Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Russian Folk Song - Kalinka (Opera na ledě Opera na ľade Opera na lade Opera na lede)

Maria Callas 1965 "Oh Mio Babbino Caro"

Luciano Pavarotti - Nessun Dorma (1977)

Luciano Pavarotti. 1987. Nessun dorma. Madison Square Garden. New York

Luciano Pavarotti Recital - Nessun Dorma | Metropolitan Opera/New York ᴴᴰ

A look behind the scenes of Colombia’s Barranquilla Carnival

Trials in Turkey: "It seems that there are no limits to the limitation of rights"

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Food shortage worsens in East Africa amid prolonged drought

The number of severely food-insecure people across the Greater Horn of Africa has increased to 22.9 million in February as a prolonged drought led to failed harvests.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that drought in the Horn of Africa is expected to intensify in the coming months, with a delayed start to the rainy season and depressed levels of precipitation forecast for March-May in most of the Horn.
"Needs are driven by successive episodes of drought, which have led to consecutively failed harvests, combined with conflict and insecurity, and economic shocks affecting the most vulnerable," OCHA said in its latest Humanitarian Outlook report released in Nairobi.
According to the UN, the impact of the drought is largely comparable to the El Nino-induced East African drought of October-November 2010, which caused a regional food security and nutrition crisis in 2011.
Extensive crop failures and record low vegetation, together with significant livestock deaths, are currently observed across Somalia, southern and eastern Ethiopia, and northern and coastal Kenya.
The report says Western Kenya, parts of south-western Ethiopia, parts of southern Sudan and the central and eastern part of Uganda are moderately affected.
Pasture and water resources for human and livestock consumption are at critically low levels across wide swathes of the region, particularly between Somaliland and southern Ethiopia, the UN said.
The report comes after famine has been declared in parts of Unity State in South Sudan, while the humanitarian situation in Somalia is rapidly deteriorating and famine is a strong possibility in 2017.
Across the country 4.9 million people are expected to be severely food insecure from February to April, and 5.5 million by July, at the height of the 2017 lean season.
"Severe drought, rising prices, continued insecurity and access limitations, and depressed rain forecasts suggest famine is possible again in Somalia," OCHA warned.
The food insecure population in Somalia increased from 5 million in September 2016 to over 6.2 million in February.
"This includes a drastic increase in the number of people in "crisis" and "emergency" from 1.1 million six months ago to nearly 3 million projected for February to June," it said.
OCHA said conflict has been the major cause of displacement across borders and a threat to peoples' security.
It said there are 4 million refugees and asylum seekers in the region, and most of the newly displaced come from South Sudan. More people have fled South Sudan since July 2016 than Syria in the whole of 2016.
"There is a risk of a further escalation of violence in South Sudan. In Somalia, the increased fragmentation of armed groups and the pull-out of foreign troops are worrying developments," said the UN.
The report says humanitarian space continued to be constrained across the region due to insecurity, bureaucratic impediments and financial limitations.
It said the volatile and insecure operational environment in South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and eastern DR Congo made it especially difficult and costly to respond to growing needs.
"Al-Shaabab attacks are on the rise in Somalia and in Kenya's northeastern border area. In Kenya, tensions and localized conflicts are set to rise ahead of national elections scheduled for August," the UN said.
"Inter-communal violence is expected to increase in drought-affected areas as pastoralists journey with their animals looking for increasingly limited water and pasture resources," it added.

China: South Korea must face bitter pill over THAAD

It is imperative for China to adopt sanctions against South Korea. But how? 

Chinese society should learn that conflict is normal in international politics. Our countermeasures toward Seoul's deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system must be organized and resolute. Yet there is no need for us to fly into a rage and swear not to stop until we bring South Korea to its knees. Our sanctions should be peaceful and rigorous. We don't have to make the country bleed, but we'd better make it hurt. 

Chinese consumers should become the main force in teaching Seoul a lesson, punishing the nation through the power of the market. 

