Thursday, February 26, 2015

U.S. Internet providers hit with tougher rules, plan challenges

U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the strictest-ever rules on Internet providers, who in turn pledged to battle the new restrictions in the courts and Congress, saying they would discourage investment and stifle innovation.
The rules, which will go into effect in coming weeks, are expected to face legal challenges from multiple parties such as wireless, cable and other broadband companies and trade groups that represent them.
Experts expect the industry to seek a stay of the rules, first at the FCC and then in courts, though the chances for success of such an appeal is unclear.
The new regulations come after a year of jostling between cable and telecom companies and net neutrality advocates, which included web startups. It culminated in the FCC receiving a record 4 million comments and a call from President BarackObama to adopt the strongest rules possible.
The agency's new policy, approved as expected along party lines, reclassifies broadband, both fixed and mobile, as a more heavily regulated "telecommunications service," more like a traditional telephone service.
In the past, broadband was classified as a more lightly regulated "information service," which factored into a federal court's rejection of the FCC's previous set of rules in January 2014.
The shift gives the FCC more authority to police various types of deals between providers such as Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and content companies such as Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) to ensure they are just and reasonable for consumers and competitors.
Internet providers will be banned from blocking or slowing any traffic and from striking deals with content companies, known as paid prioritization, for smoother delivery of traffic to consumers.
The FCC also expands its oversight power to so-called interconnection deals, in which content companies pay broadband providers to connect with their networks. The FCC would review complaints on a case-by-case basis.
Republican FCC commissioners, who see the new rules as a government power grab, delivered lengthy dissents. Their colleagues in Congress hope to counter the new rules with legislation. All five FCC members are expected to testify in the Senate on March 18.
Large Internet providers say they support the no-blocking and no-discrimination principles of the new rules but that the FCC's regulatory path will discourage investment by lowering returns and limiting experimentation with services and business plans.
Some smaller telecoms, such as Sprint Corp (S.N) and T-Mobile US Inc (TMUS.N), have argued new rules will have little impact on investments. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Thursday agreed.
"The (Internet service providers') revenue stream will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday," he said at the FCC meeting.
"I have spent a lot of time in public policy, and today is the proudest day of my public policy life," he later told reporters.
Legal experts and industry lobbyists say corporate lawyers are waiting for the FCC to publish the specifics of the rules, a document more than 300 pages long. Lawsuits can be filed after the rules are recorded in the Federal Register, likely days later.
Wheeler sought to address in the new rules some Internet providers' concerns, proposing no price regulations, tariffs or requirements to give competitors access to networks.
Cable and telecom shares saw muted reactions on Thursday. They had jumped earlier this month when Wheeler confirmed long-bubbling expectations that he would seek a tougher regulatory regime, with some adjustments to the network needs.

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Symbolic demonstration by Afghan girl to protest against harassment

An Afghan girl protested against street harassment of women and girls in the country through a symbolic demonstration by wearing an strange outfit which is apparently made of metal.
The photos went viral on social media websites on Thursday which purportedly shows a young girl walking in the streets of Kabul and is surrounded by dozens of men.
There have been mixed reactions by online social media users in the country with majority opposing with the act of the girl, while ceratin people saying that such acts are organized with an aim to implement the western culture in the country.
Almost all Afghan women experience various forms of street harassment every day in their life, but it’s not just a daily experience to be forgotten a few seconds later; it leaves long lasting scars on women’s spirit and sense of confidence which discourages and limits women’s participation in public life, according to a report by Stop Street Harassment Organization.
However, due to the predominant culture of “shame” and “honor” and high social stigma attached to issues of sexual harassment, Afghan women often do not talk about their experiences of street harassment. The scar remains invisible and women continue to suffer, generation after generation.
This comes as a set of photographs have gone viral on social media websites in Afghanistan earlier in December last year which showed a young lady walking in the streets of Kabul city with bare legs.
The young woman was reportedly spotted in Karte-3 area in the western part of Kabul city but there are no reports regarding the exact date and time the photographs were taken.
The photographs were widely shared on social media, specifically on Facebook and Twitter which are commonly used in Afghanistan.

