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Title October, 2017

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We will deal terrorism without Pakistan’s assistance: US Past’s strong allies the Pak-US friendship ends now!

By Ahmed Khan

On 26th October, 2017, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Pakistan with a 161047_539094_updatesmessage of Trump Administration. The new setup in US has altered in its policies including about South Asia and Afghanistan.

Pakistan was frontline ally of America in cold war against Soviet-Union till 1990. After this, the socialist bloc got disintegrated and retreated from Afghanistan where it came in search of warm water, mainly the Gwadar Port.

After evacuation of Red Army, the Afghanistan fell in hands Pakistan and the US fostered elements, called the Mujahidin. The said Mujahidin were bridled by Pakistan, at that time, the Afghanistan was considered as fifth province of Pakistan.

Global interest relocated and Mujahidin also were renamed with terrorist. The Pakistan’s assets the Mujahidin got devalued or totally paltry before the sole superpower the America.

Now the Mujahidin became terrorist, so the same actor was needed to dismantle them which worked in creating for those. After 9/11 incident, the Pakistan once again was given value and it became frontline ally, this time in war on terror with halfhearted, because it knows if Mujahidin or Islamic militant totally vanishes away, so how it will pressurize the neighboring countries and within state how will deal the dissented elements.

In 2001, the United States with its allies invaded in Afghanistan. At that time, Pakistan provided logistic support and intelligence information to US and received handsome amount in Dollars.

The US got struck in Afghanistan for 17 years because of treacheries and this war is continuing without giving any consequence.

After fighting a prolong war sprawling on 17 years, the United States reach to result that it is prolonging more and more, terrorists are not being defeated, because they are provided sanctuaries in neighboring country. About this president Trump last month in a tough statement said, “the Pakistan have been giving assistance was not a blank check and it has provided safe haven to agent of chaos.”

Now the US Sectary for State Rex Tillerson visited with a rigid message to Pakistan. Mr Tillerson was received in Islamabad by a low grade official as opposite the past traditions and no match of this found in history of both countries relation. He called on the Pakistani officials; Chief of Army Staff General Asim Bajwa, Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi and his counterpart Foreign Minister Khuwaja Asif. On that occasion it was clear that both countries authorities could not reach to any mutual objective. The Pakistani Foreign Minister Khuwaja Asif following the Mr. Rex visit to his country said, the United States should accept its defeat in Afghanistan. Further he said that his country the Pakistan won’t be scapegoat of someone anymore.

The US secretary for State Mr. Rex Tillerson after his visit talking to media said that the message he delivered to Pakistan during the visit: “Here’s what we need for Pakistan to do. We are asking you to do this; we are not demanding anything. You are a sovereign country. You will decide what you want to do.”

Further Mr. Rex Tillerson said, “This is we think necessary. And if you don’t want to do that, don’t feel you can do it, we will adjust our tactics and our strategies to achieve the same objective a different way”.

In other words, the Tillerson said that the US will eliminate terrorists by itself without help of Pakistan. Certainly, the US will be helped by India and Afghan forces.

A Former CIA official said that America provided substantiate information about terrorists to Pakistan but it did not take action against them. Further the official said that if Pakistan doesn’t change its policies about terrorists in its region, so Trump Administration has no option than this to launch Drone strike in Pakistani territory.

Talking to VOA the CIA former official said, “For long-long time the America’s sensitive institutes and Afghan NDS have been providing the name and addresses of Taliban to Pakistani ISI intentionally they arrest them. And if Pakistan does not take measures, then America has only option to carryout Drone strikes in Pakistan.”

Further he said, “It would be great if Pakistan change its policies. In fact, it does not seem that Pakistan’s establishment will not use these terrorists as its proxy. As strategic depth, the Pakistani military allows the terrorists to infiltrate into Afghanistan where they attack and comeback into Pakistan and hide by Pak-military permission. Until this mindset will not change the situation in region will not improve. The Pakistani Prime Minister is not authorized to bring such changes.”

After the visit of Rex Tillerson it seems, by now the United States will devise a troika alliance comprising on US, India and Afghanistan in region. By this alliance, they will strive to eliminate only the defiant Islamists.

