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Water to Katas Raj to be restored at all costs: CJ

Report in The News, Nov 24, 2017
ISLAMABAD: Supreme Court Chief Justice Saqib Nisar said on Thursday that water to the Katas Raj temple will be restored even if 10 wells have to be closed.
He lambasted the government for its inability to safeguard one of the Hindu minority’s most revered places of worship, the Katas Raj Temple in Chakwal, where the sacred pond is drying up.
The chief justice of Pakistan described Katas Raj as a national heritage site that must be protected and directed authorities in the Punjab to form a committee to probe the issue.
The Supreme Court was hearing a suo moto case it had taken up on the basis of media reports that the pond atKatas Raj was drying up because the nearby cement factories are drawing large amounts of groundwater through a number of wells.
Almost every home in Katas Waulah and Choa Saidan Shah also draws water through bore wells in the absence of a proper water supply network. The unchecked plantation of eucalyptus saplings in the region has compounded the problem, some reports suggested.
“This temple is not just a place of cultural significance for the Hindu community, but also a part of our national heritage,” Nisar observed. “I want a solution to this problem.” The chief justice ordered authorities to fill the pond within a week. “The pond should be filled in a week even if water has to be carried in water-skins to fill it,” he said.
The Punjab government and a district coordination officer submitted reports on the issue to the court, and the additional advocate general made important disclosures about a cement factory operating in the area, saying its water usage is greater than that of the entire population of Chakwal city.
Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf incurred the ire of the chief justice as he was not present when the court began hearing into the matter. Once Ausaf arrived in the court, CJP Nisar stressed the importance of protecting the rights of the minorities.
Ausaf was directed to form a committee to assess the matter and to assist the panel. The chief justice suggested that a citizen of Chakwal who often raises his voice on the issue should be included in the committee.
“Our goal is to find a solution to the matter of how water can be provided,” Nisar said. “If we need to close down 10 tube wells or halt the water consumption to the factories, we will do it.”
He added it was regrettable that cement factories appeared to have cut away more than half the mountains in the area. The court, he said, is not against setting up of factories “but they should be located in places that do not cause inconvenience to ordinary citizens”. He added: “It is unacceptable to live without access to clean water or air.” The case was later adjourned for a week. https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/248253-water-to-katas-raj-to-be-restored-at-all-costs-cj

November 24, 2017   No Comments

SC wants govt to save Katas Raj temples: by Nasir Iqbal in Dawn, Nov 24, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the federal and Punjab governments to form a special committee of experts to saving the fabled prehistoric Hindu temple of Katas Raj, whose pond is fast drying out.

“We live in an Islamic country and it is our duty to protect the rights and holy places of minorities, including those of Hindus,” observed Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, regretting that one of the holiest Hindu temples was not being looked after properly.

The chief justice was heading a three-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken suo motu notice of media reports that the Katas pond was drying out as nearby cement factories sucked up large quantities of groundwater through a number of drill bores. The bores have severely reduced subsoil water levels and have affected water usage of domestic users as well.

There is no life without the two bounties of Allah Almighty, including clean drinking water and clean air, the chief justice said, observing that the court could go to any extent, including reducing the capacity of certain factories or industrial units.

But we will not tolerate the enrichment of a few at the cost of the sanctity of temples that belong to the minorities, he said.

“We need a solution for the future, therefore I suggest setting up a committee under the court’s supervision, which should suggest remedial measures to mitigate the damage already done to the temple,” the chief justice observed.

The committee would consist of experts from the federal as well as the provincial governments, Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Chairman Siddiqul Farooq, and local environmentalist Mohammad Safdar Malik.

The latter also handed over certain proposals to the court, highlighting possible remedial measures. Once the committee is formed, the Supreme Court may issue a timeline for the completion of its task.

“This is a job for the legislatures and the executive, but when they do not carry out their responsibilities well, the courts come into play,” the chief justice explained, adding that even though the factories also had a role in the industrial growth of the country, but there should be some sense of proportion.

Such factories or industrial units should be established in places where the lives of ordinary people are not affected and the environmental degradation should be minimal, he warned.

The court also hinted at examining the extent of the pollution, caused by widespread quarrying in the mountains of the Salt Range, which was adversely affecting the health of locals.

The judges maintained that while they were not against development work, quarrying could be done elsewhere in the range, away from settled areas.

