Friday, May 10, 2019

#Pakistan - Four Shia ‘missing’ persons returned home

Four people, who had gone ‘missing’ four years ago, have returned home, said Missing Persons’ Relatives Committee (MPRC) head Rashid Rizvi on Friday.
According to a report in a local media outlet, 27 people who forcibly disappeared have returned home, whereas the release of eight more people is also in progress.
It may be noted here Rizvi along with the members of the Shia community had held a sit-in outside President Arif Alvi’s house in Karachi for two weeks to demand the release of the ‘missing’ Shia persons. The sit-in was only ended after these people were released, with the authorities assuring that all the people will be home soon.
The protesters had alleged that 23 people had been taken away from Karachi in a new wave of “enforced disappearances” and their whereabouts were not known.
The recent disappearances were in addition to 22 people who have been ‘missing’ for the past two or three years, the demonstrators had said.
In order to discourage the sit-in, an FIR was launched against these demonstrators over ‘anti-state activities’ and the Karachi police later arrested 26 people from the site of the protest.
However, these people were released on Thursday after 12 hours.  Rizvi had said that these people were detained to stop them from joining the sit-in.
As the issue of enforced disappearances continues to plague the country, Pakistan Army’s spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor also took to Twitter via his personal account to give in his two cents.
In a tweet, he said, “Our hearts beat with families of every missing person. We share their pain and we are with them in the process of tracing them.”
“Thousands of soldiers have laid lives for [the] security of fellow Pakistanis. Can’t harm anyone” while adding that “let none exploit the issue on whatever context. With you,” said Gen Ghafoor.
Last month, during a press conference, Gen Ghafoor said some elements were trying to mislead the people to provoke them against Pakistan and its institutions. He assured the people that the armed forces were working tirelessly to solve their problems, including Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’s (PTM) demand for the recovery of missing persons.
The armed forces would not rest until their issues were resolved, he said, hoping they would not pay heed to “rhetoric and instead will stop these anti-state forces”.
Ghafoor had also taken up the issue of missing persons during his recent media interaction, which focussed on the PTM and its demands.
“[The issue of] missing persons were their third demand [and] they created a list of those missing persons. The list has shortened to 2,500 cases today and the [missing persons] commission is working day and night to resolve those cases,” he said.
In addition to Pashtun and Shia missing persons, the Baloch community led by Mama Qadeer, the chairman of Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, has also been protesting for decades for the recovery of their loved ones.
In Jan, around a dozen people missing for many years reached home over the past three days in different areas of Balochistan, including Kalat, Mashkay, Noshki, Gwadar and Pasni.
According to reports, after the assurance of Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani and Home Minister Zia Ahmed Langove to the leaders of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) recently, the missing persons started reaching their homes.

Pakistan: Five dead as Baloch separatist gunmen attack coal mine


Two miners, two security personnel and a driver were among the dead after attackers stormed a coal mine in Harnai.
At least five people have been killed in a gun and bomb attack on a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan, officials say, the latest in an uptick of violence by ethnic Baloch separatists.
Two miners, two security personnel and a driver were among the dead after armed attackers stormed a coal mine on Thursday in Harnai district, about 70km east of the provincial capital of Quetta, deputy commissioner Azeem Dummar said.
"First unidentified armed men opened fire on two labourers working in [the coal mine], killing both on the spot," Dummar said.
As the security forces responded to the attack, a vehicle belonging to the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) that was rushing to the scene was hit by a landmine explosion about a kilometre away from the coal mine, said Dummar. One FC soldier was wounded in the attack, he said.
Hours later, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), an armed separatist group based in Balochistan province, claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We want to make it clear to the local spies and death squad groups of Pakistan army that they will not be forgiven for their crimes," said Jeehand Baloch, a BLA spokesperson, in an emailed statement.

