Sunday, April 19, 2015

Video - Why are migrants risking their lives

Video - President Obama and First Lady at the White House Poetry Workshop - Apr 17, 2015

U.N. says Afghanistan's court system fails women


The United Nations says Afghanistan's court system is failing to provide adequate access to women who are victims of violence. In a report released Sunday, “Justice through the eyes of Afghan Women,” the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said more women are turning to non-judicial methods, such as local mediation councils, rather than the traditional court system.

The 35-page report, produced in cooperation with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, is comprised of a series of interviews with 110 women across 18 of the nation’s provinces between August 2014 and February 2015. The vast majority of those interviewed chose to resolve their disputes through mediation rather than legal means.
Though the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, passed by presidential decree in 2009, criminalized 22 acts of violence, the U.N. found several factors that caused women to shun the court system.
Along with fears of corruption, including paying bribes to move the process along, women in Afghanistan, as in many other countries, felt they lacked a clear understanding of the legal process to know how the law would be applied to their cases.
Also, with increasing economic insecurity and unemployment in the country, women feared alienating or imprisoning the men who are most often the sole breadwinners of their households.
Nicholas Haysom, the secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan and the head of the assistance mission, said: “Mediation of violence against women cases require support and monitoring so they are guided by principles of consent, safety, impartiality and inclusivity.”
The report found at least six cases in which a woman complainant was not present during mediation. In 11 other cases, the call for mediation was “imposed on the woman” by other parties.
Of the 80 cases that were seen through to completion, only five resulted in convictions. Though the U.N. favors referring cases of violence against women to the courts, women’s rights activists said that until the judiciary is rid of corruption and reaches the entire nation, the value of mediation cannot be discounted.
Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a women’s rights activist who worked directly on cases of violence against women from 1999 to 2007 in Afghanistan and the refugee camps of Pakistan said that while there is an “assumption that mediation is anti-woman, often it is also a lasting, long-term solution to domestic violence.”
Speaking to The Times, Nemat said the majority of the mediations she has been part of saw family members from both sides join together to find mutually agreed upon solutions under the supervision of the legal department of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
For many Afghans, Nemat said, mediation is as much influenced by geography as any other factors.
“Afghanistan is still 80% rural. Beyond the boundaries of district centers, people do not have proper access to formal court systems,” she said.
Nemat conceded that violations take place in the mediation process, but said that courts have also proven problematic.
“In the past, we have had judges telling victims of gang rapes to marry their rapists. Clearly, there has to be a certain level of corruption in the formal systems for people to prefer mediation.”
It was these shortcomings, said Nemat, that led her and a collective of other female leaders and rights advocates to help craft the violence against women law.
“It came from the shortcomings we were facing in dealing with the Afghan judiciary system … because our laws are vague,” she said.

Afghanistan braces for violence as Islamic State makes presence felt


Suicide bombing in Jalalabad first major attack by militants aligned with Isis, while further violence is expected as winter ends.

