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#Pakistan: Will general elections be held on time?

The growing rift between ex-PM Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan's powerful army has cast a dark pall over the upcoming elections. Some accuse the generals of trying to influence the vote to keep Sharif's party out of power.
Uncertainty and unpredictability loom large as Pakistan's general elections draw closer. The latest conflict between the ruling party and the nation's powerful military erupted over former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's recent statement on the involvement of Pakistan in the 2008 terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai.   

With Sharif's assertion, the already poor civilian-military relations in the country have deteriorated even further. Despite widespread criticism, Sharif has stuck to his guns and refused to retract his contentious remarks.

The comments put the former PM in the crosshairs of pro-military politicians and television commentators, with most of them calling for Sharif to be charged with treason. "Sharif should be charged with Article 6," opposition leader Imran Khan said, referring to the clause of Pakistan's constitution that seeks death for committing treason.

The issue reveals the serious friction and deep-seated distrust between those that support the country's democratically elected civilian government and others that side with the army. 

Elections on schedule?

The controversy comes in an election year, as Pakistan is expected to go to the polls at sometime in July after the current parliament's tenure ends at the end of May. Many Pakistanis, however, fear that the election schedule may be derailed, given the current tense political situation.
For now, officials say these fears are unfounded. "Everything is set and the general election will take place on time," Altaf Ahmed, director of public relations at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), told DW. If the prime minister dissolves parliament on May 31, the ECP would have 60 days to conduct the election.

Pakistan's major political parties also appear optimistic about the holding of elections. "Elections will not be delayed," the chairman of the ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Raja Zafar Ul Haq, told DW. The spokesperson of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), an opposition party, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain also says there's no point in delaying the elections.

"Pakistan can't delay its 2018 general election because it has to answer the international community. So I guess the election will be according to the scheduled time," Tahir Mehdi, an election expert, told DW.

Former Senator Farhatullah Babar, who previously served as press secretary to ex-President Asif Ali Zardari, believes there are "undemocratic forces" in the country that want to delay the elections, "but they will not succeed."

Still, the fragile state of the South Asian nation's democracy has been a source of worry for many Pakistanis. Since the country's founding in 1947, Pakistan's democratic history has been tainted by decades of military dictatorship, with the army overthrowing elected governments every few years.

Ruling from the shadows

In 2013, for the first time in its history, the country witnessed a smooth transition of power from one civilian government to another. This triggered hopes that the country had managed to put an end to its military coup-filled past, and was on track to becoming a true democracy.

But the manner in which Sharif was recently expelled from his premiership sparked suspicion that the army was behind his ouster. Sharif, who has been Pakistan's prime minister three times, had to step down ostensibly because his family was implicated in a corruption case. However, many believe he has been targeted because of his willingness to lock horns with the army, and assert civilian authority over the military.

In addition to losing his position as premier, Sharif has been barred from leading his party and also from contesting any election ever. Their attempt to banish Sharif from Pakistani politics, some observers say, shows the institutional power of the nation's military, indicating how the generals no longer need to undertake a coup d'etat and impose martial law in order to exercise power. Instead, they have mastered the art of ruling the country from the shadows.

Against this backdrop, experts point out that there are fears over whether the upcoming elections will be free and fair. "If the elections are not free and fair then it would not be accepted as an election because it should be transparent," said PML-N's Zafar ul Haq.

The elections will be crucial in determining Pakistan's future trajectory, as the country finds itself confronting a challenging security landscape. The United States, under President Donald Trump, has also been tough on Islamabad, expressing its frustration over Pakistan's failure to target terrorist networks in the region.

Seeking China's support

At the start of this year, Washington also decided to suspend security assistance to Islamabad. This has pushed Pakistan to increasingly turn toward China for much-needed financial and diplomatic support.

China, on the other hand, has been Pakistan's close regional ally for decades and has invested heavily in the country in recent years. Currently, Beijing is spearheading a nearly $60 billion (€50 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of its gigantic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China also wants to minimize India's influence in the region by supporting Pakistan, a policy that analysts don't think will drastically change in the near future.

However, experts argue that economic prosperity requires political stability. And increased political tensions mean more political instability, which would increase interference from the military establishment in political and election-related matters, Senator Akram Dashti told DW.

"The army would not leave any stone unturned to keep Sharif out. In short, the military establishment does not accept the supremacy of the civilian political parties in Pakistan because they want to call the shots in the country," said Dashti.

