Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Video Report - Continuing Floods Block Transit In Pakistan

Pakistan Must Release Asia Bibi to Demonstrate Protection for Its Religious Minorities

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court took an encouraging step forward last week when it decided to reconsider blasphemy charges against Pakistani Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who is facing a death sentence. This decision provides an opportunity for Pakistan to acquit Bibi and show the world its commitment to protecting its religious minorities. The U.S. must prioritize the issue of religious freedom in its dialogue with Pakistan to discourage any further persecution of religious minorities and to undercut support for Islamist extremist ideologies that leads to targeted violence against these vulnerable communities.
Bibi, a mother of five and a farmworker, was arrested in 2009 after her Muslim co-workers alleged that she had committed blasphemy during an argument about sharing the same water bowl. In November 2010, she was sentenced to death by a Pakistani trial court, a decision that was upheld by the Lahore High Court in October 2014.

Growing Intolerance

Under Pakistani law, blasphemous acts include making derogatory remarks against the Muslim prophet Muhammed and defiling the Koran. Allegations of blasphemy are often fabricated and are commonly used to intimidate religious minorities or settle personal vendettas, including against fellow Muslims. Moreover, blasphemy charges do not require proof of intent or evidence, and there are no penalties for false allegations. Since the laws do not provide details on what constitutes a violation, accusers have broad leeway to define what they deem an offense. In 2013, 38 individuals were imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.
Pakistanis who have sought changes to the blasphemy laws or who have defended those wrongly accused have often been killed, demonstrating the rise in religious intolerance and support for extremist ideologies there. In early 2011, Pakistan’s Governor of the Punjab Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated by religious extremists because of their efforts to defend Bibi and roll back the controversial blasphemy laws. Human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman was assassinated in June 2014 for defending an English professor, Junaid Hafeez, who was accused of blasphemy. Rehman had received several death threats in the weeks prior to his assassination, but the Pakistani government failed to provide him with protection.
Former Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian and Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., Sherry Rehman, introduced a bill in parliament in late 2010 to amend the blasphemy laws, but she was later forced to withdraw it under political pressure. Ambassador Rehman continues to face threats from extremists due to her support for re-examining the legislation and removing the death penalty as punishment. In January 2013, the Supreme Court of Pakistan approved admission of a blasphemy case filed against Ambassador Rehman for remarks she made on a television program in November 2010. The growing influence of extremist ideologies are endangering Pakistan’s minority communities and jeopardizing the country’s democratic institutions and values, including freedom of religion and speech.
The miscarriage of justice against Bibi is just the latest example of declining religious freedom in Pakistan. The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom’s 2015 Annual Report calls on the State Department to designate Pakistan as a country of particularly concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)—something it has called for since 2002.[1] Ninety-five percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, including a 20 percent Shia minority, which increasingly faces brutal attacks by Sunni extremists. Ahmadis (about 2 percent of the Pakistani population), who consider themselves Muslim but are not recognized as such under Pakistani law, also face discriminatory legislation that prohibits them from calling themselves Muslims or their places of worship mosques, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, or publicly quoting from the Koran.
Bibi’s case is a particularly pernicious example of the negative effects of blasphemy laws. Bibi’s family has been forced to go into hiding, and Muslim clerics placed a $5,000 bounty on her head.[2] Bibi also faces extreme health challenges, including intestinal bleeding, that could be life-threatening.[3] If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Bibi, the court would overturn the decision by the Lahore High Court to sentence Bibi to death. If Bibi were released from jail, her life would still be in grave danger from vigilantes who could decide to take the law into their own hands. In April 2012, a Pakistani man accused of blasphemy was shot dead by religious zealots after he was acquitted and released from prison.

