Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Clinton says Obama on firm ground on immigration

Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday noted that previous U.S. presidents have issued some type of executive order on immigration, suggesting his Democratic successor was on "pretty firm legal ground." The former president spoke on the eve of President Barack Obama's scheduled announcement of executive actions to spare as many as 5 million immigrants from being deported from the U.S. Clinton said during an event honoring the magazine The New Republic that it was part of a larger debate about the nation's role around the globe. "As far as I can tell every president in the modern era has issued some executive action on immigration, so I imagine he'll be on pretty firm legal ground," Clinton said at a gala celebrating the publication's centennial. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush extended amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986. Clinton sought to frame the debate in a larger context, saying Americans should be optimistic about the nation's future. He said the next two decades could be positive for the country if the U.S. can develop inclusive economics and inclusive politics. "In a world where borders look more like nets than walls, we are becoming more interdependent whether we like it or not, so the only thing that remains is to define the terms of our interdependence," he said. Clinton joked that nobody cares what an ex-president says unless his wife might run for office. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is considering a White House campaign in 2016.

Video Report: Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado found dead - BBC News

Video Report : Russian foreign minister Lavrov calls for cooperation with EU

Video - Your outdated Internet browser is a gateway for hackers

Putin Calls for Closer Ties Between Russia and North Korea
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Wednesday for deeper ties with North Korea to improve regional security, a day after holding talks with a personal envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Senior North Korean officials visit Moscow infrequently but the isolated country is trying to counter a UN resolution urging Pyongyang's referral to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
Russia is also one of five countries involved in talks with North Korea on its nuclear program. The others are South Korea, China, the U.S. and Japan.
The Kremlin gave no details of Putin's meeting on Tuesday with Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide to Kim and a senior official from the ruling Workers' Party who is a seven-day trip to Russia.
But receiving the credentials of North Korea's new ambassador to Russia, Putin said during a televised Kremlin ceremony: "We maintain friendly relations with one of our neighbors, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"A further deepening of political ties and trade and economic cooperation is definitely in the interests of the peoples of both countries and ensuring regional stability and security," he said.
A Russian Foreign Ministry source told the Interfax news agency this week that the visit would include discussion of bilateral ties, economic developments and North Korea's nuclear program but made no mention of the UN resolution.
"The subject of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is constantly present on the agenda of our dialogue with North Korea," the source said. "Moreover, progress in this field is a mandatory condition of lifting the sanctions against the country which naturally impose big limits on our bilateral relations."
On Tuesday, a UN Assembly committee dealing with human rights passed a resolution calling for the UN Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
The vote followed a UN Commission of Inquiry report published in February detailing wide-ranging abuses in North Korea, including prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.
North Korea has dismissed the UN move as part of a U.S.-led plot to destroy its political system.
Diplomats say North Korea ally China would be likely to use its Security Council veto to knock down an ICC referral and that Russia would probably support Beijing's stance.

3 in 4 UK students will be repaying loans into their 50s – study

Three out of four of today’s UK university graduates will be paying back their student loans well into their 50s, owing an average amount of £44,000 ($74,000), a study published Thursday reveals.
A report conducted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) for the education charity the Sutton Trust found that today’s students are leaving university crippled with huge debts averaging £44,000 ($74,000). This is double the amount before the new £9,000 ($15,100) tuition fees cap came into force after 2010.
The hike in tuition fees, which were already unpopular, led to mass protests across the country, which in London turned into rioting and saw two policemen seriously injured.
The study found that 73 percent of students will be unable to clear their debts, and many will only have managed to write them off 30 years after graduation.
An individual student will have had to repay an average of £35,446 ($59,400) by the time they’ve cleared their debts, when many by that time have to fund their own children’s education. Only a tiny 5 percent of the highest earners will manage to pay back their debts by the time they are 40.
The report comes just after the Department for Business Innovation and Skills admitted that 45 percent of student debts will never be repaid.
Last week Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of Reading University and a former permanent secretary at the Department for Education, said that a second government inquiry was needed into student finance in the UK and may be set up after the 2015 general election.
It was the Browne inquiry of 2010 which convinced the government to remove a cap on tuition fees at £3,200 ($5,360) per year and hiked to almost triple the amount at £9,000 ($15,100). Browne cited poor funding for universities as the motive for recommending the increase.
The Sutton Trust study found that under the new post Browne system it was middle and higher earners that would be hardest hit. Students do not have to start repaying their loans until they earn more than £21,000 ($35,200) a year, compared to £15,000 ($25,149) under the old system.
Whereas a typical teacher would still owe around £37,000 ($62,000) at the age of 40 and would be repaying £1,700 ($2,849) to £2,500 ($4,190) through their 40s and 50s, when they are struggling to support their own kids and to pay off a mortgage.
“The new HE finance system will leave graduates with much more debt than before. Yet even with this extra charge on middle earners, there is an increasing likelihood that the government will end up failing to recoup most of its loans,” Claire Crawford, of the IFS and the University of Warwick who was co-author of the report, told the Independent.
The idea of hammering middle income earners is as unlikely to yield substantial repayments as it is unfair, explained Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust.
“It seems middle income earners pay back a lot more but the Exchequer gains little in return. We believe that the government needs to look again at fees, loans and teaching grants to get a fairer balance,” he said.
Toni Pearce, from the National Union of Students, said that making students fork over huge amounts for their education was not the answer.
“Forcing debt on to students as a way of funding universities is an experiment that has failed our country,” she told the Independent.
The report also notes that the gap in applications between advantaged and disadvantaged young people attending university has fallen, but that it is still students from richer families who are more likely to gain places at the best universities.
Meanwhile the study found that the number of language students in the UK is continuing to drop, with a 22 percent decline in places awarded between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 academic years. The business community in the UK says they are in significant need of more young professionals who can speak foreign languages.
However, the devolved Scottish parliament, which controls all issues concerning education north of the border, has abolished all tuition fees, resulting in a large benefit for Scottish students compared to their English counterparts.