Pakistan - Teaching our students to fire weapons is madness itself

Haroon Ahmed 

Recently, news items with pictures of young girls and boys holding automatic weapons have been flashing in the daily papers. The 'security training' programme is supposed to give them confidence. This situation is simply shocking.
These children have hardly grown out of playing with toy guns and they are now provided with automatic prohibited bore weapons, while being trained to use them too. They also participated in fake exercises, which included how to flee from kidnappers and jump from moving vehicles. The students seemed to be enjoying this part of their education.
To our young, scared children, this seems to be the message we are giving:
“In the process of protecting yourself and in time you can eliminate those whom you do not like, and as the fight heats up, join the armed wing of your own ethnic/sectarian origin”.
That is one sure prescription for civil war, which, for those who care to see, is not too far anyway.
The teachers I have met are unanimous in rejecting such a move. They maintain that besides interference in their studies, such measures by no means equip young girls and boys to become a match for the trained suicide bomber, who also has the advantage of a surprise attack.
The state should put a halt to this foolish idea forthwith and reconsider providing protection and confidence by practical and double actions.
Earlier, in the '70s, when the health policy was under discussion, it was decided that barefoot doctors on the Chinese model would be introduced. From the platform of the Pakistan Medical Association, I wrote a piece “Life in their Hands”, arguing that Pakistan is not China and these semi-trained young boys and girls would soon join the army of quacks.
That is exactly what happened when the first few batches were given jobs but all of them deserted and set up their private clinics.
Before trying to make out what should be done, we must identify the causes of such intolerance leading to aggression, violence and brutalisation in our country. We must look at the whole picture to learn how we have arrived where we are today.
Without going into details (which is a subject for contemporary historians), it is worth recalling the psychological impact of politics adopted by successive governments and administrations.
The use and abuse of religion and a distorted framework of democracy have triggered a large-scale identity crisis; the voids of identity now being filled with toxic pseudo-religious forces selling identities along ethnic, sectarian and communal lines.
Intolerance and hate are their major weapons, and one of the ways their success manifests itself is the qualitative change in expressed emotion seen on the streets of Karachi and even inside homes – the readiness to bounce at the slightest provocation.
In one of the international forums (People’s Peace 21 – PP 21), our state is aptly summarised as:
“Early 20th century slogan was Progress, late 20th century cry was Survival and 21sh century call is Hope” – which is fading fast.
Stress leading to insecurity is naturally countered by a remarkable process called 'adaptation'.
People undergoing stress resort to unhealthy practices like heavy smoking, drinking, drugs, crime, gambling, religiosity or sexual indiscretion. Yet, in our country, there has been an upsurge of cultural activity as well, such as the revival of cinema, theatre and literary festivals.
Is all this our resilience, adaptation, or sheer denial?
For a healthy society, the state should provide a situation where there is consistency, continuity, predictability and provision for stable orientation and security. Every new political arrangement demonises the previous one. It is a miracle that a few of our role models have survived, despite all our efforts to demolish them.
Mental health is achieved by relatedness, empathy and identity, which is only possible in a secular society.
Intolerance is the major factor shattering the very fabric of our society. How is it that the spirit of brotherhood shown by Pakistanis earlier has been evaporating with every passing year since the Partition? It was a faith-dominated political practice which has guided us to where we are – Taliban phenomenon included.
Faith is uncritical belief where there is no place for dialogue. As such, where religion (meaning faith) gradually and for the benefit of the then rulers is inducted into politics, the result is always the murder of tolerance.
There cannot be any relief from violence, aggression and senseless killings, unless religion is separated from the body politic of a country i.e. our state should be the protector of all Pakistanis irrespective of their cast, colour, religion or sect.
I and you can be Muslim, Hindu or Christian, but the state should be secular.
Secularism is not irreligious or laa-deeniat or atheism. If translated honestly, it can be hama-deeniat. If the state protects all citizens irrespective of their faith, violence, aggression and perpetual fear will disappear as there will be opportunity for dialogue – not on our faith/religion but on social, economic and cultural issues.
This is the only prescription for peace.
If I were to suggest, the areas to be focused on to begin with, are:
  • Educational reform on a massive scale, including radical revision of curricula especially at primary and secondary levels.
  • Teachers of primary and secondary schools be given prestige, remuneration and place they deserve in a progressive society.
  • Extracurricular activities be promoted like sports and now vanishing but once popular debating society and bayt bazi.
  • Empathy, compassion and tolerance be promoted by using appropriate tools by teachers, parents and now upcoming civil society.
  • Student unions be revived, diverting their energies to healthy pursuits.
  • Educational TV channels should be sponsored by the government (need advocacy).
  • Mental hygiene should be a part of teachers training. Sensitisation of parents and students by mental health professionals should be a periodic and mandatory activity.
At the Pakistan Association for Mental Health, we have been monitoring behavioural changes in our society and updating every two years on various parameters from 1996 onward.
In that regard, the most recent and serious developments in the last four years have been: target killing, bhatta mafia, land mafia, kidnapping for ransom and post-Friday prayer rallies, mostly hate-related.
If none of those trends change in the future, we and our children are headed to a very dark place, in terms of sanity and peace of mind.

