Thursday, February 19, 2015

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​‘High poverty, deep disunity’: German wage inequality hits historic high

The economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany, is being chocked by wage inequality and “regional disunity”, with over 12.5 million Germans now below the relative poverty line – the highest number on record since the reunification of Germany 25 years ago.
“Poverty has never been as high and the regional disunity has never run as deep,” said the head of Germany's Equal Welfare Organization, Ulrich Schneider.
The latest data on the country’s poverty level shows it now stands at 15.5 percent. The gap between rich and poor regions, as well as that between income groups in Germany’s different states, is also getting deeper. The organization has drawn a relative poverty line designating a person as poor if his or her income is 60 percent less than the median.
In concrete terms, the national poverty threshold was calculated at €892 for a single household, and at €1873 for a family of four – with two children under the age of 14.
The states of Bremen, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania topped the list, with poverty rates exceeding 20 percent. Baden-Württemburg and Bavaria have the richest people, with poverty rates of just over eleven percent.
“Overall the state ranking shows a ragged republic,” AFP cites Schneider as saying.
Only two states showed a reversed trend based on newly released 2013 figures. The poverty levels have fallen in Saxony-Anhalt from 21.1 to 20.9 percent and in Brandenburg from 18.1 to 17.7 percent.
The statistics also revealed that German pensioners are not getting their share of the country’s economic growth, having suffered a 48 percent increase in poverty since 2006.
Other groups most at risk are those without education and single mothers, as well as the officially unemployed; 40 percent of whom are living in poverty despite receiving social benefits.
But being employed also no longer means a person can make ends meet in Germany, as around 3.1 million workers receive salaries below the country’s poverty threshold. People have been forced to cut back on food and heating in order to survive, German media reported last month.
To tackle the problem, Schneider advocates increasing state welfare rates and an expansion of public employment as well as support programs for single mothers.
At the start of the year, the German Labor Ministry announced that it plans to use 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) from the European Social Fund (ESF), plus 4.3 billion euros from within Germany to set up 26 programs in the country by 2020.

Syria sees its foreign foes as key to Aleppo truce

The Syrian government said on Thursday the success of a U.N. bid to freeze fighting in Aleppo hinged on whether foreign states that back the insurgents can get them to comply, and that no time frame had been set for the proposed ceasefire.
In an interview with Reuters, Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi also said Syrian army progress against the Islamic State militant group far outstripped anything accomplished by a U.S.-led alliance that has ruled out the idea of partnering with Damascus.
Nearly four years into the conflict, the state is fighting insurgents including both jihadists and mainstream rebels in southern and northern Syria, in addition to the Islamic State group that has declared eastern areas of Syria part of its self-styled “caliphate”.
Pursuing a truce in the northern city of Aleppo, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Tuesday that Damascus was willing to suspend aerial bombardment and artillery shelling so a local ceasefire could be tested in the city, where both jihadists and other insurgents are battling the army and allied forces.
Asked whether the ceasefire would work, Zoabi said: "The success of any effort related to the war on Syria depends on the capacity of the parties that finance the armed terrorist groups to control them, deter them, and halt their actions and massacres against civilians."
Zoabi said he was referring to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Jordan -- which have all offered support to rebels fighting the government in the war estimated to have killed around 200,000 people. The insurgent groups fighting in and around Aleppo include the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which has been classified as a terrorist group by the United States and has been sanctioned by the United Nations.
"Talking about freezing shelling is part of a freeze of fighting, meaning this freeze in fighting is the responsibility of all the armed parties in Aleppo,” Zoabi said.
"The Syrian government is still studying what Mr. de Mistura said ... and when he comes to Damascus there will be clear and precise answers from the Syrian government."
A spokeswoman for de Mistura, Juliette Touma, said his team would visit Damascus next week.
"Mr de Mistura said we will have to engage with the opposition on the six-week halt and see what sort of response we get from them with regard to halting rocket and mortar attacks. If that works and we have a positive response from both sides that means the six-week halt can actually start," she said.
The battle for Aleppo, Syria's most populous city when the uprising began, is one of the longest lasting of the war. Rebels who bring supplies from the north still control part of the city.
Fighting near Aleppo accelerated this week with the army and allied forces seizing territory north of the city. It marks the second major offensive launched by the army and allied forces this month after it advanced against rebels in the south.
Zoabi said the army was making progress throughout Syria, including in eastern areas where Islamic State expanded last year after seizing the Iraqi city of Mosul.
The United States and allied states have been conducting air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria since September in a campaign Syrian officials have previously described as fruitless.
The army has recently made advances against Islamic State in the provinces of Hasaka and in Deir al-Zor, which both border Iraq.
“What the Syrian army is accomplishing on a daily basis is many, many times more important than everything that the so-called alliance against terrorism is doing,” said Zoabi.
“The Syrian army is also using its warplanes against Daesh, using its weapons, its military plans against Daesh and has more experience in the field on the ground in fighting Daesh and the Nusra Front,” said Zoabi. Daesh is an acronym for Islamic State.