In the meantime, we cannot take measures which will cause destruction to both sides. Preventing the Chinese economy from suffering losses should be the basic principle in terms of the sanctions. 

That said, we propose that ordinary people should play the major role in sanctioning South Korea.

The number of foreign tourists to South Korea surged to a record breaking 17.418 million in 2016, 8.268 million of whom came from China, which accounts for 47.5 percent of total visitors to the country. As long as Chinese media increases its reports over the conflict between Beijing and Seoul due to THAAD and Chinese tourist agencies make some adjustments, the number of Chinese tourists to South Korea is bound to decline. 

Since the second half of 2016, South Korean TV dramas and live performances by South Korean stars have taken a hit in China due to the fallout from THAAD. Promoting the export of cultural goods is one of South Korea's strategic priorities. China is the largest market for the South Korean fad. If Chinese audiences sink TV dramas and stars from South Korea into oblivion, it will turn into an enormous blow to the latter's national pride. If the deployment of THAAD continues, resentment toward Seoul from Chinese consumers will eventually lead to zero exports of South Korean cultural goods to China. It will be the bitter fruit created by Seoul itself.

China is the largest market for Samsung and Hyundai, both of which have factories in China. Most of their products sold in China are made in China. Sanctioning them will lead to a complicated outcome. However, Sino-South Korean conflicts keep escalating; the two companies will suffer sooner or later. 

Apart from Lotte Group, other popular South Korean retailers and elements should also be sanctioned by Chinese buyers. Official and semi-official communications between the two nations should be largely reduced, freezing the Beijing-Seoul relationship.

China has imposed severe sanctions against Pyongyang's nuclear program through the UN. If South Korea installs THAAD, Beijing's sanctions toward Seoul should be no less than those it imposes on North Korea. 

When Seoul turns hostile against China, we cannot be aloof and do nothing about it.

Voice of China: To build bridges or walls, that’s the problem

Isms, such as nationalism, protectionism, populism, and isolationism, are spreading like wildfire across the Western world, creating uncertainty about the future of free trade and international economic cooperation. U.S. President Donald Trump and far-right leaders across Europe have emerged as influential voices against globalization, blaming it for the world’s problems. Amidst growing doubts about the future of the globalized international order, China has emerged as a voice of reason.
West: Build walls, not bridges.
In response to the wave of populism that is sweeping through the West, more and more countries in the Western world are adopting an explosive strategy of isolation and protectionism. Last year, Britain decided to exit from the European Union, essentially undoing about four decades of treaties and agreements. The success of Brexit helped usher in the rise of Trump, and has brought far-right politicians across Europe to the forefront of world politics.
In the U.S., Trump has vowed to take America back like Britain took back control of their nation. “They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT,” he once tweeted. In his inaugural speech, Trump asserted: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.” “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength,” he added. After Trump took office, he took steps to roll back globalization. Trump ordered the U.S. to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and agreement; called for the construction of a physical wall on the southern border; stepped up enforcement of immigration laws; and closed America’s doors to immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.
In Europe, a similar phenomenon is taking place right now in France. National Front leader Marine Le Pen, a front-runner in the French presidential elections, has vowed to take France back if she wins the election. The populist leader is urging her supporters to follow in the footsteps of Brexit and Trump, claiming that France is under the threat of two “totalitarianisms” – economic globalization and Islamic fundamentalism. If elected, Le Pen has promised to withdraw France from NATO’s Integrated Military Command; leave the European Union; contain immigration, especially immigration by Muslims; and expel thousands of foreigners. “The divide is not between the left and right anymore, but between patriots and globalists,” she said in a speech.
China: Build bridges, not walls.
Despite turmoil, China continues to signal its willingness to promote opening up and common development. For example, China is making a huge contribution to world peace and prosperity with its massive Belt and Road project. Since 2013, China has advanced the game-changing economic and diplomatic initiative as a way to connect the world. In 2016 alone, China invested $14.5 billion in countries along the Belt and Road. Not only is the initiative bridging the region, it offers new opportunity for major-country relations. The initiative is poised to forever reshape global trade and demonstrates China’s steadfast commitment to an open global economy.
The new political divide comes at a time when the world stands at a major crossroads as a global community: build bridges or build walls. China has chosen to build bridges with the global community, and hopes that all countries will come together to build a community of common destiny for mankind. In his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world to keep to the goal of building a community with a shared future. Xi also urged the international community to view their own interests in a broader context and to refrain from pursuing them at the expense of others. “Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air,” Xi said in his speech.
What the world needs now is more globalization, not less. Countries that stand by globalization, such as China, play a key role in maintaining the international economic order. Rather than blame economic globalization for the world’s problems, the international community should step up to the plate and make the global economy work for all people.

