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Posts from — February 2015

Pakistan ready to deal with Daish dangers: FO: by Mariana Baabar in the News, Feb 27, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is ready to deal with the dangers of Daish and will proffer all help in the Afghan reconciliation process, the Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson said on Thursday during a media briefing.
She appeared to be familiar with speculations that the ISIS Ameer Mullah Abu Bakr has appointed Hafiz Saeed Khan as his country Ameer for Pakistan, but maintained that Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations were going on across-the-board against all terrorists.
“There are two aspects. One, do we find any footprints of ISIS in Pakistan? Even if there is no footprint, we are alert to the danger and would take all appropriate measures to ensure that the ISIS is not able to establish any foothold in Pakistan.
“In the first context, you would recall the issue of wall chalking in certain cities and some detentions and investigation. You may like to check the status of investigations from the Ministry of Interior.”
In another development, days before Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar arrives in Islamabad to resume the process of dialogue with his counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan insisted that though the issue of Jammu and Kashmir dispute has been discussed bilaterally, this time the process has to be “result oriented”.
Refusing to speculate about the agenda of the talks, the FO spokesperson said as in the past, she would not like to speculate at this stage what exactly would be the agenda of the talks. “However, whenever the Pakistan-India dialogue resumes, we expect that all matters would on the table for discussion, including Jammu and Kashmir dispute, Siachen, water issues, confidence building measures, people-to-people contacts, trade matters. We have been discussing the Kashmir issue bilaterally. The process, however, has to be result-oriented,” she said.
She said the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is still on the UN Security Council agenda and under the Simla Agreement, both the countries have reaffirmed their commitment to the UN Charter principles.
The decision of the government to try to bring in an officer of Commerce and Trade Group as High Commissioner to Canada has created a storm in the Foreign Office, where officials are ready to move court against the government’s decision, with the spokesperson insisting that an ambassador requires decades of professional experience.
The spokesperson was at her diplomatic best when she responded, “I do not have any official confirmation of the appointment of an officer of Commerce and Trade Group as High Commissioner of Pakistan to Canada. As regards the appointment of officers from one cadre to another cadre, particularly in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this ministry is a specialised cadre, with missions abroad as its field offices. Ambassadorial assignments naturally require experience of diplomacy, which professional diplomats acquire over the decades.”
As efforts continue by US Congressmen to link the release of Dr Shakeel Afridi with financial assistance to Pakistan, the spokesperson said that Pakistan’s role in fighting terrorism had been acknowledged by the international community, including the US.
She added that the total assistance for Pakistan proposed in the State Department budget was $803.8 million. It includes assistance requests for economic, security and other areas. It may be noted that these numbers only form the budget request by the administration in relation to fiscal 2015-16.
“The US fiscal year begins on 1 October. As the next step, the Congress will hold budget hearings to assess the Administration’s policy and programmes. Congressional appropriations and authorisation bills will be enacted and the Congress can make changes in the Administration’s budget request. The process can take many months,” she said.
Rebutting a report, the spokesperson said that Pakistan has decided not to assign additional troops to the UN Peacekeeping missions. She clarified that Pakistan’s role in peacekeeping was underpinned by national consensus and was an integral part of its foreign policy.
“Over 140 Pakistani peacekeepers have so far laid down their lives advancing the cause of world peace. Pakistan has and will continue to maintain its strong commitment and tangible contributions to the United Nations Peacekeeping operations,” she added. http://www.thenews.com.pk/PrintEdition.aspx?ID=36113&Cat=13&dt=3/1/2015

CHINA SCENE
In China, Civic Groups’ Freedom, and Followers, Are Vanishing
By Andrew Jacobs & Chris Buckley in The NY Times, Feb 27, 2015
BEIJING — First, the police took away the think tank’s former graphic designer, then the young man who organized seminars, and eventually its founder. Another employee fled China’s capital, fearing he would be forced to testify against his colleagues in rigged trials.
“The anxiety is overwhelming, not knowing if they are coming for you,” said the employee, Yang Zili, a researcher at the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research in Beijing, who has been in hiding since November. “It’s frightening because as they disappear, one friend after another, the police are not following any law. They just do as they please.”

