Friday, November 7, 2014

Michael Jackson - Bad

Michael Jackson - Beat It

Music Video - Ummet Ozcan - SuperWave

Video - Dangerous Divisions: 25 yrs after fall of Berlin Wall, East-West unity fragile as ever

Video Report - Jihadis Use Cruise Ships to Join Fight in Syria

Bahrainis hold new protest against Al Khalifa rule

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.

‘ISIS Sees Turkey as Its Ally': Former Islamic State Member Reveals Turkish Army Cooperation

By Barney Guiton
A former member of ISIS has revealed the extent to which the cooperation of the Turkish military and border forces allows the terrorist group, who now control large parts of Iraq and Syria, to travel through Turkish territory to reinforce fighters battling Kurdish forces.
A reluctant former communications technician working for Islamic State, going by the pseudonym ‘Sherko Omer’, who managed to escape the group, told Newsweek that he travelled in a convoy of trucks as part of an ISIS unit from their stronghold in Raqqa, across Turkish border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February, in order to bypass their defences.
“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” said Omer of crossing the border into Turkey, “and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it was impossible to travel through Syria as YPG controlled most parts of the Kurdish region.”
Until last month, NATO member Turkey had blocked Kurdish fighters from crossing the border into Syria to aid their Syrian counterparts in defending the border town of Kobane. Speaking to Newsweek, Kurds in Kobane said that people attempting to carry supplies across the border were often shot at.
National Army of Syrian Kurdistan (YPG) spokesman Polat Can went even further, saying that Turkish forces were actively aiding ISIS. “There is more than enough evidence with us now proving that the Turkish army gives ISIS terrorists weapons, ammunitions and allows them to cross the Turkish official border crossings in order for ISIS terrorists to initiate inhumane attacks against the Kurdish people in Rojava [north-eastern Syria].”
Omer explained that during his time with ISIS, Turkey had been seen as an ally against the Kurds. “ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were the common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey. Also, ISIS had to be a Turkish ally because only through Turkey they were able to deploy ISIS fighters to northern parts of the Kurdish cities and towns in Syria.”
“ISIS and Turkey cooperate together on the ground on the basis that they have a common enemy to destroy, the Kurds,” he added.
While Newsweek was not able to independently verify Omer’s testimony, anecdotal evidence of Turkish forces turning a blind eye to ISIS activity has been mounting over the past month.
Omer, the son of a successful businessman in Iraqi Kurdistan, initially went to Syria to join the Free Syrian Army’s fight against Bashar al-Assad, but found himself sucked in to ISIS, unable to leave. He was given a job a communication technician, and worked at the ISIS communications bureau in Raqqa.
“I have connected ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” said Omer.
“I rarely heard them speak in Arabic, and that was only when they talked to their own recruiters, otherwise, they mostly spoke in Turkish because the people they talked to were Turkish officials of some sorts because ISIS guys used to be very serious when they talked to them.”
Omer was then transferred to a battalion travelling to fight Kurdish forces in Serekaniya, north-eastern Syria, and describes travelling through Turkey in a convoy of trucks, staying at safehouses along the way, before crossing back into Syria at the Ceylanpinar border crossing.
Before crossing the border back into Syria, he says: “My ISIS commander reassured us once again that it was all going to be all right because cooperation had been made with the Turks. He frequently talked on the radio in Turkish.”
“While we tried to cross the Ceylanpinar border post, the Turkish soldiers' watchtower light spotted us. The commander quickly told us to stay calm, stay in position and not to look at the light. He talked on the radio in Turkish again and we stayed in our positions. Watchtower light then moved about 10 minutes later and the commander ordered us to move because the watchtower light moving away from us was the signal that we could safely cross the border into Serekaniye."
Once in Serekaniye, Omer says he surrendered to Kurdish forces when they attacked his camp. He was held for several months before his captors were convinced that he had not been a fighter in ISIS and had not taken part in violence.

China may see hard-line US post-midterm

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.

No Evidence of Russia’s Alleged Incursion Into Ukraine: Pentagon

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.

Obama, Republicans Seek Common Ground

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 Obama authorizes 1,500 more troops for Iraq

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.

