Thursday, April 11, 2019

Video Report - Putin Says Sanctions Won't Stop Russia's Arctic Development

Video Report - #BlackHole First ever image of a Black Hole revealed

Video Report - Bernie Sanders talks about what his "Medicare for All" plan will do

Video Report - #JamalKhashoggi #SaudiArabia Jamal Khashoggi: The Silencing of a Journalist

Video Report - #sudanuprising 🇸🇩 Sudan: Bashir removed but what comes next? | The Stream

Minorities Continue To Suffocate: Forced Conversions Of #Hindu Girls In #Pakistan

It was not long ago when the world was celebrating Jacinda Arden on how she handled the Christchurch attack. Like the rest of the world, she was hailed as a heroine by Pakistanis too, who were overjoyed to witness a white woman leader donning a headscarf, quoting Prophet Muhammad, declaring Islam as a peaceful religion and uniting in solidarity with the Muslim minority in New Zealand over the horrid terrorist attack. 

Following an interesting turn of events, not long after the Christchurch incident Pakistan was presented with an opportunity of its own to demonstrate the spirit of diversity, acceptance and empathy like New Zealand and Jacinda Ardern’s in the form of the case of forceful conversions and marriage of two underage Hindu girls from Gotki, Sindh. However, this is not where Ardern fandom will flourish.
In 1947, Pakistan and India were formed after a long battle of ideologies (see: the two-nation theory). It was established that Muslims and Hindus cannot survive together anymore (after previously living together for centuries, ironically) and therefore, need to have their own separate countries. 67 years after, both the countries seem to have not moved on from that juncture and continue to have similar issues. Be it the Hindu minority in Pakistan or the Muslim community in India, time and again, both have to prove their loyalty towards their respective countries.
The most recent examples of this are two 13 and 15-year-old Hindu sisters, Reena and Raveena from Pakistan’s province of Sindh. According to the girls’ family, the two were forcibly converted to Islam and married off to already married men on 20th March. However, as reported by various media outlets, the two girls are neither underaged nor forcibly converted to Islam or married – they fell in love with these men and eloped with them according to their own free will and also converted to Islam to be married legally to their lovers. A video circulated on social media featuring two burqa-clad girls testifies the same. 
However, this case raises various red flags. In the past as well, there have been numerous cases of forced conversions to Islam and young girls being married to Muslim men. A similar case took place in 2009 in Punjab where a 15-year-old girl, Gajri was forcibly converted and married to a Muslim man – amongst various other cases of a similar pattern.
Human rights activist from Sindh, Seema finds this ironic. While talking to FII, she said, “It’s kind of funny to note that only young, impressionable girls between the ages of 10-16 are ‘impressed’ by the teaches of Islam and decide to run away from homes and convert. We do not see men or even adult women from the Hindu community do the same. This pattern suggests that there is something false with the narrative and it needs to be investigated deeper.” Seema also points out that in a country where children under 18-years cannot vote, are not eligible for driving licenses, or cannot even purchase a mobile SIM, allowing the marriage of those who are under 18 and especially considering the conversion of religion as a plausible justification is almost weaponisation of religion.
Chaman Lal, Chairperson FAITH, says that this issue has been prevalent since the last 40 years in the country, however, it is only recently that due to social media these issues are being brought to the mainstream society. While labelling the perpetrators of these conversions as “white collar terrorists who use religion as a shield to hide their ugly, ulterior motives”, Lal says that such incidents terrorise the entire community and create great barriers for not only girls from the Hindu community but also boys, in terms of education and career opportunities. He also states that these incidents are deliberate efforts to oppress an already marginalised community so that they cannot escape the cycle and question their oppressors.
The issue of forced conversions is not only oppressing the Hindu community in transparent manners by instilling fear but also acts in a systemic manner. It strips these young Hindu women of their agency and creates great barriers in their educational endeavours. The fear of forced conversions also gives way to the issue of early marriages in the community. This vicious cycle ensures that Hindu women are not ever empowered enough. It ensures that they do not get educated, have careers, learn about their rights and attain the power to fight back, rather they are married off young, uneducated, poor and underprivileged; therefore, planting a system that oppresses this community, particularly women and making sure that they cannot escape it. 
Rachna, women’s rights activist and researcher at Wish Foundation tells FII that the plight of forced conversions is not just about religious tug-of-war and systemic oppression of the Hindu community in Pakistan but also about gender violence that these young girls face. “They (young girls) are subjected to severe gender violence. Many a times, they are abducted and sexually violated by powerful men with political influences who record them being harassed and then blackmail them into either converting to Islam and marrying Muslim men or to extend sexual favours against their will.” Rachna also pointed out the inefficient role of police authorities and the loopholes in the judicial system that facilitates the oppressors and makes it difficult for the victims to take legal action.
A human rights activist, on the condition of anonymity, told FII how the conversion of Hindu girls is used as a political tool as well. They said, “This issue spreads beyond educational barriers and fears of harassment and forced conversions. It is forcing Hindu families to migrate from Pakistan to India because they fear for their lives and dignities. They are told that they belong to India as Indian muslims are told that they belong to Pakistan.” They also added that when these Hindu families migrate, they leave behind their properties and resources which are then acquired by land mafias; therefore, the issues of forced conversions have other, underlying aspects to it as well. Naming Ayub Jan Sirhindi and Mian Mitho of Barchundi Sharif shrine as prominent players in this situation, they told FII that such forces have religious and political affluences to terrorise and oppress the Hindu community and there is not much that is being done to stop them. 
Though Pakistan has an often-ignored law that bans child marriage, there is yet no such legislation in place to curb forced marriages. Jibran Nasir, the human rights activist and lawyer from Pakistan, believes that the resolution of the issue of forced conversions in Pakistan lie in the judiciary alone. He states that in a democratic state (especially one that is an Islamic republic), people cannot be asked to give up practising their religion, neither can they be told to not preach it. He tells FII, “If someone wants to convert to Islam by will, there should be a proper, legal system in place to facilitate that and to ensure that it is done out of will and not due to other pressures. A magistrate should be required to carry out the conversion and not only a moulana.” By doing this, the practice of forced conversions can be halted to a great extent.   
Three days before the creation of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah or as Pakistanis fondly call him, Quaid-e-Azam (the great leader), said in his speech, “You are free. You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” Perhaps it’s time for Pakistanis to bring the vision of their Quaid to life by putting an end to the persecution and systemic oppression of religious minorities in the country and giving them their long-due rights.

