Monday, October 10, 2011

Drive to monitor tobacco ads launched

Another initiative for tobacco control 'Monitoring Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship in Pakistan was launched by The Network for Consumer Protection on Monday.

Under the campaign, the Network will monitor advertising and promotional activities and patronization of different campaigns under the guise of corporate social responsibility by tobacco companies.

Tobacco promotion and sponsorship is marginally an unattended subject by regulators in the country, Nadeem Iqbal, Executive
Coordinator, The Network expressed while highlighting the significance of initiative on TAPS.

Monitoring of TAPS by The Network is funded by Bloomberg Global Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, implemented by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (TFK) and International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases (The Union).

Banning TAPS is recommended by Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to its parties. Pakistan is a signatory of FCTC and commits the obligations by FCTC, Nadeem Iqbal said.

Article 13 of FCTC recommends parties to the treaty to introduce precautionary approach to prompt for restricting tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to reduce the tobacco related disease burden.

The Network will be setting up monitoring mechanism for the campaign in populous districts of the country in collaboration with different non-government and civil society organisations including WHO, Intermedia, Aurat Foundation, Pakistan Medical Association.

The campaign will be run with the support of local press clubs, districts governments, local parliamentarians and civil society organisations in targeted districts of country. Different countries around the globe have successfully banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to reduce the health burden by tobacco use. (APP)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How should the Army handle the free fall?

Former Army chief retired General Mirza Aslam Beg has now come out with an open invitation to the GHQ to intervene although he is confused on how this should be done. His considered view coincides with the growing frustration and lack of confidence in Pakistan and around the world in the political leadership of Pakistan to handle the enormous challenges facing the country.

Regrettably, most of these problems and challenges were born or aggravated because they were either not handled properly or deliberately mishandled.

Beg has joined the growing club of concerned people including some top Pakistani diplomats, former holders of important government positions and known economists and technocrats who think the quality of leadership in Pakistan is so pathetic that severe damage was being done to the State of Pakistan which, if not halted now, could become irreversible and fatal.

A known Pakistani diplomat openly discusses this failure in private meetings saying both the military and civilian leadership did not have the capacity to understand the monumental issues and thus the country was slipping deeper into the abyss with each passing day.

There is not even the capacity to grow up, this diplomat argues, and says immediate changes were needed to put in place people who understand the challenges and can control the damage. About 20 important politicians, economists and technocrats recently met in Pakistan to discuss this leadership crisis and decided to form their own group. Most of them are clean people with a credible record of service and experience.

Top economic managers, the latest being the chief economist and the governor of State Bank, recently resigned in disgust, marking changes in the SBP as a frequent phenomenon.

Key bureaucrats of important ministers have been shuffled so many times in recent months and years that continuity in policies has almost become impossible. These changes were brought about because of a deep-rooted fear that allowing these powerful baboos to settle in one place makes them dangerous.

The Supreme Court has continuously been giving its observations on specific governance failures but instead of improving performance the political leadership has gone into a confrontational mode and defiance, which has brought matters almost to a breaking point. If the SC loses patience and invokes articles of the Constitution to seek help from the Army and or the bureaucracy, a deadlock will become unavoidable.

Politicians and the ruling party have become even more arrogant with every looming crisis, as if the bigger the problem, the more stinking will be their response. So not surprisingly, misfits have been placed to run critical state organs. A medical doctor runs the petroleum ministry, a junior finance minister is catapulted to be full foreign minister, a self-proclaimed non-practising lawyer has been given the law ministry, an MBBS and diploma holder in hospital management from an unlisted US university has been awarded the information ministry, and so on.

Defenders of the present system, including some known campaigners of human rights and liberal intellectuals, argue that disturbing the present system, especially if the Pakistan Army is again involved, will hurt democracy and the country and will help the present corrupt lot, turning them into political martyrs. So giving a chance to the elected leadership is the only way out.

