Friday, May 29, 2015

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The World Heath Organization (WHO), said that around 2000 people have been killed and 8000 injured including women and children since the beginning of the conflict.

Many people in Yemen feel that they are victims of this war, “We are the ones dying, those corrupt leaders and politicians they are living and us who have no alliances to any political parties, we suffer,  we don’t care about Houthis but the strikes are hitting our homes and killing our children, we just want to live” said a 55 years old man who lost his house and 3 family members during the conflict.

According to the WHO Almost 8.6 million people are in urgent need of medical help. Hospitals and medical centers around the country have not been able to cope with the increasing numbers of people needing medical treatments especially those who come in critical conditions.

Doctors and medical staff have been saying that the situation is making it impossible for them to operate on patients. Lack of staff , fuel shortage, and lack of medicine and beds are challenges they have to deal with on a daily basis.

“My aunt has kidney failure, and she has to go for dialysis, the medical center told them that they cannot treat her anymore because there is no electricity and no fuel, she hasn’t gone for a week, she’s just sitting waiting to die,” said Laila who is currently trying to find another medical center for her aunt close by. Many patients are also facing the same problem as centers are either closed down or over occupied.

Although aid continues to reach Yemen from different organizations and countries, it is still insufficient, as the demand is much higher.

Al Jazeera Attempts to Whitewash Al-Qaeda’s Syrian Branch

The Al Jazeera news network has displayed surprising editorial standards in the past, facing multiple accusations of whitewashing the Syrian conflict. The network has now gone to new extremes, interviewing and promoting the leader of the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s arm in the region, and a recognized terrorist organization.
"We are only here to accomplish one mission, to fight the regime and its agents on the ground, including Hezbollah and others," al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani told Al Jazeera as part of an exclusive.

Al Jazeera’s sympathies are clear throughout the interview, as its paints the terrorist leader as moderate figure, even as he makes not-so-veiled threats against Western governments and Syrian minorities alike.

"Our options are open when it comes to targeting the Americans if they will continue their attacks against us in Syria," Golani said. "Everyone has the right to defend themselves."
Golani also contradicts his own claims about not seeking revenge against the Alawite minority, supporters of the Syrian government.
"The battle does not end in Qardaha, the Alawite village and the birthplace of the Assad clan," he said, adding that members of the Alawite sect should lay down their weapons and renounce the Assad government in order to be safe.
The al-Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon. Described as one of the most aggressive factions in the Syrian Civil War, it is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, as well as Russia and the United States.

Published on the Qatari-owned network’s English-language site, the interview has already raised a number of eyebrows. Syria’s United Nations ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, said it was used to "promote terrorism and make threats to the government and people in Syria."
He also noted that it was a clear indication of the Qatari government’s interest in influencing the Syrian conflict.
"It is clear that the Qatari regime is seeking with this interview, with the head of a terrorist group as listed by the UN Security Council, to clean up the image of Nusra Front," he said.
A History of Manipulation
This isn’t the first time that the Qatari network has faced criticism for its slanted coverage of the Syrian conflict. In 2012, a number of high-profile employees, including the managing director, correspondent, and producer from the Beirut office, quit over Al Jazeera’s coverage.

They alleged that the network refused to publish pictures of al-Nusra’s clashes with Assad’s government forces, and also deliberately ignored a Syrian constitutional reform referendum which saw a 57% turnout with 90% voting for change.
Other former employees have provided testimony indicating that Al Jazeera has even played a direct role in fueling the conflict. Speaking to RT, Ali Hashim, a former correspondent for the Qatari network, says he resigned because "the channel was taking a certain stance on one side."
"…We were able to spot these militants and we took some footage of those people, and later on the channel refused to air these pictures and I was asked to forget about these militants and I was asked to leave the whole area…" Hashim said.

Syrian-based investigative reporter Rafik Lotf found that the channel was manipulating footage of smoke, making it look like amateur video recording an explosion. He also uncovered behind-the-scenes video of Al Jazeera producers coaching interviewees.
"The activists who become journalists try to make their shows as hard as possible," Lotf told RT. "The more blood and death the higher the price."
There is also a clear conflict of interest in that al Jazeera’s Syrian coverage was led by the brother of a Syrian National Council member, as evidenced through a series of hacked emails recovered from the network’s servers. These emails were published by al Akhbar.

"[The emails] also confirmed an allegation Ibrahim had reportedly made in one of her emails," al Akhbar reports. "That Ahmad Ibrahim, who is in charge of the channel’s Syria coverage, is the brother of Anas al-Abdeh, a leading member of the opposition Syrian National Council. He allegedly stopped using his family name to avoid drawing attention to the connection."
The bias appears to have had a major impact on al Jazeera’s audience. A poll conducted by the network earlier this month shows that a confounding 81% of viewers support the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group.
Al Jazeera’s credibility has been gradually sinking ever since the Syrian conflict began. A Western diplomat stationed in Doha said that the Golani interview was proof of a new push by the Qatari government to present al-Nusra as national movement.