#Pakistani Regime supports ‘jihad university’ - Funds for Haqqania

THE relationship between the PTI and the late Maulana Samiul Haq’s party is not new.
While the ruling party may have initially been drawn to the murdered cleric’s JUI-S due to the mutual animus between the PTI and the JUI-F, the KP government appears to be constant in its support for Darul Uloom Haqqania, the controversial seminary located in Nowshera and known as ‘jihad university’.
This sobriquet is, of course, well earned, as the madressah has been churning out fighters since the days of the Afghan jihad, while it counts members of the Afghan Taliban amongst its alumni.
As reported in this paper on Wednesday, the KP government has diverted Rs30m meant for higher secondary schools and given them to the Haqqania madressah. This would be the third time the KP administration has showered its munificence on the seminary; in the 2016-17 budget, it had allocated a whopping Rs300m, while in February, Rs277m were reportedly allocated to the Haqqania madressah.
It is not clear if contributing funds to seminaries — that too have courted a fair bit of controversy over the years — is part of the PTI’s naya Pakistan vision.
By all means, madressahs need to be mainstreamed, so that their alumni can contribute to the national economy along with studying religious subjects.
However, mainstreaming must be done across the board, and state largesse must not be limited to handpicked seminaries, that too with political considerations underlying the generosity.
More importantly, funds should not be diverted from the education department at the cost of mainstream schools.
The PTI should realise that these are public funds and not those of the party; therefore, it needs to explain to taxpayers why money meant for secondary schools is ending up subsidising a madressah.
Furthermore, when the prime minister has hinted that he wants to take Pakistan in a more tolerant direction, is giving funds to a madressah with such a hard-core reputation the best way to go about it?

