Monday, October 5, 2015

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Would any college reject President Obama’s daughter?

By Valerie Strauss

President Obama has given his 17-year-old daughter Malia some college admissions advice. Like many other fathers, he told her “not to stress too much” about getting into a specific college.
Umm, why would Malia, a senior at private Sidwell Friends School who is applying to attend college next fall, stress?
Which college wouldn’t take the president’s daughter?
She might stress about deciding which school is her first choice. Or what to put in her essay. (Imagine the topics. Living in the bubble that is the White House. Meeting world dignitaries. Working as a production assistant on the set of a sci-fi thriller called “Extant” starring Halle Berry and produced by Steven Spielberg. Interning with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”)
College admission decisions rest largely on grades, test scores, extra-curricular activities and “the hook.” What’s the hook? Something that distinguishes you from everybody else. It could be the fortune your family has donated to a school, or the fortune the school hopes your family will donate.
It could be that you have won some mind-bogglingly huge prize, like Malala Yousafzai has: She is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history and is applying to colleges in the next two years. Or it could be that you are the daughter of the president of the United States and, as a result, have had a unique set of experiences.
The New York Times ran a story about Malia’s application process that noted that Obama told some high school students and others in Des Moines about guidance he had given her:
“One piece of advice that I’ve given her is not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college. Just because it’s not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a great education there.”
He also said it was important to “keep your grades up until you get in, and after that, make sure you pass.” Naturally, the crowd laughed because it was funny, and, just perhaps, because some people might have been tickled by the notion that his daughter — who is believed to be a good student — would be rejected by any college she wanted to attend.
I asked some college presidents and admissions directors about this, and most didn’t want to be quoted by name, but the general response was, “not on this planet.” Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing at DePaul University in Chicago, said:
The president’s daughter won’t apply to any place unless a high-ranking official has pre-reviewed her candidacy, I suspect.
So if she’s going to get a thumbs down, she will never submit an application to that place.  If the White House has allowed her list to slip out, it’s only because she’s been essentially admitted already.
Based on the places she seems to be focusing on, she appears to have credentials that put her solidly in the running, so no, she won’t be denied anywhere, if I’m a betting man.
Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan College, one of the schools that Malia visited, said:
“From what I hear, any college would be fortunate to have her as student. But if it happened that the fit wasn’t right, a school would let her know.”
Obama has been bracing himself for some time for the day Malia leaves home to attend college. At a high school commencement address he gave last year in Worcester, Mass., he said:
“I’m trying to get used to not choking up and crying and embarrassing her. So this is sort of my trial run here.”
Other presidents’ children have done well when they applied to college while their dad was president. George W. Bush’s twins went to different schools: Barbara studied at Yale University, and Jenna at the University of Texas. Chelsea Clinton, who also attended Sidwell, chose Stanford University after considering Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Georgetown and Wesleyan universities.
Malia has visited several schools, including, the Times said, six of the eight Ivy League schools — Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Brown — as well as Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, New York University, Tufts University, Barnard College and Wesleyan University. (Her father didn’t come on any of the visits, hoping to avoid attracting any more attention than the presence of first lady Michelle Obama and Malia generated on some campuses.)
Colleges don’t like to talk about individual applicants, which is what Lisa Lapin, associate vice president for university communications at Stanford University, said when I asked her about the validity of stories in the media saying that the school was requiring Malala to take the SAT or ACT like other applicants. She wrote in an e-mail: “We do not know the origins of that story.  The university does not comment on prospective student application matters.”
Which college would really turn down the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history?