These sentiments were echoed by As’ad Abukhalil, professor of political science at California State University, and author of the Angry Arab News Service, who spoke to Sputnik.
"It is very clear that Qatar is now the official sponsor of An-Nusrah Front," Abukhalil said. "The interview was quite significant in that Qatar is now openly advocating on behalf of Nusrah and trying to draw an artificial ideological line between Nusrah and ISIL while both drink from the same ideological and philosophical well."
"Golani basically spoke of unofficial understanding that his organization has with the West," Abukhalil added. "That they will spare West of attacks provided they continue to receive Gulf arms and money, and even indirectly Western arms and money."

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Wife of jailed Saudi blogger Badawi campaigns for his release

The wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison on charges of insulting Islam, says his health is declining rapidly as she campaigns for his release.

“Raif is a man of peace and freedom, he has committed no crime,” his wife Ensaf Haidar told a press conference in Paris on Friday, organised with the help of Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International. “We miss him. I am missing a husband and my children are missing a father.”
Speaking calmly and with a steady timbre, she recounted the nightmare that has engulfed her family.
"As soon as he launched his blog in 2006, Raif began receiving threats. Yet all he did was create a space where people could exchange ideas, that’s it. But things got worse starting in 2008. A first fatwa was launched against him for apostasy [deserting one’s religion]. A Saudi Sheikh accused Raif of not being a true Muslim. Then the situation became really serious and dangerous,” she recalled.
Rights activists say Badawi’s troubles are not unique in Saudi Arabia, where deeply conservative religious forces leave virtually no space for free expression. Badawi, a self-avowed liberal Saudi, was targeted for promoting wider debate of social and religious issues.
‘Never insulting’
Badawi’s case has nevertheless caught the world’s attention. While his wife and three children were exiled in Lebanon and then Canada, Raif was dragged through Saudi Arabia’s maze-like legal system, which is based on Islam's sharia law.
First sentenced in 2013 to seven years behind bars and 600 lashes, the punishment was brought up to 10 years and 1,000 lashes, plus a fine, last year. “Everyone was taken aback, even him,” Haidar said Friday. “His writing has always been respectful of others. He never insulted a religious authority.”
According to a 2013 BBC web article, evidence brought against Badawi included the fact that he pressed the “Like” button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians. Another charge was disobeying his father.
The first 50 lashes of the sentence were administered on January 9, 2015. Badawi, who is said to suffer from hypertension, has struggled to recover from that initial flogging. The second lashings session has reportedly been delayed 12 times.
“His physical state has severely declined. So has his mind. A committee of eight doctors examined him [in prison]. They concluded that his body would not be able to take more lashings,” Haidar said, adding that she had “irregular” communication with her husband at best.
“Raif shares a jail cell with 13 or 14 other inmates. He gets no exercise and very poor nutrition, but I prefer not to say more for fear things will get worse for him,” she said.
Haidar’s campaign on behalf of her husband will take her across Europe in the next few days. Her mission has become all the more pressing in light of a potential new trial against Badawi, this time for apostasy, a crime punishable by death in the Saudi kingdom.
Royal pardon?
Haidar tries to remain hopeful and insists her European tour is already having a positive impact: “I hope it will lead to his release. He already knows he is not alone, even if he has to live with the thought he will not see his children for the next 10 years.”
She said there was also a chance King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud could come to her husband’s rescue. “Every year during Ramadan, the King pardons several prisoners of conscience. This year, perhaps he will show Raif clemency,” she said.
Reporters without Borders chief Christophe Deloire said it was difficult to gauge King Salman.
“It is difficult to know if the king is receptive to outside pressure. But perhaps the suspension of lashings sessions, officially for medical reasons, has to do with the growing outcry from the international community,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has executed 90 people on a variety of charges since the start of the year. Those put behind bars for daring to question the government are a rare few. Besides Badawi, around ten other prisoners are languishing in Saudi jail cells on “fuzzy legal grounds,” according to Amnesty International France President Stephan Oberreit.
“Anyone who dares to speak about subjects related to the king and religion risks a long prison sentence,” he said, noting that Saudi Arabia ranked 164 in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index that includes 180 countries.