In future, the US may suspend military assistance to Pakistan including funding it in various fields. Possible some sanction to be imposed on Pakistan to get it agreed about demands. On the other hand, the dissented people in Pakistan may be some assisted to build a pressure group on Pakistani authorities.

The United States also will extend the range of Drone attacks from tribal areas to urban areas in Khyber Pakhtoonkhuwa and Balochistan. In this way, they will try to eliminate the militants’ prominent figures.

In the repercussion of US measures, the Taliban attacks in Afghanistan may escalate which already have shacked entire country. The suicide bombing brought great loss and it is also not stoppable by Afghan forces, even American forces that are equipped with sophisticated technology are helpless about mechanism of war.

On eastern border of Pakistan, especially in Kashmir India also might face dire attacks by militant groups. Pakistan will not totally annihilate its assets in shape of Mujahidin and will try to manipulate on its neighbors and superpower too.

The present strained relations of Pak-US foretell the end of decades old alliance. Pakistan will try to be closed to China for financial and military needs fulfilment. And pullout the India from Afghanistan by use of its assets the Mujahidin and get wearied it in Kashmir similarly. The United States and present Afghan government is inclined toward India for trade and other affairs instead of giving priority to Pakistan.

The stability in Afghanistan also is challenging the Pakistan, especially Afghan security developments are harming it. On border of Chaman and Torkham, the neighboring countries forces got skremished several times. In case of being the rule of Islamist in Afghanistan, the western border of Pakistan is secure and would not be challenged in anyway. The past Taliban regime did in favor of Pakistan, so that the Afghanistan was called its fifth province.

The contradiction of interests rifted between allies. Pakistan needs the good Taliban while the US and its regional allies the Afghanistan and India consider them security challenge. In this way, decades old alliance of Pak-US ends here.

Mainstreaming Terror

As Pakistan has discovered, the process further radicalizes society, undermines state

By Khaled Ahmed

It is now certain — unless Pakistan’s powers-that-be intervene — that the process of l_232955_022534_updates“mainstreaming” or deracializing of Pakistan’s proxy warriors recommended by retired military officers figuring on TV talk shows has been shipwrecked. The Foreign Office under PML-N foreign minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has decided that Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League (MML) should not have taken part in the NA-120 by-polls bagging 5,822 votes and beating at least one mainstream party, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party.

The Foreign Office has followed up on the letter of the Interior Ministry under PML-N Minister Ahsan Iqbal in answer to the query sent by the Election Commission of Pakistan on whether the MML should be allowed to take part in the by-election. The Interior Ministry said: “There is evidence to substantiate that the Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT), the Jamaat ud Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) are affiliates and ideologically of the same hue, and [therefore] the registration of the MML is not supported”.

This was new in Pakistan. The line to take heretofore was that Lashkar-e-Tayba had miraculously metamorphosed into Jamaat ud Dawa that only did education and charity work. This was accepted by Pakistan’s judiciary and no one could hint otherwise without being reprimanded or threatened. Hafiz Saeed and his “charity” organizations including hundreds of schools and colleges are the prime example of “mainstreaming” of an outlawed organization by Pakistan. Its negative fallout was also endured, like the running of private courts under “Islamic law”. What has been highlighted by a lame-duck PML-N government is the negative consequence of what is called “mainstreaming”: Instead of de-radicalizing the declared terrorists the process further radicalizes society and undermines the power of the state.

It was said on TV talk shows that PM Sharif had heard of mainstreaming and had even received a proposal but sat on it till he was kicked out of office. His fear was genuine. But why did he balk at mainstreaming when he had allowed it in Punjab to the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba? It appears he had decided to take a stand because appeasement had not yielded good results: Mainstreaming simply allowed more space to the offender.

But his rump party, still ruling, wanted to retain the populist tinge of anti-Americanism as it bucked the jihadi state. Pakistan’s “consensual” foreign policy response to President Donald Trump’s critique of its terrorist “safe havens” is based on the presumption of a “fatal foreign policy blunder” — that of joining America’s war against terrorism. When General Zia joined the “deniable” war against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, no one thought it was a blunder. When America went to the UN on the issue, it found India missing. That was enough for Pakistan: India was left out of the most powerful consensus against the existence of the Soviet Union.

