Friday, March 20, 2015

Video - Chris Brown - Next To You ft. Justin Bieber

Music Video - Ellie Goulding - Love Me Like You Do

Video - Yemen attacks highlight extreme country's political instability

Abiding Rifts Within Israel Threaten to Widen With Netanyahu Win

Stores in the rundown center of Sderot, a working-class Israeli border town plagued by years of rocket fire from Gaza, were still festooned with blue-and-white Likud banners at the end of this week.
Largely populated by Israelis of Middle Eastern and North African descent and some more recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, nearly half of the residents who cast ballots in Tuesday’s national elections voted for Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative party. A full 80 percent voted for right-wing and strictly Orthodox parties, including those likely to be in Mr. Netanyahu’s new coalition government.
A seven-minute drive away in Nahal Oz, a pastoral kibbutz abutting the border with Gaza, the mood was more somber. Founded in the 1950s as a communal farm by socialist pioneers of European origin and now partly privatized, Nahal Oz was equally traumatized during the war in Gaza last summer, when a 4-year-old boy was killed by shrapnel from a Palestinian mortar attack. Yet 57 percent of its residents voted for the center-left Zionist Union — and less than 5 percent for Likud.
As Israelis digested the outcome of the elections in which Mr. Netanyahu, seeking a fourth term, won a decisive victory, they also began to confront the sharp social, religious and political fissures that crisscross the country. While Likud dominated in many northern and southern towns and cities, the Zionist Union, an alliance between the Labor Party and a small centrist faction, triumphed in largely secular, liberal Tel Aviv and its prosperous suburbs. The results exposed the widening gap between the “state of Tel Aviv” and the right-leaning “periphery,” meaning the poorer areas beyond Israel’s commercial center.
The results also underscored the abiding divisions between the Ashkenazi Israelis of European descent, who dominated politics for decades after the founding of the state in 1948, and the Mizrahim, a term commonly used to refer to Sephardic Jews from Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds — although more than 70 percent of Israel’s Jews now are born in Israel.
Playing on a term that usually refers to a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli commentators spoke wryly about “two states for two peoples.”
“I have always voted Likud,” said Sasson Sara, 61, a Sderot shopkeeper and local pundit whose parents came from Iraq, and whose dark, cramped grocery store does not appear to have been altered much since it opened in 1958.
Like many in Sderot, Mr. Sara said he had been critical of Mr. Netanyahu during the last Gaza war for not doing enough. “They should have flattened all of Gaza into a soccer field,” he said. Still, he added, Mr. Netanyahu was the only leader who could be relied on for security.
Dismissing criticism that Likud, in power for the last six years, has been weak on more mundane, socioeconomic issues, including addressing the dearth of affordable housing, and has done little to improve the lot of Israeli workers, Mr. Sara pointed to the introduction of free dental care for children and a new train connecting Sderot to Tel Aviv.
“If I wanted to go to a show in Tel Aviv, it used to take all afternoon to get there on a bus that stopped all along the way,” he said. “Now I get on a train that leaves at 6:23 p.m. on the dot.”
Many here trace the almost visceral bond between many Mizrahim and the Likud back to the days of Menachem Begin, the Polish-born leader who led Likud to its first electoral victory in 1977. Mr. Begin capitalized on the Mizrahim’s feelings of resentment, and the unlikely alliance managed to unseat the entrenched socialist establishment.
Before that, Mr. Sara said, a “Bolshevik tyranny” reigned in the area. “The kibbutzim around here controlled everything,” he recalled. “They were the managers of the factories. The workers were from Sderot.”
Historically, the more traditional Mizrahim who immigrated en masse in the 1950s viewed the Ashkenazi founders as elitists who looked down on their culture. Mr. Begin was seen as having restored their dignity.
Yehuda Ben Meir, a public opinion expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said an analysis of the election results did not reveal a shift to the right among the electorate. Instead, he said, Mr. Netanyahu’s new strength came largely from within the right-wing bloc, the Likud having poached seats in Parliament from the hard-line Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu parties.
But Mr. Ben Meir said the ethnic factor continued to play a part, particularly in the development towns, like Sderot, built in the 1950s to absorb immigrants from Muslim countries.
There, he said, “You still get the traditional voters who vote like their parents.”
Likud supporters said that many of the party faithful who had tired of Mr. Netanyahu and were considering staying home turned out to vote in protest after a leftist artist, Yair Garbuz, caused an uproar by deriding traditional Israelis as “amulet kissers” at a pre-election opposition rally in Tel Aviv.
But in the other Israel, across the social and political divide, there were few votes for the right. At Kibbutz Nirim, where two residents were killed by a mortar round from Gaza in the final hours of the war, more than 87 percent voted for the center-left Zionist Union or the leftist Meretz party.
Two residents voted for Mr. Netanyahu.
In Nahal Oz, another liberal enclave, Nitza Shelhav, 78, whose small home has been hit twice by mortar shells, was critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s dealing with the Palestinians, saying that doing nothing and waiting for the next round of fighting was “an ostrich policy, like burying your head in the sand.”
“I don’t know if peace with our neighbors is realistic, but we have to try,” she said, describing herself as a die-hard Labor voter.
Neri Katzav, 38, was spraying against weeds in baggy work clothes. Married to a teacher, the father of four said the family could not make ends meet and had “no economic future.” He said he had voted for Meretz.
Mr. Katzav said he had taken the election results hard. “It could and should be so much better here,” he said. “I really wanted change.”