U.S. - Liberal Democrats ask Boehner to postpone Netanyahu address

Associated Press 

Almost two dozen liberal Democrats on Thursday asked the Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives to postpone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint meeting of Congress next month.
"It appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the President," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Speaker John Boehner.
Netanyahu's speech is controversial because it comes as the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran over that country's nuclear program — negotiations that Netanyahu says could put Israel at risk. The speech is also set just two weeks before Netanyahu faces voters at home for re-election.
Republicans are pushing tougher sanctions on Tehran. Boehner did not consult with the White House before inviting Netanyahu.
"This appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations," the Democrats wrote.
Generally speaking, the 23 lawmakers who signed the letter are among the most left-leaning Democrats, representing 12 percent of their party's House membership.
"Support for the State of Israel in Congress has always been bipartisan, and it should remain so," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

US takes swipe at Netanyahu: Sounds like he knows more about Iran deal than negotiators

A nuclear deal with Iran does not yet exist, and therefore Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot know what is in it, US State Department Jen Psaki said on Thursday. 
"We've seen this movie before," Psaki said of skepticism from leadership in Israel over the nuclear talks. 

Earlier this week Netanyahu said that the current proposal to Iran would endanger Israel. 

"It would enable Iran to breakout to its first nuclear device within an unacceptably short time," Netanyahu told a gathering of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. 

​​Netanyahu also said he knows the contents of a framework proposal, offered to Iran by the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany last month. But the Obama administration is skeptical.

"It sounds like he knows more than the negotiators," Psaki said, responding to claims that Netanyahu knows the details of the deal. ​

Netanyahu's scheduled speech before Congress continues to be a contentious issue in both Washington and Jerusalem.

Leading Democratic Senator Charles Schumer called on his fellow Democrats on Thursday to attend the address next month, saying the Israel-US relationship should “transcend” any political differences.

“It’s always been a bipartisan policy,” Schumer said of the US-Israel relationship.

“Democrats and Republicans have always worked together on it, we ought to keep it that way.”

Some Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, have said they will not attend the speech.

Schumer, a ranking member of his party, was instrumental in altering the strident tone of the US-Israel relationship in the summer of 2010, after Biden’s disastrous visit during which Israel announced the building of homes in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem. At that point, Israeli-US ties hit a nadir.

After he went on the radio in New York criticizing US President Barack Obama for pushing Israel too hard, the president’s tone changed dramatically.

On Tuesday, when asked whether he thought Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner “blindsided” Obama with his invitation to Netanyahu, the senator said on WAMC Northeast Public Radio that he thought it was a “bad idea” because “our policy toward Israel should always be bipartisan.”

