Sunday, February 15, 2015

Video Report - Thousands in Greece rally in solidarity with government

Middle East Beats: Amani Yahya - Yemeni rapper

Amani Yahya, is a Yemeni rapper from Al Hodaida who is now based in Sanaa, the capital city torn by conflict. She faces the multiple challenge of being a young female rapper in a society that is deeply conservative and one of the least open to Western musical genres.
Brought up in Saudi Arabia, she returned to her country in 2010 and made her public debut in 2012 at The Basement Cultural Centre in Sanaa. Amani's blend of hip-hop and ballad which is often about free choice and dignity has found a favourable audience among Sana'a youth. In her song Mery, written in collaboration with guitarist Alaa' Haider, she tackles the story of a child bride expressing sorrow for her stolen innocence and defiance in the face of oppression.

Raif Badawi’s Sister: Saudi Arabia Jailed My Entire Family

The sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi on keeping the fight for human rights alive even as her brother and husband languish behind bars.
On April 15, 2014, my husband, Saudi lawyer and human-rights activist Walid Abulkhair, was arrested at the fifth session of his trial. His crime? Defending my brother, blogger Raif Badawi, against charges of apostasy.
Ever since that shocking day, I have asked myself: How can I carry on while both my husband and my brother languish in prison?
Then I remember my husband’s words: "Life is a fight that needs to go on." I also recall the words of imprisoned freedom fighter Abdullah Al-Hamed, "A river carves its own route.” The example of these men and others like them fuels me to keep fighting for human rights—the reason my husband is behind bars.
Walid has always dreamt of having the freedom to live his life as he wished. But he also wanted all his fellow citizens to share his dream, so he devoted himself to the cause. He believes that freedom is a gift from God, which no man has the right to take away.
He took it upon himself to defend Raif Badawi when he was persecuted and sentenced to the penalty of apostasy. The ruling was later overturned, and he was arrested before he could finish his defense.
I met Walid because I, too, was a prisoner of conscience whom he decided to help, securing my release from prison. We realized we shared the same concerns, dreams, and struggling spirit. And so we got married.
Then I remember my husband’s words: "Life is a fight that needs to go on."
Today, the situation is reversed: Walid is in jail because he demanded constitutional monarchy in a country ruled by absolute monarchy, in which the people are not allowed to participate in politics. He has also been charged with contempt of judicial authorities—the same authorities who have repeatedly proven a lack independence by blindly complying with requests from the Ministry of the Interior.
These are the same authorities who banned Walid from meeting his client in the so-called “Jeddah Reformers” case, yet allowed him to meet another client from a separate case because the individual in question was a British national. He was accused of communicating with the media and misrepresenting the country. What could be a more sadly ironic accusation? Has Walid ever been able to communicate with the state to present his demands?
Communicating with "foreign agencies" is yet another accusation Walid has faced. While this is made to sound like espionage, in fact these "agencies" were eminent international human-rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders. Walid has also been accused of "founding an unlicensed organization," which is odd considering the fact that he sent a telegraph to the late King Abdullah asking him to ratify the foundation of the observatory, and to order it to be licensed.
King Abdullah apparently had a different opinion; he sent the telegraph to the Ministry of Interior for investigation.
Walid has also been accused of public incitement against the system. I have researched this accusation thoroughly, but have not found a clear definition that justifies imprisonment.
Walid was tried by the Specialized Criminal Court , and is the first prisoner to be tried under this oppressive law intended for terrorism suspects. A brief look at the law makes clear that any action disliked by the state can be construed as “terrorist.” Walid refused to acknowledge the authority of the court, on the grounds of its legally dubious origins and the multiple violations that characterized the selection process for its judges. Walid was sentenced, before this court, to 15 years of imprisonment, and an additional 15-year of travel ban.
When Walid was first jailed, I was just a wife. By the time the ruling was issued, I had become a mother. It was in court that he saw his daughter, Jude, for the first time. His daughter is almost a year old now, and her father is absent from her life. A lot of people look at her with sympathy, but I look at her with pride. How could I fail to do so, when her father is sacrificing his life so that she, and other children, can enjoy a better future with freedom, equality, and human rights.
When Jude grows up, some people may tell her that her father was in jail because he opposed the government. I will tell her that he was in jail because he told his oppressors that they were oppressors, because he refused to be treated as a second-class citizen and because he wouldn't accept that his daughter would have to live in a man's shadow without any independence.
I will continue to defend my husband, who stands for the universal human rights of freedom and justice, and who is fighting to deliver this for the next generation.