The chief justice highlighted the need for a balancing factor and noted that even developed countries had proper corrective measures in place to protect against the ill-effects of environmental degradation.

In its report, the Punjab government conceded that the aquifer feeding the Hindu temple in Katas was under severe stress, which had drastically reduced the water level in its prehistoric pond.

The report claimed the pond was drying out because of the massive water requirements of the nearby cement factories, which were sucking up groundwater through a number of drill bores.

In addition, almost every home in the vicinity is obtaining water from bores, as there is no proper water supply in the areas of Katas, Waulah and Choa Saidan Shah city. The problem has been aggravated by the plantation of water-intensive eucalyptus trees in the region.

Katas Raj is considered the second most sacred shrine of the Hindu religion. Its origin dates back to 600AD, and the temple complex is built around a water pond, which in Hindu mythology was formed by the tears of Shiva, as he wept uncontrollably over the loss of his wife, Sati.

The pond covers an area of two kanals and 15 marlas, with a maximum depth of approximately 20 feet. The pond is a natural spring and like all other springs, sees highs and lows in the water flows linked to seasonal variations. https://www.dawn.com/news/1372550/sc-wants-govt-to-save-katas-raj-temples

November 24, 2017   No Comments

Shiv Mandir restored battling affluent Hindus powerless against Auqaf

by Sanjay Mathrani in Daily Times, Nov 23, 2017
The writer hails frorm Hyderabad, Sindh
Hyderabad has kept a separate image through many ways. Whether we talk about the past or the present, it has executed numerous efforts for the preservation of old buildings.

Before partition, the city was home to hundreds of Hindu families known as “Sindhi Hindus.”

The imprints of the Hindu community are still visible in the city’s architecture.

The sacred and religious places of that time built by affluent Hindu residents still exist, though, not in the same form as they once were. These include temples and houses.

According to some people, the Hussainabad Bhutto Park in the market was once green and lush and magnificently breathtaking with waves of the Indus River touching it and breathing life into it. Unfortunately, today it has been reduced to ruins, losing all of its beauty and attraction.

Usually I pass through the narrow streets of the market, particularly from Silawat Para, but when I passed from the same route today my glance accidently stopped at Shiva’s temple, a sight that hit my inner soul. I went ahead through the entrance of the temple and came upon a sacred tree known as “peepal.” Hindus hold this tree sacred.

Some moments later a worshiper of the temple with the name Shewadhari went inside a room in an attempt to praise his master. The sounds he made were very familiar to me as I had heard them a lot of times before; he kept pronouncing “Hari … Hare.”

Once you enter the temple you will notice four little stairs near the main gate with a particular space for shoes on the right side and a water cooler that has been shifted there.

The brightness inside the temple decreased slightly and the chanting smell of agarbati gave way to my sense of direction. The worth of the temple can be measured by its valuable art work and architecture and the people (caretakers) have still coloured its walls with rainbow colors and lovable designs.

Ashok Kumar Meghwar, who has been taking care of the temple for the last 20 years told me, “My grandfather Kirahanchand devoted his whole life till his last breath in such practices and I’m also following in his footsteps,” he said.

I saw a Hanuman statue which according to Ashok might’ve “been brought by some people and we haven’t had the right to refuse any person his faith and belief.”

This particular temple is a Shiv Shanker Mahadev temple. A Shiva ling, along with a sculpture of Shiva’s sacred bull Nandi, made from white marble is present inside and supposedly as old as the temple itself.

The quarter is also filled with lovely paintings of various Gods including Krishana, Durga and Ganesha.

The unexplored history behind the temple as I learnt was that the temple had remained closed for a long period of time after the Partition. Following the incident some communities such as Bhil and Meghwar played an outstanding role in its reopening in the 90s.

A few affluent Hindus made an issue on the temple’s revival saying that such lower classes didn’t have any right to own God by themselves and couldn’t take care of holy places.

According to the other caretaker, the ground room area of the temple was seized by the Auqaf Department of Sindh. On approaching some minority leaders, it came into notice for its sanctity, but up-to this day there hasn’t been any support of these high profile ministers and minority leaders on the matter.

He also said that on every Monday a weekly hymns session is held along with an annual Maha Shivratri festival that is vibrantly celebrated by everyone, however it’s very hard to block the road without having any alternative sources and a Satsang Hall.

It is undoubtedly sad to see such historical heritages in such condition and the Auqaf Department and minority grants not being able to facilitate an effective or proper response.