Afghanistan is bracing for an upsurge in violence as spring begins with a new maverick force emerging: militants associating themselves with Islamic State.
Isis claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Saturday, which appears to be the first major attack in Afghanistan by insurgents aligning themselves with the group which has been wreaking havoc across Syria and Iraq.
Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesman for the provincial governor, said a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated a vest rigged with explosives in front of the state-run New Kabul Bank, which has been the target of attacks in the past, killing at least 33 people and injuring more than 100.
In a statement, a group calling itself the Province of Khorasan – Islamic State’s name for the region it strives to conquer – named the suicide bomber as Abu Mohammad Khorasani. On social media, Isis supporters shared a photo of the purported suicide bomber, masked and flanked by a Kalashnikov rifle.
The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, seemingly taking his cue from media reports, named Isis as the perpetrators. Ghani made his comments to local journalists on a trip to the northern province of Badakhshan, where he went to mourn victims of other recent violence.
The surfacing of an Isis-aligned splinter group has caused anxiety among Afghans, though officials disagree about the level of the threat.
During his recent trip to Washington DC, where he also lobbied the US for continued military and financial support, Ghani called Isis “a terrible threat”.
However, former spy chief Amrullah Saleh said in an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan that Isis, known as Daesh throughout the Arab world, would not be able to spread roots in Afghanistan, “because whatever Daesh has been doing in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban have been doing the same in Afghanistan for the past 20 years”.
Borhan Osman, an analyst with Afghanistan Analysts Network who has tracked the emergence of Isis inAfghanistan, said the group might benefit from frictions within the Taliban.
“[Isis] has not built a solid, actual political presence in Afghanistan so far,” Osman said, “but if the Taliban quasi-monopoly is broken, that will help [it] to build networks and their brand.”
With or without Isis, this year’s fighting season threatens to be the most deadly since the US-led invasion in 2001.
At least 23 Afghan soldiers were killed last week when Taliban militants overran their military posts in Jurm district. The Taliban answered Ghani’s promises to “defend our soil” with defiance.
“If they try to do an operation, we are ready to defend ourselves,” Zabiullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the group told the Guardian.
Even a supposedly safe haven like the northern city of Mazar-I Sharif has suffered a rare bout of violence. On 9 April, four gunmen stormed the provincial prosecutor’s office in the city, taking hostages and leaving at least 10 people dead.
Casualties have risen drastically since foreign troops began drawing down from a peak of nearly 150,000 troops in 2011.
With more than 10,000 civilian casualties, last year was the bloodiest on record for ordinary Afghans. In a new report, the UN documents an 8% increase in civilian casualties from ground engagements in the first three months of 2015, compared to the same period last year.
The research shows that, as foreign troops have largely receded from the battlefield and limited aerial support to the Afghan security forces, fighting has drawn closer to residential areas. As a result, the proportion of women and children among casualties is at an all-time high. 
“The continuing use of suicide attacks in densely populated areas, that are certain to kill and maim large numbers of Afghan civilians, may amount to a war crime,” Nicholas Haysom, the UN’s head of mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement on Saturday.
The Taliban traditionally launches an offensive in the spring, when snow recedes from the mountains. As they advance, the fighting uproots thousands of civilians.
“People are being displaced in much higher numbers than last year,” said Pia Jensen, programme manager for emergency response with People in Need, an NGO. “Militants come down and attempt to recruit people. They grab young guys and force families to feed them, or to give one of their sons to the fight.”
She said residents are being pressured by an influx of militants from Pakistan, where a long-standing military campaign in North Waziristan has pushed over 300,000 people across the border. More than 50,000 undocumented Afghans have also left Pakistan since December after harassment from authorities, according to the International Organisation for Migration. There are likely a substantial number of potential insurgents among the displaced, said Jensen.

Pakistan - The Chinese Solution

After several delays, interruptions and false starts, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, is set to begin his visit of Pakistan where he is scheduled to meet top civilian and military leadership and address the parliament. While the Chinese premier is here he is expected to sign several Memorandums of Agreement (MOU) and oversee the launch of $50 billion worth of infrastructural and energy projects; meaning that the work on the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (PCEC) can begin in earnest. The visit is also significant as it marks the beginning of a strategic tilt in Pakistan’s foreign alliances; away from transient alliances with the United states, and towards geo-strategic based ones with regional partners. The period ahead holds vast potential for Pakistan; and as such the government needs to ensure that it is handled with diligence, intelligence and sincerity.
The importance of the PCEC is self evident; during the next 7 years energy projects worth $35-37 billion are scheduled to be completed, many of them utilising renewable sources such as solar power and wind. These coupled with indigenously developed power projects hold the ability to end Pakistan’s crippling energy crisis – or at least bring it down to a less damaging level. The infrastructural projects, especially around the port of Gawadar, would open numerous trade opportunities. Easier movement of goods, access to new markets and an influx of new products are bound to impact the economy positively. The next decade could see Pakistan move towards an industry driven development phase, one that is sorely needed to push Pakistan out of its economic mediocrity. Yet the ‘Chinese Solution’ is not a magic fix, it requires momentous effort from the Pakistani authorities, to realize the potential.
The first concern is the transparency of the developmental process. The government, especially PML-N is infamous for awarding construction contract based on nepotism, and inevitably they run the risk of being substandard. The second is the diligence and speed with which these projects are completed, our “Iron Brother” is making an investment out of which they hope to receive a substantial return; any dithering on Pakistan’s part would prompt them to seek new clients. Thirdly, this development envisions a stable working environment, terrorism and militancy needs to be controlled across the board and indiscriminately; otherwise neither the construction, neither the prospective investment will materialize. This is a challenge that the state needs to contend with. The state –the government and the establishment – needs jettison obsolete and self-serving polices and display full transparency and accountability. Perhaps most significantly however, PCEC will remain nothing more than a pipe dream if policy continuation by successive governments is not enshrined in the Constitution. Economic priorities especially to the tune of $50 billion dollars of investment, must not change with every general election.