UK: Watch students and police clash during London demo against tuition fees

Video - UK: Student tuition fee protesters hit London streets

U.S. - The Constitutional Authority for Executive Orders on Immigration Is Clear

Eric Posner
Critics of the plan the president is reported to be considering argue that the Constitution obliges him to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” an obligation that seems to give the lawmaker, Congress, the primary authority to set policy. They say that refusing to enforce immigration law against millions of illegal immigrants violates that constitutional duty.
Executive power has always included the power to allocate resources among enforcement efforts. The power has grown over the years. Yet the Constitution also gives the president “executive power,” which has always been understood to include the discretionary power to allocate resources among enforcement efforts. The significance of this power has grown over the last century, as Congress has created vast regulatory agencies and given the president control over them.
Congress typically appropriates money for regulators, gives the president some vague guidelines and enacts far more laws than he could possibly enforce, and then allows him to set enforcement priorities as he sees fit. That’s why different administrations can pursue such different policies from each other without getting Congress’s permission first. The Reagan administration came to power promising to deregulate the economy, which often meant not enforcing the law, whether it was antitrust, environmental or financial.
If, under the Constitution, the president must enforce much of the law but need not enforce all of it, where should the line be drawn? It might be surprising that after two centuries of constitutional experience, we don’t know the answer. Probably the reason is that most of the time, the president’s nonenforcement decisions are not controversial. Every day, an executive branch official decides to drop an investigation, or not to prosecute a case, because resources are scarce and the harm caused by a particular legal violation does not seem serious. We don’t object because that’s a sensible thing to do.
And the sensible thing to do in the area of immigration law is to bring removal proceedings against the most serious violators — typically, criminals — while leaving otherwise law-abiding noncitizens alone. Given that Congress has not appropriated nearly enough money to deport 10 million or more people, this type of priority-setting is unavoidable, and not merely wise. Indeed, the president is just following in the footsteps of his predecessors, who also focused removal efforts on dangerous aliens. Congress has acquiesced in this practice for years. The president’s discretion over immigration is deeply interwoven in our law. As the Supreme Court recognized just two years ago, in the course of summarizing the statutory scheme: “A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials.”
The only difference between the president and his predecessors is that the president has openly declared the de facto policy of his predecessors. We might disagree about whether this move is wise, but it’s not a constitutional violation.

Obama to unveil immigration plan Friday, visit Las Vegas -reports

U.S. President Barack Obama will unveil his executive order aimed at making changes to the country's immigration system on Friday during a trip to Las Vegas, according to media reports.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the president was traveling to Nevada on Friday but gave no details about the trip.
Under the executive action plan, Obama would ease immigration rules on millions of undocumented immigrants, a source familiar with White House deliberations, has told Reuters.
The order, which will set up a showdown between the White House and Republicans in Congress, would give relief from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or of permanent legal residents, according to the source, who asked not to be identified.
It was not yet clear which parents of citizens or permanent residents would be included, the source said, and the Obama administration had been looking at options including those parents who have been living in the United States for five years or 10 years.
The reported trip would come after a top Obama aide is scheduled to meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, who is likely to be pressed on the immigration issue in the closed-door luncheon.
Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have been urging Obama to move quickly on immigration. Some have pointed to his failure to take executive action on the issue as costing Democrats votes in this month's congressional elections and setting up a Republicans sweep of congressional election earlier this month.
Obama has warned Republicans in Congress that he would act unilaterally if they continue to block comprehensive immigration legislation.
Sources have said Obama is expected to take actions to allow some undocumented people to live here at least temporarily without the threat of deportation and to hold jobs in the United States. Obama's executive order could also include further border security steps, they said.
Obama also is expected to stress that he wants to focus efforts on deportations of illegal residents with serious criminal backgrounds.