These are perilous days for independent civic groups in China, especially those that take on politically contentious causes like workers’ rights, legal advocacy and discrimination against people with AIDS. Such groups have long struggled to survive inside China’s ill-defined, shifting margins of official tolerance, but they have served as havens for socially committed citizens.
Under President Xi Jinping, however, the Communist Party has forcefully narrowed the bounds of accepted activity, setting off fears that these pockets of greater openness in China’s generally restrictive political landscape may soon disappear.
In recent months the government has moved against several groups, including one that fights discrimination against people with hepatitis B and even a volunteer network of 22 rural libraries.
“The pressure on grass-roots organizations has never been this intense,” said Zhang Zhiru, who runs a labor rights group in the southern manufacturing city of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province. In the past year, his car has been vandalized, and police harassment has forced his organization to move more than 10 times. In December, the last of his five employees quit.
Regulations that took effect last month in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, have intensified scrutiny of nonprofit organizations that receive foreign donations, and the central government has proposed legislation to tighten controls on foreign nongovernment organizations active in China, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. With Chinese philanthropists wary of upsetting the authorities, funding to Mr. Zhang’s organization, the Shenzhen Chunfeng Labor Dispute Service Center, has dried up, and even Chinese crowdfunding websites refuse to list it.
“The government just wants us to disappear,” Mr. Zhang said.
The campaign has focused on groups deemed sanctuaries for dissent. From its cramped offices in the university district of northwest Beijing, the Transition Institute championed a mix of free market economics and support for the downtrodden, conducting research on the exploitation of taxi drivers, school policies that shortchange rural children and the environmental costs of the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. But the institute also attracted advocates of democratic reform, some of whom had prior run-ins with the authorities.
“We always hoped to eke out survival in tough circumstances,” said Mr. Yang, 43, the researcher now in hiding, who spent eight years in prison for holding informal discussions with a group of friends about multiparty elections and a free press. “But the more independent NGOs,” he added, referring to nongovernmental organizations, “especially the ones that criticize government policies or don’t help the government’s image, have encountered a policy of containment, even destruction.”
Before its employees began vanishing, the Transition Institute was part of an undergrowth of privately funded organizations that spread despite the government’s ambivalence toward independent, civil society groups. Guo Yushan, an activist and economist from rural eastern China, established the institute in 2007 after parting ways with a legal rights advocate, Xu Zhiyong, who embraced a bolder approach to campaigning for citizens’ rights.
“You can make your arguments online, or write articles criticizing the government, but once you mobilize people you’re going to have some serious problems,” Mr. Guo said in an interview shortly after Mr. Xu was arrested in the summer of 2013 for organizing street protests against official corruption.
Mr. Guo’s new organization avoided street activism. Instead, it aimed to give citizens the expertise and arguments to win a bigger say in government policy, a process that Mr. Guo argued would help China move peacefully toward democracy. He and his team of researchers picked subjects that brought into focus questions about the reach of the state — such as tax policy — and then spread their findings through meetings, reports and media interviews.
The authorities closely monitored the institute’s work, especially the lectures and conferences it organized. “Sometimes they would force us to limit the number of attendees, and sometimes they would just tell us to cancel an event at the last minute,” Mr. Yang said.
The Communist Party says charities and other grass-roots organizations can offer much-needed social services in a nation strained by poverty and urbanization, and the number of such organizations has grown. But the party is also wary of citizen activism that it cannot control, and groups must be sponsored by a state entity before registering as nonprofits. Like many others, the Transition Institute instead registered as a private business.
The furtive relationship that many Chinese grass-roots organizations have with the government makes it difficult to count just how many there are, said Anthony J. Spires, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies China’s nongovernment organizations. He estimated there were 2,500 to 3,000, excluding those that are essentially puppets run by the government.
“They help fill a need in Chinese society that the government recognizes,” he said. But that tolerance, he added, “can be taken away at a moment’s notice.”
The Transition Institute was especially vulnerable, partly because a large share of its annual budget of $480,000 to $650,000 has come from overseas foundations, according to former employees, who would not specify the sources, fearing it might hurt other groups that receive donations from abroad. Such foreign links are viewed with suspicion by the party authorities who increasingly consider international foundations to beagents of political subversion.
The institute’s troubles mounted in 2012, after Mr. Guo helped the blind legal advocate Chen Guangcheng escape from house arrest in rural Shandong Province. Mr. Chen later found refuge in the United States Embassy in Beijing, prompting a diplomatic crisis and a deluge of international news media attention. Not long after Mr. Chen departed for the United States, the police put Mr. Guo himself under house arrest for 81 days.
The institute resumed its research, but whenever it convened a meeting or event, the police visited and issued warnings. In July 2013, officials from the civil affairs department, which oversees nongovernment organizations, raided the institute’s offices, seized hundreds of copies of research reports and accused the institute of operating illegally.
Early last year, Mr. Guo resigned as head of the Transition Institute. His wife, Pan Haixia, said he told her that security officials had promised in exchange to allow the institute to register as a nonprofit and continue its research, provided it refrained from organizing meetings or other events that could become a magnet for protests.
But in early October, the police detained a former intern, Ling Lisha, for photocopying leaflets supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and discovered that she had asked the copy shop for a receipt under the name of the institute.
Days later, on Oct. 9, just before 2 a.m., more than a dozen police officers and security agents rushed into Mr. Guo’s apartment on the outskirts of the capital. They grabbed personal computers, an iPad and mobile phones, and led Mr. Guo away. The police also raided the institute’s offices three times that month, taking away more material each time an employee was detained.
Ms. Pan said she received a notice last month saying her husband had been formally arrested on the charge of “running an illegal business.” The lawyer she hired to represent him, Xia Lin, has also been detained, on charges that remain unclear. At least five others associated with the institute had been detained as well; four were later released, and one, He Zhengjun, the institute’s office manager, has also been charged with running an illegal business.
Calls and faxed requests for comment to the Beijing Public Security Bureauwent unanswered.
With his colleagues disappearing one by one, Mr. Yang decided to go underground. He was in the institute office one morning in late November when a police officer called and told him to go to a station for questioning. Instead, Mr. Yang left an Internet message for his wife, shut off his cellphone, and slipped away, taking only the clothes on his back. “It was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” he said in an interview.
Meeting with a reporter at a location several hours’ drive from Beijing, he said he missed his wife and 4-year-old son, and visibly nervous, he talked about his fear of being returned to prison.
Mr. Yang said he would turn himself in should a warrant be issued for his arrest, but he was not interested in cooperating with what he described as an extralegal persecution of his colleagues.
“I still don’t understand what we did wrong,” he said. “We were just trying to help improve China.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/world/asia/in-china-civic-groups-freedom-and-followers-are-vanishing.html

February 28, 2015   No Comments

The 50 shades of terrorism: by Marium Irshad in Daily Times, February 28, 2015

The writer is a copywriter and a freelance journalist with an academic background in public policy and governance.
The more the government is trying to put the genie of terrorism back into the bottle, the larger it is getting, becoming intractable. We have been on the militants’ radar for three consecutive weeks now, getting more than 100 people killed so far. It could be the haphazard pick of the militants from their menu of enemies but sectarian violence creates quick schisms and leaves deeper wounds. It could also be a thought out strategy to engage the security forces on multiple fronts. It could be a drive to weaken the state’s resolve to fight militancy without discriminating between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ terrorists. It could be all the above reasons combined. However, the issue of persisting terror-related attacks suggests that the government has still not touched many issues with the required vigour and resolve.

