Friday, November 14, 2014

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Sisi will further limit civil liberties in Egypt
Samira Shackle
When three Al-Jazeera English journalists were jailed in Egypt, it made international headlines. Australian journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were convicted in June of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood and of spreading false news that portrayed Egypt as being in a state of civil war.
The evidence against them included footage of a horse trotting, a documentary on Somalia, and a music video by the singer Gotye. Despite the flimsy trial, Greste and Fahmy received seven-year jail terms, while Mohamed was jailed for 10 years. International criticism and backdoor pressure from foreign governments was not enough to persuade President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi to intervene and free the journalists.
On Wednesday November 13, Al-Sisi issued a decree allowing the deportation of foreigners accused of crimes on Egyptian soil. It states that at the request of government prosecutors, and with the approval of cabinet, the president "may agree to deliver the defendants and transfer the sentenced to their own countries, either for their trial or the execution of their sentence".
The announcement has fuelled hope that this could mean that Greste – an Australian citizen – could be released. The president had previously said that he did not have the legal jurisdiction to intervene in Greste's case before the legal proceedings were finished – a process that could take months because of retrials and appeals. This decree removes that delay. It is unclear whether the decree would apply to Fahmy, who is a dual citizen of Egypt and Canada. It would not apply to Mohamed, who is Egyptian. There is also a question mark over Egyptian-American prisoner Mohamed Soltan, a Muslim Brotherhood activist who is on hunger strike in jail.
This question of passports and citizenship points to the wider issue of how such cases are discussed. The plight of Greste and other foreigners in jail in Egypt is horrendous and the international media attention attracted by the case has shone a valuable light on the deteriorating state of civil liberties in Egypt. However, the fact remains that - even if Greste is freed as he should be, having committed no crime – hundreds of unjustly jailed Egyptians will continue to languish in jail and political dissent in the country will continue to be crushed.
On Sunday, Egypt sentenced 23 activists to three years in jail for protesting against a law that outlawed protests. These are the same protests that ousted Dictator Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 revolution, and Mohamed Morsi in 2103, before the current military-led regime took over. They join scores of other activists already in jail. Political dissent from both secular and Islamist camps has been brutally repressed. It is unsurprising that rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have said that things in Egypt are returning to their pre-revolutionary state.
At the end of October, a group of 23 Egyptian newspaper editors pledged to limit their criticism of state institutions. This followed an attack on the restive Sinai Peninsula. In a statement, the editors condemned the attack and pledged to confront the "hostile culture towards the national project and the foundations of the Egyptian state". It was a worrying step that further shut down avenues for discussion or dissent; but the statement merely formalised an existing policy among private newspaper owners to echo the state line. The same month, a satellite network replaced Mahmoud Saad, a talk-show host mildly critical of the government, saying that "freedom of expression cannot ever justify ridicule of the Egyptian army's morale". Other television programmes and channels that presented opposing views have gone off air.
Al-Sisi has repeatedly spoken of "foreign plots" and big conspiracies in Egypt, raising the possibility that any critic could be accused of complicity. Wide-reaching counter-terrorism laws introduced earlier this year have also been used to crush dissenting voices.
In April, when the counter-terrorism bill was passed, Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights, warned that the law "signals a reversal of the hard-earned freedoms gained after the January 2011 uprising and will take the country back to its pre-January 25 revolutionary state." These words were echoed in October by Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW, when she said: "It's back to business as usual in Egypt. The Sisi government will clearly go to any length to crush domestic opposition, whether secular or Islamist."
Regardless of the new presidential decree, and whether Greste and Fahmy are freed (something which is by no means guaranteed), this dire situation for civil liberties in Egypt looks set to continue unabated.

Video depicts Bahrain police abuse - but will inquiry lead anywhere?

A video recently emerged showing a Bahraini police officer mistreating a prisoner and showering him with insults, while making references to the man’s Shiite faith. The video, posted on Monday to YouTube, quickly went viral – to the extent that the Bahraini authorities were forced to respond. The day after its release, the Interior Ministry announced the suspension of the police officers involved and the opening of an investigation. According to our Observer, it's all a smokescreen. The images were posted by activists of the February 14 movement, the group behind the protests against the Sunni monarchy headed by King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa. The movement is now regarded by Bahraini authorities as a terrorist organisation.
The video takes place in a police car, with a prisoner sitting on the back seat between two police officers in uniform, his hands tied behind his back and his head covered by his shirt. It is clear he is Shiite due to the police’s mention of "zawaj al-mut'a", literally meaning "pleasure marriage", the name given by Shiite Muslims to “temporary marriage”. The marriage is agreed between potential spouses for a limited period of time and generally sealed by a religious authority. This form of union, which is still practiced by a number of Shiites, is rejected by a large majority of Sunnis.
The policeman sitting in the seat next to the driver (whose face is hidden) asks the prisoner if he can make a "pleasure marriage" with his sister. "Do you agree?" yells the police officer. The prisoner nods his head as the officer continues: "And a Sunni, can she have a zawaj al-mut'a?". The prisoner remains silent, so the police officer gets angry: "Do not even say ‘Sunni’, you son of a b***!". The officer proceeds to punch the prisoner on the head and back while the other policemen try to calm him down. The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday via its Twitter account that an investigation had been launched and that the police officers involved in the video had been suspended from their duties. However, Said Yousif Al-muhafdah, vice-president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, believes it is certain there will be no legal consequences for the police officers.
Unfortunately, the police officers who commit abuse or even acts of torture are spared due to a culture of impunity. Since 2011, there have been 7 or 8 proven cases of abuse, which came to light thanks to leaked videos. Each time, it's the same scenario: the authorities announce the opening of an investigation, but the investigations go nowhere and very rarely result in sanctions. The ministry’s announcements are only intended to calm public opinion and sell a semblance of democracy abroad. In the rare cases where there is a conviction, the sentences are eventually reduced. In May 2013, a police officer sentenced to 7 years of prison for shooting an unarmed demonstrator dead saw his sentence reduced to 6 months. That same year, the court acquitted two police officers who killed a demonstrator by shooting him with buckshot pellets. The court found that the two officers had not fired with the intent to kill, and were therefore free to go [Editor’s Note: In May 2014, an unarmed 14-year-old protestor was also killed by buckshot pellets during a demonstration]. In April 2012, police officers were involved in a case involving thugs damaging a grocery store owned by Shiites. The scene was recorded by the store’s security camera, but it did not lead to an investigation, even though the faces of the police officers were clearly identifiable in the video. This situation will not change until Bahrain has effective institutions and most notably an independent judicial system. To achieve that would require genuine democratic reform, and that is still a far-off dream.
The organisation Human Rights Watch issued a report last May denouncing impunity and judicial bias in the kingdom. "In Bahrain, a police officer who kills a protester in cold blood or beats a detainee to death might face a sentence of six months or maybe two years, while peacefully calling for the country to become a republic will get you life in prison,” the report states.
Bahrain is a Shiite-majority country (about 75 percent of the population), ruled by an exclusively Sunni monarchy and government. Since February 2011, members of the Shiite community who feel discriminated against regularly go into the streets in protest. In May, the International Federation for Human Rights estimated that at least 89 people had been killed since the start of the protests.

