Friday, March 6, 2015

Video Report - NASA spacecraft makes historic first visit to dwarf planet

Video - 'Welcome to hell" - child migrant recalls journey to Italy

Video Report - White House, Clinton aides at odds over emails

Saudi Arabia executions now at 'unprecedented rate' after kingdom kills four more in two days

By Adam Withnall 

The rate of executions in Saudi Arabia has reached “unprecedented” levels, a charity has warned, as the kingdom killed four criminals in two days on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Amnesty International said the latest state-sanctioned deaths took its tally of executions for the year so far in Saudi Arabia to 39 – almost three times the equivalent number for this time last year.
Local media say the Saudi authorities have attempted to hail the killings as an example of the government’s commitment to “maintaining security and realising justice”, a crackdown in response to the rise of extremism and the threat of Isis.
But Amnesty’s Saudi Arabia researcher Sevag Kechichian said the growing number of executions was all the more worrying because of the lack of “rhyme or reason” behind it.
“Since the beginning of the year we’ve seen an unprecedented rate of executions in the country,” Mr Kechichian told The Independent.
“Despite claims sometimes made by the authorities about carrying out executions to deter terrorism and other violence in the kingdom, almost half of this year's executions have actually been for non-violent drugs-related offences.
"There’s no real rhyme or reason for this upsurge in executions, and in a way this makes it all the more alarming.”
While there was no indication yet why the authorities carried out the single execution on Wednesday, the Saudi Press Agency quoted officials as saying two murderers and a rapist were killed on Tuesday “as punishment and to serve as a deterrent to others”. At least one of them was beheaded.
Last week Amnesty said in an annual report that people can be executed in Saudi Arabia following unfair trials and that some defendants claimed to have been “coerced or misled into making false confessions”.
The kingdom carried out 87 executions last year in total, and numbers have risen sharply since the figure of 27 in 2010. A wide range of crimes are punishable by the death penalty in the country, and hopes of a change with the new King Salman have proved unfounded.

“Saudi Arabia already has one of the highest rates of execution in the world, including for non-offences like ‘apostasy’ and ‘sorcery’,” Mr Kechichian said.
“King Salman should put an end to this shameful record and impose a moratorium on executions in Saudi Arabia with immediate effect.”

U.S. - Members Of Congress Call On Saudi Arabia To Release Blogger Raif Badawi

More than sixty members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the king of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience imprisoned for exercising their basic right to freedom -- including blogger Raif Badawi and lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.
The letter encouraged Saudi Arabia's new King Salman bin Abdulaziz to "serve as an advocate for human rights and democratic reforms" and listed myriad ways the king can "build on the steps" taken by the late King Abdullah, including ending the ban on women driving and allowing religious minorities to exercise freely. All of these are among the "key objectives of U.S foreign policy," the Congress members wrote.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 20 sessions of public flogging for"insulting Islam" on his website Free Saudi Liberals. His lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced to 15 years and issued a 15-year travel ban for, among other charges,"inciting public opinion."
"Canceling the sentences against Mr. Raif Badawi and Mr. Waleed Abu al-Khair, and releasing immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience punished solely for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression, would be important steps that would communicate your commitments to an expectant international audience," the letter said.
President Obama insists his administration has applied "steady and consistent pressure" on Saudi Arabia to improve human rights in the country. However, the America's ally remains notorious for its human rights record. In its annual world report, the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch noted that the country had stepped up its crackdown against peaceful dissidents in 2013 and continued to restrict the rights of women and foreign workers.
"As in past years, authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention. In 2013, courts convicted seven human rights defenders and others for peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms," HRW detailed.

Sanders blasts Saudi Arabia for suggesting US troops against ISIS

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ripped Saudi Arabia Friday after the nation’s top diplomat suggested the U.S. would have to deploy ground troops to ultimately defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“I find it remarkable that Saudi Arabia, which borders Iraq and is controlled by a multi-billion dollar family, is demanding that U.S. combat troops have ‘boots on the ground’ against ISIS. Where are the Saudi troops?” Sanders, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said in a statement.
“With the third largest military budget in the world and an army far larger than ISIS, the Saudi government must accept its full responsibility for stability in their own region of the world,” he added.
The sharp words come the day after Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, expressed concern that Iran’s military is increasing its support to Baghdad’s forces in the fight against the terror group, especially around the city of Tikrit.

Video Report - Obama defends Justice Department's Darren Wilson decision


Video - Lokan Do Do Yaar Banaye - Afshan Zebi


Video - Dila Teer Bija

Video - Soni Soni - Holi Song - Mohabbatein

Pakistani students act as human shield for Hindus celebrating Holi

They formed the shield at the Swami Narayan Temple to promote interfaith coexistence.

