Archive for the ‘ Kashmir ’ Category

Pakistan Wedding Rush to Beat New UK Visa Laws

By Bob Crilly for The Telegraph

In the first week of July, wedding halls, English classes and immigration consultants said they had all seen a surge in people preparing for new lives in the UK.

They were trying to beat rules which came into force on July 9 setting a minimum income of £18,600 a year for anyone hoping to bring a foreign spouse into the country from outside Europe – an increase of about £5000 for most applicants.
The spike in applications has seen visa processing times double in some cases – from 12 to 24 weeks – as the UK Border Agency struggles to cope with the numbers, according to its website.
Nowhere has seen more intense activity than Mirpur, a Kashmiri town which supplied hundreds of thousands of migrants to work in the UK during the 1960s.

Zahra, who asked that her name be changed for fear it might prejudice her visa application, said her family had no choice but to bring wedding plans forward from the autumn.

“My parents wanted me to marry a good man in Manchester with a good job but even he doesn’t earn enough,” she said.
“We knew these rules were coming so we had to get organised. It meant getting married in the heat of summer but it will be worth it if it means I can move to England.”

Arshad Hussein Shah said his eight wedding halls had seen a 75 per cent increase in activity in the month leading up to July 9.
“These were mostly couples who said they wanted to get married in time to be able to go to UK,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
The Office of National Statistics says net migration to the UK is at a record high of 250,000 people each year, a figure ministers have promised to cut to below 100,00 by the next election.

From October next year, applicants from outside the European Economic Area will also have to pass a “life in the UK” test and present an English language qualification.

Prominent British Pakistanis have spoken out about the new rules, complaining they will disrupt life for families split between the two countries.
More than a million people of Pakistani origin already live in the UK.

Sohail Sajid, a lawyer and immigration consultant in Islamabad, said many Britons with roots in Pakistan were finding their intended husbands and wives would struggle with the new language and salary requirements.

“They felt it has become next to impossible,” he said. “People are very concerned about this.”
The squeeze will be felt in many towns in the region and in Kashmir, where entire generations upped and left for a better life in the UK. Many family homes in towns such as Mirpur are built with wage packets sent from the UK and shops even display prices in Sterling.
Ali Raza, managing director of the UK College of English Language, said 35 students had enrolled for courses in June – 50 per cent more than usual.
“Everybody wanted to complete a quick English course and obtain certificates to file immigration papers,” he said.

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Pakistan and its Image Problem

By Eric Schmidt for Google

Pakistan, a Muslim country, has spent about half of its independent life under military governments. Today, Pakistani leadership celebrates the ruling coalitions success in almost finishing the first five year term in history (previous leaders indicted by the courts, assassinated by extremists or brushed aside by the generals.) In meetings last week with the senior General, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, they made the case for a new and updated image of Pakistan: one of the largest democracies in the world, with a vibrant and open press, an upcoming demographic dividend of hardworking young people, and a highly educated elite leadership of the country. Islamabad and Lahore, where we visited, were relatively safe and certainly safer than Afghanistan. It was clear to us that Pakistan has an image problem.

Pakistan also has a power problem, as in electric power. Power is now off two hours out of three all day and all night. Estimates are that the country has enough generation capacity (hydro and oil based) to handle all the load, but corruption, power stealing, poor payment rates and the classic mistake of underpricing power compared to its real generation cost means that industrial production is threatened. Everyone of means has a UPS, and the air-conditioning seldom works on a 45 Celcius day. Our meetings often were literally in the dark, a common enough occurrence that people did not even remark about it.

Pakistanis are on their way to full mobile penetration with more than 110 million users, and all effective political communication programs now rely on SMS. 3G licenses are underway and the start of a real software industry can be seen.

Against this backdrop, another side of Pakistan emerges. The consensus is that the military drives the foreign policy of the country with unforeseen consequences. Alleged use of extremist groups to fight in Kashmir enables a criminal element to flourish, and the hosting of the Taliban in the autonomous regions (called FATA) to the north and west in the mountains turned an ungoverned area into a very dangerous area. The Army Generals explained the difference between fundamentalism (which they support) and extremism (which they fight), and the political leadership explained that the extremism now comes from “seminaries” where youth are indoctrinated, housed and fed in the rural areas where there are no opportunities at all.