Putin Evokes Tolstoy 26 Years After Soviet Troops Pulled Out of Afghanistan

President Vladimir Putin marked the 26th anniversary of the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan Sunday, vindicating his country's involvement in the Afghan War and praising novelist Leo Tolstoy's moral teachings.
"When years pass and more facts become known, we more clearly understand the reason why Soviet troops were sent to Afghanistan," Putin said Sunday at a meeting with war veterans' organizations, according to the Kremlin's website. "Many mistakes were made but there were real threats that Soviet authorities had tried to thwart by sending soldiers to Afghanistan."
Some 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. On Gorbachev's initiative, the Soviet parliament in 1989 declared that the war in Afghanistan had been a mistake.
Putin also deplored that Tolstoy's humanist teachings were not being applied universally.
"Unfortunately we see that not everyone has reached the level of Leo Tolstoy, when his famous refusal to fight evil with evil could reap tangible results, especially on the international scene," he said.
Tolstoy, who authored "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" in the late 19th century, was renowned for his pacifism.
Also at the meeting, Putin voiced his support for a legislative proposal that could see Russian combat veterans receive free university education.
The proposal was made by State Duma deputy Franz Klintsevich, who also serves as the chairman of the Russian Afghan Veterans Union. He said the measure would benefit the soldiers who took part in combat during Russia's two wars in Chechnya in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
Klintsevich did not provide a timeline nor an estimate of the funding required for the initiative to come to fruition.

A week of terror: From North Carolina to Copenhagen, the threat to freedom is the same

The attacks were in different continents and on people of different faiths and of none, but in the North Carolina university town of Chapel Hill and the Danish capital, Copenhagen, it was freedom itself that was the intended target. On Tuesday, three young Muslim students were gunned down in their Chapel Hill flat, apparently by a neighbour, Craig Hicks, who claimed their faith was an affront to his atheistic principles. The attack on Saturday in the Danish capital was wider. To judge from the chilling audio of a prolonged volley of shots in which one man died, it seems to have been meant as a massacre of people at a debate on free speech, where the controversial Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks and the French ambassador were present. From there, the gunman escaped and resurfaced to attack party-goers at a bat mitzvah, apparently with the simple objective of murdering Jews and terrorising the Jewish community. He was stopped only by the bravery of two police officers and a volunteer security guard, Dan Uzan, who was shot dead. The freedoms essential to democracy risk being slowly undermined by what the Jewish writer Natasha Lehrer has called a narrative of polarisation.
There can be no league table of victimhood in these acts of terrorism, but in the Scandinavian countries, which see themselves as uniquely fortunate in their social cohesion – “our fairytale country”, as one Danish mourner put it on Sunday – they have a shattering impact on self-belief. Five years ago the rightwing extremist Anders Breivik slaughtered more than 70 children at a Labour party camp in Norway. Now the Danes are experiencing the pain. Like France after the Charlie Hebdo attack last month, they are paying a high price for protecting the right to free speech. As in France, it is a right controversially exercised in Denmark with the publication of a series of cartoons in September 2005 depicting Muhammad. But all of Europe is engaged in an unprecedented struggle to balance the fundamental rights that are its priceless postwar inheritance with the most cherished beliefs of its new citizens. The right to free speech has to be weighed alongside the importance of respecting difference. In protecting one, there is always the risk of undermining the other. The same is true in the search for balance between freedom and security. On one hand, it seems that the Danish killer was already known to the security services. That suggest there is no prima facie case for greater powers of surveillance. But it is salutary that he was tracked down and shot dead by police because of the widespread availability of images from security cameras that other European countries, Germany for example, regard as an unacceptable invasion of privacy.
Freedom of speech is only one of the freedoms under attack. So is the freedom of worship, indeed the freedom to be different. After Amedy Coulibaly murdered four shoppers in a kosher supermarket in Paris last month, and the earlier deadly attack on the Brussels Jewish museum, it is clear that Jewish communities across Europe are under threat from a hatred that may claim its origin in opposition to Israel and Zionism, but whose form resembles all too closely the dark history of antisemitism. The Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, made an important statement in defence of the valued place of Denmark’s small Jewish community in her country, but it is understandable that some complain that it has come too late. Though that does not justify the ill-judged call from the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for “massive immigration” to his country, it is clear that, for too long, too little attention has been paid to the sharp rise in attacks on Jewish communities.
In a different context, a similar insensitivity to the threat to a religious community is apparent in the US. The killing of the three Muslim students by a gunman whose Facebook page contained violent threats against all organised religion, including Islam, was initially described by local police as a dispute over a parking place. The FBI remains reluctant to confirm whether or not it is investigating a hate crime. Surely, the point is that every American Muslim believes that it was. And that we must all relearn an old lesson: that only eternal vigilance can protect all our freedoms.