Shiv Mandir restored battling affluent Hindus powerless against Auqaf

November 23, 2017   No Comments

Mosque construction issue on gurdwara premises reaches court

by Aamir Yasin in Dawn, November 12th, 2017
Islamabad: The matter of a mosque constructed on the premises of a pre-partition gurdwara, which currently houses a school, has reached the Rawalpindi district and sessions court.

The Singh Saba Gurdwara has become the subject of a dispute between the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and the administration of the Government Ziaul Uloom High School for Boys, under whose use the gurdwara has been since 1969.

Last month, a portion of the gurdwara was pulled down for reconstruction, after the Rawalpindi Municipal Corporation declared the building dangerous and the school received Rs15 million to rebuild.

Construction was halted after the ETPB obtained a stay order from the court of the Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal, and the court fixed the hearing on Nov 13.

According to ETPB Rawalpindi region Deputy Director Asif Khan, the law does not permit changes to the status of non-Muslims’ places of worship, making the construction of a mosque on the premises of the gurdwara illegal. In addition, he said, the school administration had broken the law by pulling down the building without the board’s permission.
Classes are being held in the main hall of the gurdwara which was supposed to be sealed.

However, Mr Khan said that it would be problematic for the ETPB to take action against the mosque after it has been established. “We will not raze the mosque, but we have decided to hand it over to the Muslim Auqaf to run its affairs,” he said.

He added that the building, which is in Raja Bazaar, was the ETPB’s property, and it was illegal for the school administration to demolish the building and build the mosque.

“The [school] principal constructed a mosque in the building without permission, and became its khateeb for life. Under the law, gurdwaras and temples cannot be converted into a mosque, and a tenant will not make any changes to a building without the board’s permission,” he said.

Mr Khan said the ETPB had been asked to take action against the school administration by Hindu and Sikh residents of the area.

He explained that the ETPB had given old temples and gurdwaras to schools after sealing the main portions of religious rooms to protect them.
The building department demolished 10 rooms in the gurdwara for reconstruction work. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

Mr Khan said the board had reached out to the education authority, which issued notices to the school administration but did not receive a response. The ETPB then had no choice but to take the matter to the Rawalpindi division commissioner, he said.

“It is the duty of the ETPB to repair the building and make changes to it in consultation with local Hindu and Sikh residents,” he said.

School principal Sheikh Tariq Hussain, however, argued that the construction of a mosque on the gurdwara’s premises had not changed the status of the place of worship because the mosque was built in the residential quarters and was not part of the main building.

He told Dawn: “The mosque is constructed on vacant land. There is no change of the building’s status, and the main prayer room of the gurdwara is still safe.” Mr Hussain added that a small temple in the playground was also in its original form.

He added that the possession dispute between the ETPB and the school was decided by the Lahore High Court in 2008, which had asked the secretaries of the education department and the ETPB to settle the matter. However, the matter has still not been resolved.

Mr Hussain also claimed that the ETPB wanted to construct a multi-storey shopping centre on the site, and had offered the school the third floor of said building if the matter is settled.

He said he refused the offer, adding: “If the ETPB razes the building for the construction of a shopping mall with the help of local traders, it will be awful.”

November 12, 2017   No Comments

Mideast, not India, is to blame for Punjab smog : By Sehrish Wasif in The Express Tribune, Nov 5, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Large swathes of Punjab have been blanketed in thick smog for the past three days. The blinding combination of smoke and fog is causing traffic problems and respiratory illnesses among people, besides leading to power outages in the country’s most populous province.

The situation is particularly ‘alarming’ in south and central districts of Punjab – the province which had also been hit by smog almost the same time, last year.

Where does this smog come from?

Some officials blame stubble burning by farmers and emissions from coal-fired power plants in India. They claim the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission has spotted 2,620 fire incidents via satellite in Indian Punjab on November 2, while there were only 27 such cases in Pakistan’s Punjab.

However, other officials have a different interpretation. They say the main source of smog in Pakistan is trans-boundary pollution which is actually originating from the Middle East. Although smog hits Pakistan twice a year, this time the issue is ballooning into a crisis due to a prolonged dry spell in the country.

The fear is that the smog will persist as there are little chances of rain in the country. This might create health problems for people and affect agriculture and livestock sectors – and in turn the national economy.