Until recently a strong US ally, Pakistan is now on very good terms with China, and has improving relations with India (with whom they have had three wars.) The development of a nuclear stalemate between India and Pakistan seems to have forced them to pursue accommodation and trade is now increasing rapidly. The press are generally hyper-critical of the United States policies in the region and take the view that the India-US relationship is driving much of our countries behavior. The drone strikes are universally condemned as a violation of sovereignty and their constitution and are subject to much negotiation between the two countries. The bin Laden raid is viewed with strikingly different perspectives in the two countries.

The son of the chief of the Supreme Court is under investigation for corruption, and the media in turmoil after the appearance of staged interviews. In return, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Prime Minister is unable to govern after he was sentenced to a 30 second (yes, that’s right) detention for failing to investigate a corruption case against the President. The Prime Minister, so proud of the stability of the political system in his comments a week ago, is now the former-Prime Minister. The lack of trust within the society weakens both the real and perceived effectiveness of the government on security, corruption and good government matters.

We met a number of impressive Pakistanis, none more so than Masarrat Misbah of Smile Again. Every year, hundreds of young rural women have acid thrown on their faces by men as punishment for some dishonor, including being raped by the men who pour acid on her. This horrific crime, which often leads to death or blindness, requires painful rehabilitation and rebuilding of the woman’s life. Masarrat Misbah’s home in Lahore provides a temporary safe house. The perpetrators, most often direct family members, are seldom prosecuted and almost never convicted of anything. I will never forget the faces of these shy, young women so grievously injured in such an evil way.

Much of what people say and think about Pakistan is absolutely true for most of the FATA provinces (autonomous areas) and for Baluchistan. Pakistan’s image problem results from the fact that people outside the country believe the realities of North and South Waziristan and Quetta are reflective of what the larger country looks like. Islamabad and Lahore are certainly safer than people realize, unless you are a politician (many prominent politicians still suffer assassination attempts and threats inside these cities).

Pakistan’s major security challenge comes from having two many fronts. FATA represents a Haqqani network and Taliban problem, threatening the establishment in Islamabad. Baluchistan is a persistent separatist movement. Afghanistan is a threat because Pashtuns are allowed to go back and forth undocumented. All of this, including India, is simply too much for a government like Pakistan to take on right now.

We ultimately see three Pakistans: 1) The places where the security issues are true (FATA, Baluchistan, parts of SWAT Valley, and Kashmir); 2) the rest of Pakistan for the average citizen, much larger than the first and which is reasonably misunderstood and relatively safe; 3) The politician’s and military’s Pakistan, which whether in FATA or Islamabad, is turbulent, unsafe, and complex.

There is a good case for optimism about Pakistan, simply because of the large emergent middle class (#2). The country, vast, tribal and complicated, can follow the more successful model of India. Connectivity changes the rural experience completely.. illiteracy at 43% can be overcome relatively quickly, and providing information alternatives can dissuade young males from a life of terrorism. The well educated elite can decide to further reform the countries institutions to increase confidence in the government. The war in Afghanistan, destabilizing to Pakistan in many ways, winds down after 2014 and buys time for Pakistan to address its real and continuing internal terrorism threat (more than 30,000 civilian terror deaths in the decade.)

Technology can help in other ways as well. The power problem is mostly a tracking problem (tracing corruption and mis-distribution). The problem of extreme crimes (like acid, or stoning) in poorly policed regions can be mitigated with videos and exposes that shame authorities into prosecution. The corruption problem can be tracked and traced using mobile money and transparent government finances. We met with clever Pakistani entrepreneurs who will build large, new businesses in Pakistan in the next few years and global multinational will locate sales and eventually manufacturing in the country.

The emergent middle class of Pakistan won’t settle for a corrupt system with constant terrorism and will push for reforms in a burgeoning democracy. Here’s to the new civil society of Pakistan, who will use connectivity, information and the Internet, to drive a peaceful revolution that brings Pakistan up to its true potential.

