Archive for March, 2011

Pakistan Army To Restore “Peace” in Bahrain?

By Aijaz Ahmed for Indus Herald

Pakistan and Bahrain are seriously considering ways and means and possible repercussions of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies’ help to the later in restoring “peace” in politically disturbed areas. Foreign Minster of Bahrain Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa is to arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday to discuss the matter, highly placed sources have confided to Indus Herald. The Saudi led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has already approved deployment of Peninsula Shield Force in the Kingdom of Bahrain to crush the movement for democracy that is getting stronger with every passing day. Assurances from King Hammad to introduce some reforms with regards to civil liberties and democratic and human rights have not succeeded so far to calm down anger among people demonstrating for a democratic system. Interestingly the reaction of the world community, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is totally different on the situation as compared to the reaction demonstrated on the situation in Libya.

Pakistan has already expressed its support for the GCC decision, and that too on Saudi pressure, a source at the foreign office revealed. The economically hard-pressed Pakistan had no other way but to follow the Saudi demands as the holy kingdom has assured a sizable support in meeting the economic challenges ahead, the foreign office source added. However, Pakistan’s nauseating defense of its endorsement to GCC intervention in Bahrain to deploy Peninsula Shield Force isn’t finding any takers. Majority of foreign policy commentators and experts are not ready to buy Pakistani endorsement but people having close relations with PML-N including the likes of Shamshad Ahmed Khan, Tariq Fatmi and Riaz Khokhar are intriguingly silent on the support that Pakistan has diplomatically provided to Bahrain on the behest of Saudi Arabia. The sole reason for the silence of these former ‘babus’ of Foreign Office and some other “well informed experts” lies behind the special relationship that PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif enjoys with the Royal family of the holy land.

Pakistan desired return of peace, security and stability to Middle East that had been hit by political upheaval, the newly designated foreign office spokesperson Ms Tahmina Janjua observed while briefing the media the other day. “As far as Bahrain is concerned, it was an internal decision of the GCC. The GCC decided on the basis of its founding principles that security forces would go to Bahrain,” said Foreign Office Spokesperson in her stammering voice while replying to hard hitting questions on Bahrain though her words did not match the principles of ‘non-intervention and non-interference in domestic affairs of others’ that she had painstakingly learnt during her 27 years long diplomatic career. This was not the first time that Foreign Office stood up for Bahrain’s monarchy. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had earlier praised the Bahraini Monarch on March 1. While the protestors were being tear-gassed and shot at, he had said: “We … admire the progress made by Bahrain under the leadership of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.”

The current political upheaval is a geniune cause of concern for Pakistan as there are some 65,000 Pakistanis in Bahrain, some of whom are working with Bahraini security services, the FO sources maintained adding that the security of King of Bahrain, the major installations, the Royal Family and the state dignitaries is prime responsibility of the Pakistanis employed in the Bahraini security services. Perhaps this was the reason that a number of Pakistanis became vistims of the public anger and some of them were seriously injured earlier this month during the violent protest of people on streets. Reports received from the tiny Gulf Kingdom suggest that the xenophobic attacks against Pakistani expatriates earlier this month were commited as Pakistani policemen had been at frontlines of riot police that attacked demonstrators.

In an atmosphere where common Pakistanis are quite unsafe in the Kingdom, Pakistan has not only quietly endorsed the intervention, but allowed the welfare wings of its military forces – Fauji Foundation and Bahria Foundation – to recruit about 1000 guards to bolster Bahrain’s security apparatus and the recruitment was not made secretly, instead the process was completed in very open way.

The reasons for the uprising in Bahrain are said to be more than just the political, the sources further revealed. The detailed analysis of the situation reflects that the political upheaval is being financed by some external factors and the sources point their fingers towards some hard core religious elements having strong presence in Pakistan and also towards the Iranian Government, thus both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain intend to use good offices of Pakistan Army and its intelligence wings to play their ole in bringing in peace and stability in the Gulf State.

Foreign Office has confirmed that the The Foreign Minister of Bahrain will discuss security cooperation and internal political situation of the country with Pakistani leadership. During his hectic visit, he will meet President Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the military leadership in a very short span of time. The two sides will discuss further strengthening security cooperation and additional steps, sources revealed. Bahrain may formally furnish a request for Pakistan army contingents to be deployed with the GCC Shield Force in troubled areas as well as a request to ISI and Military Intelligence (MI) for using their good offices to establish contacts and facilitate parlays between the Bahrain Government and the right wing forces as well as in direct talks between Iran and Bahrain, sources confided with confidentiality. ‘Pakistan is the only country that can help Bahrain in bringing in the political stability in the country and thus a request is expected to be made for an active Pakistani role in the greater regional and trans regional interest’, sources said. But any decision will be taken keeping the sensitivities and threats in mind, the sources assured.

Meanwhile some brain storming is being done between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for revival of an already expired defense agreement between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and an initial discussion has been made during the recent visit of Saudi National Security Chief, however few changes will be made in the previous agreement if any progress in this regard is made, sources in the diplomatic circles maintained.

Tendulkar leads India past Pakistan, to World Cup final

As Reported by The Japan Times

A lucky 85 from Sachin Tendulkar was followed by a disciplined bowling effort as India beat Pakistan by 29 runs in a high-stakes semifinal Wednesday to progress to the World Cup final against Sri Lanka.

Pakistan was dismissed for 231 in the last over chasing 261, sparking wild celebrations among the 28,000 people inside the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium and across the nation of more than 1 billion people.

Pakistan had done well earlier to peg India back to 260-9 after Virender Sehwag’s flying start, with left-arm pace bowler Wahab Riaz taking a career-best 5-46.

The victory continued a streak for India, which has beaten Pakistan in all five World Cup head-to-heads dating back to 1992.

