Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Women helping women in the Middle East and North Africa


Civil war, the rise of Islamic State, and the ineffectiveness of reformist governments made last year one of turmoil for the Middle East and North Africa.
More than any group, it seems like women were cheated out of their hope for change in Arab Spring countries.
Debbie Brink is the executive director for Women for Middle East Hope (WFMEH), a specialized arm of SAT-7. She explains, “Women were coming alongside people in the streets. They wanted to see change for themselves, but it sadly didn’t produce what they had wanted. In fact, as I’ve looked at different reports and studies since then, conditions have gotten worse for women in the Middle East.”
Under more totalitarian rule, coupled with the rise in extreme Islam, women were soon marginalized, their voices silenced. Knowing their stories and speaking up for them is one reason SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, launched WFMEH as an international initiative.
It was meant to address the plight of women a world away who suffer from oppression, fear, and lack of hope. Brink says, “If women in the West understood more of the issues concerning women in the Middle East and North Africa, they would want to get more involved with us, in helping us provide specific television programming for the women in the region to help them cope with issues that they deal with.”
Women for Middle East HOPE believes that increased exposure to the love of Jesus Christ will affect real change in the hearts of women and men across the region, as old attitudes, values, and ideas gradually move into alignment with the Word of God.
(Photo courtesy SAT-7/Women for Middle East Hope)
(Photo courtesy SAT-7/Women for Middle East Hope)
Here’s how it works: participants will begin by educating themselves about the socially-challenging realities facing women and children in the Middle East and North Africa.
From there, the sky’s the limit. Women can participate in study programs, individually or in groups, or travel to the Middle East with other concerned women to engage with the women of the region and to understand how Women for Middle East HOPE can help meet the challenges they face.
By helping support SAT-7’s programs, the women WFMEH participants study can be reached with the message of hope. Brink adds, “SAT-7 is very careful about our programming. In order for us to be in the region and have studios in the region, we cannot be seen as evangelizing, but we can talk to Christians in the region on our programming.”
She goes on to say that just like in North America, not everyone participating in church or in a program may actually have a personal relationship with Christ. The same is true of the Middle East. However, Brink says, “The reality is that the majority of the region is not Christian, and they are watching our programs. So, the ones that aren’t Christians don’t feel like they’re being attacked or criticized because that’s not our purpose. But they become curious about ‘what do Christians really believe?'”
(Photo courtesy SAT-7/Women for Middle East Hope)
(Photo courtesy SAT-7/Women for Middle East Hope)
Segments of SAT-7’s television programs for men and women contrast the culture of injustice with biblical concepts of freedom and forgiveness. “They listen and they become intrigued, and they begin to think, ‘This isn’t the Jesus that I had always heard about.’ They want to know more, and they continue to watch.”
Because roughly half of the women in MENA are illiterate and house-bound, they spend much of their day watching television. Satellite television programming is the perfect medium to transmit information.
Click on the highlighted links if you want more information about the WFMEH ministry

Saudi Arabia increases prison sentence for human rights lawyer

A Saudi judge on Tuesday sentenced prominent human rights lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair to an additional five years in jail [AI press release, PDF] after he refused to show remorse for "showing disrespect" to authorities and creating an unauthorized association. Abu al-Khair is the founder of the watchdog group Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. Last year, Abu al-Khair was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail on charges that included breaking allegiance to Saudi King Abdullah [BBC profile]. On Tuesday the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh gave Abu al-Khair a five-year suspended sentence and a fine of USD $53,300, banned him from leaving the country for a further 15 years after his release and shut down all of his websites.
Saudi Arabia's justice system has drawn international criticism for perceived human rights abuses in recent years. Last month a Saudi court ordered [JURIST report] the criminal cases against two women's rights activists be transferred to a special tribunal for terrorism. The women were arrested for attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the UAE. In October a Saudi Arabia Court sentenced three lawyers to between five and eight years in prison for criticizing the justice system [JURIST report] on Twitter by accusing authorities of carrying out arbitrary detentions. Earlier that month Amnesty International issued a report claiming that Saudi Arabia persecutes rights activists and silences government critics [JURIST report], especially in the years since the Arab Spring in 2011. Saudi Arabia has also faced sharp criticism for its high number of executions. In September two experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Saudi Arabia to implement an immediate moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] following an increase in executions, with a significant number of the executions completed by beheading. In July then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, expressed deep concern over the harsh sentences and detention of peaceful human rights advocates [JURIST report] in Saudi Arabia in recent months. In February JURIST Guest Columnist Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch argued that a new Saudi Arabian terrorism law was a vague, catch-all document [JURIST op-ed] that can—and probably will—be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way.