India, Pakistan Try ‘Trade Diplomacy’

As Reported by AFP

India and Pakistan, still at loggerheads on Kashmir and no closer to a full peace deal, are channeling their efforts into increasing trade in the hope that business can bring them together.

31-year-old Karachi food trader Kashif Gul Memom is among those eager to seize the opportunities offered by easier links between the estranged neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

“This is a change for the good. It’s an exciting time,” said Memom, one of the generation born after the painful partition of the subcontinent that gave birth to India and the Islamic republic of Pakistan.

“My generation of business people is putting the past behind us. We’re looking to the future, India is such a huge market for us,” Memom told AFP while at the largest ever Pakistani trade fair held in India.

The improved relations between the nuclear-armed rivals stem from Pakistan’s decision to grant India “Most Favoured Nation (MFN)” status by year end, meaning Indian exports will be treated the same as those from other nations.

In further progress, the neighbours opened a second trading gate in April along their heavily militarised border, boosting the number of trucks able to cross daily to 600 from 150.

India now also says it is ready to end a ban on investment from Pakistan and the countries are planning to allow multiple-entry business visas to spur exchanges — a key demand by company executives.

The warming commercial ties underline the new relevance of the private sector in the peace process, with prospects still low for any swift settlement of the “core issue” of the nations’ competing claims to Kashmir. The divided Himalayan territory has been the trigger of two of their three wars since independence.

Indian and Pakistani officials have been looking at the so-called “China option” as a model, with deepening economic engagement seen by experts as crucial to establishing lasting peace in the troubled region.

Beijing and New Delhi have been pursuing stronger economic ties while resolving outstanding political issues, such as a festering border dispute that erupted into a brief, bloody war in the 1960s.

“There is no other option but economic partnership between India and Pakistan — this leads on to other partnerships,” Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said at the April trade fair in Delhi, a follow-on to a similar venture in Lahore earlier in the year.

“We have to recognise our true trade potential and leave our children with a legacy that ensures prosperity, harmony and peace.”
Some Pakistani businesses have protested against the trade opening, fearing they may be swamped by cheaper Indian goods, especially in drugs, auto parts and consumer goods. But others eye the possibilities India’s market offers.

“India with 1.2 billion people gives us great potential,” Mian Ahad, one of Pakistan’s leading furniture designers, told AFP.
Indian businessmen are equally enthusiastic, saying there is an opportunity for trade in areas from agriculture, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and engineering to chemicals.

Official bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is just $2.7 billion and heavily tilted in New Delhi’s favour.
But Indian business chamber Assocham estimates up to $10 billion worth of goods are routed illicitly — carried by donkeys through Afghanistan or shipped by container from Singapore and the Gulf.

Indian commerce secretary Rahul Khullar told AFP that Pakistan’s decision to grant India MFN status by the end of the year was “the game-changer.”
MFN status will mean India can export 6,800 items to Pakistan, up from around 2,000 at present, and the countries aim to boost bilateral trade to $6 billion within three years.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. Commerce is an excellent way to bring countries together,” Indian strategic analyst Uday Bhaskar told AFP.
“Once you institutionalise trade, it becomes hard to slow the momentum for cross-border exchanges. People say if there are onions or cement or sugar available next door, why can’t I have them? And why can’t I travel there too?”

Pakistan Leader’s India Visit Hailed For Its Symbolism

By Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s president arrived in India on Sunday, the first official visit one leader of the wary neighbors has paid to the other nation in seven years. No breakthroughs were announced, but both sides hailed the meeting as a sign of easing tensions along one of the world’s most dangerous borders.

Spinmeisters on both sides worked overtime to lower public expectations of the “private” trip that saw Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discuss the 2008 terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, modest if expanding trade links, the disputed territory of Kashmir and efforts to bring various militants to justice.

The Pakistani president then visited a famous Muslim shrine for Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, offering a $1-million contribution.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh said. “The relations between India and Pakistan should become normal — that is our common desire.”

The rapid-fire luncheon and shrine visit weren’t enough to overturn long-standing distrust between the nuclear neighbors, however, as summed up in a headline in India’s Mail Today tabloid newspaper: “Eat, Pray, No Love.”