Video Report - Wombs for Rent in India

Video - Naomi Campbell hosts Ebola charity fashion show

Video - Netanyahu urges Europe's Jews to move to Israel

Video Report - Turkey women protest over slaying of student 'who resisted rape'

U.S. - The case for and against Biden in 2016, in his own words

Afghan Music Video - "ASHTI"

Fears mount for future of India’s Afghan silk route plans

Fears are mounting for the future of an ambitious plan to link India with Afghanistan through a new-age Silk Road network running through the Iranian port of Chabahar, government sources have told The Sunday Express. Iran pressed National Security Advisor Ajit Doval for commitments on the port, road and rail project during his visit to Iran, which concluded on Thursday, but was told that New Delhi is unwilling to add to the $100 million promised in 2013.
New Delhi’s second thoughts on the project are driven by concerns that the looming pullout of United States troops, which has already led to a sharp escalation in fighting across Afghanistan, may scuttle a $10.8 billion iron-ore and steel project by a Steel Authority of India Limited-led consortium at Hajigak.
Indian diplomats have also pointed to new strains in Kabul’s relationship with Delhi. President Ashraf Gani’s government in Kabul dropped requests for Indian weapons aid in a bid to soothe Pakistani sensitivities — a development first reported in The Indian Express in October.
“I think the bottom line is that no one is sure what the situation in Afghanistan is going to be like in a year, let alone two decades”, says Sushant Sareen, an analyst at the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi. “It would be foolish to gamble billions on a guess”.
For both Iran and India, the project still makes strategic sense: the countries helped finance and train anti-Taliban forces from 1998 to 2001 — a time when the US came close to recognising the Islamist regime. In addition, Iran and India share concerns over Pakistan, with whom both have clashed on their borders in recent months.
In his meeting with Doval, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, underlined those shared interests, saying the countries are like “neighbours without joint borders”.
However, the fluid situation in Afghanistan means neither country is willing to spend resources on building the expensive train and road transit routes.
The Chabahar project was born in 2002, following the defeat of the Taliban regime, as India searched for an access route to land-locked Afghanistan, that would be free of Pakistan’s control. The project was to have given India access to markets and mineral resources. In turn, Afghanistan would have been freed from the leverage Pakistan now exercises over it.
In 2003, Afghanistan, India and Iran signed an agreement to develop the Chabahar-Zaranj-Delaram route. Later that year, India began work on rebuilding the highway running from Zaranj to Delaram, connecting southern Afghanistan to Iran. The route has been used for trade between India and Iran, though transport costs remain high compared to the road from Kabul to the Wagah border, through Pakistan.
Following then-Iranian President Mohammed Khatami’s 2003 visit to India, the two countries signed an agreement that led to Ashok Leyland Projects being given charge of developing the port and future rail line.
Progress on the project was slow, in part disputes over tariffs and transit regulations proved difficult to resolve. The upgraded road from Afghanistan to Chabahar also fell behind schedule. 
But in 2010, when SAIL began negotiations for its Hajigak project, New Delhi made a renewed effort to speed up work. The Ministries of Railways and Mines were also involved in discussions to build a railway line to carry out ore from Hajigak to Chabahar.
In contrast, China has pushed forward aggressively on Chabahar, offering an $75 million credit line for ongoing work on the port. Like India, China has plans to invest in Afghanistan’s mineral wealth — in its case, a copper mine at Mes Ainak. Its principal interest in Chabahar, though, is to handle oil from its estimated $14 billion investments in fields at Yadavaran, South Pars, Masjed-i-Suleiman and Azadegan.
For its part, Iran is working on several separate projects to boost connectivity in Afghanistan. In addition to an under-construction 176-kilometre train line from Messhad to Herat, the country is financing the construction of a 5-kilometre tunnel in Tajikistan, which would link Iran, through Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif, to China.

