Thursday, February 16, 2017
More than 70 people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a crowded Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan on Thursday, a police official said.
Senior police officer Shabbir Sethar told Reuters from a local hospital that the death toll was likely to rise.
"At least 72 are dead and over 150 have been injured," Sethar said by telephone.
The attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the town of Sehwan Sharif is the largest of a wave of bombings to hit Pakistan this week as the Pakistani Taliban and other radical Islamist militants carry out threats of a new offensive.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack.
Spearheaded by Usman Malik and Tehseen Baweja, The Salam Award launches today; it's a tribute to Dr. Abdus Salam and an effort to promote science fiction writing in Pakistan.
The Salam award seeks to recognise the man's genius and his status as a marginalised person within his country via the honorific and to encourage the pursuit of science fiction and imaginative writing in Pakistan. It's an admirable small effort by a few concerned individuals to change that and encourage our populace to be more imaginative.
Prominent Pakistani intellectual and scientist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, a student and colleague of Dr Salam's, will be serving as the advisor and member of the award admin.
The award will be given to aspiring short fiction writers of Pakistani origin, regardless of sexual orientation, creed, or caste. Story submissions will be in English, blinded, and judged by a rotating jury of science fiction professionals each year. The three finalists will each receive an agent and editorial review of their manuscripts. The winner will receive 500 US dollars as well as the aforementioned perks.
Judges for 2017 are Jeff Vandermeer, Mahvesh Murad, and Usman Malik. The 2017 editor reviewer is Ann Vandermeer of Tor.com. The 2017 Agent reviewer is Seth Fishman of The Gernert Company.
By Madeeha Bakhsh
Pakistani Christian educationist Professor Anjum James Paul has urged the Prime Minister to look into the concerns of religious minorities regarding the upcoming census in March 2017. In this connection, he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif maintaining that minorities are apprehensive regarding their status as equal citizenship and religious identity on the forms of census.
Anticipating a much awaited census in March, Professor Anjum James Paul, Chairman of Pakistan Minorities Teacher’s Association wrote a letter to the Premier on February 15. The text of the letter is as below:
Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif Prime Minister of Pakistan Prime Minister’s Secretariat Islamabad
Subject: Census 2017 and reservations of religious minorities
Greetings and peace from Pakistan Minorities Teachers; Association (PMTA). PMTA would like to draw your kind attention on the subject cited above.
Sir, religious minorities in Pakistan have reservations on the violation of their right to equal citizenship and religious identity on column 6 of census form 2.
Following recommendations are presented below which need your prompt kind attention to address the fundamental and constitutional rights as guaranteed in Article 25(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 that guarantees “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.”
1.Sikh religion, Bahai religion and Parsi religion mist be included in column 6.
2.Instead of “Isaai” word “Masihi” meaning “Christian” must be replaced in column 6.
3.“Scheduled Castes” must be included as “Hindu” in column 6.
Sir, it is requested to you to kindly address the genuine reservations on column 6 of census form 2 before the commencement of the census 2017.
With best regards
Prof. Anjum James Paul
In an interview with DW, Ahmad Waqas Goraya, a blogger who went missing in Pakistan last month, says he has never been involved in any anti-state or anti-Islam activity. He also opens up about his ordeal in captivity.
Pakistani activists and bloggers who went missing last month returned to their homes as mysteriously as they had disappeared. It is still unclear who had "abducted" these people. Some rights groups blame the South Asian nation's security agencies whereas others accuse militant groups for the disappearances. The government has denied the military's role in it, and no Islamist organization has claimed responsibility either.
Their disappearance sparked nationwide protests and military crackdown fears in the Islamic republic.
Renowned rights activist and university professor Salman Haider had disappeared from the capital Islamabad on January 6, according to his relatives and human rights organizations. At least three other secular activists – Ahmad Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza – had also gone missing. While all these people work in different fields, they have one thing in common: their consistent and sharp criticism of Pakistan's security establishment and conservative groups.
On January 16, the missing persons' case took a new turn when an Islamabad resident filed a complaint with the police accusing the missing activists of committing blasphemy. Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in the Islamic nation, where around 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim. Rights advocates have long been demanding reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Activists have said the implementation of these laws has little to do with instances of blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas.
Pakistan has routinely ranked among the world's most dangerous countries for reporters, who find themselves caught between the powerful security establishment and militant groups such as the Taliban. Criticism directed at Pakistan's powerful military, which dictates the country's security and foreign policies, has often seen journalists detained, beaten and even killed.
In an interview with DW, blogger Ahmad Waqas Goraya, who is currently based in the Netherlands, talks about blasphemy allegations against him and why social media activism is important for the progressive voices in Pakistan.