The U.S. Must Prioritize Religious Freedom in Pakistan

The growing pattern of religious intolerance and persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is threatening the very fabric of Pakistani society and undermining democracy, not to mention putting the lives of millions of members of religious minorities in danger. The U.S. must make the protection of Pakistan’s religious minorities a central plank of its dialogue with the country. More specifically, the U.S. should:
  • Publicly advocate for the release of Asia Bibi. While the Pakistani Supreme Court has taken a step in the right direction with its decision to review Bibi’s appeal, the U.S. must keep up the pressure for her immediate release from jail and help ensure that she receives proper medical care.
  • Announce that unless Pakistan makes substantive changes to its blasphemy laws and how they are implemented, it will be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The IRFA was passed in 1998 and requires the U.S. Secretary of State to designate annually “countries of particular concern” and to take specific action aimed at improving religious freedom in those countries. A CPC is defined as a country in which the government either engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.
  • Urge Pakistan to review all blasphemy cases. In 2014, the Pakistani courts conducted a review of blasphemy cases but did not include in the review any cases against members of religious minority groups.[4]
  • Encourage Pakistan to implement steps called for by the Pakistani Supreme Court in 2014, including creating a special police force to protect religious minorities and elevating the work of the religious minority commission. The U.S. should structure its aid programs to support these activities through technical assistance, training, and exchanges.
  • Support increased civil society engagement between Americans and Pakistanis to help elevate the voices of moderation and tolerance in Pakistan. There are plenty of Pakistani citizens who are working hard and, indeed, risking their lives to reverse extremist trends and ensure the rights and freedoms of all Pakistanis. U.S.–Pakistan government-to-government interactions alone will not get the job done. There is a need for more and deeper civil society engagement between our two countries that can help mobilize grassroots support for preserving religious freedom.

Reviving Pakistan’s Founding Vision

Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, supported the idea of Islam serving as a unifying force and believed Pakistanis had a responsibility to uphold the principles of religious freedom and to protect the rights of religious minorities. Releasing Asia Bibi from jail would be a good first step in reviving the country’s founding ideals of religious tolerance. 

Pakistan - ''The ‘referee’ and Imran Khan''

