Archive for March, 2012

Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General Works Off Taliban’s Sins at Gurdwaras and Shrines

By Rakhi Chakrabarty for Aman Ki Asha

A man in a maroon kurta sits hunched on the floor on Sunday afternoon,polishing the shoes of devotees at a room in Delhi’s Gurdwara Rakabganj.
It’s a common sight in gurdwaras, except that this man is Pakistan’s deputy attorney general, Muhammad Khurshid Khan, who had requested he be allowed to perform seva (community service) at the shrine.

Khan, 62, is an eminent lawyer and a devout Muslim from Pakistan’s Peshawar province. He was recently in Delhi for a judicial conference. “I have been very keen to visit various places of worship here to promote harmony between India and Pakistan,” says Khan.
Khan’s tryst with temples and gurdwaras began in 2010 to “heal the wounds of minorities in Pakistan by becoming their sevadar (performer of service)”.

For him, it was a “penance” for crimes committed by the Taliban. In February that year, the Taliban had kidnapped three Sikhs from Peshawar and demanded a $235,000 ransom. Pakistan army rescued two of them, but the third, Jaspal Singh, was beheaded by the captors. It was after the killing, that Khan first performed service at a gurdwara in Peshawar. “I seek harmony among all religions,” says Khan, citing Pakistan’s pluralistic heritage.

“I am a Muslim, not a terrorist; I am a Khan, not a terrorist; I am from Pakistan, but not a terrorist.” This is Pakistani deputy attorney general Muhammad Khurshid Khan’s humble submission as he visits gurdwaras across New Delhi and performs seva (community service).
The Taliban, he says, has plundered Pakistan’s pluralistic heritage. “But I want to tell the world it’s unfair to tarnish a whole community for the sins of a few,” says the Pakhtoon who ran for Pakistan’s National Assembly twice.

In Delhi for a conference (along with some 200 members of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan), Khan, accompanied by Surinder Singh, a Delhi-based businessman whose father was a comrade of Subhas Chandra Bose, polished shoes at Gurdwara Sisganj and visited Birla Temple and Hanuman Mandir.

Khan told TOI that he turned to other faiths after the Taliban beheaded Jaspal Singh in Peshawar in February 2010. “When I visited the house of Jaspal, I was filled with remorse.” The killing weighed on his conscience.

He was perturbed that violence in the name of Islam brought a bad name not only to Muslims and Pakistan but also to his people, the Pakhtoons.
The next day, he went to Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh in Peshawar and sat on the steps. He could hear the chants wafting out of the shrine. “I felt peace,” he says.The lawyer started reading about Guru Nanak and approached a member of the gurdwara management committee to allow him the opportunity for seva. After discussions, the gurdwara management committee allowed to perform seva.

“For two months, I went to the gurdwara daily before the maghrib azaan (call to prayer at sunset) and polished shoes of devotees. Sevadari is ibaadat (worship),” he says.In Delhi, Khan also went to Jantar Mantar in the hope of meeting Anna. He sent his visiting card and waited for close to an hour but could not meet Anna. But he left the place “charmed”. “It is amazing. This is democracy,” he said.
On his way back to Pakistan, he will visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar for the ‘Jora Ghar Seva (polishing shoes of devotees). He had written to PM Manmohan Singh last year to allow him a chance to perform seva at Amritsar.

“I am yet to get a reply,” he said.He has performed similar service at Hindu temples and joins church prayers every Sunday in Pakistan. “I live in a rigid society. But the ulema have never criticised me. The Hadees says anything good must be spread all around,” said Khan.
His gesture has been appreciated by Muslims and as well as religious minorities in Pakistan.

U.S. and Pakistan Take Step to Mend Relations

By Salman Masood and Declan Walsh for The New York Times

President Obama took a symbolic step toward improving ties with Pakistan on Tuesday when he met with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a nuclear summit meeting in South Korea.

But even as the two leaders made polite, if freighted, comments about improved cooperation, harsh debate in Pakistan’s Parliament on Tuesday made clear that there may be very little political upside for any Pakistani warming toward Washington.

Speaking in Seoul, President Obama acknowledged “strains” in the relationship and voiced his support for a parliamentary review process in Pakistan that aims to get the relationship back on its feet. “I think it’s important for us to get it right,” he said at a joint news conference.

But Mr. Obama added that Pakistan must also respect pressing American security concerns centered on “national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past.”