ISIS: A Priority in the Region at the Expense of Palestine and Other Issues


The anticipated American-Iranian deal has an implicit Palestinian/Israeli dimension that could force Tehran to change its political discourse regarding Palestine and Israel, and alter the Iranian regional policy based on compensation -- at least verbally -- for the Arab failures on Palestine. The re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems determined not to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state. This puts Palestine and the Arab countries at an important fork in the road forcing them to think of alternatives to the two-state solution that a majority of Israelis reject, as this has become clear now. However, the Arab priority is not Palestine, not only now, but for the last few years. The Islamic State group (ISIS) has become the main focus of policies and alliances, including the international US-led coalition against ISIS which includes important Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Another important alliance is the de-facto alliance between the United States and Iran, in Iraq and beyond.
The evolution of the strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia/UAE and Egypt was not based on the ISIS problem, but rather on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their Turkish dimension, and the Iranians in the Middle East and their Arab dimension. Israel is the fourth leg of the disrupted Turkish-Iranian-Arab-Israeli balance of power, and today it wants to put the Arab countries in the corner similar to Iran and Turkey.
The common denominator between the three, Iran, Turkey, and Israel, is the religious identity imposed on the state. The Islamic Republic of Iran, founded by the Khomeini revolution 35 years ago, imposed religion on the state at a time when the Arab region was moving away from religion towards nationalism and other identities. The theocratic regime in Tehran lasted until now, suggesting to many in the neighboring Arab region that religion provided a path to power as happened in Iran.
Israel clung on to religion and imposed it on the state by insisting to be a Jewish state in the theocratic sense, in preparation for "purifying" Israel from the Palestinians to become a purely Jewish state. Everyone knew the meaning of insisting on seeking recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, while pretending that this was just a definition of Israel as a Jewish state and not a prelude to a Jewish-only state. Ultimately, religion is the basis of the Jewish state in Israel, just like it is the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The similarity between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic was clear to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who found for himself a way to engage in the religious one-upmanship through the Muslim Brotherhood -- not only in the Arab region, especially Egypt. Erdogan sought to reverse the secularism that characterized Turkey after Ataturk, and to propel a crude rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, especially in Egypt.
What the second revolution in Egypt brought was the popular rejection of imposing religion on the state. Egypt distinguished itself from the Jewish-Shiite-Sunni trio in Israel, Iran, and Turkey by insisting on rejecting the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is based on imposing religion on the state.
Egypt today occupies a priority position among the Arab majority, being eligible to repair the disequilibrium in the regional balance of power to ensure the presence of an Arab counterweight and prevent the balance of power to be exclusively dominated by Iran, Israel, and Turkey. The Egypt Economic Development Conference held last week, bringing together 120 nations and regional/international institutions produced $130 billion in pledges for economic and development projects that put Egypt on the path to sustainable recovery and to restoring its regional weight and confidence.
The first step was $12 billion pledged by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait to help Egypt confront US threats to punish Cairo for having toppled the Muslim Brotherhood rule. This step is part of what is now being called the Egyptian-Arab Marshall Plan and is a basic component in the bid to establish an Arab weight in the regional balance of powers. It is also an important investment in preventing religious encroachment on the state, whether through the Muslim Brotherhood project or the ISIS project. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait and other countries did well to support Egypt and revive it as a long-term steady strategy.
Egypt will not be involved on the ground in Libya, but it will confront ISIS and similar groups in the torn neighboring country. Egypt's leadership will not turn "pharaonic" because it realizes it is under the microscope locally and regionally. Egypt realizes the importance of the investments in it politically, and not just economically.
Palestine is an important challenge for Egypt at this juncture, especially since Israel wants Egypt to "inherit" Gaza to become Egypt's problem and not Israel's problem.