DW: How do you feel now after being freed from "abduction"?
Ahmad Waqas Goraya: While I was in captivity, I thought I would not come out alive. Now I am free but things are still not so good. The blasphemy allegations against me have jolted my family. Even in the Netherlands, I don't feel safe. Muslims are sensitive about the issue of blasphemy, and some people can be aggressive. The blasphemy backlash may not be as frequent in Europe as we see in Pakistan, but it does take place here as well because radical people can be anywhere. There is always a chance that a fanatic recognizes me from the media and attacks me.
Have you received any threats?
After my return to the Netherlands, my friends and people close to me advised me to be careful. There can be a crazy person anywhere.
While you were missing, a media campaign was launched in Pakistan showing images and screenshots of some Facebook pages that right-wing groups claimed carried blasphemous material. Did you have anything to do with those pages?
Nothing at all. I have never been associated in any way with these Facebook pages. I have never administered any of those sites. I have never contributed in anyway to them.
I don't care about the media campaign, as it is run by people who promote hatred and extremism. For example, TV host Amir Liaquat has incited violence through his shows. Another TV personality Orya Maqbool Jan has openly supported "Islamic State" (IS) and the Taliban.
About blasphemy allegations against me, I want to say that those who accuse me of that must produce some evidence. It has created a lot of problems for me and my family.
Why is social media activism important for a country like Pakistan?
Through social media, your message reaches a large number of people. If you are talking about an issue, your message reaches different sections of society. In my opinion, it has a bigger reach than traditional media. Also, on social media you can say whatever you want and you're not restricted by censorship, which is not the case with mainstream media. Traditional media promotes a particular narrative and a certain point of view. On social media, we see diverse opinions.
What do you want to achieve through your activism?
My activism is based on the universal declaration of human rights. This is the least we can achieve in Pakistan - the right to assembly, equal rights for all citizens irrespective of their gender, race and faith.
What prompted you to get involved in social media activism?
The assassination of the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, by his bodyguard was a turning point for me. After that incident, I listened to the lectures of moderate Muslim scholars like Javed Ghamdi, who emphasize that extremism must be rejected by Muslims. Ghamdi also condemned Taseer's murder and denounced his assassin, Mumtaz Qadri. At that point, I thought we had to speak up otherwise Pakistan would suffer.
Social media activism unites people. What happened to me and other bloggers has united people even more. But let me make it clear, I have never been involved in any anti-state or anti-Islam activity. I have been loyal to Pakistan even though I have been living in Europe for almost a decade. I never gave up my Pakistani nationality because I want to go back to my country and work for its progress.
Would you like to share more details about your "abduction"?
I don't want to speak about that. However, I would like to say to the people who suspect that Pakistan's intelligence agencies picked me up, they should know that they also freed me, which means I had nothing to do with any blasphemous page. People should also know that I was not picked up for that reason at all.
The interview was conducted by Atif Tauqeer.
By Asifullah Khan
The number of persons with disabilities in Pakistan is believed to be higher than the global average for many reasons – Pakistan is one of the only two countries where polio still exists, it has low literacy and high poverty rates which make diagnosis of certain disabilities difficult. The country is also a victim of many natural disasters and terror attacks.
Despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Pakistan has not done anything substantial to make them equal members of society. Many still lack access to wheelchairs, which is a prerequisite for their mobility, while those who do make it a point to lead active lives encounter many social, economic and physical barriers. The 2% government ob quota set to support them is good on papers and in reality, they continue to suffer economically.
Every citizen responsible for safeguarding people with disabilities
In line with this attitude, the government has now decided to not ask citizens if they have any disability in the latest census. This is in violation of its international commitment which requires it to collect data about persons with disabilities. The expensive and long exercise will not be using Form 2A which collects significant information on social indicators such as education level, fertility and disabilities. Authorities say this information may be collected at a later stage and that too through sampling method only. So, the exact number of persons with disabilities will not be known.
It is just a matter of asking a few more questions but the government seems to be in a hurry, not caring for the importance of a thorough census and merely conducting the exercise in response to a Supreme Court order. Transgender persons, believed to be in a relatively smaller number than people with disabilities, were included in the main census after the Lahore High Court intervened but unfortunately, no space has been given to people with disabilities. Pakistan has long relied on guesstimates for planning purposes but, if right done, the new census can allow policymakers to see the true picture of the population and how it has changed over the years; it will show how many people migrated to cities from rural areas, what is our literacy level, how many people are unemployed and how big are the marginalised groups such as people with disabilities.