Pakistani students formed a human shield for Hindus celebrating Holi at a temple in Karachi on Friday to protect and show solidarity with the minority community.
The National Students Federation (NSF) formed the shield at Swami Narayan Temple as part of an attempt to promote interfaith coexistence and cooperation among different religious and ethnic groups.
A member of the NSF describes the union as a “progressive leftist organisation” dating back to the NSF of the Ayub Khan era.
“When we showed solidarity with Shias at the Imambargah...
it’s only fair that as a group, we extend the same courtesy to all Hindus in Pakistan who face a lot of persecution of different kinds,” General Secretary NSF Fawwad Hasan was quoted as saying by the Dawn.
Hasan cited the desecration of Hindu temples, forcible religious conversion of girls and suppression of culture and religious practices as reasons for showing solidarity with and protecting Hindus.
“We are not religious fundamentalists who take religion into our own hands, that is not what we do,” Hasan said.
“Society as a whole has to show change and be a part of that change. If you don’t stand up for someone else’s rights today, tomorrow you will also be targeted and there will be no one to stand up for your rights,” he added.
Sectarian violence in Pakistan has been on rise with banned outfits like Lashkar—i—Jhangvi and Sipah—i—Sahaba Pakistan killing scores of minority Shia muslims.

Afghanistan: Abusive Strongmen Escape Justice

''Donors Should Press New Government on Prosecutions''

Afghanistan’s new government should prosecute officials and commanders whose serious human rights abuses have long gone unpunished, Human Rights Watch said in a report . US officials should press President Ashraf Ghani to take up justice for past abuses as a top priority during Ghani’s expected March 2015 visit to Washington, DC.

“The previous Afghan government and the United States enabled powerful and abusive individuals and their forces to commit atrocities for too long without being held to account,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asiadirector. “The Ghani administration has already taken the welcome step of launching a national action plan to eliminate torture. The United States, which helped install numerous warlords and strongmen after the overthrow of the Taliban, should now lead an international effort to support the new government to remove serious human rights abusers from their ranks.”

The 96-page report, “‘Today We Shall All Die’: Afghanistan’s Strongmen and the Legacy of Impunity,” profiles eight “strongmen” linked to police, intelligence, and militia forces responsible for serious abuses in recent years. The report documents emblematic incidents that reflect longstanding patterns of violence for which victims obtained no official redress. The impunity enjoyed by powerful figures raises serious concerns about Afghan government and international efforts to arm, train, vet, and hold accountable Afghan National Police units, National Directorate of Security officials, and Afghan Local Police forces.
The government of former president Hamid Karzai failed to bring these individuals and their forces to justice, fostering further abuses and fueling local grievances that have generated support for the Taliban and other anti-government forces. Ghani has pledged to hold security forces accountable for their actions and end official tolerance for torture, but will need the full support of Afghanistan’s international supporters to carry out this politically sensitive task.

The report is based on 125 interviews Human Rights Watch carried out since August 2012 with victims of abuse and their family members, as well as witnesses, government officials, community elders, journalists, rights activists, United Nations officials, and members of Afghan and international security forces. It does not look at abuses by the Taliban and other opposition forces, which Human Rights Watch has addressed in other contexts.

A resident of Kunduz province whose father was murdered by a local militia in 2012 told Human Rights Watch, “I went on the roof of the house and saw we were surrounded by armed men.... My father was sitting there and said: ‘Say your whole kalima [the Muslim profession of faith], because I think today we shall all die.’”

Officials and commanders whose forces have a history of abuses typically go unpunished. For instance, forces under the command of Hakim Shujoyi have killed dozens of civilians in Uruzgan province, yet despite a warrant for his arrest he remains at large and evidence suggests he has enjoyed the support of US forces. In Paktika province, Afghan Local Police forces under the command of Azizullah,an ethnic Tajik who, as of June 2014, was a commander of the local ALP in Urgun district, have committed multiple kidnappings and killings. Azizullah has worked closely with US Special Forces despite their awareness of his reputation for unlawful brutality.

The provincial chief of police in Kandahar, Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq, has been directly implicated in ordering extrajudicial executions. And when the former head of the National Directorate of Security Asadullah Khalid sought medical care in the United States, he received a personal visit from President Barack Obama, sending a powerful message of US support for a notorious human rights violator.

“Since the defeat of the Taliban government in late 2001, Afghanistan has made limited progress in developing institutions, such as professional law enforcement and courts, that are crucial for the protection of human rights,” Kine said. “Afghanistan’s international allies have exacerbated the problem by prioritizing short-term alliances with bad actors over long-term reforms. It’s time for this pathology to end.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Afghan government to investigate all allegations of abuse by Afghan security forces, and remove from office and appropriately prosecute officials and commanders implicated in serious abuses. The Ministry of Interior should disband irregular armed groups and hold them accountable for abuses they have committed.

