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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Pakistani army launches offensive in North Waziristan

Pakistani army launches offensive in North Waziristan

ISLAMABAD: Residents of North Waziristan accused troops on Monday of killing dozens of civilians during a military operation against militants.
The operation started just after a December 18 suicide bomb attack on a checkpoint in North Waziristan.
Speculation that the army might launch a major offensive in the frontier tribal areas has been building as the government’s attempts to engage the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in peace talks have floundered in recent months.
Military officials said more than 30 militants, most of them ethnic Uzbeks, had been killed in the operation.
“Security forces exercised utmost restraint to avoid any collateral damage,” the army said in a statement.
“The military spokesperson reiterated that the military action against the terrorists in North Waziristan on December 19 was in response to an attempt by terrorists to ambush a military convoy.
“The intelligence-based sting military operation later was specifically targeted against foreign terrorists holed up in a nearby compound.”
Foreign militants from various places including central Asia have long been known to be based in the region.
The army in its statement did not say anything about residents’ accusations of civilian casualties. The military’s media wing could not be immediately reached for comment.
The authorities imposed a curfew and residents said many people had fled from their homes after days of shelling and raids by helicopter gunships in the Mir Ali region of North Waziristan following the suicide attack.
Resident Muhammed Tayyab said he lost three of his children and his wife in the shelling.
“On the first day of the attack an artillery shell hit the room where my kids and wife were sleeping,” Tayyab told Reuters by telephone. “The government has put them to sleep forever.”
“Where is safe?”
Residents put the civilian death toll at several dozen.
“From the first day of the attack until now 70 civilians have been killed,” said a tribal elder in Mir Ali who declined to be identified for fear of state reprisals.
“Some truck drivers and hotel and shop keepers were shot directly, and dozens were killed by gunships, mortars, and artillery shelling on the civilian population.”
Reports from North Waziristan are hard to verify independently because journalists and observers are not allowed to work on the ground.
Residents said bodies were left in the open in the villages of Mosaki and Hasukhel as terrified villagers fled the area.
“We are moving our families to keep them safe but the mortars and shells are following us,” said Asad Sher of Mir Ali. “Please tell us where is safe. The troops are demolishing our homes and bazaars.”
Malik Gul Salehjan, another man, said: “My children are asking me for bread but I am not able to give them anything because there is nothing in my house.”
A North Waziristan administration official said tribal elders and army representatives convened a jirga, or meeting, on Monday to try to find a negotiated end to hostilities.
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Pashto films are destroying Pashtun culture

Pashto films are destroying Pashtun culture

The Pashtun lifestyle does not accommodate such fantasy depictions of love and bravery. ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHEED
“Khandani Badmaash, Bewaqoof, Sharabi, Wehshi BadmaashUjratiCharsiDamaMastay Jenakai, Gandagir!”
No, I am not abusing you. I am only naming a few of the famous films Pashto cinema has produced over the year.
What is even more astonishing is that Pashtuns are known for their distinct code of conduct called the Pakhtunwali, which is quite different from what these movies depict.
The Pashtun culture is an amalgamation of different elements which include the family structure or joint family system, the melmastia or hospitality, the jirga or tribal council which makes all important decisions, ghairat or the concepts of honour and courage and the satar or area of the body that can be uncovered only in the presence of the spouse.
Pashtuns have their own language – Pashto – which is spoken in a number of dialects. They have distinct dresses, colourful music and a form of group dance known as the Attan. Pashtuns take a lot of pride in their culture and boast about the elements which make them distinct from all other nations and ethnic groups.
It is true that awareness and modernity is leading to immense progress and development in the Pashtun mindset, particularly in empowering women to be educated, active and become a productive part of society.
Modernity has however had an unnatural impact on Pashtun cinema. Pashto dramas and movies now pose a challenge to cultural norms and values in a way that is not only unacceptable but also downright shameful.
Almost all of these dramas and movies revolve around a hero and the woman he loves. He fights for her against all odds, by firing a Kalashnikov in rooms, from balconies, or by yelling from the top of mountains, while the heroine sneaks out of her house at intervals and dances around.                                                                                                                                           These ‘dances’ seem to be no-to-subtle reminders of what the hero is actually struggling for. Meanwhile, the plot is embellished with suggestive and indecent dialogue from the crudest elements of the Pashto language. We see couples making love in the middle of fields or dancing among the cattle. We see mujras as commonplacewhere the old and young alike indulge in drinking.
Anyone who lives in, or has at least gotten a chance to visit Attock, would be well aware that the Pashtun lifestyle does not accommodate such fantasy depictions of love and bravery. What is shown in these dramas and movies does not happen in real life, but watching such movies (and some dramas) leaves the audience spellbound and they begin to mistake fantasy for reality.
Youngsters are influenced the most, impacting their ability to differentiate between right and wrong, good and bad. Inevitably, they develop bad habits such as smoking, drinking and frequenting dodgy places.
For one, these dramas and movies expose our youngsters to extreme violence, aggression and flamboyant use of weapons, leaving them confused about whether to despise them or want them. Over time, these youngsters find a cure to all their troubles by using weapons rather than solving issues through peaceful negotiations. Exposure to the more violent elements of such content might even encourage terrorism, given how violence is idealised in the films.
However, what disturbs me the most is that such movies depict all women as mere objects, existing only for the pleasure of men. Women are shown as possessing low moral character and being promiscuous, putting the very idea of respecting women at stake.
Both these depictions are unacceptable in any decent society. While such films could simply be looked down upon and ignored if it was just one segment of a diverse film industry, the truth is that this narrative is the only one that is being churned out again and again and again.
Such a negative and false depiction of men and women raises fears among the families of girls who are struggling for their rights and status in an already conservative Pashtun society. Although the aware and educated class of society has raised this issue several times and asked the concerned authorities to take steps to ban such movies, little has actually been done to curb the menace.
It is about time we recognise and address this matter collectively, before this social disease becomes incurable.
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Resetting Karachi’s politico-demographic equilibrium