The general-president in Islamabad got the free space to push forward Pakistan’s “nuclear program” that had become the central point of its India-centric nationalism. From Pakistan’s control of the anti-Soviet covert war in Afghanistan sprang the covert jihad of Kashmir. It was not a “blunder” to have joined “America’s war”; it was a boon.

No one but Pakistan is to blame. Least of all America, on whose money Pakistan got back the equilibrium it had lost by overturning democracy and killing an elected prime minister. The non-state actors have returned from Pakistan’s covert war to trouble a state that has lost its writ to their localized tyranny. It “mainstreamed” Sipah-e-Sahaba by renaming it Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat in South Punjab and let ex-ISI chief Hamid Gul “mainstream” the rest through the Defense of Pakistan Council now in the control of a “charity” warlord on the UN’s list of wanted terrorists.

Published in Indianexpress. com. The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek’ Pakistan

CPEC passes through disputed territory of Kashmir: US

By Shehzad Baloch

In international media reports appeared about CPEC and in that the Trump administration has informed Congress that it too believes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through a disputed territory — originally an India claim aimed at thwarting the development plan.

The $56 billion CPEC passes through Pakistan’s northern areas, which India claims is part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory.

“The One Belt, One Road also goes through disputed territory, and I think that in itself shows the vulnerability of trying to establish that sort of a dictate,” US Defense Sec­retary James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Secretary Mattis and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dun­­­ford ap­­peared before the Sen­ate and House armed services panel earlier this week to brief US lawmakers on the current situation in the Pak-Afghan region.

Secretary Mattis said the US oppo­sed the One Belt, One Road policy in principle because in a globalized world, there were many belts and many roads, and no one nation shou­­ld put itself into a position of dictating One Belt, One Road. And it opposed the one going through Pakistan also because it passed throu­­gh a disputed territory.

The new US position on CPEC will further strain already tense rel­ations between the US and Pakistan, which also opposed the greater role Washington has assigned to India in Afghanistan in a strategy President Trump announced on Aug 21, 2017.

“As far as Afghan­is­tan goes, as we try to separate out variables where, in some areas, we work with China, for example, terrorism — I think there are areas where we can work — find common ground with China when it comes to counterterrorism, and we should exercise those areas pretty fully,” said the US defense chief.

“But we should be under no illusions,” he warned. “There are areas where, also, strategically, we need to confront China where we think it’s unproductive — the direction they’re going in.”

CIA chief says U.S.-Canadian couple held for five years in Pakistan

By David Brunnstrom, Jonathan Landa

The head of the CIA said a U.S.-Canadian couple kidnapped by Islamist militants in 9322d00125fcced06cc6d07ce092d7dcAfghanistan were held inside neighboring Pakistan for five years before being freed.

“We had a great outcome last week when we were able to get back four U.S. citizens who had been held for five years inside of Pakistan,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington.

Pompeo’s remarks appeared to be the first time a U.S. official has publicly stated that the couple and their children spent their captivity in Pakistan, contrary to accounts from Pakistani officials.

Pakistan’s military and government have indicated U.S. citizen Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their children were rescued shortly after entering Pakistan from Afghanistan. The couple were kidnapped in 2012 while backpacking in Afghanistan and their children were born in captivity.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have previously said there was no indication the hostages had been in Afghanistan in the days before they were freed.

The officials said the United States believed the hostages were probably held by the Haqqani militant group in or near its headquarters in northwestern Pakistan the entire time.

Regarded as the most fearsome and effective Taliban ally, the Haqqani network gets support from elements of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s powerful military-run intelligence agency, U.S. officials say. Pakistan denies it.

A senior Pakistani security source said that Pakistani troops and intelligence agents, acting on a U.S. intelligence tip, zeroed in on a vehicle carrying the family as they were being moved into the Kurram tribal region near the town of Kohat, some 60 km (37 miles) inside Pakistan.

Pakistani officials bristle at U.S. claims Islamabad is not doing enough to tackle Islamist militants, particularly the Haqqanis.

After the release of the family, Pakistani officials emphasized the importance of co-operation and intelligence sharing by Washington, which has threatened to cut military aid and take other punitive measures against Pakistan.

However, two Taliban sources with knowledge of the family’s captivity said they had been kept in Pakistan in recent years.