U.S: - The President's Pen Pal in Tehran

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."

President Obama expected to nominate Loretta Lynch as attorney general

By Evan Perez
Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, is expected to be President Barack Obama's pick for attorney general, U.S. officials briefed on the matter said.
An announcement is expected in the coming days, though the timing is complicated by the president's plans to travel to Asia this weekend.
Lynch is a popular prosecutor who is in her second stint as U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, appointed by President Obama in 2010 and also serving in the same post from 1999 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton.
Current Attorney General Eric Holder announced his plans in September to step down.
U.S. officials say the President's decision is not official until there is a formal announcement from the White House.
Lynch would be the second woman to serve as attorney general and the second African-American to hold the post. Lynch served on the trial team that prosecuted and won convictions in 1999 against New York City police officers for violating the civil rights of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant whom police officers beat and sodomized while he was in their custody.
That experience could help at the helm at the Justice Department, which is overseeing high-profile civil rights investigations, including one into the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting of Michael Brown.
Lynch has quietly built a solid reputation in New York, where Preet Bharara, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, garners magazine covers and regular media attention for Wall Street prosecutions.
Her 2010 nomination won Senate approval on a voice vote, meaning Republicans didn't view her as controversial. In recent months, however, she has led the prosecution of Rep. Michael Grimm, R-New York, for alleged tax fraud. Grimm won reelection this week despite being under indictment, and has called the case against him politically motivated.
Lynch was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate to be a U.S. attorney in 2010, but GOP aides said initially Friday they don't know that much about her. Regardless, the scrutiny she will receive to become the nation's top law enforcement official will be much greater than when she was picked to be one of 93 U.S. Attorneys.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is poised to chair the Judiciary Committee in the new GOP-controlled Senate, and other top Senate GOP leaders never got word about the expected nomination from the White House, according to aides.
"It'd be nice if the White House called to let us know," one aide grumbled to CNN.
While the administration is not required to inform Congress in advance about Cabinet picks, it is often done to give key lawmakers -- like Grassley and members of leadership -- a courtesy heads-up, or to consult with them and determine whether there would be major opposition. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a member of the Judiciary Committee, immediately said on Twitter that a vote on Lynch shouldn't take place during the lame-duck session and should be put off until the new Congress convenes in January.
"Democratic senators who just lost their seats shouldn't confirm new Attorney General. Should be vetted by new Congress," he wrote.
But another committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told CNN's Dana Bash that Lynch "seems to be a solid choice" and is qualified. Graham said he doesn't have any problems with her being confirmed in the lame-duck session, noting that other Cabinet picks have been approved during such periods.
White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told CNN in a statement: "We don't have any personnel updates for you, and I'm certainly not going to speculate on any decisions before the President announces them."

Video Report - Obama Touts New Job Numbers at Cabinet Meeting

Mr. Obama’s Moment on Immigration

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.

Pashto Music Video - Hadaytullah - Adam Khan Durkhanai

U.S. Soldier Who Killed Osama Bin Laden Reveals His Identity

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 Chief Says Afghan Security Deaths Up As They Lead Fight

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.

Pakistan-Afghanistan relations in the post-2014 era

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.

Afghanistan: Rula Ghani, the woman making waves as Afghanistan’s new first lady

The wife of president Ashraf Ghani has surprised many Afghans by speaking out on women and internally displaced people
When 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.”

Blasphemy violence: Blurring line between Islamists and common Pakistanis

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.
On Tuesday, November 5, the couple was beaten to death by a mob in a small town of Kot Radha Kishan in the eastern Punjab province, a political stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The angry crowd, which alleged that the Christian couple desecrated a copy of their holy book, the Koran, subsequently burned their bodies in a brick kiln where the couple worked.
Their murder has outraged Pakistani activists and the liberal section.
"The investigations will likely prove that the blasphemy allegations against the couple were fake. According to unconfirmed reports, they had a dispute over wages with their Muslim boss at the brick kiln factory. Everything else followed after that," Farooq Sulehria, a London-based Pakistani researcher and activist, told DW.
Collective intolerance
Pakistan 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 laws
The 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."