“Every year the Middle Eastern countries, especially Iraq, Syria, and Iran, are hit by heavy sand and dust storms, which form dust clouds,” Asif Shuja, a former director general of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told The Express Tribune while explaining the phenomenon.

“These dust clouds travel thousands of kilometres to other countries, including Pakistan, mostly in April-June and September-November,” he said, adding that this time the impact of these dust clouds in Pakistan is severe due to the continued dry spell.

“After reaching Pakistan, these dust clouds – coupled with dust storms originating from Thar Desert – form smog and aggravate the situation,” Shuja said.

Around 122 dust storms had been reported last year in Iraq alone, blanketing the sky for 283 days, he added.

The trans-boundary effect of the sand and dust storms had grabbed the world attention, he said, adding that while considering the seriousness of the issue, a regional meeting convened in Turkey last month where participants called for regional efforts to address the menace.

Shuja sought to dismiss the perception that the major source of smog in Pakistan was stubble burning by farmers in Indian Punjab.

“It is impossible that just burning sugarcane stubble could cause such dense smog in a short period of time,” he said, but didn’t deny stubble burning could add to the severity of the problem.

A senior environmental expert said, “This year the severity of smog is more as compared to previous years. This time it is enveloping areas beyond Punjab, which is alarming and worrisome.”

Pervaiz Amir, who is also a former member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change, predicted that the smog would persist for at least another four weeks. “This situation would have a negative impact on health of people, and livestock, besides affecting agriculture sector, transport system, flight operations and productivity of labour,” he added.

“There are some crops which require sunlight to grow, but due to smog sunrays don’t reach them,” he said.

Amir went on to say that due to the persisting dry spell, the situation was aggravating in Pakistan and in the near future the severity of weather conditions would increase further.

Traffic accidents: According to an unofficial tally, at least 17 people have been killed in road crashes caused mainly by poor visibility on roads due to smog. Three men died on Saturday, 10 on Friday and three on Thursday. The accidents occurred in Faisalabad, Jhang, Pasrur, Layyah, Attock, Sheikhpura and Pakpattan.

Jam Sajjad Hussain, a spokesperson for Rescue 1122, said there had been fewer accidents since the smog descended, but these crashes had been far deadlier.

Citing the reason for fewer accidents, he said people avoided unnecessary travel during smog. “Even if they have to come out, they drive slowly,” he added. He credited sensitisation campaigns by government departments and media for lesser road accidents during smog.

Power breakdown: The dense smog forced authorities on Friday to shut nuclear power plants of 1,200-megawatt capacity, while several grid stations tripped, causing power breakdown in several parts of the country.
Restoration work was in progress at four Chashma nuclear power plants – C1, C2, C3 and C4 – and they are expected to run at full capacity in the next 72 hours.

The Power Division directed the National Power Control Centre (NPCC) to chalk out an emergency demand and supply management plan for 72 hours by the time the nuclear power plants were restored.

It said in a statement that under the directives of the federal government, all expensive furnace oil and diesel-run power plants having a cumulative capacity of 4,250MW had also been shut.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1550300/1-mideast-not-india-blame-punjab-smog/

November 5, 2017   No Comments

Indian man’s ‘sixth sense’ earthquake prediction sets off alarm bells in Pakistan

By Sehrish Wasif in The Express Tribune, Nov 5, 2017
ISLAMABAD: Alarm bells have been set off in Pakistan after an Indian man who claims to have extrasensory perception sent a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi predicting a cataclysmic tsunami by the end of 2017.

Pakistan’s top intelligence agency has purportedly warned the Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA), the body responsible for disaster management, of a massive underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean later this year.

The prediction of Babu Kalayil, which has been laughed off by the Indian media, has whipped up panic in Pakistan after his letter to Premier Modi went viral on the social media.

According to a BBC Urdu report, the absurd prediction of Kalayil has been taken seriously by officials in Pakistan as they have started preparations to deal with a possible disaster.

In his letter sent to Premier Modi in September, Kalayil, using his ‘sixth sense’, predicted that a devastating earthquake could shake the Indian Ocean in December 2017 and trigger a massive tsunami which would affect seven Asian countries, including Pakistan and India.

Now, another letter has been making the round on the social media since Friday in which the ERRA acting deputy chairman has purportedly directed that standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the matter may be prepared on a war footing.