Mr. Gilani replied that he would help work with Mr. Obama “to have all the peace, prosperity and progress of the whole world.”

Relations between the two countries plunged steeply after the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May, then worsened further after American warplanes fired airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan in November.

The border strikes caused Pakistan to close NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and expel American officials from a remote air based used by the C.I.A. to launch drone strikes against militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwestern Pakistani tribal belt. More recently, a Pakistani parliamentary committee on national security demanded an end to drone strikes and an unconditional American apology for the airstrikes.

In Islamabad on Tuesday, Parliament was supposed to start a long-awaited debate that would pave the way toward re-engaging diplomatically with the United States. But the opposition stalled the debate, with some lawmakers expressing fury at news reports that the government had already promised to reopen the NATO supply lines.

Ayaz Amir, an influential lawmaker with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, questioned why Pakistan even bothered blocking the supply routes if it was assumed they would start right back up again. “We are fooling ourselves, and we are also fooling the Pakistani people,” he said.

The most scathing criticism came from Maulana Fazalur Rehman, an influential religious politician, who warned that if the government failed to win broad political backing for its review of American ties, he would take his protests onto the streets.

“We will not let such a decision to be implemented in the field,” he said.

Mr. Rehman asserted that given urgent efforts by the Americans to start negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, American weapons transported through NATO supply lines could ultimately be turned back on Pakistan, earning loud applause from fellow lawmakers. And he asked how the government intended to bring covert American operations in Pakistan under the law of the land.

Raza Rabbani, a senior government lawmaker, responded that the parliamentary committee’s recommendations on American policy were “broad policy guidelines” and not a final decision.

The session was adjourned until Wednesday evening, when the formal debate is due to begin. Meanwhile, outside Parliament, a newly formed alliance of religious parties and extremist groups, the Defense of Pakistan Council, held a large street rally against the reopening of the supply routes.

“If Parliament compromises on the security and sovereignty of the country, then we cannot guarantee the security of the lawmakers,” said Maulana Sami ul-Haq, head of the alliance, as hundreds of protesters chanted anti-American slogans.

A touch of Inspiration Runs Both Ways as Sean Penn Visits Shrine and Edhi Home

By Saba Imtiaz for The Express Tribune

In a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, the rather unassuming actor Sean Penn stepped out of his car to meet Pakistan’s iconic humanitarian worker Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilquis Edhi, at their home for children on Saturday morning.

While the Academy Award-winning star of Dead Man Walking is instantly recognisable to film buffs, the Edhis were unaware of who their visitor was.
Penn, who was accompanied by US Consul General William J Martin and a slew of consular staff, told Edhi that it was a “great honour” to meet him. “Your name is brought up with reverential appreciation,” Penn said. In return, the Edhis were told about Penn’s philanthropic efforts to help the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Penn toured the Bilquis Edhi Female Child Home in Clifton, dipping into classrooms where Montessori students sang the nursery rhyme ‘Are you Sleeping, Brother John?’ eliciting smiles from him and Martin. The school at the home has 250 students and offers classes till Matric or tenth grade.

“What are they working on?” he asked Ali Edhi, who was showing him around the eighth graders in the computer lab. “Word, PowerPoint, Excel,” a teacher responded. Penn was also told about the number of Edhi centres nationwide and how the organisation is open for ‘everyone – regardless of faith, class, identity.’

As the aroma of food being prepared for lunch wafted in from the kitchen, Penn stepped into a separate room to chat with the Edhis. Bilquis later told the media that Penn said he had wanted to meet them, and there had been no talk of donations or offers of help. “We get enough from Pakistanis, we do not take money from abroad,” Bilquis said. She said Penn had told them that he was happy to be there and that Pakistan was not as bad as people had made it out to be.

Consul General Martin explained: “On the Pakistan Day weekend, we brought Penn to meet Edhi, a great Pakistani who can inspire us all with his big heart and generosity.”

Penn’s first visit to Pakistan included travel to Badin and Karachi and he was expected to leave on Saturday. Before arriving at the Edhi centre, he also visited the nearby Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine where he paid his respects.

Say Hello! to Pakistan’s Glamour Side

As Reported by The Associated Press

Pakistan is better known for bombs than bombshells, militant compounds than opulent estates. A few enterprising Pakistanis hope to alter that perception with the launch of a local version of the well-known celebrity magazine Hello!.