Twelve things women in Saudi Arabia can't do

Saudi Arabia's religious police have ejected a woman from a shopping centre for not covering her hands and sitting "too close" to a man.
Although she was dressed in a traditional black abaya cloak and a full face veil, with only her hands and eyes exposed, the woman was stopped at the door by an officer from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
He argued that the shopper looked "indecent" and should put on gloves or go home, Gulf News reports. The incident occurred in the northern city of Ha'il and a recording of the altercation has since gone viral, sparking a mixed response within the deeply conservative Muslim nation.
"I wonder how this woman will feel once she goes home and realises fully the depth of the humiliation and disgrace," said Abdullah Al Otaibi, who argued that she should have known better than to defy the dress code.
But others condemned the officer's treatment of the woman. "Which religion allows people to feel superior to others and treat them with disdain and contempt?" asked Mashhour Al Harithi.
Saudi Arabia has an abysmal human rights record, particularly with regards to protecting women. Although in recent years the rights of women have been incrementally extended – they were allowed to vote in local elections, for example – their actions are still severely restricted.
In a country where a woman cannot open a bank account without her husband's permission, here are several other things women in Saudi Arabia are still unable to do:
Go anywhere without a male chaperone
When leaving the house, Saudi women need to be accompanied by a 'mahram' who is usually a male relative. Such practices are rooted in "conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins," according to The Guardian.
In one extreme case, a teenager reported that she had been gang-raped, but because she was not with a mahram when it occurred, she was punished by the court. The victim, known as "the Girl of Qatif' was given more lashes than one of her alleged rapists received, the Washington Post reports.
Wear clothes or make-up that "show off their beauty"
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia passed a controversial law requiring all female television presenters to adhere to a mandatory Islamic dress code, including wearing an abaya and scarf. The king's advisory body, the Shoura Council, ruled that the women should wear "modest" clothes that do not "show off their beauty", according to Arab News.
The motion was tabled by a woman, Noura Al-Odwan who had previously criticised female presenters for wearing too much make-up. She argues that their appearance has a negative impact on the country's reputation.
The move has prompted mixed reaction in the Muslim nation, with some arguing that the Shura should be focusing on more important issues, while others saying that women should be banned from appearing on television altogether. "They should not use women as a commodity to attract more viewers," wrote one blogger.
Drive a car
There is no official law that bans women from driving but deeply held religious beliefs prohibit it, with Saudi clerics arguing that female drivers "undermine social values".
In 2011 a group of Saudi women organised the "Women2Drive" campaign which encouraged women to disregard the laws and post images and videos of themselves driving on social media to raise awareness of the issue in an attempt to force change. It was not a major success.
Saudi journalist Talal Alharbi says women should be allowed to drive – but only to take their children to school or a family member to hospital. "Women should accept simple things", he writes for Arab News. "This is a wise thing women could do at this stage. Being stubborn won't support their cause."
Vote in elections
Saudi Arabia is the only other country in the world, apart from the Vatican City where women are not allowed to vote, but men are, the Washington Post reports. However, a royal decree will allow women to vote in local elections in 2015.
Go for a swim
Reuters correspondent Arlene Getz describes her experience of trying to use the gym and pool at an upmarket Riyadh hotel: "As a woman, I wasn't even allowed to look at them ('there are men in swimsuits there,' a hotel staffer told me with horror) — let alone use them."
Compete freely in sports
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia proposed hosting an Olympic Games without women. "Our society can be very conservative," said Prince Fahad bin Jalawi al-Saud, a consultant to the Saudi Olympic Committee. "It has a hard time accepting that women can compete in sports."
When Saudi Arabia sent its female athletes to the London games for the first time, hard-line clerics denounced the women as "prostitutes". While they were allowed to compete, they had to be accompanied by a male guardian and wear a "Sharia-compliant" sports kit that covered their hair.
Try on clothes when shopping
"The mere thought of a disrobed woman behind a dressing-room door is apparently too much for men to handle," says Vanity Fair writer Maureen Dowd in 'A Girl's Guide to Saudi Arabia'.
Other more unusual restrictions include:
Entering a cemetery
Reading an uncensored fashion magazine
Buying a Barbie
However, explains Dowd, everything in Saudi Arabia "operates on a sliding scale, depending on who you are, whom you know, whom you ask, whom you're with, and where you are".
But things are slowly beginning to modernise in a country that has historically had some of the most repressive attitudes towards women.  "Women in Saudi Arabia are highly educated and qualified," says Rothna Begum from Human Right Watch. "They don’t want to be left in the dark."

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Nuclear Saudi Arabia: Rising ambitions of the House of Saud