Resetting Karachi’s politico-demographic equilibrium

Looking for a context for explaining the continuing turmoil and violence in Karachi, it may be appropriate to coin a term: politico-equilibrium. Systems that are not in equilibrium become unstable and instability can lead to breakdown. What threw Karachi out of equilibrium were two processes, one feeding on the other. The city has expanded dramatically ever since it was chosen as Pakistan’s capital. And, continuation of unsettled politics in the country meant that the city was not able to govern itself by developing viable instruments of governance. Let us first look at the demographic side of this equation.
The arrival of a couple of million urban refugees into Karachi from India was not the only demographic shock received by what Steve Inskeep describes in his book, Instant City: Life and death in Karachi. He places Karachi’s extraordinary growth in the context of the expansion of the world’s other large urban areas. “In the United States the population had doubled, but Los Angeles has tripled. Houston has expanded more than six-fold, and its exuberant growth is modest compared with the developing world,” he writes. “Istanbul is about ten times its previous size. Urumqi, a business hub for western China, is about twenty-three times more populous than the estimate for 1950. And then, there’s Karachi. Conservative estimates suggest that it’s at least thirty times larger than in 1945 — meaning that there are at least thirty residents today for everyone at the war’s end.” In fact, Karachi’s growth may have been more dramatic than suggested by Inskeep’s numbers. We will know the real size of the city’s population, only when a census is held and that may take another year even if the push by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to hold a population count in 2014 succeeds. Karachi may well be 40 times its size in 1947, the year of Pakistan’s birth.
There were several waves of migration that have continued to hit Karachi’s shores. The refugee influx of 1947 was followed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of fresh migrants from Pakistan’s northern areas. The refugees from India were still in the process of settling down, when construction workers from north Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Pak occupied  Kashmir arrived to build the new capital city and to launch an effort at industrialising the new country. This created the third community — that of the Punjabis, Pathans and Kashmiris in addition to the indigenous Sindhis — which, in turn laid the ground for the fourth community.
We know from the history of world migration that displaced people generally head towards the communities that already have in them members of their ethnic groups. While the number of Pashtun who came to Karachi as construction workers was relatively small, it was large enough to create a zone of comfort for the large number of people dislocated by the three-and-half decade long war in Afghanistan. At the height of the Afghan war in the 1980s, some five million refugees arrived from that country. About three million were settled in the formal camps built along the Afghan-Pakistan border, while the remaining two million seeped into Pakistan’s large urban centres, in particular Karachi.
Even if the original size of the refugees-from-India population was much more than 600,000 estimated by the census of 1951 and grew to a million because of later flows and the arrival into the city of the members of this ethnic community from other cities in Sindh, the total size of the group would be around five million. If the city now has 16-18 million, this means that the muhajir share will be less than a third. This is not proportional to the political power the group currently wields. The political clout of the muhajirs is much more pronounced than suggested by demography. The reason for this tells us a lot about the other side of the political-demographic equation. This group was able to make its political presence felt by putting into place a powerful and well-organised organisation, the MQM. Nothing comparable was done by the other communities.
Other communities may have been able to get organised if there was present a political system that could accommodate them. That was not the case, in large part, because of the roller coaster political ride on which the country was on for 60 years. Alternating between military rule and poor civilian governance, Pakistan was not able to evolve a fully representative political order. Its absence meant that the competing groups resorted to violence in order to create political space for themselves. Violence begets violence and this is what has been going on in Karachi for the last quarter century. This, then, is the story Karachi.
The city must prepare itself for another demographic shock. This will be produced if the recent developments in Afghanistan once again seriously destabilise the country. Disagreement with the United States over the arrangement needed to retain a stabilising American force in the country after Washington has completed the withdrawal of its troops by end 2014 has already begun to hurt the Afghan economy. There is evidence that more Afghans are leaving the country than returning to it. Some of this out-flux is directed towards Pakistan. A large number of new Afghan displaced persons will head towards Karachi. The city, as well as Islamabad, must prepare for this development and that must involve the development of institutions of governance. The decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan to force the Sindh government to hold local government elections in mid-January should be viewed in this context.
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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Bitten by a snake the snake charmer

Bitten by a snake the snake charmer

Terrorist attacks will not be tolerated: Army Chief General Raheel Sharif

General Raheel Sharif pays his respects. PHOTO: APP
PESHAWAR: Two days after the army went on a retaliatory blitz in North Waziristan where a checkpost had been attacked by a truck bomb, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif on Saturday reaffirmed that the military will not tolerate terror attacks and that such attacks be responded effectively.
Paying a visit to the Corps Headquarters in Peshawar on Saturday, the COAS assured army’s full support to the government’s ongoing peace process. He appreciated the resolve displayed by the officers and men who fought against terrorism and brought stability to the militancy hit areas.
He laid a wreath at Yadgar-e-Shuhada on his arrival at Peshawar, and paid tribute to the martyrs.
Later, he was briefed in detail at the Corps Headquarters about various operational, training and administrative matters.
Gen Sharif appreciated the infrastructure building and reconstruction work being undertaken by the Army in FATA and Malakand, he instructed all concerned parties to ensure quality and timely completion of these projects.