Regarding the Palestinian issue in general, the challenge for Egypt is a challenge for all Arab countries: what to do now that it has become clear that Israel does not want the two-state solution, that it would not allow a Palestinian state even on 20 percent of historical Palestine, and that it is uninterested in the Arab initiative, which offered recognition of Israel in return for ending the occupation?
The war option is highly unlikely, after a quick reading of Arab priorities. None of the Arab states wants to "liberate" Palestine. The boycott option seems more likely in line with new formulas such as the BDS formula; however, this also requires Arab and non-Arab government decisions that would raise the ceiling of boycotts.
Then there is the choice of suing the Israeli occupation and Israeli measures at the ICC, which requires a major Gulf investment in Palestine to allow it to endure punitive American and Israeli measures that will hurt Palestine without Aab support.
What is new is that the American-Iranian deal that is expected to go beyond the nuclear deal will lead Iran to stop outbidding over Palestine to embarrass the Arab countries and the Gulf countries in general. Tehran has its different priorities now, including having a good relationship with the Obama administration and trying to appease the Congress, which judges Iran's actions especially through its positions on Israel.
President Barack Obama will not jump to confront Israel for what is practically the cancellation of the two-state solution, which was the basis of US policy and international consensus equally. People who observe the US media scene will find that the usage of the word Israeli 'occupation' of Palestinian territory has receded in favor of 'dispute' over land.
The debate is no longer serious about whether Israel will choose to be a democracy and choose to end the occupation and allow a Palestinian state. The Israeli voters chose Netanyahu's pledge to disallow the establishment of a Palestinian state. The majority of the Israeli public wants Israel to be a purely Jewish state and considers that there is no solution to the demographic problem except by having a pure Jewish state. In reality, Israel has for years maintained that it considers Jordan to be the alternative homeland of the Palestinians, and has acted accordingly despite all promises.
Jordan today is sheltering behind American promises, which made the kingdom a necessary partner in the war on ISIS. Jordan hopes the United States would prevent its Israeli ally from taking measures that would be part of fulfilling its historic threats. However, counting on the United States has become a dangerous adventure. President Obama will do little more than express concern, as he is fully focused on his legacy by concluding a deal with Iran.
This, in Obama's opinion, could help remove the mutual perception of one another as "satan" or "great Satan" This, Obama believes, would allow the United States to crush ISIS through an American-Iranian alliance before any other alliance.
ISIS caused the US and Iran to close ranks, being a "natural" enemy as an organization with a Sunni background - the same background that staged the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States. ISIS has become a gift for Iran at a crucial stage of the US-Iranian relationship as a result of the nuclear talks and the US blessing given to the role played by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has become an instrument that diverts attention away from Iran's rise on the US list of priorities and the fall of Palestine and Syria on the Arab list of priorities. ISIS has become a US priority equivalent to the Iranian priority for the Obama administration.
The Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt, must return to the policy-drafting board to explore options realistically and transparently, in light of Iran's rising stock with the United States and Iran's reduced one-upmanship on Palestine, as well as the clarity of Israel's choices against the establishment of a Palestinian state and its use of ISIS as a distraction and a bargaining chip for making deals. Such deals include what US Secretary of State hinted at when he spoke about the necessity of negotiations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the same man had praised 5 years ago before starting to call him a butcher 3 years ago. Now, he wants accord with Assad on the 4th anniversary of the Syrian tragedy.
What happened at the Egypt Economic Development Conference is encouraging for having brought about new qualitative developments in terms of addressing the the challenges facing this major Arab nation, with Gulf decisions and assistance that has strategic dimensions and commitments. It is important to give Egypt the priority in investment, but also to expand this approach to other places facing major challenges, such as Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Sweden stood up for human rights in Saudi Arabia. This is how Saudi Arabia is punishing Sweden