Video - President Obama Speaks About Cybersecurity

Hillary Clinton just made a big move toward a 2016 campaign


  1. White House adviser John Podesta will head over to take a top job in Hillary Clinton's political operation next month, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal's Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson. The news signifies that Clinton is moving closer to beginning a presidential campaign.
  2. Podesta served as White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton and president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and the head of Obama's transition to the presidency in late 2008. He has served as a top adviser in Obama's White House since December 2013.
  3. Back in September, Politico's Maggie Haberman reported that Podesta was highly likely to become Clinton's campaign chairman. This position would likely be distinct from that of the campaign manager, who would run day-to-day operations. According to multiplereports, Democratic operative Robby Mook is Clinton's likely choice for campaign manager.
  4. Meanwhile, Clinton has also hired two veterans of Obama campaigns — Joel Benenson and Jim Margolis — as her chief strategist and media adviser, the Washington Post's Anne Gearan and Philip Rucker report.
  5. The news of these hires comes on the same day as a report in which Elizabeth Warren said she's not going to run for president, in slightly stronger language than she's used in the past.
  6. Though all signs indicate that Clinton will indeed run, she reportedly doesn't plan to make a final decision or announcement until the spring. If she does not in fact run, it is a total mystery who the Democrats would nominate.
  7. http://www.vox.com/2015/1/13/7540243/hillary-clinton-campaign-2016

President Obama's Veto Power

President Barack Obama has vetoed just two measures in his six years in the White House, the fewest by any U.S. president since the 1880s. But since the Republicans have assumed control of both houses of Congress this month for the first time in his presidency, Obama has threatened to veto five more. Here's a brief explanation of the president's constitutional power to veto legislation and how Congress can respond:
Legislation facing a White House veto if it successfully passes through Congress would:
—Force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canada's tar sands oil across the United States to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
—Change the definition of fulltime work from 30 hours to 40 hours per week under Obama's federal health care program, meaning employers would be obligated to extend health care coverage to fewer employers.
—Roll back regulations on financial institutions put in place after the near-collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008.
—Roll back Obama's executive action giving temporary relief from deportation to about 4 million immigrants in the country illegally, along with permits allowing them to work legally in the U.S.
—Blunt federal agencies' ability to set regulations.
The U.S. Constitution empowers the president to block legislation from becoming a law by refusing to sign it. The president has 10 days either to sign the bill into law or to send it back with an explanation of his veto. Congress may override a veto by bringing the measure to a new vote that passes with a two-thirds super-majority in both houses. Fewer than 5 percent of presidential vetoes have been overridden by Congress. Often the mere threat of a veto in advance of passage by Congress is enough to force a rewriting of the bill.
The first president, George Washington, exercised the first veto — of a measure that would have increased the number of seats for northern states in the House. President Andrew Jackson later popularized them, most famously in 1832 as part of a series of moves to shut down the Bank of the United States. President James Garfield named his dog Veto, an unsubtle warning to Congress that was never carried out: He was assassinated in 1881 after serving just 200 days, and remains the last president never to issue a veto.