Kremlin’s game: What Moscow is looking to achieve in Libya

The increased activity of Moscow in Libya worries the West, which fears the coming to power in Libya of a new pro-Russian dictator - Khalifa Haftar.

On Feb. 20 Russian state company Rosneft signed an agreement on cooperation with Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC). This happened only a few days after Britain’s Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon warned Russia against interference in the affairs of Libya. The oil deal in the context of the events of the past year may mean a gradual increase of Russian involvement in Libya.

Hoping for the return of contracts

In 2008, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a number of major contracts with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. These contracts covered oil and gas production, construction, railways and weapons. The total value of the agreements was estimated to be about $10 billion. 
The signing of the contracts became a breakthrough event in the relations between Moscow and Tripoli, whose cooperation was minimized after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The implementation of these promising agreements was prevented by the Arab Spring and the subsequent war in Libya. Russia lost contracts worth billions of dollars.
A slight hope for the return of Russian big businesses to Libya appeared in April 2015, when the head of the Council of Deputies, also known as the Tobruk government, Abdullah al-Thani came to Moscow. Al-Thani reminded Russia about its committed investments in Libya and proposed a return to the implementation of the earlier projects.
However, in January 2016 the United Nations declared that henceforth the legitimate authority in the country was the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, not the Tobruk government. This decision significantly reduced the role of government of Abdullah al-Thani, which was supported by the head of the Libyan National Army General Khalifa Haftar.

Moscow and General Haftar

Khalifa Haftar is a political heavyweight in the Libyan scene and is believed to enjoy real power in large parts of the country. The Western press often refers to him as ‘Libya's most potent warlord.’
Moscow formally recognized the government of national unity in Tripoli as the legitimate authority in Libya, but has partnered with General Haftar and the government in Tobruk as well.
The first real evidence of interaction of Moscow and head of the Libyan National Army was the request by Haftar to print 4 billion Libyan Dinar. The order was executed by the Russia’s state-owned Goznak enterprise, and in May 2016, a Russian ship delivered a batch of printed notes to Libya.
In June and November 2016, Khalifa Haftar visited Moscow, where he talked about the possibility of arms supplies. In response, Moscow reiterated that it would not violate the international embargo on arms supplies to Libya without the permission of the UN.
Finally, in January 2017, the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, en route from Syria, halted in Tobruk. Khalifa Haftar visited the ship and had a video conference call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

Why Russia needs Libya

Officially, Russian involvement with Libya’s NOC was mostly confined to rhetoric.
However, there are assumptions that injured colleagues of Khalifa Haftarа have been sent for treatment to Moscow and a small number of Russian military instructors are already operating in Libya.
As noted by American analysts, it is unlikely that Moscow would seriously be interested in the supply of arms or a central role in rebuilding the country after the war.
From an economic point of view, Libya has great potential in the oil and gas industry. At the same time, accordingto Gazeta.ru the energy sector in the country today offers the possibility of quick returns but this comes with high risks associated with political instability.
Libya could help Russia significantly expand its capabilities in the Mediterranean. A big buzz was caused by the assumption that during the video conference on board the Admiral Kuznetsov, General Haftar agreed to Moscow’s informal request for the creation of two military bases in Tobruk and Benghazi.

