Sunday, January 11, 2015

François Hollande rend hommage aux familles et proches des victimes de Charlie Hebdo

Video - Paris March: Largest demonstration in French history

Europe 'Reacted Too Late' to Danger of Islamists Returning From Middle East


As France mourns the victims of its worst terrorist atrocity since the mid-nineties’ attacks carried out by the Armed Islamic Group, attention has begun to turn to the significance of the Syrian civil war.
A former UK counter-terrorism detective has told Newsweek that the authorities in Britain and France “face awkward questions” about letting young jihadists travel to join the Syrian rebels, especially in the early days of the civil war when the Islamic State had yet to emerge as the predominant fighting group.

And a French security source says European intelligence services underestimated the danger of Syria-linked jihadist groups.
Connections between the Syrian conflict and the attacks in Paris are beginning to emerge, with a video circulating apparently showing supermarket gunman Amedy Coulibaly pledging his allegiance to ISIS, and suggestions in the US media that the Kouachi brothers may have returned from Syria relatively recently.
CNN quoted a French source saying that Cherif Kouachi might have travelled to Syria and returned in August last year, whereas USA Today reported both brothers returned last summer.
Charles Shoebridge, a former counter-terrorism detective in the UK, says the strategy of Western governments in relation to the Syrian war will now be scrutinised, and warned that the battlefields “have served as incubators for the kind of jihadist terrorism increasingly seen on Europe's streets.”
Shoebridge told Newsweek: “For the first two of the last three years, countries such as the UK and France did little to stem the flow of their citizens to an already destabilised Syria and Libya, perhaps believing these jihadists would serve Western foreign policy objectives in attacking Gaddafi and Assad for example.”
He continued: “Only when domestic intelligence services began to warn of the dangers of blowback from such people, and when groups such as ISIS began over the last year to turn against the West in Iraq and Syria for example, was any real action taken to stop the flow of UK and French citizens to what, in effect, were largely western policy created terrorist recruiting and training grounds. By then, as Europe seems increasingly likely to experience, it was already too late.”
The security analyst and writer Nafeez Ahmed, who has been critical of the UK’s anti-extremism programme Channel, thinks the approach to extremists with Syrian links was wrong: “What we know is that the police took a pretty lax approach. There were a bunch of court trials in 2008, but there was a whole network who were just sitting there, and who were under surveillance.
“At some point, there was a decision to leave these guys, these Islamists inside Paris, because they were going abroad. I saw quotes from French police and agents who were saying they didn’t think there was a threat for Paris. The question is: to what extend did it allow these people to operate inside France and Britain, and to carry out their recruiting activities?”
A source familiar with the French security services doesn’t believe police and agents ignored terror recruitment, but admits that “we were naive”.
“I think that the confusion in the European position allowed recruiters to say that it was OK to go to Syria. I won’t say they were ‘allowed’ to do this, but clearly, they were not properly prevented. In the two first years, a lot of services didn’t pay the necessary attention to this situation and, actually, for once, it was Belgium who sounded the alarm.”
He continued: “At the very beginning, authorities treated the problem as a humanitarian and  social one, about ‘poor young men going to Syria and being exposed to violence’. At the time very few understood that this was ‘a new Afghanistan’ for jihadists, but at a much larger scale.”
It has emerged that both Kouachi brothers, Coulibaly, and his girlfriend Hayat Boumeddiene – who is thought to have escaped France, possibly heading to Syria – were all associated with the same jihadist group in Paris, Buttes-Chaumont. “I think until a year ago, they were considered as a joke,” says the French source.
“Those people were extremists but they were mainly talking in the streets, telling Muslims to cut off from society – it was bizarre, but it was not a priority. Those organisations – like Sharia for Belgium, and the equivalent in London - were seen as crazy people, quite funny people. They were treated as average extremists. Maybe not the security services, but the policy makers were very naive.”