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Lengthy Legal Battle Looms Over Obama Immigration Order

Michael Bowman

President Barack Obama’s executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation was supposed to go into effect this week, but it is on hold after a U.S. federal judge temporarily blocked the initiative. The legal battle is far from over, and while it proceeds, backers and opponents of the president’s unilateral order show no signs of wavering on their positions.
In immigrant communities, seminars to help the undocumented seek relief under the president’s executive order turned somber as expectations were dashed. The initiative is on hold. In Arizona, Idalia Cervantes had hoped her Mexican-born parents would be protected from deportation.
“We are heartbroken. We heard about this [injunction] at midnight, and it was tears,” she said.
Hours later, confirmation from the White House. “We are not going to disregard this federal court ruling. So, we are not going to be taking applications in until this case is settled,” said Obama.
A definitive resolution will take time, according to University of Massachusetts Director of Legal Studies Paul Collins.
“The law really is not black or white on this one. If it went to the Supreme Court and they ruled on the merits of this case, it probably wouldn’t come down for half a year to a year," said Collins.
Until then, there is uncertainty for undocumented aliens like Steven Rodriguez, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a baby, and he cannot work legally as a young adult.
“I would go out looking for a job and no one would hire me,” he said.
Congress has been unable to agree on a plan to reform an immigration system almost everyone agrees needs to change. But legislative inaction does not excuse executive over-reach, according to Republican Congressman Lamar Smith.
“The president said, ‘I am going to give them work permits. I’m going to allow them to stay, I am going to allow them to get federal benefits.’ That is where he went beyond what I think he can do,” said Smith.
While some protest, officials in states that brought the lawsuit say they are defending constitutional order.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said, “This is an important constitutional principle. This isn’t even just about immigration. It is about if the president of the U.S. can act unilaterally on any legal issue.”
The president is undeterred. “I think the law is on our side, and history is on our side. And we are going to appeal it. And we will be prepared to implement this [executive order] fully as soon as the legal issues get resolved.”
Until this week, judicial history would seem to favor Obama’s position.
“The federal courts have been fairly deferential to the federal government’s policies on immigration, particularly when those challenges are being brought by states. So the states have a tough row to hoe [difficult task ahead],” said Collins.
The immediate task for immigrant groups: convincing the undocumented to remain engaged and not retreat into the shadows.
“I will fight, and I know I have the whole community backing me up that will make sure my parents stay in this country,” said Cervantes.

U.S. - Clinton Foundation defends fundraising practices

The charity founded by former President Bill Clinton is defending its financial support from foreign governments and addressing how it might operate if former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton runs for president again.
The Clinton Foundation says in a statement it receives support from “individuals, organizations and governments from all over the world” and its programs improve the lives of millions of people.
If Hillary Clinton runs for office, the foundation says it will ensure its policies and practices related to international partners are “appropriate, just as we did when she served as Secretary of State.”
The Wall Street Journal reported the foundation received money in 2014 from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman. The Washington Post reported the foundation has raised nearly $2 billion since 2001.