They plan to profile Pakistan’s rich and famous: the dashing cricket players, voluptuous Bollywood stars and powerful politicians who dominate conversation in the country’s ritziest private clubs and lowliest tea stalls. They also hope to discover musicians, fashion designers and other new talents who have yet to become household names.

“The side of Pakistan that is projected time and time again is negative,” said Zahraa Saifullah, CEO of Hello! Pakistan. “There is a glamorous side of Pakistan, and we want to tap into that.”

But celebrating the lives of Pakistan’s most prosperous citizens is not without its critics in a country where much of the population lives in poverty. Advertising one’s prosperity could be risky as well since kidnappings for ransom are on the rise and attracting attention from Islamist militants can mean death.

Wajahat Khan, a consulting editor at Hello! Pakistan, said they were cognizant of the sensitivity of publishing a glamour magazine in a conservative Muslim country where many people are struggling and planned to be “socially responsible and culturally aware.”

“We are trying to be happy in a war zone,” Khan said Saturday at a news conference with Saifullah and other members of the magazine’s editorial staff. “We are trying to celebrate what is still alive in a difficult country.”

Khan said they would do everything they could to protect the security of the people they profile, but he wasn’t overly concerned.

“I don’t think terrorist networks are going to be reading Hello! anytime soon,” he said.

Pakistan already has a series of local publications that chronicle the lives of the wellheeled in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, especially as they hop between lavish parties. But the producers of Hello! Pakistan hope the magazine’s international brand and greater depth will attract followers.

Hello! was launched in 1988 by the publisher of Spain’s Hola! magazine and is now published in 150 countries. It’s well-known for its extensive coverage of Britain’s royal family and once paid $14 million in a joint deal with People magazine for exclusive pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s newborn twins.

The market for English-language publications in Pakistan is fairly small. Most monthly and weekly magazines sell no more than 3,000 copies, said Khan, the consulting editor. But they hope to tap into the large Pakistani expatriate markets in the United Kingdom and the Middle East as well.

Hello! Pakistan will be published once a month and will cost about $5.50, twice as much as what many poor Pakistanis earn in a day. The first issue will be published in mid-April and will focus on the Pakistani fashion scene.

Saifullah, who grew up watching her mother and grandmother read Hello! as she hopped between London and Karachi, said it took her two years to convince the magazine to publish a local version in Pakistan.

“They were concerned about whether Pakistan was ready for a magazine like this,” she said.

But Saifullah thinks the timing is perfect to showcase Pakistan’s too often hidden treasures, citing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who recently became the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar for a documentary about the plight of female victims of acid attacks in the country.

“We want to tap into the aesthetically beautiful, the athletic, the fashionable,” said Saifullah. “There is so much going on on a daily basis that nobody ever covers. It’s totally unexplored.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Pakistan is much more than bombings, extremism, and terror. The launch of this magazine in Pakistan not only helps illustrate to the outside world of a modern 21st century Pakistan but also stands as a bulwark to the Talibanization of Pakistan by the extremists.

Robinson scores 18 points, Withey has 10 blocks as No. 2 seed Kansas beats NC State 60-57

As Reported By The Associated Press

North Carolina State needed a miraculous run late in the season just to make it to the NCAA tournament. Then it seemed as if the Wolfpack would never go home.

Even when mighty Kansas, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional, had pulled ahead by eight in the closing minutes Friday night, coach Mark Gottfried’s bunch refused to give in. It wasn’t until Richard Howell’s off-balance shot at the buzzer came up short that reality finally hit.

The dream season for the No. 11-seed Wolfpack had ended in a 60-57 defeat.

“I was proud of them,” Gottfried said afterward. “It was a tough day for us, but we’ll step back and look at what all was accomplished. For that, these guys need to hold their heads really high and feel good about what they were able to accomplish.”

It was that far beyond anybody’s expectations.

The team was picked in the middle of the pack in the ACC — at best — yet managed to knock off San Diego State and Georgetown to reach the Midwest Regional semifinals.

The Wolfpack just didn’t have an answer for the bruising inside tandem of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, who provided the grit that moved Kansas within a game of the Final Four.

Robinson finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, and Withey blocked 10 shots to finish one shy of the NCAA tournament record. And the Jayhawks set up a date with top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday night — a showdown between the bluest of the bluebloods.

“It’ll be a great game. Two great teams, two teams with great size, both well-coached. It’ll be a great game,” Gottfried said. “We’re just disappointed we’re not in it.”