Christians attempt to live normal lives in Pakistan

This slum on the outskirts of Pakistan's capital looks like many others ringing it, with dirt roads and cement-block homes, until a passer-by sees a simple black banner bearing a Bible verse about Jesus Christ's resurrection.
The Christian Colony on the edge of Islamabad is home to many Christians who once lived elsewhere in the capital, but fled in fear after a string of blasphemy allegations and killings. In this country of 180 million people, where Islam is the state religion and 95 percent of people are Muslims, Christians represent just a sliver of the population.
Most face daily discrimination and eke out a living by holding low-paying jobs, such as street sweeping. However, they've carved out their own lives in a country that faces near-daily attacks by Islamic extremists.
"I wish to save my people by providing them faith and some education," said Pastor Orangzaib Maseeh, who teaches locals how to read at his simple, open-air church. "I want them to have a life of a normal person. They used to have one."
That normal life for many disappeared in August 2012. Authorities at the time arrested a young Christian girl over accusations she burned pages of the Quran. Christians fled, later settling in this vacant spot of land where they've built homes out of concrete blocks and plastic sheeting. The girl was later freed and a local cleric accused of planting burned Quran pages in the girl's bag.
Under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, anyone convicted of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death. However, some Muslims often take the law into their own hands, killing those suspected of blasphemy and attacking Christian neighborhoods or others accused of blasphemy. Some blasphemy allegations also have been made to settle personal scores.
Residents in this area say they are always fearful that the city government may push them out and reclaim the land.
Yet despite those worries, life goes on for Christians here, including Dunya Yacoub, who held her wedding in the dark confines of one concrete-block home.
"Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of the day I would get married and put on a nice dress and have a nice party with a lot of people," the 24 year old said. "But today, my dream didn't turn the way I imagined it, but there is nothing I can do about it. This is how our lives look like today, and we have to adapt."

PAKISTAN: Rape of Christian girls-no issue for authorities

Women and minorities are the most marginalized faction of the Pakistani society; the Muslim majority is increasingly being intolerant towards people professing religion other than Islam. In a recent case of increasing rape incident of Christian girls, as reported by British Pakistani Christian Association, two minor Christian girls from Jaranwala, Punjab, Farzana aged 14   and Sehrish  aged 16 were gang raped by three Muslim men. On December 3rd 2014 three  men abducted the girls from outside their home when they had gone outside to answer the call of nature. As they are too poor to have toilet facility the girls are forced to use open fields. The rapist held the hapless girls all night subjecting them to rape and torture, as their poor father searched for them in vain. In the morning the distraught girls returned home and told their father of their ordeal.  FIR no. 552/14 was registered at the Lundya Wala Police Station and one of the rapists Sajad was arrested while two of the rapists, Azeem and Shahbaz managed to run away. The police and local Muslims are pressurizing Ilyas Masih, the father of the girls to accept a compromise and settle the matter.

 According to reports Ilyas Masih has received death threats from Azeem to withdraw the rape charges. Rai Haider, MPA (Member of Provincial Assembly) is also pressuring and offering money for a reconciliation settlement. The District Hospital of Jaranwala has refused to conduct appropriate testing for evidence of rape of the two victims because the police is supporting the rapists.

On 10th February 2015 two men on motorcycles stopped outside Sherish and Farzana's house, and fired outside their house to frighten them.  The men shouted out that they were the relatives of the boys who raped Sehrish and Farzana and that the Girls deserved to be raped as they were unwanted Christians in Muslim lands. The 12 years old younger brother of Sehrish and Farzana ventured out of his home to see what was happening. The gun men aimed and shot at him several times fortunately he escaped unhurt by taking refuge in their home. The family had sought refuge at the local pastor’s home. Too scared to venture outside fearing for their life Sehrish the victim said “" I am too afraid to go back home. This was once my local community but all I have now is bad memories." Shahbaz and his three accomplices had previously been accused of rape by another Christian family in the village the family subsequently compromised on a settlement after being pressured by influential people in the village to drop the lawsuit.

Unfortunately for the Christian community, which forms of 42% of the minority living in Pakistan, the incident of rape and forced conversions is on the rise. Many families have fled or sought asylum fearing for their lives if they report the incident. In another incident reported by Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP) Maria Sarfraz a school student aged 11 from Sheikapura district was kidnapped and gang raped for three days. Members of Muslim religious political party abducted the girl and took her to another city. Her father Sarfraz Andrew registered a First Investigation Report – FIR No. 272/14 on 25th April, 2014. The girl was recovered after three days the medical report declared the she was being forcefully raped by the accused for three uninterrupted days. Local police arrested Muhammad Safdar and Muhammad Mehboob. The accused has religious political back ground and forcing the family to compromise.