Pashto Music Video - Zama Da Aeene Lewaniya - Alia Ansari


By Dr Subhash Kapila
Pakistan seems to have gone on an overdrive in conflict-escalation since about August 2014 and more from October 2014 in terms of border clashes along the International Border stretch of India’s Jammu & Kashmir State.
Border clashes along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir have been a part of Pakistan Army’s regular strategy ever since the ceasefire understanding of 2004 was broken in 2007. It would be recalled that India’s boundaries with Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir State can be divided into three distinct sectors. The International Border sector in the South extends for nearly 200 kilometres from Kathua westwards to Sangam, West of Akhnoor. From Sangam the Line of Control runs for nearly 800 kilometres northwards to NJ 9842 and thereafter runs the Actual Ground Position Line along the glacial heights of the Sia Chin sector.
India mans the International Border sector in Jammu with its Border Security Force holding a line of border police outposts. The Line of Control sector is highly fortified and manned by regular Army formations of the Indian Army. The same pattern of manning also applies to the Actual Ground Position Line in the Sia Chin sector.
In earlier years too Pakistan indulged in border clashes along the Jammu International Border which Pakistan recently has started terming it as the Working Boundary betraying its coming intentions. However the intensity and magnitude of its provocative border clashes has considerably increased.
Significantly, Pakistan Army earlier targeted India’s Border Security Force posts to facilitate the infiltration of its Islamic Jihadi terrorists but now the focus has shifted to also shelling Indian border villages inflicting casualties on innocent civilian lives as well as material damage on rural population centres. This is a nasty escalation by Pakistan.
Many reasons can be attributed for Pakistan Army’s new switch to escalating conflict on Jammu’s International Border with Pakistan besides elsewhere along the Line of Control.
The first reason that comes to mind is that Pakistan does not seem to be comfortable with the idea that a sizeable section of the Indian State of Jammu, Kashmir &Ladakh is outside the purview of a “disputed border” as it ii stands established and recognised as an International Border. This carries serious implications for Pakistan’s dubious claims over the whole of Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh State.
The second reason as to why Pakistan Army is giving extraordinary escalation of border clashes in the International Border stretch of Jammu & Kashmir State is that it is a “soft border” in the sense that India is manning the International Border with its Border Security Force as it is doing all along the entire India-Pakistan border. Unlike the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir where the Indian Army occupies with well- fortified military posts, the Jammu stretch is held by the Border Security Force with “frontier posts”. Pakistan is therefore tempted to exploit this limitation.
The third reason that prompts the Pakistan Army for conflict escalation along the Jammu Border is that relatively these border regions here are populated and cultivated right upto the border. Pakistan therefore indulges in psychological warfare where with each border clash the civilian population in the border villages flee from their homesteads. Pakistan thereby creates disproportionate sense of insecurity in India’s border population here who then start voicing dissatisfaction with the Government’s inability to protect them.
The final reason that the Pakistan Army has resorted to this strategy as an Indian media weekly correctly suggests is that Pakistan stands frustrated that no international attention or reaction is forthcoming on its incessant pursuit of border clashes along the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir State, as the international community after long years has come to accept this as a normal occurrence along a “Line” demarcated by a Ceasefire Agreement.
On the other hand any conflict-escalation along an established International Border draws international attention and concern as it could snowball into a wider conflagration. Pakistan seems to be oblivious to the serious implication that any violation of International Border by Pakistan amounts to an “Act of War” and India would be well within its rights to resort to military operations to neutralise Pakistan’s provocative moves along the International Border.
Many media analyses link Pakistan Army’s conflict-escalation of border clashes along the International Border and the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir to President Obama’s impending visit to India this month and thereby demonstrate that the Jammu & Kashmir border is a “live border” and thus a flashpoint.
If Pakistan believes so, then the Pakistan Army Generals are out of touch with prevailing strategic realities which confer on India the halo of an emerging global player being courted by all major powers and Permanent Members of the UN Security Council.
Pakistan Army Generals would be well-advised that none of the global major powers can any longer afford drawing equations of “strategic equivalence” between India and Pakistan, notwithstanding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. India is not in the same league as Pakistan.
Concluding, it needs to be emphasised that India stands well-poised under Prime Minister Modi’s dynamic leadership to forcefully impress on US President Obama during his forthwith visit to India that India is no longer willing to submit to American pandering of the Pakistan Army and that India now has the will to impose the necessary conventional deterrence to rein-in Pakistan Army adventurism.

