Archive for January, 2013

Muslims: #RemoveHate or Pakistan Will Disintegrate

As Reported By Dr Faheem Younus for The Huffington Post

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The irony was aptly captured by this picture, taken by a BBC journalist and now going viral on social media. It shows a group of Shiites protesting the recent attacks under another banner in the background, spewing anti-Ahmadi hatred.

Unless protestors #RemoveHate against all groups, they cannot #RemoveHate against any. That’s why I always had trepidations about the Shiite sect becoming the next target — the next Ahmadis if you will. Leading Pakistani analysts feel the same way.

So here is my unifying proposal for all Pakistani Muslims: redeem yourselves by starting a#RemoveHate Twitter campaign. You cannot change the discriminatory laws and you cannot change the school curricula — at least not that easily. But why not, physically and literally, tear down the banners, whitewashing the graffiti and throw away the pamphlets that incite hatred or violence against any religious group?

Americans may argue to confront such hate speech with “more good speech.” But here lies the rub: These banners actually incite violence by calling minorities “worthy of death” and leaving thousands dead.

These deaths — or target killings — are not happening in a vacuum. Just look at the anti-Ahmadi play book: First, the political arm of the Saudi funded Wahabi sect pigeonholes a minority sect as non-Muslims. This is followed by changing the public opinion and poisoning the public discourse, which manifests as hate filled banners and graffiti, and culminates into constitutional edicts and discriminatory laws.

For Pakistani minorities, the process has been kick-started. A 2012 Pew poll showed that 50 percent of Sunnis in Pakistan now believe Shiites to be non-Muslims. For Sufis, that number was at 25 percent.

Historically, Muslim sects in Pakistan chose to appease the “worthy of death” rhetoric against another minority because they saw it as an insurance policy for themselves. Perhaps they should listen to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech of 1961: “…remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

The tiger has already swallowed so many. Just look around: Shiite processions? Terrorized. Sufis shrines? Bombed. Christian leaders? Assassinated. Hindu girls? Kidnapped.

Don’t #RemoveHate and soon liberals and working women will be next.

I believe in unity against hatred. I believe that our love for Pakistan should not be measured by the amount of hatred we express for America. I believe that our love for Islam cannot be reckoned by our hatred for those who differ with our interpretation. I believe that if Pakistan’s Muslims did not#RemoveHate , Pakistan will disintegrate.

Let your Twitter feeds go wild with #RemoveHate. Let Facebook pages be dedicated to exploring and sharing the best ideas to remove hate from our surroundings. Did you use a ladder or climb on top of boxes to tear down the banner? Did you use paint or white wash to remove graffiti? Is pre-dawn a better time than post-dusk?

I beseech you, my Pakistani Muslim family: Sectarian killings are neither a Shiite nor an Ahmadi issue; they are a human rights issue. Instead of resorting to conspiracy theories, take individual responsibility to #RemoveHate from your streets. But if you still choose to stand under a hateful banner today, don’t complain if you are on it tomorrow.

Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He is the founder of Muslimerican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FaheemYounus.

 
 
 

 

Pakistan Releasing Taliban Detainees As Part Of Peace Process Ahead Of 2014 Withdrawal

By Rebecca Santana and Kathy Gannon for The Huffington Post

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Pakistan plans to release more Afghan militant detainees in an attempt to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan ahead of the departure of international troops next year, a top Pakistani official said.

Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said Pakistan has initiated the process of releasing those Afghan detainees in its custody who they think will help facilitate the reconciliation process. His comments were made during a press conference Friday in Abu Dhabi and relayed by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday. He did not give a timetable.

In general, Kabul has pressed hard for Islamabad to release its detainees, with some officials saying that they hope the released Taliban can serve as intermediaries. But Washington is concerned about specific prisoners who they consider dangerous.

Jilani did not specifically mention whether Pakistan would release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban whom Kabul has been pushing Pakistan to release.

Senior U.S. and Afghan officials told The Associated Press that the U.S. has informed the Pakistani authorities that it was reluctant to see Baradar go free and asked for prior notice so it can try to track his movements.

Pakistan has upward of 100 Afghan prisoners in its custody including Baradar, who was arrested by Pakistan in the southern city of Karachi in 2010. The circumstances of his arrest, like that of most of the detainees, remain unclear. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of providing shelter to some of the Taliban.

The U.S. and Afghan officials said a similar U.S. request for notification upon release has been made for another prisoner, Abdul Samad, according to the officials. Samad, who is from Kandahar, the former Taliban headquarters, is a specialist in making suicide jackets and came to prominence within the Taliban movement after its collapse in 2001.