Words fail to condemn the atrocity meted out to the rape victim in Pakistan whose ordeal actually begins after the harrowing incident. It is not just the body and soul of the women that is made to suffer her whole family is dragged in the mire and must bear in silence, no one dare demands justice. The victim of rape often belongs from the low income strata and thus cannot put up a fight against the rapist who is generally the influential party, and if the victim belongs to the minority group their trouble is further exacerbated. The cost to family honour often forces many families to not report the incident; the investigative system of police is not generally very sensitized towards such crime. The police officials themselves force the family to settle the matter and if the family refuses to be bogged down they are made to suffer further humiliation by prodding and inappropriate questioning. The law of the land gives the victim a clear signal you are going to be threatened, maligned and defeated if you are raped.

The minority rights though guaranteed under the constitution are almost not existent today. The white in Pakistan’s flag represents minority yet we see that the minorities are sidelined and denied equal rights in the land increasingly becoming radicalized. The obscurantist clergy propagates hate for other religious minority; even at the state level they are denied the freedom to hold property or right to marriage. The Hindu civil marriage is still not recognized in Pakistan that creates many hurdles for the married Hindu women to claim her lawful right in property. The  attacks or churches, temples and other places of worship for the minorities are attacked frequently the state plays a silent spectator as the blood bath continues the nonexistent rule of law and writ of the state has made it very difficult for the people to enjoy a peaceful life.

Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of Pakistan, to take concrete measures to ensure that victims of rape are given full state support and that those who are involved in the heinous crime must be prosecuted. The police should be sanitized to deal with matters involving crime against women and to ensure efficient and expedient investigation is conducted that is free from any socio political influence.

Pakistan - Crimes against women

A press report comes as a rude reminder of unremitting incidence of violence against women in Punjab. As per the data collected by a well-respected women's rights organisation, as many as 7,010 cases involving violence and another 1,707 cases of kidnapping were reported in the province during last year. Rape and gang rape numbered a whopping 1,408 while reported cases of women falling victim to the so-called 'honour killing' was 340 - the highest among the four provinces. That though is attributable to the fact that more than half of the country's entire population lives in this province rather than better conditions in other parts of the country. The report goes on to note that six women were kidnapped, four raped, three committed suicide and six were murdered every single day all over Pakistan the same year. 

Most of these crimes are rooted in a feudal mindset that regards women as possessions, which can be used and abused in the name of traditions or religion. Anti-women prejudices are rife not in the middle classes - usual morality keepers in any society - but in the ruling classes as well. Notably, back in 2008 when two women were buried alive near Quetta - one for wanting to marry a man of her choice and the older relative for supporting her - no less a person than a federal minister Israrullah Zehri had defended the horror saying "these are centuries-old traditions; and I will continue to defend them." It is common practice also for village 'jirgas' to use small girls for settling blood feuds between men. There have been instances also wherein people paraded naked women from lesser families to heap humiliation on their male relatives. Things may be changing for the better but as the present report shows, change is painfully slow in coming. 

Creditably for the PPP government it passed important pro-women laws like Protection Against Harassment at Workplace Act, 2010; Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act, 2011; and Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011. A legal loophole, however, continues to encourage people to commit the crime since 'honour killing' is a compoundable offence under the Qisas and Diyat laws. As it is, the murderer is always a close relative - a brother, father or an uncle - other relatives grant forgiveness. Hence it has become almost an accepted practice for male relatives to kill a woman for contracting a marriage of her choice or on suspicion of having a liaison. The honour pretext sometimes is also used to deprive a victim of her property rights. The Punjab Women Development Department recently initiated a move seeking amendment to a law that provides courts "may" punish killers pardoned under an agreement to life imprisonment, or hand them death sentence. It wants to replace the word "may" with "shall" so fear of punishment acts as deterrence for those killing women in the name of honour secure in the knowledge of being pardoned. Hopefully the effort will come to fruition despite resistance from religious elements. But laws alone will not help. In tandem with laws there is need for a general uplift programme through education and vocational training programmes so that more and more women can achieve economic self-reliance - the key to independence and dignity. 

