Tuesday, May 5, 2015
By David Adams
The return of passenger ferry services between the United States and Cuba took a major step forward on Tuesday when the Treasury Department issued licenses to at least two U.S. companies.
One of the licenses was issued to Miami-based Baja Ferries USA, part of a major shipping group with passengers and cargo operations, including on Mexico's west coast, according to the company.
Another license was issued to Puerto Rico-based America Cruise Ferries, according to a lawyer who handled the license application for the company.
Ferry services between Cuba and the United States were cut off in the early 1960s, following the Cuban revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.
In December, the United States and Cuba announced plans to renew diplomatic relations after 54 years, and have since held high level talks.
"If all goes smoothly we could have things up and running by September," said Joseph Hinson, vice president of Baja Ferries USA.
He added the company still needed to get approval from Cuba, as well as Florida port officials.
"This is a further step in bringing Cuba and the United States closer together," said Robert Muse, a Washington-based lawyer who represented Baja Ferries and specializes in Cuba sanctions.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which handles economic and trade sanctions, confirmed the licenses had been issued, but declined to say to whom or how many.
The ferries would only be able to carry licensed travelers to Cuba, including Cuban Americans visiting relatives and Americans traveling for educational and cultural tours. Approved trade and private sector business activities would also be allowed.
Under the U.S. trade embargo, Americans are not allowed to visit Cuba on regular tourist vacations.
Baja Ferries plans to offer services three to four days a week, using ships carrying about 1,000 passengers and cargo, on an overnight service with sleeping cabins and dining facilities.
America Cruise Ferries also plans to operate three times a week between Miami and Havana with about 1,000 passengers as well as vehicles and freight, said James Whisenand, a Miami lawyer who handled the company's application.
"They would like to start operating immediately, but that is subject to final negotiations with the Cuban government," he said.
Three other companies received licenses according to the Sun Sentinel newspaper, including Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale, which plans to operate a service from Key West to Havana.
Pakistan's parliament is drafting a cyber crime bill that would give the government new means to pursue electronic offenses. Critics say the legislation opens the door to abuse. Michelle Stockman reports from Islamabad.
Headquartered in Islamabad, IT company DPL has a wide roster of international clients including a US automotive online marketing company and the world's largest furniture manufacturer. Syed Ahmad built DPL over the past 10 years from one to 150 employees. All this, he said, despite the plunge in Pakistan's international reputation during the past decade's war on terror.
On the back wall of his office is a quote that might as well be his company's motto: "Why the "*@%#" not?"
But he's worried that a new cyber crime bill could hurt the country's booming IT industry and worsen its already chilly climate of free speech.
"It has nothing to do with security, and nothing to do with terrorism," Ahmad said about the bill. "It's about controlling social media. Social media has scared a lot of strong, influential people in Pakistan."
The sweeping legislation, known as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, touches on a variety of issues including retention and release of data upon state request, spamming, harassment, censorship and cyber terrorism. Most worrying to its IT industry and civil society critics are clauses that could be broadly interpreted by enforcement agencies, leading to abuses of power.
Who decides what is vulgar?
Critics object to several sections in a current leaked version of the bill. But their ire is focused mainly on the powers given to government authorities to block and remove access to websites, expanded definitions of service providers, and data retention clauses.
"Cyber stalking clauses contain words such as 'vulgar'? What is vulgar for one may not be for another. Who will decide? The language is too open ended. People will start using such open-ended clauses for score settling," said Farieha Aziz, director of Bolo Bhi (meaning "speak up" in Urdu), a civil society group that advocates for internet freedom in Pakistan and is leading a public campaign against the current draft of the bill.
Convenor of the Internet Service Provider Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) Wahaj us Siraj points to some of the criminal penalties in the bill as severe and problematic. Under a section addressing hate speech, anyone who "glorif[ies] an offense or a person accused or convicted of a crime" can be sentenced to five years in prison.
"Everybody is accused in this country," said Siraj, pointing out that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif too was once charged with murder. "So that seems ridiculous."
Another critic, President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) Jehan Ara, said foreign companies could object to giving their business to Pakistani companies because of the legislation, hampering one of the country's few growing sectors. Pakistan's IT industry grossed $2.8 billion in 2013, according to P@SHA, and is set to cross the $10 billion mark by 2018.