Pakistan - CM PUNJAB - No light at the end of the tunnel

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

The infant mortality rate in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has reached an alarming 70 out of 1,000 newborns but provincial health authorities are still far from being able to deal with complications faced by mothers and their babies.
Keeping the increasing mortality rate of mothers and newborns in mind, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has stepped up to help overcome the deficiencies in health centres across the province.
Maternal Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) Provincial Manager Dr Sahib Gul told The Express Tribune that SAARC offered Rs40.2 million to arm the centres with the necessary equipment and expertise to reduce the deaths of infants and mothers.
Gul said SAARC wanted to upgrade MNCH centres across the country, but lack of interest from other provinces prompted the organisation to focus its attention on facilitating the institutes of Manki Sharif in Nowshera, Yar Hussain in Swabi and Lakki Marwat after the K-P government followed their idea.
He said SAARC was willing to upgrade machinery and renovate or construct buildings, apart from training staffers, to bring them at par with international standards. Gul said the last meeting for this purpose was held on October 8 and it was decided to upgrade the three centres to cater to the needs of the areas’ inhabitants.
Experts said that neonatal mortality rate (number of infants dying before reaching 28 days of age) had reached 54 per 1,000 births, while infant mortality rate (babies dying before the age of 12 months) was 70 out of 1,000.
Health and nutrition expert Dr Jamil said maternal mortality rate across the country stood at 275 out of 100,000. He blamed lack of expertise among neonatologists and the shortage of skilled birth attendants as the reasons behind the high mortality rates.
Jamil added that in most cases, untrained nurses fail to clean newborns properly and the infants die of asphyxia when fluids clog their respiratory system. He said the second highest cause of death of infants was hypothermia as the newborns need to be covered and kept warm.

Pakistan: Lawmaker claims KP ministers, MPAs paying protection money to militants

An opposition lawmaker Tuesday claimed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly that some provincial ministers and several MPAs were giving millions of rupees as protection money to militants, a charge the government neither denied nor confirmed.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl’s Mufti Said Janan said the protection money or ‘bhatta’ amounting to Rs20 million was transferred to the militants from another unidentified country through the unofficial hundi channels. He did not identify any minister or member of the provincial assembly who was allegedly paying the protection money.
“If ministers and lawmakers are paying protection money, how it is possible for the government to provide security to the common people,” he argued while presenting an adjournment motion that sought detailed discussion on the law and order situation in the province. The motion was admitted.
Extortion from traders, doctors and other well-heeled personalities in the province has been rampant but this was the first time that a lawmaker on the floor of the assembly claimed that unidentified provincial ministers and lawmakers were paying extortion money to the militants. A number of people who refused to pay extortion money were killed or attacked in Peshawar city, but police have apparently failed to control the situation.
Two important ministers, the senior minister and law minister, replied to Mufti Said Janan’s criticism on the law and order but none denied his claim that ministers and lawmakers were paying protection money. The coalition government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan (AJIP) is seen soft on Taliban.
“I see the writ of the [provincial] government limiting to the Governor’s House, Chief Minister’s House and areas up to Gora Qabristan [that include Civil Secretariat, Police Lines and military installations],” Mufti Janan said to suggest that the government’s writ was fast eroding. “We taunted Afghanistan that its government was limited to Kabul, but now it’s happening to us in this province,” he noted with concern.
Some figures the lawmaker presented revealed that the number of government employees killed during the PTI rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had shot up. The figures suggested that around 44 officials were killed in 2013 but the number went up precipitously to 138 in 2014. The MPA, who hails from Hangu district where the militants often undertake attacks, deplored that a foreign intelligence agency had included Peshawar in the top 10 most dangerous cities of the world. He reminded the House that flights could not take off or land at the Peshawar airport due to attacks on the planes, making it the third time to close the airport for night operations.
“This has deprived scores of families of means of livelihood and I wonder what financial loss it would have caused to the country,” he said.Interestingly, Law Minister Imtiaz Shahid while replying to Mufti Janan’s assertions termed the law and order situation ‘extremely satisfactory in our province.’ In his opinion, the whole country and not only KP was reeling under terrorism. “In KP, acts of terrorism have declined and today we have an extremely satisfactory situation in our province,” said Imtiaz Shahid, the former deputy speaker from Kohat who was recently made law minister.
Senior Minister Inayatullah Khan, who belongs to the JI, supported his colleague. “There was a period when we were wishing there would be a day without a bomb blast. Today we hardly hear of a blast once a month,” he said. “The government considered maintaining the law and order as its primary responsibility and it has been constantly working to improve it,” he added.