International support

Today Libya is a failed state on whose territory there are two rival governments, radical Islamists and many small independent groups. In this regard, the prospects for increasing the involvement of Russia in the affairs of the North African country is assessed by different actors in different ways.
Thus, Egypt and the UAE actively support Khalifa Haftar, considering him the only force in Libya who can fight the Islamists in the future to stop the division of the country. These states are now bypassing UN sanctions, supplying arms to the Libyan National Army. They welcome any help to Haftar from the rest of the world.
According to some reports, Italy is positive about the idea of Moscow's participation in resolving the crisis in Libya. Rome might hope that Russia can thus help solve its key problem – tens of thousands of illegal migrants arriving in Italy via Libyan territory.
The rest of the Western world is wary about the increase of Russia’s influence in Libya. The EU is trying to convince Moscow to stop supporting the Libyan General, claiming that Haftar should be only part of the solution to the crisis in the country. However, some media have warned that Moscow's participation may lead to a new Pro-Russian dictator coming to power in Libya. 

Medvedev believes West’s anti-Russian sanctions are to stay for long

The anti-Russian sanctions are likely to stay in place for long as the United States and EU countries are trying to formalize them in legislation, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday.  

"I have spoken about the sanctions more than once: we should be prepared to live under sanctions indefinitely long," he said in an interview with the Rossiya-1 television channel.
"Just look at what our friends overseas and in Europe are doing! They are enshrining these sanctions in law, they are codifying them. They are initiative a great deal of laws on top of various executive orders [U.S. former President Barack] Obama has issued. They are trying to pass laws to formalize these sanctions as standing, like the Jackson-Vanik amendment," he said.
So, in his words, the sanctions are very much unlikely to be lifted soon. "In this sense, we cannot count on their indulgence," he said. "And we don’t need it because, as life has shown, we can develop rather well even in conditions of the sanctions. And what we have achieved in industry and in agriculture was achieved not thanks to but despite as we had to restructure our work."


‘Return’ of Crimea is impossible – Russian senator on latest Ukrainian plan

In reply to statements that Kiev has a plan to regain control over Donbass and Crimea, Russian Senator Aleksey Pushkov stated that the scenario was absolutely impossible.
“Avakov has reported that Kiev has a plan to regain Crimea and Donbass, but he has not revealed its essence. Crimea definitely cannot be returned now, with or without a plan,” Pushkov wrote in his Twitter microblog. 

Всем известно, как Порошенко "позаботился" о Донецке. Теперь обещает "не оставить без поддержки крымчан". Что-то подсказывает: они откажутся
The statement came in reply to the words of Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who told 1+1 TV about the alleged plan for “restoring Ukrainian territorial integrity” through diplomacy and without military action.
Earlier this month, Western media circulated a report about Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Artemenko and his proposal to normalize Russia-Ukraine relations through an agreement by which Russia would rent Crimea from Ukraine on a long-term basis. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov called the idea “absurd,” and denied that Moscow had ever had negotiations on the agreement.
Pushkov also commented on a Facebook post from the weekend in which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised “not to leave without support” Ukrainian citizens in Crimea. The Russian senator tweeted that the Ukrainian leader had fully demonstrated what he meant by “support” in the war-torn regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, and that hardly anyone in Crimea would wish to repeat what happened in eastern Ukraine. Pushkov added that Crimeans had experienced what Kiev means by “care” when they suffered from energy and trade blockades imposed after its reunification with Russia.
The Crimean Republic reunited with the Russian Federation in mid-2014, after over 96 percent of its residents, the majority of whom are ethnic Russians, approved the move in a referendum. The decision was prompted by the ouster of the democratically-elected president of Ukraine in a violent coup in Kiev, and the installation of a nationalist-backed government that almost immediately declared war on the pro-Russia regions in the country’s southeast, which refused to recognize the newly imposed regime.
A poll conducted on the second anniversary of the reunification in June 2016 showed that 95 percent of the people living in Crimea said that they would support the republic’s accession to the Russian Federation if a referendum was held again. Only two percent of those polled said they would not support reunification. Three percent of Crimeans and four percent of Sevastopol residents found the question too complex to answer.
In the same poll, Crimeans were asked if they were satisfied with the general situation in their region. Seventy-six percent answered “yes,” of which 34 percent were “very certain” about it.