The United States and other major donors to the Afghan security forces should link continued funding to improved accountability, including prosecutions for killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. Donors should ensure that direct assistance to Afghan security forces is benchmarked to improvements in justice mechanisms. The US should fully implement the Leahy Law, which prohibits the provision of military assistance to any unit of foreign security forces where there is credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights and that no “effective measures” are being taken to bring those responsible to justice.

“The Afghan government and its supporters should recognize that insecurity comes not only from the insurgency, but from corrupt and unaccountable forces having official backing,” Kine said.  “Kabul and its foreign supporters need to end their toxic codependency on strongmen to give Afghanistan reasonable hope of a viable, rights-respecting strategy for the country’s development.”

IS threatens Afghanistan peace hopes

By Jan Agha Iqbal 

While the catastrophic consequences of failing to establish a lasting peace in Afghanistan loom larger than any time before, it seems that the US has started to reformulate its strategy amid criticism from opposition Republicans that the Democratic commander in chief was beating a hasty and risky retreat. 

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during his first visit to Afghanistan that the US was considering slowing its military withdrawal by keeping larger troops than planned because the new Afghan government was proving to be more reliable as a partner. 

He also said at a news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that President Barack Obama had plans to discuss a range of options for US military withdrawal when Ghani visits the White House this month. 

A more active and larger US military presence in Afghanistan will not only demoralize the terrorists but will also help Afghanistan and Pakistan deal with insurgency on both sides in an effective manner. This presence will also provide some guarantee towards the fulfillment of the commitments made by Pakistan and Afghanistan aimed at improving their relations. 

A move by President Ghani to enter into direct talks with the Pakistan Army chief, which did not go well with some in Afghanistan, was hailed by the international community as a clever and honest step towards building trust. Pakistan on its part reciprocated this goodwill gesture through some visits by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and ISI Chief General Rizwan Akhtar. As a result of these positive developments, signs of improvement in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are more visible. 

Factors such as brutal attacks by the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the realization of the gravity of the threat posed by the extremist ideology in the region have contributed in bringing Afghanistan and Pakistan closer. 

These challenges have also prompted China, which has growing concerns about the training of extremist Chinese Muslims and their infiltration to China, to take part in the process by supporting Kabul-Taliban reconciliation while representatives of the Afghan Taliban have visited Beijing. 

This is in addition to the role Afghanistan can play as a land bridge between Pakistan and Central Asian countries, which can help Pakistan increase its export and business and import the energy that it seriously needs. 

In his address on National Teacher’s Day in Kabul, President Ghani referred to the Taliban and militant groups as "political opposition", while Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in a meeting with the commanders of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police has asked the government to clearly define the terms "enemy" and "friend", fearing the continuation of uncertainty in dealing with insurgents and their supporters. 

These statements may resonate with the change in the US’s reclassification of the Taliban from "a terrorist group" to "an armed insurgency". This policy shift has resulted in separate but coordinated US backed peace initiatives with the Taliban by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan. 

Fears and concerns
Change comes at a price, and this is no exception. Pakistan and Afghanistan need to be ready to give necessary concessions to make the process succeed. They also need to deal with the internal pressures and opposition from some powerful quarters. 

Recent developments show that Islamabad is helping Kabul to hold talks with the Afghan Taliban, but these efforts should be judged by the outcome. The leadership of the Taliban still continue to make the same maximalist demands, such as withdrawal of foreign troops and changing the Afghan constitution.

Some even believe that Pakistan has not yet done much to reciprocate the goodwill initiatives of Afghanistan. While President Ghani has been under immense pressure of being accused of making a clandestine deal with Pakistan without taking the Afghan people into his confidence, Afghanistan did not stop short of fulfilling its commitments. He has been quoted saying that he does not want to deal with the matter through public diplomacy. 

This situation has led some analysts to fear the exploitation of loopholes of the deal by Pakistan, elements from the Taliban and the Hekmatyar Group being given some share in the government in Kabul without ending their insurgency. 

Ghani is losing popularity based on the fact that he is giving too much away, including suspension of a US$400 million tank and aircraft refurbishing plant funded by India, agreeing to greater military cooperation with Pakistan, and fighting the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan's Kunar province, without gaining anything in return. 

Moreover, as a result of operations against militants in Pakistan's Waziristan, the security challenges of Afghanistan have multiplied as terrorists are being pushed into Afghanistan. 

While some Afghan and Western officials have been quoted blaming the Pakistani military as well as some powerful political and religious parties in that country for supporting insurgency in Afghanistan, it is now time for Islamabad to go beyond its conventional rhetoric. As the influence of such networks remains intact with the inner circles of pro-Taliban (and al-Qaeda) groups, the situation gets more complicated for Afghanistan to aspire for a brighter future. 