Saudi Arabia: Free Blogger Publicly Flogged

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia should overturn the lashing and prison term for a blogger imprisoned for his views and immediately grant him a pardon. Saudi authorities lashed Raif Badawi 50 times on January 9, 2015, in front of a crowded mosque in Jeddah, part of a judicial sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for setting up a liberal website and allegedly insulting religious authorities.

The charges against Badawi are based solely on his peaceful exercise of his right to free expression, Human Rights Watch said. Badawi established his online platform in 2008 to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities have detained Badawi in Jeddah’s Buraiman prison since his arrest on June 17, 2012.

“Corporal punishment is nothing new in Saudi Arabia, but publicly lashing a peaceful activist merely for expressing his ideas sends an ugly message of intolerance,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Saudi Arabia is showing a willingness to inflict vicious and cruel punishments on writers whose views it rejects.”

A witness to the flogging in front of the Juffali Mosque in central Jeddah following Friday prayers told Human Rights Watch:
There was a very large gathering [of people]. They brought out Raif from the prison car and put him in front of people gathered in a circle around him. Then the officer lashed him 50 times. After the lashing the gathered people shouted in one voice saying “God is great,” and they took Raif and returned him to prison.
The witness said that Badawi suffered visible bruising as a result of the flogging, but was able to walk back to the prison car on his own.

The Jeddah Criminal Court originally convicted Badawi in July 2013 and sentenced him to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, but an appeals court in May 2014 increased the punishment to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. The appeals court judgment, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, sentenced Badawi to five years in prison and a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyals (US$266,000) for setting up a liberal website, and another five years in prison and 1,000 public lashes for “blasphemous phrases on his Facebook page and disobedience to his father.” The judgment bans Badawi from any media work or foreign travel for 10 years after his release from prison.

The judgment provides that the lashes are to be carried out in 20 sessions of 50 lashes in front of the Juffali Mosque, with at least one week between sessions. Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch that lashing is generally carried out with a light wooden cane, and the blows are distributed across the back and legs, which leaves bruising but normally does not break the skin.

International human rights law prohibits judicial verdicts imposing corporal punishment, including lashing, as constituting torture, Human Rights Watch said. Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1997. The United Nations Committee against Torture, in its 2002 comments on Saudi Arabia’s first and only report to the committee, criticized “[t]he sentencing to, and imposition of, corporal punishments by judicial and administrative authorities, including, in particular, flogging and amputation of limbs, that are not in conformity with the Convention.”

The flogging is the latest in a series of harsh penalties handed down against Saudi human rights activists and peaceful dissidents, Human Rights Watch said. Those prosecuted include Waleed Abu al-Khair, Badawi’s lawyer, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in July 2014 solely on account of his peaceful criticism of Saudi human rights abuses in media interviews and on social media, and Fadhil al-Manasif, who faces 14 years in prison on charges stemming largely from his assistance to international journalists covering eastern province protests over the treatment of Shia Muslims in the Sunni-dominated country in 2011-12.

Su`ad al-Shammari, another liberal activist who worked with Badawi to set up his website, was arrested in October 2014 in Jeddah. A Saudi activist knowledgeable about the case told Human Rights Watch that she faces the charge of “insulting the messenger and the hadith [sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed]” in connection with 2013 tweets that allegedly criticized religious authorities. Al-Shammari is also detained in Jeddah’s Bureiman prison.

Another prominent human rights activist, Mikhlif al-Shammari, was convicted by the Khobar Criminal Court on November 3, 2014, and sentenced to two years in prison and 200 lashes for, in part, visiting prominent Shia figures in the eastern province as a good-will gesture. The Specialized Criminal Court had previously convicted him in 2013 in a separate trial on charges of “sowing discord” and criticizing Saudi officials in his online writings, and sentenced him to five years in prison and a 10-year ban on travel abroad.

“The cruel and unjust treatment of Badawi is sadly just one piece of a broader crackdown on peaceful dissent in Saudi Arabia,” Whitson said.