The long road to the JC verdict

Had the plan made by the ‘referee’ gone right Imran Khan would have been the prime minister in September 2014. What went wrong was the failure on the part of the planner to correctly weigh the balance of forces at the time in Pakistan.
Gen Pasha was deadly opposed to democracy. Foremost among the factors that saved the PPP administration from his machinations was CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry led judiciary which, despite its hostility against the PPP government, was opposed to direct military intervention. Other factors included US pressure for the continuation of democracy and the embarrassing, and in the case of the US raid in Abbottabad highly damaging, incidents that stood in the way of the army leadership.
Despite these problems an attempt was made by Gen (r) Pasha to destabilise and if possible to remove the PPP government through the Supreme Court. For this the ISI chief visited the dubious character Mansoor Ijaz abroad to persuade him to act as the main witness in the so called Memogate scandal. He had the PML-N’s support in the case
The PML-N leadership was equally unacceptable to Gen (r) Pasha and to a section of the army top brass. Nawaz Sharif had made no secret of his desire to establish friendly relations with India. Weeks before assuming power in June 2013 he had told Indian journalist Karan Thapar that he was going to turn the army into a subordinate department of the government. He had also told him “we have a lot of love for India.” Nawaz Sharif appeared to be determined to recast civil-military relations. What is more unlike the previous PPP government he possessed the means to fulfil the dream. Sharif possessed absolute majority in the National Assembly while he had developed an understanding with the PPP that could help him pass a law in the Senate aimed at strengthening civilian supremacy.
This was enough to cause worry to Pasha and those who joined hands with him. They thought that peaceful transition from one democratic setup to another had gone to the head of the new prime minister.
The PML-N leadership was equally unacceptable to Gen (r) Pasha and to a section of the army top brass. Nawaz Sharif had made no secret of his desire to establish friendly relations with India
With his Jalandhar ethnic Pushtun backround Imran Khan had always enjoyed good relations with the army. He was seen to be a crowd puller. He was also headstrong. This qualified him as the perfect choice to bring down the government. He too was seen to be a man who could create problems once he was in power. But Pasha and company had another plan for the post Sharif set up that would make Khan dependent on the army and thus perfectly harmless
Gen (r) Pasha was confident of the success of his plan. He had in fact already conducted a dry run of the exercise in January 2013.
Tahirul Qadri, who had renounced politics and had been out of Pakistan for seven years, was rediscovered, motivated, and promised the crown if he initiated a movement against the PPP government which had survived, to Pasha’s chagrin, the Memogate affair. The cleric arrived in December 2012 ‘ready to become caretaker premier’, as he unabashedly put it.
Tahirul Qadri was handled deftly by the PPP government. He was given due protocol, provided help in conducting the ‘million march’, even offered inducements through Malik Riaz Hussain. Unlike the ruthless way the PML-N was to treat him in 2014, the PPP dealt with as if he was a highly respectable national figure. The cleric’s s ego was boosted when a dozen of top PPP ministers and leaders of allied parties visited him in his container with the request to call off the sit in. The man who had been ranting against the government for days, demanding its urgent ouster, and giving timelines to t prime minister to resign agreed to disperse the marchers gathered at what he called the “World’s largest Tahrir Square” in Islamabad.
To doubly ensure the success of Imran Khan’s agitation Pasha once again recalled Tahirul Qadri from Canada. The cleric’s strength lay in his fairly large network of schools spread all over Punjab, besides the blind support from the Qadri’s followers who belonged to of a particular sect. Together the two were supposed to generate synergy sufficient to bring down the government through street power assisted at the crucial moment by support from above. What is more each one was supposed to act as a check on the other to ensure that both adhered to the agreed plan.
What the mastermind failed to take into account was the possibility of the entire opposition joining hands to support the system and parliament taking a firm position on the issue. This had never happened in the past. The planners therefore ruled it out. Keeping in view the differences within the opposition, Imran Khan’s promoters had thought that it would remain disunited or might even hail the removal of the government. What followed was a gradual escalation of the conflict.
The so called Azadi March led by Imran Khan had left Lahore on August 14. On August 16 the two sit-ins, one by Imran Khan and the other by Tahirul Qadri, were initiated.
Perturbed at the reports of the agitators getting support from those who matter, Ch Nisar and Shahbaz Sharif called on the COAS. They were advised to open dialogue immediately with the PTI and PAT leadership. While the PML-N maintains they had asked for facilitation, the army started mediation.
The army leadership was playing a visible role in the affair. The COAS had met Nawaz Sharif, Ch Nisar, Shahbaz, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. Both Imran and Qadri shared their parties’ demands with the army chief who advised all to hold talks. He also reportedly told the government to find an “urgent solution” to the confrontation, thus putting Sharif under pressure. What is more the police was advised to avoid use of force against the protestors.
Encouraged by Gen (r) Pasha, Imran and Qadri insisted on Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. Neither was willing to agree to anything less than that. Consulting their mentors on a daily basis from their respective containers regarding tactics to be adopted the next day the two continued to increase the pressure. The resignation by the PTI MNAs was also a move in the direction.
According to Javed Hashmi a script was laid out well in advance. “When Imran laid out the plan, I said to Imran, ‘Khan sahab what are you doing?’”
“He said, ‘I am telling you there will be elections in September and everything has been worked out.’”
The plan according to Hashmi was simple. PTI workers had been instructed to drag Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif out of his official residence, while Tahirul Qadri’s activists were to ransack the Parliament with support from PTI.
Once the parliament took a firm stand against the protestors, the offstage players shunned open confrontation. The PTI and PAT leadership thought they had been abandoned
The attempt was made on August 30. Imran and Qadri led their followers in the attack. But as the protesters rushed towards sensitive buildings like the Cabinet Division, Presidency and Prime Minister House they were met with a heavy police contingent, teargas and rubber bullets. After failing to advance towards the PM House, many protesters gathered in front of the Parliament and pulled down its gate with the help of a truck. A government which had been under siege was now fighting for its existence.
It was at this moment that the PPP advised the prime minister to call the joint session of Parliament. The session which was called on September 2 continued for many days with speakers criticising the week-kneed attitude of the government, the arrogance of its ministers as well as exposing all the characters involved in the conspiracy against democracy.
Once the parliament took a firm stand against the protestors, the offstage players shunned open confrontation. The PTI and PAT leadership thought they had been abandoned. This was followed by demoralisation in the ranks of the two parties. There also appeared cracks in the alliance.
The PAT chief announced to end the sit-in on October 22. Imran Khan looked for a face saving device to follow suit. He demanded setting up of a judicial Commission to probe the three charges he had levelled. The government’s promise provided the fig leaf he needed.
Khan had made no effort to collect evidence to prove systematic rigging. He thought he didn’t need any after assurances from the ‘referee’ regarding fresh elections being in the offing. After the sit-ins were over he continued to tell his followers that the findings of the Judicial Commission would support his charges and this would make elections necessary. This might have happened if the PTI had presented proof. When asked to do so it told the Commission to look for them itself.