Pakistan: Three more PTI MNAs refuse to quit NA

Three more Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNAs have refused to quit the National Assembly, as PTI Chairman Imran Khan faces a rebellion-like situation within his own party.
Qaisar Jamal, Siraj Muhammad Khan and Saleemur Rehman are the three PTI MNAs who did not appear before the Speaker National Assembly, Ayaz Sadiq, to confirm their resignations which were submitted en masse with other PTI MNAs on the direction of the PTI chairman on August 22.
Siraj Muhammad Khan has now informed the NA Speaker in writing not to accept his resignation. Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has accepted his written application.In his application, Siraj said that pressure was mounted on him during the en masse resignations and he did not submit his resignation voluntarily. Therefore, his resignation should not be accepted.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi claimed that Qaisar Jamal, Siraj Muhammad Khan and Saleemur Rehman had submitted their resignations and they were bound by the discipline of the PTI. However, all three members did not appear before the NA Speaker for verification — a big blow to the PTI parliamentary party.
Siraj Muhammad Khan, Gulzar Khan and Asad Umar are the chairmen of the standing committees for trade, food and agriculture, and industry and production in the National Assembly and enjoy all the perks, including the use of official vehicles as chairmen of standing committees, says the National Assembly Secretariat.
Siraj Muhammad Khan is the fourth PTI lawmaker who has defied the party’s decision to resign.Three MNAs, including Gulzar Khan from Peshawar, Mussarat Ahmadzeb from Swat and Nasir Khan Khattak from Karak, disobeyed the PTI over resignations at the time when the party decided to tender resignations en masse.
Their refusal to resign had dealt a serious blow to the PTIwhen it was trying to mount pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down.Cracks started to appear in PTI when Imran Khan staged a sit-in against the PML-N government and decided to resign from the National Assembly, Punjab Assembly and Sindh Assembly.
The three MNAs had protested against what they called the party’s unprincipled decision to ask its lawmakers in the National Assembly to resign and allow Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to function, both elected in the 2013 general elections that Imran Khan claimed were massively rigged.
As if it was not enough, a member of the provincial assembly, Javed Naseem, also revolted against the party over alleged corruption of PTI government and discriminatory treatment of the KP provincial government towards party lawmakers. All the three MNAs and the MPA have been expelled from the party.
But the punitive action could not stop MNA Siraj Muhammad Khan from requesting the Speaker NA not to accept his resignation.Importantly, he comes from Nowshera, the native district of KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and was elected from NA-6.
Siraj Muhammad did not receive calls to confirm or deny his formal request to the NA Speaker and to explain what led him to decide not to resign.He was said to be one of those MNAs who did not intend to resign and was expected not to confirm his resignation before the NA Speaker. However, he had then refused to discuss the issue of his resignation.
The PTI knew that several MNAs intended not to confirm their resignations, taken from them against their will, and thus insisted on appearing before the Speaker collectively.A source, who claimed to have knowledge of other MNAs who would not confirm resignations, said several others would soon surprise the PTI. He said Salimur Rahman from Swat, Hamidul Haq from Peshawar, Mujahid Ali from Mardan and Qaiser Jamal Afridi from Fata would not confirm their resignations.
He claimed that the PTI had promised Senate ticket to Aqibullah, brother of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Imran Khattak, the son-in-law of Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and Murad Saeed from Swat.
PTI Khyber Pakhtunkhwa General Secretary Khalid Masood said it was still not clear whether Siraj Muhammad Khan had asked the NA Speaker for not accepting his resignation. “But if he has, the policy is clear that he will no more be in PTI. All those who go against the party decision to resign will be expelled from PTI,” he said in unambiguous words.
Asked whether the party had knowledge that other MNAs mentioned above would not confirm their resignations, he said he did not know about lawmakers who intended so.On the alleged promise of Senate ticket to certain MNAs, he said PTI did not make such deals. “I sit in party meetings and am member of the CEC but no such promise has been made in my presence to anyone,” he explained.