The Haqqani network operates on both sides of the porous Afghan-Pakistani border but senior militants have acknowledged they moved a major base of operations to the Kurram region.

As part of a strategy unveiled in August to end the war in Afghanistan, the Trump administration is demanding Pakistan cease providing what U.S. officials say is safe haven to militants, or face repercussions. Those measures could include further cuts in U.S. assistance and sanctions targeted at Pakistani officials with links to militant organizations.

‘VERY FRUSTRATED’

Pompeo’s remarks came ahead of a visit to Pakistan next week by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the United States expected Pakistan “to take decisive action against terrorist groups.”

A senior Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States considers the family’s rescue a “template for more cooperation” by Pakistan.

“We see this as a first step and we hope that we can build on it,” said the official, adding that Washington is “very frustrated that Taliban and Haqqani militants continue to find sanctuary in Pakistan.”

“It’s freedom of movement, it’s the ability to transport weapons and materiel, the ability to raise funds. This is what makes a sanctuary,” the official added.

Pompeo said the United States would do everything it could to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in Afghanistan, but added it could not be achieved if the militants had safe havens. (Reuters)

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Alistair Bell and Paul Simao

Archaeologists find gates of Hell in Saudi Arabia

By Mike Wehner

When researchers are searching for remnants of structures and settlements constructed 00138f9a83920dc37c863bby ancient peoples they typically focus on areas that are hospitable to human life. A new discovery in Saudi Arabia goes firmly against that notion, with archaeologists revealing the existence of hundreds of stone “gates” situated in and around ancient lava domes, in an area that is little more than a hellish landscape devoid of vegetation and water.

The structures, which measure anywhere from 40 feet to nearly 1,700 feet in length, are crude in their construction, built of rough rocks that have withstood thousands of years of wear and tear. What’s most interesting is that it appears that the lava fields these structures were built upon was still active at the time, with hardened lava appearing to have flowed over some of the gates.

“Gates are found almost exclusively in bleak, inhospitable lava fields with scant water or vegetation, places seemingly amongst the most unwelcoming to our species,” David Kennedy of the Western University of Australia, who led the research, wrote. Kennedy noted that the structures “appear to be the oldest man-made structures in the landscape,” and that at the moment “no obvious explanation of their purpose can be discerned.”

The discovery was made using satellite imagery, and the researchers used their birds-eye view to identify nearly 400 of the gates in the same area. Along with the odd walls, other clearly manmade structures were spotted including what appear to be animal traps and wheel-shaped objects that are yet to be identified. The current best guess as to the age of the construction is somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000 years.

The next step for researchers is launching some kind of expedition to investigate the site and perhaps come up with some kind of an explanation as to why the structures exist and what they were used for. It’s an incredible discovery, but the structures — and their precarious location — are so mysterious that there’s bound to be an even greater story waiting to be told.

Published in BGR.com

Separatist groups launch media boycott campaign in Balochistan

Bolan Voice Report

After 2002 a wave of violence rocked entire Balochistan by emergence of a separatist newspapersmovement in province. Beside this the separatist organizations carried out a sabotage and subversive activities.

Initially, these discussed groups occupied a substantial place in media because of panic created by them through urban activities. With passage of time these organizations power commenced declining and state forces pushed them in to rural areas. It cannot be foretold whether they stepped backed strategically or state’s power repulsed them.

After a pause, now the Baloch Insurgents restarted their activities heatedly but analysts declare its intensity some low than before.

State authorities begun multiple maneuvers to counter the Baloch insurgency and it also got the media to blackout about the statement and news of mentioned organizations.

Primarily, the Baloch Insurgent groups ignored media blackout but now they have stood against it. In the start of October, 2017, the Balochistan Liberation Front – BLF issued an ultimatum to media for ignoring them and gave a deadline to bring changes in their policies and cover their policies with statement. After few days they extended deadline till 24th of October. Some common thinker other organizations also announced for backing BLF’s demands.

The provincial government totally rejected the demands of insurgent groups and disallowed media houses to cover their stories. Mostly media houses depend financially on state machinery. The majority of journalists in Balochistan, particularly in Quetta, belong to other provinces, so their sympathies are with state forces rather than Baloch Insurgents. Therefore, they also seem dissuaded to cover the stories of insurgent groups in province of Balochistan.