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Senior Tibetan Monk Beaten to Death in Chinese Police Custody

Senior Tibetan Monk Beaten to Death in Chinese Police Custody

Geshe Ngawang Jamyang leads prayers in an undated photo.
 Photo courtesy of an RFA listener
Chinese police have beaten to death a senior Tibetan monk less than a month after talking him into custody with two friends while they were vacationing in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, according to sources.

Geshe Ngawang Jamyang, a popular religious teacher who had trained for many years at a monastery in India before returning to Tibet, was a leading instructor at Tarmoe monastery in Nagchu (in Chinese, Naqu) prefecture’s Driru (Biru) county before he was detained on Nov. 23, sources said.

Driru has been at the center of a campaign by Tibetans resisting forced displays of loyalty to the Chinese state.

“On Dec. 17, the body of Geshe Ngawang Jamyang was handed over to his family,” Ngawang Tharpa, a Tibetan living in exile in India, told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Thursday.

“He had been beaten to death,” Tharpa said, citing sources in the region.

“At that time, his family members were warned that they too would be brutally killed if they spread information about his death to outside contacts,” Tharpa said.

No information has been made available on the fate of another monk, Kalsang Choklang, who was detained at the same time as Jamyang, or of a still unidentified third monk who was taken into custody with them.

Body cremated

Separately, a Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan advocacy group confirmed Jamyang’s death, saying that police had “lost no time” in returning Jamyang’s body to his relatives after he was killed.

“It was clear that Ngawang Jamyang was beaten to death while in secret detention,” the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a statement quoting a source with contacts in Driru.

“He was a healthy, robust man when he left his monastery to visit Lhasa,” TCHRD said.

Family members took Jamyang’s body to Lhasa’s Sera monastery for cremation, while funeral ceremonies and prayers are being conducted at his home in Driru county, TCHRD said.

Jamyang was born in Driru county’s Totho village in 1968, enrolled as a monk in Tarmoe monastery in 1987, and two years later traveled to India, where he pursued advanced Buddhist studies for 19 years, a second source told RFA.

“In 2007, he returned to Tibet, where he intended to work for the restoration and propagation of Buddhism and Tibetan culture in his native region,” Driru Samdrub, a Tibetan living in Europe said, citing contacts in Driru.

He was sentenced in 2008 to a two-year jail term for maintaining “contacts with outside sources,” but was later released and resumed his work teaching Buddhism and the Tibetan language in the Driru area, Samdrub said.

“He also taught Buddhism to Driru’s lay community, which regarded him with reverence and respect,” he said.

'Politically unstable'

Chinese security forces in recent weeks have been raiding monks’ quarters and family homes in “politically unstable” Driru county, seizing computers and mobile phones and conducting daily political re-education classes for area residents, according to sources in the region and in exile.

About 1,000 Tibetans have been detained since authorities launched a crackdown in Driru in September when Beijing began a campaign to force Tibetans to fly the Chinese national flag from their homes, sources say.

The campaign intensified in early October when villagers refused to fly the flags, throwing them instead into a river and prompting a deadly security crackdown in which Chinese police fired into unarmed crowds.

“The Chinese government has identified Driru as a county without political stability,” one source told RFA in an e-mail forwarded from Tibet.

“It believes that if Driru is not brought under control, this could have a disruptive impact in other areas,” RFA’s source said.

Area monks who have studied at Buddhist institutions in neighboring Chinese provinces are being recalled for indoctrination, while monks who have visited India and Nepal are being targeted for “intense re-education sessions,” he said.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

A total of 125 Tibetans in China have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.
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Opium Production in Golden Triangle Rising Rapidly

Opium Production in Golden Triangle Rising Rapidly

Poppies grow in a field in northern Laos, as seen in a file photo from the UNODC.
Opium production in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle region increased rapidly in 2013, the U.N. has said, warning of high drug use in poppy-growing villages in Myanmar and Laos.
Opium production in Myanmar is at the highest level in over a decade, while in neighboring Laos, poppy cultivation has leveled off but remains a concern, according the latest survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Together, the two countries produced 893 metric tons of opium—a 22 percent leap from the year before, with the rise likely fueled by a growing demand for opium in local and regional markets, the agency said.
The total accounts for 18 percent of the opium made worldwide, with Myanmar’s production second only to Afghanistan’s.
“The figures make clear that efforts to address the root causes of cultivation and promote alternative development need to be stepped up,” UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said in a foreword to the report.
He called for stronger efforts in the poverty-stricken villages where the poppies are cultivated, saying it was “important to do so quickly” before drug trafficking networks were able to benefit from future integration efforts in the planned Greater Mekong sub-region allowing trade to flow more easily.
'Strong link' with poverty
Myanmar's uptick in production was driven by a 13 percent rise in cultivation, combined with higher yields, the report said.
Most of the country's opium comes from poppy fields in Shan state, with the rest mainly in Kachin state—both areas in the Golden Triangle region where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, China, and Laos converge.
The areas are home to ethnic rebel groups that fought with the Myanmar military for decades and are in the process of forging peace as the country emerges from junta rule.
In Laos, the survey confirmed poppy cultivation in the northern provinces of Phongsali, Xiangkhoang, and Houaphan—though it did not measure total opium production in Laos compared to the year before.
In both countries, use of heroin, opium, and synthetic drugs—known locally as “yaba”— is “much higher” in poppy-growing villages than in other areas, the survey reported.
UNODC’s Myanmar Country Manager Jason Eligh said there was a “strong link” between poverty and poppy cultivation.
“In poppy growing villages, significantly more households are in debt and food insecure than in non-poppy growing villages."
"Opium farmers are not bad people, they are poor people. Money made from poppy cultivation is an essential part of family income,” he said.
Eradication efforts
This year is the seventh in a row in which the UNODC measured a rise in opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle, despite government eradication efforts.
In Myanmar, a 15-year plan targeting illicit opium poppy production that was supposed to end in 2014 has been extended by five years to target 2019.
As part of the plan, this year authorities destroyed thousands of hectares of poppy fields in Shan state and neighboring Kayah (Karenni) state, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
Kyaw Htin Aung, a representative from the Karenni Youth Union, which works to fight drug use in Kayah, said the extension of the plan's time frame marked a step back in efforts to stop producing opium by essentially giving growers license to cultivate the crop for longer.
“It is as if the deadline was extended five more years to allow people to plant opium until 2019,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“After the government asked people who had grown opium poppies in 2012 and 2013 to decrease the amount of it they plant and switch to other crops, some of them moved to the cities and bought houses as an investment.”
“But because the government declared the new plan to eliminate illicit crop production by 2019, those people came back and have planted opium again, and of course [will do so] until 2019,” he said.
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Saturday, 7 December 2013