Obama Calls for Expansion of Human Rights to Combat Extremism

By PETER BAKER President Obama on Thursday called on nations around the world to expand human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue as they struggle to combat a spate of terrorism that has recently struck places as far afield as Australia, Canada and Europe.
In an address to world leaders on the final day of his summit on violent extremism, Mr. Obama said that poverty and political grievances fuel alienation that can lead to bursts of killing like those seen in Paris, Copenhagen, Sydney and Ottawa. In addition to building up security forces, he said nations must “put an end to the cycle of hate” through opportunity and freedom.
“When people are oppressed and human rights are denied, particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism,” Mr. Obama told a gathering of ministers from dozens of countries. “It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit. When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available.
“So we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy,” he added. “That means free elections where people can choose their own future and independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, and free speech and freedom for civil society groups, and it means freedom of religion.”
The president’s remarks came as the summit meeting was wrapping up amid fierce political debate about the administration’s approach to terrorism. More than 13 years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States is still searching for a consensus about how to tackle an enemy more elusive and less structured than the familiar Cold War adversary in Moscow.
The issue has grown more urgent with the rise of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State. Mr. Obama, who has prided himself on ending American involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has opened a new war in the region by launching airstrikes against the Islamic State, but his critics contend that his strategy is too restrained and his own view of the threat is too limited.
In promoting democracy and freedom as part of the solution, Mr. Obama is returning to a theme he has advanced before, and one that his predecessor, President George W. Bush, made the centerpiece of his second inaugural address in 2005. Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush before him, argued that oppression, corruption and injustice create openings for extremists to exploit disgruntled young people. He singled out religious intolerance especially.
“When people spew hatred toward us because of their faith or because they’re immigrants, it feeds into terrorist narratives,” Mr. Obama told the audience gathered at the State Department on Thursday. “It feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey. And we can’t allow cycles of suspicion to tear the fabrics of our countries.”
He added that dialogue between countries was important. But he added: “What’s most needed today, perhaps, are more dialogues within countries, not just across faiths but also within faiths. Violent extremists and terrorists thrive when people of different religions or sects pull away from each other and are able to isolate each other and label each other as ‘they’ instead of ‘us.’” He emphasized solidarity with the foreign ministers he addressed. “We are all in the same boat,” he said. “We have to help each other. In this work, you will have a strong partner in me and the United States of America.”
Yet if he embraced a message on democracy and freedom akin to one his predecessor sent, Mr. Obama offered less emphasis on military force than Mr. Bush was known for. Mr. Obama condemned recent terrorist attacks but did not present terrorism as an existential threat in the same way Mr. Bush did. His language was careful and measured, without the same moral indignation summoned by his secretary of state, John Kerry, who just moments before the president spoke referred to terrorists as “murderers and thugs.”
Mr. Obama’s speech came after a discussion that involved top ministers from several countries, including Japan and Jordan, both still reeling from the recent murder of their citizens who had been held hostage by the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL. Ministers from France and Denmark thanked the international community for its support following attacks in their countries.
Among others who spoke on Thursday were representatives of countries with authoritarian systems of their own, including Egypt, where the military has reasserted control and cracked down on dissent, and Kazakhstan, which has been ruled by the same former Soviet official for more than a quarter-century. That underscored the awkward alliances the United States has built with governments it otherwise might disparage in the name of fighting terrorism.
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, emphasized that the fight against terrorism should not be used as a justification for tactics that themselves were wrong. “We will never find our way by discarding our moral compass,” he said. “We need cool heads. We need common sense. And we must never let fear rule.”
He added that better political and economic systems would be as important as military responses to terrorism. “Bullets are not the silver bullets,” he said. “Missiles may kill terrorists, but good governance kills terrorism.”
Nasser Judeh, Jordan’s foreign minister, said world leaders “must address the root causes,” including “political alienation,” unemployment, poverty and illiteracy. “It is all about education, education, education; opportunity, opportunity, opportunity; empowerment, empowerment, empowerment,” he said.
But research presented at the summit meeting suggested that it may not be as simple as that. While many assume that terrorists are religious zealots or politically aggrieved, Peter Neumann, the director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization in London, said interviews with recruits showed a variety of backgrounds. Some are pious, he said, and some are not. Some have a troubled history, but others would be successful back at home. Some were thrill seekers, some enthusiastic about the totalitarian model offered by groups like the Islamic State, and some mentally ill.
Their motivations and personal histories, Mr. Neumann said, “are so different” that it will pose very different challenges to the nations of the world. Mr. Kerry, opening the day’s proceedings, said there was no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. Military action must be married with political, economic and other methods, he said.
“There’s been a silly debate in the media in the last days about what you have to do,” Mr. Kerry said. “You have to do everything. You have to take the people off the battlefield who are there today. But you’re kind of stupid if all you do is do that and you don’t prevent more people from going to the battlefield.”