Pakistan: Zardari condemns Kasur incident as ‘sheer barbarism’
PPP Co-Chairman former president Asif Ali Zardari has expressed profound grief and shock and condemned as ‘sheer barbarism’ the incident in Kot Radha Kishan in Kasur district of Punjab in which a mob beat up a Christian couple at the brick kiln where they worked and then threw the barely alive victims into the kiln to be burnt alive along with their yet-to-be-born child allegedly for desecrating the holy Quran.
“The sheer barbarity of burning to death of a young couple along with their yet to be born child will continue to haunt thoughtful people even in a distant age and clime,” the former president said in a statement on Thursday. Zardari said that mere condemnation and expression of grief and sorrow over the incident was not enough. “We must move on and take practical measures to ensure that religion is not employed to shrink the space for citizens, particularly the minorities,” he said.
He further stated that a fundamental challenge to the human rights of citizens of present time was the worrying increase in religion and ideology based violence increasing the sense of insecurity. “The application of religion based laws to settle personal scores has done disservice to religion itself that must be stopped,” the former president said. He said that these challenges needed to be addressed dispassionately, urgently and boldly by the political parties, the human rights committees of parliament, the civil society and the progressive elements.
Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said that former president, while strongly denouncing the incident, also called for an impartial probe into the incident and exemplary punishment to the perpetrators of the crime under the law.
“Justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done,” he said, adding that “a people may survive without professing faith but are unlikely to survive without ensuring justice to the oppressed and marginalised”.
Senator Babar said that if media reports based on some initial fact-finding missions by private bodies were true it calls for urgent, transparent and credible inquiry into the incident.
According to the report of one such fact-finding mission, the murdered man had a dispute over the recovery of the advance money that the kiln owner had extended to two members of two Muslim families who had escaped. “The kiln owners had asked the murdered man to repay the advance paid to the escaped families because he had introduced them to the kiln owners,” the report said.
Zardari said that it should also be investigated as to whether and why the police failed to rescue the couple despite reaching the site and whether the police was prevented from performing its duty of taking the couple into custody for investigation of the allegation against them. The former president also asked the party leadership to visit the bereaved family to express sympathy and offer condolences.

Pakistan: Forced conversions

“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.

Pakistan's Christians - 'People of the brick kilns' - The bloodstained bricks that build the nation

Rafia Zakaria
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.
In the picture of them, now reproduced in newspapers around the world, they stare wide-eyed and stunned at the camera. They are dressed up in their cleanest clothes and their nicest things; the only things untouched by the ochre earth that defines their dawn and dusk. Behind them, the photographer has imposed a picture of a tranquil lake and many gracefully swimming swans.
Perhaps, the couple themselves chose this fake landless backdrop, one with no earth in it, a small rebellion against the boundaries of their lives. In the picture, there is no clue of their coming condemnation, the horror of their last moments.
According to reports, pouring in as the nation heaps its after-the-fact indignation on another act of tragedy; one powerful man spoke to another powerful man. The powerful in Pakistan being experts at goading the poor, and the poor adept at carrying out the curses of powerful men on those most like them selves.
Shama and Shahzad were accused of desecrating the Holy Quran, and a mob of a thousand men, angry and unstoppable descended upon them. A terrified Shama and Shahzad tried to escape, shut themselves in a frail room, whose thin door soon fell to the rage of the mob. It was broken down and the couple was dragged outside.
Then, the public torture of the delicate Shama and her husband began, there were blows and beating and kicking and striking. Anyone who tried to stop it became subject to it. It is said that the policemen called to the scene tried to help Shama and Shehzad, it is said they were outnumbered.
It is known that they could not or did not save them.
The mob, a crazed and angry animal, hungry for blood and death pulsed through the village. The maimed bodies of Shama and Shahzad Masih were carried to the kiln where they laboured.
There, they were thrust into the kiln that bakes the bricks and makes out of the earth of this promised Pakistan, the bricks of its buildings.
Beaten and bruised and probably still breathing, they were thrown into the brick oven, their bodies passing from the fire of condemnation into the fire of death.
The killing of Shama and Shahzad was not a silent crime or an unseen one; it did not take place in the dead of night or the depths of darkness. The assailants did not hide evidence of their criminal act and they did not worry about being caught.
There were so many of them. Perhaps, like wolves after a kill, they lingered around the scene of their triumph; a murderous mob they say, provides the satisfaction of annihilation without the guilt of conscience.
Shama and Shahzad are not dead, for they made the bricks that build the nation. There are millions of them, these unseen brick makers, whose misery is etched in the surface of every habitation, the core of every dwelling in a country that does not care.
The bricks they built could not shelter them from the blows of their assailants, could not be a barrier against the wrath of a Pakistan in love with death and denial.
The bricks they made live in houses and homes, silent witnesses to moments of careless mirth and untouched joy, all of it encircled and complicit in their condemnation.