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Turkey says ‘no tension’ after Russian airspace violation mistake

Russia has admitted making a mistake after its warplanes violated Turkey’s airspace. Ankara has accepted the matter, saying there is no ill feeling between the two countries. But NATO has slammed Moscow for what it deemed “irresponsible behavior.”
The incident, which occurred on Saturday, saw Turkey scramble two F-16 jets after a Russian military aircraft crossed into Turkish airspace near the Syrian border.
Ankara also claimed that a MiG-29 fighter jet, which is used by both Russia and Syria, harassed two of its F-16’s on Sunday by locking radar on to them, as they patrolled the Turkish-Syrian border.
“Our position is very clear, we’ll warn any country that violates our borders in a friendly way. Russia is our friend and neighbor. There is no tension between Turkey and Russia in this sense. The issue of Syria is not a Turkish-Russian crisis,”Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told HaberTurk TV, as cited by the Hurriyet Daily, following diplomatic communications between Ankara and Moscow. 
"What we have received from Russia this morning is that this was a mistake and that they respect Turkey's borders and this will not happen again," Davutoglu added.
The Russian Defense Ministry has said that bad weather caused the incident when Russian combat aircraft violated Turkish airspace.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the Russian ambassador had been summoned, telling reporters that "some facts were mentioned there which are to be checked." There was no emergency meeting planned between Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Peskov said.
However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called a meeting of the bloc members on Monday to discuss the situation, which he described as "unacceptable violations of Turkish air space."
“Russia's actions are not contributing to the security and stability of the region. I call on Russia to fully respect NATO airspace and to avoid escalating tensions with the alliance,” he said.
Russia started to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State on September 30, following a request from the Syrian government.
The military alliance also released a statement saying: "Allies strongly protest these violations of Turkish sovereign airspace, and condemn these incursions into and violations of NATO airspace."
"Allies also note the extreme danger of such irresponsible behavior. They call on the Russian Federation to cease and desist, and immediately explain these violations."
US Secretary of State John Kerry also waded into the dispute. He said he had discussed the issue with his Turkish counterpart and that the US was “greatly concerned” by the Russian incursion.
"We are greatly concerned about it because it is precisely the kind of thing that, had Turkey responded ... it could have resulted in a shoot down, and it is precisely the kind of thing we warned against," Kerry said during a visit to Chile.
US President Barack Obama has been critical of Moscow, saying that its actions are “only strengthening ISIL.”

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Bombing a hospital in Afghanistan is the modern American way of war

By Max_Fisher

Over the weekend, a United States AC-130 military aircraft targeted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing 22 innocent people and forcing the humanitarian group to withdraw from the city.
The incident, on its face, was surely the result of some terrible human error, whether it was the Americans who launched the strike, the Afghans who reportedly called it in, or the many people involved who did not realize what they were doing, though Doctors Without Borders had alerted the US to their presence.
But regardless of any human error, there is a deeper and not-at-all accidental cause to blame, and it is the same thing that has contributed to the American bombing of so many wedding parties and innocent villages before: This is how a bombing war works. This is what a bombing war does. It is the war we've chosen in Afghanistan, the war we've chosen in Syria and Iraq, and the war that, if history is any guide, the United States will continue to choose over and over. When we treat it as mainly an accident or an aberration, we obfuscate that fact and ignore what makes this incident truly terrible.

What happened in Kunduz

In the twilight between Friday night and Saturday morning, in the northern Afghan town of Kunduz, Lajos Zoltan Jecs, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders, was shaken awake by an explosion. At first, as he wrote on his NGO's website, all he knew was that the blast had been very close — much closer than the usual background noise of war.
Jecs stumbled into the hospital to look for survivors. He found one patient killed on the operating table and another six "burning in their beds" in the intensive care unit. "I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was," he wrote. The bombing continued for half an hour. By the end, at least 22 people were dead: 12 Doctors Without Borders staffers and 10 patients, three of them children.
The town of Kunduz had, just a few days earlier, been overrun by the Taliban. It was the group's biggest military victory in 14 years and the beginning of what many Afghans fear will be the Taliban's reconquest of their country, now that the American-led force is leaving. But this was not Doctors Without Borders' first war, and the group had made sure all parties in the war knew their facility's precise location.
Jecs could not know it at the time, but he and his colleagues were being bombed not by the Taliban or the Afghan military, but by the United States government. An American AC-130 ground-attack aircraft, which can function as a kind of flying artillery platform, had pounded the hospital from above.
The US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan at first said they were only returning fire against militants who'd shot at them first. When it became clear they had in fact destroyed a hospital, Afghan authorities insisted militants had been hiding out in the facility. On Monday, the top US commander in Afghanistan walked back the claim that Americans had been under fire, and said the strike had in fact been called in by Afghan forces. He did not apologize.