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Analysis: What has led to rampant refugee child abuse in Libya?

World must address Saudi war crimes in Yemen urgently

The United Nations has warned about the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia presses ahead with its war on the poor nation.
Massoud Shadjareh, head of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, believes Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen need to be addressed urgently, adding that the world must raise its voice and take concrete action before it is too late.
“It really is outrageous and it is a war crime. It is difficult to even find right words to describe this deliberately created sort of phenomenon that ordinary people are deprived of food and medicine and deliberately this has been done by the Saudis and their allies – the Americans, the French and the Brits - in putting pressure on ordinary innocent civilians,” the activist told Press TV in an interview on Monday.
He also stated the fact that the United Nations has kept silence is another “outrageous aspect”, arguing that it should think about the lives and the well-being of the innocent Yemeni people who are dying on a daily basis rather than a few dollars that Saudi Arabia is going to pay to the world body.
The United Nations has already said that Yemen is facing a huge crisis, he said, but Saudi Arabia is still continuing its war crimes in an open way because of West’s support.
Shadjareh further opined that the West needs to rethink its decision to support this “madness” and “barbaric behavior”, arguing that Saudi Arabia should be pulled back and the Yemeni people must get their basic rights. According to the activist, there is nothing left in Yemen to bomb anymore, asserting that what Saudi Arabia has done in Yemen is “the crime of the century”.


‘Nobody taking responsibility for Yemen war’ – Arab Banksy to RT

With the Yemeni conflict showing no signs of easing, RT spoke to a graffiti artist who’s been capturing the horrors and hardships with his brush and paint. He believes that, even amidst unrelenting war, art can bring people together.
“Yemen was dragged into a catastrophic war, and ordinary civilians are paying a high cost for it, and they will be paying it for decades,”Murad Subay, whose work recently started catching the attention of mainstream media, told RT. Subay, who not only creates graffiti himself, but also organizes mass workshops, says he is using his artwork to draw attention to the dire conditions in Yemen.
“There's no responsibility, no sympathy with the difficulties Yemeni people are facing there.”
“It's a catastrophic war, and no one is taking responsibility for it. We hope that the voice of reason will be heard, and the war will be stopped, so that we can overcome the consequences of this catastrophe,” he says.
Subay, who is already an award-winning artist, seems genuinely uninterested in pursuing glory and fame for the sake of it. He daubs the walls of ruined Yemeni houses with haunting images of war and starving children, and tents for the displaced with pictures of barbed wire or dream-homes, traveling across Yemen despite the dangers – all of it “for the sake of peace.”
His graffiti metaphorically depicts the ugliness of war, like a malnourished child locked in a blood-red coffin or a small girl about to pick up a flower sticking from a landmine that’s about to explode.
However, instead of speaking about his own art, he told RT of the effort he’s been making along other Yemeni artists to promote art and unite Yemeni people under its aegis. Subay and others have been gathering in the capital, Sanaa, every year since the conflict began, painting illustrations of war on what was left of the city’s streets after bombings. And they have been joined by ordinary people of all ages, who wanted to paint their war, too.
“Art is not confined to the boundaries of one social class, not only artists create it. In modern conditions art can be practiced by everyone - children, youths and adults. Every [year] we invite people, they go out to the streets and make their artwork, each in their own colors. There is no social order, all is done voluntarily and without fanaticism.”
“[…] This is the art of the Yemeni streets. That’s what we do,” he says, describing the initiative launched in an effort to highlight the impact the Yemeni conflict is having on the population. He points out that the initiative has now become a tradition, calling it a “Yemeni phenomenon.”
“This Yemeni phenomenon is recognized worldwide. Articles are published about it, scientific universities are studying it as a social phenomenon – that of bringing people together in drawing,” Subay tells RT. The media has been so enthralled by his activities lately, he even got a nickname: the Banksy of Yemen, or Arab Banksy.
The original Banksy is the brush name of an anonymous British artist who’s also gained fame with his murals and paintings on sharp social and political issues. Among his best -known recent artworks are murals set among ruins of the Gaza war and ‘Steve Jobs the son of Syrian migrant’ picture in the Calais refugee camp.
Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in support of exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi at the end of March 2015, after Houthi rebels loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, backed by Iran, took over Sanaa. According to the latest UN data, the death toll in the Yemeni conflict has now surpassed 10,000 people, and almost 40,000 more have been wounded. Some 14 million civilians are in need of food aid and some 462,000 children are suffering acute malnutrition.