The apex committees in all four provinces, regularly attended by the Prime Minister (PM) and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), have been instructed to work full-time with the ambition to race ahead of each other. On the other hand, Operation Zarb-e-Azb is continuing, while the Pakistan army is hunting terrorists along the Pakistan-Afghan border with the help of the Afghan forces. Today, there is a seemingly different tack of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan over terrorism. Pakistan’s Afghan ambitions, leading to an almost failed US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, has left both countries as losers. In a just appraisal, though, Pakistan emerges as a greater loser than its Afghan counterpart does because of the war becoming its own menace. On 9/11, we were a front-line state helping the US to remove this scourge from Afghanistan. By the end of this mission in December 2014, we were fighting our own war against terrorism.

Until the Peshawar tragedy, the threat of terrorism was never felt in the ‘bones’ by the armed forces though. The 60,000 civilians killed in terror-related activities versus the 15,000 security forces killed, was simple arithmetic used to discuss and condemn the 50 or so shades of terrorism. If the government is responsible for showing negligence in setting forth a workable security policy, the armed forces can hardly be exonerated for their larger share of letting this genie out in the first place. Today, Pakistanis, of all hues and colours, are facing gunshots and explosions in the name of either sectarian violence or other forms of terrorism, emanating largely from the failed security policies espoused primarily by Pakistan’s armed forces. If now the army is nudging the Taliban living in Quetta to open up and accept dialogue with Kabul, it is because of the fear leaping out of the threat experienced in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. Let it be so; there is always a turning point, the so-called 9/11, which ushers a country into realism about its vulnerabilities, fears and threats.

However, concentrating only on religious institutions to weed out militancy from Pakistan is but a fallacious attempt. Religion is responsible in Pakistan for promoting violent behaviour to restore what some consider the damaged face of Islam here. How can hate literature and perverted preachers generate a near garrison-like situation in a typical mosque and madrassa (seminary)? Unless weapons are made available at close reach and people are trained to use them, is it possible for madrassa recruits to use guns to kill others on the ground of takfir (apostatisation)?

Because of freedom of speech several mosques in London indulge in speeches bordering on hate against other Islamic sects, without generating a kill and shoot situation. We had never heard of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), the Sunni Tehreek or the Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan type groups either forming or getting at the throat of others. The killings taking place in the west in the name of Islam are the result of skewed policies pursued by the US and its European allies in the Middle East. Nevertheless, sectarian violence in the war-torn countries of the Middle East shares the same logic of investment in weapons that applies to Pakistan. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in the past have been hand-in-glove with religious organisations such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) to foment unrest in Kashmir in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). Therefore, any act of violence against the Shias by the SSP and its sister organisation, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), has been tolerated. With the growing influence of al Qaeda and the Taliban, the elimination of Shias became easier. The state did not find it important to indulge with these groups on such wayside issues (Shia killings) as long as its main objective (confronting India’s presence in Afghanistan) was being served.

The National Action Plan (NAP) and the ensuing legislation, the 21st Amendment, have not touched upon the movers and shakers of militancy in Pakistan. Sectarian violence in Pakistan is an offshoot of the jihadi snake that we nurtured in our backyard to sting India on Kashmir and Afghanistan. The Shia killings are a paid job, illustrative of the regional politics of the Saudis and Iranians. The problem is that the state has been standing idle doing nothing to stop this poison from spreading, neither through its foreign policy nor by amending the articles and clauses concerning religion in the Constitution. In 2012, a Pew global survey showed that 41 percent of Pakistanis consider Shias to be non-Muslim. The government’s courage is required here to change this mindset. If not, we will keep running after shadows. We do not need military operations as much as we need to operate upon the hearts of the people of this nation to cleanse the hatred they harbour against their own fellow Muslims. What an irony for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/28-Feb-2015/the-50-shades-of-terrorism

February 28, 2015   No Comments

‘No horse-trading’ PM’s smart move but …: By Mazhar Abbas in The News, Feb 28, 2015