C.J. Leslie had 18 points to lead N.C. State (24-13), despite sitting much of the second half with four fouls. Scott Wood finished with 12 points on 2-for-10 shooting, though his biggest error wasn’t a missed shot but the shot he never even got to attempt.

N.C. State had pulled within 58-57 on a transition layup by C.J. Williams with just over a minute remaining. The teams swapped possessions before Kansas managed to get a layup from Elijah Johnson off an inbound pass from Taylor with 13.5 seconds left.

The Wolfpack crossed midcourt and called a timeout to set up a play, which was designed to get the ball to Wood off a baseline pass. Instead, a skip pass went high and the sharpshooter stepped out of bounds trying to pull it in, giving the ball back to Kansas with 5 seconds to go.

Robinson was fouled and missed the free throw at the other end, but a pass down court and Howell’s tightly guarded shot at the buzzer came up nowhere close, allowing Kansas to escape.

“We did not execute very well. The end of the day, that’s my responsibility,” Gottfried said.

Johnson finished with 11 points for the Jayhawks (30-6), who moved on despite a lousy performance by Taylor. Their second-leading scorer had six points on 2-for-14 shooting.

Kansas was just 1 for 14 from beyond the arc as a team.

“It gets frustrating, but I can’t hang my head and get down. I’ve just got to be able to do other things to help my team win,” said Taylor, who still managed 10 rebounds and five assists.

The Wolfpack took a page from Purdue’s playbook over the first eight minutes, using constant double teams on Robinson inside and forcing Kansas to settle for jump shots.

They didn’t go in, at least early on.

Just as they did against the Boilermakers last weekend, Kansas struggled to gain traction, and Leslie took advantage by scoring five of his 12 first-half points during an opening salvo.

Williams’ 3-pointer gave the Wolfpack a 17-11 lead — their biggest of the half.

Kansas eventually clawed back, relying on defense during a 12-0 run. Withey provided most of it inside with seven blocks in the first half.

“I was just in a zone,” he said. “After the first block I just got in a rhythm.”

Leslie answered with back-to-back baskets for N.C. State, and his bucket on the heels of a 3-pointer by Wood gave the Wolfpack a 33-32 lead at the break — their last lead of the game.

Johnson, who provided the big shots that allowed Kansas to reach St. Louis, hit his only 3-pointer of the game out of halftime. It was the start of a 12-2 run during which Leslie was forced to the bench with four fouls and nearly 16 minutes still on the clock.

“It was a very physical game. They’re very active coming over and helping,” he said.

Kansas extended the lead to 50-40 when Taylor lobbed a pass to Withey for an alley-oop dunk, and a partisan crowd inside the Edward Jones Dome roared in approval.

Leslie finally checked back in with less than 7 minutes left, giving N.C. State a brief boost. But moments later he was back on the floor as trainers appeared to work on a cramp, and Kansas pounded away inside before he checked back into the game.

The lead was 58-50 with just over 3 minutes remaining, and Kansas managed to hold on during a furious final stretch to reach another regional final — and earn a date with the Tar Heels.

“We didn’t shoot the ball really great. To get the win feels really good,” Withey said. “It was all defense, and we’re dancing. We’re still in the NCAA tournament.”

In wake of Trayvon Martin’s Death, America is Soul-searching

By Yamiche Alcindor, Marisol Bello and Larry Copeland to USA Today

Spurred by social media and community rallies, the shooting death of a 17-year-old Florida youth has become the latest flashpoint over how young black men are perceived in the United States.

Trayvon Martin’s death Feb. 26 at the hands of a Neighborhood Watch leader in this small, gated Florida community has rippled through many corners of the nation’s justice and political system and raised questions about the relationship between the black community and police in small towns.

In the past 48 hours, the case has:

•Sparked an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the Florida state attorney’s office.

Brought calls for changes in a Florida self-defense law that says a person being attacked has no duty to retreat and may return force;

Trayvon Martin was talking on his cell phone when he was shot and killed in February.
•Ignited protests, including a “Million Hoodie March” in New York City planned today, and a rally Thursday in Sanford led by civil rights activist Al Sharpton;

•Amassed more than 600,000 signatures in an online petition calling for charges to be filed against George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch captain who said he shot Martin.

Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

The case has resonated for many who say Martin died because of stereotypes of young black men as violent criminals. The shooting is already being compared with high-profile and historic civil rights cases — for instance, a doctored photograph has circulated throughout many social media sites that compares Martin to Emmett Till, a young man lynched by white men in 1950s Mississippi.