Video - President Obama Speaks at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

Afghanistan’s first lady, in U.S. visit, walks line between reform and caution

By Pamela Constable

With her soft French accent, self-deprecating laugh and modest Western attire, Afghanistan’s first lady easily charmed a Washington audience Wednesday evening, at her first public appearance here in the nearly five tumultuous months since her husband, Ghani, was inaugurated as president in September.
The warm reception contrasted sharply with the one that Rula Ghani, a Lebanese-born Christian, has received at home. Her religious background and modern views have provoked a barrage of criticism and hostility in the traditional, male-dominated Muslim society, where many women do not leave their homes unveiled.
Ghani’s message here, echoed in her recent interviews and speeches, was carefully modulated to dispel her image as a crusading feminist intruder among older, conservative Afghans — but without alienating a rising generation of young, educated Afghan women to whom she is a natural role model.
The event came during a two-week visit by Ghani to the United States, where she spent much of her adult life and where her two children live. Last week, she flew to Texas for a visit with former first lady Laura Bush, who has long supported the cause of Afghan women. This week in Washington, she has attended charitable board meetings and met with Afghan and American friends. On Wednesday, she spoke before about 200 people at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Ghani, 66, was educated in Paris and the United States and met her husband at the American University of Beirut. She confirmed that she is Christian but did not elaborate on her religious beliefs. Instead, she stressed the similarities between Lebanese and Afghan cultures, noted that she learned to pray in Arabic and strategically framed her comments about women within references to the Koran and Islam.
“In Islam the place of women is an important place,” Ghani said, adding that Afghan history is full of “formidable” female leaders. She noted that the wife of the prophet Muhammad was a powerful businesswoman, and that Queen Soraya Tarzi— the stylish wife of a reformist Afghan king in the 1920s — helped launch the country’s modern education system.
Yet she played down her own aspirations for power, saying she sees her new role mostly as a “listener and facilitator” for Afghans who seek her personal help. She pointedly defended her immediate predecessor, Zeenat Karzai, a physician who was kept hidden from public view for years during President Hamid Karzai’s rule, saying she should “not be blamed” for choosing to stay home and raise her children in seclusion.
Ghani also skirted the volatile issue of women’s rights, declaring that the widely documented plight of Afghan women --- including domestic abuse, forced early marriage, bride barter and imprisonment for eloping — has been unfairly exaggerated by the foreign press and aid organizations.
“They say Afghanistan is the worst country for a girl to be born. Hogwash!” Ghani exclaimed to laughter.
Ghani’s balancing act, though carried off with grace and wit, was a direct result of the condemnation she has encountered at home, simply by virtue of her Christian faith and foreign birth, and the potential damage the new government fears such controversy can do to her Muslim husband’s efforts to modernize the economically struggling, conflict-ridden nation.
Afghanistan is 99 percent Muslim, and it is a capital crime there to convert to Christianity. Moreover, the defeat of Soviet forces by Afghan religious militias and the subsequent years of Taliban rule in the 1990s made Afghan society much more conservative than in the early 1970s, when Ghani first came to live there as a bride.
The president, a cerebral former World Bank official, is in a hurry to revolutionize the country’s languid, corrupt and hidebound official culture, and he has already made many enemies. During his candidacy, a smear campaign began against his wife. Critics warned that she would seek to convert Afghan women, and doctored photos showed her husband praying in a church. There were even suggestions that he should divorce her.
But on inauguration day, the new president publicly saluted Rula as his life partner, an unprecedented gesture. In subsequent interviews, she drew criticism for saying women should take up roles in business, professions and public life. In November, she aroused further controversy by saying she supported a French government ban on Muslim women wearing the niqab, a full-face veil, and adding that she would never wear one. Later government aides said she had been misquoted.
Now, after a period of relative seclusion, the first lady has re-emerged with a new, less provocative persona, and she is officially referred to as Bibi Gul, a traditional Afghan name that means Flower Lady. In recent statements, she has insisted she has no intention of using her position to challenge Afghan mores. “My aim is not to revolutionize,” Ghani told one interviewer. “I’m here to help women establish their own importance within the family.”
In her appearance Wednesday, she tried to draw a distinction between the moderate version of Islam she encountered in Afghan society during the 1970s and the more fanatical version being promulgated by the Taliban and other extremist groups today, which she said have “distorted” the true Islam. “We have to go back to the basics,” she said.
For most of the discussion, she remained cheerfully on message and boosterish about Afghanistan, insisting that “the sky is not falling” and urging Afghan students in the United States to return home to help rebuild their country. Only in few bursts of candor did she reveal her frustrations. At one point she blurted that at the two main Afghan security ministries — long controlled by her husband’s ethnic rivals — “respect for women does not exist.”
The audience included Afghan professional women, students, and American colleagues from various charities and women’s groups. Several expressed excitement about Ghani’s potential to change Afghan society, though others suggested she would remain constrained by the prevailing conservative political and religious climate.
Ghani’s efforts to portray herself as a non-threatening, grandmotherly figure may help counter her critics’ efforts to tar her as a subversive foreign influence. But merely by traveling alone to the West and appearing in public without her head covered, she is defying Afghan history.
In the 1920s, when Queen Soraya toured Europe bare-headed, the reaction from conservative Afghan society was so negative that her husband’s government soon fell.