The writer is the senior analyst, columnist of GEO, The News and Jang Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has made a smart move by initiating dialogue on horse-trading prior to the Senate election. He not only won appreciation from his main political rival — Imran Khan — but the presence of PTI in the conference of parliamentary heads has also eased the rising political tension over the issue. It remains to be seen if this will pave the way for the possible return of PTI to the National Assembly.
The PTI has already softened its stand on returning to the assemblies. Previously, they had linked their return to the Judicial Commission’s (JC) findings. Now, they are ready to return to the national and provincial assembly once the commission is constituted.
The question is why the PM is so concerned about horse-trading though the ruling PML-N is confident of getting all the 11 seats from the Punjab, and may not find it difficult to get the required number of seats from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. So, why the PM came to the rescue of PTI, which feared losing one or two seats if the elections were held through the secret ballot.
Therefore, Imran extended his support to the government on 22nd Amendment before March 5. Will the PTI return to the National Assembly, in case its 36 votes were required? All this has made the situation more interesting and brought the two political rivals on one page for the second time after the terrorist attack on APS, Peshawar on December 16.
The government, which recently came under heavy criticism for appointing Barges Tahir as Governor Gilgit-Baltistan, succeeded in shifting the debate and defusing the tension, at least till the Senate election.
Whether abolishing the system of secret ballot reflects political bankruptcy of the parties or not, but the manner in which the PML-N and the prime minister took the initiative soon after the PTI Chairman Imran Khan expressed his fear of horse-trading and was not sure about his own MPAs.
Imran was the first politician who highlighted this issue after reports that his MPAs were getting huge offers. Some PTI leaders confirmed that if elections were held through the secret ballot, chances were that they might lose one if not two seats from the KP. They stand no chance in other assemblies and Islamabad.
But, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PML-N’s other concern is the post-election scenario, when elections for chairman and deputy chairman will be held, most likely on March 15.
The PML-N knows it will not be getting enough seats to get its nominees elected as chairman and deputy chairman on its own. The PPP may still emerge as the strongest group and if it managed two or three surprise results from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the smaller parties’ bargaining position would get stronger, which will make the election more interesting.
As I have earlier said, Asif Ali Zardari is a shrewd chess player who perhaps is looking for a consensus with the Sharif on the post-March 5 elections.Nawaz Sharif has already held at least two meetings with Zardari in a bid to develop consensus on the Senate election and possibly for the top slot in the Senate.
In such a scenario, the PTI’s six or seven “votes” would get a lot of importance in a close fight if it did not stay away from the election of chairman and deputy chairman. The PTI can use its cards well, in case of elections on both seats. Boycott may not serve the purpose. They would be in a better position to get some of their demands accepted.
Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, who himself is a candidate in the Senate election and is very likely to return in March 5 election, has admitted that the party would require the support of its allies to get its chairman and deputy chairman elected.
“We will discuss chairman and deputy chairman after March 5, depending on the party positions. We will certainly be in a much better position, but we’re still short of a clear majority,” he told this reporter.
The PM took this decision to check-horse-trading not because of fear that the party MPAs or MNAs might vote against us, but because he always wanted such an amendment,” he added.
“Do you remember, that in 1997, we were the one who brought anti-floor crossing law,” the minister said.
We could have benefited from the situation as the PTI is facing internal problems and could have lost some seats, but it would not have served democracy,” Pervaiz Rasheed said.
Political parties certainly have learnt few lessons, but the fact remains that it was the PML-N which allegedly used the horse-trading tactic in 1989 vote of no-confidence against the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The worst example was set in 1992 after the military operation against the MQM. For the first time, none of the two majority parties — the PPP and the MQM — despite having two-thirds majority, were in the government. Instead, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah became the chief minister, allegedly with the backing of establishment and forced change of loyalties.
Today, the PTI which has already committed a political blunder by resigning from the National Assembly and the Punjab and Sindh assemblies is now finding it in a difficult situation.
Imran and his team badly misread the political situation after August 2014 and thought the government would not last till the Senate election. Now, their “sitting or former” MNAs could not cast vote on Islamabad seats and due to internal differences they fear that in secret ballot they might lose one or two seats.
The PTI hardliners have already put Imran in a “no-win” position. It is because of emerging political scenario that he appreciated the government’s move to bring an amendment to check horse-trading. They are also coming close to an agreement on the judicial commission. Resumption of dialogue with the government itself showed that some progress has been made.
So, it is very important for the PTI to have a serious look at its political moves since last year. Had they been in Parliament, they would have been in a much better position and at the same time could have continued anti-government movement.
Whether or not Pakistan will be out of the World Cup after Sunday’s match, but the hero of 92’ World Cup is certainly in for another political battle. Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir elections will follow the Senate election.
The prime minister’s “smart card” against horse-trading has defused the tension, which the PTI was planning against the government in the coming weeks. It may also help him in the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism.
Can these moves also ensure a smooth sailing for the PML-N in the election for the Senate chairman and deputy chairman? Not yet.http://www.thenews.com.pk/PrintEdition.aspx?ID=304254&Cat=2&dt=3/1/2015

February 28, 2015   No Comments

A long and slow battle: Editorial in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2015

The fight to make Pakistan polio-free is bitter, bloody and far from over. As recently as eight years ago victory seemed to be within reach, but no longer. Every polio vaccination drive that gets under way is attacked somewhere in the country, lives are lost both of the vaccinators and those whose job is to provide them with security. Now there is a report that in the second nationwide polio drive of 2015 as many as 367,181 children have missed out for a range of reasons. On the up side there was an eight per cent decline in the number of children who could not be vaccinated, but taken as a whole the picture is bleak and bleaker in some parts than others. Of those children under the age of five years who missed out, 35,818 were direct refusals and 331,363 were simply not at home when the vaccinators came calling. The decline in the number of refusals is being taken as a good omen, but there have been good omens in the past that came to naught.

Within the welter of data one figure stands out — there was not a single parental refusal in the whole of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). Given the difficulties of terrain and the remoteness of many mountain communities as well as thin health service coverage generally, this is worthy of note. As is usual Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa topped the list of parental refusals with 27,742, and there is clearly a mountain to climb in turning around the mindset that underlies the high refusal rate.
The province is a significant obstacle to those tasked with eradication, and the global community that is following the battle closely rightly expresses concern via United Nations agencies about Pakistan’s proliferation of the virus. The Ministry of National Health admits that there is a lack of accurate data on the number of children living in 497 high-risk union councils, adding to the difficulty of formulating strategies to reach them and not only for polio vaccination but other childhood diseases as well. But the battle continues and has to be won — for the sake of all our children. http://tribune.com.pk/story/845309/a-long-and-slow-battle/

February 28, 2015   No Comments

Net of abuse: Editorial in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2015.

The story of a former schoolteacher, gang-raped by four men with the video then posted on the internet, underscores the urgent need for a law to tackle cybercrime of all types. The young woman, who has barely left her home in a remote village since the crime and especially after the widespread circulation of the video shot by her assailants, faces perpetual torture. While the men who raped her were eventually found, the video documenting her ordeal remains on the internet, adding to her humiliation and the grotesque invasion of privacy she has already suffered. A short, five-minute version of the clip and a far longer 40-minute one have both been placed in the highly public sphere of the internet and have apparently been widely watched. The police say they have no means to force them to be taken down. In fact, they seem to have no law to help them either. A comprehensive ordinance on cybercrime, laying down a possible three-year jail term for anyone using the internet for purposes of sexual harassment, lapsed four years ago. Parliament has failed to enact a similar law, and the police must turn to dated laws on sexual harassment to address such issues.
The rape the young woman suffered through was reported after her uncle saw the video online. She had not spoken of it due to the social stigma attached with this heinous crime. The fact that the victim’s mother was not alive to support her through the ordeal made the situation harder for her, though mercifully she received support from her father and other family members when the matter came to light. Harassment of a sexual nature, using the internet and social media, is becoming more and more widespread and there have been similar instances reported before too. The practice needs to be clamped down on. Emotional scars can take longer to heal than physical ones, and we urgently need to put up a legal barrier that can protect people against abuse inflicted on cyber-space. Such abuse is very real and very damaging.http://tribune.com.pk/story/845217/net-of-abuse/