After finishing the given deadline of 24th October, 2017, by insurgent groups, the media houses got shutdown for three days and newspapers could not publish but aftermath they resumed its publication provision of security by government.

In Mekuran, where BLF mostly operates, the delivery of newspapers was halted till the end of October. In capital Quetta, and in Pashtoon belt of Balochistan, the circulation of newspaper reach on normal level after recess of three days.

In the areas of Bolan, Sibbi, Naseerabad division and in east of Balochistan newspapers’ circulation also was reported normal after pause of three days.

In Mekuran, the press clubs in some towns were closed and journalistic activities also were suspended.

The insurgent organizations threatened they will take stern action against biased policies of media in Balochistan through that they only rely on narratives of government and Inter Services Public Relation – ISPR. They demand for impartial and transparent journalism in Balochistan. These mentioned organizations blame on security agencies for grave human rights violation in Balochistan but state media do not highlight such perpetrations, hence such biased policies is to be relinquished. The separatist organizations claim they will continue their campaign of media boycott till a logical end.

Government arrests and releases Baloch females and children

By Bashir Ahmed Ejbari

On 29th October, 2017, the wife of Baloch guerilla leader Dr Allah Nazar Baloch withDNiOZx3X4AAs5aP other three women were arrested. Very first, the Baloch National Movement – BNM had public the news of Fazeela Baloch the spouse of nationalist leader through social media. Initially, the government authorities denied about arrest but later on they admitted that females were arrested in Chaman the bordering city with Afghanistan. They blamed that said Baloch females were crossing border illegally, so the law enforcement agencies apprehended them.

Baloch National Movement in its statement said that Baloch females were arrested on Sariab Road near Basheer chowk Quetta from the house of a Baloch woman is sister of Aslam Baloch a separatist fighter. Further in statement was mentioned, Fazeela Baloch was injured during bombardment in Mashkay and for treatment she has been shifted to Quetta. Fazeela Baloch has spinal problems and she also was operated but this was not resulted positively.

Nationalist parties reacted harshly against arrest of Baloch females. They stated that government official claim for preserving tribal norms but arrest of females is pointblank violation of described customs.

Balochistan National Party – BNP raised the issue of Baloch females arrest on senate forum which highlighted it and got spotlight, otherwise it might be covered under the carpet.

Nationalist leaders in country and abroad released condemnation statements about arrest of Baloch females and demanded for their quick release. The parliamentarian and non-parliamentarian politicians condemned this act and demanded government release of women and children with honor and respect.

After strong reaction the government admitted it has arrested only females from Chaman border but do not know about children. After few days, women with children were brought on surface and set free. The wife of Dr Allah Nazar was accompanied with his brother and they departed for Karachi, other women and children also were released.

The enforced disappearance issue in Balochistan is long echoing. Before this incident many political workers and others have gone to missing. The provincial government in its statement admitted arrest of thousands through Pakistan Protection Ordinance – PPO, but those have not been brought to any court of justice or their details have been provided to media or other any organization.

The Nationalist parties claim their thousands workers are enforcedly disappeared by state forces but they are not being produced before any court of justice. They claim many of them killed and their dead bodies have been thrown. The nationalist parties also claim that their females also been enforcedly disappeared. The government authorities ever denied strongly such blames on them.

BALOCHISTAN, THE BLOODIEST WAR YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

By LAURA SECORUN PALET

Part of an OZY series on little-known wars.

Google “Pakistan” and you’ll be flooded with images of terrorist attacks, photos of Malala or trailers of the next Homeland episode. Actually, all of the above. But there is one region of this country you can be pretty sure will not show up on the first few dozen result pages: Balochistan.

Roughly the size of Germany, it is Pakistan’s biggest and poorest province. And it’s also home to a long and bloody civil war that has been going on for decades. On one side there’s the central Pakistani government. On the other are the Baloch nationalists who have fought for independence since the year after Pakistan’s 1947 birth. They are organized in insurgent groups with names like the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Balochistan Liberation United Front. And while the government labels the Baloch as “terrorists,” the Baloch accuse the army of ethnic cleansing. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies:

The Baloch are an ethnic minority with their own language, traditions and culture. They are also present in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan but feel strongly deprived and alienated by the government in Islamabad. The intensity of the conflict has been ebbing and flowing for decades. It had slowed down after the imposition of martial law in the country in 1977, but it broke out anew in 2005 after a Baloch doctor was raped, allegedly, by a military officer. That triggered a wave violence and retaliatory attacks on both sides, including two attempted assassinations of then-President Pervez Musharraf during visits to Balochistan.