Kunduz isn't an aberration: this is the war we've chosen in Afghanistan

What happened in Kunduz was, by all appearances, a terrible accident. But it is a kind of accident that, all the same, is an inevitable and entirely foreseeable consequence of America's role in Afghanistan.
This is just what happens when you lead an air war against irregular forces like the Taliban: You bomb hospitals into dust, you burn patients in their beds, you kill 22 innocent people for nothing.
And indeed, such accidents have been happening for some time. The UN hasdocumented 1,700 Afghan civilians killed by airstrikes just since 2008. While it does not differentiate based on who launched the strike, the US has dominated the air campaign in Afghanistan since 2002, and the stories of bombed civilians and wedding parties have been around just as long.
In July 2002, the US bombed a wedding party outside of Kandahar in error, killing at least 30. In July 2008, in Nangarhar province, as a group of mostly women and children escorted a bride to her wedding, US-led airstrikes rained down on them, killing 47. That November, another US-led airstrike on a wedding party killed 37. In May 2009, an American B-1 bomber leveled the village of Granai, just south of Herat, killing somewhere between 80 and 120-some people in what became known as the Granai massacre. On and on.
This is simply how these sorts of wars work. Whether American intentions are noble or cynical, whether the president is Barack Obama or George W. Bush, the Kunduz hospital bombing, or something like it, is going to happen.
That is not a case for shrugging it off, for obviating the United States of responsibility or guilt. Quite the opposite: It is a reminder that Kunduz is the war we've chosen, not just in Afghanistan, and that we go into this and other bombing campaigns knowing full well the consequences.

Kunduz will always happen in a bombing campaign

For all America's advances in accuracy when it comes to airstrikes, there is one problem it cannot solve with technology: You need someone on the ground calling the targets. That invites human error when you have it. In its absence, it forces you to pick your targets based on some combination of guesswork (e.g., US "signature strikes" on armed young men standing around in militant-held areas) and local proxies, who may or may not be honest or even minimally competent.
As the US and its allies withdraw their ground troops but keep up the air campaign, they will be launching more airstrikes based on reports called in from Afghan proxies on the ground. There will be more accidents like Kunduz, more senseless death for which America is rightly seen as culpable.
War is never clean, never more than a menu of bad options. In Afghanistan, our choices, broadly, were to keep a ground force that had not won in a decade-plus of fighting, scale back to an air campaign that has a long record of killing civilians, or withdraw entirely and watch as the Taliban regains power. We chose the second bad option. We chose Kunduz.
It's the same choice we've made many times before and will surely continue to make. The United States often seeks to use military force in faraway conflicts but is neither able nor willing to use ground troops in most cases, and so falls back to airstrikes.
That is not to say that this is a good choice, or even a defensible choice. But it is a reminder of a truth that Americans don't like to acknowledge: This is what we resign ourselves to when we launch an air war, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria. No matter how evil the foe or how necessary the fight, on the red side of the pro-con ledger there will always be Kunduz and its victims, whether we admit it to ourselves or not.