Pakistan - Thirty years of takfiri terror

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) was founded in September 1985 in Jhang and armed with such poisonous fatwas and deadly weaponry it has unleashed a reign of takfiri terror on the Shias for the past 30 years
The predominant narrative in Pakistan now seems to be that India and its intelligence agency RAW is responsible for all acts of terrorism, including the vicious attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The federal defence minister, Punjab’s home minister and the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief have all blamed India for stoking terrorism in Pakistan via Afghanistan. Many analysts and ex-officials like the former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf and his interior minister, General Moinuddin Haider, have been playing up Indian involvement in Pakistan. The logic put forth is that since Pakistan has started acting against the TTP,the “Indians want to distract the Pakistani security forces and keep Pakistan internally weak”. That Pakistan’s social, political, ethnic and sectarian rifts can be exploited by any hostile power is not moot. However, pinning all violence, including the weekly massacres of the Shias, on India and Afghanistan is a convenient cop-out for the state and its functionaries at a time when they should be hunting down the perpetrators.

Instead, the culprits are being mainstreamed and projected into living rooms through prime time television exposure. The patron-in-chief of the virulently anti-Shia outfit, the Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamat (ASWJ), Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, was interviewed by a private television channelthis past weekend. Citing various edicts (fatwas), Ludhianvi indulged in takfir (apostatising) of the Shias without any hard follow-up questions being asked by the said anchor. Whether or not an arch bigot should have gone unquestioned or given prime time space to begin with is another debate but the edicts that Ludhianvi alluded to have been issued by Deobandi seminaries such as the Jamia Islamia Binori Town, Karachi and Dar-ul-uloom Haqqaniah, Akora Khattak, which are the alma maters of the who’s who of jihadist terrorism. The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) was founded in September 1985 in Jhang and armed with such poisonous fatwas and deadly weaponry it has unleashed a reign of takfiri terror on the Shias for the past 30 years while the Pakistani state sat on its hands. Theses seminaries have groomed the leaders who apostatise and have indoctrinated the cadres who carry out killings with impunity because the state either deflected the blame as it is doing now or, even more ominously, gave them patronage.