Two edged sword-The "Blasphemy Law" in Pakistan. A young Christian couple burnt alive in brick kiln.

In Pakistan the notorious "Blasphemy Law" is a two edged sword hanging continuously hanging over the heads of Christians living in Pakistan.
In yet another sad and brutal incident taking place on Tuesday, a young Christian couple father of three and expecting another were burnt alive in the south of Lahore near the famous Christian village of Clarkabad. Shama the wife of Shahzad was allegedly accused of burning the pages of Quran by a vender. It soon involved Mosques of three surrounding villages, where announcements were made of the said incident and hundreds of Muslims gathered to protect the "Honor of Quran" through "Mob Justice" - dragging the couple out of a room where they were held hostage and throwing them into the furnace of the brick kiln.
Though the Prime Minister of Pakistan has ordered strict action against the accused, it is unlikely that any one of those responsible for their killing will ever be brought to justice.
There have been numerous cases of mob justice in the past, mostly in Punjab, where people have burnt people alive or killed them on the spot because of accusations of blasphemy against them. The Judges of the relative courts are too scared after the killing of a High Court Judge, outside the Lahore High Court around 1996/97 and shifting abroad of a Judge who quitted "Rimsha Masih" of blasphemy charges in Islamabad, that they dare not look into the allegation at the level of trial court and simply sentence the victims to death penalty like "Asia Bibi" who is languishing in jail for none of her mistakes.
The Law acts like a two edged sword, either get killed by the mob, there and then or remain in prison until death. Many have been killed inside the prison so far.
Many demonstrations are being held all over Pakistan and the world, but there seems to be no end to the "Black Law" because such an act is considered as a service of Islam. The lethargic attitude of the Government plays a pivotal role in keeping the law to be abused.

Pakistan: Christians in Faisalabad protest against burning couple to death

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.