UN: ISIL committing war crimes in Syria

Massacres, beheadings, torture, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy being carried out by group, investigators say.
Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a large scale in areas under the group's control in Syria, UN investigators say.
In its first report focused squarely on acts by ISIL, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented on Friday a horrifying picture of what life is like in areas controlled by the group, including massacres, beheadings, torture, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy.
"The commanders of ISIS have acted wilfully, perpetrating these war crimes and crimes against humanity with clear intent of attacking persons with awareness of their civilian or 'hors de combat' (non-combat) status," the report said, using an alternate acronym for ISIL.
"They are individually criminally responsible for these crimes."
The commission called on the perpetrators to be brought to justice, for instance before the International Criminal Court.
Based on more than 300 interviews with people who have fled areas under the control of ISIL, as well as photographs and video footage released by ISIL itself, the report paints a picture of life under the group's rule.
ISIL, which has declared an Islamic "caliphate" in an area spanning northern Iraq and eastern Syria, is seeking to "subjugate civilians under its control and dominate every aspect of their lives through terror, indoctrination", the report found.
Massacres, beheading boys as young as 15, and amputations and lashings in public squares that residents, including children, are forced to watch figure on the list of crimes, as does the widespread use of child soldiers, stoning women to death for suspected adultery, and holding women as sexual slaves and forcing them to bear children for the fighters.
One person who fled the group's stronghold Raqqa told investigators he had seen a man punished in a public square for looting.
"Two people held the victim tightly while a third man stretched his arm over a large wooden board. A fourth man cut off the victim's hand," the witness was quoted as saying.
"It took a long time. One of the people who was standing next to me vomitted and passed out due to the horrific scene."

Police, anti-austerity protesters clash across Italy

Several Italian cities, including the capital city of Rome and northern city of Milan, have witnessed confrontations between police forces and anti-austerity protesters.
On Friday, trade unions, students, and migrants staged strikes and rallies in more than 20 cities against labor market and other reforms.
Officers were pelted with eggs and red paint in Rome. Protesters also hurled eggs at the Finance Ministry and scaled the Colosseum.
In Milan, protesters targeted the police with flares, who then responded by baton charges.
Elsewhere, thousands of public and private sector workers took part in peaceful demonstrations against government reforms.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wants to make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers but has also pledged more generous unemployment benefits. His government has also proposed education reforms, which according to critics are too business-oriented.
He has vowed to push ahead with labor reforms, saying, "I want the law to be in force from January 1."
Also on Friday, the Italian National Statistical Institute (Istat) announced that the country’s economy was still beset with recession in the third quarter of 2014.
According to reports, Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 0.1 percent during the July-September period. The country’s GDP shrank by 0.2 percent in the second quarter of 2014 while it was flat in the first quarter of the year.

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China - New York Times should also seek answers from within

A few overseas media outlets, such as The New York Times and Bloomberg, are agitated over visa issuance for their China-based correspondents. These news organizations are well aware that some of their stories are unacceptable to China, and they have deliberately linked the suspension of visas to these stories.
An editorial in The New York Times Wednesday claimed that "it has no intention of altering its coverage to meet the demands of any government - be it that of China, the United States or any other nation."
The New York Times still wields huge influence in the global journalism profession. The editorial oozes with pride for being the top Western public opinion platform. It sends two clear messages. Since the newspaper is hard even on the US, it feels the Chinese government needs to accept its coverage and that China merits the serious and honest attention The New York Times gives to its coverage.
Conflicts between Western media and non-Western countries often occur. Recently, CNN announced it would go off-air in Russia due to changes in Russian media legislation. Under such friction, Western media outlets often proclaim their universal values and professionalism to conceal loyalty to both their own and national interests.
The US has a different system from China. The New York Times can disregard the feelings of the US government, but cannot neglect the feelings of most American people. Maintaining US interests is the boundary The New York Times must abide by. The newspaper will not have the intention to cooperate with the Chinese government on important matters. Its coverage is often against China's interests. It shouldn't be surprised when some of its reports and opinions make Chinese people feel uncomfortable.
The New York Times will synchronize the newspaper's interests with American national interests much more than with Chinese national interests. We basically hold these practices to be normal. The New York Times needs to know its innate restrictions and weaknesses. Only then would it be willing to reflect on itself if there is conflict between it and the Chinese government.
The world is changing. If a news outlet dares to believe that it is always doing right and need not make adjustments when running into conflicts, it's certainly not something to shout about. The New York Times declares it has "no intention of altering" as if this is a directive that China should change for it. It sounds exciting, but it won't be surprising if the newspaper meets with rejection.
China is accelerating its reforms. But some Western media outlets step in to intervene in China's political process. This goes beyond their role.
As peers, we hope journalists at The New York Times can continue to work in China. When they find they cannot stay, they should also ask themselves why.