The meeting is part of an apparent effort to follow the diplomatic model in place between India and China, which fought a war in 1962 over their disputed border: Put aside the most nettlesome issues for the time being and focus on building investment and trade links that benefit both sides.

This year, India and Pakistan approved a most-favored-nation agreement, lowering taxes that impede trade. Although India had offered this benefit to Pakistan in 1996, it wasn’t reciprocated until recently. Official two-way trade of about $2.6 billion is heavily weighted in India’s favor.

Sunday’s one-day visit was heavy on symbolism if not on substance. Zardari invited Singh for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan, which the Indian leader accepted, although no date was set. Zardari’s 23-year-old son, Bilawal, invited ruling Congress Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to Pakistan, which was also accepted, again with no date set.

On other fronts, both sides agreed in principle to ease visa restrictions. India offered its assistance in the wake of this weekend’s massive avalanche in the Siachen Glacier area, which buried about 130 people on the Pakistani-controlled side of the border in disputed Kashmir. And both sides did lots of glad-handing for the cameras.

“We had fruitful bilateral talks,” Zardari said. We “hope to meet on Pakistani soil very soon.”

But any bid to bring to justice those who planned the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed at least 166 people was sidestepped. India has long blamed Pakistani-based groups for plotting the attack.

Last week, Washington offered a $10-million reward for information leading to the capture of one Pakistani militant leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who enjoys widespread support in Pakistan.

Analysts on both sides of the divide welcomed the gradual thaw even as they acknowledged its slow pace. That no date was set for a return visit, and that Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi — characterized by some as India’s real leader behind the scenes — didn’t meet Zardari or attend the lunch, suggests the Indian government is wary of getting too far ahead of public opinion, some observers said.

“There have been some useful steps forward,” said B. Raman, director of Chennai’s Institute for Topical Studies and a former Indian intelligence officer on the Pakistan desk. “But the government has taken a cautious line.”

The fact that Zardari, 56, made the trip at all suggests that Pakistan’s military realizes improved relations are in its interest, added Talat Masood, an analyst and retired Pakistani general.

“They’re overstretched, realize the economy’s in a shambles and that you can’t have a genuine defense without a good economy,” Masood said. “It’s very sad in a way, that the process has been held hostage to jihadi groups and hard-rightists on both sides.”

Singh, 79, heading a weak government beset by corruption scandals, has pushed for improved ties with Pakistan in a bid to secure a legacy, analysts on both sides said. “Prime Minister Singh realizes he’s only going to be there a few more months,” said Masood. “He wants to do something positive so he’s remembered.”

Pakistani Troops Dig for 135 Missing in Avalanche

By Chris Brummitt for The Associated Press

Pakistani soldiers dug into a massive avalanche in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border on Saturday, searching for at least 135 people buried when the wall of snow engulfed a military complex.

More than 12 hours after the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier, no survivors had been found.

“We are waiting for news and keeping our fingers crossed,” said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

Hundreds of troops, sniffer dogs and mechanical equipment were at the scene, but were struggling to make much headway into the avalanche, which crashed down onto the rear headquarters building in the Gayari sector early in the morning, burying it under some 21 meters (70 feet) of snow, Abbas said.

“It’s on a massive scale,” he added. “Everything is completely covered.”

The military said in a statement that at least 124 soldiers and 11 civilian contractors were missing.

Siachen is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The accident highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

The thousands of troops from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 meters (22,000 feet) and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a cease-fire in 2003. The glacier is known as the world’s highest battlefield.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed his shock at the incident, which he said “would in no way would undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers.”

The headquarters in Gayari, situated at around 4,572 meters (15,000 feet) is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their to other more remote outposts in the sector. It is situated in a valley between two high mountains, close to a military hospital, according to an officer who was stationed there in 2003.

“I can’t comprehend how an avalanche can reach that place,” said the officer, who didn’t give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “It was supposed to be safe.”

More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.