The game was touted as a duel between India’s batting lineup and Pakistan’s bowling attack, but Pakistan’s shoddy fielding was eventually the difference between the two sides.

Tendulkar was let off four times, giving him the opportunity to knit together a challenging total for India and the bowlers then ensured a third World Cup final appearance for the 1983 champion.

“Going back to Mumbai, especially for this event, is a wonderful occasion,” Tendulkar said of playing a World Cup final on his home ground. “All I want to say is, we want to be calm, focus on our job and get the job done.”

India piled the pressure on a Pakistan batting lineup which failed to produce a single century in the tournament.

Pakistan’s early promise was slowed down in the middle overs as Yuvraj made early inroads and the bowlers slowly took control, marshaled well by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. All five Indian bowlers finished with two wickets each.

The only time Pakistan looked capable of the chase was when openers Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez were at the crease.

Kamran Akmal slashed a ball from Zaheer Khan straight to Yuvraj at point after making 19, while Hafeez went for an unnecessary scoop off Munaf Patel and was caught behind for 43.

Yuvraj then dismissed Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan and Pakistan was reduced to 106-4 by the 26th over.

Umar Akmal added some interest with a 24-ball 29 and Misbah-ul-Haq made a late charge of 56, but with the ball not coming on to the bat too well later in the day, it was always going to be difficult for them.

“I want to say sorry to my nation. We tried our level best,” Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi said. “I want to congratulate the Indian cricket and all of the Indian nation for this great victory. We wish them well in the final.”

In the first innings, Riaz exposed India’s traditional weakness against left-arm seamers, striking at crucial junctures. He accounted for a dangerous looking Sehwag (38) and an in-form Yuvraj for a first-ball duck, as the famed Indian batting struggled against his swing.

Pakistan also made Tendulkar wait for his 100th international century despite dropping the world’s best batsman four times. Tendulkar also had an lbw decision overturned on referral and survived a close stumping appeal in what has to be one of his luckiest innings ever.

Tendulkar faced 115 balls and hit 11 fours even as Riaz pegged back the Indian middle order with the dismissals of Virat Kohli (nine) and Yuvraj off successive deliveries.

Time For World, ICC To Realise Significance of Pak-India Cricket

By Ramiz Raja for Dawn

The stakes are massive, the pressure unbearable and Mohali is burning with Pak-India fever. As if the contest needed more spice, we now have the small matter of two prime ministers catching up with each other at the ground, looking to de freeze the bilateral dialogue over cricket diplomacy.

The world is seeing the power of India-Pakistan cricket. All those people in positions, who were cold and indifferent towards it, are now queueing up to use the occasion to cash in. The governments, the media and the ICC have been given enough evidence in the past also of the unfathomable strength of Indo-Pak match-up, to know that uncoupling the two can mean a turbulent world and a colorless cricket calendar. Yet, all of them allowed the most passionate cricket duel to get stuck by petty politics.

The game at Mohali can have significant repercussions for the players. A loss will be remembered like a tsunami aftermath. On the other hand, a win can, like a wedding video, linger on the minds for eternity. A performance against India is never forgotten and that’s such a strong point to motivate the players and deflect pressure. This game is all about nerves and who jangles them first. The greater the wait the higher the anxiety and it’s been a long break for both teams.

Listening to cricket pundits on channels, calling home to impress the folks that all is under control and filling the fans with high hopes must be taking a toll on the system. The players would be desperate to go out in the middle to settle the racket in the mind and settle the issue on the field.

People fear the Indian crowd and how their pressure will play up on the players. From playing in India I know that the one sided pro India crowd can in fact give you a high because you are fighting them against the odds, and draw from experience the moments when you have beaten them.

It’s such a great feeling when you box them into dead silence, stroke after stroke! I am sure most of our players have sampled that experience and will be motivated to repeat it for their fans.

Captains, at times, worry in normal situations about lack of effort and skill from the team. Afridi will not have any such issues at Mohali. The game gets raised by the players who tend to play above themselves against India. The captain has to remain cool and, in any eventuality, remain dignified. At the end of the day it’s only a game of cricket.

We may or may not win this but our team has certainly won the hearts of the people. Whether they go to Mumbai or Karachi, we need to give them a heroes welcome for they have bonded us together as one!

— The writer is a former Pakistan captain.

How Can India Beat Pakistan?

By Will Davies for The Wall Street Journal

It’s the million dollar question that a billion people are asking: How can India beat Pakistan? Setting aside the obvious answers such as score more runs and get more wickets, there are some key areas where India can gain an advantage over its fiercest rival.

Indian and Pakistani cricket fans with a replica of the Cricket World Cup trophy. Unsettle Shahid Afridi – Pakistan’s captain has been an inspirational presence at this World Cup. He is the tournament’s leading wicket taker, with 21 scalps already to his name, comfortably ahead of the second-top bowler, India’s Zaheer Khan on 17. Afridi oozes charisma but he is prone to tantrums – it’s not uncommon seeing him shouting at teammates when things go wrong in the field, as is all too often the case with Pakistan – so India should try to frustrate him. Afridi is the nerve center of the Pakistan team, and if he is exasperated then negativity will spread to the other players.

Nullify Umar Gul – Afridi may have taken the most wickets, but Gul has been Pakistan’s most lethal pace bowler and looks on top of his game with 14 wickets (joint fifth with South Africa’s Imran Tahir in the tournament rankings). Gul has been so important to Pakistan’s campaign, particularly bearing in mind the team was stripped of two key bowling assets – Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – ahead of the World Cup. The track at Mohali should favor pace bowlers over spin (will this mean we’ll see the Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar?), so the Pakistanis will be heavily reliant on another good showing from Gul, who has been effective with both the new and the old ball. If India’s excellent batsmen can nullify the ever aggressive Gul, Pakistan’s armory will be significantly weakened.