Corridor of controversy - China Pakistan Economic Corridor project

THE furore  has been raging for weeks now and we are still no closer to getting a clear picture on what is happening with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
The multiparty conference convened by the ANP stoked the fires a little more, and yet again dire warnings were sounded that the project could become another Kalabagh dam if the government refused to clarify what it was doing with the route.
The declaration issued at the end of the conference makes clear that the project is as political as it is technical. Part of the purpose is to connect Gwadar with Khunjerab, the high-altitude border crossing with China. But in equal measure, the project has political ends.
Also read: Corridor furore
The declaration points to the “uneven socioeconomic development in Pakistan” and underlines the importance of rectifying this imbalance through “proactive policies”.
The responsibility of the federal government is to look after the entire federation, not only one province, the declaration points out. It says the CPEC project should be approached with the interests of the underdeveloped provinces as a priority.
This is a powerful narrative that is taking shape around the project. Equally powerful was the line-up of the speakers at the conference. There was Asfandyar Wali Khan of the ANP, the PPP’s Khursheed Shah and Shah Mehmood Qureshi of the PTI. These are not lightweights from marginal parties.
They were joined by Rauf Mengal of the BNP, Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party and Aftab Sherpao of the QWP. Between them, these people could mobilise a formidable political challenge to the ruling PML-N, and if for no other reason than a purely pragmatic one, the prime minister would be well advised to take the declaration seriously.
It is surprising to see the government’s lack of effort to get its own message out regarding the CPEC project. This is either because they completely underestimate the seriousness of the challenge that is developing, or take their own position for granted. Either way, it is not only folly on their part to continue to ignore the growing protests around the project, it is also highly irresponsible.
The project is an important one and deserves proper stewardship, in both the technical and political spheres. Bland assurances that the route remains unchanged are clearly not enough.
The government needs to release further details about the many projects that are being advanced under the umbrella of CPEC, and collect them all in one place for ease of access.
If it has a case to make, it should step up and make it. But if it has no case in the face of such a serious challenge to such an important venture, then it is inevitable that people will ask whether the government can be trusted at all with its stewardship.

Pakistan - No trace of Shia blood

The irony is that while the Kurramis are asked to disarm, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province schoolteachers are being trained by the military to use automatic weapons
“Nowhere, nowhere at all, does a trace of blood remain;Nothing on the assassin’s hands, nails or clothes;The dagger’s lips, the knifepoint, no redness disclose,
No spot upon the ground, on the roof no stain
Nowhere, nowhere at all, does a trace of blood remain” — The Trace of Blood by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translation by Dr Sarvat Rahman.
Peshawar was soaked in blood yet again this past Friday. The target once again was the beleaguered Shia community. The worshippers at the Imamia mosque in Peshawar’s Hayatabad suburb were attacked by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) jihadists using Kalashnikov rifles and suicide vests. Over 20 Shias perished in as many minutes, most of them from the Kurram tribal agency and the Hangu region. Among the fallen was Arif Tirmizi whose brother, the much-loved Dr Asim Hussain Tirmizi, had been mowed down at his clinic in Hayatabad last month. The volunteers guarding the mosque are said to have resisted the terrorists but were outgunned. A horrifying video captured on the mobile phone of a survivor shows one of the most barbaric episodes perpetrated on the Shias with bursts of automatic fire being discharged and two suicide bombers blowing themselves up one after another. The clip, however, also shows one of the most valiant acts of resistance against the TTP when a congregation member, Abbas Ali, got up and grabbed one of the suicide bombers by his throat, preventing him from exploding his vest. Abbas, who was then gunned down by another jihadist, was from the Shakh-Daulat Khel twin villages in the Kurram Agency.