Combatting hunger: 61 million Pakistanis are food insecure

The patron of Islamabad Chamber of Small Traders, Shahid Rasheed Butt, has called upon the government to improve the food security situation which is linked to stability.
Pakistan must improve its deteriorating ranking in food security index as almost half of the country’s population remains food insecure, he said. He added that every individual has a right to physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food on a consistent basis that fulfills dietary needs.
Affordability, availability and quality of the food in Pakistan needs serious review as hunger is rising despite an increase in agriculture output which indicates lack of serious efforts on the part of the government. He said that countries like India, Sri Lanka, Angola, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger, Vietnam, and India have performed better than Pakistan.
The government should think seriously about providing cover to over 61 million food insecure people which is a major national issue as rising food prices, floods, poverty, conflict, terrorism, energy crisis, economic slowdown and political instability are some factors behind hunger.

Pakistan - New hope for Aasia Bibi

By Nasir Saeed

Support for a poor Christian lady working on a rural farm in Pakistan has been phenomenal. Her accuser would have never thought of such consequences coming out of her malicious demeaning of Aasia Bibi.

After the recent preliminary hearing of Aasia Bibi’s case and suspension of her death sentence until further hearing of her appeal by the Supreme Court (SC), new hope for justice has risen for her. Amazingly, it became breaking news within the next 10 minutes, not only on the Pakistani media but also throughout the world. The global media has never stopped talking about her agony. She is not the only Christian woman charged under the blasphemy law; there are several, some of whom have fled the country. Others were freed by the courts but are still living in hiding and no one cares about them apart from their families and maybe a few Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

However, Aasia’s case has become something of phenomenal significance. It came into the limelight when she was sentenced to death in 2010 and the then governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, intervened to get her justice. He took up her case for a presidential pardon but was widely criticised. He called the blasphemy law a black law, which infuriated many extremists and, in 2011, he was killed by his own bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri. Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister, was also killed by Islamic extremists for intervening in the case and demanding changes in the blasphemy law. A clear message was being sent out by extremists to the aspirants of changes and though Sherry Rehman showed some courage, the PPP government could not show any guts even after losing two of their most prominent politicians.

The news of the staying of Aasia’s death sentence has come as a relief for millions of her supporters throughout the world who were worried after the lifting of the moratorium on death sentences in Pakistan and consequent executions of several people, including a Christian named Aftab Bahadur, in Lahore. Incredibly, Aasia has an enormous support base, which is continuing to grow. Social media has been talking about her and many books, CDs and DVDs have been released in support of her case. Countless people have been praying for her every day. Several petitions have been handed over to world leaders and France has given Aasia honorary citizenship, while other countries have also expressed their willingness to accept and welcome her.

The world’s Christian, religious leaders are worried about her; Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is concerned about Pakistani Christians and her husband, Ashiq Masih, met Pope Francis in the Vatican. Such support for a poor Christian lady working on a rural farm in Pakistan is phenomenal. Her accuser would have never thought of such consequences coming out of her malicious demeaning of Aasia Bibi. But it may all mean nothing as her life is still in the balance. She has been incarcerated in an isolated prison cell without any windows, sink or toilet because of the extremist threat to her life. She had lost all hope for her life and had written a letter to her husband saying: “Since I have returned to my cell and have known that I am going to die, all my thoughts have turned to you and my adoring children. Nothing pains me more than to leave you alone in total anguish”. I am sure the recent development in her case would have calmed her and would have instilled new hope for her to be reunited with her family. Her children might have already started dreaming of getting their mother back.