Statistics on people with disabilities can provide useful information such as the types of common disabilities and the barriers they face which can then be used to form effective policies and to allocate adequate amounts of funds. Accurate numbers can also make other surveys and researches possible. Right now, whenever details for persons with disabilities are needed, information is extrapolated from the 1998 census which is believed to be inaccurate in the case of people with disabilities because that census had many shortcomings; stigmas associated with disabilities were never considered during the exercise, which prevents many from disclosing their medical conditions and certain intellectual disabilities were clubbed together in one broad category.
Empathy not sympathy emphasised on International Day for Persons with Disabilities
The details available with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) are also not close to the real figures because the authority is approached only by those interested in acquiring a national identity card or a passport – it doesn’t have the data of so many persons with disabilities who never make contact with NADRA. This further underscores the point that true data on persons with disabilities can only be collected during census when the government approaches each and every citizen.
Accurate statistics are important for the rehabilitation, education and training of people with disabilities and absence of such information not only makes it difficult for the government to perform its duties but also for political parties and non-government organisations to work for their wellbeing.
If the government of Pakistan is honest in its intentions to uplift the people with disabilities, including them in the upcoming census is step one. As societies are judged by how they treat the least fortunate amongst them, this issue will be a litmus test for the state.
Asifullah Khan is an author and activist who suffered from spinal cord injury during his military training.
In a country plagued by a range of serious issues, from terrorism to economic problems, it is bizarre that we have to write about Valentine’s Day.
On Monday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) barred the celebration of Valentine’s Day in government offices and public spaces across the country. The court extended the ban to coverage on the media as well. Pemra was told to ensure that television channels stop all Valentine’s Day promotions. The orders were issued without a detailed explanation for why such a ban was felt necessary. Reactionary social forces have continued to oppose any celebration of Valentine’s Day in Pakistan but they have barely been dominant enough to make a dent. With the IHC order, though, these forces may have been able to score a strange win. Valentine’s Day is mostly a non-event across Pakistan – restricted to small and mostly affluent parts of big cities. The objection against the event is not that it ‘spreads love’ but that it promotes ‘immorality, indecency and nudity’ – without any proof having been offered of the said immorality. Is it now enough to just say that something is against the culture of our country in order to have it banned?
Instead of letting a non-event continue to ass us by in all its uneventful non-glory, it is decisions such as this that force a confrontation in society over what should essentially not be an issue. Last year, it was President Mamnoon Hussain who had decided to take on Valentine’s Day. Such decisions can only charm the social cohesion of the country at a time when the threat of terrorism and fundamentalism is by no means over. It is also rather strange to see such cases make it to the top of the case load in a judicial system that remains burdened by what most people would argue are much more serious cases. This is yet another example of a society and legal system whose priorities have become so misplaced that they end up seeing balloon-sellers and flower vendors as the biggest threat to Pakistan today.
The first reports about the stent affair only disclosed the use of unregistered stents. Later on, doctors were blamed for using stents marketed by ‘unrecognised’ manufacturers. The other day, a spokesman of the Drug Regulatory Authority told a Senate Standing Committee that not only substandard but “expired” [sic] stents were being used.
It seems that the system of registering stents, introduced only some months ago, is yet to be properly enforced. The majority of those who need stents cannot afford the supposedly most reliable device (costing around $5,000), and they settle for less expensive varieties and hope that the ‘number 2’ device will be as effective as the genuine one. Patients’ exploitation has been made easier by the failure of manufacturers/ distributors to print the sale price of stents.
The rise of the hydra-headed monster of corruption has fuelled the surge in spurious drugs. The magnitude of the problem can hardly be exaggerated. Cardiac disorder is no longer the disease of the old and indolent rich; now cardiac clinics are attracting an increasing number of people of all ages and from all socio-economic groups. The demand for stents is estimated in six figures.
Since stent is a life-saving device, the urgency of ensuring that only duly tested and certified products are used is quite clear. No more should be said about stents as the Supreme Court is seized of the matter and it is expected to decide how the use of stents should be regulated and how the relevant authorities can be awakened to their responsibilities.
However, the stent affair is only the tip of a wider malaise in the drug sector. There is a glut of spurious and substandard drugs in the market. Pakistan’s eminent authority on public health, Dr Sania Nishtar, made the following observation on the subject in her 2010 publication, Choked Pipes: Reforming Pakistan’s Mixed Health System.
“Spurious and counterfeit medicines are part of a multimillion dollar international drug business — six to 10 per cent of all medicines distributed across national boundaries are found to be counterfeit. Pakistan is known to be amongst the 13 countries of the world where manufacturing of spurious medicines has been reported. Earlier reports by the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of European Union and the US Trade Office alleged Pakistan markets as having 50pc substandard and spurious medicines. The Ministry of Health official reporting of the magnitude of spurious medicines in the market is in sharp contrast to this and has been reported at 0.4pc.”