Icy Silence: The Future of U.S.-Russian Relations

By Fyodor Lukyanov
In classic Russian theater, when a scene calls for the noise of a crowd, all of the actors on and off stage begin repeating the phrase "What to say when you have nothing to say?" — creating the necessary "white noise." This week's vapid media reporting struck me as an informational version of the same phenomenon.
It is as if commentators are now doubling as psychologists, trying to read deeper meaning into the expressions that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama wore when they greeted each other in Beijing and Brisbane or the fact that they chatted for a few minutes at this or that forum. But how could they possibly have discussed anything of substance concerning Ukraine or Iran in those fleeting sessions of "speed diplomacy?"
Is it even important that the two presidents spoke to each other? Of course, it is nice to know that both have enough tact to acknowledge the other's presence, but that is the most we can hope from them these days. U.S.-Russian relations have reached a point where simply talking will not change anything.
Putin and Obama have limited their conversations to discussions about the weather or the cut of the complimentary coat they received from summit organizers. This is not because they hold an insuperable aversion for each other — although there is a decided lack of warmth between them.
The problem is that they have nothing to talk about. More precisely, there is plenty to talk about, but they lack the motivation to try because each side knows all of the other side's stock phrases, arguments and counter-arguments in advance. A deep chasm has opened up between Russia and the U.S., but this time it stems not from differing ideologies, but from divergent perceptions of the world — past, present and future.
U.S.-Russian relations were openly hostile during the Cold War, but this did not prevent the sides from agreeing on the rules of the game and acceptable behaviors. They had some sharp conflicts and dangerous tensions along the way, but they did manage to establish a mutually acceptable framework. But when their confrontation ended, that framework collapsed along with it. The U.S. alone emerged from that standoff with a sense of omnipotence — something it viewed as a natural and well-deserved outcome. After all, the U.S. believes in its exceptionalism and bases everything on that principle. Meanwhile, Russia painfully mourns the loss of its superpower status and has yet to fully come to grips with the rupture that occurred almost a quarter of a century ago. It left Moscow with a heightened sense of the fragility of not only the Russian state, but of the entire world order.
The U.S. sees the modern world as the product of its own creation, a work in progress that its Cold War victory has helped bring closer to completion. And Washington considers itself entitled, even obliged, to continue sculpting that world order according to the same template it adopted as the only "right" one after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Of course, there are plenty of realists in Washington who understand that things did not go as planned and that changes are necessary, but institutional and intellectual inertia stubbornly push events toward the old approaches. Obama came to office with a new program, with the understanding that he could not run the U.S. in the same old way. But in the end, he got bogged down in the same rut as his predecessors. The difference is that he continues on reluctantly and without inspiration, achieving even less convincing results.
Russia views everything happening on the world arena as evidence of the overconfidence of a global leader who assumed it has the right to decide matters for everyone. And whereas 25 years ago that leader really did stand head and shoulders above the rest, now it stumbles repeatedly, making moves that, frankly, are destructive not only to others, but even to its own interests. Russia's feeling of vulnerability as the loser in the Cold War combines with a growing fear of what that global hegemon might perpetrate in its effort to maintain dominance. And it is inevitable in such a situation that Russia would want to take revenge and prove that the U.S. was premature in dismissing it.
The U.S. and Russia want to contain or stop each other, each for its own reasons. What dialogue is possible under such conditions? The only subjects left for them to discuss are the weather and the beautiful view. True, it is good they say that much to each other, but even then it is only on the sidelines of this or that international conference. It is no longer possible to hold a bilateral summit because they cannot agree on an agenda or on concrete results that they hope to achieve. That leaves only communicating "on the run," as diplomats call it. Only two forums remain where the U.S. and Russian presidents will see each other — APEC and the Group of 20. Their paths will not cross at any other venue.
Something is seriously wrong when the leaders of the two largest countries in the world — both nuclear superpowers — refuse to communicate with each other. What's more, such a simmering conflict is dangerous over the long term. But that is how the situation stands today, and no immediate change is anticipated.
Obama will have far more important questions than that of Russia to tackle during the final two years of his presidency. First, he must cope with a hostile Congress that already considered him weak for always giving in to Putin. Second, the remnants of his "reset" with the Kremlin no longer work and the complete lack of mutual understanding prevents the creation of a new agenda. Third, there is no urgent need to make Russia a priority in general: Washington has little need of Moscow for its current and short-range goals. Cooperation would only become necessary given large-scale movement in the international arena, but recognizing that fact requires strategy, and strategy is what's lacking.
Putin also has little reason to change his approach to the U.S. First, he sincerely believes that U.S. foreign policy is destructive and completely senseless. Second, his anti-U.S. stance does more than anything else to boost his popularity at home. Third, Russia has greatly intensified its relations with the countries of the non-Western world, and that requires Moscow to position itself — at least to some extent — as an alternative to the U.S.
And finally, speaking before the United Nations, Obama put Russia on a par with Ebola and the Islamic State. It would be strange for Moscow, finding itself placed in such company, to put forward proposals for the resumption of a dialogue. It is difficult to imagine that any of the presidential favorites in the U.S. would want to fundamentally change Washington's policy toward Russia, thus ruling out the possibility of a breakthrough following the change in U.S. leadership. What's more, just as the new U.S. president is taking office, Russia will be gearing up to decide who will rule this country from 2018 to 2024. It seems that in the years ahead, a couple of words exchanged on the sidelines of international forums will be the only form of communication that the presidents of Russia and the U.S. will have.

Video - Putin descends on G20 amid Cold War MSM panic

Video Report : Hagel: Many Changes Needed in US Nuclear Force

Obama, Down but Not Out, Presses Ahead

President Obama emerged from last week’s midterm election rejected by voters, hobbled politically and doomed to a final two years in office suffering from early lame-duck syndrome. That, at least, was the consensus in both parties. No one seems to have told Mr. Obama.
In the 10 days since “we got beat,” as he put it, by Republicans who captured the Senate and bolstered control over the House, Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.
The timing of the three different decisions was to some extent a function of separate policy clocks, not simply a White House political strategy. Mr. Obama, for example, had been scheduled to travel to China for a summit meeting in mid-November, and American officials have been trying for most of the year to negotiate a climate agreement for him to announce while in Beijing.
Still, even if by happenstance, the back-to-back moves have reinforced Mr. Obama’s desire to assert himself in a period when his poll numbers and political capital are at their lowest ebbs. While losing Congress was a grievous blow that will further challenge his capacity to govern, advisers said that he feels liberated. He can now pursue his long-term agenda, they said, without being tethered to the short-term electoral concerns of his party’s leadership in Congress.
In the process, though, Mr. Obama has angered Republicans who accuse him of essentially defying the message sent by the electorate. All of the talk by the White House in recent days of working together with the new Congress seems belied by a president who has wasted little time advancing some of the same policies that were renounced just a week ago, Republicans said.
“The president is completely ignoring the will of the American voters, who turned out on Election Day and overwhelmingly elected people who wanted to change the direction of the country,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said in an interview. “Even today, the new polls show Americans would rather have Republicans make the agenda changes than the president.”
But aides said Mr. Obama has concluded that he cannot let opposition from the other party stop him from advancing his priorities, and in his postelection comments, Mr. Obama predicted he would take actions that Republicans would not like. While White House advisers interpreted the election results as a mandate to work across the aisle, they said that cannot simply be a prescription for more gridlock where the president does nothing without Republican approval.
“Our bottom line is we think people want results,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the White House communications director. “They want things to improve. They want you to take action. They’re more focused on outcomes than process.”
Although they do not present it this way, in some ways Mr. Obama and his aides are taking a page from President George W. Bush’s playbook after his own “thumping” in his final midterm elections. Instead of pulling out of the deteriorating war in Iraq, as Democrats interpreted Mr. Bush’s election mandate, he sent more troops. Democrats like Mr. Obama, then a senator, accused the president of defying the voters. In the end, the reinforcements and a strategy change helped turn around the war.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama will continue to have a relatively free hand on foreign policy, although he has asked Congress to fashion a new authorization for his own air war in Iraq and next-door Syria against the Islamic State militant group. But it remains less clear how far he can go toward other goals without Congress.
His agreement with China to reduce carbon emissions over the next decade is not binding and ultimately will depend on his successor enacting policies to achieve those goals. Likewise, his planned immigration executive order providing work permits to millions of people in the country illegally will remain in force only as long as he is in office.
Still, aides said Mr. Obama seems energized by the postelection actions. As early as the day after the voting, senior officials described him as impatient to reclaim the presidential megaphone and argue for policy initiatives after a year of hanging back in deference to Democratic operatives worried about the backlash for vulnerable candidates.
It is a change in tone that has been apparent to liberal activists who have often criticized Mr. Obama for being too timid and willing to compromise. Public interest groups and technology start-up executives said they saw the new dynamic at work on Monday, when they got a heads-up to watch the White House website for an announcement that would please them.
Mr. Obama’s videotaped call for a free and open Internet “completely upended the debate, and it was the kind of clear, bold statement we had been waiting for, reconnecting to that language you heard in 2008, where he came out in very stark terms in a pro-public interest way,” said Craig Aaron, the president of Free Press, an advocacy group.
While there is still considerable concern among some White House allies that Mr. Obama will allow Republicans to set the terms of debate over trade, taxes and infrastructure spending, many argue that the devastating scale of the election losses may have raised pressure on the president to go big in other areas, if only to prove his relevance and agenda-setting authority.
“The president has seen what happens when he doesn’t step forward and Democrats don’t inspire the public or their base — we win on the issues, but lose at the polls — so we can’t do worse,” said Anna Galland, the executive director of, the progressive advocacy group. “Let’s try being bold.”
Republicans did not see it as bold so much as defiant and said it may cost Mr. Obama the opportunity to make more progress collaboratively. “I’ve been very disturbed about the way the president has proceeded in the wake of the election,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming Republican majority leader.
“I had maybe naïvely hoped the president would look at the results of the election and decide to come to the political center and do some business with us,” he added. “I still hope he does at some point but the early signs are not good.”