Pakistan - Human rights report card

For the most part, the HRCP’s State of Human Rights in 2014 does not make for very optimistic reading. The report highlights the fact that where human rights and fundamental freedoms in Pakistan are concerned, 2014 saw much of the same violence and exploitation that this country has known for far too long.
As the document notes, the last year began with “ assaults on religious minorities. ...” and came to a harrowing end with the APS Peshawar massacre.
And as the statistics show, vulnerable groups such as religious and sectarian minorities, women, children and the poor had to struggle to survive in a stifling atmosphere dominated by violence and intimidation, with the state largely failing to protect the citizens’ fundamental rights.
Terrorism remained Pakistan’s foremost security concern in 2014, taking a bloody toll, with over 1,700 deaths in terrorist attacks. Violence against women also remained high, with hundreds of girls and women raped and subjected to ‘honour’ killings.
Far too many cases of custodial killings were reported, as were incidents of torture in custody, while sectarian and targeted killings continued to bedevil the country.
Yet in such an atmosphere of gloom there were a few bright spots. These included the fact that the provinces were active in the lawmaking sphere while the number of missing persons in Balochistan was down, but only slightly. Also welcome was the broad national consensus to tackle militancy that developed in the aftermath of the Peshawar tragedy.
But the shape this consensus took — the formation of military courts, the resumption of capital punishment — points to a preference for short-term, populist solutions rather than a desire to address the systemic, societal problems that feed militancy and terrorism.
Moreover, such solutions have given the state, especially the security establishment, sweeping powers that stray perilously close to trampling on basic rights.
Perhaps the root cause of Pakistan’s dismal human rights situation is the state’s lack of ability to implement existing laws, as well as the failure of the criminal justice system.
The report says that by the end of 2014, there were nearly two million cases pending in the country’s courts. This lack of accountability and justice delivery says much about the state’s desire to protect the people’s rights and bring the usurpers of those rights to justice.
The HRCP document rightly says that the “gap between laws and implementation” is a key reason behind the growth of crime, especially targeting minorities and vulnerable segments of society.
There seems to be complacency prevalent in all sections of the state and society. Yet the protection of fundamental rights is not the job of civil society or activists alone; it should be a matter of concern for every Pakistani.
Unless the state delivers on its responsibilities and the citizens actively remind the rulers of their duties, the weak and the vulnerable will continue to be exploited in Pakistan.

Co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping tomorrow

Co-Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party President Asif Ali Zardari will call on the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Islamabad tomorrow.
Vice President PPPP Sherry Rehman will accompany him during the meeting.

Pakistan - PPP Human Rights Cell’s statement on Cyber Crime Bill

The PPP Human Rights Cell Central Coordinator and Member National Assembly Dr Nafisa Shah has expressed concern on the passing of the Cyber Crimes Bill in the National Assembly Standing Committee without input and feedback of the stakeholders, the consumers, the software and IT industry in the country.
The concerns of the civil society on infringement of basicrights in r valid, govt must hold the Bill until they r addressed

“The strong reaction of the civil society, the social media and the IT industry who have termed this Bill a ‘draconian law’ indicates that the government has proposed a law that might further curb rights and freedoms and may give arbitrary and sweeping powers to the government to block internet content at whim, and to victimize and muzzle criticism in the social media” said the PPP HR Cell Coordinator.
“The Peoples Party and other political parties in the opposition have also not been involved in the consultation on implications of this law on the freedom of expression. The party fears that this law will provide space for censorship” she added.
“This government is particularly famous for its secrecy, its antidemocratic, anti consultative approach to both law and governance. It has unfortunately an abysmal track record in law making and most of the laws, from POPA, to 21st constitutional amendment, has only restricted fundamental rights.
“We urge therefore that this law is brought into the public sphere for a wider consultation where the controversial parts of this law are amended, and the law is thoroughly reviewed and revised before it is tabled on the floor of the National Assembly.”