By Adam Taylor

You'll find few people who will stick up for the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Religious minorities, women and homosexuals face repression. Tens of thousands of people are thought to languish in prison for political reasons. And capital or corporal punishment, sometimes even for crimes such as apostasy and blasphemy, is commonplace.
All told, the Saudi kingdom is not as absurdly horrific as the Islamic State – but sometimes, it's not so far off.
Yet for the past 70 years, Saudi Arabia has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. Official calls for the protection of human rights in the country have been muted, when they're heard at all.
One of the few countries to risk its relationship with Saudi Arabia is Sweden. As WorldViews previously reported, after Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom revealed that she was blocked from talking about democracy and women's rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo, Sweden responded by scrapping a major arms deal with the kingdom.
Wallstrom, who promised a "feminist" foreign policy when she entered government, had previously criticized the flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi on Twitter and called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship.
Now, Saudi Arabia seems determined to make things uncomfortable for Sweden. Since Wallstrom publicly criticized Saudi Arabia for blocking her talk March 9, there have been a number of notable diplomatic moves:
  • On March 10, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Stockholm, saying it was prompted by Sweden's "interference in its internal affairs."
  • On the same day, foreign ministers from Arab League states issued a joint statement condemning Wallstrom's statement.
  • On March 18, the United Arab Emirates recalled its ambassador to Stockholm, condemning the "strong statements made by the Foreign Minister of Sweden to the Swedish Parliament against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its judicial system."
  • On March 19, a Saudi official told the Associated Press that the kingdom would no longer issue business visas to Swedish citizens or renew the current visas of Swedish citizens inside Saudi Arabia.
These acts seem to be clearly designed to pressure Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven to distance himself from Wallstrom. And the diplomatic tactics being used by Saudi Arabia are lending themselves to an internal Swedish backlash.
Sweden exported $1.3 billion to Saudi Arabia last year, and Sweden's business community is deeply worried about the financial impact of the dispute with Saudi Arabia. The arms deal alone could be big – Saudi Arabia bought $39 million in Swedish military equipment last year alone. Before the spat had even begun, 31 Swedish business leaders published a statement in DN Debatt newspaper urging the government to maintain good ties with Saudi Arabia. "Sweden's reputation as a trade and business partner is at stake," the business leaders wrote.
Saudi Arabia's decision to block visas seems to show that it is aware of its financial clout. "This is going to have a vast negative impact for the companies with interest in the region," Andreas Astrom, communications director at Stockholm's Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press. "This is not good for Swedish business society and, in the long run, jobs in Sweden."
The fear of economic losses also follows a geopolitical line of reasoning. Saudi Arabia is an influential political power in the Middle East, as shown by the United Arab Emirates' decision to follow it in recalling its ambassador and by the backing from the Arab League. "In a very real way, this is about Sweden's credibility as a contractual partner," Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister and prime minister, told Defense News. "That credibility is important to a relatively small country like Sweden. This whole situation is unfortunate."
Sweden's foreign policy in the Middle East has been unusually strident since Wallstrom took charge. Sweden officially recognized Palestine as an independent state this year, sparking an awkward argument with the Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even alluded to this in the run-up to this week's Israeli election, claiming that "Scandinavian governments" were working to topple him.
For now, the hope seems to be that things will calm down. Sweden's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dag Yulin Danflet, has been telling the Saudi press that he is seeking to "contain the crisis." And on Friday, Wallstromtold reporters that it was important that Sweden and Saudi Arabia have "good diplomatic relations."

Pakistan - Asia Bibi awarded honorary citizenship by Paris Mayor

The Council in Paris on unanimously adopted a proposal by the city’s socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo to award honorary citizenship to Asia Bibi.
Asia Bibi, a middle-aged-mother of five children, was condemned to death for alleged blaspheme. The Lahore High Court upheld her sentence in October 2014. However, the Supreme Court on November 30 decided to re-open the case and a new trial will begin in May.
“To support her in her fight against ignorance and obscurantism, Anne Hildago wishes that Paris raises Asia Bibi to the level of honorary citizen, a rare distinction granted to the world’s most emblematic defenders of human rights,” the statement explained.
Mayor Hildago reiterated her commitment to continue her support for Bibi until a presidential pardon or a new court sentence restores her freedom. She also stated that Paris would welcome Asia and her family as soon as this freedom is restored to her.
“To be an honorary citizen is to embody the values of Paris, the values of liberty and tolerance. By this bold gesture, I wish to testify to the solidarity of Paris towards the numerous women around the world of all confessions who are religious obscurantism and political extremism,” Hildago said.
In December last year, the mayor disclosed a banner of Asia Bibi which has kept on display on the steps of the City Hall. At the revealing, Hildago emphasized: “We must support Asia Bibi, as women in all regions of the world are the first victims of an order which theocrats, who twist the messages of all religions, try to impose.”