Catherine Shakdam

Saudi Arabia's seemingly ever-expanding ambitions threaten now to draw the region and the world closer to the edge of a dangerous precipice as it seeks to buy out Pakistan's nuclear power.
Just as Iran and the P5+1 are set to finalize a tentative nuclear deal by June's end, offering the world a much-needed respite from talks of war and aggravated political tensions, Saudi Arabia is stretching its nuclear ambitions.
The most violent, reactionary and arguably most oppressive regime, in not just the region but the world, is now has ambitions to rise to a nuclear power. It is actually much worse than that - the very state which interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, has inspired an entire generation of radical wannabe jihadists is vying for access to nuclear weapons.
If Iran's alleged nuclear race was mainly the expression of western political posturing - even Mossad agreed that both Washington’s and Tel Aviv's concerns have been largely over-hyped and over-played - Riyadh's ambition is no laughing matter, especially when the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) leadership boasted a similar desire.
Although the kingdom has yet to officially verbalize its nuclear intentions, enough breadcrumbs have been left in the media to spell the writing on the wall. In true PR fashion, Saudi Arabia has planted a sufficient amount of stories on its "covert" nuclear program and military aspirations in the press to prove how serious its officials are about conditioning public opinion and driving the narrative.
The main axis of Riyadh's campaign has been and will be to justify going nuclear on the basis that Iran stands a regional threat - however unfounded and ludicrous this logic may be, wars have been fought over less sophisticated allegations. We're still looking for those weapons of mass destruction.
Beyond this clever media stunt, one truth remains - unless stopped Saudi Arabia will become the next world nuclear power, joining Israel (believed to possess nukes) in this potentially-apocalyptic arm race.
Rumors of a forthcoming Saudi nuclear race first surfaced in November 2013 in a report by Mark Urban for the BBC. The article read, "Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight."
If developing a nuclear arsenal remains a complicated and time consuming endeavor, notwithstanding the technological prowess that entails, leeching on another power's capability - Pakistan in this case - could prove as simple as wiring money to an offshore account. What Saudi Arabia lacks, it will buy. There is literally nothing Al-Saud's petrodollars cannot acquire: from political support to moral blank checks, the kingdom moves immune to all criticism and legal hindrance, cloaked under America's exceptionalism.
After Western powers took so much pain in demonizing Iran and its leadership, painting the Islamic Republic as a devilish warmonger, a destroyer of world which only seeks to indoctrinate the Middle East, how will Washington and Europe's capitals react to a nuclear Riyadh? They simply won't!
Unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia remains a useful and ever so rich western ally, and therefore it will be allowed the means of its ambitions. Whatever rumors and reports are circulating today have long been known to the intelligence community. The US actually anticipated Riyadh's move long before Iran's own program became such a contentious matter.
For almost a decade now, the Saudis have more and more openly staked their claim, pushing their pawns across the chess game without bothering to cover their tracks.
In 2007, the US mission in Riyadh noted they were being asked questions by Pakistani diplomats about US knowledge of "Saudi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation." By 2012, Saudi officials went to the Times warning, "it would be completely unacceptable to have Iran with a nuclear capability and not the kingdom."
From that point on, Riyadh has worked toward that goal, using Iran as both an excuse and an alibi.
Reportedly, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi defense minister and deputy crown prince, is currently visiting Pakistan to iron out the details of this covert nuclear deal. In hindsight, Yemen's war proves a perfect and all too suspiciously timely distraction.
And though a Saudi Defense Ministry official dismissed in comments to CNN on May 19 that the kingdom intends to purchase Pakistan A-bombs, experts like Stephen Lendman, a veteran political analyst and acclaimed author are not biting.
Looking at developments in the region, Saudi Arabia's nuclear aspirations are not a figment of the imagination, but rather an affirmation of the kingdom's new hawkish stance vis a vis foreign policy. Unlike his predecessor, King Abdullah ibn Saud, King Salman ibn Saud is no longer waiting for Washington to call the shots - it is drawing its ally in.
If the last ‘missed’ meeting at Camp David is anything to go by, it appears rather evident that Salman's snub was more than just a political play; it could prelude deeper ideological divergences, especially where foreign policy is concerned. Syria remains a sour point the kingdom has yet to get over.
Where it could not intervene militarily as it wished against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Saudi Arabia might seek to compensate vis a vis Iran by acquiring the weapon of all weapons.
In any case and whatever rationale Riyadh is following, a nuclear arm race in the Middle East can only end in more bloodshed and violence, especially when the IS army is planning its second expansionist wave.
Suspicious minds would even argue that Saudi Arabia's nuclear timing oddly overlaps with IS' allegations that it's now "infinitely" closer to buying a nuclear weapon. In an article titled ‘The Perfect Storm’, in the latest issue of ISIS' monthly English propaganda magazine, Dabiq, the terror group presents the idea that IS could purchase nuclear weapons from corrupt Pakistani officials, by way of militants in Islamic State's affiliated Pakistani militia group.

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More Shia Dead as Extremism Becomes Commonplace in Pakistan


In February of this year I drafted this article asking whether anyone really cared about the Shia of Pakistan. The brutal butchery committed by local extremist groups in Pakistan has reached such a point that some of the most peaceful communities in Pakistan are now being targeted on a weekly basis.

On 13 May, a bus carrying Ismaili Shia communities was targeted leading to the death of 45 people who were going about their daily business in Karachi. Six gunmen on motorcycles sprayed the bus which was then followed by the usual sickening calls of responsibility for the attacks.

The groups were mainly local Pakistani extremist groups including the Taliban splinter group Jundullah and the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Responsibility was also accepted by the Islamic State in what can only be considered as a sick publicity stunt.
A few days ago, Pakistani police and intelligence sources made arrests totalling some 145 people and with over 90 people linked to madrassas and religious seminaries. The reality is far from clear as to who conducted these attacks, though swift action by the police and Pakistani intelligence sources is to be commended.
The reality is that Pakistan has become a basket case and has always teetered on being a failed state. Corruption, double-speak, a foreign policy based on propping up extreme groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan have led to the current situation where the army and intelligence agencies are virtually powerless to counter some of these murderous acts before they happen. Pakistan's obsession with security has meant that it has been drawn into a cat and mouse game of allying itself with some of the worst groups in the region whilst providing the international community with sugared words about tackling extremism and intolerance.
The Shia, Ahmaddiya, Christians and other minorities of Pakistan have been shaken by the consistent targeting of them by individuals and groups who are acting with some level of material support and co-ordination. Many of these minority groups have left for the South East, Europe and the United States. Those who have left have turned their anger towards their homeland and some Christian Pakistanis have turned their anger against Muslims and Islam. However, it seems that such anger should be directed at the ruling elite in Pakistan who run the country as if it is their private fiefdom. It should be directed at those politicians and corrupt administrators who languish in five star London hotels whilst the people of Pakistan bury their dead and suffer hunger and the humiliation of being targeted by the religious extreme right.
Lastly, I am sure of one thing. The founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah must be turning in his grave at the Pakistan of today. This is precisely the kind of state he would not have wanted to see - one riven with intolerance, bigotry, corruption and hatred. What is the point of a Pakistan that flexes its military might when the rest of the world looks at it as the basket case that it has become?