PAKISTAN- Pakistan, appeal for Christian girl kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam

Pakistan, appeal for Christian girl kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam
by Shafique Khokhar
To date, the police refuses to liberate the girl, despite the repeated requests of the family. Mary Salik (fictitious name) was kidnapped last May 4 near Faisalabad by an uncle who had converted to Islam. The girl's father denounces conspiracy against his family: "My daughter has heart problems and was kidnapped by deception". 

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - The family of Mary Salik (fictional name for security reasons)  asks for justice for the 14 year old Christian girl, kidnapped last May 4 in Ali (Faisalabad, Punjab) and forced to convert to Islam. The author of the kidnapping is the uncle of the girl, who embraced Islam about a year ago and since then ended all contact with the family of origin. He kidnapped the young girl to marry her off with his son Kashif. The wedding was celebrated on 7 May.

The girl's father, told AsiaNews that "my daughter is only 14 years old and suffers from the birth from heart problems and can not do heavy work. After converting my brother is conspiring against our family and kidnapped Mary with deception ".

Immediately after the seizure, the father of the young Christian girl turned to local police and demanded the immediate release of his daughter, but the agents refused to return Mary to her family. According to police, the girl converted of her own free will and submitted as evidence a written statement in which the girl says to "be mature and have embraced Islam without coercion or threats."

To get their daughter back, the parents decided to find a compromise with the help of some influential people in the area and have filed a petition against the police officers.

Fr. Bonnie Mendes, priest and activist, former secretary of the Pakistan National Commission for Justice and Peace, speaks of the abuses suffered by the Christian community. "Although we are free to pray - he says - and to practice our religion, we are threatened when we try to defend our rights." The priest denounces the problem of cases of forced conversions to Islam of young Christians, which together with the blasphemy law is one of the most severe violations of religious freedom to the detriment of minorities. For Fr. Mendes Mary's case is against the teachings of Islam. In fact, those who want to convert require an iddat, a discernment period that must last at least three months. However, due to ignorance, illiteracy and social injustice, most Muslims do not observe this rule.

Each month between 25 and 30 young girls suffer similar abuses, for a yearly total of about 300 conversions and forced marriages. Hindu girls - but also Christian - who are torn from the family while very young and delivered into the hands of their husbands / torturers. One case recently made headlines when the Pakistani Supreme Court forced three young Hindu women to return to their Muslim husbands, despite the desire of the young girls to return to their family. The young women were kidnapped in February, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. On March 26 Rinkle Kumari, one of the girls, told the judges of the Court that there "is no justice in this country only for Muslims, justice is denied Hindus. Kill me here, now, in court. But do not send me back to the Darul-Aman [Koranic school] ... they will kill us. " The other two young girls, Lata and Asha, had expressed, in vain, the desire to be reunited with their families.
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PAKISTAN- The drama of Farah Hatim, common to many women in Pakistan

The drama of Farah Hatim, common to many women in Pakistan 
by Jibran Khan
A 24 year old Christian kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and marry her kidnapper. In court later she says it was voluntarily, to protect her family. Hundreds of similar cases occur every year in Pakistan, denounced by the commission for Justice and Peace. 

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Farah Hatim, a Christian woman of 24, resident in Yar Khan in southern Punjab, was abducted on 8 May by Zeehan Ilyas and his brothers Umran and Gulfam and was forced to convert and marry her kidnapper, The Catholic Church and human rights organizations have condemned the act and demanded action against this violation of human rights. The Justice and Peace Commission brought the case to court, and since then the police has been constantly threatening the girl's family. Judge Khawaja Mir has transferred the case to the Supreme Court, because of the sensitivity of the matter. The appeal to the Supreme Court was presented by the Commission for Justice and Peace and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). The Supreme Court has asked the Bawalphur District Police Chief Rahim Yar Khan and families to appear in court July 20.