“It’s not about these individual acts of racism,” said Mark Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University. “It’s about the way that black males are framed in the larger culture … as being violent, criminal and threats to safety and property.”

The tragic case played out in Sanford, population 54,000, about 30 minutes north of Orlando, when Martin left his father’s home to buy candy and iced tea for his little brother at a nearby 7-Eleven.

He was on his way back in the rain when Zimmerman, 28, spotted him. Zimmerman was armed as he patroled the area in his car in response to several break-ins in the community.

Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious person, according to the call released by Sanford emergency dispatch. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman followed Martin, according to the 911 recording.

The two men fought and Trayvon Martin was left dead. Zimmerman told the Sanford police that he shot the teen in self-defense because he was fearful for his life. The police have said there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s claims. Police say Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head.

Zimmerman has not spoken publicly. In a statement, his father, Robert, said, “The portrayal of George Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that led to the tragic shooting are false and extremely misleading. … George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.”

The fatal shooting touched a chord of community outrage in Sanford on Tuesday night. The killing was “a senseless murder as far as we are concerned,” Seminole County NAACP President Clayton Turner told a capacity crowd at the start of a town-hall-style meeting at Allen Chapel AME Church.

Clayton said the Sanford city manager and mayor were unable to attend because they had been “summoned” to Washington by Attorney General Eric Holder.

“The line has been drawn in the sand,” Clayton said. “We as people of color are going to stand our ground. We are going to do it in a non-violent way, and we are going to prevail.”

Before his son’s death, Tracy Martin warned son Trayvon that being a black man in America could be dangerous.

“I’ve always let him know we as African Americans get stereotyped,” Tracy Martin told USA TODAY. “I told him that society is cruel.”

Those warning messages have echoed in Tracy Martin’s head since his son died.

Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said Tuesday that the young man was on the phone with his girlfriend when Zimmerman followed and approached him. He said the 16-year-old girl told a harrowing story that he says shows Martin did not attack Zimmerman.

The girl, whose family asked the attorney not to reveal her identity, told Crump that she and Martin were talking on the phone when he left the store, a bag of Skittles in his pocket. Crump said as Martin walked home, he told the girl, “This dude is following me.”

Crump said the girl told him that she told Martin to run. Martin ran, which coincided with Zimmerman’s comments to 911 in which he said the suspicious man was running, Crump said.

“Then she hears (Martin) say, ‘Why are you following me?’ and another voice say, ‘What are you doing in the neighborhood?’ ” Crump said.

Police actions questioned

The girl told Crump she then thought she could hear Trayvon was pushed and she heard a brief altercation, then the line went dead.

“This claim that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor is preposterous,” the attorney said.

Crump has questioned Sanford police actions after the shooting, noting that police did not run a blood-alcohol test or a background check on Zimmerman, but they ran both on Martin after he died. He said police took Zimmerman’s word without conducting a thorough investigation.

Tracy Martin says he wants Zimmerman arrested and tried in court.

“My child was profiled,” the father said. “He was stereotyped. We aren’t letting our son die in vain.”

The decision not to arrest Zimmerman was made by the responding officer who released the gunman after he claimed to have acted in self-defense, Sanford officials said Tuesday.

It was only after a growing public outcry expressing a lack of confidence in the police department’s actions that city leaders called on the Justice Department to review the shooting, City Manager Norton Bonaparte and Mayor Jeff Triplett said.

“We have a lot of strife in our community right now,” Triplett said at a Capitol Hill briefing where he and Bonaparte appeared with Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat. “If we’ve made an error, I want someone to tell me. There will be no stone that won’t be overturned.”

Triplett said the Justice investigation would review all aspects of the case, including the police response and the decision not to arrest Zimmerman.

Bonaparte acknowledged Zimmerman was part of a network of local Neighborhood Watch groups trained by the Sanford Police Department and urged “not to engage” possible suspects or people they encounter. Brown said she was “not satisfied” with the initial handling of the case, agreeing that Zimmerman was not tested for possible substance abuse immediately after the incident and lamenting that proper steps were not taken to preserve possible evidence at the scene.

“People need to feel that the system is fair,” Brown said. “It just wasn’t handled right.”

In conversations with the Sanford police chief, Triplett said he believes the Florida law known as the “stand your ground” statute, which provides a broader interpretation of self-defense, played a role in the decision not to arrest and charge Zimmerman.