Baloch independence

The BLA and other armed groups have been fighting Pakistani security forces for more than a decade, demanding independence for the ethnic Baloch areas of Balochistanprovince, which they claim has been neglected by the Pakistani state and exploited for its mineral resources.
Balochistan, located in southwestern Pakistan, is the country's largest but least populated province, with rich deposits of natural gas, coal, metals and minerals.
Rights groups allege that Pakistani security forces have abducted hundreds of pro-freedom Baloch political activists and fighters in their fight to quell the rebellion.
The province is also the site of a major port, which is the culmination of the $60bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major infrastructure and transportation investment by China in the South Asian nation.
The CPEC trade corridor will terminate at the Gwadar seaport, giving goods from southwestern China access to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan.
"Pakistan army along with several other companies is plundering Baloch national wealth," said BLA spokesperson Baloch. "Balochistan is a war-torn region and we will not allow any investments until the independence of Balochistan."
The attack on Thursday was the latest violence targeting security forces this year, as attacks by the BLA and its allies have ramped up.
Last month, Baloch separatist gunmen stopped a bus in southern Balochistan and killed14 passengers.
The Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), an alliance of the BLA, Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Republican Guard, claimed responsibility for that attack.

China’s brutal Ramzan crackdown on Muslims is of no interest to Pakistan

The restrictions on Uighur Muslims are linked to a large surveillance programme that is being tested by the Chinese government.

The month of Ramazan has begun and Muslims all over the world are fasting. From the far-flung near Arctic towns in Norway and Iceland, to the tropical locales of Indonesia and Malaysia, local customs, special foods and spiritual regeneration are all front and centre for fasting Muslims. So, it is nearly everywhere except next door to Pakistan, in Xinjiang, China’s predominantly Muslim province.
One post on the website of the Food and Drug Administration of Xinjiang says “food service places will operate during normal hours in Ramadan”, and more importantly, “During Ramadan do not engage in fasting, vigils and other religious activities”.
According to the Save Uighur website, “China is the only place in the world where Muslims are not allowed to fast. Uighurs and Muslims have been forbidden from fasting for the last three years.” Other reports point out that Ramazan restrictions apply in particular to schools and government offices.
According to a report in the New York Times, China has imprisoned a million ethnic Uighurs in vast internment camps. In one, at the edge of a large desert in western China, hundreds of Uighur Muslims are forced to participate in a high-pressure indoctrination programme in which they must learn Chinese and job skills and essentially delink themselves from their religious identity.
This is only one of several internment camps currently operated by the state, all of them fenced in and guarded by armed guards. One man from the camp said that he had been rounded up for reciting holy verses at a funeral. After three months at a camp, he and others were asked to renounce links to their previous lives. Many of those who have been sequestered in these camps, all of which include some sort of brainwashing element, are expected to offer up similar renunciations.
The crackdown on Uighur Muslims is linked to a large surveillance programme that is being tested by the Chinese government. In Kashgar, the main city in Xinjiang and one with a vibrant Muslim history, cameras and surveillance are reportedly found everywhere.
The goal obviously is to replace human intelligence of spies and snitches with technology. Regular checkpoints force the Uighurs to show their national identity cards and undergo questioning by guards who are armed. Sometimes the police take Uighur phones in order to see if they have installed the compulsory software that allows the government to monitor their calls. At other times, what the police erase makes no sense (one man complained that a police officer had erased the picture of a camel), but in all cases they have the power to decide whether or not a person will be allowed to proceed through the checkpoint.
Nor is this the only means of controlling and monitoring the population. The government controls internet and telecommunication already, which means that anyone saying anything against it, or even someone seen to show excessive allegiance to one’s faith, is at risk. Neighbourhoods in Kashgar have ‘monitors’ that are assigned the task of monitoring several families to ensure that they are not violating rules such as secretly fasting despite its prohibition.
With China’s growing power in the world, not least in Muslim countries like Pakistan, few are interested in speaking out about the inhumane and unwarranted crackdown on Muslims. Many Muslim countries owe large sums to the Chinese and any kind of vocal opposition or taking up of the Uighur issue will likely hurt their chances of continuing to attract China’s money to their own shores.
The United States, in its most Islamophobic moment to date, is similarly uninterested. US trade talks with China concluded last week without even bringing up the issue of the Uighurs and the religious repression that makes up their lives.
Religious freedom and Islamic solidarity have both been forgotten when it comes to standing up to China. The few who are still trying are the minority. A Turkish activist recently tried to initiate a campaign to “fast from China” via which Muslims who are fasting would abstain from using and buying Chinese goods such as mobile phones, clothing and electronics. It is unknown how much attention his campaign, which follows the hashtag #FastFromChina, will attract in the future.
Others, such as groups of American Muslims, have been trying to draw attention to the curbs on fasting in China by travelling to the country and observing Ramazan there. Because they are Americans, China cannot crack down on them for fasting and they hope that their public fasting in China will draw attention to the millions of Uighurs who cannot fast in their own country.
Pakistan itself gets more and more indebted to Chinese loans, Chinese-built infrastructure and technology by the day, the hour and the minute. It is perhaps because of this that none of these efforts to speak out for the Uighurs have gained any traction at all in a country that is so geographically close to where such egregious abuses of religious liberty and freedom are taking place.
This month, Pakistanis are freely fasting (even while forbidding non-Muslim minorities from public consumption of food and all restaurants shut) but few seem to have spared a moment to consider the fates of the people who, just like them, would like to observe the tenets of their religious faith.
Self-absorbed and turning away, none of Pakistan’s religious scholars, or television anchors or military brass or civilian ministers, seem to be interested in speaking up about what is happening next door. If they do not have the guts or the gumption to do the right thing, then what can one expect of ordinary Pakistanis who may be fasting but yet are not quite interested in doing the right thing so others may do the same?