Silence Younis Khan – The big-hitting middle-order batsman has had a relatively quiet World Cup by his standards, scoring 172 runs in six innings, though that includes a 72 against a very fine Sri Lanka. He often saves his best for India so the co-hosts should be on guard if or when he comes to the crease. Out of his six career centuries, three have been made against India, including one at Mohali, the venue for Wednesday’s semifinal. India will do well to keep him contained.

Bat to Potential – India has a wonderful batting lineup but there’s a nagging feeling we haven’t seen the best of it at this World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh are among the tournament’s top 10 run scorers, but India’s other batsmen haven’t consistently backed up the trio’s good work. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni hasn’t done much at all with the bat – his top score so far is 34 – though he has often come to the crease when his only option was to have a bit of a slog. All the batsmen in this star-studded lineup will need to play at least one great innings if India is to beat Pakistan and go on to win the World Cup final in Mumbai on April 2.

Support Zaheer Khan – India’s bowling was seen as a weakness at the start of this World Cup and it remains a concern. Zaheer Khan has been a revelation but the other pace bowlers need to give him better support. Munaf Patel was targeted by the Australians, particularly Brad Haddin, and it will be interesting to see if India’s coach Gary Kirsten selects him for the semifinal. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Ashish Nehra could get a call-up, but both have had their problems this tournament. Left-armer Nehra was hurt in the match against South Africa when he failed to defend 13 runs in the final over, while Sreesanth hasn’t featured since the opening match against Bangladesh when he returned disappointing figures of 0 for 53 from just five overs.

Kamran Akmal – It’s harsh to single out the Pakistani wicket-keeper, but he is prone to lapses that make him look like he has smeared his gloves in butter. Akmal put in a much improved performance in the quarterfinal against the West Indies, but India will be hoping he has another bad day at the office and gives the hosts a few reprieves.

Ignore the hype – Ok, that’s like telling a skydiver to relax and enjoy the view after his parachute has failed, but India must try to focus on the task at hand and not get carried away by the enormity of this match and the weight of expectation from a billion or so fans.

And how can Pakistan beat India?

Hide Sachin Tendulkar’s bat.

Also, Pakistan needs to silence the home crowd. The stadium in Mohali is small, with capacity for only 27,500 spectators, but they’ll be so loud it’ll seem like there are 10 times that many people. If Pakistan gets some early wickets or an early batting partnership, the home crowd will become restless and that will put India under pressure. Pakistan has the quality and talent to beat the best in the world, but it’s the kind of side that needs momentum and confidence. That will come if the team unsettles India early in the match.

Still, hiding Tendulkar’s bat wouldn’t be a bad tactic. And while they’re at it, they should probably take Sehwag’s and Yuvraj’s too.

‘Quran on trial’ more despicable than book burning

By Douglas Sharp for Protestants for the Common Good

Given the global attention received last fall by the Florida pastor who announced that he would burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11, I was frankly surprised to learn that he had found a way to break his promise and burn one anyway.

Pastor Terry Jones and his congregation at Dove World Outreach Center had managed to stay below the national media radar; most people probably forgot about them in places other than their community of Gainesville, Florida. But they have certainly been caught in the radar now, having done something even more daring and despicable than the demeaning act of burning a copy of the Quran.

The pastor held court with the Quran as the defendant. On March 20, 2011, he set himself up as the judge, invited a Muslim who had converted to Christianity to serve as prosecuting attorney and the president of the Islamic Center of Texas to act as defense attorney. “Expert” witnesses included other Muslims who had converted to Christianity.

What were the charges? In his video on the Stand Up America website, Pastor Jones said, “We are accusing the Quran of murder, rape, deception, being responsible for terrorist activities all around the world. We are accusing the Koran of these violent acts.”

Anticipating a “guilty” verdict, the question announced in advance on the lawn of the church’s property was whether the Quran should be burned, drowned, shredded, or shot. Following the jury’s rendering of the verdict, the Quran was soaked in kerosene and ignited, like charcoal in a barbeque pit.

In spite of all the absurdity and chicanery of this “mock trial” and the sophomoric behavior of its master-mind, I find this whole affair to be not at all amusing. To the contrary, it is not only a shameful display of religious bigotry and ignorance, but also a burlesque-like mockery of our system of jurisprudence. All things considered, it is frighteningly childish act.

What I find so alarming about this act is the extent to which Jones and his flock have gone to accomplish now what they set out to do last fall. All the reasons given then for not burning a copy of the Quran still apply: inflaming the Muslim world, aiding and abetting Al-Qaeda’s recruitment, putting U.S. military personnel forces at greater risk, etc.

But surrounding oneself with the accoutrements of justice and feigning to sit in judgment on the sacred literature of 23 percent of the world’s population, about whom you really—and evidently—know next to nothing, is a most disturbing demonstration of antipathy in search of a venue in order to attract attention and stoke further the barbeque pit of mind-numbing evil.

India vs Pakistan – much more than just a game

By Anand Philar for Sify

With one stroke, India banished the ghosts of the 2003 final and the fantastic win at Motera virtually ended an era of Aussie dominance. Earlier this year, Ponting’s men lost the Ashes and now the World Cup, but like all great players, Punter left an indelible mark on the tournament with a century in what probably was his last CWC game.

While we rejoice the Indian win, let us show some grace and salute the Aussies for their achievements on the field that, sadly, has been sullied by the behaviour of some of the players. The sheer outpouring of emotions by Yuvraj and Raina after the winning boundary hit was indicative of the value the Indian team attaches to any win against the Aussies. Yes, it is always special to beat a top side even if it is on its way down.