U.S. - ‘Extreme’ Snowstorm Pummels Western New York

A powerful snowstorm swept across Western New York overnight, creating snow drifts as high as houses, trapping people in their homes and forcing hundreds of motorists to abandon their cars on roadways that were quickly buried in the blizzard-like conditions.
As much of the nation was plunged into a deep freeze, the sudden rush of cold air from the north set the perfect conditions for the moisture coming off the Great Lakes to create sprawling snow bands, the most ferocious of which settled over the towns and communities just south of Buffalo on Tuesday.
At least four people in that region died as a result of the weather, according to The Associated Press. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard to help find and rescue anyone stranded in the storm.
The heavy snowfall and local travel bans forced Amtrak to suspend service in the region until at least Wednesday afternoon.
As of late Tuesday night, more than five feet had fallen in towns like Lancaster and Gardenville and, since snow kept falling overnight, it was likely that there could be more than six feet of snow in some places.
“This is a very extreme event,” said Shawn Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo. “It basically crippled all the towns south of Buffalo.”
But unlike a typical winter storm, the snow caused by the “lake effect” was not felt equally across the region. The divide was so stark that someone on a tall building in downtown Buffalo had clear skies overheard but could see a menacing gray wall of moisture and snow being swept up off the lake and driven south.
On Wednesday, there was only a dusting of snow in the city.
But a few miles away, in the town of Evans, they were comparing the storm to the infamous Blizzard of ’77, one of the deadliest snowfalls ever recorded in the region.
Keith Dash, the town supervisor, said it began snowing around 10 p.m. Monday. By 5:30 a.m., it was clear that school needed to be canceled.
“We are at anywhere from 30 to 45 inches, depending on what side of town you’re in,” Mr. Dash said Tuesday night, as the snow continued to pile up. “Plus, there’s been blowing and drifting all day long.”
He said the roads were a major concern.
“We have a lot of stuck vehicles,” he said. “We have over 100 people who are still stuck. I have never, ever seen this much snow at one time.”
Nicole Tubiolo, 35, a web project manager at First Niagara Bank who lives in a condominium in Amherst, said she had not had much snow.
But she said that her mother, in nearby Lancaster, had never seen the snow come so fast and was stuck in her home.
“She said, ‘There’s no way I’m getting out in this,'  ” Ms. Tubiolo said.
The snow forced the closing of a 132-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway on Tuesday but highway officials said that much of the road had been reopened on Wednesday, even as they worked to remove cars abandoned on the side of the road.
Residents are expected to get a brief respite from the snow on Wednesday but the forecast calls for another 12 to 24 inches of snow to fall on Thursday.
As residents upstate started to dig out, the cold temperatures across the country were causing people to hunker down.
In New York City, record low temperatures were recorded at the area airports and it was not expected to warm up until the weekend.


Music Video - Faiza Mujahid _ Meri Zindagi -

Music Video - Humsafar - AXIS

Pakistan: PTI responsible for mishandling of IDP issue
Senator Farhatullah Babar at the PPP Secretariat in Islamabad on Tuesday said that since the IDPs are in K-P, the provincial government cannot run away from its duty to work for the people who were making sacrifices to end terrorism and militancy in the country.
Flanked by party leaders before dispatching winter items including clothes, blankets and other necessary goods for IDPs camped in Bannu, the PPP senator condemned the recent police raid during ration distribution.
“We admire the IDPs heroic role. They are playing a frontline role in the war against militancy,” Senator Babar said.
Former information minister and ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman said that and they should work together for the rehabilitation of IDPs. “We will make effort so they do not end up as refugees.” P
PP leaders further demanded that all cases against IDPs should be dismissed, and the policemen responsible held accountable.
Former chairman Pakistan Baitul Mal, Zamurad Khan offered to adopt all those children who have become orphans during the ongoing military conflict in the tribal belt.
“I request the media and Pakistan Army to help me find such children,” he said.

Pakistan: Five point plan for Journalists’ protection
Senator Farhatullah Babar at the PPP Secretariat in Islamabad on Tuesday said that since the IDPs are in K-P, the provincial government cannot run away from its duty to work for the people who were making sacrifices to end terrorism and militancy in the country.
Flanked by party leaders before dispatching winter items including clothes, blankets and other necessary goods for IDPs camped in Bannu, the PPP senator condemned the recent police raid during ration distribution.
“We admire the IDPs heroic role. They are playing a frontline role in the war against militancy,” Senator Babar said.
Former information minister and ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman said that and they should work together for the rehabilitation of IDPs. “We will make effort so they do not end up as refugees.”
PPP leaders further demanded that all cases against IDPs should be dismissed, and the policemen responsible held accountable.
Former chairman Pakistan Baitul Mal, Zamurad Khan offered to adopt all those children who have become orphans during the ongoing military conflict in the tribal belt.
“I request the media and Pakistan Army to help me find such children,” he said.