The law allows the use of force if the person “reasonably believes” it is necessary to protect the person’s own life, or the life of another or to prevent a forcible felony.

In the wake of Martin’s death, the law is getting a second look. State Sen. Oscar Braynon, who represents Miami Gardens where the teen lived with his mother, called for hearings or a select committee to clarify what constitutes self-defense under the law. He said that since the law was enacted in 2005, the number of justified homicides in the state has skyrocketed. In 2005, there were 43 such cases; in 2009, the last complete year available, there were 105, Braynon said.

“I think there is vigilante justice happening and I think people are getting shot,” he said. “This is an unintended consequence of the law.”

Social media’s role

Public activism has played a pivotal role in bringing national attention to the case and ultimately leading to a top-to-bottom review of what happened that day. A wellspring of social media grew by the day and became relentless, demanding that the spotlight return to Sanford. It’s the only way to galvanize people in such cases, says Neal, the Duke professor.

“If folks aren’t on Twitter tweeting stories and giving particular testimonies; if you don’t have artists doing videos on YouTube talking about what Trayvon might have experienced … I don’t think we get a moment where suddenly the Justice Department is saying we need to investigate this case,” Neal says.

Change.org spokeswoman Brianna Cayo Cotter said the petition calling for prosecution of Zimmerman was drawing the second-highest amount of traffic to the site since a petition was launched for Kyleigh’s Law, a measure passed in New Jersey in 2010 that requires drivers younger than 18 with permits or probationary licenses to display special decals on their vehicles. Kyleigh D’Alessio was 16 when she died in a 2006 car crash.

“We are seeing unprecedented traffic on our website,” Cayo Cotter said.

The attention is also focusing on the town of Sanford, which has a history of racial tensions.

“This case more than anything reminds me of Jena — of a small Southern town that played by its own rules,” Sharpton said. “Sanford authorities thought they could contain it. … Once it becomes national, they can’t contain and control the story and the outcome.”

The Jena 6 were black teens initially charged in 2006 with attempted murder for beating a white schoolmate in the town of Jena, La. After a national outcry, community rallies and online petitions, the charges were reduced.

Theo Shaw, 23, one of the Jena 6 who is preparing to attend law school in the fall, says, “This is another incident in which there is a presumption that a young black man has been guilty of something.”

Contributing: Melanie Eversley in New York; Kevin Johnson in Washington; Carolyn Pesce in McLean, Va.; Associated Press

Pakistani Panel Demands End to US Drone Attacks, Apology for NATO Air Strike

As Reported By The Voice Of America

A Pakistani parliamentary committee — tasked with laying out new terms of engagement with the United States and NATO — on Tuesday demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes and an apology from Washington for a NATO strike last year that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

The report, read to a joint session of both houses of parliament by committee chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, calls on the United States to review its activities and cease all drone attacks inside Pakistan.

Rabbani said that “drone strikes are counterproductive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalize the local population, create support for terrorists and fuel anti-American sentiments.”

U.S. lawmakers, however, are rejecting those calls. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman told VOA the drone strikes are critically important to America’s national security, adding he does not believe they should stop.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the drones are needed due to the lack of a more aggressive effort by Pakistan to root out terrorists and radical militants along its border with Afghanistan.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that although sovereignty is a big issue for any country, he would like to see Pakistan embrace the idea that extremism has no welcome home in Pakistan. He said drone strikes have been effective and that, in his words, “it is not in Pakistan’s long-term interest to be seen by the world-at-large as a safe haven for terrorists.”

Rabbani also demanded an unconditional U.S. apology for the NATO airstrike in November that killed the 24 Pakistani soldiers. He said “the condemnable and unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack” represents “a breach of international law and constitutes a blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Washington has expressed regret for the loss of life and accepted partial responsibility for the airstrike, but has so far refused to apologize, saying NATO forces acted in self-defense.

Pakistani lawmakers are expected to eventually approve the panel’s recommendations. But, ultimately, Pakistan’s government and powerful army have the final say in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland Tuesday said she would not comment on the issue until the process is completed.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters outside of Parliament that Pakistan needs to balance good diplomatic relations with its own interests.

Pakistan Salute Record-Setting Tendulkar’s Achievement

As Reported by The AFP

Former cricketing greats and fans in Pakistan paid tribute to Indian batting superstar Sachin Tendulkar after he became the first player ever to score 100 international centuries.