Pakistan - Militants kill 20 abducted passengers in Balochistan's Mastung

At least 20 people were killed and several injured Friday night when unknown militants opened fire at kidnapped passengers in Mastung area of Balochistan, DawnNews reported.
Earlier in the evening, suspected militants had abducted two passenger buses en route Karachi from Pishin.
Levies official Sanaullah, while talking to DawnNews, said miscreants stopped two passengers coaches at Khad Kucha area of Mastung. He said the passengers were taken out from the coaches after which armed men opened fire at them.
In a statement, Balochistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti confirmed that 20 passengers had been killed by the militants.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the murders.
Soon after reports of abduction emerged, police and Frontier Corps officials rushed to the area and there were reports of heavy exchange of fire between security forces and the kidnappers, DawnNews reported.
The actual number of abducted passengers has not been confirmed yet. But sources estimate there were more than 20 passengers travelling in the two coaches.
The exchange of fire between security forces and militants is ongoing and the death toll from the tragedy is expected to rise, said officials.
Meanwhile, DCO Mastung claimed that 15 to 20 militants had abducted around 35 passengers.
Five passengers were released by militants, the Levies official said.
Traffic remains suspended on the Quetta-Karachi highway as transporters protest against the incident.

Majority of Americans support drone strikes in Pakistan: Survey

Nearly 60 per cent of Americans support the country's policy of carrying out drone strikes against militants in Pakistan, according to a national survey. 

The Pew survey, released on Thursday, stated that while 58 per cent Americans approve of US drone strikes to target militants in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, about a third (35 per cent) disapproves such attacks. 

The survey was conducted between May 12-18 based on telephone interviews with around 2,000 adults living in all 50 US states and the capital Washington. 

It stated that the public opinion about US drone strikes has changed only modestly since February 2013, when 56 per cent approved of them.

Compared to the 74 per cent Republicans who favour the drone strikes, only 56 per cent independents and 52 per cent Democrats support them, the survey said. 

While men approve of drone attacks by more than two-to-one (67 per cent to 28 per cent), the balance of opinion is much narrower among women. 

Half (50 per cent) of the women approve of the use of drones, while 42 per cent disapprove them, it said. 

The survey also found that a majority (56 per cent) of the Americans say the US has mostly failed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan, while 36 per cent say the it has mostly succeeded. 

Also a declining share of Americans sees prospects for long-term stability in Afghanistan. 

Just 29 per cent respondents say it is likely that Afghanistan will be able to maintain a stable government following the departure of US forces from the country. 

More than twice as many (68 per cent) say this outcome is unlikely, the survey added.

BPCA Chief says Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand not satisfactory

BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry recently visited Thailand to gain direct knowledge of the situation of Pakistani Christian refugees there. The BPCA had been aware it is very bad and being there confirmed that reality. He first went to an English speaking church in Bangkok led by Tim Eaddy, where he experienced a wonderful service in a vibrant, multi-racial church. He spoke to Tim Eaddy who reported that although a local group provided a little aid with rent arrears, as well as food, the need was still immense and the church is unable to cope. The Pakistani Christians under his care need assistance to get into long-term accommodation. He had been praying for Western nations to help, since such Christians are living right on the edge, affecting their morale and health. With the limited funds we had available BPCA helped a number of individuals, for instance we gave £100 to a lady so that her mother could have a heart operation. The daughter had just been praying for assistance and a few days later, BPCA were able to step in and provide for this need. Another family with a baby that Wilson met were down to their very last nappy and no money for more, or for their gas and electricity bills. We covered the costs for their gas bill and bought close to 6 months supply of nappies. We paid two months rent for another family and for two months of medication for epilepsy and diabetes. We also supplied food packages for several families.

Because these Christians do not have refugee status, they are not allowed to work, and so have no legal income. They rely on handouts and sporadic illegal work. A lot of them have professional backgrounds - doctors, teachers, lawyers and the like. They go to Thailand because it is the cheapest and easiest country for which to get a tourist visa. Selling all their goods they survive until everything they once had has been lost and then they start to beg or seek help from charities...