Raif Badawi and Saudi Arabia’s intolerance

THE CONTRAST between what Raif Badawi did and the punishment meted out to him on Friday in Saudi Arabia speaks volumes about the kingdom, which remains mired in the thinking of some long-ago epoch. The Saudis are regularly denounced for one of the world’s worst human rights records — and then nothing is done.
Mr. Badawi acted in the spirit of freedom of the modern age. A blogger, he called for open debate about interpretations of Islam. His blog posts were sometimes satirical and sometimes irreverent. They also infuriated the kingdom’s hidebound religious clerics. On Friday in Jiddah, he was given a punishment from a bygone century: 50 lashes, the first of 20 floggings, once a week, to a total of 1,000 lashes for his outspokeness. The word barbaric hardly captures the depth of this depravity.
As we described it last year, Mr. Badawi was arrested in 2008 and questioned about his Web site but released. Then he was charged with setting up a Web site that insults Islam, and he left the country. He returned when prosecutors apparently decided to drop the charges, but in 2009 he was barred from leaving. In 2011 prosecutors alleged that his Web site “infringes on religious values,” and he was arrested in 2012, when a well-known cleric issued a religious ruling that Mr. Badawi was an apostatewho must be tried. His Web site was shut down, and his family left Saudi Arabia. A judge threw out the charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty, after Mr. Badawi assured the court that he is a Muslim. In a subsequent trial he was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a fine equivalent to $266,000.
Mr. Badawi is hardly alone; there are dozens of others being punished for similarly simple deeds. Just last month, it was announced that two women who have been detained for defying a ban on female driving are to be tried in a specialized court for terrorism suspects. Why? According to the BBC, the women both have large followings on Twitter and their cases were transferred to the specialized court because of comments they made on social media. The kingdom effectively prohibits women from driving by refusing to issue them a driver’s license. It also wants to prohibit them from speaking out on Twitter.
The Obama administration briefly on Thursday called on Saudi Arabia to cancel the flogging of Mr. Badawi. On Friday the kingdom ignored the plea and carried out the first of the 50 whippings. So much for strong language from the State Department. It had no impact because it came with no consequences.
However, there are other ways to get results. One would be to create a mechanism to fully expose the situation. Some kind of international commission of inquiry, similar to the one that investigated North Korea, would be a good place to start. It could take testimony and build a record about the kingdom’s repression of dissent and the absence of rights for women. Just the discussion would signal to the Saudi leaders that, despite their storied relationship with the United States, abuses of human rights will not be forgotten, or ignored, as they have been for too long.

Video - France: 'Pen mightier than the sword' Charlie Hebdo protest hits Paris

White House plans conference on countering violent extremism following Charlie Hebdo, Paris attacks


The announcement for the Feb. 18 'Summit on Countering Violent Extremism' comes just days after two bloody rampages in Paris, carried out by Islamic extremists, that left 17 people dead.

The White House will hold a summit in February that will focus on ways citizens and governments can counter violent extremism.
The summit, scheduled for Feb. 18, will highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others in the U.S. and elsewhere to carry out violent acts.
The announcement comes just days after two bloody rampages in Paris, carried out by Islamic extremists, leaving 17 people dead.
The conference was originally scheduled for October, but was delayed without explanation.
"On February 18, 2015, the White House will host a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism to highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence, efforts made even more imperative in light of recent, tragic attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Sunday.
Several representatives from other countries will attend the meeting, the White House said, but specific attendees have not yet been identified.

John Kerry Arrives in India to Talk Trade and Prepare for Obama’s Visit

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday to promote economic ties with India and set the stage for President Obama’s visit later this month.

“The goal is to have very concrete and tangible things that we can show forward movement on when President Obama and Prime Minister Modi meet, including on climate change,” a senior State Department official told reporters.

Mr. Obama is planning to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 26. It is the first time that an American president has been invited to the event as the nation’s chief guest.