Obama oozes support for Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi

President Barack Obama mounted a warm show of support Friday for Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, voicing opposition to a constitutional rule that's keeping the pro-democracy icon off next year's ballot. While crediting Myanmar for progress in its transition to democracy, he offered a blunt assessment of the distressing shortcomings that have called that transition into question.
In his joint appearance with Suu Kyi, on the back porch of her lakeside home, Obama stopped short of an explicit endorsement for her potential campaign for president. But his affection and deep admiration for Suu Kyi was clear, from his praise for her efforts to liberalize the government to the ease with which he whispered in her ear as they walked arm in arm into the home where she was once confined as a political prisoner.
Although Obama was quick to caution he didn't want to dictate how Myanmar should pick its next president, he said told President Thein Sein the night before that he saw little wisdom in a rule barring the 69-year-old Suu Kyi from running next year because her children hold British citizenship.
"I don't understand a provision that would bar somebody from running for president because of who their children are," Obama said. "That doesn't make much sense to me."
Suu Kyi, a member of Parliament demure in her support for changing that provision, said it was flattering to have a constitution written with her in mind. But she said that wasn't how it should be done in a democracy, urging supporters not to get too caught up in whether she wins next year's pivotal elections.
"Of course any party wants to win the elections — I'm sure the president will tell you that," she said with a grin. What's more important, she said, is how you win. "I'd rather lose than win in the wrong way."
Obama and Suu Kyi took questions from reporters on the final day of Obama's visit to Myanmar, an impoverished country struggling to reinvent itself. Obama is heavily invested in Myanmar's progress, having made a historic trip here two years ago to signal a strong U.S. commitment to democratization in the country and the broader region.
On this visit, prompted by economic summits in the capital city of Naypyitaw, Obama faced profound concerns by Myanmar's citizens that its transition to democracy is backsliding. At a town hall meeting Friday with young Southeast Asians — itself a rarity in a country ruled by its military for half a century — Obama told an ebullient crowd their generation has more potential than any before to shape Myanmar's society.
"The future of this region — your region — is not going to be dictated by dictator or by armies," Obama said. "It's going to be determined by entrepreneurs and inventors and dreamers."
Left unaddressed by Obama during his two days in Myanmar was growing skepticism about whether Suu Kyi, his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is willing to fight as vigorously for human rights and tolerance as she is for democratic reforms. The U.S. has deep concerns about the abuse of Rohingya Muslims, a minority group deeply disdained by most in the majority-Buddhist country, but Suu Kyi has resisted calls to speak out on their behalf.
Asked by an American journalist about the plight of the Rohingya, Suu Kyi wouldn't even say their name. That's a position shared by Myanmar's government, which deems the roughly 1.3 million Rohingya to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh and says the Rohingya ethnicity does not exist.
"If you ask how do we propose to resolve all these problems of violence between communities, between ethnic groups, we've got to start with rule of law," Suu Kyi said, speaking in general terms. "People who feel threatened are not going to sit down and sort out their problems."
Obama, for his part, did use the term "Rohingya" and said discrimination against them wasn't consistent with the kind of country Myanmar wants to become. "Ultimately that is destabilizing to a democracy," he said.
Notably, Obama chose to hold his news conference in Myanmar with Suu Kyi instead of with Thein Sein, the face of Myanmar's mixed evolution away from autocratic rule. Sitting down with Thein Sein the evening before in his opulent, moat-enclosed palace, Obama credited his leadership for putting Myanmar on a democratic path, even as he pressed him on the Rohingya and on his slow walk on political reforms.
"We recognize that change is hard and it doesn't always move in a straight line," Obama said.
The setting for Obama's visit with Suu Kyi was a stark change from Naypyitaw, where Obama met with Thein Sein and attended two east Asian regional summits.
In Yangon, Myanmar's bustling and chaotic commercial capital, children in traditional dress lined the streets as Obama drove to Suu Kyi's compound. In Naypyitaw, a city built literally from scratch in the last decade, Obama's motorcade sped down empty eight-lane highways past five-star hotels and gaudy public fountains in near-silence, rarely encountering anyone on the streets. Other parts of Myanmar are very rural and very poor, dotted by refugee camps and armed ethnic groups that have been fighting with the government for decades.

Persian Music Video - Shabnam Soraya

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani arrives in Islamabad to build Pakistan ties

The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has arrived for his first visit to neighbouring Pakistan, seeking to improve ties crucial to his hopes of reviving Taliban peace talks as US and allied troops end their 13-year war.
Ghani will hold talks with the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the pair are expected to watch a cricket match between the two countries on Saturday in a public demonstration of better relations despite fraught cross-border tensions.
Both countries accuse each other of allowing militants to shelter in the border regions and launch bloody attacks that threaten regional stability. The former Afghan president Hamid Karzai routinely accused Pakistan of continuing to fuel the Taliban insurgency to destabilise his country as a hedge against Indian influence there.
Islamabad denies the charge but its support, and that of its powerful military, are seen as important for peace in Afghanistan as Nato pulls out its combat troops.
Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognise the hardline Taliban regime that ruled Kabul from 1996 until 2001, when it was deposed by a US-led international military coalition.
Despite repeated visits to Pakistan by the former president, there was little improvement in relations during Karzai’s 13 years in power. But diplomats say Ghani’s presidency, which started in September, presents an opportunity at a time when US-led Nato troops are withdrawing from the fight against the Taliban.
Ghani arrived at Chaklala air base in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city, on Friday and was greeted by Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s special adviser on foreign affairs.