Islamic State as a common threat 
These developments take place when militants of Islamic State (IS) are making inroads in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have some rivalries with IS, but the proximity between their ideologies, goals and methodologies and tactics will bring them all under the black flag of IS. 

Adding fuel to the fire, the speedy growth of the Islamic State in Afghanistan has filled some insurgents, particularly those unwilling to join the peace deal, with hope and energy to win the war. The IS has recently announced its expansion into the land of Khorasan, which mainly refers to Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. 

In Afghanistan, many among the Taliban and al-Qaeda either have pledged to IS openly or clandestinely or plan to do so, though there have been reports of clashes between Taliban fighters and IS militants. In southern Zabul and Helmand provinces, Mullah Abdul Rauf, a former Taliban commander who was recently killed, was actively recruiting fighters for IS, while in Kunar and Farah provinces the group has established training camps. 

Similarly, Afghan government officials have reported about the activities of IS militants in Ghazni and Kunduz provinces in central and northern Afghanistan. The police chief of Kunduz has confirmed that 70 IS militants were operating in the province and planned to expand their activities to other provinces. Some 30 members of the Hazara ethnic community have recently been abducted on the Kabul-Kandahar highway by gunmen wearing black clothing and black masks. and believed to be IS militants. 

A spokesman for the Islamic State, in an audio tape published on January 26, announced the appointment of Hafez Saeed Khan, a former commander of the Pakistani Taliban (Tahreek-Taliban Pakistan), as the "governor" of Khorasan province, and Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadi, a former senior Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan, as the deputy governor. The Islamic State in Khorasan has claimed that the group has deployed over 10,000 troops on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

This poses a common threat to both the countries. They have to cooperate and stand together against the enemy. In the meantime, in order to overcome this security and ideological threat, a regional cooperation that should also include China, Central Asian countries, Gulf states and Iran is of paramount importance. 

The rapid expansion of Islamic State in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan casts serious doubt over the relevance of any peace deal with the Taliban. If not pre-empted well in advance, the Islamic State has the potential to challenge peace initiatives by taking the insurgency in Afghanistan to a higher level. 

Mapping the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan

Ever since disaffected Afghan and Pakistani Taliban insurgents began pledging allegiance to the Islamic State during the summer of 2014, rumors and reports have emerged indicating how the Islamic State has expanded its presence throughout South Asia. A chronological narrative of the rise of the jihadist group in Afghanistan follows below and the above graphic depicts its emergence.
In late September 2014, fierce battles raged between Afghan security forces and insurgents reported to be associated with the Islamic State in the Arjistan district of Ghazni province. At the time, Afghan officials reported that the insurgents had raised the black flag of the Islamic State and were burning down homes and beheading captured security forces and local residents alike. The incident in Arjistan is mired in controversy, as local Afghan officials allegedly recanted their versions of events and admitted to embellishing the presence of Islamic State fighters as a ploy to obtain more resources, according to a report by The New York Times.
It should also be noted that in early February 2015, the Chief of Police for Ghazni denied that the Islamic State had created a presence in the area, stating that the insurgents fighting against the Afghan Government were local Taliban members.
In mid-October 2014, a small group of disaffected Pakistani Taliban commanders, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s Emir for Arakzai Agency, announced their initial pledge to the Islamic State. [See Long War Journal report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition]
Khorassan Shura2
In January 2015, the same disgruntled Pakistani Taliban leaders, this time joined by a few little-known disaffected Afghan Taliban commanders, published a propaganda video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Within days of the video’s release, the Islamic State announced its expansion into “Khorassan Province” and officially appointed Hafiz Saeed Khan as the Wali (Governor) of Khorassan. The Islamic State also appointed former Guantanamo Bay detainee and senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim as Khan’s deputy. While Khan was primarily responsible for Islamic State activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Khadim was based in Helmand province, particularly in his native village located in Kajaki district. It did not take long before clashes broke out between Khadim’s supporters and their rivals belonging to local Taliban factions.
In southwestern Afghanistan, former Taliban insurgents who defected to the Islamic State established a training camp in Farah province in mid-January and were reportedly operating between Bakwa and Khak-e Safid districts. The Islamic State faction in Farah was reportedly led by two brothers, Abdul Malik, who was also known as Mansur, and Abdul Raziq, according to an in-depth report by Pajhwok Afghan News.
Also in mid-January, in northern Sar-i-Pul province, local officials reported that insurgents had raised the black flag of the Islamic State in Kohistanat district and other insurgents had begun recruitment activities on behalf of the jihadist group in the nearby Darzab district of Jawzjan province. Afghan security commanders in Jawzjan later estimated that some 600 insurgents had raised the black flag and were now fighting on behalf of the Islamic State in Jawzjan.
Similar reports emerged from Kunduz province, and the Kunduz governor estimated that nearly 70 insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State had “started activities” in Dasht-e Archi and Chaharadarah districts.
Afghan officials in Ghazni and Paktika Provinces announced in mid-January that hundreds of foreign fighters associated with the Islamic State had recently entered areas of eastern Afghanistan posing as refugees. According to the officials, some 200 foreign nationals had entered the Nawa and Gilan districts of Ghazni and raised the black flag, and 850 families, including Arabs, Pakistanis, and Chechens, had entered Pakitka and Zabul provinces disguised as refugees, some of whom later established households in the Nawbahar, Ab Band, and Shamulzai districts of Zabul.
On February 9, Khadim was killed in a drone strike in Helmand province. [See Long War Journalreport, US kills Islamic State’s deputy emir for ‘Khorasan province’ in airstrike.]