There is no evidence that the spurious drugs market has shrunk over the past six years. Nor has the duty of the health authorities to make a realistic assessment of the trade in spurious drugs become any less important. It will take extraordinarily efficient and alert drug control agencies to rid the market of the bad habits it has acquired over many years, aided by state authorities’ muddle-headedness.
Special effort is necessary to check the sale of substandard drugs. In spite of attempts made sometime ago to oblige chemists to employ only qualified personnel as salesmen, many of the latter might not be aware that they are selling poison under the label of cures. They need to be told that besides being able to correctly read the prescriptions they have an important role in preventing fellow human beings’ coming to grief by using substandard medicines.
Unfortunately, we are discussing threats to people’s lives and health presented by substandard drugs at a time when the supply of contaminated water, and poisonous and adulterated foodstuffs has reached alarming levels.
The non-availability of safe drinking water, especially in big cities, is old hat. The pipes are old, rusted and broken; clean water cannot be supplied to consumers even if it is free of impurities at the source. Many were forced to switch over to the more expensive bottled water but their confidence in it has been shaken by reports that some of the bottlers lack the capacity to supply pure water. Similar complaints have been circulating about packaged milk and this has affected the reputation of even companies that are considered above reproach.
Almost every day, the media reports destruction of huge quantities of meat of donkeys or sick animals and rotten meat, and the seizure of thousands of litres of unsafe milk in Lahore alone. What is happening in the countryside is anybody’s guess. Reports of people dying or falling sick in droves after consuming contaminated food are accepted as unavoidable hazards to the people’s lives.
This reminds one of the campaigns against food adulteration in the 1960s, when shopkeepers were caught, and sometimes punished, for selling brick powder as chilli powder or for mixing fertiliser with sugar and discarded engine oil with cooking oil. These campaigns petered out before the problem was solved and its recurrence blocked. Thus, the present drive against spurious drugs and food adulteration has not come a moment too soon and one hopes it will be carried to its logical conclusion.
That the rise of the hydra-headed monster of corruption has fuelled the surge in the circulation of spurious drugs and adulterated food is obvious. The state, instead of earnestly fighting corruption, seems to have become a trendsetter in this nefarious business. Particularly damaging has been the collapse of the inspection mechanism in all areas. Besides, in an environment dominated by terrorism and reliance mainly on force to counter it, human life has suffered a massive devaluation. Ordinary men and women are dying of preventable causes and not many people’s conscience is stirred.
The question as to what has turned a large number of people into purveyors of death and disease demands a separate discussion.
Umpteen reports about the foiling of terrorists’ designs by the CTD, raids on hideouts followed by arrests of militants and suspected terrorists killed in encounters, and still we have what could turn out to be one of the major attacks in Lahore. With at least 14 dead while over 100 are injured, there is a likelihood of a rise in the number of mortal casualties. During January and February terrorist attacks were confined to Karachi, FATA and districts in the vicinity of Afghanistan or the agencies like Quetta and DI Khan. The Lahore attack comes 11 months after the disastrous Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park suicide attack.
The number of terrorist attacks had come down in 2016. The TTP had suffered heavy casualties on account of the army operation. This further strengthened complacency in the Interior Ministry. As was later pointed out in the annual report of Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) for 2016, there was a marked increase in the attacks by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar during the year. The Interior Ministry simply failed to realise the gravity of the new source of the threat. When Balochistan government asked it in August to ban the network, the letter left the ministry unconvinced despite Jamaat-u Ahrar having owned the terrible attacks it had conducted and the US having already put its name in the list of specially designated global terrorist outfits. NACTA sought confirmation from ISI and delayed the ban till November.
The failure to implement the NAP has helped terrorist networks like Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Lahkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alalami as they continue to receive finds and get volunteers Sectarian violence lingers on because the Interior Ministry is not convinced of treating banned sectarian organisations as terrorist outfits. This explains the reluctance to take action against the Lal Masjid cleric and seminaries encouraging sectarian violence. Hate crimes continue on social media while political exigencies create pressures for taking a lenient view when seminaries are involved. The government needs to shed its complacency and implement NAP in letter and spirit before the monster starts playing havoc as before.