Traces of Shia blood are splattered all over the Imamia mosque but not a single federal government representative or a military official has bothered to visit the site yet. According to media reports, government and military officials have instead ordered the Turi and Bangash tribesmen of the Kurram Agency to disarm. The predominantly Shia Pashtuns of Upper Kurram Agency are perhaps the only tribal entity that has successfully fought off the Taliban and their allies since at least 2007. They could not have done it without their arms, especially when the federal government, assorted political parties and the military left them blockaded for three years. The Kurramis had to take the arduous Parachinar-Khost-Gardez-Kabul-Jalalabad route to reach Peshawar when the Taliban besieged them. The Kurrmay-wal — as they like to call themselves — survived through qaumi wasla (the tribe’s arms cache), local produce, minuscule remittances from expatriate relatives, medicines bought in Afghanistan and, above all, sheer willpower to withstand the Taliban offensive till an accord was signed in February 2011. The Pakistani security establishment had pushed then, as it is doing now, for the Turis and Bangash to give up the qaumi wasla without even lifting a finger to help them with their security.

According to a newspaper report, the FATA secretary for law and order, Mr Shakeel Qadir, said that the tribes would not be allowed to keep heavy weapons while a tribal elder stated that “a junior commissioned officer conveyed a message of the colonel commandant of the Kurram militia to the people to hand over every type of heavy weapons and ammunition immediately.” The irony is that while the Kurramis are asked to disarm, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province schoolteachers are being trained by the military to use automatic weapons! Without their weaponry the residents of Upper Kurram would become sitting ducks. Given the ferocity of the previous onslaught against the Turis and Bangash, there is no way that they could have defended themselves without heavy weapons. Not that one considers the militarisation of the populace desirable but the Shia Pashtuns of Kurram have been left high and dry by the state for almost a decade now. In fact, elements from the establishment had pushed upon Parachinar individuals like Eid Nazar Mangal of a rabidly anti-Shia sectarian outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Over the last five years, I have discussed in this column in detail the evolution of the conflict in Kurram and the Pakistani establishment’s designs to relocate its jihadist assets, including the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, to the west and northwest Kurram Agency. Pakistani officialdom’s loud proclamation to the contrary notwithstanding, nothing seems to have changed since.

That we have yet to see a single Haqqani network terrorist apprehended by the Pakistani security agencies does not exactly inspire confidence in their assertions that the distinction between the so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jihadists has been jettisoned. Former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf had made what was dubbed then a landmark decision in January 2002, ostensibly banning assorted jihadist groups including the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). Thirteen years on, however, General Musharraf has stated in an interview to the Guardian that “the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate cultivated the Taliban after 2001 because Karzai’s government was dominated by non-Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, and officials who were thought to favour India.” The world has the luxury to wait another 13 years to find out the veracity of Pakistan’s present claims to have abandoned jihadism as a tool of its foreign policy but the Pashtun tribes of Kurram face an existential threat due to both their Shia faith and the geostrategic location of their abode.