"Why would any company outside of Pakistan share their data with us if they're not sure it will be protected, or the confidentiality be maintained?"
Pakistan has routinely requested large social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to take down content, "not only on grounds of blasphemy but also 'criticism of the state.'" As stated in a court petition filed by Bolo Bhi challenging the constitutionality of the government and regulator's censoring powers, for the period January to December 2014, Facebook removed 1,827 pieces of content at the request of the Pakistani government.
Since 2006, Pakistan's Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW) has removed internet content it deems objectionable. This body, established by an executive order, instructs the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to execute its takedown orders through local Internet Service Providers (ISPs), according to a court petition by Bolo Bhi. It was the IMCEW that was responsible for the blocking of YouTube - which has been blocked in Pakistan since 2012 following the posting of an anti-Islamic film, "The Innocence of Muslims," that incited street violence across the country.
After it was found the committee had no legal and constitutional basis in court, IMCEW was disbanded in March 2015 by Prime Minister Nawaz. Instead, he empowered PTA to carry out blocking functions
'Lack of trust'
Critics agree that a cyber crime law is needed to prevent offenses such as online sexual harassment or electronic fraud. But the YouTube ban is an example of the draconian measures that could be taken by any new agency or the PTA if the law is passed.
"The point is not that the law doesn't pass but that it is drafted with input [from IT industry and civil society groups], is effective, yet doesn't subvert due process and trample basic rights," said Aziz. "But if passed in its current form, it will lead to excesses as have been witnessed in the past, when innocent people were charged and jailed."
Awais Leghari, the former federal minister for IT and current member of the standing committee working on the bill, denies that regulatory bodies will have the last word in interpreting the law, stressing that appeals by those accused of breaking the law can be made to the judicial system.
"We need this law in order to have a legal framework to apprehend any criminal activities going on in electronic systems. Pakistan has been lacking this for many years. It is very important to have an environment where we can pursue and apprehend electronic crimes taking place."
He also said that the government plans to hold a public hearing about the bill - its first ever - for IT industry and civil society representatives to weigh in on the legislation before a vote.
Syed Ahmad said he's seen small IT businesses targeted incorrectly by regulatory bodies and, due to Pakistan's slow judicial system, lose profit or go out of business in the process.
"The big issue is the trust in enforcement bodies is not there. That's why the penalties should not be as forceful, because the damage is already done before you get justice. They need to have less teeth. We have to ensure that only the bad guys get caught up, and not the good guys."
By Aqil Shah
There Will Be Blood
Last week, unknown assailants shot and killed human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and commercial hub, where she ran T2F (short for the Second Floor), a small café-cum-cultural center. Since its opening in 2007, T2F has provided budding poets, writers, and activists a safe space for critical expression in a country where the military and militants linked to it have created an environment of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. She was targeted immediately after hosting a discussion in the center called, “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2” on human rights violations in the resource rich southwestern province, where the military and its intelligence services have waged a long “dirty war” against Baluch separatists.
Just a week earlier, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had preempted “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 1,” to be held at the elite Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), by threatening the faculty there. Unfazed, Mahmud invited some of the same speakers who were scheduled to speak at LUMS, including Mama (uncle) Qadeer, a tireless 72-year-old Baluch rights activist, who had found his son’s dumped mutilated corpse in Turbat (a town in southern Baluchistan) in 2011, two years after he “disappeared.”