Russia ‘won’t sell war equipment to Pakistan’, ties limited to fighting terror

Intelligence reports have suggested that Islamabad is looking at building deeper military ties with Moscow, especially through the purchase of Russian systems.

Russia’s cooperation with Pakistan is limited to the anti-terrorism sphere and it will not sell any war equipment to India’s neighbour, Russian sources have told ThePrint amid reports that Islamabad is in talks with Moscow for the purchase of tanks and new air defence systems following the Balakot air strike.
“We have already informed India and the Indian government is assured that Russia will not be selling any war equipment to Pakistan,” a high-ranking source in the Russian defence establishment told ThePrint. “Our cooperation with Pakistan is restricted to anti-terrorism capability enhancement.”
The source explained that Russia values its historical relationship with India and pointed out that the country has been the backbone of India’s defence establishment and will continue to back New Delhi.
Over the past few months, multiple intelligence reports have suggested that Islamabad may be looking at building deeper military ties with Moscow, especially through the purchase of Russian systems.
Recent intel reports had indicated that Pakistan, rattled by the surgical strike carried out by the Indian Air Force on terrorist training camps in Balakot, has decided to buy the Russian-made Pantsir Missile System, an anti-aircraft artillery weapon system that relies on a medium-range surface-to-air missile.
A Pakistani military delegation is supposed to visit Russia soon. There was also a report earlier that Pakistan is eyeing Russian T90 tanks, which are the mainstay of the Indian Army.

Pakistan tilt may be due to US snub

Sources in the Indian defence establishment said that Pakistan is desperately trying to build a relationship with Russia as the US is no longer its trusted ally.
“Pakistan military is now slowly increasingly dependent on Chinese systems rather than the American ones,” a source explained. “It is looking at Russia for equipment and Russia will look at Pakistan as a new market.”
Pakistan’s defence ties with Russia have moved past the bitter Cold War hostilities in recent years and the chill in the relations between Pakistan and the US has further pushed the country towards Russia and China.
Russia and Pakistan had in 2015 signed a deal for four Mi-35 M attack helicopters, which has already been delivered. The following year, Russia and Pakistan carried out their first joint military exercise.
This had led to a lot of heartburn in the Indian defence establishment and was raised at multiple levels between the governments of India and Russia.
“The attack helicopters were meant for anti-terrorism purposes,” the Russian source cited above said. “At no point is Russia in talks with or planning to sell tanks, missile systems or aircraft to Pakistan.”
Following last year’s joint exercise, Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa said, it is a great forum to reinforce the existing relationship between the two militaries.