Pakistan's Afghan refugees

Four decades of war have displaced millionss of Afghans to neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan. The number of refugees has since grown owing to constant conflict, political instability and uncertainty in Afghanistan. The economic condition of the country does not allow these displaced people to return. According to a report prepared by Feinstein International Centre, one in three Afghan children is malnourished. Malnourishment is higher in conflict-ridden regions such as those in the country’s south. Afghanistan has the highest rate of stunted growth in the world among children less than five years old. In areas where fighting continues, militants do not allow residents access to healthcare services. Though militancy has been the major reason behind the large scale movement of people both within and outside Afghanistan, poverty and natural disasters have also contributed to this situation. In Pakistan, 36 percent of the Afghan refugee population lives in refugee camps — known locally as ‘refugee villages’ — and 63 percent in urban settings. In addition to the 1.7 million refugees registered with the government, it is estimated that a further one million or more undocumented Afghans live in the country. 85.1 percent of the Afghans in Pakistan are Pashtun, and the remainder are Tajiks, Uzbeks, and others. One of the most vulnerable Afghan refugee groups is the ethnic Hazara, who face targeted killings and persecution by the Taliban and anti-Shia factions in Afghanistan. For the Hazara, and for other Afghan refugee groups, voluntary repatriation is therefore not a viable solution.
Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol on refugees. The temporary stay of registered Afghan refugees is regularised by means of Proof of Registration cards, all of which expired on December 31, 2012. The Pakistan government extended their right to stay for an additional six months until the end of June 2013, and in July 2013 announced a further extension. Things however, have started to change with the arrival of the new government in Afghanistan. During his recent two-day visit to Pakistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced that Afghanistan would be ready to receive the refugees sheltering in Pakistan by end 2015. Pakistan will be relieved of this economic burden if this deadline is met. Life for the Afghans has been a hell whether they live in their own country or as refugees in any part of the world. Living as a refugee can never compare with one’s home and one’s own country. The Afghan people have had more than their share of suffering. It is high time that the country’s wounds are attended to, including the safe return of its displaced sons and daughters to their hearths and homes.

Afghanistan: Smuggled medicine floods Afghan market, says report
A new report says that half of all medicine available on the Afghan market has either been smuggled into the country or made under sub-standard conditions in neighboring Pakistan.
The Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee says in a report released on Wednesday that up to 300 companies in Pakistan are producing poor quality drugs exclusively for Afghanistan because their products do not meet Pakistani government standards.
The report says that since there is no Afghan government regulation of pharmaceuticals, the medicine can be sold in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's pharmaceuticals market is worth up to $800 million a year. But the quality of drugs available in the country is so poor that many Afghan people are forced to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Pakistan: PTI and the mantra of education reform

Usman Malik
While discussing reforms liberal progressive folks, who support the PTI, are utmost fond of mentioning the party’s progressive stance on education. This, now passé, statement could not be further from the truth.
If actions speak louder than words and if intentions can, however faintly, be assessed from actions, then, in regards to policies, studying actions can be an enlightening exercise.
Take a look at the PTI’s 18-month track record regarding education in KPK.
The province’s last government, the ANP – widely regarded to be a liberal progressive party – instituted reforms regarding the exclusion of material bearing tinges of religious hatred and intolerance. Coming from a province most ravaged by the very real demon of terrorism, the reforms were a welcome step.
However, one of the first ‘changes’ that took place under the PTI-JI coalition were targeted exclusion of previous reforms under the garb of ‘objectionable material’.
Since then systematic exclusion and a return to pre-ANP curriculum has been ongoing. The PTI did take a cursory stand against what is now thought to be an entirely JI venture.
Nevertheless, in the recent months, the PTI has caved in on essentially every agenda point. Not only this but also the PTI education minister has said he is ready to “induct material to be proposed by Jamaat”. The question that arises here is:
Is PTI really the party with an uncompromising stance on education reform?
The ANP government not only removed retrogressive content, but also added contemporary, regional (more relatable) material in Social Studies. Removal of such content, as numerous statements from party spokespersons indicate, was fronted, not just acquiesced to, by the PTI.
So I want to ask: Does the PTI truly have a progressive stance on education? Or is it pushing ahead in the wrong direction?
The most interesting of all the nip-tucks by the PTI-JI coalition is the inclusion of religious references to the grade nine Chemistry book – Chemistry book!
Yes, folks. Zia’s Pakistan is alive and thriving.
A point of significance here is to note the level of intellectual and ethical bankruptcy that one would have to stoop to, were one to even suggest such a ‘change’.
In a province with a sizable share of Christian, Sikh, and Hindu minorities, this step is cringingly unscrupulous.
Try and imagine a human endeavour which is even infinitesimally more secular than science. Think of a subject with lesser schisms than science.
Have you ever heard of Hindu Physics or Japanese Biology?
There is a reason, why you have not.
Science does not work that way. It does not care from which authoritative tradition a particular insight is coming. Science does not consider to what language, national, cultural, or racial identity one belongs.
Learning in science is not predicated upon who did it first i.e. its history. Reading about Al-Beruni would be very little help in understanding chemical reactions. A Social Studies textbook is more suited for talking about historical contributions of scientists and these books contain plenty of such references.
Any progressive, educated person would recognise that a muddling of the two (science and history) is a disservice to both. The last KPK government removed names and contributions of ‘Famous Muslim Scientists’ from Science textbooks. One would, therefore, commend ANP on such a rectification.
The level of bankruptcy of scientific-literacy that one would have to plumb to even think of reforming back to old is phenomenal. Yet, the ‘visionary leaders’ did just that. So again, is PTI really the emblem of a party with an enlightened view on education?
As is evident from the antics of Imran Khan and the PTI’s ill-advised criticism of financial and infrastructural reform, the party does not really seem to understand economics either.
If a pattern can be descried here, it is this: The PTI ranks seem to be devoid of the academic depth required for scientific, rational and secular reforms. It is much too intellectually nascent to be expected to bring better educational reforms and not bungle them like other parties so often do.
About the party’s progressive policy regarding education reform, I am still open-minded but all the evidence of their own doing – not just their ‘strategic’, real-politik, ends-justify-means moves – says otherwise.
At best, the PTI is too weak in its resolve to put up a fight against retrogression. At worst, the party is too intellectually exhausted to handle reforms.
In any case, this mantra of ‘change’, at least in education, is an Obama-like rhetoric which has run its course.