#Pakistan - Drinking Poison

Samson Simon Sharaf
It is neither a revelation nor a surprise that majority of Pakistanis are consuming poisoned water in treated and untreated forms. High rates of child mortality, kidney failures, liver cancers, hepatitis, gastronomical diseases, stunted growth and deformities are all because of the treated (mineral starved pure brands of bottled water) and untreated water. Drinking water for prolonged use has to be rich in minerals/nutrients and also hydrating for the body and blood stream.
It must be remembered that natural water is a rich source of minerals and nutrients for the body. In a country where majority lives below poverty line, water is a cheap source of minerals. The integrity of beneficial minerals must never be lost in water with dissolved solids less than 1,000 parts per million. The emphasis must be on selective removal of contaminants. The government and water companies must strive to deliver mineral rich natural water with over 300 mineral rich compounds rather than purified RO water with less than ten laboratory induced mineral compounds.
Recently, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice of Saaf Pani Company in Punjab. The CEO of the company informed the apex court that Rs150 billion had been allocated for the whole project while 116 plants had been installed at a cost of Rs4 billion. He also informed that Rs300 million had been spent on the services of foreign consultants. A day later, it was contradicted by Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Saeed that despite Rs. 4 billion being spent on the Saaf Pani Project, not a single drop of clean water was made available to the people. There is no doubt that Saaf Pani is a top heavy organisation with hefty pays and privileges to management, foreign consultants and still in process of reinventing a needless wheel. Whatever the scale of mismanagement and corruption in Saaf Pani Company, the water industry in Pakistan knows fully well that this is just the beginning and failure of yet another non-deliverable cycle that began much earlier in 2004. For the fourth time results will be no better.
So if the Supreme Court of Pakistan and National Accountability Bureau wish to impose justice, they must go back to 2004 and investigate how a largely foreign funded water initiative was mismanaged for greed and quick money. Hitting only at Saaf Pani Company and allowing others to go scot free will be perversity of justice and accountability. The Supreme Court must summon all ministers and Director Generals of these projects from 2004-2013 to ensure that Justice is inclusive. It began as a Clean Drinking Water for All (CDWA) under the ministry of environment in 2004. Having failed miserably, it was taken over by the so called vibrant and innovative Minister of Industries in 2007. Ministry of Science and Technology was coopted as a minion. The name was changed to Clean Drinking Water Initiative (CDWI). The management lacked professionalism, knowledge and commitment and went the way of Saaf Pani. The ministry after having de-tracked the project and failed palmed off the sick initiative to a new Ministry of Special Initiatives that ran out its mandate in 2013 after the 18th Amendment. The project was in doldrums. Soon after devolution availability of huge funds commensurate to populations in Punjab and Sindh activated the two provincial governments towards water projects. The delivery to a common man remained pathetic.
The story of poisoned water in Sindh is no different. The government of Sindh put emphasis on expensive, high energy consumption reverse osmosis plants in Tharparker. It ignored urban, central and upper Sind that needed much cheaper conventional adsorption plants for removal of arsenic, fluoride, microorganisms, nitrites and coliform. The priorities went where the money was. This poisoning of water can be categorised as untreated water supplies from the municipalities cross contaminated by sewage. This cross contamination exists because of distribution systems alongside sewage lines and faulty septic tanks that contaminate ground water with fecal material, coliforms and nitrites.
Nitrogen is a nutrient for plants. Nitrate contamination occurs when there are more nitrates than the plants consume. Other sources of nitrate in groundwater include waste dumps, animal feedlots, landfills, lack of sewage disposal and defective septic tanks. Groundwater contamination is enhanced when the soil is sandy or gravely (North Punjab and KPK) due to a high hydraulic conductivity. Contamination is more likely in areas where the water table is close to the surface, or results from seepage of faecal matter. This also causes Lake Eutrophication (Rawal and Simli Lakes) and effects human health. The major concern affecting human health pertains to infants less than six months of age. This health hazard is due to a bacterium that exists in gastrointestinal tract and converts nitrate to nitrite (NO2). The nitrite produced then reacts with hemoglobin to form methemoglobin, which does not carry oxygen. As more and more hemoglobin is converted, the infant receives less oxygen to the brain resulting in slate blue skin, vomiting, diarrhea, mental retardation and suffocation leading to death. This is known as “blue baby” syndrome. The reaction with amines and amides produces cancer and kidney failure, a reason that explains high density of dialysis centers around Lei and Korang Nullahs in Rawalpindi-Islamabad. Nitrates and Nitrites can be effectively removed through a selective ion exchange media.
Arsenic is a toxic element that can cause hyper pigmentation, deformation of bones, skin and liver cancer and circulatory disorders in all forms of life. Arsenic occurs naturally in sea, ground water in areas of high geothermic activity and mountainous terrains. In ground waters, arsenic is present in the inorganic form as an oxyanion in the trivalent and pentavalent states in both anaerobic and aerobic waters. The best method of removing it from water is through a Ferric Hydroxide Adsorption media that guarantees waste disposal. Reverse Osmosis produces high quantities of concentrated arsenic that further contaminate the environment. Every arsenic removal design must include waste disposal. High levels of arsenic and fluoride are found in Central and Southern Punjab, Upper, Central and Lower Sindh. Upper Sindh below the Kirthar range has the highest levels of Arsenic contamination in Pakistan. Because the water treatment industry in Pakistan is mostly run by quacks and not scientific process engineering a sledge hammer solution to all water contamination is through reverse osmosis. This method leaches water of all minerals and dumps 30-60% concentrated waste that causes further environmental contamination. Ideally this solution should only be applied to water with dissolved solids above 1000 parts per million with a backup waste disposal method.
Every household must know that boiling water only kills microorganisms. In addition it precipitates calcium and magnesium that are essential to human health. Boiling water increases permanent hardness and with it the levels of arsenic, nitrates, nitrites, cyanide, baron and uranium in water. In other words, it concentrates the poison. So next time think before you boil the water, or purchase a kitchen RO unit. One drop of kitchen bleach in 18 liter bucket of water left overnight and strained with a filter/folded gauze cloth is the best home remedy. It will kill all bacteria and reduce 20-30% arsenic.