“It is a great achievement which other players of his era and those who come after him will not even think of achieving,” said former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad.

“When he played against us in 1989 he showed glimpses of what was in store for world cricket and the kind of sincerity he has shown with the game has only made him immortal and prolonged his career to 23 years and he can still go on.”

Miandad hailed the father of two, known variously as the “Little Master” or “Bombay Blaster“, as a role model for the cricketing world.

Another former Pakistan captain Moin Khan, who played against Tendulkar from 1992-2004, also joined the chorus of praise.

“He has achieved something which will be tough to match. He has been a trend–setter and if players emulate him we will get more great players.

“Tendulkar’s speciality is that he is very professional, loves the game and lusts for runs. With no controversy in his career he has been a role model for future cricketers,” said Moin.

“Great players are not those who do great achievements but those who, with their great character on and off the field, become role models.”

Fans in the street also acknowledged Tendulkar’s feat.

“Tendulkar is adored in Pakistan and we are happy at his achievement. We are happy that he has not hit his 100th hundred against Pakistan,” said Babar Khan, a local resident

Pakistan PM Prefers Jail to Writing to Swiss

As Reported by Agence France-Presse

Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday he would rather go to jail than obey a court order and ask Switzerland to re-open graft cases against the president.

Gilani’s remarks revive speculation that he would rather risk losing his job than capitulate in a two-year showdown with the judiciary that culminated last month with him being charged with contempt by the Supreme Court.

He has always insisted that President Asif Ali Zardari is immune from prosecution as president and says the cases against him are politically motivated.

“If I write a letter it will be a violation of the constitution, which is treason and which carries the death sentence,” Gilani told PhD students in central Punjab province, with a few in the audience shouting “do not write, do not write”.

“If I don’t write, I will be convicted for contempt, the punishment for which is six months’ imprisonment,” Gilani said. “It’s better to face six months’ imprisonment than face the death sentence.”

Pakistan’s top court last week ordered Gilani to ask Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against Zardari by March 21.

It was the first time the court asked Gilani personally to write to the Swiss. It previously addressed repeated demands to the government since revoking in 2009 an amnesty freezing legal proceedings against key politicians.

Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in the 1990s.

Playing to the gallery, Gilani asked the students in Bahawalpur district whether he should write the letter, to which the audience shouted: “No, no.”

“Ok, we will send your message to the court and tell them that they should charge parliament with contempt of court because parliament has given immunity to the president. All heads of state all over the world have this immunity.”

Zardari is so tainted by corruption allegations that he is nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent”. He has already spent 11 years in jail in Pakistan on charges ranging from corruption to murder although he has never been convicted.

Rushdie Coming, Imran Backs Out

By Imtiaz Ahmad for The Hindustan Times

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has refused to attend a function in New Delhi later this week after learning that British author Salman Rushdie will also be a participant.

Senior PTI leader Shireen Mazari said in a statement on Wednesday that Khan cancelled his participation as keynote speaker at the event, stating that he could not even think of taking part in a programme that included Rushdie, who has caused “immeasurable hurt to Muslims across the globe”.

Quoting Khan, Mazari said the party leader received the full programme of the event on Tuesday night and took his decision on Wednesday morning.

The organisers of the event announced on Tuesday that Rushdie would deliver a speech titled The Liberty Verses —I Am What I Am And That’s All That I Am.

Rushdie’s works are banned in Pakistan. He is seen to have committed blasphemy in his book, The Satanic Verses.

Several people in Pakistan have been killed in the past couple of years on suspicion of blasphemy, the most high-profile case being that of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot dead in 2011 by a member of his security detail.

Taseer opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law and had backed a mercy petition for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Khan’s party recently aligned with the Difa-e-Pakistan council — a collection of religious parties, including many banned outfits — which has been campaigning against US drone attacks and allowing transit passage for Nato supplies.

Pakistan Wants U.S. Drones Out

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan for Bloomberg News

Pakistan has told the White House it no longer will permit U.S. drones to use its airspace to attack and collect intelligence on Al-Qaida and other militants, according to officials involved.

Eliminating drone missions would aid the resurgence of extremist groups operating along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, said Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, met Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Antony Blinken, on Friday and told him that Pakistan’s political parties have agreed that the drone flights over Pakistan must end, officials involved said.