Names like Jhangvi’s Tigers and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), eponymously named after SSP founder Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, were first heard of in 1995 when the SSP’s executioners led by Riaz Basra killed the founder-president of the Shia group Imamia Students Organisation, Dr Muhammad Ali Naqvi, along with five others on Multan Road, Lahore. Before that, Basra had been arrested for the 1990 murder of Iranian diplomat Sadeq Ganji but escaped from police custody. The formal announcement of the LeJ ostensibly parting ways with the parent outfit, the SSP, came in 1996. Basra, Muhammad Ajmal aka Akram Lahori, Malik Ishaq and Sheikh Haq Nawaz brought together six of the SSP’s execution squads and founded the LeJ. Under the thin veneer of plausible deniability, the SSP and the LeJ remained joined at the hip. The SSP was nominally banned by General Musharraf in 2002 but has continued to operate openly under the ASWJ name. The ASWJ leadership neither pretends that it is any different from the SSP in agenda or organisation nor has it severed ties to the LeJ. In fact, the SSP/ASWJ leader, Azam Tariq,had offered to pay diyat (blood money) for the murder of another Iranian diplomat to get the LeJ man, Sheikh Haq Nawaz, off death row. Azam Tariq’s son, Muawiyah Azam Tariq,had vowed publicly to spring LeJ honcho Malik Ishaq from Multan prison if the government did not release him. Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi has attended rallies along with Malik Ishaq where they made rabidly anti-Shia speeches. In the aforementioned interview, Ludhianvi backtracked on his speeches by saying that it was just “hawaee firing” (aerial firing or blowing hot air) but the fact is that wall-chalking, distributing fatwas and such vitriol have set the stage for Shia massacres as the ones perpetrated on Quetta’s Hazara Shias.

Generals Musharraf and Moinuddin Haider,and Prime Minister (PM)Nawaz Sharif know full well that almost all of the LeJ top leaders and cadres trained in Afghanistan in camps run by Kashmir-oriented Pakistanis Qari Saifullah Akhtar, FazlurRahman Khalil and Maulana Masud Azhar, all of whom were alumni of the Binori Town madrassa (seminary) just like their host, Mullah Omar, and the SSP’s late leader, Azam Tariq. India or the US was nowhere near the Durand Line when the Pakistani security establishment turnedboth its sides into a jihadist viper pit. Musharraf and Mr Sharif were targeted by these very same groups and, according to Sindh police officials, General Moinuddin Haider’s brother, Ehtishamuddin Haider,was killed by the LeJ. As Hillary Clinton had said, “It is like that old story: you cannot keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”These vipers, however, do not just have regional designs or associations; their ambition is global and links transnational.

General Musharraf writes in his autobiography,In the Line of Fire, “On February 21, 2002, the horrifying videotape of Pearl’s murder was released. It did not show the faces of his murderers. In addition, we had nobody. Then, in May 2002, we arrested someone named Fazal Karim, an activist of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the militant wing of the Sunni sect known as Sipah-e-Sahaba. We had arrested him for other reasons, but when we interrogated him we discovered that he was involved in Pearl’s slaughter. He also told us that he knew where Pearl was buried. He was asked how he knew. Chillingly, he replied — without remorse — that he knew because he had actually participated in the slaughter by holding one of Pearl’s legs. But he did not know the name of the person who had actually slit Pearl’s throat. All he could say is that this person was ‘Arab-looking’. The man who may have actually killed Pearl or at least participated in his butchery, we eventually discovered, was none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, al Qaeda’s number three.” That the mastermind of the Pearl murder, Omar Saeed Sheikh, had also trained in the exact same camps as the LeJ underscores the vicious nexus between Pakistani sectarian outfits like the LeJ/SSP/ASWJ, al Qaeda and the Kashmir-oriented jihadists. The officials deflecting the blame away from the jihadist and sectarian mass murderers are actually throwing a lifeline to their venomous nexus and condemning the Shias to another 30 years of takfiri terror. The vipers, however, are bound to turn back on their benefactors.