The judge asked if Farah Hatim was kidnapped, or went with Zeehan Ilyas of her own accord, and after some minutes of silence she replied: "Of my own will." After a few more questions, the judge announced that Farah should remain with her new family. Farah Hatim burst into tears when the Court announced its decision. Farah Hatim was granted a few minutes to meet her old family. Farah's brother said: "I am shocked by what Farah said in court. She was threatened, and all hope that she could return is gone. Why us? Why do we have to deal with it? Just because we are Christians? ".

According to the Committee for Justice and Peace, "Farah has become a victim of the prostitution racket. Zeeshan Iiyas tried to push her into prostitution when she was still a student at Sheikh Zaid Medical College, Rahim Yar Khan, but she refused. Zeehan Iiyas then took revenge. The current decision on Farah is possible because she is pregnant, and she fears that her family will be killed if she tries to return, and even if she had chosen the courageous path to return, she would not be accepted by society because she was kidnapped and raped. Fear of rejection is also a possible reason for her statements. " The Justice and Peace Commission reports that "thousands of girls from minority communities are kidnapped and forced to marry. We are fighting against the cancer of abductions and forced marriages. "

Hatim's family, has made desperate appeals to higher authorities, urging action, or laws against forced marriages and forced conversions. "We do not want this to happen to any other girl. We lost our sister, and our pain is great. We are targeted because we are a minority, so we ask the government not to abandon minorities," appealed, Farhi’s elder brother, in tears, outside the courthouse.
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PAKISTAN- Hindu girl tells Supreme Court she would rather die than convert to Islam

Hindu girl tells Supreme Court she would rather die than convert to Islam
by Jibran Khan
Seized by an influential Muslim, with the "political cover" of an elected official, 19 year old Rinkel Kumari launches a desperate appeal to the courts. “Justice is denied Hindus in Pakistan” and therefore asks to" kill me here "in the courtroom. The family, after reporting to police, forced to leave the village in Sindh. Each year there are 300 forced marriages and conversions 

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "In Pakistan there is justice only for Muslims, justice is denied Hindus. Kill me here, now, in court. But do not send me back to the Darul-Aman [Koranic school] ... kill me". This is the desperate, heartbreaking outburst of Rinkel Kumari, a Hindu girl aged 19, who has entrusted her heartfelt appeal to the judges of the Supreme Court in Islamabad. Her story is similar to that of many other young women and girls belonging to religious minorities - Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis - kidnapped by extremist groups or individuals, most of the time lords or local mafia, which convert them by force and then marry them . And that is what the girl said on 26 March, before the judges of the capital's court.

The drama of Rinkel Kumari, a student of Mirpur Mathelo, a small village in the province of Sindh, began the evening of February 24: A handful of men seized her and delivered her a few hours later into the hands of a wealthy Muslim scholar, the man then called her parents, warning them that their daughter "wants to convert to Islam."

Nand Lal, the girl's father, a teacher of an elementary school, accused Naveed Shah, an influential Muslim, of kidnapping his daughter.  The man has the "political cover" provided by Mian Mittho, an elected National Assembly Member, suspected of aiding and abetting. After identifying the perpetrators of the kidnapping of his daughter, he was forced to leave the area of origin to escape the threats of people affiliated with the local mafia. The father found refuge and welcome in Gurdwara in Lahore, in Punjab province, with the rest of his family.

As often happens in these cases, even the judiciary is complicit: a local judge ordered that the girl should be given to the Muslims, because her conversion is "the result of a spontaneous decision" and also stated the marriage was above board. A claim that was repeated on February 27, at the hearing before the court, after which the girl was "renamed" Faryal Shah.

However, the story of Rinkel is not an isolated case: every month between 25 and 30 young people suffer similar abuses, for a yearly total of about 300 conversions and forced marriages. Hindu girls - but also Christian - who are torn from their family and delivered into the hands of their husbands / torturers.

On March 26, she appeared before the judges of the Supreme Court in Islamabad, while the Hindu community waited with bated breath for the girl's statements in court. To avoid pressure, the presiding judge ordered the courtroom cleared and - later - the dramatic testimony was relayed: in Pakistan, "there is no" justice, "kill me here but do not send me back" to the kidnappers.

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr. Anwar Patras, the Diocese of Rawalpindi, condemned "with force" the kidnapping and forced conversion. "The Hindus in Sindh - adds the priest - live a hard life. The reality is getting harder for them, they are forced to migrate because the state is unable to protect them and their property.
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Friday, 6 December 2013