India vs Australia: Turning point and Top performers

If anybody thought Australia are the favourites to win the Cup, then such presumption was based on the team’s track record of three consecutive triumphs, two of them under Ponting’s captaincy. As it turned out, pace, hitherto Australia’s biggest weapon, was unable to deliver and the absence of a quality spinner, much less a pair of them, eventually hurt them far more than their opponents.

On a Motera pitch that was on the slower side and assisting spin, the Aussies went at the Indians with a bevy of fast bowlers hoping to exploit the well-known weakness against the rising delivery. It was a ploy that boomeranged on the Aussies whose lone specialist spinner Krejza was just about club standard.

The fact that the three Aussie slow bowlers Krejza, Clarke and Hussey, sent down only 17 overs as against 33 by their Indian counterparts accurately reflects the difference in approach of the two teams. I feel that proved to be the decisive factor.

I am sure, Ponting would have given his arm to have a Shane Warne bowling during the Yuvraj-Raina partnership that eventually turned the game around for India or for that matter a Hayden or Gilchrist to light up their fragile batting.

India end Australia`s 12-year reign to reach semis

So, having lost to the two top sub-continental sides, Pakistan (in the league phase) and India, the Aussies return home well and truly beaten, leaving the two neighbours in a face-off at Mohali next week.

Although the Pakistanis also have beaten the Aussies, the Indian win came under far greater pressure and in a knock-out situation that offered no safety net. As such, I would rate the Motera win much higher than the one in Colombo where the Aussies fell for 176 to Pakistani spinners.

Of course, all that is history now that India and Pakistan clash at Mohali in a game that can be equated to a Brazil vs Argentina football game in terms of interest, rivalry and of course, the immense pressure on the teams to deliver.

For all that, I will still back India who I feel are better equipped than Pakistan, be it in batting or bowling with the teams being on par at fielding. The spin quotient virtually gets negated since it is a staple diet for the rival batsmen while it is not as if the two teams have a Lee or a Tait or a Johnson in their ranks to trouble anyone with searing pace. It is India’s superior batting line-up that could well tilt the scales.

Further, it will also boil down to the collective character and resilience to withstand the pressure of expectations. I have covered more than my share of Indo-Pak sporting encounters in some of the major sports to say that the levels of passion and emotions among the rival players defy words. You have to be in it to know it.

Since the rivalry between the two neighbours transcends sports and given the historical political enmity (never mind the diplomatic mumbo-jumbo to the contrary), even a sporting victory or defeat that is a mere pinhead in the big picture of life, triggers mass euphoria as if it were a Kargil.

The players themselves might not admit it in public, but the irrefutable fact is the adrenaline rush is greater and the emotions are on the boil among the contestants. It will never be ”just another game” regardless of at what stage the two teams meet and it being a World Cup semi-final, one can imagine the pressure on the players.

World Cup 2011

Under the circumstances, the saying that cricket is played more in the mind than on the field cannot be any truer in an Indo-Pak contest. We have said this before, but needs to be reiterated that ultimately, the team that blinks first will lose. The cricketing aspects such as team combination, technique, strategy and what have you, are secondary.

In effect, the stakes, like it or not, admit it or not, are much more than cricketing gains or losses. So, tighten your seatbelts and on to Mohali!

Pakistan Destroys the West Indies

By Will Davies for The Wall Street Journal

So much for close contests in the World Cup quarterfinals. In the first knock-out match Wednesday, Pakistan thrashed the West Indies by 10 wickets thanks to an inspirational bowling performance spearheaded by Mohammad Hafeez (2 for 16) and captain Shahid Afridi (4 for 30).

The West Indies batsmen were simply unable to cope with Pakistani spin, slumping to 111 all out – the team’s third-worst batting performance in World Cup history.

In one dramatic spell, the West Indies went from an already troubling 69 for 4 to an utterly disastrous 71 for 8 as Afridi & Co. showed no mercy (much like the dreaded advertisements on television after every wicket).

Afridi’s bowling at this tournament has been phenomenal. He is easily the top bowler with a handsome tally of 21 wickets, and his trademark celebration – arms outstretched with his two index fingers pointing to the heavens – could very well be the lasting image of the 2011 World Cup.

The West Indies team looked out of the game as soon as danger man Chris Gayle was caught by Afridi for eight. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, recalled to the team for the quarterfinal, was the only player to offer any real resistance, but he still couldn’t score fast enough and was left stranded on 44 not out at the end of the innings.

It took Pakistan just under 21 overs to reach the West Indies’ meek total, without the loss of a single wicket. Fresh from his great bowling performance, Hafeez clubbed 61 runs, while much improved wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal notched up 47. The two simply poured buckets of salt in weeping West Indian wounds.

It was humiliating for the West Indies. Not only did it mark the end of the team’s World Cup campaign, the abject performance could also have tragically hammered yet another nail into the coffin of Caribbean cricket. Despite its gloriously rich history, the sport there has been in rapid decline for more than a decade and the team’s latest efforts won’t have helped a bit.

But credit must go to Pakistan. If the team continues to play like this, Pakistan will win the World Cup. These players have to contend with so much more than other sportsmen – from the security situation back home to the involvement of former teammates in betting scandals. So while Wednesday’s match was depressing for the West Indies, for Pakistan, it was truly inspirational. And what better a day for it than March 23 – Pakistan’s Republic Day – which commemorates the signing of the Lahore Resolution back in 1940.

One more thing: If Australia loses tomorrow, we can look forward to the mother of all World Cup semifinals – India vs. Pakistan in Mohali on March 30.

Whisper it, but it’s surely destined to be.

Pakistan Christians Increase Security

As reportd by UCA News.com

 Worried Pakistani Christians have stepped up security following the assassination of minorities minister Shabhaz Bhatti last week, according to Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore.