The Pakistani Shias at large are likely to remain a target as the government’s spreadsheet counterterrorism that churns out fuzzy numbers about the potential terrorists nabbed while the madrassa (seminary) networks, which have apostatised the Shias and prepared the ground for exterminating them en masse, remain untouched. As the military prepares for its Pakistan Day parade next month, 41 seminaries in and around Islamabad have been ordered shut lest terrorists use them as a bridgehead for an attack on the parade. If the seminaries are such an obvious threat to the military parade, how could they be good for the population at large? In all likelihood, the TTP attackers that massacred the Shias at the Hayatabad mosque had taken sanctuary at some local seminary-mosque complex just like the Army Public School Peshawar attackers had done. Chances are that like the umpteen attacks on the Shias before, the government and the military will not bother to bring the enablers of the Peshawar attack to book either; the massacre at the Imamia mosque too will end up as Faiz once said:

“This orphan blood for long cried out hopelessly,

None had the time to listen, nor thought of going to see,

No plaintiff, no witness, the page was quickly turned.

It was the blood of the lowly, to the earth it returned!”

Does Anyone Care That Shia Are Being Relentlessly Murdered in Pakistan?


The recent murders of Shia community members in Pakistan has not drawn out the shock and horror that other recent atrocities such as Charlie Hebdo developed. Granted that the attack on satirists was within the bounds of Europe, though the sheer brutality and scale of killings in Pakistan has not even created half an hour of outpouring of sorrow and pain on social media. For the Shia that have been killed, there are no #JeSuisCharlie hashtags nor has there been any significant outcry by politicians in Europe.
So let us review the targeting of Shia that has taken place by the Pakistan Taleban and extremist groups in the country. Take for example the targeting in Balochistan of Shia Hazara Muslims with several thousand killed since 2008, including two bombings in Quetta in January and February 2013 that killed over 180 people. Or take the blast at the Shia mosque in Shikarpur earlier this year that killed over 40 Shia worshippers who were praying at the mosque. The Sindh province has been targeted by the extremist Jundallah group that has pledged allegiance to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and to the Islamic State.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, over 700 Shia were killed in 2013 alone. More than 1,000 were injured in over 200 sectarian terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The scale of the targeting of this minority community is just breath-taking with attacks taking place in Quetta, Karachi, Parachinar, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Which begs the question as to who is resourcing these attacks which are meant to create fear within Shia communities and to displace them away from their villages, towns and cities. In effect, a murderous displacement strategy is being played out in Pakistan with little or no hue and cry from Western nations.
The latest massacre against the Shia in Pakistan took place on 13 February. The Pakistani Taleban targeted a Shia mosque in Peshawar leading to the death of 20 people. The attackers used guns and grenades and a gunfight broke out outside the mosque. One of the attackers set off his explosive vest when cornered demonstrating that the killers were on a suicide mission.
The global silence on the targeting of the Shia in Pakistan is sickening. No hashtags have been circulated, no graphics calling for peace, nor have any faith leaders come together and carried out an interfaith walk which seems to be the 'thing to do' when a major atrocity occurs. Young people have not railed against the injustice and all that has happened is that more innocent worshippers have been murdered on the spot where they sat contemplating God.
Furthermore, not a single mosque or church has spoken out about the targeting of the Shia and only a handful of courageous civil society groups in Pakistan and Sufi groups have done so. The impression that this will give to the Shia communities in Pakistan and globally is that their lives do not matter, that they are just forgotten as numbers on the pages of newspapers. Yet, the Shia of Pakistan are one of the most vulnerable groups in the country and given their numbers and given the ideology of the Pakistan Taleban who regard them as heretics, and thereby 'fair game' for deadly attacks, you would think that the human rights of the Shia would be one conversation leaders of countries who pride themselves on human rights may want to raise. Sadly, no such thing apart from a long and deafening silence.
So next time you hear a political leader speak about human rights, why don't you ask him where his voice was when Shia were being murdered in Pakistan? The Shia of Pakistan are an asset to Pakistan which should be protected at all costs. As politicians have rightly mentioned, if Jews left Europe, Europe would not be Europe any more. Well, if the Shia of Pakistan left Pakistan, Pakistan would not be Pakistan any more.

Pashto Music - Sardar Ali Takkar - Waqar Da Darweshano وقار د درویش…