Russia to sell Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan

Russia will sell Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan to strengthen its counter-terrorism efforts, media reported Thursday.
Russia's Ambassador Alexey Dedov said the deal between Pakistan and Russia would help combat terrorism, The Nation reported.
He said politically the deal has been approved, however, further negotiations on details of political-commercial contract are in progress.
Dedov also said that Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu would soon visit Islamabad and his agenda of talks with his counterparts includes the sale of defence equipments to Pakistan.
He said that Russia was also interested in various energy-related projects, including the development of Gwadar Liquefying Facility and construction of a pipeline between Gwadar and Nawabshah.
The Russian ambassador said that the Pakistan-Russia Intergovernmental Commission's meeting would take place in Moscow Nov 26, which would give new impetus to the bilateral economic cooperation.
He said bilateral trade volume of the two countries did not coincide with the actual potential and plenty of room existed which needed to be tapped.

Pakistan: Threats issued on Jama'at-e Islami stationary force Ahmadis to flee their homes

"Qadianis: Your heretic activities continue in the worship centers. You are hereby informed, if you will not immediately cease your worship, you will be attacked anytime."
A threat allegedly issued on behalf of Jamat-e Islami has spread fear and anxiety among Ahmadis in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province of Pakistan.
Credible and verified reports of threats against the lives of Ahmadi families in a particular area of Lahore have surfaced in social media with images of malicious handbills warning Ahmadis to abandon their 'worship activities' or face imminent attacks.
The handbills, allegedly printed on the stationary depicting letterheads of Jama'at-e Islami, an Islamist religio-political group, are being distributed near Mansoora, the headquarters of the group.
"Qadianis: Your heretic activities continue in the worship centers," the handbill says, further warning, "You are hereby informed, if you will not immediately cease your worship, you will be attacked anytime." (The word Qadiani is used as a derogatory term by ant-Ahmadi groups.)
'You have 2 to 3 days," the poster sets a deadline for Ahmadi to comply with.
The poster text ends with closing line, "Jama'at-e Islaimi Pakistan."
One such incidents of threats took place in Ravi Block of Allama Iqbal Town in Lahore, an area close to Mansoorah, where on the evening of November 10, a threatening poster and a piece of white cloth symbolizing burial shroud -- also known as kafan -- were delivered.
Despite the repeated attempts by the affected families, the local police have refused to take information and register a case; and, as a result, Ahmadi families were forced to abandon their homes due to insecurity.
Although Jama'at-e Islami has issued a denial on their Facebook page, assigning blame for creation of the malicious poster to a Karachi based 'ethnic group', the organization did not outright condemn the act of making threats against Ahmadis.
Imran Jattala, editor of Ahmadiyya Times, says for Ahmadis the threat is real, even if the poster is a fake. "A lone maverick or not, all threats are serious."
With a dreary track record of Pakistani authorities in protecting Ahmadis from repeated target killings, mob violence and terrorists attacks, the feelings of insecurity are rampant among the community members everywhere.
"For us they all are the same. So whoever is behind it, it doesn't matter. Even Jama'at-e Islami didn't say it's wrong," observed Afzal Mirza, a senior Ahmadiyya Muslim missionary from Canada.

Pakistan - Following Lahore and Khanewal, pro-IS campaign appears in Bannu: report

Wall-chalking acknowledging and welcoming militant group Islamic State (IS) has now been seen in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa following similar incidents in Karachi, Khanewal, Peshawar and Lahore; local newspaper Dawn reported on Friday.
According to the report, pro-IS wall-chalking has appeared in parts of Bannu, including the cantonment area. Bannuu borders North Waziristan; a semi-autonomous tribal area known to be a stronghold of militant outfits. Pakistan Military has been carrying out Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the area; targeting foreign and local militants since June 15.
“We welcome the head of Syrian Daish ( Arabic acronym of IS) Abu Bakkar Al Bagdadi and pay him homage,” , states the wall graffiti in Urdu by ‘Awami Baghi Group Bannu Waziristan’ in areas of City Road, Dera Ismail Khan road, Cantt Road and Miranshah Road of the city.
Wall chalking was reported to be seen on City Road, Cantt Road, Dera Ismail Khan road and Miran Shah road in Bannu.
Last week, pro-IS advertisements and wall-chalking announcing a ‘caliphate’ and hailing the militant group were seen in Khanewal and Lahore.
Earlier, Balochistan government had issued a threat that IS has recruited more thn 10,000 fighters from Hangu, KP and Kurram Agency.

The chief of Pakistani branch of DAESH (ISIS or ISIL) Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost was the takfiri nasbi terrorist belonging to Afghanistan who the United States released from Guantanamo Bay prison in 2004 declaring “he is no longer an enemy combatant.”
Khorasan Branch of notorious takfiri nasbi terrorist outfit Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) first started making inroads into Pakistan and Afghanistan in September this year as former Guantanamo detainee, Abdul Raheem Muslim Dost, was made the chief of its 'Khorasan' (the old name for Afghan, Pakistani, Irani and Central Asian territories) belt.
His capture and detention brought condemnation from international human rights groups because he worked in the guise of journalist. While in Guantanamo Bay, he was projected positively by the Western media.
Dost was freed from Guantanamo Bay in September 2004 after the US military said he was "no longer an enemy combatant." He was transferred to Afghan custody, where he was freed in April 2005. It proved that was he was released as double agent against Pakistan because he returned to Peshawar, where he published The Broken Shackles of Guantanamo. In the book, Dost was critical of Pakistan's intelligence services and claimed the US military tortured him during his detention. Dost was detained by Pakistani's Crime Investigation Department in September 2006, much to the consternation of Amnesty International.
Finally, Pakistan government had to release him under a deal with takfiri Taliban terrorists of Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2008 in exchange for Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan who was kidnapped by the takfiris.
Now, after his appointment, signs of local activities for the notorious human butchers of Daesh have surfaced first in various parts of Pakistan's restive North Waziristan tribal region, a day after four flags of the militant group were confiscated there. Then, wall-chalking(graffiti) welcoming the Islamic State (IS) appeared on City Road, Cantt Road, Dera Ismail Khan road and Miran Shah road in Bannu district. "We welcome the head of Syrian Daish Group Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi and pay him tributes," said graffiti in Urdu.” Bannu borders North Waziristan, known to be the Pakistani Taliban nerve-centre where the Pakistani military is carrying operation Zarb-i-Azb against Taliban militants.
Earlier, pamphlets believed to be from the IS were also distributed in various parts of Peshawar and the Afghan refugee camp, but were later seized. IS propaganda booklets were reportedly distributed in parts of the Afghan-Pakistan tribal belt and in some Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar.
Now, Daesh terrorists are conveying the message of their presence in all over Pakistan including Balochistan province, Khanewal, Multan, Lahore and Taxila of Punjab province and Karachi in Sindh province.
Operating mostly in Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan, Rahim and other militant commanders had previously announced their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A senior Afghan Mujahideen commander confirmed that Rahim had been appointed as the Daesh chief of Khorasan belt and he has kicked off a campaign to muster support from jihadist fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Haroon Zargon, spokesperson of the Hizb-i-Islami, a conservative militant and political group in Afghanistan, confirmed that they also had reports of the propaganda booklet being distributed in the Pak-Afghan border areas and Afghan localities in Peshawar. Six top militant commanders of the outlawed Tehreek-i- Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including its former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, have previously announced allegiance to the Daesh. They had defected from the previous group to assist Daesh.