The country’s 2.5 million Christians fear for the future more than ever before and as a result security had been increased so much that his Sacred Heart Cathedral was “like Fort Knox,” he said in an interview with the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

“The murder means that we have lost a great leader in our community. Our people are quite down. They are fearful of the future – more so than before. People feel like second-class citizens. We cannot speak out. We feel oppressed, repressed and depressed.”

Accusing the government of failing to tackle fundamentalism effectively, he said: “The religious parties have put a lot of pressure on the government which is very weak and cannot make a stand against the menace of extremism.”

However, Archbishop Saldanha told ACN: “Our people are very resilient and determined. For centuries, they have been suffering. This is nothing new for them. They have always been under the thumb. We carry on with God’s grace.”

The archbishop was speaking five days after Bhatti, the only Catholic minister in the federal government, was gunned down on the streets of Islamabad, and less than two months after Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was killed by his own bodyguard.

In its report of the interview, the London office of ACN pointed out that both men had spoken out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. It said their criticism came amid widespread concern that extremists use the laws “as the pretext for acts of violence in response to unproven allegations of disrespect towards Islam.”

43 Dead in Pakistan Mine Blast, No Survivors

As Reported by The Associated Press

All 43 miners in a colliery in southwest Pakistan that was hit by a blast at the weekend have been confirmed dead, officials said Tuesday, as rescuers ended their search operation.

“All 43 bodies have been recovered,” Iftikhar Ahmed, provincial chief inspector of mines for the insurgency-torn Baluchistan province, told AFP.

“There are no survivors and the mine is being sealed,” Ahmed said.

President of Pakistan Mines Workers Federation Bakht Nawab confirmed the final toll.

The mine in the far-flung Sorange district of the troubled southwestern province was poorly ventilated, allowing poisonous gases to accumulate and trigger blasts that led to a collapse on Sunday, officials said.

The mine is run by the state-owned Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation and officials said they will launch an investigation into why the warnings to stop mining were not heeded.

Rich in mineral wealth, Baluchistan is plagued by an insurgency blamed on nationalist tribesmen demanding more jobs and royalties from the region’s natural resources. Hundreds of people have died in the violence since 2004.

Most coal mines in the impoverished province are notorious for overseeing poor safety standards and similar deadly accidents have occurred in the past.

 

Japan’s Disaster Toll Rises With 18,000 Deaths

By Eric Talmadge and Mari Yamaguchi for The Associated Press

The toll of Japan’s triple disaster came into clearer focus Monday after police estimates showed more than 18,000 people died, the World Bank said rebuilding may cost $235 billion and more cases of radiation-tainted vegetables and tap water turned up.

Japanese officials reported progress over the weekend in their battle to gain control over a nuclear complex that began leaking radiation after suffering quake and tsunami damage, though the crisis was far from over, with a dangerous new surge in pressure reported in one of the plant’s six reactors.

The announcement by Japan’s Health Ministry late Sunday that tests had detected excess amounts of radioactive elements on canola and chrysanthemum greens marked a low moment in a day that had been peppered with bits of positive news: First, a teenager and his grandmother were found alive nine days after being trapped in their earthquake-shattered home. Then, the operator of the overheated nuclear plant said two of the six reactor units were safely cooled down.

“We consider that now we have come to a situation where we are very close to getting the situation under control,” Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Still, serious problems remained at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex. Pressure unexpectedly rose in a third unit’s reactor, meaning plant operators may need to deliberately release radioactive steam. That has only added to public anxiety over radiation that began leaking from the plant after a monstrous earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan on March 11 and left the plant unstable. As day broke Monday, Japan’s military resumed dousing of the complex’s troubled Unit 4.

The World Bank said in report Monday that Japan may need five years to rebuild from the catastrophic disasters, which caused up to $235 billion in damage, saying the cost to private insurers will be up to $33 billion and that the government will spend $12 billion on reconstruction in the current national budget and much more later.

The safety of food and water was of particular concern. The government halted shipments of spinach from one area and raw milk from another near the nuclear plant after tests found iodine exceeded safety limits. Tokyo’s tap water, where iodine turned up Friday, now has cesium. Rain and dust are also tainted.

Early Monday , the Health Ministry advised Iitate, a village of 6,000 people about 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the Fukushima plant, not to drink tap water due to elevated levels of iodine. Ministry spokesman Takayuki Matsuda said iodine three times the normal level was detected there — about one twenty-sixth of the level of a chest X-ray in one liter of water.

In all cases, the government said the radiation levels were too small to pose an immediate health risk.

But Tsugumi Hasegawa was skeptical as she cared for her 4-year-old daughter at a shelter in a gymnasium crammed with 1,400 people about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the plant.

“I still have no idea what the numbers they are giving about radiation levels mean. It’s all so confusing,” said Hasegawa, 29, from the small town of Futuba in the shadow of the nuclear complex. “And I wonder if they aren’t playing down the dangers to keep us from panicking. I don’t know who to trust.”

All six of the nuclear complex’s reactor units saw trouble after the disasters knocked out cooling systems. In a small advance, the plant’s operator declared Units 5 and 6 — the least troublesome — under control after their nuclear fuel storage pools cooled to safe levels. Progress was made to reconnect two other units to the electric grid and in pumping seawater to cool another reactor and replenish it and a sixth reactor’s storage pools.

But the buildup in pressure inside the vessel holding Unit 3’s reactor presented some danger, forcing officials to consider venting. The tactic produced explosions of radioactive gas during the early days of the crisis.

“Even if certain things go smoothly, there would be twists and turns,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. “At the moment, we are not so optimistic that there will be a breakthrough.”