The Aftermath of a Deadly Airstrike in Afghanistan

Two things are known for certain about the deadly American airstrike on the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, run by Doctors Without Borders. One is that the attack killed 22 people, including 12 staff members. The other is that an initial Pentagon statement saying the strike may have caused “collateral damage” was outrageous and dehumanizing.
Beyond that, there are many unanswered questions and much confusion about how the hospital, a major health care facility in Afghanistan’s northeastern region, came to be a target.
Gen. John Campbell, who commands American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged at a news conference on Monday that the airstrike by an American gunship on Saturday had “accidentally struck” civilians and promised a thorough investigation. That is not sufficient. In addition, an independent panel should quickly be empowered to obtain all the information needed to produce a credible conclusion about what went so horribly wrong.
General Campbell said that Afghan forces, fighting to retake Kunduz from the Taliban, had come under fire near the hospital and called the Americans for help, which led to the bombing. He admitted this contradicted initial reports that suggested that American forces were threatened and the airstrike was called on their behalf, prompting him on Saturday to describe the strike as “justified.”
There are serious problems with these explanations. Officials with Doctors Without Borders said that all parties to the conflict, including in Washington and Kabul, were explicitly informed in advance of the hospital’s GPS coordinates. Once the bombing started, the group contacted the American and Afghan authorities, but it took 30 minutes before the bombing was halted, the group said.
Adding to the confusion is the question of whether there had been fighting around the hospital at all. According to The Times’s Alissa Rubin, a Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, said Taliban fighters entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position. The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked Afghan security forces. But three hospital employees — an aide who was wounded in the bombing and two nurses who emerged unscathed — said that there had been no fighting in the hospital’s immediate vicinity and no Taliban fighters in the hospital. Arjan Hehenkamp, director of Doctors Without Borders in the Netherlands, also denied that Taliban fighters had been in the hospital, saying in a Twitter post that only staff, patients and caretakers had been inside.
Under international humanitarian law, it can be a war crime to deliberately strike a hospital, and General Campbell insisted, “we do not strike those kind of targets, absolutely.” But something clearly went wrong in this case.
Did the Afghan forces, who on Monday seemed to be making progress in retaking Kunduz from the Taliban, make an error about the Taliban firing from the hospital? What role did the American Special Operations forces, who are on the ground training and assisting the Afghans, play? Why didn’t the American pilot see the hospital and check the target against a list of protected sites before firing?
It is impossible to avoid all civilian deaths in a war, especially when the fighting is in heavily populated cities, as in Kunduz. Over the years, the vast majority of civilian deaths have been at the hands of the Taliban, but the American forces have made deadly mistakes. Whenever that happens, American military commanders have promised to hone the rules of engagement to minimize the risks. General Campbell repeated that pledge on Monday. He needs to urgently re-examine the issue.

Gen. Campbell: Afghan forces requested airstrike that hit hospital in Kunduz

The top US commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell has said the airstrike on Kunduz hospital was carried out by the US military after receiving requests by the Afghan security forces.
Speaking to reporters at a Pentagon briefing, Gen. Campbell said “We have now learned that on October, 3rd, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. Forces.”
“An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck,” Gen. Campbell added.
According to Gen. Campbell, the information was different from initial reports that “indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the air strike was called on their behalf.”
At least 22 people including doctors of the organization Doctor’s without Borders were killed and several others were injured after their hospital was hit in the raid.
In the meantime, Gen. Campbell said three investigations are underway and “if errors were committed, we’ll acknowledge them. We’ll hold those responsible accountable and we will take steps to ensure mistakes are not repeated.”

Pakistan: HRCP meeting on state-sponsored Ahmadi persecution

The state is not a silent spectator, but an active participant in the persecution of Ahmadis, accused members of the Ahmadi community at a meeting organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The meeting was titled, ‘Ahmadi Citizens: dealing with discrimination, exclusion’ and was held at the Regent Plaza on Sunday.

“The persecution, these days, has taken a new trend as door-to-door conversions of people belonging to the faith are taking place where a cleric accompanies the area’s representatives  and threats are meted out to people who refuse to give in to their demands,” claimed one participant.