New details emerge in killing of Pakistani Christian couple

New details have emerged about the killing of a Pakistani Christian bonded laborer and his wife, who were killed after being accused by local Muslims of blasphemy.
Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi, who was four months pregnant at the time of the killing, were locked inside a brick-making factory before their murder to prevent them from fleeing their debts, relatives said Wednesday.
The couple were later beaten, surrounded by a crowd of up to 1,500 villagers and then thrown on top of a lit furnace, multiple witnesses said. By the time the Muslim mob was done, only charred bones and their discarded shoes remained.
The gruesome incident took place Tuesday in the tiny hamlet of Chak 59 (village 59) near Kot Radha Kishan town, some 60 kilometers southwest of Lahore.
It has sparked protests by Christians and outrage among rights activists, with police arresting 44 suspects as of Wednesday.
Jawad Qamar, a local police official, said according to initial reports events began to unfold more than a week earlier with the death of Shehzad's father, a local religious healer.
"When he died, Shehzad's wife went to his room and cleaned up the mess. There was a trunk in his room, Shehzad's wife took the things that could be useful and threw the trash in front of her house," said Qamar.
"The garbage collector collected the trash the next day and told a local cleric that he had collected pages of the Koran thrown in front of Shehzad's house from the trash."
Iqbal Masih, Shehzad's older bother, said that he and his whole family were bonded workers paying off their debts to the brick kiln owner, a man named Mohammed Yousuf — an illegal practice branded by rights groups as akin to modern-day slavery.
"We take advance money from the owner and work for him, it has been going on for years. On November 3, the owner had called Shehzad and detained him sensing that he might run away to save his life," he said tearfully.
The allegation against the factory owner was repeated by two other witnesses interviewed by AFP, but denied by his son Khawar Yousuf.
"We don't know what has happened, the family has been working for us for 20 years and we have never noticed anything bad."
"It's wrong to say that my father locked them up," he added.
'Begging for mercy'
Malik Abdul Aziz, a cameraman who witnessed the event, said around 1,500 people gathered from nearby villages after being stoked up by local clerics who announced the couple had committed blasphemy over the loudspeakers of their mosques.
"They started beating the couple with sticks and bricks chanting slogans of 'We will lay down our lives for the honor of the prophet' and then tore off their clothes", said Aziz."The couple were screaming, begging for mercy and saying they have not committed any sin.”
"The mob dragged them for around 20 yards and laid them on top of the brick kiln oven and kept them there till they were burnt," he added.
It was not clear whether they were already dead or burnt alive.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the majority Muslim country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence.
Those who take part in the violence are rarely if ever prosecuted — a fact not lost upon the relatives of the deceased.
"I need justice but I am sure I won't be able to get it, the clerics are too powerful," Shehzad's brother Iqbal said.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace, the human rights arm of of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, “strongly condemned” the killing of Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi.
In a joint statement released Wednesday, National Director Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani and Executive Director Cecil Shane Chaudhry said the Pakistan government “has absolutely failed to protect its citizen’s right to life” and that its “lack of political will” leaves minorities vulnerable as “soft target[s]”.
They also demanded “serious and effective measures to check the violence in the name of religion” and called on the federal and provincial governments to “review their stand on the blasphemy law”.
Tahir Ashrafi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan's top religious body, held police responsible for failing to act to protect the couple before the mob violence occurred.
"This case must go to an anti-terrorism court and the culprits must be arrested and punished, including the mullah (who made the blasphemy accusation in mosque) if he's involved," he said.

Pakistan must be shamed by the international community for sanctioning murder of Christians

People 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.

What should Pakistan’s Christians do?