Growing concerns about radiation add to the overwhelming chain of disasters Japan has struggled with since the 9.0-magnitude quake. The resulting tsunami ravaged the northeastern coast. All told, police estimates show more than about 18,400 died. More than 15,000 deaths are likely in Miyagi, the prefecture that took the full impact of the wave, said a police spokesman.

“It is very distressing as we recover more bodies day by days,” said Hitoshi Sugawara, the spokesman.

Police in other parts of the disaster area declined to provide estimates, but confirmed about 3,400 deaths. Nationwide, official figures show the disasters killing more than 8,600 people, and leaving more than 12,800 people missing, but those two lists may have some overlap.

The disasters have displaced another 452,000, who are living in shelters.

Fuel, food and water remain scarce. The government in recent days acknowledged being caught ill-prepared by an enormous disaster that the prime minister has called the worst crisis since World War II.

Bodies are piling up in some of the devastated communities and badly decomposing even amid chilly rain and snow.

“The recent bodies — we can’t show them to the families. The faces have been purple, which means they are starting to decompose,” says Shuji Horaguchi, a disaster relief official setting up a center to process the dead in Natori, on the outskirts of the tsunami-flattened city of Sendai. “Some we’re finding now have been in the water for a long time, they’re not in good shape. Crabs and fish have eaten parts.”

Contamination of food and water compounds the government’s difficulties, heightening the broader public’s sense of dread about safety. Consumers in markets snapped up bottled water, shunned spinach from Ibaraki — the prefecture where the tainted spinach was found — and overall expressed concern about food safety.

Experts have said the amounts of iodine detected in milk, spinach and water pose no discernible risks to public health unless consumed in enormous quantities over a long time. Iodine breaks down quickly, after eight days, minimizing its harmfulness, unlike other radioactive isotopes such as cesium-137 or uranium-238, which remain in the environment for decades or longer.

High levels of iodine are linked to thyroid cancer, one of the least deadly cancers if treated. Cesium is a longer-lasting element that affects the whole body and raises cancer risk.

Rain forecast for the Fukushima area also could further localize the contamination, bringing the radiation to the ground closer to the plant.

Edano tried to reassure the public for a second day in a row. “If you eat it once, or twice, or even for several days, it’s not just that it’s not an immediate threat to health, it’s that even in the future it is not a risk,” Edano said. “Experts say there is no threat to human health.”

No contamination has been reported in Japan’s main food export — seafood — worth about $1.6 billion a year and less than 0.3 percent of its total exports.

Amid the anxiety, there were moments of joy on Sunday. An 80-year-old woman and her teenage grandson were rescued from their flattened two-story house after nine days, when the teen pulled himself to the roof and shouted to police for help.

Other survivors enjoyed smaller victories. Kiyoshi Hiratsuka and his family managed to pull his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle from the rubble in their hometown of Onagawa. The 37-year-old mechanic said he knows it will never work anymore. “But I want to keep it as a memorial.”

 

Pakistan Snaps Australia’s 34-Match Unbeaten Run

By Shihar Aneez for The Los Angeles Times

Australia’s 34-match unbeaten run in the Cricket World Cup dating back to 1999 was finally broken by Pakistan on Saturday when Ricky Ponting’s team were beaten by four wickets.

Australia, who have won the last three World Cups during the run and were unbeaten in five matches in Group A in this tournament, were skittled out for 176.

Pace bowler Brett Lee raised hopes of an Australian fightback when he got rid of opener Mohammad Hafeez in the third over but his haul of four for 28 could not prevent Pakistan from cruising to victory with 54 balls to spare.

“We certainly had a tough game today. We didn’t do ourselves any favours. I thought our batting effort was particularly ordinary,” said Ponting, who suffered his first World Cup defeat as captain.

“We stuck at it really well with the ball. I thought the guys bowled really well and gave ourselves a bit of a sniff when we got them six down but not enough runs on the board.”

Saturday’s result threw the tournament wide open as there is no undefeated team left in the competition heading into next week’s knockout stages.

Australia had already qualified for the quarter-finals but will now finish third in the group rather than top, a place now occupied by Pakistan.

“It’s a different sort of enjoyment playing against Australia. They may be World Champions but there was no pressure on us so we pulled it off today,” Umar Akmal said after finishing unbeaten on 44.

Ponting’s men struggled for momentum through out their innings after opting to bat first.

Pakistan’s pace and spin attack, backed up by sharp fielding, never allowed the Australian batting to settle down.

A 63-run second wicket stand between Brad Haddin (42) and Ponting (19), who failed once again with the bat, was the only notable partnership in the Australian innings.

Michael Clarke (34) and Steve Smith (25) were the only other batsmen to make any worthwhile contributions on a difficult surface that offered spin and some uneven bounce which the Australian batsmen failed to cope with.

Paceman Umar Gul (3-30) bowled superbly with both the new and the old ball for the 1992 champions, who were the last team to defeat Australia in a World Cup match in 1999.

Gul made the first breakthrough by bowling Shane Watson for nine and returned to clean up the tail by taking the wickets of Jason Krezja and Lee.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Modern Day Martyr in Pakistan

By Terry Mattingly for The Pocono Record

In the early days of Christianity, martyrs often gave their final testimonies of faith to Roman leaders before they were crucified, burned or fed to lions.

Times being what they are, Shahbaz Bhatti turned to Al-Jazeera and YouTube. The only Christian in Pakistan’s Cabinet knew it was only a matter of time before his work as minister for minority affairs got him killed. Threats by the Taliban and al-Qaida kept increasing.

“I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross and I follow him on the cross,” said Bhatti, in a startlingly calm video recorded several weeks before his assassination on March 2.

“When I’m leading this campaign against the sharia laws for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christian and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me. … I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles.”