Several senior Taliban have already been released by Pakistan including former governors and ministers. One of those released was the once-feared Vice and Virtue Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who oversaw a legion of Taliban fighters who roamed the streets searching for women who were not properly covered, or residents listening to music or watching television, both of which were forbidden under the Taliban.

In November Pakistan also released Anwar ul Haq Mujahed, a senior Taliban commander from eastern Nangarhar province whose release was sought by the Afghan High Peace Council although he had been implicated in several major attacks in eastern Afghanistan against coalition and Afghan forces.

The Afghan peace process has made little headway since it began several years ago, hobbled by distrust among the major players, including the United States. But it appears to be getting a new push in recent months with a high-level peace commission traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Pakistani officials releasing 26 Taliban prisoners since November.

Part of the reason for the recent peace push is that Pakistani government and military officials are worried that if American troops leave without a plan in place, Afghanistan could deteriorate into another round of vicious infighting. After the Soviets pulled out in 1989, many of the militants who had helped best that superpower then turned on each other in what played out as a vicious war across the country.

A repeat of that scenario could have horrific consequences for Pakistan, such as a flood of Afghan refugees across its borders and increased fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the military is already trying to suppress a stubborn insurgency.

The Afghan and U.S. governments have long accused Islamabad of backing insurgents – an allegation Pakistan denies – and say many militant leaders are hiding in the country.

Whether the recent detainee releases will play a significant role in the peace process remains to be seen. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, said on Thursday that although their release was a positive step, there was no indication of where the former detainees had gone.

He said the Afghan government was trying to ensure they did not return to the insurgency.

He said the Pakistanis so far have taken a “hands-off kind of approach to the people that they have released.”

All officials spoke anonymously as they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Ready to probe ‘gruesome’ beheading, Pakistan high commissioner Salman Bashir says

As Reported by Sachin Parashar for The Times of India 

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On a day when Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s offer for talks received lukewarm response here, Pakistan high commissioner Salman Bashir turned out be the real game-changer as he said that Islamabadwas willing to address all Indian concerns over LoC, including its demand for a probe into the mutilation of the bodies of Indian soldiers.

In an exclusive interview to TOI, Bashir said: “Essentially, what the Pakistan foreign minister has said is that Pakistan is willing to discuss all Indian concerns, especially those related torecent LoC developments with a clear objective to ensure respect for ceasefire along LoC.” It was Pakistan’s refusal to give any such assurance that had forced India to harden its stand and provoked PM Manmohan Singh to say that it can’t be business as usual with Pakistan.

Asked if his assurance included India’s demand for investigations into the beheading of soldier Hem Raj, Bashir said, “When we say all concerns, we are not excluding anything…I believe all civilized people, no matter where they are, would be appalled by the gruesome incident”. However, Bashir added that for India to accuse Pakistan of the act without any probe was still not “understandable” for Pakistan.

Bashir reached out to the Indian people saying that they should not look upon the Pakistanis as “insensitive” or “inhuman”. In what is likely to soothe frayed nerves here further, Bashir did not mention any international role, including the UN, while talking about investigations into the incident.

“We want that both sides at the military level undertake their own investigations and use bilateral channels to get to the bottom of the incident. We are also concerned about ceasefire violations that have resulted in several casualties on our side but for peace to prevail we believe that the way forward is to talk to each other instead of getting into mutual recrimination,” he told TOI.

He added: “Pakistan foreign minister’s offer for talks with her counterpart is of considerable significance as it shows Pakistan’s desire to steer the process of reengagement in the right direction and at the same time address the issues of concern through the dialogue process. We hope that this sincere gesture will be reciprocated.”

While doubts have been raised about Pakistan’s commitment to MFN status for India, Bashir also brushed that aside saying that the “in principle” decision still stands and Islamabad will continue to seek better trade ties with India. He, however, added that for this it was important the positive atmosphere prior to the LoC flare-up was not vitiated.

Bashir said that he found developments like the return of Pakistan hockey players and move by India to stall visa-on-arrival for senior citizens “troubling”. “I think when there are multiple issues, both sides need to communicate more and not allow iron curtains to descend”.

As he pointed that there have been no “impulsive” reactions from Pakistan authorities to the statements made by Indian leaders, including Manmohan Singh. He said Pakistan still looked upon Singh as a man of peace who is very well respected in his country for his initiative for dialogue between the two countries.

Bashir said Pakistan was not proposing any time frame for Khar-Khurshid dialogue. “We have made an offer and the two most important words are ‘dialogue’ and ‘de-escalation’ – the rest is a question of form and modality,” he said.

