Thursday, February 18, 2016


In what could point to decreased accuracy in targeting or a possible shift in the rules of engagement, the rate at which civilians are being killed by United States airstrikes in Afghanistan is now at its highest point since 2008, an analysis of newly published United Nations data reveals.

On average, one civilian was killed for every four drone or jet strikes in 2015—up from one civilian death for every 11 attacks the year before, and the first time the casualty rate has risen since 2011, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The rate was last at such levels at the height of the Afghanistan War in 2008, when one civilian was killed for every three attacks.
In its latest annual report, published this weekend, UNAMA says there were 103 civilian deaths from U.S. air actions in Afghanistan in 2015. Although these deaths are slightly more than the 101 recorded in 2014, they came from a third as many airstrikes. While there were 1,136 airstrikes in 2014, this number fell to 411 in 2015—the first year after the withdrawal of most U.S. troops.
The sudden increase after so many years of falling casualty rates has raised concerns that military targeting is becoming less accurate or that there might have been an unannounced change in the rules of engagement.
With the mounting pressure on the U.S. to increase the number of air attacks in Afghanistan to push back the Taliban, observers feel these concerns are particularly urgent.
Chris Woods, director of the monitoring group Airwars, says "hard-won" lessons from 2009 onwards, when serious efforts to reduce the civilian casualty rate from international airstrikes began, are being lost.
"What [the U.N. data] indicates to me is that they are not taking the same care…This is not just about accuracy, it's about politics,” he says.
"Bluntly, how many civilians is the U.S. prepared to kill in Afghanistan to achieve its goals?" Woods asked.
In 2009, the U.S. made targeting rules far more stringent, after then-commander U.S. General Stanley McChrystal regarded soaring casualty rates as hugely damaging to the Afghanistan war effort. Apart from a brief spike in 2011, the average number of U.N.-recorded civilian casualties per airstrike has fallen every year since.
A U.S. army spokeswoman in Kabul declined to tell the Bureau whether there had been any change in targeting policies in 2015, citing operational security.
Of the 103 civilian deaths recorded by the U.N. in 2015, the gunship attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in October accounted for 42 of the total.
In addition, as a highly detailed four-month investigation published by the Bureau shows, the U.N. has also classified 14 people killed in a counterterrorism strike in Khost province in June as civilian deaths. The U.S. disputes the U.N.'s account of Khost, saying the dead were all insurgents.
Excluding these two single incidents, the casualty total would be 47 dead in 409 attacks—a rate of one civilian dead for every nine strikes.
It is possible that the U.N.'s 2015 figures came from a handful of bloody attacks that indicate a propensity for error in the strikes, but not necessarily a systematic change in targeting procedure or intelligence.
The U.N. report does not specify how many individual incidents produced the 2015 death toll of 103.
Since combat operations were declared over at the end of 2014, the U.S. has been carrying out three types of strikes in Afghanistan: counterterrorism strikes against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (ISIS), actions in defense of U.S. or NATO forces, and, in extremis, air support to Afghan forces. Prior to 2014, the figures provided by the U.S. Air Force for airstrikes included a relatively small number by its coalition allies.
Most U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan by the start of 2015. Around 6,000 U.S. troops remain there as part of a multinational operation training mission, along with a 3,000-strong counterterrorism force.
In 2015, the Taliban pressed forward, capturing towns and killing large numbers of Afghan security forces. There is now growing pressure on the Pentagon to start offering air support to Afghan forces.
Experts fear the Afghanistan conflict will intensify in 2016.
Sahr Muhammedally from the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a nongovernmental organization, warns that Resolute Support, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, needs to ensure its systems are ready for what lies ahead this year.
"I think it’s going to be a difficult year," she says. "In 2016, the fight's going to be ugly.... RS has to ensure that all policies and guidance have been disseminated and are being adhered to by all troops."

When asked about the shifting civilian casualty rate, Colonel Michael Lawhorn, of Resolute Support's Kabul headquarters, says: "We continue to take all reports of civilian casualties seriously and thoroughly review each one. We remain absolutely committed to doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties."