Pet snake's hiss - to be your own master

Pet Snake's Hiss - to be Your Own Master

VIP culture: JuD chief’s petition referred to larger bench

Jamatud Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. PHOTO: EXPRESS
LAHORE:  A single bench of the Lahore High Court on Thursday referred Jamatud Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s petition regarding “VIP culture” to the chief justice so he could fix it before a full bench.
After Justice Ayesha A Malik heard preliminary arguments by Saeed’s counsel on Thursday, she referred the matter to the chief justice, saying a full bench should be constituted to deal with the matter.
The petitioner said public functionaries “lived like kings and princes in palatial government houses”. He said they were not following the Holy Prophet’s (peace be upon him) sunnah and their lifestyles contravened the Constitution.
He said the governor alone lived in a “palace” on 68 acres. Some of the commissioners lived on properties of up to 100 kanals, said Saeed. They should be accommodated in five marla houses each, he recommended in the petition.
Saeed said the British prime minister lived in a 17th century four-bedroom house on a small street. Their chief executive’s lifestyle is truly Islamic and emulates the Holy Prophet’s sunnah.
The rulers of Pakistan, however, built air-conditioned stables for their horses and gave them costly jam to eat, said Saeed. In the meantime, he said, hundreds of Pakistanis sifted through garbage for food. “A 75-year-old man, Lateef Khan, has been scavenging for food at Khyber Teaching Hospital for the last 30 years,” he said.
Saeed said David Cameron used to ride a bicycle to the UK parliament before he became prime minister and later switched to an official car because of security concerns. London Mayor Boris Johnson still went to work on his bicycle, he said.
On the other hand, he said, former president Asif Ali Zardari had travelled to London on a private jet that was parked at the airport for £600 per day. The Pakistan High Commission had booked a jet for £20,000 (Rs2.908 million) per day to take the president, his family and officials of the High Commission from London to Edinburgh, a 40-minute plane ride, for Bakhtawar Bhutto’s graduation ceremony.
He said the luxurious VIP culture was a legacy of the colonial era and needed to be declared a violation of Article 8(1) and (2) of the Constitution.
The VIP and VVIP statuses were ultra vires of the constitutional provisions of equality, social and economic justice and principle of democracy as enunciated by Islam, said Saeed. He said stopping traffic for VIPs was a violation of fundamental rights. The presidency, prime minister’s house, governors’ houses, chief ministers’ houses, ministers’ enclave and the “palaces of all state functionaries” should be declared a violation of social justice, he said.
He said the court should direct the government to abandon the “luxurious lifestyle” it provides for its functionaries in the light of Article 38(b) of the Constitution (Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people).
He said schools for the elite must open their gates to children of the poor. The children of the rich and poor must study under the same conditions and the same syllabus, Saeed said.
Those paid from the public exchequer must not get free electricity, gas or petrol, he said. Saeed asked the court to direct the respondents – the federal law secretary, the interior secretary, the Punjab chief secretary, the president and the prime minister- to follow the example of state functionaries in the UK. “Even though they are not Muslims, they can be considered to be followers of the sunnah,” he said.


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Pakistani immigrant sues US over suspectable arrest in war on terrorism

Pakistani immigrant sues US over suspectable arrest in war on terrorism

Pakistani immigrant sues US over false arrest in war on terrorism. PHOTO: FILE
ORLANDO: A Pakistani immigrant who says he was held for more than 10 months in solitary confinement after being suspected arrested on terrorism charges has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Miami, saying he was a victim of “overzealousness” in the US war on terrorism.
Irfan Khan, a 40-year-old Muslim, emigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1994 and is a naturalised US citizen.
He is the son of a 78-year-old south Florida imam who was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a judge in August for funnelling more than $50,000 to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Hafiz Khan was convicted in March on four counts of providing money and support to the group, which the United States considers a terrorist organisation. He had faced a maximum of 60 years in prison, and prosecutors sought a 15-year sentence.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in US District Court, says Irfan Khan was arrested in California in May 2011 on charges that included providing material support for terrorism and the TTP.
Subsequently transferred to a prison in Florida, he was also accused of supporting a conspiracy to maim, kidnap or murder persons overseas, according to the lawsuit.
All charges against Khan were dropped in June 2012, but only after he had been held for 319 days in solitary confinement, according to the lawsuit.
“The conduct the government subjected Irfan to, as a result of his religion, national origin, and its overzealousness in its war on terror was and still is, by all standards, horrendous,” the complaint says.
“I couldn’t even imagine myself in this situation,” Khan told Reuters on Thursday evening. “I was shocked at the time. I’m still shocked. I don’t know why it happened, how it happened, and that’s why we are doing this. To get some answers.”
He did not elaborate, but the lawsuit accuses the government of false arrest, imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
A spokesman for the US Justice Department could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit after Reuters learned of it late on Thursday.
The government accused Khan of wiring money in 2008 to a commander of the TTP named Akbar Hussain, but Khan maintains that he actually was sending money to his wife, who was visiting Pakistan, through her uncle who is also named Akbar Hussain but who is a retired college professor.
The lawsuit also claims that a neutral translator would have disagreed with the government’s interpretation of two telephone conversations cited by prosecutors that Khan had with his father in the father’s native language of Urdu and Pashto.
The lawsuit states that Khan could be heard on the phone calls criticizing the Pakistani government but not advocating violence, as was claimed by government prosecutors.
Following his arrest, Khan said he lost his job and his car. He also said his wife had to move with their two children out of concerns for their safety.
Since his release, Khan, who is looking for a job in Miami, said one bank refused to allow him a checking account, and his former employer refused to talk to him.
Michael Hanna, a discrimination attorney with the Morgan & Morgan law firm in Orlando, said Khan is seeking justice and unspecified damages.
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In-camera session: SC orders meeting between Justice Muslim, missing persons on Dec 7

In-camera session: SC orders meeting between Justice Muslim, missing persons on Dec 7

Defence minister submits list of missing persons, says not a single person is in military's custody. PHOTO: FILE
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the defence authorities to present the missing persons before Justice Ameer Hani Muslim for an in-camera session at 9am on December 7, Express News reported.
A three-member bench which includes Justice Muslim heard the case today in Islamabad under the supervision of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
The court said that the attorney general can also question the missing persons during the session.
Earlier during the hearing, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif submitted a list of 35 missing persons and details of their locations to the Supreme Court.
Giving details of the missing persons, Asif said seven of them were released, three are living in Waziristan area, one has moved to Saudi Arabia while eight have reportedly moved to Afghanistan and are living in Kunar valley.
He further added that details of five people are not known as yet, while information about seven people mentioned in the list is very sensitive.
The defence minister added that none of the missing persons are in military’s custody.
Rejecting the government’s stance, the bench reiterated its earlier order and asked authorities to bring the missing persons to the court.
The hearing was adjourned till December 9.
Speaking to the media after the hearing ended, Asif said that the government will produce a certain number of people in the court tomorrow.
In yesterday’s hearing, Asif had informed the court that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had assured him that “good news” will be presented to the court today.
The Director General of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) had also met the prime minister to discuss the missing persons case after Supreme Court intensified pressure on defence authorites.
The DG ISI had told the premier that security agencies never victimised any person and moreover investigated all those who have been found in ‘mischievous activities’ against the state across the country.