Talking about the deep sense of hurt in India over the LoC incident, Bashir called upon people in position of responsibility and opinion makers to act responsibly and “not play with raw emotions”. “People of Pakistan are not insensitive to the sentiments of the people of India. Whenever there is a tragic incident – be it an earthquake or a terror attack or some heinous crime – ordinary people suffer from the same sentiment. But what I object to is the instinctive reflexes for Pakistan bashing and whipping up of emotions which has almost turned into a stereotype. It is important for saner voices to realize that neither Pakistan can wish India away nor India can do the same to Pakistan,” he said.

Bashir ended by recalling what Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had said on his visit to Pakistan recently: “Our people have shared geography and history and there is no reason why they can’t share their future too.”

Political Rally Shuts Down Pakistan Capital

As Reported by The Voice of America

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Thousands of flag-waving protesters marched into Pakistan’s capital Monday to demand changes to the country’s political system just months before scheduled elections. The rally is led by a Canadian-Pakistani cleric, Tahir-ul Qadri.

Cellphone services were shut off, shops closed their doors, metal containers barricaded major roads, and riot police were at the ready as protestors entered the country’s capital city.

Some 30,000 people were said to have arrived in Islamabad from the eastern city of Lahore in a two-day convoy.  Another estimated 40,000 were expected to arrive overnight.

Protest organizers had predicted the numbers would reach in the hundreds of thousands.

Rally leader Tahir-ul Qadri is calling for the current government to step down as part of an overhaul of the country’s electoral system. National voting for a new government is expected to be held in a few months.

Analysts say Qadri is tapping into the people’s deep frustration with ongoing violence and a deteriorating economy, but his campaign is unlikely to have a significant impact on the political system.

But supporters like Mariam Khalid, who flew in from her home in Britain to join the protest, says Qadri stands for the kind of change the country needs.

“Basically this is about change, and I know that is kind of vague and everyone wants change.  The difference with this protest is that it’s not just about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk as well. What Dr. Tahir-ul Qadri is saying is basically that the people are sick of it, the situation in Pakistan; there is no food, no electricity, people are dying — basically they are, that’s the reality,” Khalid said.

Relatively unknown until he returned to Pakistan a few weeks ago, Qadri has spent the last seven years in Canada leading an Islamic charity group with branches around the world.

Now his television ads are on all of Pakistan’s major stations to protest what he says is a broken and corrupt political system that any election will just perpetuate.

If the national polls are held as scheduled, it will be the first time since Pakistan was formed in 1947 that a civilian government has completed its five-year term and peacefully handed over power to a new civilian leadership.

Tariq Junaid, head of Pakistan’s Institute for Public Opinion Research, says Qadri’s slogans are attractive, but his ability to force a change in the electoral laws, or even delay the elections, depends largely on the pressure Qadri can bring to bear on the government.

“Right now we have to see how much weightage the political parties will give to this. Apparently it seems like that, they are not taking it very seriously, they are letting it happen, and they think that in the due course of time it will die down, within the course of the next five or six days,” Junaid said.

Junaid says as yet, there is a general consensus within Pakistani civil society that timely elections are the best way to remove corrupt politicians and give the country a fresh start.

India and Pakistan trade accusations over Kashmir violence

As Reported by CNN

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India and Pakistan traded bitter accusations Wednesday after New Delhi said Pakistani troops had killed two of its soldiers in the disputed territory of Kashmir, a flash point between the two nations since their creation.

Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai summoned the Pakistani High Commissioner and “lodged a strong protest” about what India alleges took place Tuesday, increasing the strain on ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

But Pakistan reiterated its denial of the accusations, saying India was trying to distract attention from a weekend clash in the Himalayan territory that left a Pakistani soldier dead.

ndia asserts that Pakistani troops took advantage of thick fog in a wooded area on Tuesday to cross over to its side of the Line of Control, the de facto border between the two nations in Kashmir.

The Indian military says one of its routine patrols spotted the Pakistani troops in the Mendhar sector of Poonch district, and a firefight lasting about 30 minutes ensued, during which two Indian soldiers were killed.

The Indian government on Wednesday accused Pakistani troops of subjecting the two soldiers’ bodies to “barbaric and inhuman mutilation,” calling the alleged actions “highly provocative.”

The Pakistani foreign ministry rejected the allegations that its troops had crossed the Line of Control and killed Indian soldiers.

“These are baseless and unfounded allegations,” the foreign ministry said. “Pakistan is prepared to hold investigations through the United Nations Military Observes Group for India and Pakistan on the recent cease-fire violations on the Line of Control.”