Negotiations between India and the United States on issues like climate change, an agreement on civilian nuclear plants, military purchases, and investment and manufacturing rules have quickened in recent weeks because of Mr. Obama’s coming visit. But it remains to be seen whether the president’s trip will be mainly symbolic or if it will lead to significant agreements.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Kerry participated in an investment conference in Mr. Modi’s home state, Gujarat, which was attended by foreign officials, business leaders and international dignitaries like Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, and Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank.

India’s leaders are eager for more foreign investment to energize the nation’s moribund economy, and the conference was devised to showcase a state where foreign investment has been welcomed in the past 10 years.

When Mr. Modi led Gujarat as chief minister, he was able to smooth the way for foreign investors by speeding the bureaucratic decision-making process. Now that he is prime minister, he must rely more on legislative fixes. And despite having a large majority in the lower house of Parliament, Mr. Modi has yet to deliver many of the promised reforms that investors are seeking.

“We’re trying to complete the circle of economic reforms speedily,” Mr. Modi told the conference attendees. “We are planning to take a quantum leap.”

Attracted by India’s population of more than 1.2 billion people and Mr. Modi’s talk of economic reform, representatives of foreign governments took turns proclaiming their determination to expand economic relations with India.

“Japan and India complete each other,” said Yosuke Takagi, Japan’s economic minister.

During his presentation to the investment conference, Mr. Kerry underscored that the United States wanted to increase trade with India to $500 billion a year, a significant leap from $97 billion in 2013.

“We can do more together, and we must do more together, and we have to do it faster,” Mr. Kerry said.

American companies, however, have faced considerable challenges to expanding their business here, including caps on foreign investment, disputes over intellectual property and provisions that have hampered nuclear energy projects.

The two sides have also been talking for five years about how to navigate around an Indian nuclear liability law that American energy companies insist must be changed before they can build civilian plants in India. The Indians have long complained that American officials should be able to persuade the companies to invest anyway; the Americans say they do not have that power.

"I think there’s a commitment on both sides to try to find a way through that,” said a State Department official, who could not be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters. “I don’t know whether that will be resolved in time for the president’s visit.”
On efforts to deal with climate change, a policy priority of the Obama administration, Indian officials have repeatedly rejected any notion that India — the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases — should promise any limits on its emissions or growth. Indeed, the government is in the midst of a coal rush, and intends to double the nation’s production of coal in the next five years.
But the two sides may come to some agreement on American funding forsolar power projects. A sticking point for such an agreement, however, is that Indian rules require that components of India’s solar projects be made in India and not purchased abroad.
“That’s what we’re trying to work with India on,” the State Department official said. “We have, obviously, some things that we’ve developed in the high technology area of solar panels that we’d like to be able to bring to bear.”
During his visit here, Mr. Kerry also talked with Indian business executives and met with Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay of Bhutan, the first time in recent memory that an American secretary of state has met with a leader of the Himalayan nation.
Mr. Kerry also toured an ashram that was established in 1917 by Mahatma Gandhi, who led the drive for Indian independence.
“Gandhi’s example inspires all of us to this day and for my generation helped to shape America,” Mr. Kerry wrote in a guest book at the ashram.

Video - World leaders walk in 'unity rally' in France

Video - At least 3.7 million march across France in record mobilization (official)

Pakistan - Establishing military courts has saved future generations

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairman and former Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday said by supporting the formation of military courts his party has helped secure the lives of future generations, DawnNews reported.
Speaking to PPP members during a gathering in Lahore, Zardari said that his party has helped save the country from a civil war.
The former president also said that in the current situation, political parties along with state institutions need to work towards reconciliation.
Zardari said taking the oath of office during the tenure of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was necessary at the time and that one has to be realistic while making decisions.
He said the PPP was the country’s largest political party and cannot be weakened.
He also announced during the gathering that the PPP would hold rallies in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa and other parts of Pakistan.
Recently, the former president had said that his party would support the government’s counter-terrorism measures, including the establishment of military courts.
However, during Benazir Bhutto's death anniversary on December 27, 2014, Zardari had warned that under the new law on military courts one could not rule out the possibility of both him and Prime Minister Nawaz ending up behind bars.
He later had mollified his stand by demanding assurances that the new law would not be used against “any political party, scholar or journalist”.