As Asia Bibi finds refuge in Canada, a look at the Pakistani laws that made her life hell

Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy. The Supreme Court overturned it in 2018, but she still faced death threats.Asia Noreen, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years in prison after being convicted under the country’s blasphemy laws, has left the country and reached Canada on 8 May to join her family. Popularly known as Asia Bibi, her conviction was overturned last year by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Asia was convicted in 2010, after she was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad during a quarrel with her neighbours. For the next eight years, Asia suffered personal indignities, polarised Pakistan and started a vigorous debate about the existence, application, and abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws. ThePrint takes a look at the state of these laws in Pakistan, and Asia Bibi’s persecution.
The case against Asia Bibi
In 2009, Asia was charged under Section 295C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. This followed an altercation between Asia and other women working in the fields at Ittanwala, near Lahore.Reports said after a long day’s work, Asia took a cup of water from a bucket, and the other woman found this unacceptable, as this had made the bucket “impure”.According to the prosecutors, an argument ensued and Asia allegedly abused Prophet Muhammad. Later, she was beaten up by a crowd, during which she reportedly confessed to blasphemy, according to her accusers. The police arrested her right away.In 2010, a trial court at Sheikhupura convicted her of blasphemy and sentenced her to death under Section 295C. The Lahore High Court upheld the decision in 2014. However, an appeal was registered against the verdict in Pakistan’s Supreme Court the same year.The Supreme Court stayed the death penalty in 2015 for the duration of the trial. Finally, on 31 October 2018, nine years after her arrest, the top court overturned Asia’s conviction.
The judges noted in their judgment: “It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’, but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘more sinned against than sinning’.” Also read: Pakistan’s Asia Bibi episode shows injecting extremists into politics is a bad idea Protests and death threats But Asia’s troubles did not end there. There were mass demonstrations and protests across Pakistan against the Supreme Court’s judgment, led by the extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — roads were blocked in major cities and the state of Punjab reported destroyed property worth US$1.8 million (26 crore Pakistani rupees). Death threats were made to Asia and her family. The case received widespread coverage in the international media too, with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leading efforts to ensure her security.
The Imran Khan government formed in August 2018 caved into pressure and struck a deal with the TLP and its leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi: All the arrested protestors were to be released and the government would file a review petition against the Asia acquittal verdict.
The Supreme Court took up the review petition in January this year, where it rejected the petition and upheld Asia’s acquittal. A few months later, Asia has made her way to an undisclosed location in Canada, where her family had already been granted asylum by the Justin Trudeau government.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws date back to colonial times. In a comprehensive paper, academic and journalist Raza Rumi provides an overview: They were enacted in 1860 and the British justified them from an entirely colonial perspective.
“[T]here is perhaps no country [other than India] in which the government has so much to apprehend from religious excitement among the people,” read Chapter XV of the British-era Indian Penal Code.
These laws provided protections to all religions; for someone to be convicted, their intent had to be proven, and the maximum punishment amounted to one or two years in prison.
After Partition in 1947, Pakistan adopted these laws as they were, and they remained broadly unchanged, until General Zia-ul-Haq came to power in 1977.
Under Zia’s rule, five stringent sections (295B, 295C, 298A, 298B and 298C) were added to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws between 1980 and 1986. Section 295C, which prohibits people from speaking against Prophet Mohammad, prescribes a mandatory death penalty for the convicted.
Section 298 A sanctions “derogatory remarks against holy personages”, and has been used to persecute Shias. The most damning additions were Section 298 B & C, which essentially prevented the Ahmadiyya community from calling themselves Muslims.The effect of these additions can be seen in the rise in blasphemy cases. According to a report by Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), between 1957 and 1986, only eight people were accused of blasphemy, whereas between 1987 and 2012, the number of accused went up to 426.A graver consequence have been the dozens of incidents of lynching following the additions. According to the CRSS, 60 people have been “killed outside the Pakistani justice system” since 1990.Another 2015 study by the International Court of Justice shows that 80 per cent of blasphemy convictions are eventually overturned. This highlights how these blasphemy laws are predominantly used for the purpose of persecution.