Altaf-led MQM on Wednesday submitted a call attention notice in the Sindh Assembly to discuss the presence of notorious takfiri nasbi terrorist outfit DAESH (ISIS or ISIL) in the country.
The notice was submitted by MQM’s MPA Kamran Akhtar in today’s session, requesting the provincial and federal governments to take action against any DAESH activities in the country.
Last week, a leaked government memo warned that DAESH had recruited 10,000-12,000 takfiri fighters inside Pakistan, but government insisted that the group had no presence there.
Several takfiri militants said that hundreds of Pakistanis have gone to fight in Syria, but had done so through the Taliban or on their own.
MQM Chief Altaf Hussain has already alerted the government to crush DAESH instead of denying their presence in Pakistan.

Pakistan: Neither Imran Khan nor Ali Mohammad MNA of PTI apologize calling Christian to be Infidels

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC has expressed grave concern on remarks of a leader of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf PTI in a live TV Show about Christian calling them infidels (Kafir) commenting on incident of burning a Christian couple alive in Kot RadaKishan on November 4, 2014, in Punjab province of Pakistan.
There was uproar and anger among millions of Pakistani Christians on remarks of Ali Mohammad MNA of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf PTI and an open apology was demanded by them for Ali Mohammad and PTI Chief Imran Khan.
But neither Imran Khan nor Ali Mohammad apologized which have forced Christians to decide to quit their memberships of PTI socially boycott those Christians who still work to promote cause of Tehreek Insaf in Pakistan.
Dr. Nazir Bhatti said “The remarks of Ali Mohammad in electronic media have exposed Pakistan Tehreek Insaf PTI that it is not a political party of moderate Muslims but carrying hidden agenda to impose extremist Islam in Pakistan where Muslims will treat Christians as Infidels and impose Islamic taxes on them or force them to convert to Islam or get to for beheading as ISIS is practicing Islam in new Islamic state unless PTI leader might have apologized on remarks of his party leader”
Imran Khan is one Muslim political leader who marched to Talban strong hold North Waziristan to express Pakistan Tehreek Insaf PTI support towards their stance.
It is on record that when Talban were bombing public gathering of other political parties during election campaign of national general elections of 2013, the public gathering of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf PTI and Pakistan Muslim League PML (N) were freely happening with total protection.
Dr. Nazir Bhatti said “Imran Khan is clean shaved moderate Muslim demanding New Pakistan but bearded in stomach as radical Muslim to promote Islamic Extremism in Pakistan”
“It sham for those Christians who still claim to be members of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf PTI after calling Christians to be Infidels (Kafir) live on electronic media and no apology afterwards” added Nazir Bhatti

Persecuted Christian: Will Pakistan's Asia Bibi be killed for alleged blasphemy?