Following Monday’s horrific suicide attack on Charing Cross which claimed 13 lives and left over 100 people injured, the wheels have started turning once again to launch a crackdown on banned militant organisations still active in Punjab. Two days later, Peshawar was the target of terror on Wednesday, as at least two people were reportedly killed and 18, including two women and a civil judge were severely injured after a bomb exploded, targeting a van of judges near Hayatabad Medical Complex. As the country is gripped in fear and violence after a period of calm, it is a great failure of the government that the National Action Plan could not be enforced despite the army’s efforts to launch a crackdown almost a year ago, and the people continue to suffer at the cost of the relapse in the security situation.
The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), an offshoot of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, also claimed the attack on Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park 11 months ago. Security forces had launched operations against members of banned outfits in various cities of Punjab in April 2016, arresting over 350 suspected terrorists and their facilitators.
Have any of the suspects arrested actually been convicted of any crime in these eleven months? Police have now arrested at least 50 suspected persons during raids in different parts of Punjab, half of which belonged to Lahore. What will the outcome of these arrests be?
Perhaps the PTI chief was in the right to condemn the ruling party for displaying reluctance in implementing NAP in Punjab, especially considering the attitude of the chief minister, who insisted that there was no need of purging operations in Punjab. The ruling party was hesitant to shake up the delicate balance it shares with some of these organisations at play in the province, but perhaps now it will review the law and order situation and back the army for an operation against militants in south Punjab as Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa directed on Monday.
The army chief demanded that local army commanders and intelligence agencies provide all assistance to the civilian administration and to apprehend those responsible for the Lahore attack. But the real question is, will the civilian administration extend the same will and grit to purge the nation of these terrorists? In the aftermath of this terror and grief, it would be highly imprudent not to.
At least 30 people were killed and 50 were injured when a blast ripped through the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Shewan on Thursday evening. Taluka Hospital Medical Superintendent Moeinuddin Siddiqui confirmed that at least 30 bodies have been brought to the hospital while more than 100 people have bought in injured condition. The explosion took place at the spot where the dhamaal (Sufi ritual) was being performed, within the premises of the shrine. SSP Jamshoro Tariq Wilayat told Dawn that initial report suggests that it was a suicide bombing on portion reserved for women in the shrine. "It seems to be a suicide bombing according to initial information provided by Sehwan police to me and I am on way to Shewan", SSP said.
What we know so far At least 30 dead and 50 injured Explosion at spot of dhamaal after evening prayers Injured being shifted to Liaquat Medical Complex Jamshoro and the sub-district hospital. Shrine located slightly off Super Highway
Multiple injuries are feared as a large number of people frequent the shrine on Thursdays. The injured are being shifted to nearby hospitals.
An emergency has been declared in the hospitals of the area, with the injured being shifted to Liaquat Medical Complex Jamshoro and the sub-district hospital.
A large contingent of police has reached the spot. The shrine is situated slightly off the Super Highway in Jamshoro district. Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah phoned the senior civil and police officials of the district and instructed them to reach the shrine.
Sehwan in Jamshoro district is the constituency of Sindh's chief minister.
This is a developing story that is being updated as the situation evolves. Initial reports in the media can sometimes be inaccurate. We will strive to ensure timeliness and accuracy by relying on credible sources such as concerned, qualified authorities and our staff reporters.
Continuous increase in terrorism, falling of the economy is a matter of grave concern for Pakistan.
Pakistan might not be the most dangerous country in the world but is definitely the most dangerous country for the world, said former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official Kevin Hulbert, who was posted as CIA station chief in Islamabad. He warned that if the economy of the country continues to fall, the consequences of it would be faced by the rest of the world.
Hulbert added that the condition of Pakistan today is a matter of grave concern as the economy of the country is falling, there is a continuous increase in terrorism, it has the sixth largest population, and has one of the highest birthrates in the world. We even have serious problems in Afghanistan with its population of 33 million people, but Pakistan has about 182 million inhabitants, over five times the size of Afghanistan.
He cautioned about isolating Pakistan and said that maintaining distance from the country will not be of any help, in fact, the problem will get worse if we choose that path. Hulbert wrote in the Cipher Brief—a website for the intelligence community—that “it probably is the most dangerous country for the world.”
Several people were injured as a bomb exploded inside the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh’s Sehwan town on Thursday.
The blast took place when devotees were performing Dhamal – a Sufi ritual, which was being attended by scores of people from across the country, sources said.
“There are no rescue and ambulance services available and those wounded were crying out for help as the injured are being transferred to nearby medical facilities in private vehicles.”
Talking to The Express Tribune, Hyderabad Commissioner Kazi Shahid Parvez said: “The incident has taken place outside the mazar (shrine) where Golden Gate is located.”
In a similar attack last year, at least 45 people, including women and children, were killed in an explosion that struck Dargah Shah Noorani in Khuzdar district of Balochistan.
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.