Pakistan: Christian couple was lynched in presence of PML-N MPA: report

A Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) provincial lawmaker was present on the scene when an angry mob lynched a Christian couple to death in Kot Radha Kishan last week, news channel Samaa reported on Thursday.
According to the channel, PML-N MPA Mohammad Anees, who was reported to have been sighted on spot where the couple was tortured before being thrown into an infernally hot brick-making kiln, is allegedly trying to save the prime suspect, Riaz Kamboh.
Quoting witnesses, the channel reported that by the time Anees arrived on the spot the mob had tortured the couple unconscious but had not thrown them in the furnace by then.
“The battered couple was alive when MPA Anees reached there; however, immediately after tractor trolleys loaded with dozens of berserk villagers arrived at the site and threw the poor couple into the kiln while shouting religious slogans,” the channel’s sources quoted an eyewitness as saying.
The MPA has, meanwhile, told police that the couple had already been thrown in the furnace before he arrived at the kiln.
“Shama and Shahzad were already dead when I reached the spot. That’s why I couldn’t do anything for them,” the MPA told the police in a recorded statement.
The channel said that the bereaved family had been offered Rs 5 million to drop the charges against the main accused Riaz Kamboh, an influential former councilor.
Shahzad and his pregnant wife Shama, who were killed for alleged blasphemy, were locked inside a room at the brick kiln where they were working as bonded labourers, before their murder to prevent them from fleeing their debts.;postID=654024945285724193

Pakistan - Struggle for education: Malala to build school, college in Shangla

By Umar Bacha
Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai announced on Thursday to build a school and a college in the Shangla district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“Hundreds of children are without education in my hometown. Soon I will construct a standard college and school for them,” Malala said in a telephonic speech to students at her ancestral village, Shahpur, in Shangla on Thursday.
Malala was born in 1997 in the Shangla district where she spent her childhood till her parents migrated to the adjacent district of Swat.
The students of Government High School Shahpur had arranged the event to pay tribute to their hometown girl.
Malala, talking to the students via telephone, said she still remembers and misses Shangla. She said that it was her childhood wish that all the children in her village get education and no one should be left out. “I am sorry that in my hometown there are so many without education. Not that they don’t want education, but because they don’t have schools,” Malala said and explained that she has dedicated all her funds for the education and she has started this step from Shangla by taking academic tests of 25 children and that she will afford all the education expenses of those children.
She said that all other basic facilities will be provided to children in Khpal Koor Model School.
Malala’s uncle, Syed Ramaz, who was present at the event, shared with the students the struggle of his niece for education.

Pakistan: Child Rape

Earlier this week, there were two harrowing accounts of sexual violence against children. One was the eight year old daughter of a labourer in Okara who was accosted and raped by the son of a landlord. The other was a six year old Hazara girl in Quetta, brutally murdered after repeated attempts at raping her. There are countless such stories that make the news every week, and scores more that never do. According to one study carried out by the Human Rights Watch, there is a rape in Pakistan once every two hours. But these are all reasonable estimates at best. In a country that still deals with the issue of rape with healthy doses of taboo, where parents in rural belts often marry off their daughters to their rapists to avoid “dishonor” and “shame,” the fact that rape makes the news at all is perhaps a sign that the sexual violence narrative might be heading in the right direction (albet, very slowly).
With rising awareness, a louder and free-er media as well as greater child advocacy, rape is slowly becoming more talked about. However, it is believed that less than 10% of accused rapists are ever actually convicted. In the last year, many rape victims have taken to protesting outside press clubs and courts personally, and this is an enormous show of boldness for justice that they will in all likelihood never receive. A notable child rape victim, Kainat Soomro, was 13 years old and gang raped for days in 2007. After taking her rapists to court (all of whom still remain at large), her brother was murdered for supporting her, and the court ruled that “The sole testimony of the alleged rape survivor is not sufficient.” Seeing that DNA has been disallowed by the Council of Islamic Ideology as the main evidence in rape, the system largely relies on the testimony of four males even now. This is not a system of justice, it is barbarism. Sexual violence is the most evil manifestation of power and personal corruption, and communities must form strong alliances against it. Aggressors have to be pursued. There is only shame in letting them go. Optimistically, we could search for positives owing to the slightly better reportage of rape cases, but by and large, the police is inept or complicit, the parents of victims too terrified of cultural convention to press charges, and the aggressors, as in the case of the Okara landlord, too powerful to ever bring to justice.