King Salman of House of Saud from Nejd based in Riyadh has ordered the prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif to lift ban on Wahhabis-allied Deobandi takfiri outfits who Pakistani state banned due to their terrorism and fanaticism that claimed thousands of lives and pose serious threat to the survival of Pakistan.

Saudi monarch summoned Nawaz Sharif to dictate him about Saudi policy about Pakistan. Since Deobandi takfiri outfits are based in Punjab province where Nawaz’s brothers Shahbaz Sharif rules as Chief Minister, he too was summoned along with Nawaz who also accompanied his son Hussain Nawaz during the visit. Sartaj Aziz was asked not to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hence Tariq Fatimi was made part of the delegation to give it the colour of international diplomacy and deceiving people that foreign ministry is also represented.
But Saudi ruling House of Saud showed their muscles by including Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince who represented the interior ministry and intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia that deal with Wahhabi-Salafi takfiri terrorists and their allied Deobandi outfits around the world.
National Internal Security Policy (NISP) document has identified 60 outfits as outlawed, proscribed or banned. Top of them are the proscribed organizations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi headed by Malik Ishaq and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan (ex-SSP) chaired by Deobandi cleric Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi. They all are the same and Malik Ishaq is vice president of Ludhianvi’s ASWJ. Their outfits perpetrate genocide against Shia Muslims and abet Taliban and al-Qaida in their attacks on Sunni Muslims and armed forces and civilian security officials of Pakistan.
The list of banned outfits include more Deobandis such as Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi of Deobandi cleric Sufi Mohammad; Wahhabi-Salafi Al-Qaeda; Jaish-e-Mohammad and Khuddam ul Islam (ex-JM) chaired by Masood Azhar; Jamiat ul Ansar chaired by Fazlur Rehman Khalil; Jamiat ul Furqan of Commander Jabar and Yar Muhammad; Hizbul Tehrir of Naveed Azhar Hussain Butt; Khair-un-Naas International Trust led by Abu Shoiab and Islami Students Movement of Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Islam of Mangal Bagh Afridi; Ansarul Islam of Qazi Mahboobul Haq; Haji Namdar Group; Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan; Tanzeem Naujawanan-e-Sunnat Gilgit; Al Harmain Foundation; Rabita Trust; Anjuman-e-Imamia Gilgit Baltistan; Muslim Students Organization Gilgit Baltistan; Tanzeem Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat Gilgit Baltistan; Tehrik-e-Taliban Swat; Tehrik-e-Taliban Mohammad; Tariq Greedar Group; Abdullah Azam Brigade; East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement; Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; Islamic Jehad Union; 313 Brigade; Tehrik-e-Taliban Bajaur; Amar bil Maroof Wa Nahi Anil Munkir;
Under Saudi directives Pakistani regime had banned some Shia groups in a bid to equate the victims of terrorism with the terrorists so that people could not know that it is one-sided Saudi-US-Zionists funded terrorism that was aimed against opponent Muslims.
Despite the Senate Elections on March 5, Nawaz Sharif departed to Saudi Arabia to please King Salman and bowed to his meddling orders that could put Pakistan’s survival at stake if action was not taken to eliminate the banned Deobandi terrorist outfits. Lifting of ban, easing restrictions and giving them space and relief will certainly bring more Peshawar Army Public School-like attacks in near future.
Ahmed Ludhianvi had gone to Saudi Arabia and asked his Saudi masters to help him in getting rid of the ban. Saudis assured him he and Malik Ishaq would not face any difficulty. Nawaz was told that Saudi gift of 1.5 billion dollars should bear fruit and Pakistan should respond positively to Saudi orders.