#SyriaWar - Russia, China veto UN resolution on Syria sanctions

Russia and China vetoed a western draft resolution at UN Security Council that imposes sanctions on Syria.
The draft resolution was proposed by UK, France and the US.
Nine countries voted in favor of the draft resolution. Russia, China and Bolivia opposed it while Egypt, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan abstained. Meanwhile, acting Charge de’ Affairs of Syria’s permanent delegation to UN, Munzir Munzir said that Syria couldn’t use chemical weapons and it doesn’t believe in using them, from a moral point of view, adding that the Syrian government has cooperated with the inquiry committees and proved to them, through evidence, that the terrorist organizations fabricated those allegations.
Munzir, in a speech at the UNSC session, said that the mechanism of joint investigation has frankly admitted that armed terrorist groups have moved and transformed the material evidences from a place into another and photographed events after many days of their happening without an attempt by the mechanism to analyze the motive behind these practices which clearly aim at falsifying the facts and fabricating accusations against the Syrian governments.
In a relevant context, Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov said in a speech following the voting session that the conclusions of experts about allegations of using chemical weapons by the Syrian government against civilians in 2014 and 2015 “are based on suspicious data.”
“The problem lies in the fact that the work of experts was based on suspicious data presented by armed groups and non-governmental international organizations in addition to media and so-called friends of Syria,” Safronkov said, adding that Damascus demands about conducting objective investigation were neglected.
He considered that the available information at the sides which proposed the draft resolution don’t include “irrefutable facts” that could be a basis for any accusations.

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Report: Obama Books Bidding War Hits $60M

The bidding war for rights to two memoirs by Barack and Michelle Obama has reportedly reached a record sum of $60 million, according to the Financial Times. The former president and first lady are writing separate books but will jointly sell the global rights to their products. According to the report, major publishers like Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins are in the running, with Penguin Random House leading the battle. A $60-million sum would far outpace other deals offered to former presidents—as FT noted, Bill Clinton was paid $15 million for his post-White House memoir, and George W. Bush received $10 million for his.

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Pakistan - Asfandyar deplores racial profiling of Pakhtuns

Awami National Party President Asfandyar Wali Khan has warned of ‘forcible eviction of Punjab people’ from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa if what he called unjust treatment meted out to Pakhtuns in Punjab is not immediately stopped.
He was speaking at a meeting in Wali Bagh on Sunday. A former union council nazim and others announced their decision to join the ANP.
The ANP chief said his party would boycott meetings convened by the government until harassment of Pakhtuns in Punjab came to an end. He warned that racial profiling of Pakhtuns could create a dangerous situation, recalling the circumstances that led to the country’s dismemberment.
Mr Khan said that his party would take part in a sit-in on March 12 to call for merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with KP. “We will accept only one Pakhtunkhwa after Fata’s merger with it. There will be no northern and southern Pakhtun­khwa,” he declared.
He called for implementation of the merger plan and allocation of five per cent of national resources and a share in the National Fina­ncial Commission award to Fata to bring it at par with other provinces.
The ANP president said strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan had benefited their enemies.