Pakistan - Protect Polio Workers

On Saturday, two separate teams were attacked in what is becoming an intensifying campaign targeting the polio drive, and the government has been failing to stop this from spiralling out of control. Three polio workers and two volunteers went missing in Balochistan’s Zhob district on Friday, presumably kidnapped by militants. Meanwhile, in Landi Kotal’s Lowi Shalman area of Khyber Agency, gunmen open fire on a vehicle carrying a polio team, killing the driver and injuring one health worker. Over the past several months, attacks against polio teams are becoming much more numerous; already 6 have taken place in 2015. The attacks have taken place in urban centres like Karachi and Peshawar as well as smaller rural settlements all over Pakistan, showing that this is a co-ordinated campaign by the Taliban high command, and that as well as sporadic bombings, this is the chosen method of reprisal against the military.
The government needs to start treating the protection of polio teams as part of the national agenda against terrorism, and not as an ancillary project undertaken by the health ministry. In all the attacks in 2015, the lack of resources and police incompetence has largely been to blame. In Orangi, a single trainee was stationed as the escort, and in the Nazimabad attack the policeman lacked basic protective gear; in this case a helmet. The government is approaching these attacks reactively; tightening security where the attacks happened and giving Rs 500,000 to the family of the deceased. By acting pro-actively they can prevent these deaths and utilise the compensation money elsewhere. Instead of providing endless security protocol to every politician and minor official, they should divert funds where it truly matters – where the threat is imminent. If the government is truly motivated to implement the National Action Plan and eliminate terrorism, it must allocate a portion from that war chest to protecting polio teams against Taliban reprisal.

Peshawar bleeds - ''Bathed in blood''

Once again, Peshawar bleeds. All too soon it is once again the site of carnage, leaving the country begging for answers and demanding action be taken. An imambargah in the city was attacked during Friday prayers with militants rushing in armed to the hilt with grenades, machine guns and suicide vests. As many as 20 worshippers were killed, all of them Shia, with scores more injured. The scene was bloody and brutal, the aftereffects leaving more unanswered questions than ever before. Peshawar was the site of the most savage attack in this country’s history in December last year with some 142 people, mostly students, killed in the Army Public School (APS). That was a do-or-die moment in this country’s history but what we are seeing today is nothing but death. The responsibility of the Peshawar imambargah attack has been claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the enemy number one of the Pakistani state.

Friday has become the bloodiest day for Pakistan’s citizens. Some two weeks back, an imambargah in Shikarpur was targeted by the TTP, killing more than 60 Shia worshippers. Again, the country was stupefied how such a massacre was possible after the vows and promises made in the wake of the APS slaughter. It seems the Taliban brand of terror has turned a darker shade of sectarian. Shias are the new sacrificial lambs providing the most suitable type of ‘soft target’. With the war against terrorism in the tribal areas being waged by the Pakistan army, the terrorists are becoming increasingly desperate to inflict fear and dread into the heart of the nation. What better way to do that than to raise the threat alarm over sectarian conflict, to instil in all minorities, especially Shias, that they are safe nowhere, least of all in their mosques and at their most revered sites? The TTP are in it for the long haul, aiming to create as much chaos and destruction as possible, unwilling to challenge the army head on in the military operation, choosing instead to deal a deathblow to the citizens in the shape of sectarian murder and the execution of innocents.

And what about the government? Is it in it for the long haul? What was supposed to be the National Action Plan (NAP) has actually turned into the non-action plan. Much sound and fury was heard about implementing the 20-point agenda of NAP but, true to its name, the plan and its facilitators have been found napping. The attack on the imambargah in Shikarpur should have alerted the authorities to the changing pattern of terror strategies and militant motives. They should have realised that sectarianism was going to be cashed in on by the militants. As usual, they did not catch on. Now Peshawar has happened, a city under siege once again. NAP needs to be initiated in its most effective form; it needs to not only be implemented, it needs to also reorganise its command and operations structure. The intelligence agencies need to not only work, they need to work together. There has to be a central infrastructure from which intelligence can be shared and disseminated. There is no way law enforcement agencies can prevent terror attacks, particularly of a suicidal nature, without the ability to pre-empt such occurrences. Once a suicide mission has been launched, it is almost impossible to stop it.

How many more massacres will we have to witness before the government takes real action to eliminate those who are hell-bent upon our extinction? We need to protect the victims of sectarian strikes and make it our national priority to make Fridays safe once again.

Starved for Energy, Pakistan Braces for a Water Crisis

Energy-starved Pakistanis, their economy battered by chronic fuel and electricity shortages, may soon have to contend with a new resource crisis: major water shortages, the Pakistani government warned this week.
A combination of global climate change and local waste and mismanagement have led to an alarmingly rapid depletion of Pakistan’s water supply, said the minister for water and energy, Khawaja Muhammad Asif.
“Under the present situation, in the next six to seven years, Pakistan can be a water-starved country,” Mr. Asif said in an interview, echoing a warning that he first issued at a news conference in Lahore this week.

The prospect of a major water crisis in Pakistan, even if several years distant, offers a stark reminder of a growing challenge in other poor and densely populated countries that are vulnerable to global climate change.