Pakistan: Lahore and Quetta: How the media treats rape differently

Adnan Rehmat
In October 2013, many will still remember, a minor girl was picked up from a hospital courtyard in Lahore, raped and then let go. Albeit in terrible shape, she survived.
CCTV footage that caught the main accused on tape was aired repeatedly by all current affairs TV channels for days. Much airtime and newspaper inches were devoted to the incident generating near universal outrage against the ill fate visited on the child.
Rarely had a crime against children in Pakistan generated such high intensity, and long running prime-time media coverage that helped shine the spotlight on a depravity that is more widespread than it appears.
The quality of coverage was another issue altogether and generated controversy over its insensitivity and inappropriate nature. But, that is a debate for another time.
This month in Quetta, a minor girl also went missing. The kidnapping was not caught on tape but the end was more tragic: she was tortured after apparently being subjected to rape attempts, and then killed. Photos of the body were circulated widely through emails and social media.
She was an ethnic Hazara, the daughter of poor parents.
There has been virtually no media coverage.
The English language newspapers have carried a few reports about it and the Urdu-language print media even less. TV channels are characterised by a near-deafening silence.
Why this difference between media coverage of events of equally horrific proportions?
The little lost girl in Lahore and the little lost girl in Quetta — separated by province, nationality, ethnicity, language, culture and sect. Treated with the same disdain by cruel men but differently by a media that otherwise seems to thrive on misery and sensation.
Why this difference in coverage?
There are no written policies in the Pakistani media sector that dissuades media houses from covering certain themes, regions and people, of course. And yet, the media in general prioritises reporting of these partly by way of unwritten policies, and partly by default.
Unwritten policies dictate some taboos — the patchy and pitiable coverage of Balochistan in general, and the misfortunes of the marginalised communities therein is the manifestation of pressures from both state and non-state actors.
Highlighting issues and communities that touch communal violence, class and circumstance from Balochistan entail greater likelihood of blowback from pressure groups than it does in regions like Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The media has, therefore, learnt to navigate the competing demands and expectations heaped on them by the pressure groups. Restraint and approved rhetoric are the regulations for Balochistan when it comes to media sound bytes.
The issues and events the Pakistani media covers are also heavily dictated by circumstance — four-fifths of Pakistan’s media density lays east of the Indus: Islamabad, Punjab and Sindh. Hence these regions figure more, and more consistently on the airwaves, than the regions west of Indus: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan.
This characteristic is, however, not just a manifestation of the fact that where the need for and about information is greatest is where it is least available. It is also a matter of audiences and, hence, advertisers.
Because the primary business of media is to sell its audiences to its advertisers, Pakistani media services information, commentary and analysis about regions on its screens where its viewers and readers are in bulk. It’s easier to attract eyeballs to outrage emanating from Punjab and Sindh than it is from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan.
This is partly why the travails of thousands of people in Thar, despite not being an urban agenda, gets more coverage and more consistently than the plight of hundreds of thousands of IDPs from Fata who have been homeless in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Pakistani media is also, inevitably, choosy in its political bent.
Overwhelmingly headquartered and operational in regions that are politically and economically more stable (east of Indus), their agendas are mostly urban (political and economic), their preoccupations those of middle classes (religion and business) and their priorities more profit-oriented (advertising and consumerism) than issue-based (development, empowerment or reforms — and this is also why opinion triumphs over analysis).
For the media, the victim in Quetta ticked off all the wrong boxes.
She was a girl.
She was a Hazara.
She lived in Balochistan.
She was poor.
She was not a consumer.
She was not urban — a refugee in Quetta, not a local resident.
Pakistan’s media — while a compromised prisoner of its own market and moral dynamics — deals in the mainstream, not the marginalised.
Despite the low-income background of the family of the girl victim of Lahore, the media regarded that she was in the ‘right’ province, had an urban background and provided the right backdrop to draw the right audiences that the advertisers clamour for.
While both girls were equal victims, the Quetta girl child victim was never going to get even 15 minutes of accumulative coverage let alone the 15 days that the Lahore girl child victim got.

Pakistan: A lost opportunity for the PML-N

Syed Kamran Hashmi
A country whose frustrated middle class sought a broad based reform agenda and prayed for the arrival of its messiah in the shape of the PML-N, did not even get a dedicated federal cabinet.
After failing in its initial attempt to occupy Islamabad, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) plans to re-launch another assault on the capital by the end of November, all of course in the name of democracy and freedom of expression. Would the response of the federal government be any different this time? In response to the first attack, it froze in fear, failing to perform even its basic administrative functions, putting every development project on hold and letting the economy crumble. At one point, it seemed as if it had accepted defeat way before the battle in Islamabad had even begun. Maybe it did, but the battleground it chose for that was not Islamabad, it was Lahore where the Punjab police raided the Minhajul Quran Trust to show its muscle and killed 14 workers. For me, that action alone holds more grounds for protest and even warrants the resignation of Shahbaz Sharif than the dubious claims of massive rigging by the PTI in the general elections. I hope they do not let Shahbaz Sharif show his administrative skills again.
The panic in the PML-N camp indeed rose way out of proportion but they had some legitimate concerns too that could not be dismissed altogether. For instance, the risk of an impending military intervention had gripped the whole nation, let alone the federal government. The negative campaign in the media to turn people against the democratic setup was an ongoing reality, we all agree. And the legal ramifications of the Lahore massacre could not be shrugged off; after Bhutto’s trial everyone understood what it could lead up to.
Did Prime Minister (PM) Mian Nawaz Sharif realise the gravity of the situation? Of course he did. Through his address to the nation, he offered a truce package to the opposition, hoping to calm the political temperature. It was, however, too little too late. The blustering protesters ignored his plan. Why? First, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) rode on a high moral pedestal after the killing of its workers, anticipating a big show in favour of its revolutionary agenda. And second, the PTI could not accept any agreement if it did not lead Mr Khan to the Prime Minister’s House. The truce, therefore, had to be packaged with the resignation of Mian Nawaz Sharif, a condition that the PM would never submit to, not this time. After waiting for five years and avoiding any conspiracy to topple the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government, his determination to stick to his mandate could not be deterred, not in 2014. That was how a deadlock was brought forth.
Then, three things happened that sucked the moral strength out of the protesters and handed it over to the government. First, Qadri and Khan attempted to take over parliament and the state-run television station through the power of the mob, a mistake they should still regret. Second, the PPP, under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari, recommended a joint session of parliament in which the largest party of the opposition supported the treasury benches, showing everyone that parliament, for the first time, stood united and committed to defending itself against any attack regardless of its colour, civilian or khaki. And last, Javed Hashmi spoke against his own party leader, essentially calling him a conspirator trying to take over the government at the behest of non-democratic forces. Since his press conferences and a series of television interviews, the PTI has lost credibility even more. Although it has pulled large crowds in other cities, as expected, its dream to convert Islamabad into Cairo has not translated into reality, nor does it seem that it will. The number of protestors too has shrunk to a few hundred in D Chowk, compelling the party to regroup and re-launch the attack.
After the crisis, the PM had to repair the damage caused by changing the style of his governance. The first step would have been to remove some of his family members from key official posts, thwarting the perception that he runs his administration as a family-owned business empire instead of a genuine democratic government. Image building was as important as nation building, he had to understand that. However, a country whose frustrated middle class sought a broad based reform agenda and prayed for the arrival of its messiah in the shape of the PML-N, did not even get a dedicated federal cabinet. Even today, the PML-N team misses a foreign minister, a crucial appointment that determines the international status of the country. Then, as humorous as it sounds, Pervez Rashid handles the law ministry besides managing the departments of information, mass broadcasting and national heritage. To further mock the situation, Khwaja Asif heads the department of defence while working as a full time minister of water and power.
The chief election commissioner was another important constitutional posting that awaited immediate attention. After the resignation of Fakhruddin G Ibrahim in July 2013, the government had to focus on finding his replacement urgently, keeping in mind that many people were challenging the transparency of the electoral process and disputing the validity of the election results. Yet, even after the instructions of the Supreme Court (SC), the PML-N has tried to put it off, a sign of its lack of sincerity in investigating the rigging allegations. I remember people exuded confidence and gave off optimism when they voted last year. They did not look forward to being amused by political stunts like the Nandipur Power Project nor did they yearn for their rulers to squander tax earned rupees on personal ads printed on the front page of every newspaper with a picture of the Sharif brothers teasing the country on the wastage of its resources. They demanded change. They had voted for a reformer, an experienced leader who understood the dynamics of power from all angles: treasury, opposition, jail and exile. Nonetheless, what they got was the same old stubborn Mian Nawaz Sharif who never thinks twice before he puts vengeance before national interest to settle personal scores.