“An Information Report has been received from DG, Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] that there is, reportedly, likelihood of [a] large scale earthquake, as being expected, in the Indian Ocean in near future which may vigorously shake the Asian continental areas, including Pakistan. There is, therefore, a need to sensitise concern[ed] departments to be on [the] vigil and take care of any natural disaster…,” reads the letter.

“The SOPs will be put up to ERRA’s acting deputy chairman by Monday, November 6, 2017.”

Nobody from the departments concerned has come out to confirm or rebut it. Despite repeated attempts by The Express Tribune, no official from ERRA, the Pakistan Meteorological Department or the ISI could offer comments on the purported letter.

It is too early to say anything about the authenticity of the letter but it appears to be fake as the ISI has nothing to do with prediction of a natural calamity, according to experts. They say it is impossible to predict an earthquake.

Met Department chief Dr Ghulam Rasool also told BBC Urdu that “this prediction has no scientific justification, albeit, we are preparing to save ourselves from its effects. ERRA has also started its work by writing the letter.”

He said it was not possible to predict earthquakes. “I contacted Japanese experts after this prediction but they were not aware of any technology which could tell about an earthquake in advance,” he added.

The official asserted that if science had not discovered an earthquake prediction technique so far, it did not mean that it would never become possible.

“Therefore, we should not ignore such information and should prepare because there is a threat of an undersea earthquake in this area and there have been tremors here in the past as well.”https://tribune.com.pk/story/1549686/1-indian-mans-quake-prediction-sets-off-alarm-bells-in-pakistan/

November 5, 2017   No Comments

How the India-centric anti-trade hysteria is hurting ordinary Pakistanis: op-ed

by Anjum Altaf in Dawn, October 27th, 2017
The writer was the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lums.
Rather than asserting that the military and the judiciary could be criticised if criticism was merited, a distinguished minister has taken the position that parliament is just as sacrosanct and hence above being challenged.

In anticipation of what is likely to follow, this being Pakistan, one cannot afford to lose any time taking to task another minister who has asked for the treatment. I am referring to a news item in which the minister for industries, commerce and investment has informed the Punjab Assembly that there would be “no tomato import despite mafia’s manoeuvring”.

The minister is said to have elaborated that “now tomatoes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were being sold at Rs70 per kilo in the city and would continue to be sold till prices get further stabilised with supplies from Sindh arriving in the local market”. The justification for the policy is contained in a direct quote from the minister: “Why pass the advantage on to foreign farmers instead of our own?” According to the minister, “an influential mafia” was trying hard for resumption of import from India which would not be allowed to happen.

This minister needs to have a whole load of rotten tomatoes thrown at his head and the party chief responsible for his appointment to the ministry needs to explain the poor selection. Imagine a modern minister for commerce who can publicly state “Why pass on the advantage to foreign [producers] instead of our own?” Just follow through with the implications of the logic — it would put an end to all international trade because the only things traded are those that are made better or at lower cost by foreign producers.

When tomatoes were selling for Rs300 a kilo in Lahore they were available at Indian Rs40 in Amritsar.

There are a whole host of other problems with the argument. First, note the irony that the statement is coming from a minister in a country where even common pins are being imported from China and garbage collection is being contracted out to the Turks. There has not been a peep about the advantage being passed on to foreigners in these and a slew of other sectors.

Second, this newfound love of ‘our own’ is confined to producers, setting aside entirely the welfare of consumers who vastly outnumber the former. Why? Are consumers not equally our own? And is the government not elected to enhance the welfare of the majority?

Third, what if someone extends the minister’s argument to the provincial level? Why pass on the advantage to producers in KP and Sindh instead of our own farmers in Punjab? Such a person would immediately be labelled an anti-national element even though the logic of the argument remains unchanged.

Fourth, who is this ‘influential mafia’ trying hard for resumption of import from India? What does it have to gain from the import? And, if this is actually a resumption of something that was taking place earlier, why wasn’t this mafia hauled in for anti-state activities at that time? Could it not be a producer mafia trying to block imports? Would a producer mafia not be infinitely more influential than one of consumers?

The point of all these seemingly absurd questions is to highlight the mindlessness of the minister’s statement and the sheer vacuousness of the logic offered for his decision. The fact of the matter is that a blind nationalism is at the bottom of this ridiculous anti-trade stance that is hurting the budget of the vast majority of citizens who have to purchase essential commodities in the market.