Top business leaders are so frustrated they are even talking in terms of ending their dependence on the port city of Karachi and finding other outlets, which can help them stabilise and grow their businesses. Some are even looking towards exporting goods through the Indian ports. Some even talk in extremes out of frustration.

This frustration is prevailing round the world because Pakistanis living overseas, who send more than 15 billion dollars every year through official and unofficial channels, feel their money is going down the drain. They realise that without this cost-free bundle of billions, Pakistan would just collapse into a failed defaulted state in no time.

So then, is the Pakistan Army the answer to all this as General Mirza Aslam Beg has publicly advocated? I don’t think so, since the Army is too deeply involved in security issues and does not have the capacity, like the civilians, to handle economic, social and political issues of such monstrous size. But what the Army can do is to put its weight behind forces trying desperately for correction of the course to steer Pakistan in the right direction. That is easier said than done.

Defenders of the status quo ask who will determine which course is right; they say the people should decide this through elections. As a principle this may be the right argument but elections do not frame economic policies, they do not decide whether a mega billion deal is filled with black money or kickbacks; voters do not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Swiss accounts. There are laws in every society to deal with these issues. What then needs to be done is that internationally accepted principles of governance, transparency, rule of law, merit and right man for the right job must be enforced collectively by the civil society, the media and the military and civil establishment. This will never endanger democracy.

The political leadership should be forced to follow these globally accepted principles and should not misuse their elected status to hide their corruption and poor governance. There will be no threat to democracy if some top thieves and known looters and plunderers are brought to book. If they happen to be political leaders, so be it. So if the country’s top judges reach the verdict that someone is a criminal, then everybody including the Pakistan Army must support and implement their judgment. It is a constitutional obligation of everyone but the top politicians have politicised this, turning it into a threat to democracy, which it is not.

In no democracy of the world are criminals, looters and plunderers given room to be judged by their electorate when their term expires. For minor misdemeanours or even a small politically incorrect statement, leaders are forced to resign. For crimes under the law, elections are not the forum for adjudication.

So General Beg must make it clear that he does not want the Army to derail the political system.

In turn the Army should not shy away from enforcing the Constitution, if so asked.

The free fall of the country into chaos and economic collapse is so rapid that waiting for the next elections so that a verdict on these crimes is obtained by the electorate, would be too little, too late. And for the courts, the civil society, the media and the military establishment, not taking any action would in itself be a crime.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Supreme Court puts the innocent to death

Here’s something for your supremely stupid files. Our vaunted Supreme Court recently ruled that California must reduce the number of prisoners in state prisons because of overcrowding. Our Supreme Court thinks overcrowding in prisons is cruel and unusual punishment.

Never mind that essentially ordering the release of more than 30,000 monsters will create more victims of crime, destroy more families and cause our streets and neighborhoods to be less safe.

Of course the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) applauded the court’s decision, as the group remains more concerned with protecting the “rights” of criminals than protecting law-abiding, taxpaying citizens who surely will become victims if California’s plan to reduce overcrowding does not meet Fedzilla standards.

California is submitting a plan to reduce prison overcrowding while doing its best not to release any of these violent punks. My advice is for someone at the California Department of Cages to contact Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix and ask him how to build a barbed-wire fence, put up tents, purchase pink skivvies in bulk and make bologna sandwiches. California prison overpopulation problem solved.

We live in the land of the bizzaro, where common sense is no longer common. Think of this: A violent ape is convicted of a felony and sent to prison, which is supposed to be uncomfortable punishment, and then the Supreme Court steps in and mandates his release because the prison is overcrowded. And we are supposed to respect this?

How’s this: Who cares if prisons are overcrowded? Would you rather have overcrowded prisons or more violent apes on our streets to prey upon you? Only a deranged person, a violent punk, the ACLU and now our Supreme Court would side with releasing prisoners over the safety of the public.

Clear-thinking Americans who are supremely addicted to logic want these punks off the streets and in cages, where they belong, with the violent apes who already have committed any number of crimes. It doesn’t matter to me if we cage them in something just slightly bigger than a shoe box.

We need to make prison painful, ugly and supremely uncomfortable. We need to make it so that anyone who has spent any time in the slammer never wants to return. That’s real rehabilitation.

The real definition of cruel and unusual punishment is ordering the release of tens of thousands of criminals, knowing full well that once that is done, there will be more murders, rapes, violent assaults, robberies and numerous other crimes against the innocent residents of the Golden State and all over America.

It is fanatical barbarism for the Supreme Court to dare make such a rule, knowing that its decision will create more victims. I have no respect for a Supreme Court that obviously has more respect for violent thugs and punks than hardworking, law-abiding Americans.

It’s not worth the price of creating even one victim of crime to relieve overcrowding in prisons by prematurely releasing 30,000 or so apes.

Build as many prison tent cities out in the desert as we need and let the violent apes fill them up. Make it uncomfortable. Make them serve every day of their sentences. Make them pay the price for the crimes they commit.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yearning for peace, burying of hatred is what people like the most

After Mohali Summit, India and Pakistan are looking forward to foreign secretary level talks between the two countries with the intention of moving towards a comprehensive and broad-ranging engagement. Despite somewhat modest forward movement on 26/11 issues, Pakistan agreed to the visit of judicial commission from India during the recently concluded talks between the home secretaries.

Though the Cricket diplomacy-as it is popularly known- could not attract many in the state of Jammu and Kashmir given the cricket- mania, as watching world-cup somehow was more important for people here than the engagement of the two countries at the highest political level. The disillusionment of people viz-a-viz the process that has a very long history of vicissitudes at its back can be cited as yet another reason for not generating much fanfare among the people. Having said this, the resumption of dialogue process between the two countries and the momentum created by the Mohali Summit cannot and should not be wished away as the world scenario is rapidly changing which, of course, has a direct bearing on the two nation states of Indian-subcontinent.

However, what effect the discussions between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan have on the situation within J&K state remains to be seen. The least one can expect is that the situation in Kashmir will remain peaceful if the renewed engagement is not allowed to dither away by any sort of eventuality created rather pushed by the vested interests.

The efforts to ascertain the truth about the happenings in Jammu and Kashmir by various non-state actors and the response of the peace-loving people of J&K makes it emphatically clear that people have little faith in war as a solution to the problems confronting them. More relevant in the present scenario is that majority of people in the conflict ridden Jammu and Kashmir state feel that dialogue-though often marred by inconsistency and indecisiveness of the political leadership- is the only viable option available at present to take recourse of.

The overwhelming support to dialogue between the two countries when General Parvez Musharaf was at the helm of affairs in Pakistan is still considered as the bed-rock for any sustainable engagement between the two on a whole range of issues. But to the extent that the views of the people in J&K are to be taken into account, the members of Indian civil society interacting with the people in Kashmir over past few months can provide useful pointers.

The overall mood in Jammu and Kashmir reflects an overarching dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs and a yearning for change. However, what will surprise many is that the people in both regions view the main problems as political but economic - unemployment, corruption, and poor infrastructural development never evade from their minds. However, human rights situation is a solid cause of concern for Kashmiris. It is clear that these issues that affect their personal lives along with human rights abuses are uppermost in their minds, dissatisfaction on these grounds being particularly high in the Kashmir Valley.

Being a close watcher, what has been interesting for me to note through all these month’s developments is that India being powerful, prosperous and stable, could afford to make a bold and generous gesture that would sap the hatred and suspicion that has been eating up the vitals of the two countries for decades now. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they started playing each other at cricket – three wars, in fact, since 1965 – and the enmity between the two is as bitter as anything in the Middle East. A lot has been written about "cricket diplomacy" and the sub- continental wounds it might heal. On the other hand, by stressing and preserving national difference, what can it do for a problem like Kashmir? It has seen cricket come and may well see it go, and it will depend for a solution on new ways of thinking about borders and nation states.

In terms of solutions, there are few takers in the state for diametrically opposite views being expressed by right-at-centre and statesmanship of course demands that many other considerations like a sense of history, strategic and economic interests, and a feel for what is do-able within national and political contexts be factored in. And leaders are meant to lead people rather than be led by them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Indian Peace Delegation visits Pak cities, meets PM

An Indian Peace Delegation visited Pakistan from 17th to 25th March 2011. During their stay they visited Karachi, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Lahore. They met Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Yusuf Reza Gilani, Sindh Chief Minister Mr. Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Senators of various political parties, civil society activists, journalists, members of business community, and students amongst others.

The 12 member Indian delegation was led by Mr. Kuldip Nayar (veteran journalist) and included Mr. Mahesh Bhatt (Film Personality), Mr. Bhalchandra Mungekar (Member of Parliament) Mr.Shahid Siddiqui (Editor, Nai Duniya), Mr. Jatin Desai (FOCUS), Dr. Mazher Hussain (COVA),Ms. Kamla Bhasin (SANGAT), Mr. Ramesh Yadav (FRI), Mr.Sanjay Nahar (SARHAD), Mr.Haris Kidwai (Peace Activist), Mr. Y. Laxmi Prasad (Former MP) and Mr. A. Krishna Rao (Journalist).

Pak PM supports dialogue process

In his meeting with the Indian Peace delegation, Mr. Gilani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan stated that dialogue is the only way to make progress in India-Pakistan relations. He assured the Delegation that his government was fully committed to make the peace process work. He also expressed confidence that the meeting between Home Secretaries of the two countries in Delhi would yield results. He praised the role of civil society in promoting peace between India and Pakistan.

The Indian Delegation also had the opportunity to watch the Joint Session of the Pakistan Parliament addressed by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari.

Need to form India-Pakistan Forum of Parliamentarians

Many members of both the house of Parliament (National Assembly and Senate) of Pakistan agreed that there is a need to form India-Pakistan Forum of Parliamentarians to address the outstanding issues between both the countries and the Indian Peace delegation along with members of Pakistan Peace Coalition have decided to work for the formation of such a Forum..

Indian delegation visits Pak cities

The members of the Delegation participated in many meetings, seminars and interactions in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad (Sindh) and Islamabad. The themes and concerns covered in these interactions were the need for uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue between India and Pakistan, release of all fishermen from the prison of each other’s countries, revival of India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, resolutions of water sharing disputes and opening up of trade for prosperity of both countries.

Easy Visa process for members of civil society

There was a constant demand that Visa should be made easily available to members of divided families, artists, students, researchers, academics and people-to-people contact that alone could help normalize relations. As an immediate step, both the governments should extend the facility of visa on arrival to the senior citizens and children below 12 years as agreed between them earlier.

Joint mechanism against terrorism

It was also felt there is an immediate necessity of a joint mechanism against terrorism and a need to provide platform to common people to enable them to participate in foreign policy formulation that could reshape relations between the two countries from confrontation to cooperation and friendship.
The Delegation also met the family members of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, who was assassinated by his own security guard, for his principled position on Blasphemy Law. Mr.Taseer stood for basic values like human rights and minority rights. The Delegation offered its condolence at the unfortunate demise of Mr. Taseer and expressed their solidarity with his family.

Message of love and friendship

The team is back from Pakistan with a message of love and friendship. It is time that establishments in both India and Pakistan reciprocate the wishes of people of both the countries to address all outstanding issues. In fact, the issues of Siachen and Sir Creek can be resolved quickly as they were very close to signing the agreement when the Composite Dialogue was paused following the attacks on Mumbai.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

80m voters registered on new lists

The Election Commission of Pakistan has completed one phase of updating electoral rolls by registering 80,547,743 voters, media reported March 9.

The preparation of accurate computerised electoral rolls was a demand by all political parties, civil society members and media who want free and fair elections, said Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan Ishtiak Ahmed Khan.

Since many Pakistanis complained about multiple phony entries on the 2007 electoral rolls, it was necessary to adopt a foolproof registration system, he said.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Author Mirza Waheed sets memories of Kashmir

It was a tragic decade unfolding in Kashmir, but for people outside the Valley the tragedy was all about numbers -- of infiltrators killed while trying to sneak across the LoC.

Beyond these numbers, however, were stories of young boys who disappeared from their villages overnight, never to return again.

When Mirza Waheed set about writing his first novel 'The Collaborator', set in his native Kashmir, these memories of his teenage life, of whispers of disappearing men and of the raging militancy of the 1990s was still rife in his mind.

And what was also alive in his mind was the way these stories were covered by the press -- in his own words like a "crime thriller".

"Living in Srinagar, as I did, you never knew what exactly happened with these boys who had chosen to cross into Pakistan to get arms training to fight the Indian Army. What you only heard were the numbers, that said so many infiltrators killed along the LoC," Waheed says.

In the early 90s, the decade of militancy in Kashmir, a lot of young boys and men took to the gun and crossed the LoC to return with arms training to fight the Indian Army.

It was a huge cross-border traffic, and Waheed says it was not anonymous people who disappeared all the time.

"It was your own people, sometimes your friends or even your relatives or sometimes even the boy on the street you see on and off, who suddenly disappeared leaving behind whispers and stories," he told PTI in an interview.

Waheed's debut novel, published by Penguin, is set in that period in a fictional village near the Line of Control, and tells the story of its residents -- boys who have chosen to cross the line, families who have fled fed up with the constant cross border shelling, a family that has chosen to stay back all by itself, and a military unit designated with the task of checking infiltration.

While the media discourse in India on the happenings in Kashmir was very limited till a few years back, things have started changing for good in the recent years, believes Waheed, who now works for the BBC in London.

There is now a more sympathetic engagement towards the issue, fueled by the work of the Indian civil society, as well as a visible change in the approach of the media.

"What has happened over the last 3 or 5 years is that there has been an opening up of space of debate by the civil society in India who are now more willing to talk about it, they are writing about it, there are Indian intellectuals, writers and journalists who are doing more than what was done in the 90s," he says.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Citizens and Political Forces Unite Against Oppression and Disinformation

Previously there were scattered voices waging the fight, alone or in small groups – mainly members of civil society. But all that has changed now. Political parties and groups, and workers unions have come together and joined hands with civil society.

Organised by the Citizens for Democracy (CFD), which describes itself as “an umbrella group of professional organisations, political parties, trade unions and individuals outraged by the consistent misuse and abuse of the Blasphemy Law and of religion in politics,” a reference for Salmaan Taseer held at the PMA (Pakistan Medical Association) House on January 18, 2011, drew a crowd of 500. This, despite the fact that just a day before there had been a change of venue as the Karachi Arts Council, where the event was initially supposed to take place, refused to host it stating security concerns as their reason. The reference was also held after the rally in Lahore on January 16 organised by Tahaffuz Namoos-i-Risalat Mahaz (TNRM), whose vice president, Dr Ashraf Jalali, had remarked at the event: “Mumtaz Hussain Qadri is a hero of the Muslim ummah. Whoever criticises him or Section 295-C will have their tongues pulled out.” He also issued a stern warning to the media, directing it not to invite people who spoke against Qadri.

The reference was a response to the constant unveiled threats and pressure tactics adopted by the “religious” lobby, their manipulation of the debate on the Blasphemy Law and Taseer’s murder, their campaign to make Taseer’s murderer a hero and their strategy to misinform the masses about facts regarding the law and Taseer’s stance. Thus, the evening began with a presentation on the history of the Blasphemy Law, how it came to be in its current form, its misuse and the number of false cases that have been registered over the years. Following this was a screening of Blind Faith, a documentary by Sara Naqvi (see it here). Both of these aimed at dispelling some of the widely believed untruths about the law and generating awareness about its (mis)use.

The most lively and uplifting part of the evening was when the speakers, of which there were many, addressed the crowd and paid tribute to Taseer. Among them were well-known personalities such as Iqbal Haider (former secretary-general, HRCP), activist and WAF member Amar Sindhu and Mohsin Sayeed, who read out a message from Taseer’s family. Others included members of various political and workers parties, including Kaiser Bengali (Advisor to the Chief Minister Sindh for Planning and Development), Asif Buledi (General Secretary Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz), Jan Mohammad Buledi (National Party), Kunwar Khalid Yunus (MQM), Nasir Mansoor (Labour Party), Ramzan Memon (Awami Party) and Farid Awan (Deputy General Secretary All Pakistan Trade Union Federation and Secretary Sindh, Pakistan Workers Confederation) who expressed their solidarity with their friends from civil society and assured them of their and their organisations’ support. Members of minority communities, Amar Nath Matomal (HRCP and President Hindu Panchayat Karachi Division) and Father Thomas Gulfam (Korangi Parish) spoke on behalf of their communities and joined hands as well.

All the speakers vehemently condemned Mumtaz Qadri and his supporters. Many of them raised the same point: years of silence and submission have led to the magnanimity of the problem – especially the religious intolerance and the use of religion for political motives. However, this they hoped would now be a thing of the past as the struggle and cause for which Taseer too died, will neither be thwarted by pressure, nor remain within the confines of closed rooms. They stressed that religion and the state needed to be separated. A resolution prepared by the CFD, which has been endorsed by several individuals and organisations, was shared with the audience. It requests the government and the law enforcing agencies to comply and take immediate action (see the Urdu text of the resolution here).

To date, the PPP continues to adopt an apologist position towards both the murder of their governor and the Blasphemy Law debate.

Nobody expects much from the government; this was made quite clear. Perhaps this is why Fauzia Wahab, information secretary, Sindh, was not bombarded with questions and counter arguments after her speech. Only when she said there was a need to begin the sensitisation of the masses on the issue of blasphemy did audience members and moderator Rahat Saeed of the Progressive Writers’ Association suggest that she could perhaps wield her influence and have Sarah Naqvi’s documentary aired on PTV, Pakistan’s state run channel, at the very least.

While venues continue to be denied for this cause, that too by institutions such as the Karachi Arts Council and the Press Club, the Lyari Town Administration has generously offered CFD the People’s Stadium, which can hold up to 15,000 people. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pakistan’s Real War is with the Poisonous Mindset Within

Domestic politics was already on shaky ground at the end of 2010. The government had been jolted from its cosy coalition to a precarious minority perch at the top. Scandals, rising militancy, economic disaster and endless charges of corruption had already damaged the ruling party, leaving few Pakistanis with any confidence in the country’s rulers.

As such, the brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer came as a big, big blow to the nation. Taseer, although a controversial figure, had in the weeks leading up to his murder courageously criticised radical and fundamentalist elements in Pakistani society by supporting death-row inmate Aasiya Bibi and terming the blasphemy laws that put her there as “black” and discriminatory, saying they had no place in Jinnah’s minority-respecting Pakistan. His honesty was one the few sources of light emanating from the PPP. Few politicians dared to be as courageous, even the infamously vocal federal interior minister was quick in giving assurances that the government would not tinker with the fundamentally oppressive piece of legislation.

Now, a secular, progressive and key figure on Pakistan’s political scene has been lost. Lost to a much too common mindset that sees murder as justifiable — a mindset that is shaped by ideologically fuelled hate.

In Pakistan, it seems so easy to kill political figures, and by extension anyone else, for their beliefs. Taseer was clearly shot because of an intolerant religious philosophy that has spread throughout our society. The ugliness of fundamentalist thought has become so bloody stark that it seems to have completely overtaken simple human decency and civilised actions. The confession by the security guard who shot Taseer in the back 27 times is not merely an indication but solid proof of how deeply the country has been plagued by this deadly and unforgiving mindset. There are unmanned drones violating Pakistani airspace every other day killing ‘suspected’ militants, but unless there is recognition and realisation about the extremist mindset that has embedded itself here, nothing is going to bring peace to this extraordinarily damaged and fractured country.
It is exactly this mindset (the lack of tolerance and acceptance) that is the real enemy Pakistan should be fighting every single day. Jinnah imagined a Pakistan where people with differing ideologies and different faiths would be free to go to their mosques, temples or churches. But the murder of Salmaan Taseer has exposed how vulnerable we the citizens, including our government, are to the forces of destruction and ideological fanaticism. Freedom is at stake. The ultimate price is attached to standing up for your principles and even for declaring your support to a weak, poor and oppressed woman. Not long ago, Benazir Bhutto was also lost because of this war between democracy and oppression, between hope and hate, between promise and despair.

The extent to which Pakistan has been radicalised is even more obvious when examining the media. Many in the media have handled this tragic incident by either sitting on the fence and not openly condemning this horrific criminal act, or by giving a powerful pulpit to the voices of hate. Some 500 members of the ulema of the Barelvi community called for a boycott of the funeral of Mr Taseer, a media and business magnate who had become a successful constitutional head of the province of Punjab. It seems that the late governor’s relief work for the flood victims of 2010 has all been forgotten. His ethical stands for justice have been swept aside or distorted. Bigotry, moral corruption and a mind-boggling absence of rationality have come to dominate the national landscape as a mullah takeover of society has unfolded. This is not in the interest of Pakistan. On the contrary, this is most detrimental to development and democratic discourse in the country. We have already lost too much and too many in this war of hatred and vengeance.

This is the war within, and it has to be won. This country of ours is way too big and beautiful to be lost to the fundamentalist forces – they are still a minority. Justice needs to be done for all the people who have been killed by this destructive dinosaur. I appeal to all my Pakistani sisters and brothers not to give up, not to become fearful and not to lose hope. We will continue to fight for our country and our beliefs, and we will eventually win over this handful of ill-guided people. And I appeal to the international community, human rights groups and democratic voices everywhere to help us in our struggle for civil liberties and religious rights for our minorities, and for all Pakistanis.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

US continues to work with Pakistani government: State Department

The United States, while reaffirming its strong support for Pakistan, has said it continues to work closely with the democratic government in Islamabad which is facing internal political challenges common to a coalition setup.“By every indication the government is taking steps to deal with this political situation.

This is how coalition governments handle these issues all over the world,” Assistant Secretary of State Philip J Crowley said at the daily briefing. Crowley was answering a spate of questions on political developments in Islamabad after two coalition partners said they were withdrawing their support for the majority Pakistan Peoples Party-led ruling coalition while some other parties outside the coalition indicated their backing for the current government.

The spokesman said Washington “continues to work closely with this (incumbent) government on the issues that we’ve outlined as part of our strategic partnership.” “A civilian government, we think, is essential to the future of Pakistan and to building institutions of government that can transform the relationship between the Pakistani people and the government. So we continue to support the Pakistani Government,” he stated.

The current situation, he remarked, is about “internal politics within Pakistan, which has a parliamentary system, and you have a coalition government, and there are, there’s activity within that coalition, and the government is working to clarify what their support is.”

The spokesman also saw no immediate impact of the political situation on the key South Asian country’s anti-militant drive.

“I can’t say at this point that the fact that they have this current political situation necessarily distracts them from what they’re, what else they’re doing,” he responded when asked if the political situation is diverting focus from the battle against militants.

In reply to a question on economic reforms and fight against terrorists, the spokesman said these are decisions by Pakistan in its own interest. “Fighting extremists within its borders that is a threat to Pakistani civil society is definitely in Pakistan’s interest. Getting its financial house in order is definitely in Pakistan’s interest.

Building and expanding the capacity of civilian-led government in Pakistan is definitely in Pakistan’s interest. But the government obviously is confronting a challenge within its coalition. That these things happen in parliamentary systems all the time.”

“We are going to encourage, we are going to continue to work with the Pakistani Government and provide the support that we’ve outlined to help expand its capacity, address the challenge inside its borders, and help put its finances on more solid footing,” he said.