Pakistan: Supreme Court exonerates blasphemy convict after nearly five years in prison

The Supreme Court on Monday overturned an order by the Balochistan High Court and exonerated an accused facing life imprisonment on allegations of desecrating the Holy Quran. 

“The high court as well as the lower court should not have punished the accused since the allegations levelled against him did not fulfil the requirement of the blasphemy laws under Section 295(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code,” said Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who was heading a three member Supreme Court bench. 

Justice Khosa added that neither the allegations were proved nor any evidence was truly appreciated.

The bench had taken up an appeal by Khuda Bakhsh against the BHC’s upholding of life imprisonment earlier awarded by a sessions court.

Justice Dost Mohammad Khan, another member of the bench, also asked the government to make policies regarding old newspapers which have verses from the Holy Quran printed, in order to ensure the holy scriptures are not desecrated.

The apex court on the occasion regretted that the high court and the trial court awarded life imprisonment without realising that the allegation of burning the Holy Quran was never proved, as punishment to any offence should be handed down after the offence has been established in accordance with the law. 

Justice Khosa also asked on the occasion whether anyone had an idea where newspapers with verses from the Holy Quran went after being read. 

Justice Khan said that sometimes writings in Arabic were misconstrued as the holy scriptures and it may have transpired that the accused learnt from his elders to burn them.

“In our religion there is no room for those who are guilty of desecrating the Holy Quran but an innocent cannot be awarded life imprisonment merely on the basis of allegation,” said the judge. 

Khuda Bux was arrested in district Naseerabad of Balochistan for allegedly burning the pages from the Holy Quran and then throwing them into a sewer drain. He was imprisoned for four years and eight months. 


Pakistan - De-Islamisation of curriculum

The Punjab government’s recent decision to implement Quranic education for all students through Grade 1 to 12 represents another flawed policy that could possibly polarise an already divided society. The government has come up with a comprehensive plan to inculcate Islamic values and education within students. At the higher secondary level, Islamic education will be paired with Urdu translations of the Quran. Earlier, in January this year, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government also made the decision to implement Quranic education in all schools across the province in the forthcoming academic year.
Islam is not a monolithic religion, and with countless interpretations of the Quran as religious scripture, which one will the state adhere to? It is not likely that the Indian subcontinent’s historically Sufi Islamic traditions will be promoted. It seems more probable that the Sunni Deobandi interpretations that dominate the national religious discourse will also gain prominence in the education imparted to students. As such, the Education Ministry has been consulting with Islamic scholars and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to come up with a cohesive syllabus. It is rather perplexing to expect an orthodox and regressive institution, notorious for continually labelling the Ahmadi community as non-Muslims, to assemble a tolerant and unbigoted interpretation of Islam.
In his efforts to make Quranic education compulsory, the provincial leader, Rana Mashhood Ahmed Khan, stated that this move would contribute towards improved attitudes and behaviours of the students in accordance with Islamic principles. The flawed presumption of linking arbitrarily defined ‘good behaviour’ to Islamic teachings, tends to assume those lacking Islamic knowledge would not exhibit such good behaviour. As such, this thinking represents the fundamental issue with making religious education compulsory. It opens a Pandora’s Box that will contribute to already growing polarisation within society, where religious, ethnic and sectarian minorities are on the fringes battling for inclusion.
In this regard, the existing problematic nature of Pakistan’s curriculum relates to how it doesn’t counter or oppose any prejudiced narratives within the country, but instead fuels and propagates them. A 2015 report by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) that affirms that intolerance, bigotry and biases are common standards emanating from the educational system in three provinces of the country – Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Religiously influenced narratives in the education system fuel a division between ‘us’ (the Sunni Muslims) and ‘them’ (all minorities).
Already, the textbooks portray Pakistani identity as not only Punjab-centric, but fundamentally Islamic and Sunni in nature. As such, the identities of religious minorities such as Ahmadis, and ethnicities such as the Balochis, are painted in broad strokes of suspicion, inferiority and mediocrity. Pakistan’s National Commission for Peace and Justice noted that textbooks in Punjab advocate that, “honesty for non-Muslims is merely a business strategy, while for Muslims it is a matter of faith”. In addition, derogatory references to Christians and Hindus present in textbooks ignore the contributions of these communities to the country’s development. Thus, while the provincial government indulges in such policies to appease the religious clergy and electorate, the more pressing issue of a synthesis between overt religiosity and intolerance towards minorities, liberal values and secularism within the curriculum is neglected.
Article 22(1) of the constitution mentions that, “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction … other than his or her own.” However, reports indicate that even though it is permissible for non-Muslim students to opt out of studying Islam as a subject, they choose not to do so due to resulting stigmatisation. Students not undertaking Islamic studies have an option to study ‘Ethics’, which is again taught from a predominantly Islamic perspective. Reports have also indicated that non-Muslim students, such as Hindus and Christians, opting for this subject face discrimination by teachers and fellow students.
A move to further Islamise the educational system invariably leads to a dangerous trajectory where a uniform and singular identity is being inculcated within a diverse population of multiple faiths, sects and ethnicities. This is bound to strengthen intolerance towards differences with compounding cases of persecution of those who are perceivably dissimilar from what is defined as an ‘acceptable Muslim’.
In essence, the need of the hour is not to make religious education obligatory. Islam is not the solution to the inadequacies and shortcomings of the educational system in the country. Instead, there is a need to inculcate more humanistic values, calling for harmonious coexistence and peace regardless of religious beliefs. Significant de-Islamisation reforms in the educational curriculum are essential for a society with numerous instances of traction for extremist narratives, hate mongering and mob violence against Christians, allegations of blasphemy against those who are moderate and secular, and a refusal to condemn extremist groups targeting the Shia community and Ahmadis.