Pakistan’s sovereignty over its airspace and the civilian casualties that have resulted from drone strikes are emotional issues in Pakistan, where public opinion heavily favors terminating drone missions.

The only chance for a compromise, Pakistani officials said, may be if the United States agrees to share intelligence and coordinate strikes first. The United States has resisted giving information to Pakistan in advance because of fears that some in Pakistan’s security forces might warn the targets of impending strikes.

The drone program has been part of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan since 2004, officials and experts say. The administration authorized 53 drone attacks in 2009 and 117 in 2010, compared with 35 in 2008 under former President George W. Bush, according to Bill Roggio, a U.S. military analyst whose website, the Long War Journal, maintains a database of the campaign.

The drone program is “critical” because it provides better real-time surveillance and reconnaissance than satellite imagery does, Seth Jones, a senior political scientist for the RAND Corp. research institute, said in an interview.

Singer said that “for several years, Pakistan has openly said, ‘How dare you violate our sovereignty,’ but it turned out the CIA was flying from Pakistani bases with Pakistan’s permission.” This time, it’s possible “they really mean it,” after a series of high-profile disputes have damaged relations, Singer said.

Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author of Modern Afghanistan.

A Nobel Prize for Edhi

Pakistanis for Peace and Manzer Munir cordially and humbly request you to please sign this petition to nominate Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Peace prize is an annual prize awarded to individuals who have made formidable contributions to the pursuit of peace and have, through their work, changed the world for the better.

As the founder of Pakistan’s largest welfare organization, the Edhi Foundation and trust, Mr Abdul Sattar Edhi embodies the spirit of this prize, and is a deserving candidate for this honour. He has single-handedly served countless Pakistani’s and has left a lasting impact on his fellow countrymen and the world.

Quite simply, there has never been anyone more deserving of the Nobel Peace prize in its entire history than Mr Abdul Sattar Edhi. Please help us get him his dues by having him finally nominated this year.

Please sign this petition to show your support for the nomination of Mr.Edhi for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Terrorism Will Not Harm Pakistan Ties: China

As Reported By The Business Recorder

Cross-border terrorism in China’s ethnically divided far western region of Xinjiang will not harm the nation’s diplomatic ties with Pakistan and other neighbouring countries, a regional official said on Wednesday.

Chinese security authorities had found “countless ties between ‘East Turkestan’ terrorists and terrorists from our neighbouring countries,” regional government head Nur Bekri said, quoting the name used by members of the Uighur ethnic minority who seek an independent state in Xinjiang.

“But our neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, have been declaring officially that in terms of any violent activity aimed at China, they will maintain China’s national security and core interests,” Bekri told reporters on the sidelines of China’s annual parliament.

He said the basic interests of China, Pakistan and other countries bordering Xinjiang were “the same.”
“So just a few terrorists will definitely not harm the China-Pakistan relationship,” Bekri said.

He said the vast region – which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – was “generally stable” despite recent ethnic conflict and the threat of terrorism.
The government has reported several terrorist attacks that killed dozens of people in Xinjiang in the past few years.

But Uighur exile groups have accused China of using the global fight against terrorism as an excuse to suppress political and religious activity among Uighurs.
Ethnic violence and a clash with police left about 20 people dead in southern Xinjiang’s Yecheng town last week, according to reports by international rights groups and state media.

Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, and other areas of Xinjiang have remained tense since protests by Uighurs escalated into rioting that left about 200 people dead and 1,700 injured in the city in July 2009.

Security Forces in Kashmir Charged With Rights Abuses

By Riyaz Masroor for The BBC

The authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have launched more than 400 cases of alleged human rights abuses against security forces personnel. The region’s minister for internal security released the figures in the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly.

Kashmiri officials want to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which prevents prosecution of security staff. There has been a rebellion against Indian rule in divided Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

Thousands of people have been killed in the region since the rebellion began in 1989, though violence has dropped off recently. India’s defence ministry has resisted moves to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

According to the state government of Indian-administered Kashmir, 444 soldiers, police and security officials have been charged in the past three years.

Nearly 300 cases have been seen in local courts, the government said on Monday in a written response to the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. Human rights activists say the Indian authorities are forcing the Kashmir government to move slowly on these cases.

Kashmiri officials have been pleading with Delhi to scrap the AFSPA so they can proceed with prosecuting security officials against whom cases are pending.

But army officials say it is needed to prevent militant groups based in Pakistan from focusing their resources on Kashmir.

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