#Pakistan - #PTI in la-la land

By Zahid Hussain
THE magic wand has not worked. The promise of change has turned into a nightmare. Still, there is no shortage of self-congratulations. The eight-month rule of the PTI has so far been a lesson in how to blunder through.
It is not just about incompetence and inexperience but also about the self-righteousness that has become the hallmark of the Khan government. The promise of instant good governance is far from being fulfilled; instead, chaos and paralysis have stalled even the regular functioning of the administration. The drift seems unstoppable. The performance of the government shows the limits of populism.
Imran Khan is now doing everything that he had criticised the previous governments for. He is launching the same kind of tax amnesty schemes that he had vehemently opposed in the past. He had labelled such schemes as ‘legalised corruption’. Has it now been declared kosher? For him, taking U-turns is a sign of leadership.
His so-called austerity drive has been flaunted by the PTI government in Punjab that has recently ordered a new fleet of 70 luxury cars for provincial ministers. The total cost of these new vehicles is certainly much higher than the money fetched by the auction of the Prime Minister House vehicles that he had declared were symbols of status quo that needed to be broken. A ‘humble’ background has not stopped his handpicked chief minister in Punjab from attempting to secure substantial benefits for his life after the high post.
The drift seems unstoppable. The performance of the government shows the limits of populism.
Once described as relatively better governed than the rest of Pakistan, the country’s biggest and most powerful province has now gone down the ladder. Multilateral and donor agencies find it much harder to deal with a provincial administration lacking leadership. Being under the constant scrutiny of the National Accountability Bureau, the bureaucracy is not willing to put its neck out and take responsibility for any decision that may land it in trouble.
It’s not much different in KP. The PTI government, which is serving its second term in the province, is implicated in a deplorable scandal involving the metro bus project that was launched in 2017. The cost of the project that is yet to be completed is nearly Rs70 billion. A recent report by an inspection team has revealed massive mismanagement of funds and other flaws in the project. To the anti-corruption crusaders, the scandal in their backyard does not seem to bother them very much. That also reinforces allegations of a politically driven accountability exercise against the opposition leaders.
With the induction of Ijaz Shah, the federal cabinet now looks more representative of the legacy of the Musharraf era. The former IB chief has certainly not been appointed on any political merit. The overwhelming presence of old faces in the cabinet raises questions about Khan’s promise to break with the status quo and introduce a new generation of leaders.
While in opposition, Khan had vowed to bring aboard talented technocrats from among Pakistani expatriates, but after the Atif Mian episode, no one is willing to come here. Given people like Shah and his ilk in government, professionals would hardly be motivated to come forward to serve the country. The PTI is no different from any other status quo party, though it may be less tainted.
Nothing quite puts into perspective the la-la land in which the Khan government operates than the latest claim by the finance minister that the economy is out of “intensive care” and on the path to recovery. “The crisis is over,” Asad Umar declared before his departure to Washington for the final rounds of talks with the IMF for a bailout package.
This wildly optimistic declaration came as inflation approached double digits, the rupee plunged to a record low against the dollar, and the stock market appeared in a state of free fall. Revenue collection has shown a record shortfall of more than Rs300 billion in the last nine months. And the economic growth rate is likely to decelerate to 3.4 per cent this financial year, and further down to 2.7pc next year, according to a World Bank report. Given this state of affairs, the economy is certainly not out of the woods as the finance minister has indicated.Part of the problem may be attributed to the ‘pain of stabilisation’, but it is mostly to do with the voodoo economics practised by the government and the state of uncertainty that has been fuelled by its inaction. Domestic investment remains low for that reason. There are few signs of any reforms being undertaken or incentive being provided by the government that could spur investment.
Massive cuts in the development budget have also been a cause of slow economic growth. A high inflation rate combined with low economic growth could lead to stagflation with dire consequences. Surely, the borrowing from friendly countries has helped avoid default on the repayment of foreign loans, but it is short-term relief as new debts continue to accumulate. The current account deficit will remain a major problem, despite the finance minister’s claim of plugging the gap. Pakistan’s external debt has crossed $100bn and is predicted to grow further.
More worrisome is the worsening unemployment problem because of the sluggish economy and high population growth rate. The PTI’s promise to create five million new jobs seems far-fetched in this situation. Yet Faisal Vawda, the federal minister minister for water resources, has announced that there will be such a spurt of employment opportunities in the next couple of weeks that there will be more jobs than people needing them.
He might have been inspired by his prime minister’s statement that Pakistan was on the verge of discovering huge reserves of oil and gas that may change the fate of the country by making it a part of oil-exporting nations. The minister who is fond of riding motorbikes and maintains a collection of expensive sports cars is ironically a part of the ‘crazy crew’ in the la-la land that the PTI operates in.