February 28, 2015   No Comments

Political parties fail to agree on 22nd Amendment: by Saleh Zaafir & Asim Yasin in The News, Feb 28, 2015

ISLAMABAD: The PPP and JUI-F poured cold water on the Friday’s meeting of parliamentary parties’ leaders called by the prime minister to develop a consensus on introducing the 22nd Amendment to close the doors of horse-trading in the Senate election for good.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman stands on the PPP’s side, while all the other political groups support the government’s move for introducing the 22nd Amendment.Talking to the participants at the Prime Minister’s House, Nawaz said being the Upper House of Parliament, the Senate was a sacred institution and it was binding upon all the political parties to preserve and enhance its sanctity by making its election process fully transparent.
“It’s a matter of concern for all democratic forces in the country that the sale and purchase of votes of parliamentarians is going on, which is an obnoxious practice,” said the prime minister.He further said: “All political parties will have to sit together to develop a mechanism that puts a fullstop to this unholy business of sale of conscience, once and for all.”
He urged the political parties to put an end to horse-trading and save the Senate from corruption, so that democracy could flourish.The participants supported the government efforts to ensure transparency in the Senate election.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah, former prime minister Raja Parvez Ashraf, Farooq H. Naik and Ms. Sherry Rehman of PPP, Dr. Muhammad Farooq Sattar and Abdur Rashid Godail of MQM, Shafqat Mahmood, Dr. Arif Alvi and Ms. Shireen Mazari of PTI, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F, Pir Sadruddin Shah of PML-F, Senator Abdur Rauf of PKMAP, Sahibzada Tariqullah of JI, Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour and Mian Iftikhar of ANP, Muhammad Ijazul Haq of PML-Z, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao of QWP, Dr Ghazi Gulab Jamal from Fata, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo and Ayub Malik of NP, Abbas Khan Afridi from Fata, federal ministers Senator Muhammad Ishaq Dar, Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Senator Pervaiz Rashid, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Abdul Qadir Baloch, Ms. Anusha Rehman Ahmad Khan, Political Secretary to the PM Dr. Syed Asif Saeed Kirmani, Khawaja Zaheer Ahmad, Barrister Zafarullah Khan, Secretary to the PM Javaid Aslam and Attorney General Salman Butt attended the meeting.
PTI chief Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Party chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed did not attend the meeting.Political observers opine that Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to pass the 22nd Amendment will not succeed.
Sources said the representatives of the MQM, PTI, JI, and Fata welcomed the government’s move, but the leadership of the PPP and JUI-F expressed their reservations.The PPP and the JUI-F leaders asked the ruling party to activate the Electoral Reforms Committee for comprehensive reforms instead of making changes to the Constitution for the Senate election.
Both the parties were of opinion that all parties should internally sort out this issue and trust each other as this was not right time to bring a constitutional amendment.The ANP and Qaumi Watan Party of Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao were of opinion that the government should develop political consensus if it wanted to bring the constitutional amendment.
Before gathering at the PM House, PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari talked to the ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and all these parties had a similar view during the meeting.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reportedly asked the PPP and JUI-F parliamentary leaders to rethink about the amendment until Saturday (today), as it was necessary to stop horse-trading.
The PML-N requires the unconditional support of the PPP for a two-thirds majority in the Senate since it commands majority in the Senate till March 11.It is expected that the prime minister will also meet the parliamentary leaders on Saturday (today) to discuss the constitutional amendment.
The prime minister’s alternative formula was that all the political parties should sit together and chalk out a list of their candidates in commensurate with their strength in the respective house for uncontested election of the candidates.
Speaking to the media after meeting the prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf said his party believed the government should take all the political leaders on board before going for a constitutional amendment.
“We are against any kind of rigging and horse-trading in the election, but it is important for the government to build a consensus before introducing any constitutional amendment in Parliament,” Ashraf said.
He also said the PPP leadership demands electoral reforms for transparent elections in future. Fazlur Rehman said the political parties should take action against its members if they cast their vote in favour of a non-party representative in the Senate election. He further said the constitutional amendment would make the loyalty of party members doubtful.
MQM leader Dr. Farooq Sattar said his party will favour the amendment, while PTI leader Dr Arif Alvi said his party chief Imran Khan had already welcomed the government’s move. JI Parliamentary Leader Sahibzada Tariqullah and Federal Minister for Textiles Abbas Khan Afridi said they will support the government’s move in this regard. http://www.thenews.com.pk/PrintEdition.aspx?ID=36128&Cat=13&dt=3/1/2015

Consensus on amendment eludes PM : report in Dawn, Feb 28, 2015
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif`s meeting with the heads of parliamentary parties on Friday remained inconclusive after certain parties opposed the proposed 22nd constitutional amendment for open balloting in the upcoming Senate elections.

The main opposition PPP and the JUI-F, which is a coalition partner in the federal government, opposed the suggestion of changing the voting system from secret to open ballot at the eleventh hour.

Talking to mediapersons after the meeting, PPP General Secretary and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said his party was all for electoral reforms, but they should be carried out after developing a consensus among all major political parties.

`Electoral reforms involve wellthought out procedures, like the PPP did during its tenure in the case of the 18th amendment. Similarly, they require a lot of legal input from experts, which talces time,` PPP Senior Vice President Sherry Rehman, who also attendedthe meeting, told Dawn.