#Pakistan - Surveillance of activists

Here in Pakistan, journalists and civil society activists do not need to imagine themselves on the wrong side of a faded and frayed Iron Curtain to understand that Big Brother is watching. This is something that they have long known.
In the past, uniformed men might suddenly appear out of the blue to offer a stern warning. Or else it was quite feasible to return home to find one’s home ramshackled. Either another form cautioning or else the men in the shadows had come and taken whatever it was they deemed to be of value. The mess left behind was, oftentimes, a calling card of sorts.
Presently, these threats still remain. But news ones have emerged; rather in tandem with advances in technology. Social media, especially, has made it harder for state apparatuses the world over to exercise total control over the free-flow of information in or out of nations. This has been seen most recently in the absolutely unjustified use of Israeli military force against unarmed Palestinians. Indeed, the lifeless body of Laila Anwar al-Ghandour, an eight-month-old baby girl who died of tear-gas inhalation, has gone viral to become the face of the Gaza carnage.
Yet social media as well as other means of electronic communication also have a dark side. When, for example, these are used by government agencies to spy on the citizenry — they may then all too easily transform into tools
of repression.
Pakistan, a member of the Human Rights Council no less, has appeared on the radar of Amnesty International as a country of grave concern. According to its four-month investigation — Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan — a sinister campaign is underway to electronically spy on activists. Extreme measures include: logging passwords; intercepting texts and other messages; activating web cam and microphone functions to record conversations; as well as stealing hard disk data.
To be clear, nowhere in its report does the global rights watchdog implicate Pakistan’s military establishment. Instead, it simply and bluntly calls on the state to come good on its oft-repeated pledges to safeguard human rights; while also criminalising enforced disappearances. Be that as it may, many journalists and civil society activists know who they believe to be behind such moves. Especially when it comes to those who have been targeted over pro-Indo-Pak peace initiatives or who have taken a critical line against the security apparatus.
That the breathing space is rapidly shrinking should be of grave concern to everyone; including the state itself. Media owners and their editors have come under increasing pressure to drop this or that article; with news channels possibly being discouraged from giving due coverage to the Prime Minister’s recent press conference. None of which is in the national interest. For this is authoritarianism by another name.

Aseefa Bhutto greets supporters during Dolmen Mall visit

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari was surrounded by dozens of passersby during her visit to Karachi’s Dolmen Mall on Wednesday.
Instead of opting to enjoy her celebrity protocol, Aseefa chose to interact and snap pictures with passersby, who stopped to interact with her.
Aseefa interacts and snaps pictures with passersby
Judging by the pictures, the ex-PM Benazir Bhutto’s daughter does not seem bothered by the stardom. In fact, she seems to enjoy it quite a lot.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had, earlier this year, announced that Aseefa would be contesting the general elections from 2 different constituencies.