Wilson also learned more about the precarious situation of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand. The government is getting tired of the huge numbers of refugees, so there is an ongoing police crackdown on 'illegal immigrants' such as these Pakistani Christians. Thailand, as we reported in an earlier article, has not signed up to the UNHCR convention over refugees and Wilson saw the evidence of the police raids including kicked in doors. This has left the Christians absolutely terrified - they are even sometimes afraid to go out and buy food when they can afford it. They can't afford to replace the locks, and, fearful of further raids, they get friends to padlock them in from the outside to give the appearance of being empty, but given the likelihood of fire in these rough, slum-like buildings, they run the grave danger of being trapped and burnt alive. In these waves of arrests over 400 Pakistani Christians were incarcerated. If they are taken to an Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) then, if these impoverished Christians can pay 50,000 baht, about £1000, they can go free and then have a two year pardon period during which they won't be rearrested. The conditions in the IDC are horrific with 150 locked into rooms meant for 100 with just one toilet between them. They can only sleep either standing up, or crouching down. There are still 21 Pakistani Christians in IDC, with a cost of over £20,000 to get them all out. They are forced to wear orange uniforms, and their daily ration is a small amount of rice, and cucumber soup (boiled cucumber in plain water). Papa Thongchai reports that they go in relatively healthy and come out having visibly lost significant amounts of weight and looking malnourished. The stench is horrific and Wilson almost cried when he visited detainees. They are not allowed out unless they are invited out by visitors, so when Wilson and the others visited, the detainees were overjoyed, but their smiles hid the desperation behind them. This is a real humanitarian crisis, and although it was not much, due to our thin resources, each Pakistani Christian was given 100 baht and some food. Wilson said the pain was so great, he wondered which were better off, those who die on the journey, or those who made it here. Much focus has been put on the dangerous nature of the travel from countries with persecution by mainstream media - yet they have failed to grasp the horrors that face those who survive the journey.

Some who are arrested don't go to the IDC, but are taken to the Central jail where they are locked in with hardened criminals - rapists, murderers and the like. The men are stripped naked, their heads are shaved and they are put in shackles that go around their feet and legs, and their arms and hands. The women are not allowed to wear underwear and are forced to jump around to show they have smuggled nothing in internally, men are often in the same room jeering and ogling. The prisoners are fined £4 a day for every day they overstay, and can be rearrested at any time, despite paying these fines. The children of these Pakistani Christian brothers and sisters are locked up with their parents in the Central jail. Those with babies struggle especially, since although nappies and milk are made available, these are only for Thai citizens, not for these innocent asylum seekers. Mothers watch their children suffer and starve, and have to use plastic bags as nappies, unless charities supply the need. In addition, the jailors in both the Central prison and the IDCs can be very brutal.

Pakistan - Perspective: Remembring the 2010 Lahore Massacre

Dr Irfan Malik

More than 60,000 people have been killed. All religious groups have suffered including Ahmadis, Sunnis, Shias, Ismailis, Christians and Hindus.

Five years ago on Friday May 28th 2010, marked the horrific day of the Lahore massacre in Punjab, Pakistan. At the time of Friday prayers extremist gunmen simultaneously stormed two Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques in Lahore, causing devastating carnage.

A total of 86 worshippers were killed, 125 wounded making it the single most deadly attack on the Ahmadi Muslims.

The two Lahore mosques attacked were Baitun Noor in the district of Model Town and Darul Zikr in Garhi Shahu. Religious extremists with shotguns, AK-47s and grenades launched a sustained attack on the unarmed worshippers and indiscriminately killed young and old.

Some of the terrorists were suicide bombers who died in the explosion of their ammunition belts. Other attackers managed to flee after the firing and some were caught and handed over to the police.  However, some of the gunmen stood their ground in the vicinity of the mosque for several hours before being overcome.

In the aftermath of these terrible attacks, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V, The Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community urged Ahmadi Muslims, who were reeling from this attack, to exhibit the utmost for patience and steadfastness and to focus on prayers for the cause of peace.

The Ahmadi Muslim community in Pakistan has always remained peaceful and faithful to the interests of the nation. In addition to the vast services initiated by successive Khalifas of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, the country has also benefited by Ahmadis contributing in various professions – for example Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan was Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister, as was Professor Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize recipient.  In addition, Ahmadis have served loyally in the armed forces and its civil service and rose to senior ranks.

‘Quaid I Azam’, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan had proclaimed:
‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed- that has nothing to do with the business of the State’.

Contrast this historic statement with the appalling situation which has developed in Pakistan to the extent that we have continued to see an increasing multitude of terrorist attacks in the country. More than 60,000 people have been killed. All religious groups have suffered including Ahmadis, Sunnis, Shias, Ismailis, Christians and Hindus.

The only way ahead is through improving education, promoting mutual respect, banning hate literature and hate broadcasts in the media and by upholding of law to provide security for all of  Pakistan’s citizens.  We can only pray that this proves to be so and the extremist and hateful agenda of the terrorists is nullified, and that Pakistan develops a secure future.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the 86 Lahore victims, who went to the mosque to offer their Friday prayers five years ago – and did not return home. They have found their peace with God, let us pray Pakistan can find its peace with its people without anymore bloodshed and without anymore lives lost.

