Friday, March 2, 2018

Video - Bilawal Bhutto addressing at memorial reference for Shahbaz Bhatti organized by APMA

The Spring Of Pashtun Awakening In Pakistan

Mohsin Dawar

Earlier this month, I sat next to the Pakistani general leading tens of thousands of troops in a northwestern region once considered the epicenter of global terrorism.
Major General Azhar Iqbal Abassi, an infantryman, was cordial, and our meeting was frank and candid. With the help of PowerPoint, he gave us a detailed briefing about the achievements of his forces since they launched the Zarb-e Azab offensive. In June 2014, Islamabad unleashed all its military might on North Waziristan, where myriad Islamist militant groups had run a de facto jihadist state for more than a decade.
His upbeat assessment was, however, in contrast with the reality of life outside the tightly guarded sprawling garrison in Miran Shah, the administrative capital of North Waziristan.
It’s true that most militants fled Zarb-e Arab, and they no longer control territories in North Waziristan. But more than 1 million of its civilian residents braved death, injury, and displacement and have only recently returned to destroyed homes and ruined businesses in demolished bazaars.
On top of that, they had to put up with long waits and harassment at security check posts, deal with violence after the occasional militant attacks, and live without key rights and civic services taken for granted in the rest of Pakistan.
I know this because North Waziristan is my home. I grew up in Darpakhel, a village north of Miran Shah, and our February 15 meeting with military officials was aimed at finding a solution to some very basic problems that North Waziristan residents face. While security, the rule of law, and access to basic services are a given in most societies, we are fighting hard to get them.
Everyone in the delegation I led was proud of our achievements. In hours of deliberations, we demanded that civilians should not be harassed or tortured or a curfew imposed in their communities following a militant attack. They agreed to streamline the cumbersome checks on numerous checkpoints across the region’s roads. They promised to look into the issue of disappeared people and some people have been reunited with their families since.
In a major concession for civic freedom, all political parties will be able to campaign freely in the run-up to this year’s parliamentary elections. They also accepted our demands for letting North Waziristan residents rebuild their markets and promised to reopen the Ghulam Khan border crossing with neighboring Afghanistan so that the local economy, mainly based on trade and transport, can recover.
FILE: Many houses in Dande Darpakhel and across North Waziristan were destroyed.
FILE: Many houses in Dande Darpakhel and across North Waziristan were destroyed.
In a sign of how difficult it is to live in North Waziristan today, we were also promised that the government would implement development projects, reopen major roads connecting parts of the region, and restore mobile telephones and Internet and help reopen branches of a local bank.
I do not think that these small concessions will turn Waziristan into a haven, but it might make it barely habitable.
The road to get the authorities to agree to very basic demands was, however, not easy. The meeting in Miran Shah was a follow-up to our numerous meetings with civilian officials and military generals in Islamabad and neighboring Rawalpindi earlier this month. We prompted them to take notice after we braved 10 cold nights in the open while protesting outside the National press club in Islamabad from February 1.
Popularly dubbed as the Pashtun Long March, our sit-in protest galvanized years of grievances in Waziristan, other districts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the neighboring provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The Pashtun heartland in these regions turned into a frontline on the war against terrorism after 9/11.
Closed to outside observers, millions of Pashtuns in FATA paid a particularly heavy toll. They were first terrorized by militants and then affected by the military’s counterterrorism sweeps. They constitute a majority of the 50,000-plus civilians Pakistani officials estimate have died in more than 15 years of unrest. More than 6 million Pashtuns were displaced by fighting. Thousands are still unaccounted for. Pashtun laborers, traders, students, and professionals face harassment, stereotyping, and racial profiling across Pakistan.
The January murder of one such Pashtun victim spurred our movement for reclaiming our lost dignity, rights, and privileges. Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model and shopkeeper, was killed in what a government probe declared to be a staged shootout with the police in the southern seaport city of Karachi. Like thousands of Pashtun victims, his suspected murderer still remains at large.
My generation grew up in a world defined by intolerance, hatred, and fear. But the one we want to build now for future generations must be defined by love, tolerance, and emancipation.
This awakening heralds a tectonic shift in northwestern Pakistan that the world needs to pay close attention to.