Diplomats of nine countries visit Peshawar school attack site

Diplomats from nine countries, including France and the UK, on Saturday visited the Peshawar school where the Pakistani Taliban had massacred 150 people, mostly children, last month.
The envoys also met Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Khan Abbasi and condoled the deaths of innocent people.
The Army Public School (APS) in the cantonment city here was attacked by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants on December 16 last year, killing 150 innocent people.
Later, the diplomats also visited the Military Hospital in Peshawar to show solidarity with the bereaved families of APS Peshawar attack and enquired about the well being of injured students.
The visiting dignitaries also lauded the sacrifices and resolve of Pakistani forces in their fight against terrorism.
The delegation included the ambassadors of Australia, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Netherland, South Korea, Turkey, UAE and UK.

Drought Threatening Livelihood In 29 Districts Of Balochistan

Nadir Jailani

Muhammad Haleem, 46, a farmer by profession, in Noshki district does not seem happy with farming anymore as he did not achieve what he was expecting to get from farming.

“Though we irrigate our lands through tube-wells but drought hitting Balochistan for the last couple of years, dry spells and lack of rain have left negative impacts on the crops of wheat, cumin and watermelon,” said, Mr. Haleem who worked along with his three other brothers as farmers but did not achieve the desired income.

The woes of agricultural and livestock sectors of Balochistan, the largest province of the country in terms of land mass, are multiplying with every passing day owing to looming drought that has once again hit the province.

The government of Balochistan has formally announced that Balochistan is facing drought due to dry spells, little rain and snow-fall in winter season.

“29 out of 32 districts of Balochistan have been affected by the recent drought,” said Director General Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), Noor Muhammad Jogezai.
He said drought was a big problem for Balochistan as it had severely affected livestock and agriculture sectors. “Draught has had harsh impacts in some districts,” he added.

PDMA has also issued emergency warnings to all provincial departments, including that of agriculture, irrigation and food, regarding arrangements to tackle the situation.

It is not the first time that the people of Balochistan have to face drought rather it has a history of sufferings caused by draught. The most recent of those was long drought that badly hit Balochistan from 1997 to 2003 causing famine like situation in the province.

According to United Nations Report, a total of 0.798 million hectares remained uncultivated in Balochistan and 1.76 million livestock perished by 2001 because of the drought.

The six year long drought is said to be the worst in the history of Balochistan. The shortfall of rain created a humanitarian crisis with food shortage and the outbreak of diseases taking the toll of affected people into millions.

“Over 80% of the province’s population lived in rural areas and affected by drought most of them started migrating towards cities in order to survive,” said Shakila Naveed, an environmentalist, adding that this influx of internally displaced persons in the cities caused social and economic problems in the province.

According to metrological officials, the arid region receives a very low average of only 2 to 25 mm rain monthly even under normal circumstances. This average is by far the lowest compared to other provinces of Pakistan.

“Our livelihood is completely dependent on rain but for the last five years we are experiencing either complete draught or erratic rains in Nushki and its adjacent districts,” said Mir Zahir, 43 year-old farmer in Nushki district.

He said farming was easier in the past because rain was sufficient. “It hasn’t rained here for the last seven months now. I and many other farmers couldn’t sow any crop this year which would cause food shortage for us in upcoming days” he added.
Balochistan known for its wealth in gas, oil, coal, gold and many other riches has very less to offer to its inhabitants. Most of the people of the province make their living through agriculture and livestock.
Only two districts of Balochistan: Nasirabad and Jaffarabad have a canal system of irrigation which is connected to a tributary of Indus River. The rest is irrigated through the control of floodwater, rain, karezes, springs and tube wells.