This is going to be the second case of blasphemy and the first of any Christian woman sentenced to death to be heard by the Pakistan SC. The first case was of Ayub Masih who was successfully defended by the country’s most reputed and prominent lawyer, Abid Hassan Minto. On August 15, 2002, Ayub was freed by the SC and later was moved to an unknown location by a Christian NGO for security reasons. This time, a well-known lawyer, Saiful Malluck, is enthusiastically defending Aasia. He believes that since there is no evidence against her and since the allegations stemmed from a bowl of water, she will be freed. Also, the main complainant, a local imam, Mohammad Salaam, had not heard Aasia blaspheme and his original FIR had been filed five days after the event. I also hope that the SC decides her case without any pressure and with diligence so justice can be done for her.

I hope that in the next hearing the charges against Aasia will be dropped and she will be freed by the SC. However, the government has a responsibility to protect her and to stop the misuse of this law as innocent people have to suffer for years to get justice for crimes they have never committed. Even after acquittal there are limited chances to lead a normal life in Pakistan and people live in constant fear for their lives. Although no one has been executed until now by the courts, several people have been killed by vigilantes and the government has failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. The government’s obliviousness encourages extremists to take the law into their own hands and strengthens their belief in crowd and individual justice.

Last year, a Christian couple, Shama and Shahzad, were beaten and then incinerated in a brick kiln furnace. Recently, in Maki Chak, in the district of Sheikhupura, a Christian family was accused of blasphemy, their heads were shaved, faces painted black, a garland of shoes placed around their necks and then they were paraded through the town.

The world is continuously demanding changes in the blasphemy law. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) recently criticised the whole scenario and pointed out that the abuse of the blasphemy laws continues to take a heavy toll. The EU Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) has expressed its concern over the continuous misuse of the blasphemy laws and treatment of minorities. UN special Rapporteur Mr Heiner Bielefeldt has raised his concerns while the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has identified Pakistan as the worst violator among those not currently on the blacklist. It has urged the Obama administration to designate Pakistan to the country of particular concern status.

Moreover, even Pakistani politicians have admitted that the blasphemy law is being misused, but still there are no signs of change or bringing it to parliament for debate. This is our law, we made it and we have to amend it for the sake of security and the protection of our own people.

Pakistan - ATC sentences Salman Taseer vigil attackers to five years

An anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Monday convicted five people for attacking a candlelight vigil organised to mark death anniversary of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, reported by private TV channel.

During the hearing, ATC judge Haroon Latif awarded five-year prison terms to Adeel, Farhan and Kashif. Two other men – Iftikhar and Wazir Ali – have been sent to jail for three years. The court acquitted two suspects, Din Muhammad and Sajid, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The defence counsel said that the accused were not involved in the attack. “They have been implicated in a false case,” he said.

– Vigil attack –

On January 4, 2015, several people had attacked participants of a candle light vigil organised to mark the death anniversary of former governor Salman Taseer. People had gathered at Liberty Chowk to mark the death anniversary of ex-governor of Punjab – Salman Taseer – who was shot and killed by his own guard – Mumtaz Qadri – in broad day light in December 2011 in Islamabad.

A group of four-five people showed up at the scene, snatched and tore up placards and photos of Salman Taseer before beating up the participants of the vigil.

Pakistan - CPJ demands full security for Faheem Siddiqui

The Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned Geo News Karachi Bureau Chief Faheem Ahmed Siddiqui’s kidnapping and torture and demanded full security for him.

In a statement issued from New York, the CPJ’s Asia Coordinator, Bob Dietz expressed sympathy and good sentiments for Faheem Siddiqui and demanded of the government of Pakistan and concerned institutions to ensure him security and bring to justice the culprits involved in the abduction after thorough investigation.

Faheem Siddiqui was kidnapped on his way to work on Saturday by men in plain clothes and police uniforms. He was bound and gagged, assaulted, his property taken away and was left tied up in Manghopir.


US wants to see tension reduced between Pakistan, India

John Kirby, Spokesman for US State Department, has stated that Washington wanted to see the conflict and the tension reduced between Pakistan and India.

Answering to a question over the demand of Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs (SAPM), Kirby said he could not say anything on the role of Washington in resolving Pak-India conflict, however, there are some issues between the two the neighbours that need to be worked out.

Kirby said, “We want to see the conflict and tension reduced between Pakistan and India.”

Sardar Ali Takkar - ډیر عمر می تیرکړوـ رحمان بابا