There has been a change of attitude – what is seen as a change in the strategy of religious parties. “Previously, there used to be an abundance of court notices against us,” said Mujeebur Rehman, a member of the community and a lawyer by profession. “Now, these people pressurise the administration, whereupon the police do not protect us but are themselves in denial,” he claimed. “Even in court cases, bails are not granted as previously the clerics made a hue and cry after a decision of the high court and the order was reversed.” The worst that can happen to any community is when the doors of justice are closed to them, he said.

“The tolerance level among madrassah teachers is four per cent, as compared to the students which is 13 per cent. In Urdu medium schools, the tolerance among teachers is 17 per cent while among students, it is 47 per cent,” he said, referring to a book, titled ‘Study of Education, Inequality and Polarisation in Pakistan.’ According to Rehman, the discrepancy in these statistics lies because of the legal sanctions in place against Ahmadis. “It also shows that madrassa students are greatly affected. Work needs to be done on madrassa curriculum,” he said.

“The condition is not as grave in Sindh as we see in Punjab,” said another member of the community.  Shahid Ataullah, another representative and an engineer by profession, remarked that this is also true because Punjab has a larger population of Ahmadis as compared to the rest of the country, but the state is indeed under pressure from clerics. “The general public is made to believe that we are traitors and are not reliable,” said Ataullah. “This paves the way to greater problems, which are escalating through individuals in the form of blasphemy charges,” said Ataullah.

Members of the community also narrated how three-day Qadyani courses were introduced that issued directives of killing them. Cursing Ahmadis within the premises of a mosque, as it doesn’t violate the sanctity of the mosque, is also part of these courses, said a member. Other than this, passport and CNIC issuance is yet another serious problem as the very mention of the word, Ahmadi, damages their their case.

With regards to problems in the educational fraternity, Rehman said that Ahmadi children are discriminated against, despite scoring high in examinations, as faith has to be declared in admission forms. “We had to withdraw from the matric board and get affiliated with the Aga Khan Board. But children who are not part of the Rabwah [the official community group] continue to face problems,” he said. Ataullah pointed out how online applications for colleges only provide the option of Muslim and Non-Muslim. “An affidavit is then required to be produced in hard copy to prove your faith. This causes psychological problems among our kids,” he said.

The community is also of the belief that the removal of objectives resolution and discriminatory clauses from the Constitution are key measures that can end the marginalisation of the Ahmadi community.


Federal government, under the National Action plan, has been preparing for conducting a big operation against terrorists, especially against sectarian organizations, in Southern Punjab. A senior government official to media that the decision to spread the operation and to increase its effectiveness was taken in the last month’s meeting of most senior civil and army officials. The official, upon the condition of anonymity, did not tell about the details of the operation due to the fact that it could damage the government plan.
The decision for carrying out the operation against sectarian organizations in Southern Punjab was taken after the intelligence reports which stated that the area could become a powerful nursery for groups like Daesh. Raheem Yar Khan, Jhang, Chiniot, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur have been considered as hubs of those sectarian organizations that are ideologically fascinated by Daesh. Senior government official said that security agencies have recently arrested dozens of suspected people who were possibly hiring youngsters for Daesh.
Although Pakistan denies the existence of Daesh within its territory but she also accepts that danger and threats of terrorist groups could not be ignored either. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif also talked about the establishment of new terrorist groups and the possibility of Daesh getting hold in the region, during his recent visit to Britain. He said that Pakistan is aware of all such threats and will not allow any new group to emerge in the country.
Sources told that security agencies have identified Southern Punjab could be the area where Daesh will possibly get support and this is the reason that government has decided to take all measures against sectarian groups in the area. Thousands of religious institutions (madaaris) were scrutinized for months with regard to this operation. According to an estimate, around 2 thousand to 7 thousand madaaris are present in South Punjab and it has been thought that most of these madaaris receive funds from Arab countries.
Government has already drafted a policy to ensure the non-involvement of religious institutes (madaaris) in sabotage activities and few madaaris were also closed down in South Punajb, during last few months, because of promoting sectarian hatred and extremism. This operation against sectarian organizations is a big change in Pakistan’s policy because action against such groups had been avoided in past.
Killing of banned Laskar e Jhangvi’s leade Malik Ishaq during a police encounter also represents the change in government’s policy against sectarian groups. Also, the Military courts, for the first time, punished terrorists involved in killing of Shia Muslims. Government official said that further action will be seen, in this regard, in coming weeks.