FATF setback: Pakistan is a victim of its own inaction

Pakistan currently resembles the biblical Goliath; big and armed to teeth but stymied by a myriad of factors such as inaction, inefficiency, institutional paralysis, inter-institutional tug of war, ill-preparedness, insufficient vision on top and behavioral intransigence on issues that are virtually existential threats to the country.
The embarrassment suffered at the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which decided to put Pakistan back in the ‘grey’ watch list from June for insufficient compliance with the globally practiced counter-terror financing framework, was the latest manifestation of all the aforementioned factors.
Both the civilians and the military establishment knew this was coming, but no credible measures for compliance were taken until a presidential decree allowed authorities to symbolically seize all of Jamaatud Dawa related assets, only a few days before the Paris meeting.
None on the top expected China to blink. But it did. And that was pretty logical. If key state institutions refuse to understand and admit Chinese global aspirations and the reasons behind its meteoric economic rise, then issues such as grey-listing would keep embarrassing the country, and no country would stand by us. So far, the civil-military establishments have been in denial. Now they shall have to work out a plan of action in consultation with the FATF to begin ‘compliance to FATF protocols’. This also includes the primary driver of the ‘grey-listing’ – the Indian concerns. New Delhi has convinced Washington and even Beijing that Pakistan’s compliance to FATF requirements will be credible only if it conclusively acts against the ‘terrorist infrastructure’ (Jamaatud Dawa, Jaishe Mohammad etc). All this is related to our infatuation with Kashmir.
And withdrawal of support at FATF must also make the civil-military elites realise that the policy of using non-state actors for foreign policy objectives (be it the lashkar, the jaish or appeasement of Haqqanis) enjoys zero tolerance among the international community.
In retrospect, there is little doubt that the romance with the word K (read Kashmir) has bled Pakistan profusely. It has generated a dynamic that has become a financial noose around the country’s neck. For sure, this policy has outlived its utility and it is about time to bury it before it hurts us like t has never before. For too long has the core of decision-makers dragged its feet in drawing lessons from the UN Security Council Resolutions No1,333 (sanctions on Taliban), and No1,267 (sanctions on individuals and entities associated with Al-Qaeda).
Quite tragic that as politicians and the military establishment slug it out on the domestic front, they have blatantly ignored the battering that the country’s image has taken abroad – primarily because of their short-term institutional or personal interests. Issues such as at least nine closures of the Torkham border within 12 months has also fed into this image as well as into the Indo-US narrative on Pakistan’s ‘mindless actions’ that keep hurting Indian and Afghan interests.
These border closures have not only hurt individual Pakistani and Afghan businessmen but also jeopardised tens of thousands of jobs, directly caused decline in Pakistani exports to Afghanistan, and retaliatory measures by President Ghani (barring Pakistani trucks from entering Afghanistan).
Even on normal days, the chaos on Pakistan’s Torkham and Chamman borders presents a view that reminds you of a border of an under-developed country suffering perpetual bouts of conflicts. The tug of war of interests among security institutions, customs authorities, and other bureaucracies have all combined to prevent big progress on these critical choke points.
Resultantly, the bilateral trade has diminished from the high of $2.7 billion in 2013 to $1.2 in 2017. Afghan traders have also shifted their trade to Iran and Uzbekistan and China via Iran to avoid losses arising out of frequent border closures. Similarly, despite hosting Afghan refugees, Pakistan has yet to devise an honourable policy for those born here to Afghan families; expecting these Pakistan-born youth to return to a country totally alien to them. All these years, officials – both military and civilian – have parroted a stereotypical narrative on refugees, linking them all to crime and terrorism, to make a case for their return. But recently, General Qadir Baloch, the federal minister for SAFRON, told a visiting Afghan delegation that not a single refugee was found involved in terrorism. Why bracket all of them all with terrorism then, and make a case for their repatriation?
Gawadar town represents another example of the cumulative institutional paralysis; while all top-notches are singing the CPEC song, the town itself is struggling with acute electricity and water shortages. Construction of the new airport, for which the Chinese made $259 million available over a year ago, has not started yet. Both provincial and federal authorities are trading allegations and shifting blames for the multiple crises that Gawadar’s residents and businesses are facing. It is an alarming situation that requires all institutions to sit together for a coordinated, smarter and visionary way forward to beat the odds that increasing by the day.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws persecute the weakest of the weak