Malala's father: 'We might go back to Pakistan this year'

Pakistan's teenage Nobel laureate Malala acknowledges her father's role in the development of her activism. In a DW interview, Ziauddin Yousafzai, talks about the threats to his family and Malala's future plans.
Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, has played a vital role in his daughter's upbringing and intellectual development. The 17-year-old Nobel peace laureate, who was shot by the Taliban in the restive town of Swat in 2012 for promoting girls' education, acknowledges her father's influence on her life and ideology in her best-selling book "I am Malala."
The teenage activist's critics – most of whom are from her home country – claim that since the assassination attempt on Malala, Ziauddin Yousafzai has been "managing" the global icon, promoting her, and even putting words into her mouth, an allegation denied by Malala's countless supporters.
In a DW interview, Yousafzai chooses to talk about Malala instead of himself. He says that his family, which has been residing in the United Kingdom since the attack on his daughter, would return to Pakistan soon, and that people have the right to criticize the youngest-ever Nobel peace prize winner.
DW: Do you intend to go back to Pakistan?
Ziauddin Yousafzai: We might go back to Pakistan this year after Malala's school exams. The date is not confirmed, but we are determined to return.
It is almost impossible for the media to access Malala. She was last seen in public while collecting her Nobel Prize in Stockholm. Why is it so difficult to reach a person who is an activist and who is supposed to be among the people?
The main reason for this isolation is that Malala has to take her exams in June. She is only focused on her studies at the moment. We politely decline the invitations to seminars and conferences. There is nothing more important for Malala than her education. She wants to secure good grades in all subjects.
A lot of people in Pakistan love Malala, but there is also bitter opposition against her in the country. Have you ever received threatening messages?
No, we have never experienced that. People have the right to oppose her. When you achieve so much success, become so important, some people are bound to be against you, while others will love you. But there has never been anything too worrying for us.
A number of Pakistani schools have banned Malala's autobiography, "I am Malala." How do you react to that?
It is not true. Most Pakistani schools have not banned "I am Malala." It's a tiny minority which opposes the book – four or five people. These people claim they have an organization that represents 150,000 schools in the Punjab province. It is a lie because there aren't as many schools in the whole country.
Some people want to get publicity by making such claims. Malala's book doesn't harm anybody. I send it to my friends from England to Pakistan. Media distorts facts.
To what extent has Malala been inspired by you and how have you influenced her life?
I think Malala would be in a better position to answer this question. I can only say that I, too, was an activist and my daughter might have taken inspiration from that. She grew up in an environment similar to mine. She started her struggle at an early stage of her life, and it was natural.
Malala says she wants to become Pakistan's prime minister one day. Which party would she like to join and why?
We can't say anything about this at this point.

Pakistan - Drinking contaminated water

One good thing the Ministry of Science and Technology has done is to assign the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) responsibility for quarterly monitoring of bottled/mineral water brands, and publicize the results too. Although the PCRWR's latest report - based on examination of water samples of 76 brands collected from the open markets in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Bahawalpur, Quetta, Tando Jam and Karachi - presents harrowing findings, at least people can know and avoid what they are getting in the name of safety. Ten of the companies with 13 percent market share were found to be selling water unsafe for human consumption. Four contained high arsenic level, ranging from 27 to 57 pbb against Pakistan Standards Quality Control Authority's permissible standard of 10 pbb. Two brands had microbiological contamination and the remainder four contained high levels of TDS (total dissolved solids) in the form of inorganic salts, such as sodium and potassium. 

What this water does to consumers has been explained by Director General of the National Water Quality Laboratory in a statement released in conjunction with the PCRWR report. Excessive arsenic level in water, said the DG, can cause various skin diseases, diabetes, kidney ailments, birth defects, black foot disease and different types of cancer. And microbiological contamination may cause cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid among other ailments. As it is, more and more people are taking to bottled water because water-borne diseases are rampant in this country. Hospitals routinely require patients to use bottled water, which for the unsuspecting consumers can aggravate a serious health problem. The less educated and hence less informed fall an easy prey to the greed of deceitful purveyors of contaminated water. It is worthwhile to note that almost all the ten brands named by PCRWR for unacceptable quality are little known and hence are generally avoided by quality conscious big city people. 