The last straw was almost certainly the Catholic statesman’s defense of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death last November for the crime of blasphemy after she publicly defended her faith in a village argument. The verdict — which must be upheld by a higher court — further polarized a tense nation and sparked a global firestorm.

Then again, in 2009 Bhatti received the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s first medallion for the promotion of religious freedom. A year later, he met with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss interfaith work and religious liberty in Pakistan. Bhatti was not hiding his convictions.

The blasphemy laws in question went into effect in 1986, during the dictatorship of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. They ban, among other actions, the use of “derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

These blasphemy laws have been used against hundreds of Muslim dissenters and Ahmadi sect members, whose approach to Islam is specifically attacked in the laws. In practice, conversion from Islam to another faith is considered blasphemy, as are attempts to advocate or defend minority faiths, such as Christianity or Hinduism.

Vigilantes often kill those formally or informally accused of blasphemy — making trials irrelevant.

This was the case with Bhatti’s death in a wave of machine-gun fire into his unarmored car. Pakistani officials had denied his request for an armored car, despite the constant threat of drive-by shootings.

Formalities were also irrelevant on Jan. 4, when Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. This outspoken Muslim also defended Bibi and called for reform in the use of blasphemy laws.

Adoring crowds showered Taseer’s assassin with rose petals and garlands as he arrived to face a magistrate, while moderate Muslim leaders remained silent. Pakistan’s legislators observed a moment of silence for Bhatti, since it probably would have been fatal for anyone to offer a prayer in his honor.

After all, pamphlets left by those who killed Bhatti warned that they would keep fighting “all the world’s infidels, crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood. … This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Apparently, many radicals in Pakistan have concluded — a perfect Catch-22 — that it is blasphemy to oppose the blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani conference of Catholic bishops is preparing to render a judgment of its own. Later this month the bishops will review a proposal to ask the Vatican to designate Bhatti as a martyr.

“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan told a Vatican news agency. “It is up to us, the bishops, to tell his story and experience to the church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom.”

-Terry Mattingly is director of the Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Can Pakistan Tame Australia?

By Will Davies for The Wall Street Journal

Saturday’s Group A match between Pakistan and Australia is a tough one to predict, as is generally the case when Pakistan plays. One team – Australia – epitomizes consistency and solidity, while the other – Pakistan – is about as well-adjusted and reliable as a moody teenager.

On its day, Pakistan is one of the best sides at this World Cup, but on other occasions the team looks disorganized and uninterested. That’s one of the reasons why Pakistan is such a fascinating team to watch – you never quite know what you’re going to get.

This unpredictability can work in its favor as opponents struggle to form and stick to a game plan. Of all the sides at the World Cup, Australia is the most capable of dealing with Pakistan’s maverick approach, but it will have to tread carefully and blow off the rust that has tinged its performances thus far.

If the likes of Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar – two players who are such fun to watch – perform well, then Pakistan is in with a chance of upsetting Australia in Colombo and ending its incredible 34-match unbeaten run in World Cup cricket.

Australia has been prowling quietly but menacingly on the verges of this tournament, snapping up victims, while other teams – particularly in Group B – struggle to gain momentum and avoid upsets. But the Australians aren’t the threat they once were, and their World Cup record looks more vulnerable than in previous tournaments when the team boasted superstars like the Waugh brothers, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

Australia’s captain Ricky Ponting is out of sorts with the bat and angry in the field. It looked like he was ready to thump Steven Smith when his teammate bumped into him as he took a catch in Wednesday’s match against Canada.

Smith is looking increasingly at ease in the Australian squad, but he’d do well to tread a little carefully, particularly when near Ponting’s toes. The Sydney-born youngster is a player of great promise and is now a regular in the Australian team, but he is yet to really shine. He needs a big performance, otherwise he risks slipping into nearly-man territory.

Pakistan has had its ups and downs this World Cup, from the heights of beating Sri Lanka to the lows of collapsing against New Zealand and a Ross Taylor batting onslaught. Australia beat New Zealand convincingly, while the match against Sri Lanka was cut short by a huge thunderstorm, an unfortunate outcome as the game was shaping up nicely and Australia, for once, looked like it had a tough opponent to deal with.

The weather forecast for tomorrow isn’t promising, but hopefully the rain will stay away from Colombo as matches between teams like Australia and Pakistan are the big occasions that make the World Cup so special.

Pray for Japan

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

It has been a week, and as we see this disaster in Japan continuing to unfold, I wonder if we will notice and apply how these events or some other catastrophe which could befall us and affect us in our own daily lives. Maybe some people have related the events in Japan of the last week to their own life, but for many others, it is entirely possible that for them, the events in Japan are too far away and do not personally touch them in anyway to be relatable.

We are far too guilty of thinking to ourselves that Japan, or Haiti, or Pakistan or Egypt or Libya are far away from here. These events do not affect me or any of my loved ones. Why should I have such a personal stake in events in countries and places so far away that will never affect me?

Will we finally see that all this is impermanent? Will we learn to care about our planet and our fellow human beings? Will we finally learn to be proactive about these things? Or will we wait till these disasters become all too real and unmanageable before we wake up from our slumber?
We pray that we will all wake up and participate in the healing of our precious and only earth and all her inhabitants before it is too late. We pray that the people of the world realize that we all share this beautiful, small blue planet and that what affects one, affects all us mankind. We pray that we are all less selfish and more selfless in regards to our fellow man. And we pray that regardless of your religious and personal beliefs that you will please pray for Japan in their time of need.

Islamophobia and Radicalization

By James Zogby for Counter Punch

Let me state quite directly: Islamophobia and those who promote it are a greater threat to the United States than Anwar Al-Awlaqi and his rag-tag team of terrorists.