By Farahnaz Ispahani
On Saturday, Rome's Colosseum was lit in red in support of persecuted Christians, including Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. At the Rome gathering, Pope Francis described Bibi, alongside a Nigerian woman who was captured by Boko Haram, as "martyrs."
Bibi, an illiterate berry picker, was convicted of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed. She was accused by her Muslim neighbors who objected to her drinking water from the same glass as them because she was Christian. Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, her alleged comment is punishable by death. In 2010, Bibi, at age 45, was sentenced to hang, but her case is still pending.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws date back to the military dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia ul Haq. In 1980, making a derogatory remark against any Islamic personage was defined as a crime under Pakistan's Penal Code Section 295, punishable by three years in prison. In 1982, another clause was added that prescribed life imprisonment for "willful desecration of the Quran" and, in 1986, a separate clause was added to punish blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed with "death, or imprisonment for life."
Bibi's case illustrates how blasphemy laws are used to persecute the weakest of the weak among Pakistan's religious minorities. As a poor Christian from a low caste, Bibi was among the most vulnerable and susceptible to discrimination. And the legal system -- which, in theory, should be designed to protect the innocent -- failed her in every way.
However, Bibi's case isn't the first case in which Pakistan's blasphemy laws have been used to punish minority groups. Since Zia ul Haq imposed the laws, their application has unleashed extremist religious frenzy.
Procedures for investigation and prosecution lend themselves to widespread abuse. Assertion by a Muslim witness that blasphemy was committed is sufficient for filing of charges and arrest of a suspect -- even without corroborating evidence. Furthermore, the testimony of non-Muslim witnesses in defense carries less weight, and, in most cases, the filing of charges is tantamount to punishment, because bail is denied. Worse still, once blasphemy is alleged, mob violence or targeted killing becomes a possibility. According to researcher Mohammed Nafees, from 1990-2011, there were over 50 cases "wherein blasphemy suspects were either extrajudicially murdered or died in jail." To quote a 2016 Amnesty International report, "As Good as Dead: The impact of blasphemy laws in Pakistan," once an individual is accused of blasphemy, "they become ensnared in a system that offers them few protections, presumes them guilty, and fails to safeguard them against people willing to use violence."
Lawyers who dare to represent someone accused of blasphemy have also been killed. In 2014, Rashid Rehman, a distinguished human rights lawyer brave enough to represent those most vulnerable to blasphemy charges -- women and children of religious minorities, people with mental disabilities, and the weak and impoverished -- was shot dead in his office by two unidentified gunmen. Meanwhile, judges who have dared to acquit an alleged blasphemer or convict the killer of an alleged blasphemer have either had to flee the country or face death.
Nonetheless, until now, Western governments, which viewed Pakistan as a strategic ally in the war on terrorism, did little to protect Pakistan's religious minorities. However, that might now be changing -- albeit slowly. The Pope's attention to Bibi's case parallels efforts by the European Union's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief to secure her release by making it a condition for continued European market access for Pakistani products. More specifically, Jan Figel, part of the special envoy, informed the Pakistani government that the future of Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP, status to Pakistan, which allows Pakistan duty-free access to the EU markets, would be directly linked to the peaceful resolution of Asia Bibi's blasphemy case.
An EU news release further stated, "Pakistan's Supreme Court, appeasing certain political and fundamental forces of Pakistan, is intentionally delaying the hearing of Asia Bibi." If the European Union can hold firm in linking the renewal of Pakistan's GSP trading status to the outcome of her case, it would signal to Pakistani authorities that this is not a matter they can ignore. But the European Union isn't the only body exerting pressure. The US State Department also has placed Pakistan on a watch list for "severe violations" of religious freedom on the recommendation of the United States Commission on International religious Freedom, after several waivers on grounds of the country's importance to US foreign policy. The injustice of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, used frequently to persecute religious minorities, has been criticized by human rights advocates for decades. But it is only recently that the persecution of religious minorities has become a critical issue to the international community at large. Let's hope the European Union and the United States can hold their ground long enough to see Pakistan address the injustice of their laws.

Balochi Culture is a beautiful flower in the cultural bouquet of Pakistan: Bilawal Bhutto

Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has extended felicitations on the occasion of Baloch Culture Day being observed on Friday, March 2 all over the country.

In his message on Baloch Culture Day, the PPP Chairman said that Baloch people are brave and inheritors of a rich and historic culture.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari further said that Baloch Culture was a beautiful flower in the cultural bouquet of Pakistan and stressed that Baloch Culture should be preserved, promoted and celebrated at larger level.