`We opposed the proposal because a selective and reactive amendment cannot be considered an effective reform for something as important as the Senate. Asking for a show of hands also means depriving MPs of a conscience vote, or those who may not want to vote for property tycoons and other rich baronsnominated by their party bosses, Jan Achakzai, official spokesperson for the JUI-F, told Dawn.

The PTI and MQM have, on the other hand, supported the proposed amendment. PTI leader Dr Arif Alvi argued that as in the case of elections for the posts of PM and CM, voting on the budget and constitutional amendments, open voting could also be exer-cised in the Senate elections.

`The amendment will help curb the trend of buying and selling votes,` he said.

MQM`s Dr Farooq Sattar said his party would support any decision that would help bring transparency to electoralprocesses.

Addressing a press conference later in the evening, Senator Ishaq Dar said that some parties had expressed concerns over the 22nd amendment mainly over the shortage of time, as Senate elections were due to be held on March 5.

`If the proposed amendment cannot be passed because of a shortage of or any other reason… the PM has requested the heads of all political parties to have each other`s candidates elected unopposed as per their voting strength,` Mr Dar said. The government`s only objective at the moment, explained Mr Dar, was to curb horse-trading in the Senate elections.

He said that since parties required in-house consultations, `we will again meet them in a day or two to take a final decision on the issue`.

Earlier, addressing the meeting which took place at the Prime Minister`s Office, the PM said that as the upper house of parliament, the Senate was sacred and it was binding upon all political parties to preserve and enhance its sanctity and make the process of its election fully transparent.

He said that in the past too, leaders of parliamentary parties had been invited to deliberate upon important matters of national significance. The PM said that it was a matter of concern for all democratic forces in the country that the business of buying and selling parliamentarians` votes was thriving. He urged political parties to put an end to horse-trading and save the Senate from corruption. http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=28_02_2015_001_005

February 28, 2015   No Comments

Political foes on same page to curb horse-trading: by Tariq Butt in The News, Feb 28, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Lethally opposed political rivals have become strange bedfellows by staunchly sharing views on bringing about a constitutional amendment to curb the appalling ‘horse-trading’ in the March 5 Senate elections.
Conversely, somewhat ‘traditional’ allies equally forcefully differed eliminating the mush obvious corruption, being committed by some fabulously rich contestants, in this electoral exercise.
The result of the all parties’ conference (APC) hosted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to get rid of selling and buying of votes that no political party has the guts to publicly support was lack of consensus.
However, the prime minister loudly demonstrated his unequivocal determination to hammer out an agreement on the amendment and expressed his utter contempt for the abominable practice. He thus has moral high ground and told all and sundry that he was all-out for eradicating the menace.
Polling for the Senate elections will be just three days away on Monday if the constitutional amendment was moved in the parliament that day. Its passage will be just a matter of minutes provided a parliamentary consensus is reached.
As the luck would have it, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were on the same wavelength on the constitutional amendment. In reality, the PML-N and PTI are lethal rivals, and the PTI and MQM also fall in the same category with equal ferocity. But they are on the same page on this key issue.
On the other hand, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) is a formal ally of the PML-N and is part of the ruling coalition, but is opposed to the amendment. When it comes to countering the PTI, PPP and PML-N stand united.
But in the instant case, the PPP differs with the PML-N, giving lame, imprudent and implausible arguments against the move to purge corruption from the Senate elections, which is no secret by now.
The PTI’s breaking bread with the PML-N on this specific issue is inconsequential as far as the support in the National Assembly is concerned because it is not willing to return to the parliament to vote for the amendment. It wants to dictate its terms while maintaining its stand on formation of a Judicial Commission to investigate its poll rigging charges. It calls the parliament bogus but wants the same legislature to do away with money changing hands in the Senate elections.
However, the PPP’s consent to the constitutional amendment is very important because it can’t be approved in the Senate without its backing. The PML-N is in a clear position to manage the requisite numbers in the National Assembly but is totally unable to muster such tally, 70 MPs, in the Senate, which is dominantly controlled by the PPP. Interestingly, half of the present Senate will retire on March 11, which will lead to significant weakening of the PPP in this chamber.
With the retirement of its 21 senators of a total of 40 members, the PPP will be left with 19 lawmakers. It is likely to get some seven seats from Sindh. However, it will stand wiped out from the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan because of its dismal performance in the 2013 general elections.
The PML-N will be left with eight senators after the retirement of an equal number of its members. It is going to win either all the eleven seats from Punjab because of its unprecedented hold over this provincial assembly. It will secure a good number of seats from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The passage of the 21st constitutional amendment bill, which paved the way for trial of hardcore terrorists by the military courts, was also delayed by a day as the government had fallen short of the required two-thirds majority, 228 members. At the time, the religious parties and two smaller groups, associated with the ruling coalition, had rattled the government in the National Assembly, opposing some religion-related passages of one of the amendment despite the government’s assurance that speedy trial military courts sought to be set up to try terrorists would be no kangaroo courts.
On his part, the prime minister aired his extreme contempt against the horse-trading in the Senate elections. “The business of buying and selling votes is illegal. The Senate elections are closely related to electoral reforms. All political parties should work together to end horse-trading. Selling votes is akin to selling one’s soul. How an individual who belongs to no party is contesting Senate elections,” he said at the APC.http://www.thenews.com.pk/PrintEdition.aspx?ID=304252&Cat=2&dt=3/1/2015

February 28, 2015   No Comments

`Pakistan`s domestic dilemmas are linked to international conflicts`, says Ayesha Jalal

By Peerzada Salman in Dawn, Feb 28, 2015
KARACHI: In the post cold war world, military dominance in Pakistan is more of a liability than an asset, said noted historian Ayesha Jalal while presenting salient features of her book The Struggle for Pakistan at the Mohatta Palace Museum on Friday evening.