Conflict there began in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the 78-kilometer (49-mile)-long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim the territory. Pakistan also deployed its troops. Both armies remain entrenched despite the cease-fire, costing the poverty-stricken countries many millions of dollars each year.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The death of these 135 and allegedly more soldiers should prove to be a defining moment for Pakistan in regards to the urgency of peace with India just as the death of the 24 killed by “friendly” NATO attack that killed so many near the Afghanistan border last November.  It is high time India and Pakistan find a way to make peace and end this 60+ year battle and hatred with ourselves as we are one people.  This may not completely apply for India, but the ONLY way to fix EVERYTHING that ails Pakistan is a peace treaty with India~ RIP to the patriots of my sacred land~ MM

Pakistani militant taunts US: ‘I will be in Lahore tomorrow’

By Sebastian Abbot for The Associated Press

One of Pakistan’s most notorious extremists mocked the United States during a defiant media conference close to the country’s military headquarters Wednesday, a day after the US slapped a $10 million bounty on him.

“I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me,” said Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, referring to the fact that the bounty was given to a man whose whereabouts are not a mystery. “I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to.”

Analysts have said Pakistan is unlikely to arrest Saeed, founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, because of his alleged links with the country’s intelligence agency and the political danger of doing Washington’s bidding in a country where anti-American sentiment is rampant.

Saeed, 61, has been accused of orchestrating the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six American citizens. But he operates openly in Pakistan, giving public speeches and appearing on TV talk shows.

He has used his high-profile status in recent months to lead a protest movement against US drone strikes and the resumption of NATO supplies for troops in Afghanistan sent through Pakistan. The supplies were suspended in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Hours before Saeed spoke, US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides met Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in the nearby capital, Islamabad, for talks about rebuilding the two nation’s relationship. In a brief statement, Nides did not mention the bounty offer but reaffirmed America’s commitment to “work through” the challenges bedeviling ties.

Increasingly ‘brazen’ appearances
The US said Tuesday it issued the bounty for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction in response to his increasingly “brazen” appearances. It also offered up to $2 million for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s deputy leader, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, who is Saeed’s brother-in-law.

The rewards marked a shift in the long-standing US calculation that going after the leadership of an organization used as a proxy by the Pakistani military against archenemy India would cause too much friction with the Pakistani government.

This shift has occurred as the US-Pakistani relationship steadily deteriorated over the last year, and as the perception of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s potential threat to the West increased.

Bounty backfire?
The US may be hoping the bounty will force Pakistan to curb Saeed’s activities, even if it isn’t willing to arrest him. But the press conference he called at a hotel in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Wednesday was an indication that is unlikely, and the bounty may even help him by boosting his visibility.

At the hotel, located near the Pakistani army’s main base and only a half hour drive from the US Embassy in Islamabad, Saeed was flanked by more than a dozen right-wing politicians and hardline Islamists who make up the leadership of the Difa-e-Pakistan, or Defense of Pakistan, Council. The group has held a series of large demonstrations against the US and India in recent months.

Some in the media have speculated the movement has the tacit support of the Pakistani military, possibly to put pressure on Washington.

“I want to tell America we will continue our peaceful struggle,” said Saeed. “Life and death is in the hands of God, not in the hands of America.”

Denies involvement in Mumbai massacre
He denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and said he had been exonerated by Pakistani courts.

Pakistan kept Saeed under house arrest for several months after the attacks but released him after he challenged his detention in court. It has also resisted Indian demands to do more, saying there isn’t sufficient evidence.

The bounty offers could complicate US efforts to get the NATO supply line reopened. Pakistan’s parliament is currently debating a revised framework for ties with the US that Washington hopes will get supplies moving again. But the bounties could be seen by lawmakers and the country’s powerful army as a provocation and an attempt to gain favor with India.

Origins in the Kashmir dispute
Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1980s allegedly with ISI support to pressure India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The two countries have fought three major wars since they were carved out of the British empire in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

Pakistan banned the group in 2002 under US pressure, but it operates with relative freedom under the name of its social welfare wing Jamaat-ud-Dawwa — even doing charity work using government money.

The US has designated both groups foreign terrorist organizations. Intelligence officials and terrorism experts say Lashkar-e-Taiba has expanded its focus beyond India in recent years and has plotted attacks in Europe and Australia. Some have called it “the next Al Qaeda” and fear it could set its sights on the US

* Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report from Islamabad.

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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