The PCRWR report also shed light on the general conditions, saying the quality of piped water is deteriorating because of biological contamination from human waste, chemical pollutants discharged by industries, and also because water pipes are usually laid close to sewage lines or open drains. Whilst it is a matter of satisfaction that PCRWR is performing well its task of testing water for its properties and equally important, publicising its findings too, sadly missing is follow-up action. Presumably, the offending companies have been in the market for quite a while. The previous mandatory quarterly report should have disclosed the same findings. This time the result could be different had the concerned authorities taken due notice. Hopefully, the present report will lead to effective legal action against the offending companies; and something will also be done to ensure the safety of piped water. 

Pakistan - Dealing with Afghan refugees

By Imtiaz Gul

In Paris on January 11, some 40 heads of states and governments stood among tens of thousands as a mark of solidarity with the journalists and staff of Charlie Hebdo. In Peshawar, on January 12, it was only the Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, personally greeting the children back to the Army Public School (APS). Only a day earlier, the army had organised a visit to Peshawar for foreign ambassadors to see the APS students at a hospital.
This chain of events clearly betrayed the divide between an embattled military that continues to simultaneously fight terror and insurgency in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Fata, Balochistan and crime in Karachi, and the civilian leaders, who remain entangled in settling petty political scores, personal pursuits of wealth and also keep raising security walls around them. This is Pakistan’s sad reality: the ruling elite is pre-occupied with personal agendas and is disconnected from the grassroots issues of daily life.
Take the 20-point National Action Plan against terrorism, for instance; it promised formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees, beginning with the registration of all unregistered illegal refugees and eventually restricting them, Afghans in particular, to camps. This singles out Afghans as the possible drivers of violence and terrorism.
The UNHCR speaks of roughly 1.7 million refugees all over Pakistan, most of them in Fata and K-P. At least 50 per cent of refugee families are scattered all around the greater Peshawar region. Most live in clusters of rented houses and countless are involved in small, medium and large businesses, such as trade, transport, cottage industries, construction and agro-farming. The UN runs more than 100 schools for refugee children, particularly those living in or around designated refugee camps. Local partners help in improving access to social sector services provided by the UNHCR. Afghan children are not only restricted to dedicated schools. They are present in all sorts of educational institutions, both private and public. Similarly, countless Afghans are entrenched in the country’s social fabric through marital relationships and friendships.
Consequently, the new instructions by the federal and provincial governments have thrown up multiple problems for nearly all Afghans living in Pakistan. Afghan refugees holding proof of registration cards issued by NADRA could stay on in the country till December 2015. But the police in K-P and political administrations in Fata have expedited the campaign against unregistered Afghans, who are being deported to their country under the Foreigners Act. More than 2,000 illegal Afghans have already been deported since the APS attack. Similarly, the Fata secretariat has instructed the Khyber and South Waziristan agencies’ officials to expel Afghan nationals from their properties and deal with unregistered Afghans involved in illegal activities, crimes or terrorism strictly. Police and intelligence operators are involved in status verification campaigns across K-P and Balochistan.
Five major questions arise out of the current push against Afghans living in Pakistan. Firstly, is it practically possible to restrict Afghan refugees to refugee camps only? Secondly, can Pakistan throw them out without their consent, which is something that could be globally sensitive? Thirdly, will the international community, including the UNHCR, allow forced repatriation in disregard of the Geneva Convention on Refugees; will the government disrupt all Afghan-run or Afghan-owned businesses and throw their children out from educational institutions by the end of the year? Fourth, how will the government deal with those in possession of Pakistani NICs and passports? A lot of them have either become naturalised citizens or are in possession of Pakistani passports acquired illegally. And despite digitalisation, agents are still able to manipulate NADRA systems after greasing palms of officials. Fifth, can Pakistan afford to vitiate the newborn goodwill with Kabul through a witch-hunt of Afghans living here?
In this age, stories — sometimes even half-truths — travel fast across the border and can poison minds and trigger tensions and hatred. Pakistani leaders need to move with wisdom, calculation and dispassionate far-sightedness to regain the confidence of the world, including that of Afghans.