Ms Jalal said her work attempted to tackle the contemporary narratives on Pakistan that existed at the international level, the narratives that suggested that Pakistan was a mistalce, a failed state and an irrelevant state. Narratives such as these tended to Batten out Pakistan`s history, only taking present perspectives into account. Her book was an attempt to contest such narratives, she said.

Referring to her earlier work, her second book, she said sources available to her in 1980 revealed that the effects of the cold war had to do with the state of martial rule in Pakistan, and she stood by her research. Military dominance was the enduring feature of Pakistan in the country`s post-colonial history.

She said her research was built upon not just opening up of archives but also revisiting litera-ture written at the time of partition, including Saadat Hasan Manto`s stories.

Speaking on the points of analysis in her book, Ms Jalal first touched upon the topic of why Pakistan was created. She said it`s generally considered that religion was the main impetus for the creation of the country; though it may be true, it`s too loosely explained in history and little understood. In 1947, Muslims were divided into two hostile states, and a third came into being in 1971. Another generally considered notion was that the rot started with M.A. Jinnah`s death and Pakistan lost its moorings, but Gandhi had also died.

She argued that the military rise to dominance should be understood in the context of challenges of the cold war. Pakistan`s domestic dilemmas were inextricably linked to international conflicts, she said, and alluding to the dismemberment of East Pakistan mentioned that she was not fond of using the word `inevitable` because `human beings make choices` Elaborating on the point of domestic dilemmas being linked to international conflicts, Ms Jalal said that institutional imbalances in Pakistan started to happen at anearly stage of the country`s inception. She said during his 1968 visit to Dhaka, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto asserted that Bengal autonomy was in the best interest of the country.

He had even accepted four of thesix points presented by Sheikh Mujeeb. The talks between Bhutto, Yahya Khan and Sheikh Mujeeb were never abandoned;it was the military junta in Rawalpindi that shut down all prospects and consid-ered war as a last resort. Mr Bhutto had an independent foreign policy as he forged a closer relationship with China and redoubled his efforts in having good relations with oil producing countries. He successfully held an Islamic Summit in Lahore on which the Jamaat-i-Islami capitalised as Maulana Maududi had ties with Saudi Arabia; and Saudi Arabia used the petrodollars windfall to counteract the innuence of Shah of Iran. This led her to comment, `We forget that nationalism underlies the sectarian imposition… it`s [sectarianism] a complicated problem.

Ms Jalal said Ziaul Haq`s military intervention heralded unprecedented change since no one had anticipated the longevity of that military spell. Here too international factors were at play as in 1979 some important events took place the Iranian Revolution, Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, etc along with the increase in the anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought about a qualitative shift in Pakistan as the Afghan jihad gave a new lease of life to General Zia. Those who opposed the dictator included urban women who led street protests against his policies and a London-based group that wrote a letter to an America senator warning him of the dangers of funding and supporting zia.

Ms Jalal said during the 1999 military coup, Pakistan was a different country there was a crystallisation of new political dynamics: active judiciary, vocal media, conscious civil society, etc.

On the subject of whether the 2013 elections were free and fair, she said they werefair to the extent that Pakistan`s structural and existential realities permitted them to be. `A free and fair election will remain an aspiration, not a reality,` she said and termed the 2013 elections as an `important landmark` because they took place in the face of Taliban terror. The TTP had set the tone for the campaign labelling democracy `unIslamic` As for whether terror could be overcome, Ms Jalal said it`s not going to happen in a great hurry. Giving the Arab Spring reference, she hinted at small similar springs in Pakistan on regional levels that the Centre dismissed as secessionists. She advised to the political mainstream to accept regional demands.

Discussing positive aspects of the country`s growth, Ms Jalal said the burgeoning popular culture drawn on rich artistic traditions in the midst of it all was a remarkable feat. A number of Pakistani artists were in the vanguard of creativity in the subcontinent.

The contrast between collective failure and individual success was not novel, she stressed and iterated moderation versus extremism signified the battle for the soul of Pakistan.

The dream existed and it would be expanded through literature and art, she said, adding that democracy was the hope that the people needed to depend upon to realise their thwarted aspirations.

Earlier, CEO of the Dawn Media Group Hameed Haroon introduced the author to the audience. Nasreen Askari hosted the event that was organised by the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh and the Mohatta Palace Museum. http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=28_02_2015_117_003