Ayaz Amir
Once upon a time under-class Mohajirs in Karachi, residents not of Clifton and Defence but depressed localities, used to be an object of scorn for other communities, regularly picked upon by the mostly Punjabi police and treated roughly in public transport, mostly owned by Pakhtuns. Not considered of much account, they were called ‘tilyars’…a word of sarcasm and scorn.
Then on the scene arrived the MQM which went about organising the ‘tilyar’ community. The Mohajir under-class was known previously for its docility. Under the banner of the MQM it acquired confidence, muscle and a sense of purpose. In a famous speech MQM leader Altaf Hussain exhorted his community to sell their TV sets and acquire weapons.
Soon the Mohajir under-class was standing up to other communities, starting its own credo of violence and terror in the process. Karachi which had known nothing of the sort became imbued with a culture of militancy. Today the MQM dominates the socio-political skyline of Pakistan’s largest city, its centre of commerce and industry.
There had always been in Pakistan the Deobandi school of thought, co-existing easily and without conflict with other denominations and sects of Islam. The occasional sectarian clash did occur but it was rare. However, under the impact of the Afghan ‘jihad’, in which Deobandi religious parties stood in the forefront, sectarianism and bigotry acquired harder edges in Pakistani society.
The Americans had no idea what dragon’s teeth they were scattering. Every form of extremism we see sprouting in the world of Islam today has its origins, direct or inspirational, in the first Afghan ‘jihad’…the parent or the founding father of all that has come afterwards.
Pakistan, to wild American applause, did more than its share to stir that witches’ brew. Hence it was only natural that it should also carry most of the consequences. The Pakistan of today is not the Pakistan of Jinnah. The very notion is laughable. It is the child of the Afghan ‘jihad’. Our strategic geniuses went about creating that thing of fantasy called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. All they succeeded in doing was putting Afghanistan’s imprint on Pakistan. History provides few examples of such a complete reverse conquest.
It was from their involvement in the same enterprise that some of our religious elements acquired their ‘takfiri’ mindset, declaring who was of the right path and who stood outside the pale of Islam…and therefore liable to be put to the sword. From this mindset arose the attacks on the Shia community. A country where for the most part sectarian harmony had prevailed was now torn by sectarian violence.
Not the Shiite community as a whole but elements in it responded to this situation by taking the path of militancy themselves. Thus it was that in Pakistan was first born Sunni militant Islam and then Shia militant Islam. It will be recalled that at the time of the sit-ins in Islamabad the interior minister, finding little else to say, came up with the warning that amongst the agitators were trained elements of a religious outfit. Right or wrong, he was referring to activists of the Shiite Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen.
At the time of the Hazara killings in Quetta in 2012, there were protest sit-ins in various cities. In Lahore at a sit-in in front of the Governor’s House, two young men approached me – both educated abroad, both holding good jobs. Faces taut and a fierce light in their eyes, they asked me whether it would not be better for them to give up everything and take up arms in defence of their community. When the state abdicates its responsibility of protecting its citizens this is what happens.
Barelvis have always identified themselves with a softer version of Islam, more into such activities as visiting shrines and distributing and receiving ‘niaz’ – food blessed by prayer. But as a response to the times in which they find themselves, they too are updating their approach and methods.
During the recent sit-ins the followers of Dr Tahirul Qadri and adherents of the Sunni Ittehad Council led by Sahibzada Hamid Raza (both of them of the Barelvi denomination), along with their auxiliaries of the Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen, not only stood up to the vaunted and somewhat feared Punjab Police but more than once put its geared-up formations to ignominious flight. Imran Khan, not easily drawn to excessive sentiment, has repeatedly praised the courage of these activists during the harsh police crackdown on the evening of August 31.
This is a lengthy preamble, leading to one question: what should the Christians of Pakistan do? Now that the Pakistani state has given ample and repeated proof of its inability to protect them, what should their response be? Should they as good Christians continue to turn the other cheek, as they have done since the country’s birth, or should they too await the arrival of a Christian Altaf Hussain to teach them the virtues not of passive but active resistance?
The blasphemy law and its increasing misuse at the hands of some of the most illiterate dregs of society is no longer a question of the sanctity of religion or the honour of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). More than anything else it is a reflection of the growing weakness of the Pakistani state and its inability to fulfil its primary responsibility of protecting the life, honour and property of its citizens.
The burning to death of a Christian couple in Kasur is not so much an attack on the Christian community as an assault on what remains of the fair name of Pakistan. That rampaging mob which set upon the poor and hapless couple – the woman pregnant and a mother of three – and the maulvis of that particular village and two adjacent villages who used their mosque loudspeakers to fan the winds of hatred, did what they did because there was no one to stop them. They had little fear of the consequences. Who is to blame them? The Punjab chief minister has come up with nothing more terrifying than another inquiry.
If this had been an isolated incident there could have been words of extenuation. But the Kasur outrage is part of what is now a general pattern – violent mobs setting fire to Christian houses in Gojra, a violent mob setting Joseph Colony in Lahore on fire, an Aasia Bibi persecuted in Sheikhupura on charges of blasphemy, a Rimsha Masih a target of hate in the outskirts of Islamabad, blasphemy accused assaulted in jail, a Mumtaz Qadri emptying a Kalashnikov magazine into the body of the Governor (Salmaan Taseer) he is supposed to protect and the ruling party of which the governor is a member not finding the suitable words or gestures to honour his memory or condemn the cowardly assault on him.
There’s more to this: lawyers and sundry sections of society hailing the killer as a ghazi of the faith, showering him with rose petals during a court appearance, and a former chief justice of the Lahore High Court feeling not the slightest qualm in hastening to act as his defence lawyer.
Come to think of it, there is a logical roundness to our attitude. What if our standing in the world is not too high? We can at least deal with our minorities. This is on a par with the psychology of wife-beating. The world may be too rough for us to handle but how dare the wretch at home not know her proper place? - See more at: