Posts Tagged ‘ Canada ’

Chicago Trial To Put heat On Pakistan Spy Agency

As Reported by CBS News

The federal trial of Tahawwur Rana begins Monday in Chicago, in which the Pakistan-born Canadian citizen who has lived in the Midwest for many years stands accused of providing cover for a former classmate who scouted sites for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in India. He is also accused of providing support for attempted attacks in Denmark that were never carried out.

Rana has pleaded not guilty, and while the trial may be about Rana’s alleged abetting of international terrorism, the court proceedings are gaining international attention because they are expected to finger Pakistan’s ISI spy agency for helping a terror group carry out the attacks, the Associated Press reports.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group, has been blamed for the 3-day siege in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people, including six Americans. David Headley, a Pakistani-American businessman who has confessed to his involvement in the attacks and has turned government informant, is expected to testify that Pakistan ISI agents helped the militant group carry out the Mumbai attacks, The Guardian reports.

The trial comes at a particularly tense time for U.S.-Pakistan relations, because U.S. Navy SEALs recently found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan after he had been hiding in plain sight there for several years.

Headley, a former informant for DEA, has already pleaded guilty to aiding in the attacks, and he has also already told an Indian inquiry into the attacksthat ISI officers helped Lashkar-e-Taiba plot the commando-style attacks on several sites in Mumbai, India’s largest city, The Guardian reports.

The 12 jurors selected for the federal trial of Rana are mostly minorities and mainly women, the AP reports.

Eight women and four men were sworn in for the trial, and opening statements are planned for Monday.

The AP writes: “Few biographical details have been available about the jurors or the six alternates chosen, whose identities are being kept secret. More than half of the 12 jurors are black. Questions in open court focused on the jurors’ understanding and views of Islam, citizenship and terrorism, issues that experts predict will come up at trial.”

Ahmed Rashid on Negotiating With the Taliban

By Amar C Bakshi for CNN Global Public Square

Intrepid Pakistani author and journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times describing the Obama administration’s secret decision to ramp up talks with the Afghan Taliban, trying to find a negotiated solution to a decade-long conflict. In a follow-up phone call, Rashid said that the Obama administration ought to announce these talks publicly and pressure Afghanistan’s neighbors to get behind them.

Amar C. Bakshi: What is the shift in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan?
Ahmed Rashid: For a very long time there was a lot of division about whether the U.S.would talk to the Taliban or not. Those divisions have now more or less ended. There is much greater determination to set in motion not just secret talks but everything around it that has to happen.

For example, the Taliban are very keen to open an office somewhere in one of the Gulf countries or maybe Turkey. There is nowU.S.support for that. There would presumably be international support for that also. These are the kinds of steps that are needed to get a political process going.

There is the acknowledgement that an over-dependence on a military strategy is not going to work in the long-term. Secondly, the economic and international situation is really not in favor of a long-term military strategy. What is needed now very much is a political strategy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself has said this several times in the past few weeks.

What would a deal with the Taliban look like?
We are a very, very long way away from that. Many questions are being raised. For example, would there be a power-sharing with the present government? How would it take place? How would the constitution accommodate something like that? There are all sorts of social and legal issues about the constitution and Islamic law.

One of the key steps that the Americans have taken is that for the last two years or so, the Obama administration has been talking about preconditions – that the Taliban has to renounce Al Qaeda, accept the constitution and President Karzai. Now what we’re seeing is that talks are going on without any preconditions. These preconditions, or red lines, are something that everyone assumes will be accepted by the Taliban at the end of the talks rather than at the beginning. That is a very positive thing because I don’t think either side could go into their talks with their preconditions.

There are Taliban preconditions that seem to be watered down too because the Taliban were insisting that they wouldn’t talk until the American forces started to leave. But they seem to be willing to put that aside for the time being.

Why is this shift happening now?
The overall international and economic situation is very, very dire. First of all, the majority of European countries want to pull their troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible and that includes some of the leading nations like Britain, Germany and Canada.

Economically they can’t do it. They’re cutting their defense budgets. They are in recession.

And secondly the huge expenditure by the Americans themselves: Something like $108 billion is going to be spent on Afghanistan this year on the war effort. This is clearly not sustainable with all the economic crises that President Obama is facing right now.

What can the U.S. do to help make India and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on Afghanistan?
That is obviously a very crucial part of it. The big tussles going on over Afghanistan right now is between India and Pakistan in a battle for influence there. I think the U.S. needs to play a more upfront role – privately at least – to bring the two countries together if not on the other issues that divide them like Kashmir and larger issues, then certainly on Afghanistan. I think that’s very doable.

The more we get into this endgame and negotiations – the more the world realizes that the Americans are talking to the Taliban – I think it becomes very imperative for both the governments in India and Pakistan to accept the fact that they will have to work with each other if they want to be part of the ultimate equation.

Does Pakistan want to see stability in Afghanistan?
Pakistanis very keen to see stability in Afghanistan. An end to the war in Afghanistan could have a very dramatic effect on containing terrorism inside Pakistan too and containing the Pakistani Taliban. So I think Pakistanis very keen to see stability.

The question at the moment is: If the U.S. is going to take the lead – or the United Nations or whoever we are going to see in the months ahead take the lead on this – they have to bring together all the neighboring countries, of which Pakistan is probably by far the most important, but all of the neighboring countries have to agree to some king of on non-interference in Afghanistan.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are being exacerbated by upheavals throughout the Middle East. How might Saudi Arabia and Iran see eye-to-eye in Afghanistan?
For the last 30 years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rivals in Afghanistan. For example, the Saudis backed the Taliban regime in the 90s. The Iranians very strongly opposed it.

The point right now is that with the tensions in the Gulf – the Saudis accusing the Iranians of destabilizing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia– they are both searching for allies.

The Saudis have recently been approaching the Afghans and the Pakistanis to ally with them against Iran. That is something that neither country can afford to do – neitherAfghanistannorPakistan. Secondly, you need the compliance of both Saudi Arabia and Iran for any eventual Afghan peace settlement.

So taking sides on this Iran-Saudi dispute in the region is not a good idea. It is not very helpful, especially if you want to bring the two countries into the peace agreement.

So a major diplomatic lift is needed?
Yes, absolutely. We’re talking about a huge diplomatic effort, which the former U.S. Af-Pak Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, had started. It needs a very big push by the United States, NATO and the European countries.

It needs some public diplomacy. Things need to be done and said in public so that people around the world can see that there is movement on this. As well, of course, a great deal of private diplomacy is needed such as dealing with this Iran-Saudi Arabia issue, bringing India and Pakistan together. A mixture of private and public diplomacy is needed.

We might see some of that public diplomacy in July when President Obama marks the withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The quicker the United States gets on with this, the better it is going to be. One of the big steps it should take in the public realm is admitting that the U.S. is having talks with the Taliban and set out a roadmap as to what the President would like to see. The quicker we see the administration doing this, the faster this process will move.

Pakistan must put their act together before it’s too late

Phew! What a close shave that was for Pakistan. The batsmen were self destructing at will and had done enough to lose the game and open a fresh can of worms. An unexpected loss against the minnows and against heavy odds could have been interpreted as intentional by the rumour mongers and portrayed Pakistan in bad light.

And it wouldn’t have been difficult to convince the cricket world to believe it as true gospel, as unfortunately it has developed a jaundiced view to everything regarding Pakistan cricket.

Canada, who were not only raw with their skills but in an unfamiliar territory to create history, got tensed up and could not close out the game.

Pakistan batting was technically poor. Most of the batsmen were caught on the crease, playing across the line and falling prey to their own mistakes rather than opponents’ craft. In fact the team technicians read the pitch poorly and blindly made the decision to bat first on a moist track. Good teams are not only about bat and ball but about good support staff who can prepare a brief for the captain consisting of healthy options and intelligent analysis. Remember, big thinkers of the game and not big names make for a winning formula in the dressing room.

In seaming conditions, the openers were quickly thrown out of rhythm. Ahmed Shehzad’s brazen aggression at times borders on cockiness.

His pattern of attack on the day was ill suited for the conditions. He takes uncalculated risks and gives the impression of a spoilt millionaire at a roulette table! Nobody wants him to sacrifice his aggression but lot of people want him to curb his urge to be a kamikaze pilot on a suicide mission.

Hafeez is a utility article. Bit like a sofa cum bed he adjusts and adapts to the demands of the game. He has not yet set the world on fire in this World Cup but Pakistan must not panic and think to uncouple the two openers. In the 1992 Cup, in our losses to India, South Africa and West Indies, we made the mistake of trying three different opening combinations which unsettled the entire team.

Afridi as a leader had a mixed outing. While his sleight of hand once again amazed the batsmen, his captaincy spell was rather flat. In a low scoring game with choices curtailed, a constant dose of pressure and aggression could have earned Pakistan an early win. But Afridi, in the middle overs, unwisely chose to sit in and attacked with just four fielders in the circle.

Most captains in ODIs seem to operate with a rigid mind and a set routine to clog up runs and through it suffocate batsmen. They don’t seem to have a plan for unconventional situations that demand for out of box thinking.

Andrew Strauss, the other day against Ireland was caught out because of lack of intent to pick wickets. Afridi needs to be more innovative as a leader, bit like his batting and bowling, and open up to all kinds of plans rather than following a basic dated one. Trying to super impose a particular game plan on all situations cannot work.

Good thing about the win was how Pakistan fought tooth and nail till the end. They were feisty on the field and did not surrender to the pressure of the situation. Umar Gul looked to be at home with the new ball and Saeed Ajmal did not look rusty in his first outing.

Daryl Harper, the umpire, though was completely out of tune and had four reviews turned against him. His time is up as it’s not a one off instance of poor umpiring but a trial of shocking 18 months out in the center.

Umpires are like players and can have good and bad days on the field, but when a lean patch in the late years of a career start to stretch to longer cycles, then it is time to hang up the boots and exit gracefully.

—The writer is a former Pakistan captain.

Pakistan plan to spread the grief

As reported by Agence France-Presse

Pakistan are still reeling from the cricket corruption scandal that has dogged the side since last summer, but Shoaib Akhtar has warned that he and his teammates plan to take out their frustrations over the affair on their World Cup opponents.

Salman Butt, Pakistan’s then Test captain, and the bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) last month, after being found guilty of spot-fixing, which depleted Pakistan’s bowling options just two weeks before the start of the World Cup.

But Akhtar said the loss of the trio has helped unite the squad and galvanised them to push for a second World Cup victory to replicate their 1992 success.

“We are a hurt side so we are here to hurt others,” Akhtar said yesterday. “It’s better that it happened to us because every time a controversy happens it gathers us together and what better situation than before a World Cup?”

Pakistan beat co-hosts Sri Lanka by 11 runs in their last match after seeing off Kenya by 205 runs in their opening game.

Akhtar, 35, admitted he was missing Aamer and Asif but said others have stepped up.

“Obviously without Aamer and Asif we have suffered badly, they were the best with the new ball, it’s unfortunate what happened to them. Had they been with us it would have been the most lethal bowling attack,” he said.

“But the way [Umar] Gul and [Abdul] Razzaq have been bowling, the way [Wahab] Riaz is bowling, we can still do a much better job as we have variety in our attack.”

Akhtar, who has taken 246 wickets in 162 one-day internationals, said he had changed his bowling style to maintain his fitness, concentrating on accuracy rather than the pure pace that in the past regularly saw him bowl in excess of 100mph.

“I left this race of bowling at 100mph a long time ago,” he said. “I am nearing 36 now and am more mature, so I am focusing more on getting wickets now than bowling fast. But I crossed 98mph the other day.”

He said he is enjoying the chance to perform on the world stage after injury and discipline problems left him sidelined four years ago.

But he warned his teammates – who next face Canada in Colombo on Thursday – not to be over confident after beating Sri Lanka. “We have to move on and we shouldn’t get complacent,” he said.

Pakistan Looks Ahead to End of Afghan War

By Olivia Ward for The Toronto Star

As NATO forces prepare to pull out of Afghanistan, worries about the country falling back to Taliban control are paramount. But in neighbouring Pakistan, where suicide bombings and brazen attacks on security forces have become regular occurrences, the stakes are also high.

“What happens in Afghanistan affects us and vice-versa,” says Akbar Zeb, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Canada. “We have four million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan, and it’s in our interest to have a stable country where we can send them back. A Taliban takeover won’t be just detrimental to Afghanistan. It would harm Pakistan and the whole region.”

Zeb said that under the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, relations have improved with Afghanistan, and contrary to reports of friction, there are “frequent contacts” between the two countries that would be helpful in creating stability.

But he added that Canada, and other Western countries, should not repeat the mistakes of the post-Soviet era, when the West lost interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan as soon as the Soviet troops withdrew.

During the rule of Pakistan’s military leader, President Pervez Musharraf, groups of Taliban-linked militants got a foothold in Pakistan, but were not seen as a danger to the country until internal attacks began to spread. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and suicide bombings took the lives of hundreds of civilians. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military began a massive campaign against the Taliban along the Afghan border.

“We have managed to clear a lot of areas from the Taliban,” said Zeb. “Military campaigns are the only language they understand. But they alone won’t help to win the war. We have border regions with a lot of poverty, and backward elements that have been ignored for a long time.”

Canada has announced support for road and rail projects linking Afghanistan and Pakistan to speed trade between the two countries.

“It’s a very good initiative, but scope is limited,” said Zeb.”We wish the projects were larger and not just (confined to) those that involve both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Talks with Islamabad are also ongoing on the use of ports in Karachi for shipping out Canadian troops and military supplies from Afghanistan.

But as the war continues, Pakistan has also been urged to be tougher on the Taliban. In the past two years it has carried out attacks against the militants in its border regions with some success, while American-launched drone strikes have killed high-ranking Taliban. The catastrophic floods that wiped out some of the most important agricultural areas of Pakistan brought a temporary truce, but militant attacks have resumed since the waters receded.

Last week, talk of a peace deal between the notorious Taliban-linked Haqqani network, and an opposing tribe in the remote northwest raised fears that it could open the way for Taliban access to strategic border areas. But the U.S. has also urged a Pakistani offensive against the network in North Waziristan, a volatile region where 400,000 civilians are vulnerable to displacement.

According to Pakistani officials, the country has lost some 7,000 security forces in a decade of fighting the militants — more than three times the coalition deaths in Afghanistan. Meanwhile 30,000 Pakistani civilians have died. The border region, a tangle of mutually hostile tribes, remains a haven for militants.

“It’s a difficult balance for Pakistan,” said Zeb. “Foreign troops may leave, and for them Afghanistan is a distant land. We’re Afghanistan’s neighbours. We helped with the fighting in the decade-long war against the Soviets. And we have to live with the outcome of this war.”

U.N. Speakers Urge Pakistan to Free Up Arms Talks

By Patrick Worsnip for Reuters

Heaping pressure on Pakistan, a high-level U.N. meeting called on Friday for talks to start immediately on a treaty to ban production of fissile material used as fuel for nuclear weapons.

But Pakistan has insisted it will continue to block such talks, arguing that a ban would put it at a permanent disadvantage to its nuclear rival India. The dispute has led to deadlock at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

At the U.N. meeting of some 70 states to discuss the paralysis at the conference, speakers avoided openly naming Pakistan, but several referred to “one country” that was causing the problem.

In a closing summary of the views expressed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “broad agreement on the need to immediately start negotiations on a … treaty banning the production of fissile material.”

Continued impasse could result in states going outside the Geneva conference, known as the “CD,” to tackle the issue, Ban warned.

Support has appeared to be growing in Geneva to find another approach — possibly small-group talks in parallel to CD sessions. A precedent was set when Canada and Norway moved talks on a landmine ban out of the forum, eventually clinching the landmark 1997 Ottawa Treaty.

At Friday’s U.N. meeting, Western powers sharply attacked Pakistan’s blockage of the CD, which requires consensus for its actions.

“It strikes us as unwarranted for a single country to abuse the consensus principle and thereby frustrate everyone else’s desire to resume serious disarmament efforts,” said U.S. delegate Gary Samore, a special adviser to President Barack Obama.

Washington understood that all countries needed to protect their security interests, and with that principle in place, “no country need fear the prospect of (fissile material) negotiations,” Samore said.

NO CONSENSUS

British junior foreign minister Alistair Burt said blocking the negotiations was “damaging for multilateral arms control.”

Launched in 1978, the CD has clinched treaties banning biological and chemical weapons as well as underground nuclear tests. Its members include all five official nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

But it has been unable to reach consensus on substantive work for the past 12 years. Pakistan’s refusal since January to launch negotiations on fissile material like plutonium and highly enriched uranium is the latest obstacle.

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said earlier this month his country would continue to hold out, arguing that India has an unfair advantage with bigger fissile material stockpiles and “discriminatory” nuclear cooperation deals with the United States.

“Pakistan’s security concerns can be addressed only once we have developed sufficient capacity to ensure our deterrent is credible in the face of growing asymmetry,” he told Reuters. “My instructions are, ‘We continue to maintain our position.'”

Pakistan did not speak at Friday’s meeting in New York. No decisions were made, but Ban said he would ask a panel of advisers to review the issues raised.

Separately, French delegate Jacques Audibert said Paris would host a meeting of the five official nuclear powers next year to discuss their obligations stemming from a May conference on nuclear non-proliferation.

The conference called on the powers to pursue negotiations ultimately aimed at the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

Arabs Must Recognize Israel’s Right to Exist

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

New York – President Obama delivered his speech to the United Nations General Assembly Thursday in New York and it focused largely on his desire to see the Middle East peace process proceed ahead despite all the difficulties. 

Mr. Obama stated that he wanted it to succeed in accomplishing the peace that has eluded the Arabs and the Israelis for over 60 years. Realizing that there are many obstacles and hurdles ahead during tough negotiations for diplomats from both sides, he stated his concerns and his hopes for the road ahead.

“I hear those voices of skepticism, but I ask you to consider the alternative,” Obama said. If no peace agreement is reached, he added, “then the hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.”

“I refuse to accept that future,” he added. “And we all have a choice to make. Each of us must choose the path of peace. …We can say that this time will be different – that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way.”

“If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel,” Obama said to a loud applause by the delegates of all the countries at the United Nations.

In order for this to happen, the Arabs must first recognize Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to claim specifically a part of the Holy Land as theirs. I know, it sounds so basic and a no- brainer. But surprisingly a large portion of the Arab world does not believe in Israel’s right to exist and specifically their right to exist in the southern Levant area which makes up the majority of the area for present day Israel. They want to ignore history and all the Biblical and historical evidence of Jewish settlement and claims to the land. They point to the migration of many Jews all over the world the last few hundred years as reason enough as to why they no longer can call Israel home.

Some Arabs demand that the Jewish homeland should be in Germany. After all, they claim, it is where so many of them were killed by Hitler and the main reason that precipitated the need to allow the Zionists of Europe and America, post World War II, to demand a home for the Jews. Why should the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Europeans they argue?

Others have blamed the British and the Balfour Declaration when in 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, declared in a letter to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community for a need for a home for the Jews when he stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Quite simply, no other place makes any sense whatsoever. First of all, there is extensive mentioning of the land of Israel that is promised to the Jews in the Bible as well as the Hebrew texts, not to mention the Qur’an. All three identify geographic areas in present day Israel that has historically been identified as the homeland of the Jews. Jewish people do not even make up more than 1% of any country’s overall population other than in United States (2.2% of overall population), Canada (1.2% of population), France (1% of population) and Israel (75% of population). That means that for the rest of the world, each country’s Jewish population is not even one half of one percent of the overall population of that nation! Where else would the Arabs have them go? Certainly not Germany where many claim that they should be settled since that is where over 6 million of them were killed in the holocaust. The United States actually has more Jews in its boundaries than are currently residing in all of Israel. So they cannot very well say that they should go there as over half the population already lives here.

Most people do not realize that the Jewish population of the world is very small compared to Christianity or Islam. There are an estimated 15 million Jews around the world including in Israel. By comparison, there are over 2.1 billion Christians and nearly 1.5 billion Muslims. Nearly 105 countries of the world are majority Christian nations while there are perhaps at best 55 majority Muslim countries on the planet. Did you ever wonder how many majority Jewish countries of the world are there?  There is just one. Israel.

This is one of the great religions of the world and also one of the oldest monotheistic beliefs aside from Zoroastrianism, and came at a time when polytheistic beliefs were more prevalent as a human concept of divinity. No doubt, both Christianity and Islam owe a great deal of their religious thoughts and laws to the early Hebrew laws and traditions. In fact, large parts of both the Bible and the Qur’an constitute the Old Testament, also known as the Torah, the Jewish holy book and the scriptures revealed to Moses.

Jewish contributions to humanity have been disproportionate and staggering when one realizes that as less than one half of one percent of the world’s populations, the Jews have made immense advances in nearly every field that has benefitted the whole world. We can go from Albert Einstein’s advances in physics to Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, discuss Galileo’s contributions in astronomy to Freud’s understanding of the mind. We could illustrate how Baruch Spinoza’s rationalist ideas and philosophies laid the groundwork for The Enlightenment of the 18 century or marvel at the brilliant filmmaking of 21st century Jews like Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone. The list of Jewish contributions and the value of their culture to man’s history cannot be ignored.

What also cannot be ignored is that historically these are a persecuted people. The troubles that they faced in ancient Egypt as illustrated in the Bible as well as the deaths and expulsions during the Spanish Inquisition are part of their sad history. They faced persecution at the hands of both Christians and Muslims during the Crusades and at the time of the Papal States as well as during Muslim rule when they were subjected to the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males). The worst crimes nonetheless happened in the 20th century leading up to World War II when millions were killed in the Holocaust in Germany by Hitler’s Nazism and by Stalinist Russia.

So as the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the other Arab countries, sit down over the next couple of weeks to resolve once and for all the Middle East conflict, the Arab street and indeed the entire Muslim world, must come to a realization and acceptance of the fact that the state of Israel has a right to exist; and has a right to exist in this ancient land as much as the Palestinians, who also have the rights to parts of this holy soil that is so important to all three religions. No doubt, historically and Biblically, the Palestinians can make similar claims also. Except, in Israel’s case, there is no other nation for the Jews, whereas, there are 55 others for Muslims. It is only with this undeniable understanding that true and lasting peace will ever be achieved and it can clear the way for a two state solution that President Obama envisions and one that will allow the normalization of relations between Israel, the Arab and the entire Muslim world. 

As perhaps the most famous Jew of all time, Jesus, once said, “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity and may peace be with you.” Indeed, Shalom and Salaam equal peace and that can finally be achieved once there is mutual respect and acceptance of the right of the other to exist.

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, looks forward to a day when there will be peace between Israel and all the Muslim countries of the world, including Pakistan. He is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a free lance journalist and writer.

U.S. Walks Out as Iran Leader Speaks

By Neil MacFarquhar for The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran made a series of incendiary remarks in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, notably the claim that the United States orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks to rescue its declining economy, to reassert its weakening grip on the Middle East and to save Israel.

Those comments prompted at least 33 delegations to walk out, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, all 27 members of the European Union and the union’s representative, diplomats said.

The annual General Assembly started formally on Thursday, with scores of presidents, kings and ministers expected to address the gathering over the coming week. The speeches often fail to break new ground or lack electricity, so the occasional theatrics inevitably attract considerable attention.

Mr. Ahmadinejad rarely disappoints on that scale, although he seemed to go out of his way to sabotage any comments he made previously this week about Iran’s readiness for dialogue with the United States. The theme of his often flowery speech was that the capitalist world order was collapsing and he cited three examples: the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

He said there were three theories about the origins of the Sept. 11 attacks, including “that some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.”

The United States Mission to the United Nations swiftly issued a terse response. “Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr. Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable,” it said in a statement.

It was not the first time Mr. Ahmadinejad espoused the theory, but never before so publicly. “The majority of the American people as well as other nations and politicians agree with this view,” he said.

Mr. Ahmadinejad obviously delights in being provocative during his annual visit to the United Nations. He framed his comments about Sept. 11 as an examination of opinions, an approach he has used repeatedly in questioning the Holocaust.

But his assertion that the majority of Americans agree with him surely lacked any factual basis. As did his claim that reviving the American economy was the motive behind the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the United States economy declined significantly after the attacks. In his interviews with journalists, much like during his debates with opponents in the disputed Iranian presidential election last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad has often been accused of making up statements wholesale.

But analysts noted that his remarks should be viewed through the prism of domestic politics in Iran, where conservatives try to outflank him. They said that during a recent Friday prayer sermon, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that 84 percent of Americans believed their own government was behind the attacks.

Iran also cultivates an image as the voice of all Muslims in confronting the United States, and the idea that Americans rather than Islamic extremists carried out the 2001 attacks has long resonated among Arabs. “This is very helpful to Ahmadinejad’s desire for greatness in the Arab world,” said Ali Mirsepassi, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and sociology at New York University.

The other two theories on the attacks presented by Mr. Ahmadinejad were that terrorists who penetrated American security were responsible, and that terrorists carried out the attacks but then the American government took advantage of the situation. He even suggested that the United Nations create a fact-finding panel to study the theories.

Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii, said, “Apparently now he has decided that by going to the core of American sensitivities — in the same way he did with Israel by questioning the legitimacy of that country’s existence — he can continue to keep himself at the center of global attention while deflecting attention away from his dismal domestic record.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad also lambasted those Americans who had threatened to burn the Koran. “The truth could not be burned,” he said, hefting a green Koran aloft with his one hand and a black Bible with another, saying he respected both of them. “We should wisely avoid playing into the hands of Satan.”

The other speeches Thursday followed more traditional lines, although not without moments of passion.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China focused his speech exclusively on China’s domestic accomplishments, with a brief global reference at the end when he suggested a vital, peaceful China was good for the world’s peace and prosperity.

The speech, entitled “Getting to Know the Real China,” lauded the country’s economic progress while recognizing that it had a way to go with 150 million people still living in poverty. Mr. Wen said China was determined to forge even greater progress through education, science and technology.

The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, endorsed American efforts to negotiate peace in the Middle East, but criticized Israel both for its presumed nuclear arsenal and for attacking a Turkish-organized humanitarian convoy at sea in May during which nine people were killed.

“We hope that this new engagement can take us closer to a viable and fair settlement,” Mr. Gul said. “On the other hand, it would be very difficult to make progress toward permanent peace unless we put an end to the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.”

Mr. Gul called the attack a violation of international law, and he welcomed a report released Wednesday by United Nations Human Rights Council, which endorsed that viewpoint.President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the African Union, urged the General Assembly to defer for one year the war crimes charges brought by the International Criminal Court against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. He said that would avoid jeopardizing the outcome of a referendum scheduled for January on independence for southern Sudan.

Cross-Border Unions: How Indo-Pakistani Marriages Prosper

By Vinita Bharadwaj for The National-UAE

While relations between their countries may be at an all-time low, Indians and Pakistanis who marry each other often find extended family ties confound their nations’ mutual hostility.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when two South Asians wed, they not only marry each other, they also marry into each other’s family.

And family matters between Indians and Pakistanis might be expected to be highly charged, given those two countries’ mutual antipathy for more than 60 years.

“When an Indian marries a Pakistani, it’s a loaded event that can only be matched by the energy of a cricket match between the two countries,” says Amra Hyder, a Pakistani.

The partition of British India into Pakistan and India is historically recorded as the largest human migration ever. It displaced millions and forced people of a common culture to choose a new geography and subscribe overnight to the idea of previously non-existent nations.

Most tragically, it split families. The ghosts of the 1947 partition loom large in the psyches of both countries’ modern histories that include three wars, a continuing dispute over Kashmir and terrorism.

Amra is originally from Pakistan and is married to Zulfiqar Hyder, who hails from India. Amra and Zulfiqar, now Canadian citizens, have lived in Sharjah with their four children since 2006.

In 1992, when the gregarious, romantic 23-year-old Amra married the 33-year old Zulfiqar, a studious man from India, she did not quite know what to expect – from married life, her in-laws and most importantly, her husband’s country. “I also never would have imagined I would be apologetic for both countries’ ridiculous obsession with ‘Shonia’,” she says of the media brouhaha over the recent nuptials of the Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and the Indian tennis player Sania Mirza.

For long before the Malik-Mirza marriage, thousands of Indians and Pakistanis, mostly from families divided by the 1947 partition, have been marrying each other.

The difference is that now these marital alliances are formed outside the extended family circuit. Amra and Zulfiqar did not have an arranged marriage, and neither of them had any intention of settling in either India or Pakistan. They opted to overcome predictable visa hassles by initially residing in the UAE soon after their wedding, and migrated to Canada in 1996 to obtain citizenship, in the hope that it would ease their trips between India and Pakistan.

 
Masooma Syed, from Lahore, met her Keralan husband Sumedh Rajendran at an artists’ residency programme in Delhi. ‘I knew he understood me perfectly.’ Charla Jones

The couple first met in Abu Dhabi at a mutual friend’s party, and married within a year. The wedding took place in Karachi, with Zulfiqar’s entire family flying in from the northern Indian city of Lucknow. “It was a lovely wedding,” Amra recalls, adding that the questioning – albeit, in jest – began soon after they were married. “It was like, ‘Now you’re an Indian daughter-in-law’ and ‘Who will you support in cricket’ or even ‘Who will you support in war’?”

Her response was simple. “I married an Indian, not India. Having said that, I have been welcomed so warmly and given unbelievable respect by Indians, whenever I visit. My relationship with the people, I cherish. The politics, I don’t care for.”

Amra grew up in Abu Dhabi and returned to Lahore for university. Her childhood perception of Indians was to lump them all as people from the Southern Indian state of Kerala. “It was so wrong,” she says regretfully admitting to an error of judgment on her part, “but I honestly never really gave it any thought.” Although her grandfather was an active political leader – initially in the Indian independence struggle and later in the Muslim League, which pressed for Pakistan’s creation – she was uninterested in matters of politics.

On numerous trips to Northern India in the last 18 years, Amra has returned amazed by the cultural similarities she has observed between Indians – including non-Muslims – and her community in Pakistan. “We speak the same kind of language, we appreciate the same food, we like the same clothes, we place the same importance on family values. We even share similar pre-wedding festivities. It’s hardly an alien experience,” she says.

The differences were more to do with class and little do with the country. “Compared to my husband’s childhood, mine was very privileged. He is a self-made man and has single-handedly contributed to his family’s success. If I had to get used to anything, it was holidaying in a home that would experience power cuts and water shortages.”

Amra and Zulfiqar’s children – Hira (17), Anum (13), Zahra (11) and Ali (10) – describe themselves as desi, a generic, originally sanskrit, term used by South Asian immigrants that loosely denotes their origins. They are an animated group and debate the definition of desi among themselves, as their parents look on proudly. The conclusion: among younger generations in urban settings, desi communities have spawned a culture bound by a fondness for Bollywood, cricket, South Asian food and fused elements of their upbringing at home with the globalised, western outlook they are exposed to outside.

Having said that, India and Pakistan enjoy enormous cultural riches – largely attributable to their ethnic, regional and linguistic diversity. Both countries together are akin to the European Union – with each of their provinces having their own quirks, tastes and sensibilities. These subtleties within communities are apparent when embedded among the people in their own land.

Shadab Raza, from Lucknow, India, his Pakistani wife Sana Zehri and their six-year-old son Ali have relatives on both sides of the border. ‘There’s never been this India-Pakistan mentality in our families,’ Shadab said. Siddharth Siva / Arabian Eye

Masooma Syed, an artist from Lahore, lives in Delhi with her husband Sumedh Rajendran, also an artist, but from the south of India. They were introduced to each other at an artists’ residency programme in the Indian capital Delhi in 2003. Following that, they would arrange to meet in Manchester, Sri Lanka and New York before finally geting married in July 2008.

Their cultural backgrounds could not be more different, as are their temperaments and artistic styles. “And yet, I knew he understood me perfectly,” says Masooma of the decision to marry across the border and step into the cumbersome world of visas, soon after exchanging wedding vows in Sri Lanka.

“We never thought about a third country [to live in]. Sumedh has lived in Delhi for the last 15 years and I’ve had absolutely no problem in adjusting to living here. It’s just like Lahore. Ironically, I find Sumedh is more of a foreigner in his own country’s capital than I am. We have discussed moving to a neutral country, especially if visa regulations became tighter, but then as artists all our inspirations stem from this region. Relocating would uproot those emotions and we wonder what impact that would have on our work.”