Video - Ticket to eclipse: Sunhunters chase breathtaking views of rare celestial phenomenon

Video - Pharrell reminds kids to be happy on U.N. International Day of Happiness

Video - Massive NATO military drills near Russian border underway

Video - Deadlocked Iran nuclear talks suspended

Video - President Obama Speaks at the 2015 White House Student Film Festival

The dam of self-restraint bursts for Pakistan’s Christians

By Pamela Constable

The smell of burned cloth, wood and plastic lingered in the silent ruins eight months after a mob torched the row of modest homes. Nothing had been removed. Leaders of the small Christian community in Gojra, a district near Lahore, Pakistan, had preserved what they could as a shrine to their victimhood. In one abandoned home, a charred birdcage still hung in the kitchen; in another, a blackened Bible lay open on a table.
Muslims and Christians had lived together, though on separate blocks, in this working-class neighborhood for generations. But the comity vanished in a matter of hours after a rumor spread that someone at a Christian wedding had torn up a copy of the Koran. Muslims surged into the streets, furious at the supposed blasphemers. By the next morning, numerous houses had been gutted and seven people burned alive.
The survivors I met spoke of loss and betrayal. “We never saw such hatred until this happened,” a parish priest told me. Another community leader, whose family had lived there, among Muslims, since before the creation of Pakistan in 1947, said: “Now these groups call us American dogs and Israeli agents and infidels. The extremist groups put down roots, and now they feel power.”
Still, I didn’t hear any talk of vengeance after that 2009 attack. For years, Pakistan’s beleaguered Christians, estimated to number between 2 million and 3 million, responded to such assaults by turning the other cheek. Their leaders urged them to abjure violence, and their social marginalization left them with few weapons other than faith.
Last Sunday, that dam of self-restraint finally burst. After suicide bombers linked to the Pakistani Taliban attacked two churches in Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital, leaving 14 worshipers dead and at least 70 injured, 4,000 angry Christians amassed in protest, chasing the suspects and lynching two of them in broad daylight. Turning the other cheek was replaced by taking an eye for an eye.
For the forces of sectarian hate that have long sought to ignite religious conflict in the vast, diverse country of 180 million, this tragic turn of events was a victory. Pakistan is already embroiled in a conflict between majority Sunni and minority Shiite Muslims, both of which have violent militant wings and masses of easily roused devotees. If Christians join the volatile mix, Pakistan could lose its last bulwark against religious war.
Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, met with several Pakistani Christian groups this past week and said they expressed both “tremendous frustration” at the lack of government protection and deep skepticism at a recent pledge by Pakistani authorities to implement a “national action plan” to fight domestic Islamist terrorists. “They told us the police are pathetic. They do nothing, and they are complicit in the violence we suffer,” Swett told me Thursday.
While ominous, it’s hardly surprising that the long-suppressed anger and frustration of Pakistan’s Christians have spilled over. Christians have been the targets of seemingly endless attacks — some spontaneous, others, like the one in Lahore, deliberately planned to terrorize. Equally disturbing is the growth of popular support among Pakistani Muslims for such violence in the name of defending Islam.
Two years after the Gojra riots, a Christian peasant woman was accused of blaspheming during an argument in a berry patch, then thrown in prison and swiftly condemned to death. After the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, spoke out in her defense, he was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards. Taseer’s murderer, who proudly confessed, was hailed as a hero of Islam by some Muslim groups, and throngs of well-wishers sought out his house. In 2013, in the most deadly anti-Christian attack to date, suicide bombers destroyed a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing more than 80 people. Islamist figures and groups trying to whip up a domestic jihad continue to fan the hostility.
The violent demonization of this religious minority is especially tragic and bewildering, given the long history of Christian contributions to Pakistani society and public good. Roman Catholic missionaries began arriving from Europe in the early 1600s, and the Anglican Church was established in Lahore in 1877, when Pakistan was still part of India during British colonial rule. Both denominations founded many of the region’s finest schools and colleges, including LaSalle and Sacred Heart high schools and Forman Christian College in Lahore. For generations, many members of the Pakistani Muslim elite — judges, legislators, bureaucrats, even generals — were educated at such institutions.
This peaceful coexistence continued well after the partition of India in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan as an Islamic nation, one whose early leaders were strongly committed to democratic and religious freedoms. Christian-Muslim relations did not begin to fray until the 1980s and 1990s, when the Afghan war against the Soviet Union; the rule of a religiously fanatical military dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq; and the importation of fundamentalist Sunni teachings from the Middle East began to challenge Pakistan’s tolerant traditions.
Tensions intensified after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, which many Pakistani Muslims saw as a foreign plot to defame their faith, and after Pakistan’s military president agreed to cooperate in the newly declared war on terror. Six months later, the Protestant International Church in Islamabad, which I had attended periodically for several years while working as a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, was attacked by gunmen during a Sunday worship service, killing five people and wounding 45.
The rise of radical Sunni Islam, through political parties as well as religious groups, also increased the social and political marginalization of Pakistan’s Christians. Islamists condemned them for allowing the consumption of alcohol and for supposedly being agents of a Western conspiracy against Islam. Many poor Christians are converts from Hinduism; viewed as lower-caste, they are generally relegated to religious slums called “colonies” and to menial or informal occupations such as salvaging scrap metal.
Another byproduct of Pakistan’s accelerating Islamization was the widespread abuse of its blasphemy law, especially against Christians and Ahmadis, a minority Muslim sect that is widely ostracized and not legally recognized. Under the law, one of the most punitive in the world, it is a capital offense to say anything derogatory about Islam or the prophet Muhammad, to “defile” the Koran, or to do anything that “outrages” Muslim sentiment.
Popular prejudice against Christians makes them easy targets for such accusations, even when they have been concocted for personal motives. Periodic legislative efforts to reform the blasphemy laws have gone nowhere, and Pakistani officials tend to avoid the sensitive subject — for the same reason they tend to tolerate extremist Islamic groups, despite repeated pledges to crack down on them.
The cumulative effect of official pandering, social antipathy and violent persecution has been a rift within Christian groups, as some activists call for street protests while others, including influential Catholic leaders, continue to call for calm and prayer.
The question on the minds of many in Pakistan today is whether the anger unleashed last Sunday will dissipate and the community return to its long-suffering passivity, or whether a threshold has been crossed and a door opened to the kind of sectarian bloodletting that the true enemies of Pakistani Christians and Muslims alike — the country’s homegrown jihadist militants — have long worked to foment.
“The suicide attacks . . . could have been just another gruesome incident in the long list of horrors,” Pakistan’s most respected newspaper, Dawn, said in an editorial Monday. But the unprecedented retaliation by Christians, it warned, was a sign that Pakistan’s religious minorities are under an “intolerable strain” and that “the state’s halting response to the terrorism threat is leading to dangerous ruptures in society.”