Anyone who publicly criticizes the military in Pakistan is treading on thin ice, but discussing Baluchistan is a particular taboo. With a few exceptions, journalists and other writers self-censor mostly out of concern for their own safety. Last April, the prominent journalist and host of another popular Geo TV show, Hamid Mir, was seriously injured when unknown gunmen opened fire on his car after he reported on the “disappeared” of Baluchistan. Mir claimed that he had angered senior ISI officials. The channel is still smarting from a strong military backlash after it broadcast allegations by Mir’s family that the head of the ISI had carried out the attack on him. It was no surprise then that Geo TV bleeped the intrepid Sethi out when he tried to discuss the alleged role of intelligence agencies in Sabeen’s murder on air.And last September, two men I took to be agents from the ISI, accosted me at Columbia University in New York, where I had just launched my book on the Pakistan military. They were angry that I had claimed that it was open season on torture and killing in Baluchistan. Before parting, one of them asked me if I had any “real evidence” on the military’s killing of the Baluch, quickly adding, “you better watch out for the crocodiles if you want to swim in the river.” The military considers middle class, English-speaking rights activists particularly dangerous because they can advance their causes by expressing their concerns to informed audiences both at home and abroad. And as the astute Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida noted in Dawn, a prominent local newspaper, social media like Facebook and Twitter have significantly enhanced their ability to advocate their causes. Sabeen was one such activist who had apparently been pushing the envelope too far. T2F’s scheduled discussion for April 29 was to include an examination of the legality and appropriateness of military courts for trying terrorism cases, which were set up at the generals’ insistence after a gruesome December 2014 attack by Pakistani Taliban on an army run school in Peshawar. In 2012, the prominent human rights lawyer, Asma Jehangir, who has relentlessly documented the military’s human rights violations in that province for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and routinely censures the generals for their involvement in civilian politics, claimed senior ISI officials were plotting to kill her. She now travels with armed civilian police guards. We will probably never find out who really killed Sabeen. Some local police officers, journalists with known sympathies for the military, and other assorted right-wing nationalists are already busy pointing fingers at the usual suspects, including India’s Research and Analyses Wing (RAW). Shehzad’s murder and the attack on Mir were similarly shrouded in deliberate ambiguity and obfuscation, which help reinforce the military’s sense of impunity. In 2009, a journalist from Der Spiegel asked Ahmad Shuja Pasha, then Director General of ISI, why Pakistan wouldn’t arrest the Afghan Taliban leadership believed to be hiding in the country. His response was telling: “Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn’t that freedom of opinion?” Clearly, the only people with the right to free speech in Pakistan belong to the military or its militant clients. As Mahmud’s murder makes crystal clear, everybody else must get in line, or there will be blood. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/pakistan/2015-05-02/there-will-be-blood
By Ayaz Amir
Muslim rule in Hindustan was mainly Turkish rule – from Mahmud to Babur all Turkish conquerors or rulers – interspersed with episodes of Afghan rule as under the Lodhis and Sher Shah Suri. But we the denizens of the Fortress of Islam – the confused begetters of holy enterprises like Jehad-e-Afghanistan – what have we in common with those warriors?
They were full-blooded men marching at the head of conquering armies…Muslims to be sure but with none of the false piety or hypocrisy which often seems to be the leading currency of our Islamic Republic. Come to think of it, none of them proclaimed their empires as Islamic Empires. Confident in the strength of their arms they felt no obligation or necessity to issue declarations about their rectitude or their championship of the faith.
The best or greatest of them were open about themselves. They maintained large harems, kept slave girls, married as often as they liked and when it came to imbibing, those given to this sin made no secret of it. With our weasel-like and snivelling ways – doing things behind doors and keeping up appearances in public – do we at all look like the descendants of Mahmud and Babur and Akbar?
What to talk of anything else, centuries before gay liberation came to San Francisco those inclined in that direction were fairly matter-of-fact about that too. So many times in his memoirs Babur referring to various chieftains or fighting men says of them that they had “vicious” tendencies – meaning to say that they were inclined to swing that way (although Babur uses words more direct than this).
Babur, however, is in a class by himself. Could ever a prince be more open about his foibles? We all know that the Babur-nama is full of references to drinking parties. Apart from being a warrior and a poet, Babur was an aesthete with a discerning regard for the finer things of life. Wherever he went, he planted gardens – I think it can quite justifiably be said that the father of the modern Hindustani garden is Babur. ‘I ordered a char-bagh to be laid…I ordered a platform to be built because the view from this spot was so wonderful to look at’: the memoirs are replete with such descriptions. And whenever a valley or a prospect catches the Padishah’s fancy he can’t resist a drinking party.
Or it could even be an occasion to partake of maajun, a favourite with this prince of princes. (I haven’t been able to find out whether maajun is from charas or opium.)
Sometimes these drinking parties go on for hours. The Padishah drinks at this chieftain’s place and then they move to the abode of some other companion. And so many times it happens that they march at the crack of dawn – Babur throughout calls it “shoot of dawn” – against a fortress or an opposing army. Tough men…the word hangover does not occur in these recollections.