Pakistan - #PTI - Unacceptable threats

The judicial process against members of the political parties that participated in the violent protest on August 30 and 31 this year has culminated in arrest warrants for numerous individuals who have so far remained unaccountable. On Wednesday an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Islamabad issued arrest warrants for Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri, Sheikh Rashid, Pervez Khattak, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Raheeq Abbasi and others for allegedly inciting a crowd protesting in front of parliament in the Red Zone to attack government buildings and law enforcement personnel. A case was lodged with the ATC by the Islamabad police soon after the events in August for attempted murder, obstruction of justice and damaging government property among other charges. Justice Syed Kausar Abbas Zaidi issued non-bailable arrest warrants after hearing from the police that the parties were unresponsive to requests for cooperation in the investigation. At a rally in Nankana Sahib on Wednesday night, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan told the crowd that he welcomed the news and warned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would “have to pay a heavy price” for arresting him. PTI spokesperson Shireen Mazari added that Khan had done nothing wrong and the party would not allow police to arrest him. Awami Muslim League (AML) leader and PTI ally Sheikh Rashid issued a threat of his own at the rally, urging people to “mobilise, kill, burn, besiege and force these thieves and corrupt rulers from power”.
In light of these and previous calls to arms by the PTI and its allies, none of the parties involved should have complaints about the judicial process. With Qadri reconciled to elections and currently abroad, the government had no need to upset the applecart but a case was registered and taken to its logical conclusion. Given the judiciary’s independent stance in recent years, it is unlikely the government was able to influence the ATC to issue the warrants. If anything, the question arises why the warrants took so long, since the televised record of events during August 30 and 31 clearly shows Khan and his allies exhorting protestors to attack the police and storm government buildings. They will still have their day in court to prove their innocence. The case presents political difficulties for the government in the face of violent threats from the accused that prima facie provide proof of their culpability. While Khan and his ilk have little love for parliament, the government worked hard to try and bring them back into the fold. The arrest warrants present it with a tricky problem. Legally it is obliged to act upon them immediately, but with Khan surrounded by his followers, any attempt could cause more harm than good. More pointedly, in light of his failing protest movement, Khan clearly welcomes being arrested and while he may feel differently after a night in a Pakistani jail, for the moment he is keen for the publicity and a shot in the arm for his flagging agitation an arrest might bring. Against this political backdrop is the real threat that Khan and his allies present to the peace and stability of the country. Sheikh Rashid’s call for loot maar (looting and killing) is consistent with his political roots; he is notorious in Rawalpindi for having gangs of professional hooligans at his call. More was expected from the PTI but with its recent statements the party has abandoned any semblance of a peaceful protest movement. It seems that irrespective of a commission being formed to investigate alleged rigging (which apparently only occurred in the provinces the PTI lost), Khan is desperate to play his gamble to the bitter end. The November 30 deadline is virtually impossible to meet as it depends on the judiciary’s response. Khan said any proposed commission should forward its findings to the Chief Election Commissioner, but his party has simultaneously rejected all nominees for the post. Like the sit-in, this may end up worse for him than the government, but it is his followers that will pay the price. PTI supporters may put themselves in serious danger to satisfy the ego of a political malcontent. Khan is proving daily that he is not interested in ending the crisis he created. The country can only hope he stops before more people are hurt.

Pakistan: Maryam Nawaz’s resignation

Maryam Nawaz Sharif had been asked by the Lahore High Court to prove her credentials for the post of the chairperson of the Prime Minister’s Youth Loan Programme (PMYLP). Maryam in response has finally chosen to resign from the job on which her father the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan had appointed her. Justifying her appointment, she has made the case that since she had volunteered for the post, her father, using his prerogative as the PM of the country, had appointed her. The question is, does the PM have any such prerogative? If yes, why has it not been challenged in court? If not, the PM had unlawfully appointed his daughter to a job that involved transactions of billion of rupees without following the rules of appointment. Maryam’s appointment is not the only case that has come to haunt the government. Already, fingers have been raised at the PML-N leadership for favouring family members and cronies and giving important positions and posts to its close aides or those considered loyal.
Interestingly, PML-N had criticised the previous PPP government for bypassing the rules of business in the appointments of heads of public organizations. It was even successful in getting a couple of appointees removed by the Supreme Court (SC). In its judgment in the Asif Khwaja case, the SC has directed the government to appoint a commission to spearhead the process of filling the vacant posts of these organizations.
We do not know if Maryam deserved to be the chairperson PMYLP or not, since she had yet to prove her competence. We do know however that her appointment was made on the desire of the PM, which some commentators saw as an attempt to introduce her on the political stage and lay the foundations for a Sharif political dynasty. It goes without saying that this is not the appropriate way to run public organizations. Nepotism and making partisan political appointments has been one of the main reasons why many of Pakistan’s institutions and organizations have remained dysfunctional. Competence, merit and skills are often sacrificed to make room for family members, friends or close aides. The PML-N government motto has always been doing things on merit. On coming to power, it ran a series of advertising campaigns to appoint deserving and suitable persons for the public organizations. We have yet to see the fruits of any of those campaigns. Maryam has perhaps done a wise thing to resign, but PML-N has a lesson to learn here that it should immediately clean out all the appointments made on the basis of nepotism and refrain from making such appointments in future.

Pakistan - Operation Zarb-e-Azb: 30 militants killed in fresh airstrikes in Dattakhel

Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets have pounded militant hideouts in a northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan, killing at least 30 terrorists. The military says the airstrikes were launched on Friday against the hideouts in the village of Datta Khel in North Waziristan. It says local and foreign militants were among the 30 "terrorists" killed in the strikes. The North Waziristan tribal area has been the scene of a major military operation since mid-June. The Pakistani army says it has killed over 1,100 militants in North Waziristan since launching the operation, which also displaced over 800,000 residents. The military says it has cleared 80 percent of the region and that it wants to ensure a safe return of the displaced people to their homes.

Pakistan: Bilawal Bhutto condemns killing of PPP leader in Swat
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairperson Pakistan Peoples Party has condemned target-killing of PPP Swat leader Fazal Hayyat Chattan and castigated Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government for its failure protect the citizens from terrorists.
In a press statement issued here, he said that PPP government had flushed out terrorists through Operation Rah-e-Raast eliminating the scourge of terrorism from Swat valley. However, terrorists seem to be coming out from their hideouts and targeting PPP leaders and other peace-loving people in the valley.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari demanded immediate arrest of the killers of Fazal Hayyat Chattan and exemplary punishment to them. He expressed sympathized with the members of Shaheed Fazal Hayyat Chattan’s family and prayed for heavenly abode to the departed soul and courage and fortitude to the family.