At the time when tomatoes were selling for Rs300 a kilo in Lahore they were available at Indian Rs40 a kilo in Amritsar a mere 30 miles away. But a visceral Indo-phobia, shared by many of our influentials, stood in the way of consumers benefiting from the lower priced supply. It was then that another distinguished minister, the federal minister for national food security and research said that “the government will never allow import of any vegetables, including tomato and onion, from India despite record high prices of these kitchen items in local markets due to limited local supply”. He elaborated that “this step has been taken to encourage the local farmers to grow more besides saving huge foreign exchange”.

Our ministers are not alone in articulating such puerile logic emanating from their Indo-phobia. I recall a meeting in which an ex-chief of the ISI similarly railed against trade with India because it would destroy “our own” industry. The specific example he gave was of footwear that was being produced at lower cost across the border and whose import would put Pakistani producers “out of business”. During a break, a participant jokingly inquired about the make of the shoes the chief was wearing — it turned out they were Italian.

The point to note is that this India-centric anti-trade hysteria is shared by many who have no compunctions consuming products imported from all other countries and whose income brackets are such that commodities like tomatoes and onions are a minuscule proportion of their budgets. These are people who tell their car drivers to fill up the tank without ever asking the going price of petrol. They are indulging in the psychic pleasure of ‘hurting’ India at no cost to themselves while pushing millions of people who can afford to buy only a litre of gas at a time below the poverty line.

The ultimate irony is that such callous and shallow prejudice does virtually nothing to hurt India. On the contrary, the gap between the two countries continues to widen while our leaders make fools of themselves trying to prove to a wide-eyed world that India is the ‘mother of all terrorisms’. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs and a sign of the extent to which people have given up that nobody even bothers to point out these follies before the narrow window for questioning inevitably draws tightly shut. https://www.dawn.com/news/1366501/rotten-tomatoes

October 27, 2017   No Comments

Journalist’s recovery brings Indian prisoner’s case into focus

by Waseem Ahmad Shah in Dawn, October 23rd, 2017
Like her abduction from Lahore, the recent recovery of the female freelance journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi, after over two years of captivity has given birth to several questions due to unavailability of related information.

The issue of her kidnapping, which is considered by human rights activists a case of “enforced disappearance”, had assumed international importance as she was pursuing the disappearance of an Indian national, Hamid Nehal Ansari, from Kohat district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2012.

Subsequently, after her kidnapping the government agencies had admitted that the missing Indian was in their custody and was later on convicted by a court martial and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Her release has again brought into focus the plight of Mr Ansari, presently imprisoned at Mardan Central Prison.

He has recently filed a writ petition in PHC, seeking remission in his prison term.

According to the prison record, his imprisonment of three years is being counted from Dec 15, 2015, the day of his conviction.

He was not given remission as the prison authorities state that on his jail warrant the word “anti-state activities” is written in the column of charges.

Mr Ansari has stated in his petition that no evidence was produced against him in respect of his involvement in anti-state activities.

“I had not come to Pakistan for commission of anti-state activities, but to meet a female with whom friendship was developed on facebook,” he claimed, adding that he was neither an Indian agent nor had any connection with any group working against Pakistan.

Zeenat Shahzadi, who was declared her attorney by Ansari’s mother Fauzia Ansari, was seen relentlessly pursing the case of Mr Ansari before the Peshawar High Court as well as the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED).

It was the National Accountability Bureau’s chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal, a former judge of the Supreme Court serving for last many years as the COIED’s chairman, who has reportedly confirmed the recovery of Zeenat Shahzadi on Oct 19.

Several media outlets have quoted Mr Iqbal as saying that Ms Shahzadi was recovered on the night of Oct 10 from near the Pak-Afghan border.

He had reportedly said that some non-state actors and enemy agencies had kidnapped her and she was recovered from them.

He had claimed that tribal elders in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa played an important role in her recovery.

No further details are available as both Ms Shahzadi and her family are apparently incommunicado and her residence in Lahore was found locked by mediapersons.

Her kidnap and recovery both had given birth to questions like: Who had taken her away? Was her kidnapping linked with the case of Mr Ansari? Whether she was set free by her captors on certain conditions or recovered from custody? How her captors had taken her away to the border area?

Ms Shahzadi had gone missing on Aug 19, 2015, when she was taken away by armed men while she was travelling in an auto-rickshaw.

The occurrence took place a few days before she had to appear before COIED in the complaint regarding Mr Ansari.