Pakistan - Minority rights

In a landmark move, Sindh has become the first province to give those belonging to the Hindu minority the right to formally register their marriages. As per the law passed by the Sindh Assembly, parties to the marriage have to be 18 or above, should be able to give consent, and have at least two witnesses present. The law will be applied retrospectively. Married couples have to register themselves, or risk paying a fine. Sikhs and Zoroastrians will also be able to register their marriages under this law. The passage of the Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 is a significant boon for the beleaguered Hindu community of Sindh (and Pakistan at large). It is shocking to consider that it took almost 70 years after Pakistan came into being for such a bill to be passed. After the 18th Amendment, issues pertaining to minority rights became a provincial subject but Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Balochistan have passed legislation putting the matter back in the basket of the federal government, whereas Punjab still has to pass any bill on the matter. Given these prevailing conditions, it is highly commendable that Sindh government has stepped up and done its duty. Other provinces as well as the federal government cannot follow Sindh’s lead soon enough.

It is no revelation that the status of minorities in Pakistan is a particularly precarious one. The fact that there was no legal recognition of Hindu marriages for so many years reflects the fact that discrimination suffered by the minorities was not simply societal but also institutional. Hindu women are targets of rape and abduction, which frequently result in forced conversions of said women. They are then forced to marry their rapists, even if they are previously married. Previously, since no law recognised their previous marriage, they could not prove their married status and a discriminatory justice system that already disadvantages minorities almost always took the side of the Muslim perpetrators. Due to the absence of such a law Hindu women, again, have also had to face more legal hurdles in matters related to inheritance, as widows could not legally prove their claims on their deceased husbands’ property. Subscribing to governmental services, banks, or any other process that requires official documentation has also been nearly impossible for Hindu individuals. It is hoped that with the passage of this bill, the Hindu community can finally rely on institutional protection from the violence and deprivation suffered by them for decades. As far as the federal government is concerned, a draft bill is being considered. However, a clause of that bill is causing controversy as it holds that the marriage will be voided if one of the spouses converts. This clause is highly unnecessary and leaves the door open for continued abduction and forced conversion. Leaving it in will void the purpose of formalising Hindu marriages. Hence this clause must be removed before the bill is passed. 

Pakistan's 'guns for teachers' drive and the failure of state

Pakistan has allowed teachers to carry guns to protect themselves from Islamic militants. But critics say the move will promote violence in a country which is already volatile due to a protracted Islamist insurgency.
Pakistani security personnel taking position outside the Bacha Khan university following an attack by gunmen in Charsadda, about 50 kilometres from Peshawar, on January 20, 2016
(Photo: A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)
The authorities of Pakistan's Bacha Khan University, which was attacked by Islamic militants on June 20, were initially reluctant to reopen the campus for security concerns.
The university, located in the country's northwest, had lost more than 20 of its students and teachers in the assault, and the Taliban insurgents had threatened to target it again. According to the university administration, the government hadn't offered much help to secure the campus, and that there hasn't been a major breakthrough in capturing the attackers.
The concerns of the university officials are not baseless; Taliban militants have vowed to attack schools and colleges throughout the restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
A year before the attack on the Bacha Khan University, the Islamists had stormed an army-run schoolin the provincial capital Peshawar and killed over 140 students. The government has arrested several people linked to the assault, but the parents and teachers are not satisfied with the efforts. They demand a judicial inquiry into the attacks and the failure of security forces in protecting the pupils.