The Baloch feel no loyalty toward the central government. “Pakistan has already lost Balochistan, but it won’t let it go,” says Burzine Waghmar from the Center for the Study of Pakistan at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. That’s because despite being the poorest, most scarcely populated region of the country, it is also rich in natural resources like oil, gas and minerals and strategically valuable — with three borders, access to the Arabian Sea coast and a deep-sea port.

Like in all wars, both sides accuse each other of inhumane acts. Human Rights Watch has reported a growing number of kidnappings of Baloch activists. Dead bodies are often dumped on empty lots or alleys — 116 in 2013 — and there have been widespread accusations against the Pakistani military and security agencies of extrajudicial executions, torture, displacement and excessive use of force against protesters. In January 2014, three mass graves were found in Balochistan. The Asian Human Rights Commission claims that the hundreds of bodies found belonged to members of pro-Baloch organizations who had been abducted by Pakistani forces. But a judicial commission absolved the army and intelligence agencies of any responsibility.

To be sure, the armed militant groups (that Islamabad accuses New Delhi of funding) are no strangers to indiscriminate violence either. While the U.S. doesn’t label the Balochistan insurgents as terrorists, they too have been accused of myriad human rights violations, such as killing civilian Pashtun “settlers” — from doctors to construction workers — and intimidating and even murdering journalists. Yet most accusations are hard to corroborate precisely because of how dangerous reporting is in this area.

The Pakistani military does not allow any foreign journalists to Balochistan. Since 2006, several correspondents, including New York Times reporters Declan Walsh and Carlotta Gall, were kicked out of the country for secretly going into Balochistan to report. And local reporters are also too afraid to try: “There is an unwritten understanding that those reporting on Balochistan are going against the greater ‘national interest,’” says Malik Siraj Akbar, a Pakistani journalist exiled in the U.S. after being a newspaper editor in Balochistan.

But whether or not it makes headlines, the death count continues to grow. As Waghmar points out, a shot at peace would require political will on both sides, and after more than six decades of conflict, no one is rushing to the negotiation table.

Published in OZY.com

Pakistan is to end enforced disappearances now; demands Amnest International

Amnesty International is alarmed by reports it has received of a wave of enforced amenistydisappearances that have taken place over recent days, particularly of activists in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, and calls upon the Pakistani authorities to immediately carry out independent and effective investigations with a view to determining the fate and whereabouts of all missing people. Where they are in the custody of the state to either release them or charge them with a recognizable criminal offence. Anyone reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility for enforced disappearances must be held to account through fair trials.

While some of the people who were reported to have been disappeared have been returned home over recent days, there are credible reports that others still remain missing. Enforced disappearances are a blight on Pakistan’s human rights record, with hundreds and possibly thousands of cases reported across the country over the past several years. Victims of enforced disappearances are at considerable risk of torture and other ill-treatment and even death. To date, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice.

The Commission on Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received nearly 300 cases of alleged enforced disappearances from August to October 2017, by far the largest number in a three-month period in recent years.

After its last visit to Pakistan, in 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, noted that there is “a climate of impunity in Pakistan with regard to enforced disappearances, and the authorities are not sufficiently dedicated to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.” Amnesty International notes that this situation has not improved over the past five years.

Pakistan’s authorities must publicly condemn enforced disappearances, recognize enforced disappearances as a distinct and autonomous offence, and call for an end to this cruel and inhumane practice. Pakistan has thus far failed to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – a glaring omission that casts an unflattering light on the country’s claims to be committed to the highest human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Committee – the treaty-monitory body that oversees how States implement and comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – took note of Pakistan’s record on enforced disappearances and recommended that the country: “Criminalize enforced disappearance and put an end to the practice of enforced disappearance and secret detention,” and “Ensure that all allegations of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings are promptly and thoroughly investigated; all perpetrators are prosecuted and punished with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crimes”.