Holi in Pakistan

The Hindu community in Pakistan has been threatened and accosted since partition. Although it was Jinnah’s intention to unite all races and religions in Pakistan and allow the minorities to live in peace, tolerance in society and the quality of the lives of religious minorities have severely declined since thenl. Individuals belonging to the minorities have been attacked, along with their property and places of work and worship. The blasphemy law has been abused to persecute minority members and wrongly convict them of alleged sacrilege, often without due process, conclusive evidence and as a consequence of misunderstandings. Aside from Christians, Ahmedis, Shias and other Muslim minorities, many Hindu familiess in Pakistan have had to relocate to India, convert — either forcibly or out of fear — and brutally persecuted, simply for being Hindu. Without having the adequate avenues to cremate their dead and perform the final rites in accordance with their religious customs, they have largely had to bury their dead and the graves have often been desecrated. Members of the Hindu community live their lives secluded from the rest of society out of fear of the ever present threat to their security.

The National Students’ Federation (NSF) stepped out in solidarity with the Hindu community on Thursday, the Hindu festival of Holi. The Members of NSF formed a human chain around the Shri Swami Narayan Temple to show their support and protection for their Hindu brethren celebrating Holi, which has either not been celebrated or greatly repressed and subdued in recent years. The threat of violence from militants and extremist groups makes this effort by the NSF to support the largely marginalised community of Hindus in Sindh all the more commendable. The rest of the people of Pakistan, including politicians and those in power, must take a cue from NSF to ensure tolerance and protect the lives and the right to freedom of religion of the minorities. The Liaquat-Nehru pact of 1950, signed by the Prime Ministers of the new states of India and Pakistan recognised the issue of forcible conversions and guaranteed rights to minorities. Since then, the leaders of both states have all but turned a blind eye to the human rights violations committed against these groups. It is due time to return to this sentiment of coexistence and make Pakistan a safe, happy and prosperous place to live for all. Legal action must be taken against those who commit crimes against minorities, schools and other educational institutions must teach and promote respect and tolerance to the coming generations and job opportunities and other avenues must be provided by the state to members of the minorities for the betterment of their lives.

Pakistan - Senators want ex-CJ Chaudhry to explain additional privileges

The Senate began discussing the “additional privileges” extended to former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Wednesday.
The discussion followed Senate chairman Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari’s ruling that the controversial issue is “a matter of public importance” under Rule 60.
Leader of the Opposition Senator Aitzaz Ahsan opened the discussion by calling for summoning the retired chief justice to the Senate panel on privileges to explain his position regarding the bullet-proof Mercedes car the government gave him while he was in service and is still in his use at government expense, allegedly against the rules.
At the very outset of the proceedings, Chairman Bokhari expressed displeasure over the absence of Attorney General of Pakistan from the House, who had been summoned to explain his views on the silence of the Supreme Court Registrar over the questions sent to him by the House for replies and the perks and privileges of retired Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Senator Ahsan, who had spearheaded the campaign for the restoration of chief justice Chaudhry after he was deposed by military president Pervez Musharraf, suggested that the matter should be sent to the Senate Privileges Committee.
Aitzaz Ahsan also referred to the public admission by the ex-CJ that he had obtained a loan from the House Building Finance Corporation for his son’s marriage ceremony, a violation of law, and said the under-construction house of the ex-CJ in Lahore was “a building worth-seeing”.
In his hard-hitting speech, the barrister recalled the days when ex-CJ Chaudhry’s son, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, came under spotlight.
He said he visited CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry with some documents relating to what he called Arsalan’s ‘accomplishments’, but thought the CJ protected his son.
Senator Farhatullah Babar sought the chair’s permission to move a resolution in the Senate but was stopped from doing so. Chairman Bokhari advised him to follow the procedure and submit a motion with the Senate secretariat.
Senator Babar informed him that the Registrar Supreme Court never bothered to respond to queries sent by the Senate. Letters written to seek information on judges having dual nationality were not answered, he recalled.
Even request for information about the cases pending with the superior courts was termed interference with the independence of judiciary, said the PPP senator, observing that under the information law, it was the right of citizens to get information.
Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt had meanwhile arrived in the house. He surprised many by observing that Article 19-A of the Constitution enshrining the right to information was not applicable in the case of Supreme Court, but fell short of explaining how and under which law.
AG Butt said all the information sought by the House was available with the Law Ministry and that the Government could not supervise the Supreme Court.
Questions about judicial functions cannot be raised, he said.
According to him the bullet proof car had been provided to the ex-chief justice on orders of the Islamabad High Court. Under Articles 189 and 201 of the Constitution, the state is bound to implement verdicts of the courts, he said, adding that an intra court appeal had been filed challenging the decision along with an application for early hearing but the same were pending since November 2014.
Chairman Senate observed that there were other retired chief justices as well. “Should they also go to the courts to get bulletproof cars? Is not it unfair to give it to one and deny to others?” he asked.
Lawmakers did not get time to question the Attorney General’s views.
But the PPP lawmaker Saeed Ghani, whose question about the armour-plated Mercedes had sparked the controversy, rejected the claim to Dawn that the Supreme Court enjoyed immunity against providing information sought under Article 19-A of the constitution.
He said he would write to the Supreme Court Registrar as a common citizen and seek some vital information missing from the response submitted by the Law Ministry.
He said he had also sought details of plots allotted to ex-chief justices.
Mr Ghani said the Law Ministry had obtained the list of chief justices who had retired since 1985 from the Supreme Court’s website, and only the Supreme Court Registrar can verify it.
The Senate will meet again on Monday at 4 p.m.