The province has been in high alert ever since the Peshawar massacre, more so around educational institutions. So when the Bacha Khan University reopened on Monday, February 15, management decided to take care security into its own hands. Just like in the aftermath of the Peshawar attacks, the university has now allowed its teachers to carry guns to protect both themselves and their students from any possible militant onslaught. Some pupils have even been seen holding weapons in the school across the province.
"After taking the necessary security measures to protect students and faculty members, we re-opened the university for classes," Fazal Rahim Marwat, vice-chancellor of the Bacha Khan University, told media on February 15.
Government failure
The government, too, is encouraging schools to deal with their security issues, which analysts say equates to an admission of failure. While Islamabad's inaction has alarmed some educators and parents, many people in the province see this as a justification of the "self-security" drive.
"It is the responsibility of the government to provide security to educational institutions. But the authorities' response to the threat has been very disappointing," Kamran Khan, a student in Peshawar, told DW. "We became worried when the government asked private schools to look after their own security. Now we don't have a choice: we have to deal with the threat ourselves," he added.
The victims' families say the perpetrators of the two massacres are still at large, and that the authorities have only taken half-hearted steps to eradicate terrorism.
Pakistani relatives and residents look at the picture of a Bacha Khan University attack victim as they gather for a funeral ceremony in Charsadda on January 21, 2016
(Photo: A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)
The Bacha Khan University re-opened this week after remaining close for almost a month
Fazal Khan, who heads a committee of the Peshawar victims' families and relatives, says the government still seems to be in two minds about who to hold responsible for the assault, hence the inaction.
Hike in guns sales
In Pakistan's northwest, particularly in the tribal areas, there is an old tradition of bearing firearms. Carrying a gun is considered to be a symbol of bravery and manliness. People also keep weapons for personal security, and to settle scores with their tribal rivals.
But in recent years, the demand for guns and other weapons has increased manifold in the northwestern areas. Arms dealers say that an increasing number of people are buying pistols for their protection.
"Arms sales grew substantially after the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, but they rose drastically after the terrorist assault on the Bacha Khan University. There has been a sixty-percent increase in weapons sales," Shahzad Ahmad Khan, a guns dealer in Peshawar, told DW.
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014
(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
Victims' families are still traumatized a year after Peshawar attacks
"Most of the buyers are educated people, including students. I understand why these people want to arm themselves. They cannot fight the terrorists with these small guns, but they still have a chance to protect themselves if they have a weapon," Khan added.
Experts blame the government for this situation. "Pakistan is already an extremely violent and volatile country. It needs de-weaponization on a national scale. Instead of performing its constitutional duties, the government is encouraging people to deal with violence through violence. It only proves one thing: the state has failed," said Islamabad-based analyst Abdul Agha.

Christian couple sentenced to death for sending 'blasphemous' texts to an Islamic cleric in Pakistan say they were tortured into confessing to the crime

A disabled Christian man and his wife sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy have claimed they were tortured into confessing.Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, from Gojra, east Pakistan, were found guilty of sending a text message which 'blasphemed' against the Prophet Mohammed to their local imam in 2013. Mr Emmanuel, who is paralysed from the waist down, claims the only reason he confessed to the crime was because he could not stand watching his wife be tortured by police.

'There is no man who can stand to see his wife being tortured by police, so to save my wife, I confessed,' Mr Emmanuel said in an appeal for bail lodged this week. The couple were arrested in July 2013 after their local imam, Maulvi Mohammed Hussain, claimed Mr Emmanuel had used his wife's phone to sent him a text insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
The couple, who have four children, denies ever sending the text, saying the phone had been stolen from them months before the message was supposed to have been sent. “There was no evidence that the text messages came from a phone owned by the couple,' Farukh Saif, an official of World Vision in Progress giving legal aid to the couple, told Christians in Pakistan. In the first place they had lost the phone some months before July 2013 and secondly there was no SIM card in their names. The only evidence police produced was a bill for a SIM card from a shop owner which is unheard of.'
Mr Emmanuel and Ms Kausar were initially sentenced to death for blasphemy, but as with nearly all such convictions, it is most likely they will spend the rest of their lives in jail. Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam is taken very seriously in the country.Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence. They have lodged an appeal at Lahore High Court on the grounds of Mr Emmanuel's deteriorating condition, claiming lack of treatment in jail has left him with bedsores and life-threatening ill health. Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam is taken very seriously in the country.
Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence.
Last month, the head of a powerful religious body in the country said he is willing to review Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, to decide if they are Islamic. Pakistan's religious and political elites almost universally keep clear of debating blasphemy laws in a country where criticism of Islam is a highly sensitive subject. Even rumours of blasphemy have sparked rampaging mobs and deadly riots.
But Muhammad Khan Sherani, chairman of a body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam, told Reuters he was willing to reopen the debate and see whether sentences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.
"The government of Pakistan should officially, at the government level, refer the law on committing blasphemy to the Council of Islamic Ideology. There is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy on this issue," Sherani said in an interview at his office close to Pakistan's parliament. "Then the council can seriously consider things and give its recommendation of whether it needs to stay the same or if it needs to be hardened or if it needs to be softened," Sherani, said.
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Pashto Music - Sardar Ali Takkar - ما وے په هجر به مې وژني رحمت الله درد