Although the irrigated crop production has the major share in the agricultural economy of the province, dry-land farming of Sailaba (floodwater) and Khushkaba (rainfed) have been very important for the livelihood of the people. The production of Sailaba and Khushkaba depends totally on rainfall.

The fall in precipitation in the Balochistan resulted in drying up of karezes and springs. The farmers running out of options started pumping the underground reserves. After 1997-2003 drought the number of tube-wells in Balochistan increased rapidly. According to an estimate by the International Water Management Institute there are over 21000 tube-wells in the province. Over 40% of the irrigated land is now watered through tube wells and that source is also drying down fast as rain becomes scarce and unreliable with every passing year in Balochistan.
“Due to insufficient rain, the underground water level is falling very fast” says Abdul Hameed Alizai a representative of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in District Mastung.

He said the tube-wells had started to dry up and farmers are digging deeper in search of water that has further aggravated the situation. “Now the water level has dropped to 800ft to 1000ft in areas where water level was at 300ft,” he added.

“Steps need to be taken on immediate bases to help cope with the developing crisis” said Shakeela Naveed, adding that now the government authorities had formally said that 29 districts of Balochistan were affected due to drought thus swift action is needed to tackle the situation. “Considering the scale of impacts of the recent drought international assistance should also be sought to avoid Thar like situation” she added.


By Vikram Sood
These must be tense days for the security forces and intelligence agencies. There is heightened cross-LOC firing, repeated attempts at intrusion as Pakistan desperately looks for a diversion from Peshawar. If the social media is any indication, then their aim is to somehow pin all blame on India for whatever has gone wrong, or will go wrong, in Pakistan. They wish to convince the world that they need continued support from them against an ‘expansionist’ India. The current psywar campaign in Pakistan is more to convince their own people of an imagined eternal threat rather than frighten India, because deep down there is a realisation that the trouble is from within and not from external factors.
The forthcoming visit of President Obama for the second time to India, and that, too, without going to Pakistan, is another cause for ire in the Pakistani establishment more than anything else. Pakistan will continue to escalate tensions on the border, hoping to loom large in the India-US dialogue and also hoping that the escalation can be controlled after the visit.
All this would make intelligence and security agencies in India edgy, as for them the crisis of 26/11 and the many before that are memories that will always linger. Intelligence agencies normally function on a worst-case scenario and work from that high base, eliminating threats. It also known that smugglers are commonly used as couriers or even to provide cover to terrorists (Remember Mumbai 1993). Moreover, terrorists do not come wearing uniforms or carrying genuine identity cards. The task of intelligence agencies is to detect, deter, and help destroy threats, and none of this is easy.
But, that is not the main purpose of this article. This is only the context to what happened on the high seas off Porbunder on New Year’s Eve. An incident took place and within hours, we had judgmental comments, insinuating motives and attributing failures from the cosy comfort of our drawing rooms or in the limelight of TV screens. No one really knew what had happened, yet everyone had an answer. The only persons who knew were the men on board, who are presumed dead, or the men who challenged and chased the boat. The worst was the Congress party trying to score political points even in this case. One of the most important lessons from IC 814 and Mumbai 26/11 has been that our local agencies must be sufficiently empowered and authorised to act swiftly and effectively in good faith.
The boat was apparently in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the choice was limited to take the challenge to its logical conclusion, including shooting it down or blowing up the boat as soon as possible. Inviting the suspects over for a cup of tea to find out their plans was not an option the Coast Guard or anyone else had at that time. The venue was close to Porbunder, where the Prime Minister was scheduled to visit, and there would have been a high-security alert prior to the visit. There was no foolproof way of ascertaining whether the boat was on an innocent mission, was probing defences, or on a live operation. Refusal to respond to the challenge should be enough cause for suspicion, and an attempt to sail away, more so. The choice was limited to challenge and intercept, or pretend nothing happened. Any worthwhile force would have taken the first option. The Coast Guard were not on a humanitarian mission; they acted on intelligence inputs. There is no “what if” in such circumstances.
Since different government departments have made statements, we will have to accept these, unless there is considerable evidence to the contrary. Surely, these must be based on informed intelligence inputs, and not on hearsay or speculation. Truth needs to be known (as facts are now emerging), but surely not by raising temperatures and drama on the screen.
After all the high-decibel debates have died down, it is important to plan for the future and accept that incidents of this kind will, unfortunately, happen again. No systems are perfect and they need constant upgrading. The other message is for all of us and our adversaries — which is that our guardians are alert and hopefully they will remain empowered to take action on their own, in future. These messages are best delivered quietly, without the kind of media hype that accompanies all India-Pakistan relations. Preconceived notions and opinions devoid of facts are dangerous.