Pakistan - Young School Girls Protest In Turbat

By Sami Parvez

 School girl students in Buleda locality of district Kech protested against lack of proper facilities in schools, on Thursday.
Young school girls protested while holding placards and chanted slogans against lack of most basic facilities in their school.
Turbat Education (3)
One placard read; “We should be provided teachers so that we are not deprived of blessing of education.”
“There are no teachers, schools boundaries, drinking water, proper class rooms and several other problems in our school,” said a protestor.
Turbat Education (2)
Protestors demanded Chief Minister, Dr. Malik Baloch, to take urgent action and solve all the problems of Girls school Buleda.
At the moment educational emergency is imposed in Balochistan. “Girls school in home district of Chief Minister don’t even have boundary walls, that give a hint about nature of educational emergency,” a citizen told The Balochistan Point.
Turbat Education (1)

Pakistan - PML-N's penchant for creating controversies

Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hammad Al Thani is to visit Pakistan next week to what sources told Business Recorder was to attend the Pakistan Day parade as well as settle the final terms of the LNG deal. Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, on his return from Qatar, had revealed in a press conference less than a week ago that the first shipment of LNG would be arriving at Karachi port on or around 26th of this month. The minister's statement gave rise to questions about whether the first shipment would arrive without a firm deal, as the agreed pricing is an integral component of any purchase deal, having been struck. It is little wonder that Asad Umar of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has raised somelegitimate concerns about the deal itself. 

It is extremely unfortunate that the PML-N government continues to exhibit a marked penchant for creating controversies through not revealing the contents of commercial contracts that it has signed since it came to power in June 2013. And given the corruption scandals that have routinely surfaced during the tenure of our governments in the past, including the two previous tenures of the PML-N, this 'secrecy' in the award of contracts by itself raises serious concerns amongst the general public that is then promptly and legitimately picked up by opposition parties. Why is the LNG pricing a matter of secrecy when it is a government-to-government contract? It has been reported by Business Recorder that Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) will announce the price after it adds on all other associated costs including transport as well as the price that it would charge generation companies. Reports also indicate that Ogra has firmed up the price with four generation companies - a price set that needless to add would be passed on in its entirety to the consumers - be they industrialists, farmers or households. In other words, the purchase price of LNG from Qatar would have direct bearings on our kitchen budgets and therefore needs to be announced by those who negotiated the price - a committee which comprises, among others, the Minister of Petroleum. It is imperative that the government places the contract on its website for greater transparency. 

The LNG deal is just the latest in a series of deals made by the government that has given birth to a perception that all is not above board. Another example is the economic corridor with China that opposition members maintain has undergone a change in its route to benefit Punjab. Vehement denials by the government have not changed this perception. Jamshoro coal-fired project has also become steeped in controversy because of serious flaws noted by the financing entity, Asian Development Bank, in the bid evaluation process in late 2013. The metro bus project currently in progress in Islamabad-Pindi is also mired in charges of corruption in relation to the award of contracts with PML-N's point man for the project Hanif Abbasi inexplicably maintaining that his terms of reference did not include procurement. 