And who can forget that famous passage about Babur’s infatuation when in Andijan (near Ferghana) for the bazaar-boy, Baburi. There is nothing to beat Babur’s own words: “In those leisurely days I discovered in myself a strange inclination, nay! as the verse says, ‘I maddened and afflicted myself for a boy in the camp-bazar, his very name, Baburi, fitting in….From time to time Baburi used to come to my presence but out of modesty and bashfulness, I could never look straight at him; how then could I make conversation (ikhtilat) and recital (hikayat)? In my joy and agitation I could not thank him for coming; how was it possible for me to reproach him with going away?...One day, during that time of desire and passion when I was going with companions along a lane and suddenly met him face to face, I got into such a state of confusion that I almost went right off. To look straight at him or to put words together was impossible…Sometimes like the madmen, I used to wander alone over hill and plain; sometimes I betook myself to gardens and the suburbs, lane by lane.”
Babur broke his drinking cups and forswore the use of wine before the battle against Rana Sangha at Kanwaha. But he keeps pining for what he has renounced. In a letter to Humayun: “…in truth the longing and craving for a wine party has been infinite and endless for two years past, so much so that sometimes the craving for wine brought me to the verge of tears…If had with equal associates and boon companions, wine and company are pleasant things; but with whom canst thou now associate? With whom drink wine?”
Is there anything in the culture, the mores and values of our republic in common with the sentiment expressed in these lines? We draw a direct line with the Timurids and say that we come from them. As we say in Urdu: chota moonh, barhi baat. Kahan woh, kahan hum. Bhutto made the admission in a public meeting that “mein thori see peeta hoon” and the maulvis and religious parties went after him. Would the Timurids have tolerated anything like our religious parties? Would they have countenanced any of their preaching?
Muslims ruled Hindustan for well over 600 years. During all this time did they feel the need to proclaim anything like the ideology of Islam? Did the Slave Kings or the Timurids fall back on anything like the Objectives Resolution?
They lived by the sword and when their sword-arm weakened their empire declined and from a master race they became a subject race. And Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in the days of their subjection and decline taught them the virtues of obedience: “…reflect on the doings of your ancestors, and be not unjust to the British Government to whom God has given the rule of India; and look honestly and see what is necessary for it to do to maintain its empire and its hold on the country.” Pakistan was born out of this milk-laced-with-water philosophy.
The spirit of Sir Syed, unless I am grossly mistaken, would be at home in Pakistan. Sir Syed would have been a great one for our pro-American alliances and for the Anglophilia of the chattering classes. But the spirit of Babur…it wouldn’t know what to make of the Pakistani scene or the Pakistani conversation.
Shouldn’t the Babur-nama be compulsory reading for all Pakistani students of history? The history we are taught is a distorted history, events and personalities painted in black-and-white and too many false gods and false heroes. What this history does above all is to make numb if not kill the critical faculty. You stop asking questions. You start accepting too many things on trust. You lay yourself open to the acceptance of outright nonsense.
Every society has its lunatic fringe. Every society has its share of rightward-leaning evangelists. But in societies where critical thinking is alive a fringe remains a fringe, part of the mosaic of society. It doesn’t become the bishop of the dominant discourse.
The Tablighi Jamaat is not peculiar to us. Something like it is there in every society, Christian, Hindu and Judaic. Our salvationists are of course adherents of Islam. Hindu salvationists do obeisance before their own deities. And Christian fundamentalists subscribe to their own creed. But in all three examples the rigid mindset is the same.
The Babur-nama would be prohibited reading in a madressah as it would be in a Christian seminary or a Hindu dharamsala. The priest as much as the mullah would feel ill at ease before words such as these: “A few purslane trees were in the utmost autumn beauty. On dismounting seasonable food was set out. The vintage was the cause! Wine was drunk! A sheep was ordered brought from the road and made into kababs. We amused ourselves by setting fire to branches of holm-oak…There was drinking till the Sun’s decline; we then rode off. People in our party had become very drunk…”
Is there anything in us worthy of this description? Would the Timurids recognise in us anything of their legacy? So why don’t we come down to more level ground? Why don’t we build a more prosaic, a slightly more rational republic, and leave the building of fortresses, whether of Islam or of ideology, to hands stronger than ours?