By Lela Gilbert
Amidst wars and rumors of wars, the eyes of the world have understandably fixed themselves on the Middle East.
In Iraq and Syria, untold thousands have died and hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing their homes and homelands. Myriad Yazidis, Kurds, Turkomen, Shia Muslims have escaped with the only the clothes on their backs.
And Christians – as it is often said – are being driven out of the Cradle of Christianity.
Those of us who pay close attention to the persecution of Christians and other minorities continue to report and update daily abuses in the Middle East. But that is far from the only place such atrocities happen.
Nigerians are being slaughtered by the hundreds in their homes and churches; children are kidnapped, raped and sold into sex slavery.
North Korea’s believers are warehoused and starved in cruel labor camps and prisons, most of them never to be heard from again.
Mariam Ibraheem, who was imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to deny her Christian faith, exposed the depths of Sudan’s hardcore Sharia regime. Thankfully she is safe and free at last.
And then there is Pakistan, where a Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, has been on death row for more than five years.
At times, much has been written about her. But these days, massacres and carnages elsewhere have stolen the headlines again and again.
With ISIS sweeping across the Middle East, who remembers Asia Bibi?
But remember we must. Because for years, Asis Bibi’s infuriating story and sorrowful face have embodied the unfairness of Pakistan’s deadly blasphemy laws.
And despite all the other troubles in the world, Ms. Bibi particularly deserves our thoughts and prayers right now. Her appeal hearing (rescheduled 7 times) has been set for October 16.
“In June 2009, Asia was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries, after the other women became angry at her for drinking the same water as them. She was subsequently accused of insulting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies, and was arrested and imprisoned. In November 2010, a Sheikhupura judge sentenced her to death. If executed, Asia would be the first woman in Pakistan to be lawfully killed for blasphemy.”
Many have appealed to the Pakistani government on Asia Bibi’s behalf, including Pope Benedict.
Two prominent and courageous Pakistanis, Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Christian minorities, and Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, were assassinated in 2011 for opposing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and for speaking out on Asia Bibi’s behalf.
Another brave Pakistani, journalist Farahnaz Ispahani, served as a member of the Pakistani parliament while her husband, Husain Haqqani, was Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S from 2008 to 2011.
Today – shadowed by death threats – the two of them live in exile in the United States.
I asked Ms. Ispahani why Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are so controversial and perilous to those who oppose them:
“Pakistan's blasphemy laws have become more pernicious and dangerous as the society at large has become more extremist and unwilling to share space with those of other beliefs like Pakistan's Christians, Hindus and Sikhs -- and even those of the same faith but of different sects like Ahmadi and Shia Muslims.
“Even religious and conservative Sunni Muslim scholars of Islam, like Professor Shakeel Auj of Karachi, have been gunned down for having a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding and interpretation.
“There is still a majority of Pakistanis who will not kill someone who believes or practices differently, but they have become fearful of armed and jihadi groups, and the madrasahs the killers come from.
“The protection by the Pakistan establishment of many of these 'good' extremists has given them a powerful place and voice in the society - both urban and rural.
“Pakistan and Pakistanis have paid for this militant mindset in their midst in the blood of innocents.
“As in the case of Asia Bibi, from the very outset, the other danger of these laws is that groups or mobs can exact petty personal revenge by a mere accusation of blaspheming.”
Because of such draconian rules and widespread fear of vengeful extremists, since 2009 Asia Bibi has awaited her fate in a grimy prison cell. Will her death sentence be reversed on October 16?
Or will she continue to live in limbo while the legal system postpones her hearings yet again?
Or will Asia Bibi be the first woman in history to be executed for allegedly breaking Pakistan’s treacherous blasphemy laws?
Far away from this nightmare scenario, most of can only watch. And wait with her in spirit. And pray for the speedy deliverance of an innocent woman.

Pakistan: Christian couple killing: Kiln owner, Imam among 4 suspects presented before ATC

Owner of a brick kiln – where a Christian couple accused of blasphemy was burnt – and three other suspects were presented before an anti-terrorism court on Wednesday, Express News reported.
An enraged mob on November 4 beat the couple to death and then burnt their bodies in the brick kiln where they worked, for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. The incident took place in the town of Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres from Lahore.
Following the incident, 53 people were arrested of which four were held on physical remand and were presented in court today. These suspects were held in police custody for the last nine days.
An Imam of a local mosque was also presented before the court. He is accused of inciting the mob against the couple. Police will also be presenting their findings before the judge.
It was earlier reported that the family of the couple were facing threats and were being pressured into withdrawing the case.

Pakistan: Imran adopts VIP protocol during Peshawar visit

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan made full use of the VIP protocol along with his convoy on his visit to Peshawar on Tuesday, Dunya News reported.
According to the details, Khan’s VIP protocol comprised dozens of lavish vehicles that accompanied him to his visit to the Chief Minister House.
It merits mentioning here that PTI chairman has been speaking against VIP protocol since the beginning of his ‘change’ movement. He even termed Rehman Malik’s offloading from Karachi plane a ‘change’ against the ‘VIP culture’.
Opponents have previously criticized Imran Khan for allegedly commuting in helicopters and private jets.

Pakistan: Seven newborns die of lack of oxygen in Sargodha hospital

Lack of oxygen for incubators allegedly led to the death of seven newborns in District Headquarters (DHQ) Teaching Hospital Sargodha, private media reported. According to the report, the families of the newborns have blamed the hospital administration for negligence. They have alleged that no arrangement of oxygen and the unavailability of senior doctors led to the babies passing away within a few hours after birth. Medical Superintendent (MS) Dr Iqbal Sami has refuted the allegations, claiming that he infants were provided with proper medical care. He added that an inquiry committee has been set up to investigate the matter.

Pakistan: - Sartaj Aziz’s statement - Freudian Slip?

Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz’s statements regarding the Taliban in a BBC Urdu interview has created quite a stir amongst political commentators, local and international. Claiming that not all Taliban are a threat to the state and that Pakistan is fighting the United States’ war, he gave the impression the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Afghani Taliban are two separate entities, and the foreign policy towards both of them needs to be nuanced – or to put it bluntly, different. While the Foreign Office was quick to mop up the mess Sartaj Aziz left behind, the damage had been done. More importantly, it betrayed a decadent mindset in the administration, one that everyone hoped had significantly eroded.
Pakistan in the past, has been criticized roundly for strategically maintaining a distinction between the ‘good militants’ and ‘bad militants’, the later being targeted and the former used as a foreign policy tool. There is a lot of bad blood and suspicion between Pakistan and both Afghanistan and the US, over this distinction. The state, having allowed militancy to foster under this policy, later felt a serious challenge from these forces that were getting out of control. The advent of Operation Zarb-e-Azab, and now Khyber One, hinted at the state having finally recognised its mistake and moving to rectify it. Ironically, it is when the operations are at their zenith, and the two estranged states are finally inching their way back into stronger diplomatic ties with Pakistan, that Mr Aziz decides to make these comments. Ashraf Ghani’s momentous initiative and the ongoing Pakistan-US military dialogue will be seriously undermined if such tendencies are displayed by the top administration.
Even if we buy the argument that the comments were taken out of context, which is hard sell in the first place, it still represents the presence of such rationale in the minds of the government, and is at least a highly un-diplomatic move by the elite diplomat. It is high time we shed the flawed logic that has brought this country so much hardship. The different brands of militants may have different origins but they all share one core aspect: using violence and fear to impose their own warped version of extremist religion and propagating intolerance. This fact alone condemns them. Propagating this policy is akin to shooting oneself in the foot, repeatedly.

Pakistan: Fresh polio case springs up
A new case of polio has been reported in Qila Abdullah district of Baluchistan, increasing the tally of the victims of the crippling disease to 12. Baluchistan health department in a statement confirmed a new case of polio in Zaman Achakzai village of Qila Abdulllah district. The infection has been reported in 14-month son of a villager Abdul Razzaq. The parents had not vaccinated their child, leaving him to the mercy of the crippling infection. The number of polio cases in Baluchistan has reached to 12 with the new reported infection.

Pakistan: PPP sends recommendations to Bilawal for public meeting

A meeting of the top provincial leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab chapter on Tuesday held at Bilawal House here to finalize the recommendations regarding the Founding Day of PPP falling on November 30. The recommendations have been sent to the chairman for his approval.
The meeting was attended by the former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gialni, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Chief Minister, Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, President PPP Punjab. Makhdoom Shahb-ud-din, President PPP South Punjab, Jahangir Badar, Chief Co-coordinator, Dr, Fahmeda Mirza, former Speakr of National Assembly, Kanzada Khan, President PPP KPK, Sadiq Imrani, President Baluchistan PPP, Syed Mehdi Shah, Chief Minister/Baltistan. Other senior leaders of the PPP hailing from all the Provinces of the country who attended the meeting included Tanvir Ashraf Kaira, Rana Farooq, Aslam Gill, Samina Khalid Ghurki, Akhanzada Chittan, Barrister Masood Kausar, Maula Bux Chandio.
It was decided in the meeting that the provincial conventions would be held in all the provinces including Azad Kashmir and Gilgit/Baltistan early next year. It was decided that the convention in Central Punjab would be held on January 31 next year, in South Punjab on January 20, in Sindh first week of February, in KPK January 5, and Gilgit Baltistan in the month of April with the commencement of the summer season. While talking to media, Jehangir Badar said that in the Founding Day Convention PPP delegates from all the provinces including Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan would participate. He said that the Chairman Bilawal Bhutto would preside over the Convention to meet the worker from all over the country with a view to hear from them.
He added that the Founding Day Convention of the Party had special significance because it was being held in Lahore after a long time. The Chairman will address the Convention to give line of action to be followed by the workers and office bearers. He argued that the PPP was the liberal and progressive Party whereas most of other parties were status-quo parties who had no programme for the overall development of the people. PPP represents the poor people of the country, he added.