Women are suffering silently in Pakistan – is #MeToo the answer?

Saba Karim Khan
Inclusiveness and an appreciation of cultural nuances are key to changing attitudes in a society where harassment is the norm.
When I was in seventh grade in Pakistan, a classmate tapped my best friend’s shoulder and remarked: “Nice bra”. We were 12, and accustomed to friendships with boys. But youthful idealism meant less tolerance for unsolicited sexual innuendo. We marched to the headteacher’s office ready to change the world, only to be asked to repeat verbatim, several times, the words that had been spoken.
“These things happen in co-education,” we were told. The headteacher downsized our trauma, reducing our complaint to a cheap, inflated scandal. The boy escaped without punishment and the message was clear: girls, pick your battles.
Two decades later, when the #MeToo movement gained global appeal, I recalled those words. Did we make a mistake by not escalating it further? Did our school fail us by trivialising the issue and not acting? Would things have played out differently if the headteacher wasn’t male? Should we have told our families? Would I advise my daughters to act differently today?
I now realise that a 12-year-old complimenting my friend’s lingerie was symptomatic of something insidious: the taboo surrounding sexual harassment and the muting of women’s voices in Pakistan. Due to the fear of “log kia kahein gay” (what will people say), women suffer silently and are conditioned to normalise harassment.
When they do protest they are further abused and threatened, as was the case following the women’s day marches last month.
Harassment in Pakistan isn’t a tragedy reserved for the jahil (illiterate), although they are particularly vulnerable. We need an all-encompassing movement.
Over the years, I have become increasingly aware of how institutions are complicit in the silence that surrounds harassment. Schools, governments, families, religious leaders – all perpetuate the belief that sons are more valuable than daughters. While Muslim scholars prescribe non-marital intimacy as “haram”, families avoid having conversations about sex with their children. And then there are the parents who believe that hushing up and speedily marrying-off daughters who are victims is the only solution. The result? Sexual harassment becomes a way of life and those who speak up are labelled “troublemakers”.
Pakistan requires its own exposé for this to change. But is #MeToo the answer? We seem to be torn between two possible choices.
The first would be to clone the top-down #MeToo playbook from western counterparts and apply it to cliques – mostly elitist circles. But what happens to those who don’t understand this feminist rhetoric? What about those facing daily abuse, who often believe that they are the property of men and that they are justifiably abused?
By replicating a movement developed in a vastly different context, we end up neglecting those most susceptible to harassment. Such a movement is unlikely to achieve scale and generate grassroots impact.
The second future we can choose is to strengthen the momentum of #MeToo and use it as a springboard to spark a more inclusive, organic movement, mindful of local settings and nuances. A movement that reaches the lowest rungs of society can offer a voice to those who most desperately need one. How would this happen? By implementing sex education programmes in government schools, and investing resources to train both sexes about what constitutes harassment and consent, and how important it is to speak up, in a language they understand. Only when men work alongside women do we stand a chance of diminishing taboos surrounding shame and honour, and generating a movement from within.
If we successfully adapt the #MeToo spirit to our own surroundings, the victory in developed countries can go beyond speaking up – it can provide a toolkit that ensures when an individual says “No”, their response must be accepted and respected. Only then can we hope for a different future in Pakistan, one of courage rather than fear.

Currency, forex, growth in free fall: Economy is Pakistan’s real crisis, IMF only saviour

Pakistan has reserves for just two months of imports, and also faces a current account, fiscal deficit, inflation crisis.