Zulfiqar Mirza, riding in his SUV and surrounded by hundreds of armed men and supporters broke down the gate off the Badin police station and stormed inside, ostensibly to protest against the arrest of his aide, Nadeem Mughal. There he raged around like a common thug, breaking furniture, hurling abuses and manhandling the DSP, Abdul Qadir Samoon. Zulfiqar Mirza - who ironically held the portfolio of Jails and Prisons during his stint in the Sindh cabinet – ordered his men to break open the cells and release Nadeem Mughal. Before making his grand entry at the police station, Mirza had taken his men around Badin, forcibly closing shops and roughing up shopkeepers. Mirza might have been the target of political victimization ad his allegations, at least a few of them, may be true; but his actions are not of a man fighting against injustice, but those of a ruffian forcibly trying to get what he wants. Under no circumstances is it right to storm police stations and free workers, our politicians – and few major ones as well –need to learn that. If Pakistani lawmakers can flout the law so easily why should the Taliban follow it, why should the common man?
Dr Mirza claims that he is exposing the corruption of Zardari and for that he is being targeted, conveniently ignoring the fact that he stood by for years watching this supposed corruption happen under his watch. Even if we buy his reformed sinner facade, to this point he has not backed up his statements with an ounce of proof. His fantastical allegations of MQM being sponsored by the U.S, the illicit relations of Zardari and the corruption of other politicians are nothing more than catchy sound bites; spewed in an effort to revive a falling political career. It is time this divisive, and seemingly unhinged ex-politician, be shown the same prisons he once managed.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) demanded to recheck the election record of 65 constituencies on Monday. PPP wants the rechecking of record under the supervision of Additional Session judges. PPP has submitted the answer in judicial commission about alleged rigging in election. According to PPP, much of the record from NA-124 and NA-139 have been destroyed. People s Party requested the commission to issue notices to candidates through returning officers. PPP stated that they are depending on the report of NA-123, NA-118 and NA-124. On the other hand Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) has also submitted the answer in judicial commission on the accusation of rigging. PML-N said in the answer that it is responsibility of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to provide proof of rigging as the burden of proof lies on one who accuses. According to PML-N, the difference between PML-N and PTI votes is more than 70 lac so even if 58 thousand votes proves to be fake, PML-N will not lose.
Adding up one hundred mw in the national grid after the lapse of two years is rather matter of embarrassment rather pride for this government that boasted to control total load shedding of electricity in months rather than in years, said Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, President PPP Central Punjab in a statement issued from here today.
He, however, added that the nation was extremely grateful for the Chinese government’s assistance to set up the Solar Park in Bahawalpur.
The addition of 100 mw with such a fanfare is too little and too late that will make hardly any difference in the face of appalling shortfall ranging between 4000 mw to 6000 mw, he added.
He calculated that only addition in the national grid would not provide relief to the consumers more than couple of minutes who were facing the punishment of load shedding between 8 to 10 hours in urban areas and more than twelve hours in the rural areas.
He pointed out that the PPP previous government added 3400 mw in the national grid during its tenure and the addition of today in Bihawalpur Solar Park would be inconsequential in face of the huge problem of load shedding of electricity facing the people right across the country.
He said that the Chief Minister of Punjab should have used today’s ceremony of the inauguration of the Bahawalpur Solar Park for tendering apology to the nation for his abject failure to control load shedding that he committed during the election campaign. It is fresh in the memory of the people when he held out firm commitment before leaving the podium in rash manners dislocating the public address system, he recalled.
He renewed his invitation to the him to Minar-i- Pakistan to protest the agonizing load shedding of electricity by holding hand made fans in their hands to replicate his tactics of protest during the PPP tenure of government.
He predicted that the violent protests against the government as the summer season inches to its climax creating serious law and order situation. The government would be put in a tight corner with no escape latch to save it from the aftermaths.
He said that the farmers had suffered the most because the electricity was not available to them to run their tube wells thus faced with the acute scarcity of water that bitterly affecting their productivity in the agricultural produces.
The protest of the general people along with the farmers against load shedding of electricity will definitely put the government in a difficult situation with unforeseen consequences, he pointed out.