On one level, Al-Awlaqi, from his cave hide out in Yemen, can only prey off alienation where it exists. Adopting the persona of a latter-day Malcolm X (though he seems not to have read the last chapters of the “Autobiography” or learned the lessons of Malcolm’s ultimate conversion), he appears street-smart, brash, self- assured and assertive — all of the assets needed to attract lost or wounded souls looking for certainty and an outlet for their rage. Like some parasites, Al-Awlaqi cannot create his own prey. He must wait for others to create his opportunities, which until now have been isolated and limited: a disturbed young man here, an increasingly deranged soldier there.

Islamophobia, on the other hand, if left unchecked, may serve to erect barriers to Muslim inclusion in America, increasing alienation, especially among young Muslims. Not only would such a situation do grave damage to one of the fundamental cornerstones of America’s unique democracy, it would simultaneously and rapidly expand the pool of recruits for future radicalisation.

I have often remarked that America is different, in concept and reality, from our European allies. Third generation Kurds in Germany, Pakistanis in the UK, or Algerians in France, for example, may succeed and obtain citizenship, but they do not become German, British or French. Last year, I debated a German government official on this issue. She kept referring to “migrants” — a term she used to describe all those of Turkish descent living in her country — regardless of the number of generations they had been there. Similarly, following their last election, a leading British newspaper commented on the “number of immigrants” who won seats, without noting that many of those “immigrants” were third generation citizens.

America has prided itself on being different. Being “American” is not the possession of a single ethnic group, nor does any group define “America”. Not only do new immigrants become citizens, they also secure a new identity. More than that, as new groups become American and are transformed, the idea of “America” itself has also changed to embrace these new cultures.

Within a generation, diverse ethnic and religious groups from every corner or the globe have become Americans, dramatically changing America in the process. Problems remain and intolerant bigots, in every age, have reared up against new groups, but history demonstrates that, in the end, the newcomers have been accepted, incorporated and absorbed into the American mainstream.

This defines not only our national experience, but our defining narrative as well. When immigrant school children in Europe learn French, German or British history, they are learning their host’s history. In the US, from the outset, we are taught that this is “our new story” — that it includes all of us, and has included us all, from the beginning.

It is because new immigrants and diverse ethnic and religious communities have found their place and acceptance in the American mainstream that the country, during the last century, survived and prospered despite being sorely tested with world wars, economic upheaval and bouts with internal strife. During this time we had to contend with anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant, and anti-Japanese movements. In the end, after creating their moment of pain, these efforts have always lost.

They lose, but they don’t always go away. The Islamophobia we are witnessing today is the latest campaign by bigots to tear apart the very fabric of America. We know the groups promoting it. First, there is the well-funded “cottage industry”, on the right, of groups and individuals with a long history of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim activity. Some of the individuals associated with these efforts have been given legitimacy as commentators on “terrorism”, “radicalisation” or “national security concerns”, despite their obvious bias and even obsession with all things Arab or Muslim (in this, they remind me of good old-fashioned anti-Semites who never tired of warning of Jewish threats or conspiracies or who while always claiming to like individual Jews rallied against any and all Jewish organisations).

If these “professional bigots” have provided the grist, the mill itself was run by the vast network of right-wing talk radio and TV shows and websites, and prominent preachers who have combined to amplify the anti-Muslim message nationwide. Their efforts have done real damage. They have tormented decent public servants, created protests that have shuttered legitimate institutions, fomented hate crimes, and produced fear in the Muslim community.

In just the past two years, we have seen a dramatic upsurge in the activity of these bigots. More ominously, their cause has been embraced by national political leaders and by elements in the Republican Party, who appear to have decided, in 2010, to use “fear of Islam” as a base-building theme and a wedge issue against Democrats for electoral advantage.

In the past, only obscure or outrageous members of congress (like North Carolina’s Sue Myrick who expressed nervousness and insecurity because of “who was owning all those 7/11’s”; or Colorado’s Tom Tancredo who once warned that he “would bomb Mecca”) were outspoken Islamophobes. After the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee embraced opposition to Park 51 as a campaign theme, it is hard to find a leading Republican who has not railed on some issue involving Islam or Muslims in the US.

The net impact here is that this current wave of Islamophobia has both played to the Republican base while firming up that base around this agenda. The polling numbers are striking and deeply disturbing. Some 54 per cent of Democrats have a favourable attitude towards Muslims, while 34 per cent do not. Among Republicans, on the other hand, only 12 per cent hold a favourable view of Muslims, with 85 per cent saying they have unfavourable views. Additionally, 74 per cent of Republicans believe “Islam teaches hate” and 60 per cent believe that “Muslims tend to be religious fanatics”.

The danger here is that to the degree that this issue has become a partisan — and in some cases a proven vote getter — issue for the Republican Party, it will not go away any time soon. The longer we are plagued by this bigotry, and the displays of intolerance it breeds (the anti-mosque building demonstrations or the anti-Sharia law efforts now spreading across the country) the longer young Muslims will feel that the “promise of America” does not include them, and they will feel like aliens in their own country.

It is this concern that has prompted many inter-faith religious groups and leaders and a diverse coalition of ethnic and civil rights organisations to so vigorously oppose Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) hearings that will deal with the radicalisation of American Muslims later this week. They know, from previous statements made by King, of his personal hostility to American Muslims. They also know that what King is doing will only aggravate an already raw wound, creating greater fear and concern among young Muslims who have already witnessed too much bigotry and intolerance.

What they should also know is that in the process of targeting a religion in this way, and engaging in this most “un-American activity”, King and company are, in fact, opening the door for increased alienation and future radicalisation. Al-Awlaqi must be smiling from inside his cave.

-Dr James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute and is a Roman Catholic of Lebanese descent and brother of prominent American political pollster and founder of Zogby Polls, John Zogby.

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