pakistan," he added. In a DW interview, Dr. Clare Amos, a Program Executive and Coordinator for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches' inter-religious dialogue and cooperation program, says that Bibi's plight should not be ignored, and that Pakistan's blasphemy laws should be amended to make sure that they are not applied in cases of personal disputes. "We would question the very rationale and essence of the blasphemy law in its existing form. We would question how it is worded; we would question whether the death penalty could ever be appropriate; we would state that it is very ambiguous; and we would question the way it is used as a way of solving personal grievances," said Dr. Amos, adding that the Supreme Court judges must throw out Bibi's death sentence. Strong opposition from religious groups But all this condemnation is not sufficient to convince the supporters of the blasphemy law. Fareed Ahmad Pracha, a leader of Pakistan's right-wing political party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, disagrees with the critics of the legislation and says the actual problem is not with the law but with its interpretation. "We just want to say that the law should be enforced properly, there should not be any change made to the blasphemy law. We will not tolerate or accept this. If you make way even for a single change in the law, then there will be a number of changes, whereas there has never been a case where anyone has been punished," he emphasized. There is evidence to support Pracha's claim. Although hundreds have been convicted of blasphemy, nobody in Pakistan has ever been executed for the offense. Most convictions are retracted after the accused makes an appeal. However, angry crowds have killed people accused of desecrating the Koran or Islam. Extremist violence A few months after Bibi's conviction, Salman Taseer, a former governor of the Punjab province, was murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri said he had killed Taseer for speaking out against the blasphemy laws and in support of Bibi. In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's former minister for minority affairs, was assassinated by a religious fanatic for the same reason. Farzana Bari, director of Center for Women's Studies at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University, believes discrimination will persist unless there is radical change. "It is high time that the government reform the blasphemy law," she told DW. "These laws are against the spirit of Islam and are a cause of notoriety for the country."
I don’t know if someone is keeping a record of notices the Punjab Chief Minister has taken of the killings of alleged blasphemers in his province, the number of condemnations Prime Minster office has issued as soon a mob goes on killing and looting spree wherein mostly religious minorities are targeted. Nevertheless the extent of brutality and barbarity with which a young Christian couple in Kasur was first tortured by hundreds of people and then thrown in a kiln wherein they used to work, burned them alive. These poor souls were in conflict with their employer on some payments issue; therefore, it was easy to blame them of blasphemy and kill two birds with one stone. But what’s new in these murders and loads of condemnation notices? Where was Punjab Chief Minster when in the last few years charged mobs attacked Christians and Ahmedis in Godhra, Joseph Colony and Lahore? Where were these centres of power when lawyer Rashid Rehman was killed in cold blood for taking up a case of an alleged blasphemer? What happened to the imam who blamed a mentally deranged teenager of blasphemy, followed by uprooting of Christians from the land they had been living for decades? Has someone questioned how come Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted policeman who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has been delivering religious lectures to fellow inmates and prison officials in the high-security Adiyala jail? It’s been reported that Qadri has been brainwashing fellow convicts to kill imprisoned alleged blasphemers to have a prosperous afterlife. As a nation we are patients of delusions and gripped by fear of insecurity, and think the world is working against Muslims and their faith. Sadly we are not in a position to defend the blasphemy laws in front of an astonished world but we are ready to kill anyone who dares suggest even a minor amendment in the laws imposed by a military dictator. What an unfortunate vicious cycle of hatred Pakistan is going through! There is no light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Pakistan - Alarming statistics: Infant mortality in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at a worrying 70 per 1,000 births
“WE only facilitate their wish. We don’t impose our own will on them.” The bland statement masks a world of obfuscation as a result of which the marginalised of the country receive what, sadly, experience has taught them to expect: to be either directly victimised, or live in circumstances in which they feel victimised.The statement by the spokesperson for the Bharchundi Shareef shrine in Daharki, Sindh, was in reaction to questions raised by the family of Anjali Kumari Meghwar about the attached seminary’s possible involvement in the girl’s abduction, forced conversion to Islam from Hinduism, and subsequent forced marriage. After nine days of making a fruitless attempt to convince their area’s local authorities to focus on their plight, Anjali’s family came to Karachi and met the city police chief on Wednesday. Her father insists that she was kidnapped from her home in broad daylight, and that hers was not a conversion by choice. He has with him Nadra and school documents that put her age at 12. In the context of Anjali’s family, and many others like them, it is true that free choice stands compromised. It can only be conjectured how much pressure is felt by members of minority religions in a society where issues of faith are increasingly becoming the focus of violence. Caste too can effectively become a stigma that holds entire communities in oppression. And, while it is as yet too early to pronounce upon Anjali’s case, it is a matter of record that the same complaint of forced conversion has been voiced before, that the caretakers of this particular shrine have also faced this accusation previously, and that an immediate and thorough investigation is needed. That said, the case of 12-year-old Anjali should be very simple to resolve: forcing underage marriage has been criminalised in Sindh since last year, and the family have named the man to whom they claim the girl was married. For any government even halfway committed to the cause of the marginalised, the equation should not prove too difficult.