Pakistan said it is committed to “a constructive, sustained and result-oriented process of engagement with India,” and is working to ensure their relations are normal.

In the Sunday clash, according to the Pakistani military, Indian troops crossed the Line of Control and attacked a military post. Pakistani army troops repulsed the attack, but one Pakistani soldier was killed and another critically injured, Pakistan said.

The Indian Defense Ministry, however, said Pakistani troops opened fire unprovoked on Indian posts in the north Uri sector of Indian-administered Kashmir. Indian troops retaliated and forced Pakistani troops to stop firing, the ministry said. It did not immediately report the number of casualties.

The disputed territory lies in India’s Kashmir Valley, separated from Pakistan by the 450-mile Line of Control.

The Pakistani army filed a formal complaint over Sunday’s incident with United Nations military observers, said Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the agency’s peacekeeping operations. The U.N. group will conduct an investigation.

No complaint had been filed by either army over Tuesday’s incident. U.N. officials urged “both sides to respect the cease-fire and de-escalate tensions through dialogue,” Dwyer said.

The two South Asian neighbors have had a cease-fire along the de facto border since November 2003. But it has been violated repeatedly, with both sides accusing the other of offenses.

Bilateral talks were suspended in 2008 after an attack by Pakistani militants in Mumbai, India’s most populous city, killed more than 160 people. The negotiations have since resumed.

The conflict over Kashmir dates back to 1947, after Britain relinquished control of the Indian subcontinent, giving birth to modern India and Pakistan.

Kashmir was free to accede to either nation. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the kingdom at the time, initially chose to remain independent but eventually opted to join India, thereby handing key powers to the central government in New Delhi. In exchange, India guaranteed him military protection and vowed to hold a popular vote on the issue.

The South Asian rivals have fought two full-scale wars over the territorial issue.

Islamabad has always said that majority-Muslim Kashmir should have been a part of Pakistan. A United Nations resolution adopted after the first war called for a referendum allowing the people of Kashmir to choose which country they wanted to join, but that vote for self-determination has never been held. Pakistan wants that referendum to take place.

India says that Pakistan lends support to separatist groups fighting against government control and argues that a 1972 agreement mandates a resolution to the Kashmir dispute through bilateral talks.

 

Rotations: Pakistan gets presidency of UN Security Council for January, 2013

As Reported by the APP

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Pakistan took over the rotational office of the UN Security Council presidency for the month of January, with the dawn of the New Year.

The 15-nation Council is the United Nations’ most powerful body, which deals issues of international peace and security.

For the month of January, it has a busy schedule: Briefings and consultations on several issues and situations, which are part of the regular agenda, will take place during the month, according to their respective periodic cycles.

An open debate is planned on January 21, 2013, on “UN Peacekeeping: a multidimensional approach”, which is aimed at reviewing the UN flagship activity to maintain international peace and security. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf is expected to come to New York to preside over the session. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will brief the Council on the peacekeeping operations.

As a leading contributor of personnel to the UN peacekeeping operations over the past decades, Pakistan has a vital interest in the continued effectiveness and success of UN peacekeeping, Pakistani officials said.

Pakistan believes that the Council’s debate will be a contribution to international community’s collective efforts to make peacekeeping work even better.

A ministerial-level open debate is also planned on January 15, 2013, to deliberate on the comprehensive approach to counter-terrorism. Pakistan hopes that it will provide an opportunity to have a holistic view of the continuing threats and challenges posed by international terrorism and the best ways of formulating and implementing coherent and comprehensive responses to this menace.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will preside over this debate, in which high level participation from other Council members is also expected.

Currently, Pakistan has over 9,000 troops and other personnel deployed in eight UN peacekeeping missions around the world, which demonstrates its commitment to global peace and security. Prime Minister Ashraf will be the chief guest on the occasion. The UN chief will also attend.

The Council will also have the quarterly open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, on January 23. UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry is likely to brief the Council.

Another important issue to be considered during Pakistan’s presidency is the Rule of Law. In terms of working methods, Pakistan has proposed to convene a formal Wrap-up Session of the Council on 31 January, which will allow the general membership to provide their views on the activities of the Council during the month.

Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Masood Khan in his capacity as president of the UN Security Council will brief the media on the work programme on January 3. The event will be telecast by the UN.

Earlier Pakistan had been elected six times for this prestigious body- 1952-53, 1968-69, 1976-77, 1983-84, 1993-94 and 2003-04. This is the seventh time, the member-states reposed confidence in Pakistan to serve on the Council.

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