On October 16, Pakistan became one of 15 states elected by the UN General Assembly to serve as members of the UN Human Rights Council, from January 2018 to December 2020. In its election pledges, Pakistan said that it is “firmly resolved to uphold, promote and safeguard universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”

For that claim to be taken seriously, and for Pakistan to fulfil “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” expected of all Council members, it must make ending enforced disappearances a priority and hold all suspected perpetrators – including military and intelligence personnel – to account, through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

Once confined to the restive territories of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan, enforced disappearances have spread to other parts of the country, including urban centers and major cities. In early January 2017, five human rights defenders were abducted from the capital Islamabad and parts of Punjab province. Four of the defenders returned to their homes between 27 and 29 January. Two of the defenders have since said that they were threatened, intimidated and tortured by people they believed to belong to military intelligence.

After the last Universal Periodic Review in 2012, Pakistan’s government made a commitment to take “effective measures against enforced disappearances” and to “combat impunity for all those who attack human rights defenders”. Later this month, when Pakistan’s human rights record is subject to scrutiny again, the government must finally take urgent steps to turn those commitments into reality.

Published in Amnesty International’s website http://www.amnesty.org

Barzani: Blood of the martyrs, calls for independence are ‘not wasted’

By Rudaw

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani has issued a statement urging unity and belief that one day the Kurdistan nation will achieve its goal of independence.

The blood of the martyrs, “the loud voices you raised for the independence of Kurdistan that you sent to all nations and world countries will not be wasted now or ever,” Barzani stated in the published statement.

Barzani’s statement was issued after two days of Peshmerga withdrawals from the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Shingal, Gwer, Makhmour, Khanaqin, and Snune.

These areas are now in the control of Iraqi armed forces and Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.

Barzani said the Peshmerga’s withdrawal was to return to the borders that existed before the Mosul operation began one year ago today.

The military advancements followed Baghdad’s rejection of Kurdistan’s vote for independence.

In a statement following Iraqi forces taking Kirkuk, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraq’s actions were “to fulfill our constitutional duty to extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city.”

Abadi called on the Peshmerga “to perform their duty under the federal leadership as part of the Iraqi armed forces.”

Barzani stated that the Kurdistan nation has repeatedly been under threat and oppression, but despite this has always sought peaceful solutions.

The loss of Kirkuk, Barzani said was due to “unilateral decisions of some persons within a certain internal political party of Kurdistan,” without naming any party.

Describing Kurdistan as “durable,” he concluded “The Kurdistan nation with the power of the brave ones, sooner or later, will eventually reach its right and sacred objective. Today is the day for believing in the power and the unity of our nation.”

The following is the full text of Barzani’s statement.

The Kurdistan, Iraq, and world’s public opinion:

Throughout history, the Kurdistan nation has been under threat and oppression and had its rights violated. In this history, the Kurdistan nation has defended its identity, faced genocide and massacres. The latest was the barbaric attack of ISIS terrorists on Kurdistan and the commitment of genocide against Kurdish Yezidis. Yet the Kurdistan nation has always operated from the perspective of peaceful solutions and we have never wanted to fight. But rather, fighting has been imposed on us and we have made all attempts for peaceful solutions for our existence and reaching our goals. Our main objective has always been the security and rights of the Kurdistan nation. 

Beloved citizens,

What happened in Kirkuk city was the result of unilateral decisions of some persons within a certain internal political party of Kurdistan, which eventually led to the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces, as was seen. As a result of the withdrawal, the border line between Erbil and Baghdad that existed before the Mosul operation started on October 17, 2016 became the basis of understanding for the mechanism of deploying Iraqi and Kurdistan Region forces.

We are assuring the people of Kurdistan that we are doing our utmost to preserve our achievements and the security and comfort of the people.

And now, we advocate for the protection of the unity and resilience of the Kurdistan nation and the political parties. I am calling on media outlets to deal with the delicate situation of Kurdistan and Iraq with patriotic and national responsibility.

The durable nation of Kurdistan, the loyal people and volunteers, brave Peshmerga, the honorable families of martyrs, the blood your sons gave and continue to give on the freedom path of Kurdistan, the loud voices you raised for the independence of Kurdistan that you sent to all nations and world countries will not be wasted now or ever.