Challenge to India as Russia to invest $2 Billion to Build Energy Pipeline in Pakistan

by Rajeev Sharma

In the fast-changing geopolitics in its neighbourhood, India needs to watch Russia from the Pakistani prism and Pakistan from the Russian prism.
This should sum up the state of affairs in the newly emerging India-Pakistan-Russia triangle where the United States and China are the crucial X factors.
The latest example of Russia-Pakistan bonhomie is the news emanating from Islamabad that Russia has agreed to invest $2 billion in Pakistan to build an 1100-km-long energy pipeline from Karachi to Lahore to transport liquefied natural gas.
Pakistan Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was quoted by Pakistani daily Express Tribune as saying thus on 18 April: "Pakistan and Russia have finalized an LNG pipeline deal in a recent meeting in Moscow and the two countries will sign a government-to-government basis deal next month."
More details are as follows. In return for the Russian investment, Russian companies will be awarded the contract to build the pipeline. Russia has offered to sell gas to Pakistan and will start its first LNG exports to Pakistan in 2016. The Russia-Pakistan contract will be awarded without any formal bidding process, which clearly means that it is a G2G or government-to-government understanding implying how closely Moscow and Islamabad are now working.
Pakistan is a potential lucrative market for gas exports for Russia which is the second largest natural gas exporter in the world.
Significantly, the move also means that Pakistan is willing to dare the United States-led Western community which has announced crippling sanctions on Russia for Moscow’s perceived sins of omission and commission over the Ukraine episode.
Naturally Pakistan cannot embark on this roadmap without the approval of China. This means that an interesting Russia-Pakistan-China synergy is emerging in the regional and global matrix. And all this is obviously at the expense of India.
Of late, a strategic shift is noticeable in Pakistan-Russia relations which this writer discussed in some detail here
The Pakistan-Russia bonhomie had started way back in the tenure of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani dictator who saw merit in courting Russia. During General Musharraf’s tenure, a Pakistan-Russia tango was considered a fool’s dream considering very strong and vibrant Russia-India ties.
But the geopolitical equations have changed drastically now. Pakistan-Russia proximity is not a diplomatic improbability anymore.
One major sign of Russia-Pakistan rapprochement came in 2012 when the then Pakistan Army chief General Kayani visited Russia. This was followed by a groundbreaking visit by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu to Pakistan on 20 November, 2014, the first visit by a Russian defence minister to Pakistan in 45 years.
Afghanistan was the central theme of Shoigu’sdiscussions withhis Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif . Russia and Pakistan signed an unprecedented defence agreement after talks between Shoigu and Asif.
Russia is in search of newer friends and markets in the wake of the Western sanctions. Anyone ready to stymie the West and embrace Russia at this point of time is welcome for Moscow. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world to do this.
That’s why and how it is the best time for Pakistan and Russia to script a never-before story of bonhomie which could not materialize all these past decades.
From the Russian point of view, India is a changed girlfriend who is having dalliances with the US-led Western community. The multi-billion dollar Indian defence contracts have dried up for the Russian companies. To add insult to injury, the US has already displaced Russia as the single biggest defence exporter.
Simultaneously, the diplomatic-strategic graph of Pakistan for Russia has risen sharply. The American/NATO troops have started withdrawing from Afghanistan and only a small inconsequential number of these troops will remain in Afghanistan by 2016 end.
This would mean a concurrent increase in Pakistan’s profile in Afghanistan and Russia would like to tap this source for tackling an Afghanistan in Pakistani grip the way China has done for years. From this perspective, Pakistan is far more important for Russia though Russia and Pakistan do not share border.
Salvaging ties with a trusted and tested strategic partner like Russia should be a high priority for Prime MinisterNarendra Modi.
Modi will have an opportunity to do this when he visits Russia in July this year to participate in the BRICS summit. Needless to say, Pakistan will be an elephant in the room when PM Modi holds talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It will perhaps be the first-ever Indo-Russian summit when the two old friends will be talking under the lengthening shadow of Pakistan.

Pashto Music - By Sardar Ali Takkar - ''DELB'' - POETRY By HAFEZ ALPOREY