Pakistan - Darul Uloom Haqqania students involved in killing of Benazir

An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi was informed on Thursday that students of Darul Uloom Haqqania, Akora Khattak, were involved in the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, however, the seminary administration denied having any connection with the suspects.
The hearing of Benazir murder case — headed by Justice pervez Ismail — was held at the ATC special court established inside Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi.
FIA Peshawar Inspector Naseer Ahmed and Sub-Inspector Adnan appeared before the court and informed about the involvement of Darul Uloom Haqqania’s students in the killing of Benazir Bhutto. Both the state witnesses also presented related evidence to support their statements.
During the hearing, Darul Uloom Haqqania’s director education Wisal Ahmed also recorded his statement. He admitted that the suspected suicide bomber Abdullah alias Saddam Nadir alias Qari Ismail and arrested suspects Rasheed alias Turabi and Faiz Muhammad had received education from the seminary but rejected the claim that Darul Uloom Haqqania holds any association with the above mentioned suspects.
During his statement, Ahmed said that among the suspects involved in Benazir murder case few had left the seminary before completing their education.
Brigadier (retd) Javeid Iqbal Cheema, former director general of Crisis Management Cell — a sub division of interior ministry — also appeared before the court on Thursday to record his statement.
Cheema apprised the court that the press conference, which he conducted hours after the killing of Benazir Bhutto, was done on the orders of the then president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.
He informed that whatever he had said during that press conference were not his personal views but that of the government.
The special court regarding Benazir murder case has so far conducted more than 300 hearings.

Pakistan - Attacks in Chaman

There is no let up in terror in the country. Sometimes the attacks are so huge their tremors are felt for months afterwards, reverberating through this nation. Sometimes, also, attacks take place on a smaller scale, far away from our centres of comfort but they too are just as important, just as terrifying. The town of Chaman in Balochistan has been hit by two bomb blasts in as many days. On Tuesday, explosives planted on a bicycle went off in a market area killing one person and injuring eight others. Just two days before this, another bomb detonated in the town killing a child and injuring some nine people. It is worth mentioning here that Chaman is a main crossing point for supplies going to Afghanistan for NATO and US troops. Obviously, therefore, this town has strategic importance and, although no group has come forward to claim responsibility for the strikes, the message is loud and clear: militants are spread far and wide, attacking at will and spreading fear into the heart of every citizen, no matter where they are.

Two blasts in two days; this must mean that there is a terror cell operating within the town, able to strike at will. If Chaman is a major crossing point for NATO supplies, should there not have been more security and awareness about the danger and threat to life of ordinary civilians? The death tolls in these attacks may not have been huge but they were intended to cause damage. It is shameful that the authorities and the security forces did not prick up their ears after the first attack that killed a child; maybe a little less negligence could have saved the town the grief of having to witness another terror attack, and that too in a crowded market.

Implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) means to look into and rectify all gaps in the system that allow for the impunity with which these attacks take place. The fact that our intelligence agencies were unable to pick up suspicious signals in the strategically sensitive town of Chaman after the first attack speaks volumes for the kind of priority we are assigning fighting terror. There is a lot that needs to be done by both the government and the security forces but the point that really needs to be driven home is that no attack, big or small, should be ignored.

Pakistan - Comprehensive electoral reforms needed

Electoral rigging and horse trading at multiple levels is a major issue that lies at the root of manipulated power transfer and needs to be addressed comprehensively in a holistic manner instead of looking for piecemeal solutions.
This has been stated by former president Asif Ali Zardari while commenting on the proposal to amend the Constitution to conduct senate elections through show of hand instead of secret ballot.
It is good that the government seems to have realized that horse trading in senate elections is a serious issue that has done great disservice to the Parliament and political processes and needs to be addressed, he said.
However, rigging in elections and horse trading take place at multiple levels and need to be comprehensively addressed, he said.
One hopes that the apparent realization on the part f the government to address horse trading will not be a political gimmickry but a first step towards comprehensive electoral reforms, he said.
If the government is serious it should invite all political parties to decide on how best to prevent electoral rigging not only in the Senate but also in the National Assembly, the provincial Assemblies and now also in the local bodies polls, he said.
We recently witnessed the near break down of the civilian and political structures due to the demonstrations and protests against fraud and rigging in the 2013 general elections, the former President said. The parliament and the government were saved from total collapse by the unprecedented unity and commitment of political but it should not lull us into believing that issues in electoral fraud will not rear their ugly heads in the future, he said.
Electoral reforms and preventing horse trading should be addressed by all parties together and not by the government alone. The government should therefore convene a meeting of all political parties to address horse trading in senate elections as well as electoral fraud and rigging of all types including those recently agitated by Imran Khan’s Tehrik Insaf.

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