Pakistan - The missing narrative

“Pakistan has become a country where mothers are afraid even to send their children to school.”
Of course it rings true as schools all over the country are shut down for security concerns since the dastardly attack on Peshawar Army School in which 142 children were massacred by TTP terrorists. But these words coming from the prime minister are a strong denouement of the sad state of affairs.
The job description of any government is to provide security to its citizens. Sharif, while speaking to Pakistanis in Bahrain, assured them that military courts had been established as a result of passage of the 21stamendment to ensure that such an incident never took place again.
The prime minister thinks that people who slaughter others do not deserve any sympathy. Of course he is right on all counts. But why has the stark reality only hit home now?
The inability to ensure physical safety of citizens, including children, is a collective and accumulative failure of not just the politicians but of all the stakeholders. In fact setting up of military courts is an admission of breakdown of the state structure under a democratic dispensation.
Military courts are a remedy of the last resort, applied only after the justice system and the prosecution process has completely collapsed. It is also an admission of lack of political will on the part of civilian institutions including the judiciary to deal a deathblow to the terrorists.
Claiming ad nauseam that extraordinary circumstances need extraordinary measures almost sounds like a hollow cliché. Terrorists of the TTP brand have been on the rampage for years now. But the state structure lacked the political will to deal with them not only because it did not have the physical capacity but also owing to its deeply flawed narrative.
Now, after a shotgun marriage brokered by the army, military courts are being portrayed as an omnibus panacea. But in fact they only scratch the surface of a multifaceted problem.
Military courts are a remedy of the last resort, applied only after the justice system and the prosecution process has completely collapsed
The spirit of unity and ostensible bonhomie demonstrated at the APC (All Parties Conference) of parliamentarians in the immediate aftermath of the Peshawar incident is fast dissipating. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman — after initially agreeing to the constitutional amendment at the APC and later refusing to vote for it in Parliament — is now on the rampage against military courts and the definition of terrorism under them.
Fazl has been able to galvanise a motley crowd of ulema, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, against perceived secularisation of Pakistan by threatening to stage a D-Chowk typedharna in Islamabad. Ironically, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani and the mullahs are on the same page, terming the amendment as draconian and undemocratic.
There is talk of a soft coup having already taken place. Admittedly Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has managed to get his way without much difficulty. This is being regarded as a reassertion of the military’s suzerainty over civilian matters.
No doubt partly owing to the collective malfeasance of our political elite, the military has become more and more assertive since the return to democracy in 2008. The military and its intelligence arm have been moving decisively to nibble away civilian authority since then.
Foreign affairs and security issues have long remained their prerogative. But under the new concord even domestic affairs are increasingly coming under their preview.
The traditional camel slowly but surely gaining more and more space in the tent is not a new phenomenon. It is a continuum of the Kayani doctrine under Zardari, perhaps now in a more assertive form.
Populist surrogates of the likes of Imran Khan, as a result of their relentless campaign, have considerably weakened the PML-N government. Poor governance and propensity to rule in a self-righteous manner through a cabal added to the woes of the Sharifs. The demon of terrorism proved to be the proverbial last straw.
Some people assert that the Peshawar incident has been politically beneficial for Sharif. On a superficial level it does seem that PTI, being forced to abandon its dharna and shutdowns, is now unable to press for its demand for setting up a judicial commission to probe real or perceived rigging in the 2013 elections.
The mullah lobby has dictated the agenda for far too long. Jinnah’s teachings that promote magnanimity and plurality have been de-emphasised
The newly remarried groom Imran is reportedly reconsidering his plans to resume his putsch against the government by January 18 if his demands are not met. The PTI instead has decided to hold large party conventions in major cities.
The Khan, perhaps, is surmising that the government’s optics will further deteriorate once the military courts and other anti-terrorism measures are in place in coming days and weeks.
How this will help PTI’s cause is not known. Perhaps the party is slowly but surely realising that under changed circumstances it is in no position to press for immediate elections.
In the meanwhile it is business as usual for the PML-N government. The prime minister is chairing marathon meetings on various issues, interrupted only by his forays abroad.
But there is no move to take the opposition on board. The PTI wants a judicial commission that will virtually guarantee fresh elections.
The government, no longer under any immediate threat, is not in a mood to oblige. Hence for the time being at least talks have broken down.
Meanwhile the religious lobby — perceiving that the new dispensation hitting themadrassas and their funding, as well as their militant wings — has decided to flex its muscles. These very forces that had opposed the idea of Pakistan are now lamenting that the 21st amendment is a conspiracy to convert Pakistan into a secular state.
Now is the time to galvanise all non-religious political forces. But unfortunately there are no moves by the ruling party to bring them on board.
Apart from military courts, other short-, medium- and long-term measures for a cohesive counterterrorism narrative are not even on the horizon. Mere lengthy and convoluted lectures by the interior minister will not get the job done.
Perhaps if the ruling Muslim League really means business it should be seen to adopt Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision. His speech in the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, preaching tolerance and pluralism, should be made the bedrock of its new narrative.
Ironically, the mullah lobby has dictated the agenda for far too long. Jinnah’s teachings that promote magnanimity and plurality have been de-emphasised by successive regimes — military and civilian both — owing to their transient self-interests.
Now that the military and the civilian leadership are on the same page to change the national narrative, a beginning should be made. For starters, government funded institutes like Nazaria-e-Pakistan Trust should be cleansed of retrogressive elements who can only preach a narrow and single-dimensional vision — that hating the Hindu is the real ethos of Pakistan.
Without doubt a healthy debate on such existential issues should take place without the mullacracy and its fellow travellers in the media pouncing upon anyone who suggests an alternative agenda.