Pakistan - Former President Zardari felicitates all elected members of the senate

Former President Asif Ali Zardari has felicitated all elected members of the senate. Describing the election process as a triumph of democracy he said that the elections had vindicated PPP position on the constitutional amends only for the senate elections. He also congratulated party leaders tasked with overseeing the electoral process ensuring the win of party candidates.

Outcry and fear as Pakistan builds new nuclear reactors in dangerous Karachi

By Tim Craig

World leaders have fretted for years that terrorists may try to steal one of Pakistan’s nuclear bombs and detonate it in a foreign country. But some Karachi residents say the real nuclear nightmare is unfolding here in Pakistan’s largest and most volatile city.
On the edge of Karachi, on an earthquake-prone seafront vulnerable to tsunamis and not far from where al-Qaeda militants nearly hijacked a Pakistan navy vessel last fall, China is supplying two large nuclear reactors for energy-starved Pakistan.
The new plants, utilizing a cutting-edge design not yet in use anywhere in the world, will each provide 1,100 megawatts to Pakistan’s national energy grid. The reactors are being built next to a much smaller 1970s-era reactor on a popular beach where fishermen still build wooden boats by hand.
But the new ACP-1000 reactors will also stand less than 20 miles from downtown Karachi, a dense and rapidly growing metropolis of about 20 million residents.
Now, in a rare public challenge to the Islamabad government’s nuclear ambitions, some Pakistanis are pushing back. Of all places to locate a reactor, they argue, who could possibly make a case for this one?
“You are talking about a city one-third the population of the United Kingdom,” said Abdul Sattar Pirzada, a Karachi lawyer who is seeking to get the project halted. “If there would be an accident, this would cripple Karachi, and if you cripple Karachi, you cripple Pakistan.”
In recommendations pertaining to nuclear plant construction in the United States, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says a new reactor should be sited away from very densely populated areas, preferably with fewer than 500 people per square mile within a 20-mile radius. That zone around Karachi’s power plant holds about 6,450 people per square mile, Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani nuclear physicist, wrote in Newsweek Pakistan last year.
Some U.S. diplomatic officials have also expressed concern about the initiative, in particular about China’s role in providing nuclear technology to Pakistan.
Caught off-guard by the opposition, political leaders have rushed to defend one of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top priorities — addressing the country’s acute energy shortfall. Pakistan, one of the few developing nations still pursuing civilian nuclear energy options since the 2011Fukushima disaster in Japan, has three operative nuclear power plants, including the Canadian-built reactor in Karachi, but it has turned to China for help expanding its capacity. Efforts are underway to double the size of the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant in northern Punjab province, as well as to build the new Karachi reactors.
“The risks are there. You cannot discount them, but you prepare for them,” said Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s water, power and defense minister. “We are a nuclear power, so don’t underestimate us.”
China developed the ACP-1000 reactor, which each costs about $5 billion to build, after studying and refining the design of a reactor that France built in China in the 1980s. The China National Nuclear Corp. is now supplying the ACP-1000 reactor to Pakistan, despite an international ban on the transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan because of the country’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
“We are going to be the guinea pigs,” said Arif Belgaumi, a Karachi architect who wants the international community to pay closer attention to the government’s plans.
China joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group — whose members agree not to transfer to treaty non-signers any technology that could be used to develop a nuclear weapon — in 2004. But it claims that it had already promised to help Pakistan, allowing it to continue developing the reactors.
Beijing is helping Pakistan build reactors at the same time that the Obama administration is trying to implement a 2008 deal that would smooth the way for U.S. companies to invest in new nuclear power plants in India. India, which first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974 and remains Pakistan’s chief rival, has also balked at signing the nonproliferation treaty. Both President Obama and former president George W. Bush have sought an exception for India.
“China’s expanding civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan raises concerns and we urge China to be transparent regarding this cooperation,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Thursday.
Until now, Pakistani leaders have faced little public discontent over the country’s nuclear advances. After all, Pakistan celebrates a national holiday each May marking the anniversary of its first atomic weapons test in 1998.But the country’s progressive movement is evolving, sparking novelprotests over environmental and public safety issues. And the prospect of 20-story reactors rising next to a public beach used for swimming, camel rides and picnics is a vivid illustration of what’s at stake.
Though international monitors generally give Pakistan satisfactory reviews for safeguarding nuclear materials, industrial accidents causing hundreds of fatalities remain common here. There are concerns that Pakistani technicians won’t be able to operate or maintain the Chinese nuclear technology.
Karamat Ali, chairman of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research, noted that the world has already experienced three major nuclear accidents — at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979 and Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986, in addition to the Fukushima disaster.
“Those are three highly advanced countries,” Ali said. “This is Pakistan. We don’t live on technology and science. In fact, we are quite allergic to that.”
Of particular concern is the threat of terrorism, especially considering Karachi’s long history of head-scratching security lapses­.
Terrorists overran a Pakistani naval base in Karachi in 2011, killing five people and setting several aircraft on fire. A similar attack occurred in June, but this time Pakistan Taliban militants stormed a section of Karachi International Airport, killing about two dozen people. And in September, al-Qaeda militants, perhaps with help from renegade sailors, attempted to hijack a heavily armed Pakistan navy frigate docked in Karachi’s port. It took hours for security forces­ to repel the assault.
If a major attack or accident were to occur at a nuclear power plant, activists say there would be unimaginable chaos.
Karachi, whose population has doubled in just the past two decades, includes vast, packed slums, as well as districts under the thumb of criminal gangs and Islamic militants. And with more than 2.7 million registered cars, buses, rickshaws and motorcycles, it can take hours to cross the city.
“You couldn’t even dream of evacuating Karachi,” said Hoodbhoy, the physicist. “The minute an alarm was sounded, everything would be choked up. There would be murder and mayhem because people would be trying to flee. Others would be trying to take over their homes and cars.”