In Pakistan, it poses a further challenge to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government has come under sharp criticism for failing to end the country’s electricity crisis. In some rural areas, heavy rationing has meant that as little as four hours of electricity a day is available.
In the interview, Mr. Asif said the government had started to bring the electricity crisis under control, and predicted a return to a normal supply by 2017. But energy experts are less confident that such a turnaround is possible, given how long and complex the problem has proved to be.
Now the country’s water supply looms as a resource challenge, intensified by Pakistan’s enduring infrastructure and management problems.
Agriculture is a cornerstone of the Pakistani economy. The 2,000-mile-long Indus River, which rises in the Himalayas and spans the country, feeds a vast network of irrigation canals that line fields producing wheat, vegetables and cotton, all major sources of foreign currency. In the north, hydroelectricpower stations are a cornerstone of the creaking power system.
A combination of melting glaciers, decreasing rainfall and chronic mismanagement by successive governments has put that water supply in danger, experts say.
In a report published in 2013, the Asian Development Bank described Pakistan as one of the most “water-stressed” countries in the world, with a water availability of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year — a fivefold drop since independence in 1947, and about the same level as drought-stricken Ethiopia.
“It is a very serious situation,” said Pervaiz Amir, country director for thePakistan Water Partnership. “I feel it is going to be more serious than the recent oil shortages.”
Shortages of resources have climbed to the top of the political agenda in recent years. Fuel shortages last month, for which government officials blamed mismanagement by the national oil company, caused lengthy lines outside fuel stations that embarrassed the government at a time of low global oil prices.
Mr. Sharif’s government was already grappling with the seemingly intractable electricity crisis, which regularly causes blackouts of 10 hours a day even in major cities. And Mr. Sharif has been visibly distracted by grueling political duels, with the opposition politician Imran Khan, who accuses him of stealing the 2013 election, and with powerful military leaders who have undermined his authority in key areas.

Mr. Asif, the water and energy minister, said the government had started to turn the corner. But he acknowledged that the country’s resource problems were, to a large degree, endemic. “There is a national habit of extravagance,” he said, noting that it extended across resource areas, whether gas, electricity or water.
“I will be very careful not to use the word ‘drought,’ but we are water stressed right now, and slowly, we are moving to be a water-starved country,” he said.
Evidence of chronic water shortages have been painfully evident in some parts of Pakistan in recent years. A drought caused by erratic rainfall in Tharparkar, a desert area in southern Sindh Province, caused a humanitarian emergency in the region last year.
“The frequency of monsoon rains has decreased but their intensity has increased,” said Mr. Amir of the Pakistan Water Partnership. “That means more water stress, particularly in winters.”
Water is also tied to nationalist, even jihadist, politics in Pakistan. For years, religious conservatives and Islamist militants have accused rival India, where the Indus River system rises, of constricting Pakistan’s water supply.
Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the militant group that carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, regularly rails against Indian “water terrorism” during public rallies.
Mr. Asif said that contrary to such claims, India was not building reservoirs on rivers that flow into Pakistan. “We will never let it happen,” he said, citing the Indus Water Treaty, an agreement between the two countries that was brokered by the World Bank and signed in the 1960s.
One major culprit in Pakistan’s looming water crisis, experts say, is the country’s inadequate water storage facilities. In India, about one-third of the water supply is stored in reservoirs, compared with just 9 percent in Pakistan, Mr. Amir said.
“We built our last dam 46 years ago,” he said. “India has built 4,000 dams, with another 150 in the pipeline.”
Experts say the country’s chaotic policies are hurting its image in the eyes of Western donors who could help alleviate the mounting resource crises.
“The biggest looming crisis is of governance, not water — which could make this country unlivable in the next few years,” said Arshad H. Abbasi, a water and energy expert with the Sustainable Development and Policy Institute, a research group based in Islamabad.