Pakistan - Balochistan: Reality Of Educational Emergency

Balochistan is a deprived province where every government departments is in doldrums including the department of education. Incumbent government of Balochistan has imposed educational emergency in province. Unfortunately, the facts and figures tell a different story altogether.
According to the Alif Alan District Education Ranking 2015 the education score of Balochistan is just 55.99% with provincial ranking of 7/8. Numbers of primary schools in the province are 10,585 middle schools 1,165 secondary schools 783 and higher secondary schools are 43. In terms of gender distribution 3,506 Schools for female and 9,027 for boys. The proportion of schools where building condition is not satisfactory is 75%. Pupil teacher Ratio in primary schools is 32:1 in the province.
The learning outcomes are also very disastrous in the province. 58% of the students at primary level even cannot read a story in Urdu. 57% cannot read a sentence in English and 67% cannot perform two digit divisions. If the situation remains the same then how can we expect that we will achieve universal literacy rate and peace in Balochistan?
The dropout rate at primary level also negates the slogans of educational emergency of provincial government of Balochistan. Drop out level at primary school is 46% for boys and 55% for girls. Cause of huge dropout level is lack of access to the school, lack of facilities in schools and poor financial condition of the parents.
Let us now through light on the infrastructure of the schools in the province. The provincial government is busy in making people fool through print and electronic media just chanting slogan of educational emergency in Balochistan but the data shows a totally different pciture picture. The school infrastructure score of the province is just 32.63%. Moreover, 31% Schools don’t have facility of electricity, 82% are deprived of water facility, 85% schools don’t have facility of toilets and 64% schools are without boundary walls.
In Panjgur district of Balochistan a mysterious terrorist organization by the name of Tanzeem-al-Furqan al Islami threatened the people to not send their girls to schools for education. So despite making security measure the province don’t have boundary walls for about 33% schools.
This is the original face of the performance of so called nationalist and middle class government of the Balochistan. The situation cannot be improved until the provincial and the federal government changes their negligent attitude towards Balochistan. The provincial and the federal government and the network of NGO’S should make it priority to establish schools and provide quality education to the deprived children of Balochistan.

Pakistan - True federalism or quasi-federalism?

Islamabad's attitude that 'big brother knows best' needs to change without any further loss of time. How can one contribute meaningfully if papers for a meeting are circulated among participants 10 minutes prior to its commencement? 

If there has to be a meaningful consultation then proposals/papers need to be circulated well in advance (at least a week before) for participants to come prepared and make a purposeful contribution. After all, the meeting was first scheduled for May 22nd and later postponed to May 26th. The papers must have been completed and emailed prior to the earlier scheduled date. 

The Advisor on Finance (Sindh) Murad Ali Shah is quite right in objecting to the way business is conducted in finalising the Annual Development Plan at the meeting of the Annual Development Co-ordination Committee (APCC) held in Islamabad on Tuesday. Without getting into merits and demerits of the Plan, it needs to be clearly understood that the process followed thus far is woefully flawed and poor results are in evidence. One can witness the graveyards of incomplete or half-baked projects. Most of them were approved without sound economic reasons. Once the patron of the approved project is no more in power, the release of funds is delayed and this is why projects which should normally take four to five years to complete take one decade or even more! 

Time for proper screening of projects is when the PC-1 application is submitted. There is a column in the application that needs to be filled as regards the cost/benefit ratio of the proposed project and experts of various fields in the Planning Commission are required to vet these PC-1 forms. Unfortunately, however, the Planning Commission has become a dump yard for the unwanted. And, this is precisely the reason why the Commission that was once considered as the eminent 'think tank' of the government has lost its position of eminence to the Finance Ministry which does not conduct itself as one of the several ministries; it considers itself as the entire government of Pakistan and everyone else its appendage. 

The National Economic Council (NEC) needs to take cognisance of the weaknesses and address the issues raised by the provinces and their representatives to make the process more transparent and viable than it is at present. The annual plan has two portions: a) a commentary on the real sector, and b) approval of projects for which funds have to be earmarked by the NEC. The Finance Ministry's insistence, year-after-year, to reduce its fiscal deficit by cutting the funding earmarked for projects in the PSDP has stagnated the economy that at present needs a very strong push. One also needs to recognise that there is a lot of wastage in public projects as well as corruption. These need to be plugged. However, the public sector needs to step forward in areas where the private sector is reluctant to invest. Construction can provide unskilled as well as skilled jobs and help around 50 sectors where industries are operating much below their capacity. If the priorities are correct, even efficiency with austerity can be obtained. Let us now stop playing to the gallery and resorting to photo opportunities and press releases. This newspaper has been consistently clamouring for true federalism, as opposed to quasi-federalism which could be a potential cause of harm to efforts aimed at strengthening and promoting inter-provincial harmony in the country. 