Pakistan - Attack on an Imambargah - Sectarian strife

Despite the talk of laws and other measures against hate speech and the spread of violence we have heard over the past few days, notably since the December 16 shooting at the Army Public School in Peshawar, there has been little impact in real terms. This has been demonstrated by the attack on an Imambargah in the Chittian Hattian area of Rawalpindi on January 9. The attack took place while a ceremony was being held to mark Eid Miladun Nabi. It is somewhat unclear if this was a suicide bombing or if an explosive device placed in a neighbouring house was the cause of the blast. But there is no ambiguity about the fact that at least seven people have been killed and at least 20 others injured, with most of them still in critical condition. Just days ago, four Shias were killed in an attack during a volleyball match in the Orakzai Agency.
Sectarian strife then continues to spread its black web across our already shattered society. We can see that new laws and strident promises from the government will not instantly stop this. The death toll caused by sectarian killings is already high. It continues to rise steadily. It is quite apparent we have to deal with the problem on an urgent basis. There is no button we can press to do this instantaneously. But the steps that will eventually bring about change need to be put in place now. We must act against sectarian outfits, which are still operating, in some cases under the new names they assumed after they were banned. We must also use the media, mosque loudspeakers, school curriculum and every other means at our disposal to undo the hatred preached year after year and decade after decade. We see today how it has left our society in ruins. Rebuilding it will take time and effort. Both a short- and long-term strategies are required. But it is important we begin thinking about what these should constitute of so we can put them in place and prevent the continuing sequence of deaths which takes place when people are at their places of worship or are targeted simply because of their faith.