The most tragic aspect of her kidnapping was that one of her brothers, Saddam, who family members claimed was disturbed due to her disappearance, had committed suicide in March 2016.

Her supporters mostly believe that her abduction had linkage with the case of Mr Ansari.

Mr Ansari, 32, had gone missing after his illegal entry into Pakistan from Afghanistan in Nov 2012 and was subsequently traced in custody of security forces in Jan 2016.

He was a teacher at Mumbai Management College.

He claims that he had left India for Afghanistan on Nov 4, 2012 on a valid tourist visa. He left Jalalabad for Peshawar on Nov 12, 2012 and entered Pakistan with a fake identity card in the name of Hamza sent to him by one of his facebook friends from Karak, with whom he stayed in Karak for two days.

He added that on Nov 14, 2012, his friend left him at a hotel in Kohat following which he was arrested and taken away by officials of an intelligence agency.

For over three years the whereabouts of Mr Ansari could not be traced.

His mother had filed a habeas corpus petition in the high court, which was disposed of on Jan 13, 2016, when it was informed through a written reply by the ministry of defence that Mr Ansari is in military’s custody and being tried by court martial.

Later, a writ petition was filed on behalf of Mr Ansari seeking different reliefs, including fair treatment and protection in the prison and relief under Section 382-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

That petition was disposed of on Nov 1, 2016, by the high court with the observation that providing him benefit of section 382-B CrPC was between the prison and military authorities.

Under the said section, the period of detention of a convict before his conviction is considered in his prison term.

The ministries of defence and foreign affairs, in their joint comments, had stated that the petitioner was involved in espionage/anti- state activities and he was subject to the Pakistan Army Act, therefore, the jurisdiction of high court was ousted in this case.

Mr Ansari and his mother denied the allegations of his involvement in anti-state activities and had claimed that he had befriended on the facebook and became close to a Pakistani girl.

They claimed that he had reached Kohat in an attempt to save this Facebook friend from forced marriage by her family.

In his present petition, Mr Ansari has requested the court to issue appropriate directions to the ministry of defence to amend the jail warrant and substitute the word “anti-state activities” by illegal activities.

He has further prayed to issue directions to the jail authorities to allow the due remission to him with effect from Dec 15, 2015, and work out his date of release after allowing remission. https://www.dawn.com/news/1365677/journalists-recovery-brings-indian-prisoners-case-into-focus

October 23, 2017   No Comments

Easing of Pak-India tensions part of US strategy: Tillerson

Report in The Nation, Oct 20,2017
Washington – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the new American strategy on Afghanistan also involves seeking a resolution to tensions between Pakistan and India.

Tillerson, who will be travelling to India and Pakistan next week, said both countries are “important elements” in the US policy for stabilising South Asia. He was speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on ‘US-India Partnership of the next 100 years.’

Tillerson said the new “regional approach” on Afghanistan also involved seeking a resolution to tensions between India and Pakistan. “We intent to work closely with India and Pakistan and we hope to ease tensions along their borders as well… Pakistan has two very troubled borders. We would like to help take the tensions down on both of those,” he said.

“We see it as a regional issue. We solve Afghanistan by addressing the regional challenges. Pakistan is important element in that, India is important element in that,” he said.

Repeatedly referring to India’s democratic politics, Tillerson also referred to India’s Muslim minorities. “India’s diverse population includes more than 170 million Muslims — the third-largest Muslim population in the world. Yet we do not encounter significant numbers of Indian Muslims among foreign fighters in the ranks of IS or other terror groups, which speaks to the strengths of Indian society,” he said. According to a senior State Department official, Secretary Rex Tillerson will visit Pakistan next week during an Asian trip that will also take him to the country’s rival India.

Tillerson’s inaugural visit to South Asia will reaffirm the Donald Trump administration’s comprehensive strategy toward the region, the State Department said on Thursday.

“In Islamabad, the secretary will meet with senior Pakistani leaders to discuss our continued strong bilateral cooperation, Pakistan’s critical role in the success of our South Asia strategy, and the expanding economic ties between our two countries,” a statement by the Department said. The secretary will build on the “positive conversations” he and Vice-President Mike Pence had with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, last month in New York, the statement said.

Tillerson will be travelling to Riyadh, Doha, Islamabad, New Delhi, and Geneva from October 20 to 27, but the department has not announced a detailed itinerary.