February 28, 2015   No Comments

SC hints at summoning PM in contempt case: by Sohail Khan in The News, Feb 28, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Hearing a plea for initiating contempt of court proceedings against the prime minister for not holding the local bodies (LB) elections in the cantonments, the Supreme Court on Friday observed that proceedings may be initiated against the country’s chief executive, if needed.
A two-member bench, headed by Justice Jawad S Khawaja, heard the case and sought the assistance of Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP).Raja Rab Nawaz, advocate, had filed a petition with the apex court, seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedings against the prime minister for not holding the local bodies elections in the cantonment boards countrywide.
He requested the court to issue a notice to the respondent (Nawaz Sharif) for violating the court order. The court, however, in its orders ruled that at the moment it would not issue a notice to the chief executive of the country but asked the Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt to assist it in the instant matter so that appropriate proceedings could be initiated.
The bench said the Constitution must be thrown into the dustbin if the government was not willing to honour its orders. “You should assist us if our order was violated?” Justice Jawad S Khawaja asked the attorney general. “But we will not refrain from taking an important step as well,” Justice Khawaja added while addressing the attorney general.
Earlier, during the course of hearing of local bodies elections, the court observed that the Constitution had empowered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to exercise its power by holding the local bodies election but for the last five years it had failed to perform its function.
The court observed that after going through the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the ECP was bound to ensure the holding of local bodies election.The court observed that it was the duty of the ECP to hold the local bodies elections in terms of sub-Article 140A (1).
Justice Jawad S Khawaja repeatedly asked the counsel for the ECP as to who was responsible for delaying the local bodies election during the past five years.“The Constitution has established an independent body to hold general and local bodies elections so you should announce the date for the local bodies elections and if any province or an individual may raise an objection, they could approach the court,” Justice Jawad remarked.
“Nobody can come your way and if someone may raise an objection, they should come to us,” he further told the ECP counsel.Akram Sheikh replied that there had been reluctance on the part of respective provincial governments for not holding the elections. On this, the court asked him to read out the relevant articles of the Constitution.
He further said although he was representing the ECP, he had also been assisting the court since the instant matter had been taken up. Akram Sheikh further submitted that the court should direct him not to care about any law and then he could announce the date for the local bodies election.
“You don’t need any direction of the court but the Constitution authorises you to perform your constitutional duty,” Justice Jawad told Akram Sheikh.On the direction of the court, Akram Sheikh read out some provisions of the Constitution which obligated the Election Commission of Pakistan to perform certain functions.
The court in its order observed that it was most significant that after the 18th Amendment, the Election Commission of Pakistan had been charged with holding the general and local bodies elections.
The court ruled that articles 219 and 220 stipulated that all executive authorities in the Federation and provinces had to assist the ECP in discharging its functions.The court ruled that under Article 222, delimitation of constituencies shall be done by the Election Commission of Pakistan and the power specified by the Constitution and made subject to the Constitution.
The court ruled that the duty imposed on the ECP under Article 219 (D) was the obligation of the ECP itself and even if the provinces were to perform its legislative or executive duties, the failure of such duties cannot stop the Election Commission from performing its duties as required in Article 219 (d) of the Constitution.
The court further ruled that empowerment of people was the obligation of holding general and local bodies election, adding that for the last five years the citizens of Pakistan had been deprived of their right to franchise.“But we are surprised that the Election Commission of Pakistan has been reluctant in fulfilling its constitutional obligation,” the court ruled.
Advocate General Sindh Mir Qasim Jut told the court that the Sindh government had signed the bill on the local bodies law. Meanwhile, the court directed the advocate generals of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Election Commission of Pakistan to come up with the final dates for holding the local bodies elections and adjourned the hearing till March 3. http://www.thenews.com.pk/PrintEdition.aspx?ID=36129&Cat=13&dt=3/1/2015

February 28, 2015   No Comments

Is IS a threat to Pakistan?: By Abdul Basit in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2015

(The writer is Associate Research Fellow at International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research of S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore)
The meteoric rise and popularity of the Middle Eastern terrorist group the Islamic State (IS) has, in one way or the other, inspired militant groups in Pakistan. However, academic analyses, policy debates and political opinions in Pakistan differ widely over the nature and scale of IS penetration in the country. So far, only three splinter groups of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), namely the Tehreek-e-Khilafat, Jandullah and the Shahidullah Shahid-faction have pledged allegiance to the IS. On January 27, IS spokesperson Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani’s announcement regarding the group’s expansion to Afghanistan and Pakistan described as “the Khurasan province” further rang alarm bells about the increasing influence of the IS in the region.
Against this backdrop, it is pertinent to assess the group’s operational capability to carve out a niche for itself in the region and what can be the potential fallout of such a development for Pakistan’s militant and security landscape? There are two opposing schools of thought on this issue.
One school of thought holds the view that the discussion of IS’s growing influence in Pakistan has been overhyped by the media and certain vested interests. This school of thought believes gaining space in Pakistan will be difficult for the IS for six reasons. First, the IS is an outsider to the region: the impermissible barriers of language, culture and geography will make it difficult for the group to sow its influence here. Second, the IS sprung up in Iraq and Syria, which were collapsing societies marred by civil wars. Unlike them, Pakistan is a functioning state, run by a democratically-elected government and guarded by an elaborate and robust security apparatus. Third, the well-entrenched presence of veteran militant groups of the Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda and the Kashmiri militant groups leave very little space for the IS to gain a foothold here. Fourth, the IS’s message of the so-called caliphate is oversimplified and out of sync with complicated and isolated pockets of conflict in the region. Fifth, Pakistan is not part of the US-led anti-IS coalition, so the terror group will not pick a bone with the latter. Lastly, the IS follows a different stream of extremist ideology from the one followed by Pakistani terrorist groups. The limited appeal of the ideology followed by the IS in Pakistan will also constrain the group’s influence.
The other school of thought argues that denial about the IS presence in Pakistan is fraught with dangers. This school of thought is of the view that the IS’s stunning military victories, slick social media propaganda campaign, control over vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and monopoly over the modern terrorist iconography have captured the imagination of extremist groups in Pakistan. This school of thought further argues that the IS has the cash, charisma and a successful model to inspire militants in Pakistan. For the cash-strapped al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, it will not be easy to retain the support of overambitious new generations of militants in the region. In addition, the readily available ungoverned spaces (physical sanctuaries), an environment conducive to growth of extremist ideologies (social sanctuary), and a large youth cohort susceptible to militant recruitment (demographic sanctuary) make Pakistan naturally attractive for the IS.
So far, Pakistani militant groups have responded to the growing appeal of the IS in three major ways: open rejection, open acceptance or a wait-and-see policy. Groups like al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the TTP core have denounced the IS’s call for establishing a caliphate. Meanwhile, as mentioned above, the three splinter groups of the TTP have openly embraced the IS model while groups like the Jamaatul Ahrar and the Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin have adopted a hedging attitude towards the IS.
Given the factionalisation of the TTP, the growing influence of the IS among Pakistani militants cannot be ignored. At present, the threat of the IS in Pakistan is neither too big to pose any serious security threat nor too small to ignore. However, it can grow into something big and serious if any potential advance by it is not checked and seriously dealt with. Pakistan’s government and security forces will do well to kill the group in its infancy rather than ignoring the threat it poses till it emerges as a major security threat. http://tribune.com.pk/story/845316/is-is-a-threat-to-pakistan/

February 28, 2015   No Comments