In Pakistan’s ideological war over textbooks, Helen Keller doesn’t make cut

By Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan

A decade ago, Pakistan’s then-ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, called for a new era of “enlightened moderation” in the country’s public schools.
But just two years after more-secular textbooks arrived here in northwestern Pakistan, politicians and religious scholars are rolling back some of the revisions by limiting students’ exposure to Western theories, academics, scientists and authors — including Helen Keller.
The effort is being led by the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami party, which recently gained more power in a region on the front lines of Pakistan’s effort to curb Islamist extremism and terrorism. A party that wants sharia law in Pakistan again has considerable influence over what 4 million students learn in 28,000 public schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
After Jamaat-e-Islami leaders scrutinized hundreds of pages of textbooks, a story about Keller, a deaf and blind American author and activist, is being removed from ninth-grade lesson plans. Books for first- and second-graders will no longer include photos of a Christmas tree and holiday cards, even though a small Christian community lives here. And inscriptions on textbooks stating “We want peace” are being replaced with religious verses, said a local education official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the matter.
“Pakistan is an Islamic country, and nothing should be taught in our schoolbooks that [is] un-Islamic and against the ideology of Pakistan,” said Zahir Shah, a professor at Islamia University in Peshawar who is leading a review of textbooks for Jamaat-e-Islami.
Although it appears that other provincial leaders could still try to block some of the proposals, the debate shows how hard it will be to change Pakistani school systems that have been shaped by the tide of Islamic fundamentalism that swept the country in the 1970s and 1980s.
Activists worry that the efforts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will make it more difficult to continue revisions in other provinces.
“This is about our nation, our future,” said Sardar Hussain Babak, who served as education minister in the province from 2008 to 2013. “So we are telling them: ‘Don’t again exploit our students in the name of religion.’ ”
Jamaat-e-Islami has recommended more than a dozen textbook changes, including banning images showing women in skirts, jeans and T-shirts. Party members also want to remove Darwin’s theory of evolution from science books so it doesn’t compete with Islamic teachings on creationism.
Jamaat-e-Islami is pushing for the changes even as the province continues to cope with the aftermath of a December terrorist attack that killed 150 students and teachers at a school here. In response to the massacre, Pakistani leaders promised to crack down on extremist views and writings.
But the political dynamics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s government changed in 2013, the same year that students began using new textbooks.
That May, the moderate Awami National Party (ANP) was ousted from power in provincial elections. The Movement for Justice party, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, won a plurality of provincial assembly seats. Khan then formed a majority coalition with Jamaat-e-Islami, known for its strict interpretation of the ­Koran.
Jamaat-e-Islami leaders say the power-sharing deal gave them authorityover education matters, reviving the power they held nationwide during the 1980s.
When former military ruler Mohammed Zia ul-Haq seized power in a coup in 1977, he formed an alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami and shifted the country toward an ideologically pure version of Islam. Party leaders were given wide latitude over education policy, and the government added Arabic and Islamic studies to the core curriculum.
In 2002, a report commissioned by the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute concluded that Pakistani public school textbooks were riddled with errors, were insensitive to religious minorities and incited violence.
Amid international concerns that Pakistani schools could fuel terrorism, Musharraf organized forums on the issue in 2006. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP worked with academics and international aid organizations to make changes to the curriculum.
But Shah said he and other religious scholars now worry that lessons on too many non-Muslim authors, scientists and historians have crept into the textbooks.
So instead of Keller’s 1933 essay “Three Days to See,” which outlines how she would use her vision if given the gift of sight, ninth-graders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will read about Muhammad Iqbal, the education official said. Iqbal was an early 20th-century poet and philosopher who advocated the creation of an independent Pakistani state.
“We want a uniform education policy for the whole of Pakistan and a curriculum that will promote national identity,” Shah said.
Some of the proposed changes, however, go far beyond elevating Muslim figures. Shah said ­Jamaat-e-Islami is hoping to remove the theory of evolution from textbooks because it is “100 percent in conflict with Koranic teachings.” The education official said it will remain for the 2015-2016 year but will be supplemented by other scientific lessons that better represent an Islamic viewpoint.
It is unclear whether two other Jamaat-e-Islami proposals — ending lessons about population growth and removing references to Western environmental and charitable groups such as Greenpeace and Save the Children — will be enacted.
“Our education policy is clear in that we are making neither a liberal curriculum nor a fundamentalist one,” said Atif Khan, the provincial education minister.
Yet Jamaat-e-Islami leaders clearly are having an impact on the curriculum.
Under the reforms enacted by ANP, a decision was made for “age appropriate” teaching of the history of jihad, which some Muslims interpret to mean a holy war. Jamaat-e-Islami leaders used the term in the 1980s to rally support for mujahideen rebels fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
To limit students’ exposure to violence, initial plans called for lessons about the term “jihad” to be restricted to students in the 11th grade or higher. But Jamaat-e-Islami successfully pushed this year to continue those lessons for students as young as ninth-graders.
Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat, vice chancellor of Bacha Khan University, Charsadda on the outskirts of Peshawar, said the new changes should worry parents who want to give their children the chance to enjoy the benefits of globalization.
“We have an opportunity to produce some good human beings, some good citizens, Marwat said. “But if we are producing something ideological, then there will be problems.”