Pakistan - The IS Threat

The Sindh Counter-Terrorism Department’s report’s claims of the Islamic State (IS) having avenues to entrench itself in the Pakistani state are worrying, but accurate. The report states that IS can exploit sectarian hate and the existence of extremist outfits to its advantage in the process of recruitment, particularly in Punjab.
The presence of groups such as Lashkar-i-Janghvi within the province makes the IS threat even more problematic. But Punjab is not the only area that needs a closer eye, Sindh, and in particular Karachi, are just as threatened by the proliferation of IS sympathisers in society.
The attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine in Sehwan was only one of those claimed by IS in recent times, but it is by far the most deadly to be associated with the terrorist organisation. The Safoora Goth carnage, which led to the deaths of over 45 is another horrifying incident attributed to the organisation. Both these attacks were orchestrated in Sindh, meaning that the organisation is already fulfilling its recruitment drive and is finding footholds in the province.
The presence of IS literature in parts of Balochistan and others also belies that the government cannot sit comfortably and allow this dangerous enemy to spread.
But even if the government comes down hard on print versions of literature and operatives on the ground, this group, unlike others, is tech-savy and hence, more dangerous. The proliferation of IS literature online is proving to be a popular recruitment tool among a pool of educated young adults, and this is the biggest issue.
Brainwashing the educated tends to be more permanent, and stalling will only give the IS more ground than can be afforded. With this, IS gets a multifaceted support base; educated youth and hardened militants from LeJ and other terrorist outfits. However, the players are the same as they were yesterday.
Those who once swore allegiance to Al-Qaeda of the Taliban today have found a new demiurge. They are still local, and the threat can be eliminated.
CTD Sindh’s report is only the first step, it must also take action. The provincial and federal governments need to act fast on this warning; for once, a provincial police force has correctly identified a growing threat, with specific problems highlighted – a good indicator of where to start taking action. Blocking any and all IS material dissemination online – should give the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority something worthwhile to do as well – is one immediate way to halt the spread.
Arresting known facilitators and sympathisers should follow. This is not an instance where the government can tarry, it must act now and act fast.