Pakistan - Forgetting The IDPs

The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of FATA find themselves unable to secure the attention they deserve from the media and politicians, and consequently, the public. Two million of them continue to survive on makeshift arrangements that fall dramatically short of what is required. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial government cannot deal with the crisis alone. But that must not prevent it from doing its best for the people living, albeit temporarily, in its province. The massive influx of people has taken a toll on the local infrastructure, which is not nearly strong enough to accommodate them and provide basic services.
The federal government, too, has failed to offer sufficient assistance, in the form of monetary and logistical support, despite repeatedly assuring that it understands its responsibility towards the IDPs. Displaced and dissatisfied with government’s efforts, both at the federal and provincial level, it is no surprise that the IDPs are compelled to take to the streets in protest every now and then. Reportedly, the government aims to begin sending them home within a month. The news has been received well by those yearning to return, but there are serious doubts whether the process will start any time soon.
No deadlines have been given for the completion of the ongoing military operations in North Waziristan, Khyber Agency and other parts of FATA. They either don’t exist or simply haven’t been shared. In any case, completion of military operations does not necessarily mean that the IDPs will be able to resettle the next day. It is easy to turn a town into a battlefield. But, it is far more difficult to restore a town that has been a battlefield for months. The state will have to rebuild – homes and markets, schools and hospitals. We are yet to see any concrete plan towards achieving that purpose. Of course, the IDPs could have been taken care of in much better fashion if preparations had been completed before their completely predictable arrival in KP.
For now, the political leadership will have to expand the scope of its focus, enabling itself to accommodate more than one issue at a given time. Many of the IDPs will not be allowed to return as soon as they’d like. Efforts ought to be made to provide them shelter, food, health services and employment. They will remember the treatment they receive from the state. The media, too, can perhaps return its attention towards them and hold the government accountable. They are not old news.

Pakistan - Military courts and our politicians

Atif Hussain

It is easy to heap all the blame onto ‘dictators’ for everything from the destruction of institutions to the rise of terrorism. However, might we remind ourselves that we are into our seventh year of the post-Musharraf era? What have our democratic governments done to reform institutions like the police and lower judiciary?
Outraged at the acquittal of terrorists, the military establishment has decided it has had enough. It will now expand its role and assume judicial functions also to prevent terrorists from walking away from courts scot-free. To legitimise its new role, it has talked politicians into amending nothing less than the Constitution, its basic features actually.

This is really not a good idea. Setting up military courts will not only result in increased miscarriage of justice and undermining of the independence of the judiciary but the fruitfulness of these courts in terms of controlling terrorism is also highly debatable. To think that speedy (not necessarily fair) trails and harsh punishments are all we need to cure the scourge of terrorism is extremely naive if not entirely stupid. No doubt, crushing the terrorists is absolutely necessary but to ensure that the problem never surfaces again we need to strengthen institutions, not undermine them.

But there is more than just over-simplistic khaki logic in the whole episode to be concerned about, for it signifies a complete failure of the constitutionally sanctioned civilian institutional setup and admittance of the same fact by the political leadership, which must now must accept blame for not only giving in to military demands too easily but also for letting the situation deteriorate to such a point where they had had no other option left. Our politicians never tire of lecturing us on the blessings of democracy, denouncing anti-democratic forces (read generals), recounting ‘sacrifices’ they have made for the cause of democracy, eulogising their ‘martyrs’, branding agitation as conspiracy aimed at derailing democracy and displaying bravado about saving democracy. However, every now and then something happens that reminds us of who they actually are: a bunch of pygmies who not only lack the will but also the vision, courage and competence to carve out solutions for the real problems of this country.

Babbling on about democracy is one thing; actually strengthening it is another. It requires reforming, developing and empowering institutions. It is easy to heap all the blame onto ‘dictators’ for everything from the destruction of institutions to the rise of terrorism. However, might we remind ourselves that we are into our seventh year of the post-Musharraf era? What have our democratic governments done to reform institutions like the police and lower judiciary, which are of vital importance not only in maintaining law and order but also in instilling in the public a sense of security and trust in the system?

What our politicians are still doing to these institutions is evident from a media report according to which only 15 percent of the cases in the Islamabad and Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) involve actual incidents of terrorism. The rest are either against politicians or are related to petty crimes.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is still waiting to be made fully functional five years after its inception. The inefficiency of the federal and provincial governments and law enforcement agencies can be gauged from the fact that after every incident of terror we learn that the concerned government was informed about the possibility of the attack well in advance but it either did not do anything or failed to prevent it.