Pakistan’s economy has been in a free fall for long but things are only getting worse — its current account and fiscal deficit is widening, inflation is rising, it’s facing a ballooning external debt and the foreign exchange reserves are dwindling. In short, it’s a serious crisis.
In its World Economic Outlook report released Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised downwards its growth projections for Pakistan to 2.8 per cent for 2018-19 and 2.9 per cent for 2019-20. It cited “ongoing macroeconomic adjustment challenges” for its revised projections.
The report comes even as Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government rushes to complete negotiations with the IMF for a bailout.
With its rising fuel import bill following a devaluation of the Pakistani rupee and a downgrade in the sovereign rating by rating agencies, Pakistan’s dependence on international assistance, especially bilateral help from countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and China, has been continuously rising.
As of end February 2019, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves stood at more than $8 billion — adequate to service around 2 months of imports — as against over $12 billion just a year ago.
The Pakistani rupee has also depreciated by nearly 40 per cent against the dollar in the last two years as international pressure forced the Pakistani central bank, State Bank of Pakistan, to allow the rupee to devalue — it was trading at around 141 to a dollar Wednesday, nearly half the value of the Indian currency.
Put next to a subdued economic growth, all these factors are exerting pressure on the Imran Khan government to bring in structural reforms to check its twin deficit issue as well as complete its negotiations with the IMF at the earliest to provide certainty to the markets.

Fiscal deficit issue

In the last four months, the ratings agencies too have downgraded the sovereign rating of Pakistan.
Fitch expects Pakistan’s fiscal and current account deficit to be at 5.6 per cent and 5.1 per cent of GDP respectively in 2018-19 (financial year ending June).
In its statement supporting the rating downgrade to non-investment grade ‘B-’ from ‘B’ in December, Fitch had said, “The downgrade reflects heightened external financing risk from low reserves and elevated external debt repayments, as well as a continued deterioration in the fiscal position, with a rising debt/GDP ratio.
“A successful conclusion of ongoing negotiations on IMF support could help stabilise external finances, but the programme would then face significant implementation risk.”
Fitch had also flagged the rising debt to GDP ratio, which is expected to cross 75 per cent of GDP by end 2018-19, as well as the rapid increase in external borrowings.
The Imran Khan government had estimated to bring down the fiscal deficit to 5.1 per cent of GDP in FY19 from 6.6 per cent in the previous fiscal.
While announcing its rating action in February, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) had flagged the risks to growth citing “diminishing stimulatory impact of the investments associated with the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), negative fiscal impulse as the government looks to rein in its deficit, and declining economic sentiment”.
“Growth will also be constrained by domestic security challenges and long-lasting hostility with neighbouring India and Afghanistan,” S&P had added.
Another rating agency, Moody’s, in its credit opinion for Pakistan dated 22 March, highlighted the heightened external vulnerability risk.
“Foreign exchange reserves have fallen to low levels and, absent significant capital inflows, will not be replenished over the next 12-18 months. Low reserve adequacy threatens continued access to external financing at moderate costs, in turn potentially raising government liquidity risks,” it said.

‘Pure politics’

Speaking to ThePrint, Ashfaque Hasan Khan, a member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to PM Khan said the fiscal deficit has always been a problem for Pakistan and this is contributing to the current account deficit.
However, he disagreed with the government over the need to seek assistance from the IMF.
“The government had already planned in their mind that they will go to the IMF. They made only a half-hearted attempt to correct the balance of payments gap,” he said, adding that the foreign exchange reserves with Pakistan are adequate to meet its import requirements.
But Khan attributed the series of rating downgrades and downward revision in growth outlook as “pure politics”.
Abid Qaiyum Suleri, another EAC member, said the balance of payment and forex for current fiscal year have been arranged.
“However, going to IMF will be important for next fiscal year’s balance of payment,” he said.
Both the current account deficit and fiscal deficit have been curtailed and are lower than last year, said Suleri.
“However, structural issues of economy (especially energy circular debt and loss making public sector units) need to be addressed either within or outside IMF umbrella.”