They mold the earth and make the bricks that build the nation. Before they can write or read or dream the people of the brick kilns know how to take the loose grains of that shift beneath their feet and give them form.The earth is all that exists for them, it sits in every fold of the cloth that covers them, it seeps into the cracks in the naked soles of their feet, their eyes and their hair. In a Pakistan grown fat with mighty mansions; theirs is the most earthly existence, attached to the land whose love is professed by all. But the earth does not belong to them, theirs is an enslavement created by the land and the men who own it and who own them. More than a million labour every day, child and sister and man and woman, shaping the bricks that build the nation. It is a nation that doesn’t care and on Tuesday last it provided another testament to its uncaring, its indifference to those whose labour and losses are etched in the walls that shelter them. In Kot Radha Kishan, 60 miles from the lights and leisures of Lahore, a brick kiln owner was angry. He was owed rupees 100,000, a sum larger than the lives of the men and women that toiled daily in his kiln. The targets of his ire were Shama and Shahzad, a young Christian couple.
Two edged sword-The "Blasphemy Law" in Pakistan. A young Christian couple burnt alive in brick kiln.
Dunya News - Christians in Faisalabad protest... by dunyanews
Christian community in Faisalabad staged a protest against burning of Christian couple to death in Kot Radha Kishan. The protesters, carrying placards, assembled in District Council Chowk today (Thursday) and started the protest, Dunya News reported. Protesters blocked the road and raised slogans against burning the couple alive. Protesters demanded from the government to ensure security of the minorities and to make an example of those responsible for this tragedy so that no such incident is repeated.
By FR ALEXANDER LUCIE-SMITHPeople who read this newspaper will have heard about the latest bout of anti-Christian violence in Pakistan. This time a Christian couple, Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, were beaten to death and burned by an enraged Muslim mob, allegedly because of a desecration of the Quran. This comes on top of the case of Asia Bibi, condemned to death for supposed blasphemy, and who has appealed to Pope Francis. The case of Asia Bibi has featured in this newspaper for some time. As I say, if you read the Catholic Herald, these stories will be sadly familiar to you. But if you read other papers, these stories will perhaps not register so much, though in fairness the story of Asia Bibi has made the Telegraph and the Guardian. What is so awful about the stories is that Christians are not only in danger in Pakistan from Muslim mobs, they are also in danger from their own government, which seems keen to enforce blasphemy laws that are intrinsically unjust. In other words, Christians run the risk of being murdered by their fellow citizens, just for being Christian, and being judicially murdered by the State for the same reason. From which one can only conclude that the words ‘state’, ‘law’ and ‘citizen’ can not be applied to Pakistan as they can be applied to other countries. It is not a state, it is a criminal conspiracy; it has no laws, only tyrannical and irrational decrees; and its citizens are not citizens but either the perpetrators or victims of arbitrary and bloody murder. Pakistan needs to be shamed by the international community. If the ‘international community’ does nothing, this is a sign that that phrase too is an empty fiction. Britain needs to cut off all aid to Pakistan, and to withdraw its High Commissioner. Can you imagine if the boot was on the other foot? If a Christian mob murdered a Muslim couple in, let us say, Bradford for allegedly desecrating a Bible? Or if a British court sentenced a Muslim woman to death for supposedly speaking ill of the Blessed Trinity? Would not the United Kingdom be condemned by all? But, strange to relate, there are no Christian mobs in this country (thanks be to God) and there are no laws analogous to the Pakistani blasphemy laws. Any Christian mob would face the power of the police, and our death penalty is a thing of the past. And that is how it should be. The same rules should apply in Pakistan, and I am willing to bet most Pakistanis would like that too. When I was a youth, the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square was the focus of constant round the clock protest. Would that the Pakistani High Commission were now the same. Pakistan’s government is a disgrace. Enough is enough.