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ASWJ's Maulana Shamsur Rehman killed in Lahore

ASWJ's Maulana Shamsur Rehman killed in Lahore

Unidentified men opened fire at his car. PHOTO: FILE
LAHORE: Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) leader Maulana Shamsur Rehman Muawiya has been killed in Lahore, Express News reported on Friday.
Unidentified men opened fire at his car near Batti Chowk. He had been going home after Friday prayers from Muhammadi Masjid.
According to initial details, the ASWJ leader was shot in the head. His body has been sent for post mortem.
The ASWJ has announced a country-wide protest against the attack.
Many members of ASWJ have been victims of target killings in the past year.
In 2001, Pakistan banned the sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba under pressure from the United States to crack down on militancy but the group changed its name to Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ).
An offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba is the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has evolved into one of Pakistan’s most feared militant groups and has claimed responsibility for many attacks in the country.


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Housing Prices Challenge China's Reforms

Housing Prices Challenge China's Reforms

New high-rise residential apartment buildings under construction in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, Nov. 18, 2013.
Eight months after taking office, China's new government is still struggling to bring housing prices under control.

Despite a series of measures since March, prices have kept up their relentless climb, frustrating first-time buyers and the government's urbanization drive.

In October, 65 of 70 surveyed cities reported higher new home prices, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The increases in China's four largest cities were the biggest since January 2011, Bloomberg News said.

Price hikes from a year earlier ranged from 16 to 21 percent in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, the NBS reported.

In November, prices rose again in 69 out of 100 cities in a China Index Academy survey, Shanghai Daily said.

Sharing economic benefits

The price issue is critical for the government on several levels.

The first is public demand that economic benefits be shared more evenly.

Property costs have been spurred by speculation and investment among the well-to-do in second and third homes, while many first-time buyers have been priced out of the market.

Last month, the official Xinhua news agency cited public expectations that government reforms would bring prices down, based on responses to a China Youth Daily poll.

High prices may also hinder the government's effort to draw some 20 million rural dwellers a year to China's cities.

Excessive investment in unoccupied high-end housing may also create an economic bubble, while unneeded construction adds to environmental woes.

Curbing speculation

In March, the State Council called for a 20-percent capital gains tax on profits from home sales, hoping to curb speculation.

The move was seen as the incoming government's first attempt to cool off the property market and make housing more affordable for the middle class and new entrants to China's cities.

But implementation of the tax was left to local governments, creating a patchwork of rules, largely affecting second homes for investment and costlier residences.

New tactics

Now that prices are apparently undeterred, cities are trying a host of new tactics to meet the government's goal of stabilizing the market by the end of the year.

On Nov. 18, Guangzhou announced that it would require down payments of at least 70 percent for second-home purchases following similar moves by the other megacities, Xinhua reported.

Apartment sales to unregistered residents have been restricted to deter speculation, "but the rules have not yet yielded fruit as expected," the news agency said.

Other tactics include a ban on "presales" of more expensive properties, expected to take effect in Beijing. But such moves are seen as only postponing higher prices when the homes under construction are eventually sold.

Cautious measures

Officials seem uncertain about how to manage the market or even whether to interfere with supply and demand.

In the first 10 months of the year, home sales soared 33 percent as Premier Li Keqiang held off from imposing new national restrictions out of concern for economic growth, Bloomberg said.

"The property industry is the supporting force for economic growth and economic structural reforms, and the fact has not changed," said economist Ba Shusong of the State Council's Development Research Center, writing in the Shanghai Securities News.

Property tax

So far, the government has appeared cautious about pushing a property tax, which is seen as the most powerful tool to rein in speculation and multiple home ownership.

Property taxes have been tried as pilot programs since last year in Shanghai and Chongqing, but it is unclear whether the limited measures, mostly for high-cost properties, have had much effect.

Central government officials have voiced the same set of concerns about expanding the tax into a national requirement.

"Property taxes impact the national economy and people's livelihood, and an expansion needs to be discussed more widely," an official of the State Administration of Taxation said in January, Xinhua reported.

Plenum roadmap

A document released following last month's Third Party Plenum suggests that reluctance and caution continue.

"Also, accelerate property-tax legislation and related reform at an appropriate time," a section from the government's roadmap reads.

The property tax is still seen as the effective way to curb the speculative run-up in housing, said Harvard University economics professor Dale Jorgenson in an interview.

"It's pretty clear that's the way they have to go. It's a little complicated, but that's the bottom line," he said.

Jorgenson is not discouraged by the vague wording of the plenum's roadmap, noting that previous Chinese reforms since 1978 were preceded by similarly general outlines.


Still, imposition of an effective property tax measure may run into bureaucratic foot-dragging.

"Despite the fact that they have an authoritarian system, there is going to be a lot of resistance of one kind or another," Jorgenson said.

He believes resistance is the reason the government has created a new "central leading team" to pursue its agenda.