Pakistan - Gwadar port has not made any Difference for People of Gwadar

Mariyam Suleman Baloch
 Gwadar port has not made any difference in the lives of common people of Gwadar, said the members of Women wing of Balochistan National Party (BNP).
Organizers of Women wing of BNP, who are on a visit to Makran region, conducted a press conference at the residence of Mir Hammal Kalmati, Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Gwadar, on Monday.
Delegation of BNP women wing consisted of the organizer of the BNP women Wing Rashida Mengal, Deputy Organizer Jamila Baloch and the other members including Sania Hassan Kashani, Shakeela Dehwar, Zeenat advocate and Fozia Marri.
Addressing the issues of Gwadar, women delegation expressed their disappointment and condemned the ruling party for its persistent inefficient efforts for Gwadar. “We were expecting a lot of difference in today’s Gwadar but we can observe that the port has made no difference to the city and its inhabitants,” claimed BNP women wing.

We can observe that port has made no difference for inhabitants of Gwadar – BNP women wing.

“People are still craving for a drop of water, a large number of educated youth is still unemployed, hospitals are left without doctors and schools without teachers, there is an issue of power supply and poor sewerage system but after bestowing Gwadar to China the ruling party has left the issues and the deprived people with no hope,” female members of BNP contended during the press conference.
Expressing their views about the efforts of BNP, they asserted that BNP is the only party in Balochistan Provincial Assembly that believes in the rights of Baloch; right to their coast, their resources and their right to live a peaceful life.
The members assured that they will not let the people of Gwadar be deprived of their rights and as Sardar Akhtar Mengal raised the issues of Gwadar in the first session of the assembly, he along with the MPA Mir Hammal Kalmati of Gwadar will continue raising the same issues until they are resolved.
BNP women wing delegation also met the female councilors of Gwadar during their visit.

Pakistan - The grip of violence

Over the past two weeks we have had so many positive images from Pakistan of young girls who have worked to improve their communities. With the Malala Fund inviting teenage Sindhi activist Aansoo Kohli to the launch of a documentary about Malala to honour her efforts to set up schools in one of the poorest areas of Sindh, it is easy to believe things are changing for women in the country. But this is just the surface view of events. A terrible incident in Lahore in which a father, along with his son, is alleged to have murdered his 12-year old daughter for not making proper rotis indicates the extent of violence that lurks within homes. After investigations police say the culprits have confessed to their crime. We do not know if there is a deeper angle to the matter. In another horrifying incident a father assaulted and then killed his five-year old daughter alleging that she had been ‘flirting’. There have been many other such cases in the past, recorded each year by anti-child abuse organisations, but largely ignored by the public.

At a seminar organised by several NGOs in Lahore last Wednesday, and addressed by Begum Hameeda Waheed-ud-Din, minister for women development, the figures from an Aurat Foundation report were put forward reporting 7,010 cases of domestic violence against women in 2014 and over 2,000 so far this year. These figures are horrifying. They indicate that our homes, traditionally designated places of safety for women and children, have turned into sites where they are subjected to violence. They also show how the ordinary family has been distorted at least partially as a result of the acute social and economic pressures it faces. There has been much talk about how to alter this. Creating awareness and educating people is not sufficient. We need also to examine the violence that has turned our society into so ugly a place and consider also how social movements can bring a change in this. There are many examples of how this has been achieved, in countries including India. Perhaps the time has come to emulate such efforts and also act to empower and protect the girl child by implementing the laws that already exist.