Meanwhile, the head of the CIA said on Thursday a US-Canadian couple kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan were held inside neighbouring Pakistan for five years before being freed.

“We had a great outcome last week when we were able to get back four US citizens who had been held for five years inside of Pakistan,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank in Washington.

Pompeo’s remarks appeared to be the first time a US official has publicly stated that the couple and their children spent their captivity in Pakistan, contrary to accounts from Pakistani officials.

Pakistan’s military and government have indicated US citizen Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their children were rescued shortly after entering Pakistan from Afghanistan. The couple were kidnapped in 2012 while backpacking in Afghanistan and their children were born in captivity.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have previously said there was no indication the hostages had been in Afghanistan in the days before they were freed. The officials said the United States believed the hostages were probably held by the Haqqani militant group.

After the release of the family, Pakistani officials emphasized the importance of cooperation and intelligence sharing by Washington, which has threatened to cut military aid and take other punitive measures against Pakistan.

However, two Taliban sources with knowledge of the family’s captivity said they had been kept in Pakistan in recent years.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Thursday the United States considers the family’s rescue a “template for more cooperation” by Pakistan. “We see this as a first step and we hope that we can build on it,” said the official, adding that Washington is “very frustrated that Taliban and Haqqani militants continue to find sanctuary in Pakistan.”

Pompeo said the US would do everything it could to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in Afghanistan, but added it could not be achieved if the militants had safe havens.

October 20, 2017   No Comments

Pak can have economic benefits from India by ending terror safe havens: US defence secretary

PTI report in The Times of India, Oct 5, 2017
WASHINGTON: Pakistan can have strong economic benefits from India if it realises that the “tide has shifted” and stop providing safe havens to terrorists on its soil, US defence secretary Jim Mattis has said.

Mattis told members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that the Trump administration is being very clear and firm in what it expects from Pakistan and is using all aspects of the government to bring about the change, working internationally.

His statement comes weeks after President Donald Trump announced his Afghanistan and South Asia policy in which he adopted a tough policy against Pakistan. It also came ahead of Pakistan foreign minister Khawaja Asif’s talks with secretary of state Rex Tillerson and other top officials of the Trump administration.

“There are a number of lines of effort being put together now in Secretary of Treasury’s office, Secretary of State’s office, my own office, the intel agencies. We are also working with Secretary General Stoltenberg to ensure that NATO’s equities are brought to bear,” Mattis said responding to a question on why would Pakistan change its mind on terrorist safe havens this time.

Certainly, India has a role to play as a neighbour, and potentially a very strong economic benefit to Pakistan, if Pakistan can find a way to carry out its international responsibilities and end any kind of safe haven inside their country, he noted.

“There’s a great deal that Pakistan can benefit economically, diplomatically, financially for its government; economically for its people; by finally sensing that the tide has shifted against this,” Mattis said.

He said that the Trump administration believes that it would be highly difficult to sustain any stabilisation in South Asia, not just in Afghanistan, but certainly anywhere around Pakistan and India unless safe havens are removed.

Mattis was responding to questions from lawmakers who wanted to know why the administration believes that Pakistan will change its behaviour this time.

Trump has said that he would change the US approach to Pakistan, which continues to harbour militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials, said Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“But we still do not know what specific steps the United States will take to convince or compel Pakistan to change its behaviour, or what costs we will impose if Pakistan fails to do so,” McCain said.

Indeed, McCain said it is unclear to him if the administration believes any step or series of steps the United States might take will lead Pakistan to cease its support and sanctuary for certain terrorist groups, which has been a “feature of” its national security policy for decades.

Ranking Member Senator Jack Reed said if the mission in Afghanistan is to be successful, it is imperative to disrupt the external sanctuaries in Pakistan, which continue to provide the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other associated groups the ability to train, recruit, rest, refit and stage attacks without significant fear of interference.

“We have heard that the administration intends to change the relationship with Pakistan in order to compel action that supports our efforts in Afghanistan,” Reed said as he sought details of tools available to press Pakistan to make more progress on these issues.

Pakistan, Mattis said has a “convoluted history” with terrorism. There can be little doubt that there have been terrorist groups that have used Pakistan as a haven for attacks outwardly, and not just towards Afghanistan.

“We’ve seen the attacks on India, as well. At the same time, probably few nations, perhaps none, have lost as many troops fighting terrorists as they have,” he said.

October 5, 2017   No Comments