In addition, projects with foreign companies like Reko Diq continue to be seen as indicative of successive Pakistani governments' failure to honour deals made by their predecessors on charges of corruption in the award of the contract - charges that stick because of their violation of procurement rules and/or failure to take all stakeholders on board. 

The PML-N government surely must be aware by now that following due process is the only way forward, and with its ambitious privatisation plans it is critical that the party leadership begins to follow due process as enunciated in the public procurement rules. Any deviation for whatever reason must be cited, for example the government never tires of stating that no foreign investor other than China is interested in investing in this country and hence deals that benefit China and violate our procurement policy have been supported. Transparency is the demand of the populace - a major and till now the only positive outcome of our seven-year-old democracy. 

Pakistan - killing of polio health workers - Routine Killings

The killing of polio health workers and personnel deputed with them to provide security has become regular news in Pakistan.
The series of incidents that have occured across the country from Karachi to Peshawar have neither prompted any significant change in the state’s approach towards the issue nor invited a strong reaction from the general public.
Just this week, two Lady Health Workers and their guard were gunned down in Mansehra, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
In another attack in the Kamangara area of Bajaur Agency, one health worker named Roohullah was killed and another identified as Arifullah was seriously injured.

All this has happened while the government was conducting a three-day National Polio Campaign, which started on Monday with the aim to vaccinate 35.
5 million children below the age of five.
During the first two days, 16,000 families refused to get their children vaccinated.
Apart from that, 610,333 children were not available at homes when the teams visited.
The campaign was postponed in several areas due to a variety of reasons mainly security, weather and non-availability of staff.
The nature of the problem is such that unless the state and people do not completely eradicate it, they will remain vulnerable as ever.
But the reponse doesn’t reflect the necessary sense of urgency and seriousness.
No serious steps have been taken to prevent the targeting of Health Workers.
The government feels that its responsibility extends to only providing a couple of guards to vaccination teams when it is clear that it is required to do so much more.

With this approach, the state cannot be expected to overcome the crisis.
The problem is not restricted to Peshawar or tribal areas as cases have been recorded in Karachi and interior Sindh as well.
Most health workers belong to the poor section of society and perform an extremely dangerous job for very little in return.
The government must not fail them and the rest of the country.

Pakistan - Another barbaric act of terrorism

Ever since the military operations began, these groups have dispersed and changed their strategy to start targeting densely populated areas and places of worship to inflict colossal damage, in an effort they believe to be their revenge.
The country has been facing an unabated wave of terrorism for over a decade. The military operations in Waziristan were considered indispensable in delivering a significant blow to the hardened criminals, who have taken refuge in those tribal areas considered to be safe havens. Ever since the military operations began, these groups have dispersed and changed their strategy to start targeting densely populated areas and places of worship, inflicting colossal damage in an effort they believe to be their revenge. Terrorist attacks on two churches in Lahore have left many people dead and many others injured. Due to the large crowds that gather at churches on Sundays, the terrorists chose this day to inflict heavy casualties by targeting the worshipers.

After protests broke out, the enraged mob lynched two men whom they considered to be suspects, since the police was unable to arrest them, wasting the opportunity to investigate their involvement. This was the most serious attack on a minority after the twin church attack in the Kohati gate area in Peshawar, in which around 80 people were killed with more than 100 injured. After this dastardly attack, protests started in many parts of the country with enraged crowds blocking the roads, setting valuables on fire and the police abstaining from responding too strongly to avoid clashes with the protestors.

Security forces believe that the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of these churches and have pointed out the limitations of the government in being able to prevent these kinds of attacks. Security guards and police constables present at the gate managed to keep the terrorists out of the crowded premises to save many precious lives. Had these bombers entered the premises, this attack would have been a lot more devastating in terms of casualties. The spokesperson of a banned outfit, a breakaway faction of the Pakistan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for this cowardly attack in which innocent civilians were targeted. Although the security forces have successfully controlled these fanatic groups in the tribal areas, they have been uprooted from their main bases there and have taken refuge in the bordering areas of Afghanistan. The writ of the government is very weak in these regions, making it difficult to nab them.