Kerala, where Sumedh is from, however, is an altogether different milieu. “The first time Masooma visited, she was stunned,” says Sumedh.

“I thought to myself, how lucky am I to be able to see and discover these different facets of India,” she says recalling her reaction to the abundant greenery, the aromatic spices, the swaying coconut palms and the simple people.

But since marrying Sumedh, Masooma has found herself saddled with the unexpected baggage of acting as an ambassador of sorts for both countries. “It’s annoying at times,” she says. “And really it’s all because of immature media reportage in one country about the other. So I end up having to either justify, explain or make excuses for India when in Pakistan or vice versa. I’m not used to being accountable to anyone and this new role is quite tiring, even if it does come with special treatment in some instances.”

The challenges within an Indo-Pak marriage, according to Masooma, seem to be similar to any mixed-culture marriage. Except that among South Asian communities, tradition dictates the wife follows the husband to his home, or homeland. In the specific India-Pakistan context of the 21st century, the complications of visas and work permits make it harder for educated women to carve out an identity for themselves in their new environment. “It’s definitely much easier to be in a third country – either resident or citizen – when in an Indo-Pak marriage. Also, in today’s world, the younger generations of Indians and Pakistanis are meeting and interacting abroad, first as students and then as professionals. Marriages between different faiths among this demographic is on the rise and logistics is no longer a deterrent to falling in love.”

Masooma has been visiting India since 2003 and as an artist she has travelled, exhibited and worked in both countries. “I go through the same motions as all Pakistani nationals applying for an Indian visa. It’s a process and is easy or difficult depending entirely on how you want to look at it,” she says. In early June, the Indian government announced it was relaxing the requirements for granting the extension of long-term visas to four categories of Pakistani nationals, including Pakistani women married to Indian nationals and staying in India. The announcement was welcomed by individuals in her situation.

Her current visa is a ‘visit visa’ valid for nine months that is split into three visits of 90 days each. She has to exit India after each ‘visit’, but says it suits her work commitments that require her to travel abroad. “And I can visit my family in Lahore,” she adds.

Pakistani nationals issued visas to India are typically allowed to visit a maximum of three cities and must report to a police station on arrival and before leaving for their next destination. Masooma is now exempted from the police reporting, as she is a regular traveller between India and Pakistan and is also now married to an Indian national. “I’m allowed to visit more than three cities each time, but it will be a while before I am given complete freedom to travel like any other foreigner,” she says.

She could apply for a residence permit, but would be compelled to stay in India until the paperwork is completed, but it’s diffiuclt to predict how long that would take. Nationality, however, remains a touchy issue, particularly among the educated and liberal women of either country, who see no reason in giving up the passport of the country they originally belong to.

“Unfortunately, political relations keep changing and this spills over into visas and affects people-to-people relationships,” says Zulfiqar Hyder, a staunch believer in encouraging contact between the two countries. The Hyder family hold Canadian passports, but they still have to apply for visas to visit India and Pakistan.

In the wake of the David Headley arrest – a US citizen of Pakistani origin – over his alleged terrorist connections and involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attack, Zulfiqar says having the Canadian passport makes little difference towards easing the process. “I’m trying to get a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card for the children,” he says of the document issued by the Indian government that functions as a long-term multiple entry visa. As things stand, the foreign spouse of an Indian national is eligible for the PIO card, but the spouses from Pakistan are not, effectively ruling out Amra and her two elder daughters, as they were previously travelling on her passport. “I don’t understand the logic that my children cannot get the PIO card, because their mother is Pakistani,” says Zulfiqar.

The national security argument does not resonate with him as much as it does with Amra. “Frankly, if my family can be assured of safe travel, I don’t mind a little more waiting or dealing with a bit more bureaucracy,” she says. He shakes his head furiously, looks at me and asks: “Did the 26/11 terrorists enter India with passports? Did they? How did they enter India?”

They arrived by night. Across the Arabian Sea, first on a small boat, then a hijacked fishing trawler and finally entered Mumbai’s waters on a rubber dinghy.

Visa-related policies in both countries are updated depending on the warmth or frostiness of the political relationship. Shadab Raza, a 35-year old Indian also from Lucknow, married Pakistani national Sana Zehri, who grew up in the UAE. They have a six-year-old son who has an Indian passport. The families arranged their marriage, as Shadab’s maternal aunts live in Pakistan. “There’s never been this India-Pakistan mentality in our families, because we have relatives on both sides of the border,” says Shadab.

Sana’s ancestry can be traced back to Lucknow, as her grandparents migrated to Pakistan at the time of the partition. On her first visit to the city after her marriage, she visited the ancestral home of her grandparents and filmed it to share with them. “I filmed the house, the neighbourhood and some of the people recorded messages for them. When they watched the video they were consumed by nostalgic sadness. I think partition hurt their generation the most. Our parents to a lesser extent, but they still feel the impact of it as they grew up hearing about it from their parents and visiting immediate relatives in the other country. For my generation, the degree of the trauma is even more reduced, because we haven’t experienced much of the consequences of it directly,” she says.

Shadab and Sana’s son, Ali, however, is quite clear about where he is from. “India,” he says firmly.

Sana laughs and recalls an incident of him wanting a carrom board specifically ‘made in India’. “My father-in-law had to get the lettering customised because the shop, where they bought it didn’t sell carrom boards with a ‘made in India’ label,” she says. In the meantime, Ali brings out his carrom board and empties out the coins from their container. He then calls out to Shadab to come and play with him.