Nothing has been done to stop political manipulation of the police either. Nor has anything been done to equip the police force with modern skills and technology. If Imran Khan is to be believed, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police still do not even have call tracing equipment.

Also, time and again politicians have proved themselves unable to make big decisions. They have had to be arm-twisted into sanctioning military action against the Taliban and they still do not seem to have mustered up the courage to launch or even mention madrassa (seminary) and mosque reforms.

It is about time our politicians realised that they cannot hide behind the smokescreen of fustian attitudes forever. They will have to actually start delivering now.

Pakistan - A fiery collision


There is no shortage of calamities to befall the citizens of this hapless nation. As if frequent terror attacks were not enough, governmental neglect and lack of interest in the affairs of the masses have led to exceedingly distressing death tolls almost every other week. The latest case in point is the tragic accident between a bus and an oil tanker on a highway near Karachi. The fiery collision has led to the deaths of more than 62 people with scores more injured. The bus is nothing but charred remains and the victims are so badly burnt that the bodies are fused together, of which six children and their mothers were found clinging to one another. The bus was overcrowded and the tanker was speeding on the wrong side of the road — all the factors needed to end the lives of the many people on board. While this is a terrible accident, it comes as absolutely no surprise in a land where there is no system to ensure that there is safety on the roads and highways.

There is no system of monitoring and regulation of the kind of vehicles we have out there, putting the lives of everyone on the roads in hazard. Most of these wagons, vans and buses are not up to safety standards with shoddily put together spare parts made to resemble a transport vehicle. They are driven by careless drivers who are always in a rush to get to their destination, caring little for the safety of other people on the roads. Our highways are a particular cause of concern where speed limits are almost always violated and the lack of a proper highway police force is a glaring flaw. The motorway between Lahore and Islamabad has a stellar motorway police force and that is the model that needs to be emulated elsewhere too. Drivers driving on the wrong side of the road need to be taken off the road before they cause irreparable damage. Many vehicles do not conform to safety regulations but there is no check on them. CNG cylinders explode, engines are faulty, seatbelt regulations are not followed, but everyone gets away with breaking rules all the time. There needs to be proper management of the vehicles on our roads. There must be a proper system to check that tankers carrying petrol and hazardous chemicals be driven by only the most trained and reliable drivers. This accident needs to be an eye-opener otherwise too many people will continue to die fiery deaths on our roads.

Peshawar - #WelcomeBackToSchool: ISPR's song to give tribute to APS martyrs

Dunya News - ISPR releases song in remembrance... by dunyanews

Former President Asif Ali Zardari condemned attack on security check post in Loralai


Former President Co-Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned attack on check post of security personnel from the Frontier Corps in Mekhtar area of Balochistan in Loralai.
According to press reports about 40 militants attacked security check post killing seven security personnel. Security forces responded and several militants were injured but they fled away after the attack.
Former President said that such cowardly attacks could never weaken the resolve of our law enforcing forces and the nation and will continue pursuing their struggle against terrorism and extremism. He said these valiant sons of nation who are fighting this menace of terrorism are our heroes and nation is fully behind them.
Expressing his heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved families of the martyred PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari prayed to Almighty Allah for grant of eternal peace to the departed souls.