Pakistan: Heads in the sand

With the defection of terrorist splinter group Jundullah to the Islamic State (IS), the growing IS presence presents a viable threat to Pakistan but officials continue denying a problem exists despite evidence of IS and its affiliates’ global intentions. On Monday, Jundullah spokesperson Fahad Marwat informed the press that his group had met a three-person IS delegation and decided to back IS, saying: “They are our brothers. Whatever plan they have we will support them.” Jundullah is responsible for the 2013 bombing of a church in Peshawar that killed 86 people and the massacre of eight foreign tourists and their guide at Nanga Parbat base camp last year. The group has an anti-Shia agenda and claimed responsibility for the February 2012 Kohistan massacre, in which 18 Shias were singled out and executed after their bus was stopped by the terrorists. Jundullah’s announcement throws further light on the confluence between IS and extremist groups in Pakistan that is quickly becoming an operational relationship. Pamphlets with IS literature were recently found circulating in Peshawar while on Monday police in Lahore arrested two men for spraying pro-IS graffiti on walls. The National Counter-Terrorism Authority reportedly sent a letter to law enforcement officials warning them to be wary of pro-IS messages being spread. Reports say that five of the militants killed in an attack on a Pakistan Air Force base in Quetta this August had returned from fighting with IS in Iraq. An official estimated that the group may have as many as 10-15,000 fighters in Pakistan and noted that IS’s success has attracted Pakistani sectarian organisations to its banner. Despite these obvious warning signs, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar insisted recently: “There is no presence of IS in the country.”
Nisar’s statement typifies the inability of the security establishment to accurately gauge the threat of global terrorism. A decade ago similar statements were made about Taliban influence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was brushed off as hooligans burning DVD stores. The perpetuation of the extremist mindset and impunity for imposing their ideology led extremist malcontents to join the Taliban in droves, eventually turning their guns on Pakistan in an ideological war. For IS, Pakistan, with a history of religious militancy and a radicalising society, presents it with a strategic opportunity and a resource-rich nation that is susceptible to the terrorist narrative. One of the differences between al Qaeda-affiliated groups and IS is the latter’s focus on a sectarian war with Shias, which was not an al Qaeda priority. IS shares this goal with Pakistani extremist groups that are categorised as sectarian but not ‘anti-state’. The question the security establishment must consider is whether so-called sectarian groups are not also inherently anti-state, as their existence challenges the state’s legal monopoly on the use of force. The much discussed Deobandi-Wahabi ideological synergy plays an important role in preparing these groups for their role in a wider global war. They have the manpower and IS, recently categorised as the richest terrorist group in the world, has the resources, strategic thinking, popularity and a claim to ideological supremacy through its ‘caliphate’.
IS’s claims of divine mandate are validated in the extremist view by its expansion in Iraq and Syria. In terms of global terrorism, its territorial gains and wealth are a quantum leap in capability and ambition. IS’s success also came with bold tactical and strategic decisions that could inspire terrorists in other parts of the world. This is the danger the group presents to Pakistan, but in an interview the other day, Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz went so far as to ask: “Why should action against extremist groups that do not threaten the state be undertaken?” The willingness to ignore and deny clear threats indicates that the strategy to defeat terrorism does not include the state renouncing the idea of using terrorism as strategic leverage where necessary. This in turn provides extremist groups with leverage over the state. The state must carefully weigh the distinctions it is willing to draw between different terrorist groups and sectarian organisations. As recent events show, they are becoming increasingly linked operationally and ideologically. Right now Pakistan has the time to quash this synergy in its infancy; the alternative, continuing denial, is alarming.

Pakistan: Haqqani network as much a threat as any other terrorist group: US

The US State Department reminded Pakistan on Wednesday that the Haqqani network was as much a threat to regional security as any other terrorist group.
"We have long communicated to the Pakistani government our view that militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network, continue to pose a threat to Pakistan, to the region, and to the United States,” said director of the State Department’s Press Office, Jeff Rathke. “It’s vital that every effort is made to deny safe haven to any and all violent extremists.”
In this first official US reaction to National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz’s comments that Pakistan should not target militant groups that did not “pose a direct threat to the state”, Rathke said the United States believed all terrorist groups were a threat to regional and international security.
“We will reiterate this message to Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif as well," said the US official.
State Department officials are expected to meet General Raheel later this week. The army chief is visiting the US and has held a series of meetings with senior US military officials.
Pakistan's Foreign Office on Tuesday said that in his interview with BBCUrdu, Aziz was referring to past developments and not the current situation and that Pakistan had already launched the biggest military operation in its history, targeting all militant groups.
However, the interview was picked up by the US media with the prevailing impression that Islamabad wanted to maintain its relations with the Haqqani network.
Some commentators also claimed that the statement reflected a growing gap between the civilian government and the country’s defence establishment over Afghanistan.
Rathke, however, said that “the highest levels of the Pakistani government” had assured the US that it was their “policy to target all militant groups without distinguishing among them”.
He noted that Pakistan had already clarified its position on Aziz’s interview and “we welcome the clarification … underscoring that Pakistan is opposed to all forms of terrorism and that military operations in North Waziristan are targeting all terrorist groups.”

Pakistan: PPP submits adjournment motion in NA on plight of IDPs
The Pakistan People’s Party on Monday submitted the adjournment motion in the National Assembly Secretariat on the appalling state of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police atrocities in Bannu on them that led to the death of 2 innocent citizens.
The adjournment motion was submitted by PPP legislators Dr Nafisa Shah, Ms Shazia Atta Marri, Mir Ejaz Hussain Jakhrani, Dr Azra Fazal and Syed Naveed Qamar in the National Assembly Secretariat. The adjournment motion stated that the PPP is concerned on the appalling state of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the total neglect by federal government, which has led to frustration among them and the resulting police atrocities in Bannu on November 13 which led to the death of 2 innocent citizens, which is condemnable.
“The commendable action of Pak Army against terrorism in North Waziristan is not being matched with requisite support by the government of Pakistan to the vulnerable and displaced citizens,” the adjournment motion stated. The adjournment motion added that as winter sets in plight of IDPs from North Waziristan is worsening by the day. “There seems to be little effort by the federal government responsible for Fata to provide rehabilitation and relief, including winter materials, more efficient food assistance, shelter etc,” it stated.