“There’s never been this India-Pakistan mentality in our families, because we have relatives on both sides of the border,” says Shadab sitting down at the board, across from Ali, who flicks the large striker coin towards the arrangement of smaller black and white coins stacked by colour in the centre of the board. The two towers collapse, some of the coins disperse in four directions, but none of them is pocketed.

“What a mess,” exclaims Ali.

Aqsa Parvez: A Canadian Tragedy Lost in ‘Culture Talk’

By Uzma Shakir for Rabble Blogs

Aqsa Parvez is a “Canadian” tragedy — not an immigrant tragedy, or a Pakistani tragedy, or indeed a Muslim tragedy. In her formative years, Aqsa was raised in Canada; oppressed by her pathologically patriarchal father in Canada; failed by the family, the friends of the family, the education system, the student counseling services, the social service sector — in Canada. To make her tragedy a case of “these immigrant types with their medieval cultures” is to insult her memory and even worse learn nothing from it so that we can prevent it from happening again in the future — in Canada.

Like Aqsa and her father I was born and raised in Pakistan. Like Aqsa I grew up in a devout Muslim household. Unlike Aqsa’s father I came here as an immigrant while he came as a refugee. Like Aqsa and her father I was also raised with the notion of “honour.” In my upbringing there was honour in respecting your elders, there was honour in treating the women in the family with respect, there was honour in making sure that every child in the family had good education, there was honour in allowing your children (men or women) to make choices with regards to where they wanted to go for education or who they wanted to marry. My father and mother made decisions in the family by mutual dialogue and consent. As the only female child in the family and the youngest, my parents spent more money on my education than that of my brothers. And yes I had an arranged marriage — I arranged it myself, thank you. In fact, what was considered dishonourable in my family was to use physical force against women and children (my father used to say to my brothers “never raise your hand”), for adults to lie or cheat, to hurt someone and than justify it, and a particularly heinous act was to take a life — since, according to my dad, only God had that power. In fact, everyone I know in Pakistan or in Canada who is of Pakistani origin have similar values and family trajectories. Of course, my reality is very much conditioned by my family class background, my urban location, my family’s personal history, my parents’ education levels, and the socio-political context in which we grew up. So the question arises: who is the norm here and who is the exception? Who gets to define “the” Pakistani culture?

Neither Aqsa’s father nor I represent “the” Pakistani culture. We both experience it differently given our different locations of class, place, gender, education, family history etc. Mohammad Parvez may have suffered the same so-called culture shock in Lahore or Karachi as he is supposed to do in Toronto and Canada. Both Aqsa’s father and I immigrated to Canada but even our personal histories here are almost polar opposites — just like they were in Pakistan. Once again this is conditioned by our class, place, education, gender but this time it is further compounded by level of accessibility to the mainstream society in terms of language, economic opportunity, social inclusion and ultimately level of perceived cultural threat.

While I am lauded and praised by the mainstream society in Canada because I am “familiar” (probably the inevitable intimacy of bourgeois affinity), Mohammed Parvez was left in his own alienated world as the undesirable “other” facing what must have appeared to him to be a hostile world. Often enough Canadian experience is not just one of sampling diversity of cultural values but rather of hostile mainstream values actively undermining your perceived values as a cultural inferior. In my case, I can deal with this cultural assault because I have a voice in the public sphere and also I feel in control of my life because I have access to adequate financial, social, political and familial capital, while his control only went so far as his immediate family — and he exercised it to its grave end. However, to consider him to be more “cultural” than me, simply because he seems to exemplify what appears to be a “gaping divide” between the so-called traditional values and Western values, is patently absurd. We were divided about our notions of culture long before we came here because there is no neat little box that contains Pakistani monolithic cultural values that either of us can claim to be “authentic.”

Had we met in Pakistan he would have found me too urban and not Pakistani enough and I would have written him off as a fossil of entrenched feudalism and not Pakistani enough. However, if we meet here, he will find me to be Canadian and himself to be a Pakistani — a distinction encouraged by the mainstream notions of “our” and “their” values. But actually we are both the same — Canadian and Pakistani at the same time. This process of ‘othering’, denial and identity distinctions have more to do with Canada and immigrant experience here than with what might be or not be Pakistani culture. Over the years our experience of culture has changed, as has the Canadian society. So to turn this into either a case of “in our culture girls must obey their fathers” as an assertion of a simplistic fact by the Pakistani Canadian community or “he can’t handle our freedoms” as portrayed by the mainstream media is the worst form of myopia and chauvinism.

 These factors are critically important to understand because neither Aqsa’s father nor I represent either Pakistani or indeed immigrant “culture” but rather are a reflection of how our individual histories and personal interactions with the Canadian society shape our actions and responses — including our understanding of “culture.” However, ultimately Aqsa’s tragedy is about her father as an individual with his own pathological and uncontrolled desire for power and his own twisted notions of justifying his pathology through trumped up notions of “honour” and “shame.” To my mind the real dishonour and shame is to treat women and children as your personal property and not as equal members of society. The real dishonour and shame is to live in patriarchal societies where men exercise disproportionate power over women both personally and structurally — be it Pakistan or Canada. The real dishonour and shame is to brush off our collective responsibility and our institutional failures and treat a Canadian child’s tragedy as “their” problem or even worse our problem for allowing them to come here in the first place.

— Uzma Shakir is a community-based researcher, advocate, activist. She is the past Executive Director of Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO). She has worked as a teacher, journalist and researcher. She blogs at www.rabble.ca

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