But Azfar Minhaj, general manager of Karachi’s reactor project, said Pakistan sought the ACP-1000 reactor because it makes a radiation leak far less likely. Each reactor will have a double containment structure capable of withstanding the impact of a commercial airliner, he said, adding that there is also an elaborate filtration system and that the reactor will be able to cool itself for 72 hours without power.
“If a new car comes with an air bag, would you start thinking, ‘This is a new feature, it’s never been tested in Pakistan, never built in Pakistan. Should we use it or not?’ ” Minhaj asked.
Because of the enhanced safety features, Minhaj said, authorities are planning for an impact zone no greater than three miles in the event of a worst-case accident. Most of the affected residents would be asked to shelter in place, not evacuate, he said. Hoodbhoy points out that even today, the no-go zones around the Chernobyl and Fukushima plants are 18 and 12 miles, respectively.
Minhaj said concerns about the effect of a tsunami are also overblown because the new reactors are being built on a rock ledge about 39 feet above sea level. Pakistan’s meteorological office recently concluded that Karachi could face a tsunami of up to 23 feet in the event of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake in the region.
Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he suspects that the new Chinese design is indeed less prone to accidents. But he noted that most poorer countries have shied from developing a nuclear energy footprint since Fukushima.
“If there was a lesson we learned from the Fukushima accident, it’s that, if you are going to get into the nuclear business, and if you don’t have world-class technology, good logistics, enough personnel, a lot of money and experience managing crisis situations, then you are not going to be able to manage a severe accident,” Hibbs said.
Zia Mian, a Pakistani physicist at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who is also fighting the project, notes that the existing Canadian reactor was designed in the 1960s to generate just 100 megawatts of electricity. The new reactors will produce 22 times that amount and use a combined 40 to 60 tons of enriched-uranium fuel each, he said. And each year, one-third of that spent fuel will also be removed from the core and stored in large containment pools at the plant, Mian said.
“You put all of that together, and the hazards are unimaginably larger,” he said.
After Sharif showed up in Karachi in December 2013 to break ground on the new reactors, Pirzada and other activists began organizing against it on Facebook. Last summer, they filed a lawsuit against the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority alleging that construction began without a proper environmental impact study.
In December, a court halted vertical construction — but allowed excavation work to continue — until a new environmental assessment is completed, about a month from now. If major construction is then allowed to resume, the reactors will have an expected life span of at least 60 years.
“Of course, we need electricity, but we don’t need electricity to commit suicide,” Ali said.
Musadaq Malik, a Sharif adviser on energy issues, counters that a country that trusts its military to possess nuclear weapons can also trust its government to maintain a Chinese nuclear power plant.
“We may look irresponsible, but we are not that irresponsible,” Malik said. “We have engineers, we have scientists, we have our security apparatus. . . .Like other nations, we have done all of this before, reasonably well.”