"That is something that is going to deal with these issues by going out and, if necessary, by knocking a few heads together," Jorgenson said.

But even with a determined push, housing reforms will take time.

Land reforms are also key to the issue, said Jorgenson, since urban expansion may rely on land now classed as rural, which will be subject to its own property rights reform.

For starters, the government is launching a "cadastral" survey of boundary and property lines that could take two to three years to complete, he said.


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Jiangxi Subversion Trial Adjourned Amid Procedural Row

Jiangxi Subversion Trial Adjourned Amid Procedural Row

Liu Ping (l) with lawyer Li Zhiyong (r) in Wukan, Guangdong province, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Li Zhiyong
Six top rights lawyers defending three anti-corruption activists on trial for subversion in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi said they were prevented from finishing their arguments by court officials during Tuesday's hearing.

The trial of Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping, and Li Sihua, who were held after calling for officials to disclose their assets, resumed on Tuesday at the Yushui District People's Court in Jiangxi's Xinyu city after it was suspended amid a dispute over rights violations.

"The afternoon session ended after about one hour," Yang Xuelin, who represents Liu Ping, told RFA.

"There were differences of opinion between the defendants and the court over procedural matters, and no consensus was reached," he said.

"The court decided that the defendants were getting over-excited, and adjourned. The trial will continue tomorrow," he said.

He said the charges against the three activists were "ridiculous."

Liu Ping 'frail'

Liu Ping's daughter Liao Min said her mother appeared in reasonably good spirits, but looked "very frail" in court.

"She seems to have aged a great deal," Liao said. "I thought Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua also looked like they'd aged 10 years."

"They didn't seem very strong in their attitude, although they insisted that they are innocent, and that the charges [are a form of] political oppression," she said.

Liao said officials had filmed the proceedings. "This must be to show the higher-level authorities," she said.

Disclosing assets

Authorities are holding 12 defense witnesses under house arrest, preventing them from attending the trial, witnesses and relatives said on Monday.

Liu, Wei and Li were detained in April on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," and later additionally charged with "unlawful assembly."

Liu and Wei have also been charged with "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "using a cult to pervert the course of justice," after all three activists held up signs in the street to demand that high-ranking officials disclose their assets.

Lawyers for the activists said they had already been detained longer than the three months allowed under China's criminal procedural law and called at last month's trial for the presiding judges to be taken off the case.

Rights campaigner

A laid-off worker who gained the backing of more than 30 people for her nomination in district-level legislative elections in 2012, Liu Ping is no stranger to official harassment.

In March 2012, she was held for several weeks in an unofficial detention center, or "black jail," strip-searched, and beaten, rights groups reported at the time.

Before her candidacy for the district People's Congress in Xinyu city was rejected, Liu had mustered a strong following among laid-off and retired workers, as well as existing workers who complained of poor conditions in their jobs.

The number of people held in China for state-security offenses rose by nearly 20 percent last year, with the majority of arrests made in areas of recurrent ethnic unrest, a U.S.-based rights group said in a report last week.

China arrested 1,105 people for crimes that come under the category of "endangering state security" in 2012, a rise of 19 percent compared with 2011, the Dui Hua Foundation said in a recent report, citing official figures.

State security offenses include "incitement to subvert state power," a charge typically used to jail political dissidents, including imprisoned 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.


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'Now Is the Time—We Can't Wait Any Longer!'

'Now Is the Time—We Can't Wait Any Longer!'

Xu Zhiyong speaks from behind bars at the Beijing No. 3 Detention Center in a screen grab from an undated video posted online on Aug. 7, 2013.
Ding Jiaxi, Xu Zhiyong, and others have been detained for calling on officials to declare their assets, as have Wang Gongquan and others who supported their demands. But they are innocent.

The "decision" adopted by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on deeper and comprehensive reforms proves their innocence.

Relevant pilot schemes carried out by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection prove their innocence.

The "gentlemen" Ding, Xu, and Wang, who were detained in Beijing, should be immediately and unconditionally released.

And any citizens who have been thrown in jail under a miscarriage of justice anywhere in China for their demands for greater justice should also be immediately and unconditionally released.

Now is the time. We can't wait any longer!

It isn't "reform," to refuse to release the innocent. It isn't "reform" not to overturn miscarriages of justice.

Reform is life and authority; it's the same as the implementing the Constitution. It's not just the orchestrators of the main theme tune writing propaganda for themselves.

According to the powers that be, Ding, Xu and Wang, and all those other gentlemen have committed an undocumented "other crime."

This is a crime for which there is no evidence; a trumped-up charge expertly played. Easy.

The cases against [jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Liu Xiaobo and [dissident artist] Ai Weiwei were made to stand up, so why not those against Ding and Xu and Wang?

After all, the entire history of China, from ancient times to the present, is replete with countless, groundless miscarriages of justice.

But things that could be done in the past, may not be achievable today, because the price to be paid is too steep.

Since the "decision" of the Third Plenum, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has launched a pilot scheme [which will gradually impose new asset disclosure requirements on most Chinese officials over the course of three to five years in order to battle corruption.]

Admittedly, there is still some distance between this pilot scheme and the demands of those detained citizens.

Perhaps it won't entirely meet the needs of the fight against corruption. But ... perhaps we are no longer in a situation where all praise belongs to officials, and all blame to the people.

This is an experiment that everyone can understand; an example enacted before our very eyes.

If the comprehensive reforms are to win worldwide trust, now is the time. Will they heap wrongs upon further wrongs, or will the good deeds begin to flow?

We are all watching.


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