The whole nation is united against these criminals, who are not only poised to hurt the nation but also inflict irreparable damage to the name of Islam — which is a religion of peace. These terrorists do not have any agenda other than the destruction and targeting of civilian establishments to further their nefarious causes. They have targeted schools, mosques and have been involved in inciting sectarian strife after failing to target the security forces that have been successfully chasing them. Such a suicide attack in Lahore should be a matter of concern for the Punjab government because this was the second most serious attack in the provincial capital after the deadly attack on the police lines some time back, which raised many questions about the capacity of the intelligence agencies.

Terrorism has now become the largest uphill challenge being faced by Pakistan and has been placed on the top of the priority list by our security experts, who are rightly pursuing the cause to fight the menace. They have successfully formulated initiates like the national action plan. This comprehensive plan paved the way for the constitutional amendment, under which military courts were to be set up. Special powers were given to security forces to nab any criminals, despite hesitations by political stakeholders, who were safeguarding their narrow political interests instead of pursuing a broader national consensus. Although the military courts have not yet been established, there are many initiatives already in play, such as the implementation of death sentences whilst ignoring foreign pressure in this regard, the biometric verification of sims (which is a herculean task given the number of subscribers in the ever expanding telecom industry) and mounting pressure on Afghan and NATO forces to launch operations against splinter groups in the bordering areas in Afghanistan.

However there are still many challenges that still need to be surmounted, such as fundamentalist groups and religious parties, which are said to have soft corners for these terrorists. As Punjab interior minister identified in his recent statement, there are many seminaries in Southern Punjab that are believed to facilitate these groups by giving them refuge and spreading their ideology. These seminaries brainwash youths and lure them into carrying out these acts of terror as their religious obligation to fight against what they call the forces of oppression. Our police force, which has always been tainted by corruption and political interference has still not been able to tackle this uphill task of controlling terrorism — a far different challenge from regular criminal activities. There needs to be more work done practically, rather than just passing resolutions and amendments. Intelligence agencies need to be more proactive in predicting these attacks, instead of focusing on taking reactive measures and arresting suspects after these unfortunate incidents. A proactive frame of mind from the security agencies is desperately needed to avert any future attacks, because our enemies will continue to attack soft targets. The terrorists know that it is virtually impossible to provide security to all civilian establishments, and predicting them beforehand is necessary to avoid their occurrence altogether.

Bilawal Bhutto condemns Karachi blast
Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has expressed shock and sorrow over the bomb blast near Bohra community’s Saleh Mosque in Aram Bagh area of Karachi today.
In a statement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the attacks on mosques, churches, schools, markets and other heavy human targets, defy the teachings of all known religions of the world. He reiterated the determination of the PPP and its provincial government to continue to take every step to put an end to the reprehensible acts of all groups and persons involved in acts of terrorism.
Chairman PPP expressed his condolences to the Bohra community and the families of all those who lost their lives in the heinous attack.

Disturbing trend: Peshawar tops vaccination refusals again

Although the district administration has been holding jirgas to convince people to inoculate their children against polio, Peshawar yet again recorded the highest number of refusals in the latest National Immunization Drive.
A senior health department official told The Express Tribune 11,100 children in Peshawar missed out on vaccination because their parents refused vaccinators during the three-day immunisation drive which ended on Wednesday. Though less in number than the last campaign, the refusals are raising red flags.
“Families living in the suburbs are reluctant to administer polio drops to children,” he said. He added the district administration recently held a jirga in Badhaber where it claimed to have convinced over 120 families to get children vaccinated, but the refusals are a clear indicator that people are reluctant.
However, he was hopeful that the refusals will be reduced in a one-day follow-up drive which was held on Thursday.
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Riaz Mehsud told The Express Tribune the district administration has devised a strategy and has been holding jirgas to convince locals to vaccinate their children.
“We contact them (parents) through jirgas in their respective villages but if they still refuse vaccination, we will not hesitate to take action against them,” said Mehsud.
The breakdown
According to officials associated with the recent drive, nearly 30,000 children across the province remained unvaccinated because their parents refused the drops.
Of these, Peshawar led with the highest refusals–the second time in a row. In a drive held in the first week of March, 13,436 parents in the district did not allow teams to vaccinate their children.
This time, Bannu reported 5,000 refusals; Swabi 4,719; Lakki Marwat 2,800; Nowshera 1,980; Charsadda 1,500; DI Khan 704; Kohat 610 and Mardan 510.
Similarly, 502 children could not be inoculated in Tank, while the number stood at 336 for Hangu, 68 in Abbottabad, 37 in Haripur, 10 in Malakand, nine in Swat, three in Lower Dir and two in Upper Dir.
Vaccination teams faced no hurdles in Kohistan, Shangla, Battagram, Buner and Chitral as no refusals were reported from these districts. The data for Torghar could not be obtained since it had not been compiled.