Pakistan - Zardari asks Punjab chapter president Wattoo to reorganise party

Amid growing disenchantment among its ranks, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday asked the Punjab chapter of the party to reorganise.
“I ask the provincial president to maintain close liaison with the party workers in every nook and corner of the province and use the occasion of district wise conventions to explain to the workers party policies, listen to their views and address their grievances”, Zardari said in directives issued to PPP Punjab chief Mian Manzoor Wattoo.
Spokesperson to Zardari, Senator Farhatullah Babar said in a statement that the former president was keen to revitalise the party at the grass root levels throughout the country. Further, they will hold worker conventions at district levels in Punjab as a first step in reorganisation of the party. Later, district level conventions will also be held in other provinces.
Zardari also directed Watto to complete all party reorganisations at the level of union councils as soon as possible.
PPP, once the most popular party with its roots across the country, is now in a state of disarray after remaining five years in power at the centre owing to poor performance and severe allegations of corruption. The resurgence of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the meteoric rise of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has not helped PPP’s cause either with the party being routed in Punjab in the May 2013 elections.
The party is also facing internal wrangling in Sindh, the party’s traditional stronghold and the only province where it still has a government.
Despite being the second largest party in terms of seats in the national assembly, it has so far acted as a friendly opposition to the incumbent PML-N, despite holding key slots including the leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (NA) and the Senate.
There were also reports of differences between co-chairperson Zardari and chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari as the latter sought to revamp the party.
As a result, party failed to host a marquee event to observe the assassination anniversary of former premier Benazir Bhutto on December 27 .
Zardari, however, has announced plans to hold worker conventions in Faisalabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa soon.
“The former president said that holding of conventions at district level was a consensus demand of the workers that emerged on the eve of the party’s founding day convention held in Lahore recently and called for its full implementation in letter and spirit” Babar said in the statement.
“He also call upon the workers to participate in these district level conventions and, in keeping with the traditions of the party, express their views candidly on all issues be that of local or national importance or about organisational matters”, he quoted former president as saying.
Zardari also sought periodic reports on these conventions.

US: Pakistan Willing to Attack Taliban, Haqqani Militants

By Pamela Dockins

The U.S. says that Pakistan is pledging a new willingness to attack Taliban and Haqqani Network insurgents in tribal areas along its Afghan border.
Senior U.S. State Department officials spelled out those intentions Monday night in Islamabad after Secretary of State John Kerry and other American diplomats had a working dinner with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and some of his aides.
The U.S. envoys told reporters traveling with Kerry that the Pakistani officials said their forces would attack all Taliban militants in North Waziristan, and not attempt to "differentiate between good Taliban and bad Taliban."
The U.S. diplomats also said the Pakistanis indicated a willingness to fight the Haqqani Network, the Afghan insurgent organization encamped in the tribal area that has the backing of some Pakistani security officials.
Pakistani officials said the cost of fighting the insurgents in the tribal area has been significant, because of refugee-related issues and rebuilding efforts.
One top State Department official said the U.S. plans to send $250 million in new aid to Pakistan earmarked for reconstruction work in North Waziristan and Pakistan's federally controlled tribal areas, as well as to help Pakistanis who have been displaced elsewhere within the country.    
Kerry's Pakistan visit comes less than a month after a Taliban assault on a Peshawar school killed 134 children and 16 staff members. A State Department official said Kerry's engagement with Pakistani officials is critical to advancing the "shared fight against militant extremism."
While in the country, Kerry is also convening the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, which last took place at ministerial level a year ago in Washington.
Continuation of the strategic dialogue with Pakistan is significant, says Atlantic Council analyst Bharath Gopalaswamy.  He says it shows Pakistan is still high on the U.S. agenda, in spite of the U.S. troop drawdown in neighboring Afghanistan.  
“One of the greatest concerns of Pakistani elites and Pakistani policy-makers has been that Pakistan will slip down the American agenda.”

 Woodrow Wilson Center analyst Michael Kugelman says the drawdown in Afghanistan could have “troubling implications” for Pakistan.

“Let’s face it. There are going to be security vacuums in Afghanistan and there is likely to be more resurgent violence.  This will spill over into Pakistan as the bordering country.”

Senior State Department officials say in addition to counterterrorism, Kerry and Pakistani officials are focusing on ways to increase trade and promote bilateral relations. 

Kerry's nearly week-long trip includes stops in Europe, but his visit to Pakistan had not been publicly announced.  
John Kerry's travels to Europe and South Asia, Jan. 10 – 15
He will also stop in France to show U.S. solidarity after last week's terror attacks in Paris, following criticism about the lack of a high-level Obama administration official at Sunday's massive unity march in Paris.
Kerry's travels will also take him to Geneva, where he will discuss Iran's nuclear program with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday. The meeting comes ahead of the next round of nuclear talks beginning there on Thursday.  
From Geneva, the top U.S. diplomat travels on to Bulgaria for talks on issues that include security cooperation and bilateral trade.
The India leg of the trip focused on increased trade between the U.S. and India, and to lay the groundwork for an Indian visit by President Barack Obama later this month.