Pakistan - PPP for joint sitting of parliament on anti-rape legislation

By Qamar Zaman

With Pakistan recording dismal conviction rates for rape cases, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is hoping to use today’s (Monday) Senate session to press for a joint sitting of parliament to deliberate on and eventually pass legislation it feels is critical for providing speedy justice to rape victims.
PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar will move a motion in the Senate on three bills passed by the upper house, so that the legislative process could be expedited. The bills include Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill 2014, Anti-Rape Laws Bill and The Privatisation Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2013. These bills moved by PPP’s Sughra Imam had been passed by the Senate, but the National Assembly failed to move on them within the allotted 90 days.
Senator Babar explained that following a recent ruling by Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, a member of the upper house may move a motion to refer bills to the joint session of parliament. If the motion is carried by the house, the president would be obliged to summon a joint sitting of parliament without having to refer it to the ministry of parliamentary affairs or require a summary from the prime minister.
The anti-rape amendment bill seeks to amend the Pakistan Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Qanoon-i-Shahadat to improve upon rape prosecution.
Senator Babar said some amendments proposed in the law include mandatory DNA tests within 24 hours of a rape being reported, and resolution of cases within six months. The bill also proposes a three-year sentence with a fine for a public servant who fails to properly and diligently carry out investigations. Further, identity of rape victims will be protected and penalties will be imposed for disclosing personal information of rape victims, including unauthorised publication of case details.
Police officers and public servants who take advantage of their position to rape women in their custody will be handed life imprisonment.
In November last year, the interior ministry had told the Senate that an alarming 14,583 rape cases had been registered in the country over the last five years. Punjab, which accounted for 12,795 of the cases, saw convictions in just 949 cases. Of the 90 rape cases reported in the federal capital, there was a conviction in only one case.
One of the clauses in that bill already faces opposition. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had last year rejected DNA tests for resolving rape cases. “The CII is merely an advisory body whose recommendations are not binding on parliament,” Senator Babar said, adding that the tests could be helpful in prosecuting cases.

Pakistan - Bias in textbooks

TO create a more tolerant and inclusive society, it is essential that textbooks contain lessons that foster a spirit of unity rather than fuel divisions.
However, as experts pointed out at a seminar on the curriculum held in Islamabad recently, textbooks of both public and private educational institutions in Pakistan contain material that promotes prejudice.
As one participant of the programme put it, our books did not reflect “love, respect or plurality”, and highlighted divisions instead.
There is, of course, much merit in what the academics highlighted, as Pakistan was a relatively more tolerant place several decades ago than it is today. While the rise of and the free rein given to extremist religious groups in the country has had a role to play in making society less tolerant, the state is largely to blame for promoting a narrow, exclusivist ideology through textbooks.
For instance, it is often pointed out that Pakistan Studies lessons can be problematic in their narrative of the Pakistan Movement; in many cases Hindus are demonised as a community in our textbooks while describing the background of Partition.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa administration — under the previous Awami National Party government — tried, for example, to interpret the Pakistan Movement in a more progressive and less exclusivist manner. Yet these efforts were reversed when the PTI came to power in 2013, reportedly at the behest of the Jamaat-i-Islami, the party’s coalition partner in the province.
Another issue of concern is that of making non-Muslim students study Islamic material, especially in primary classes.
While Pakistan is a Muslim-majority state, it also has people of other faiths living within its borders, which is why it is unfair to make non-Muslim students memorise Islamic prayers or learn the majority population’s religious rituals.
Perhaps the key to reforming the system and inculcating more tolerant values in our textbooks lies with the provinces, as they have the power to interpret the curriculum.
Textbooks must be purged of all material that promotes hate against any religion, sect or nation and the goal must be to impart lessons that will aid the intellectual growth of students, not make them merely regurgitate ideological slogans.
Moreover, textbook-writing should be the domain purely of subject specialists and must be free from political meddling.
There is much that is wrong with our education system; one essential area that can help set it right is to promote a progressive curriculum that favours peace over bigotry.