Pakistan - Endangered species

Despite the existence of laws against the hunting of endangered species, wildlife in Pakistan remains threatened. Turtles and tortoises, in particular, are both exported to China and sold to the Pakistani Chinese population. There are reports that a Pakistani turtle sells for more than $ 70 in Hong Kong and more than 200 turtles were found at Karachi airport last year. Yet, turtles are endangered all over the world, especially the Green Sea Turtles that live in the Arabian Sea and come to the shores of Sindh to lay their eggs. The Houbara Bustard, an endangered migratory bird, is hunted both by locals and foreign dignitaries, particularly those from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It is important to protect these species because the environment is already threatened in Pakistan because of urbanisation, climate change and pollution. Rehabilitating natural habitats and restoring the balance of the ecosystems is going to be a long and complicated process, particularly considering the level of urban creep and pollution in the cities and the threats to forests and marine and fresh water ecosystems. However, regulating hunting and implementing punishments on poachers and smugglers can rapidly ameliorate the condition of wildlife in Pakistan. There is not sufficient legislation to check the hunting, endangerment and export of threatened species and the legislation that exists is not efficiently implemented.
Minister for Climate Change Senator Mushahidullah Khan expressed concern at a meeting in his ministry that “wildlife smuggling has significantly escalated in recent years”. The Climate Change Minister stressed the importance of legislation in curbing wildlife smuggling. Given the sorry state of Pakistan’s environment, it is certainly encouraging to see lawmakers pay attention to this issue. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world that has not yet adapted to climate change. While more holistic measures need to be taken to make the lifestyles of the people of the country as a whole more sustainable, to stop the further depletion of the forests and to find a solution to the water crisis, the passing and implementation of relevant environmental legislation can go a long way. For example, systems and institutions for the proper collection and disposal of waste can help prevent domestic and industrial waste from ending up in the habitats of threatened animals, green belts and water bodies. Recycling should also be promoted to reduce the mountain of waste. There are several marine, fresh water and terrestrial species that are endangered and wildlife reserves can be made to protect them. The wildlife and biodiversity of Pakistan are assets that should be protected for long term environmental benefits, not commodities to be sold for a profit.

Pakistan - Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s curriculum conundrum

By  Khadim Hussain

The new provincial government has undone syllabus reforms without a public debate
A well-known fact in the educational discourse of Pakistan has been devising a curriculum for public schools that constructed an isolationist mindset over the years. A mindset that glorified war, considered everything different as ‘the other’ and hence an enemy, reinforced patriarchy, and distorted history to make it compatible with the needs of hyper nationalism.
An Education Sector Reforms Committee was set up in 2006 to look at the matter academically. The Education Sector Reforms Committee had suggested some reforms, though not what needed to be done, still a first step in the right direction. The federal government had to carry out the reforms but it took more time than required due perhaps to resistance offered by powerful religious and hyper nationalist bureaucratic circles entrenched in state institutions.
When educational planning, curriculum and governance devolved to the provinces after the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, the provinces had to plan a timeline for bringing about the reforms in their respective curricula. The then government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa devised a three year plan for gradually replacing the previous textbooks with the textbooks that would be printed on the basis of recommendations by the Education Sector Reforms Committee.
A lesson on deafblind activist and academic Helen Keller has been removed
The provincial government had publically formed a committee for ratifying and streamlining the curricular changes. The committee had asked for public suggestions through mainstream print and electronic media for meaningful changes. The changes by the then government had been thoroughly debated in the cabinet as well as standing committee of the provincial assembly.
The changes thus brought by the then provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa contained inclusion of indigenous legends that were known for social and literary contributions. The committee tried to minimize the number of war heroes and made an attempt to bring about gender balance. It suggested and printed a separate textbook of Ethics for non-Muslim students instead of compulsory Islamiyat textbook in line with the constitutional requirement of Article 22 (1). The committee also made an attempt to do away with duplication of contents in the textbooks for the same grades. Idioms and phrases that communicated hatred against other religions and nations were replaced with neutral idioms and phrases in history books. The titles of the textbooks for elementary and secondary grades were inscribed with peace slogans.
This process of curricular reforms was disrupted by the inception of a Jamati-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013. Right after the inception of the government, the JI lobby remained active to influence curricular formation in the province. As a first step, the JI elected and non-elected circles started exerting political pressure on its coalition partner to reverse the changes that were brought about by the previous government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The JI succeeded to convince its provincial coalition partner last year to reverse the previous changes in curriculum and introduce new changes of their choice in the textbooks. The method they adopted to bring about the changes was shrouded in mystery for a long time. Instead of publically forming a committee of experts to debate the changes academically and then put them for public debate either inside or outside the assembly, the coalition government chose to print textbooks after political agreement between the two political coalition partners. The changes thus brought about annulled the previous changes and introducednew changes of their choice.
The changes brought about in the textbooks clearly indicate intent to reconstruct a mindset of the 1980s. The elementary and secondary textbooks that have been distributed among the public schools this year have no subject of Ethics for non-Muslim students. This means that all non-Muslim students have to study compulsory subject of Islamiyat which is violation of the Article 22 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The slogans of peace that were previously inscribed on the titles of the books have been removed. Additional chapters with verses of the Holy Quran have been incorporated as introductory chapters of compulsory science subjects for secondary grades. Again, it means that the non-Muslim students are forced to readthem. A chapter of the Holy Quran that specifically deals with Qital (war), Sura Al Anfaal, has been kept in the grade 9 textbook of Islamiyat. Duplication of content seems to be in abundance in all the elementary and secondary textbooks. A particular version of Islamic history has been perpetuated in almost all subjects including language and Social Studies textbooks.
A lesson on an American deafblind activist and academic, Helen Keller, has been removed from the secondary English textbook. ‘Good Morning’ in English elementary subject has been replaced with ‘Assalam-u-Alaikum’. These are just a few examples of the nature of the changes.
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