The Kurdistan nation with the power of the brave ones, sooner or later, will eventually reach its right and sacred objectives. Today is the day for believing in the power and the unity of our nation.

‘Missing’ journalist Zeenat Shahzadi recovered after more than 2 years

By Muzamil Baloch

Zeenat Shahzadi, the journalist who went missing in Lahore in 2015, has been recovered 0zWKiW9-by security forces, officials said.

Retired Justice Javed Iqbal, head of the missing persons commission, confirmed Shahzadi’s return while speaking to BBC Urdu. She was recovered on Wednesday night from near the Pak-Afghan border, Iqbal said.

The current National Accountability Bureau chief said that some non-state actors and enemy agencies had kidnapped her and she was recovered from them, adding that tribal elders in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa played an important role in her recovery.

Shahzadi, who raised her voice for disappearance of victims, went missing in August 2015 while on the trail of an Indian citizen reported to have been caught by Pakistani agencies. She had filed an application with the Supreme Court’s Human Rights Cell on behalf of Fauzia Ansari, the mother of Hamid Ansari, an Indian national who had reportedly gone missing in Pakistan.

According to one version, Hamid was pursuing a Pakistani woman whom he had befriended on the Internet.

The application was accepted and forwarded to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, Salman said.

A few months later, news surfaced in a section of the media, saying that Hamid had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges of spying.

Human rights activist Hina Jillani, in a 2016 interview with BBCUrdu, alleged that Shahzadi had once told her family that she had been “forcibly taken away by security agencies”, detained for four hours and questioned about Hamid.

The case of disappearance of journalist Shahzadi hit the headlines when her brother, Saddam, committed suicide in March 2016.

US rejects suggestion of sanctions against Pakistan

Bolan Voice Report

The US State Department has said that Pakistan’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of 59f150f046146terrorist safe havens on its soil would not automatically lead to sanctions against the country.

At a Tuesday afternoon news briefing, the department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert also refused to assess the impact of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Islamabad on US-Pakistan relations.

The US media, however, noted that Mr Tillerson was greeted by a mid-level Foreign Office official and US Ambassador David Hale at the military airport in Rawalpindi. This was “a welcome without the pomp that usually accompanies high-level visits”, a US government-funded broadcasting organization, Radio Liberty, reported.

“I don’t want to forecast anything that could come in the future,” said Ms Nauert when asked if Pakistan’s claim that there were no safe havens within its borders could lead to US sanctions against the country.

“The secretary said that [on Tuesday] and so I’m just going to have to let his words stand for themselves,” she said.

Mr Tillerson’s visit was the first to Pakistan by a senior official of President Donald Trump’s administration and aimed at improving ties strained by President Trump’s Aug 21 speech in which he asked Islamabad to stop harboring “agents of chaos” or face the consequences.

Before coming to Islamabad, the secretary made an unannounced stop in Afghanistan, where he reiterated Washington’s commitment to the country.

At a news briefing at the US military base in Bagram, he also said that the US had made “very specific requests” to Pakistan over militancy and Islamabad’s response to those requests would determine how the US-Pakistan relationship would shape up.

In Islamabad, Mr Tillerson met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and other top officials.

“I think it was a mistake on the part of our folks, the travelling staff and so — and in addition to that, our embassy,” said Ms Nauert when asked why the State Department tweeted that the secretary was holding meetings in Kabul when he was actually at Bagram. “It was just a simple mistake that happened.”

The US media, however, noted that the Afghan government had on Tuesday issued a doctored photo of Mr Tillerson’s meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, removing all those objects that could link the picture to Bagram.

The media claimed that the Afghan government wanted its people to believe the meeting took place in Kabul, and not at a US military base.

“Not to my awareness. No, no,” said Ms Nauert when asked if the State Department’s tweet was meant to strengthen Kabul’s false claim. “We never like doctored photos, but also understand that perhaps they wanted to present a better image than having met at Bagram.”

Asked why Secretary Tillerson flew to Afghanistan from the Gulf, then back to Iraq before returning to South Asia to visit Islamabad, Ms Nauert said: “There’s a clear security issue in the region, Afghanistan in particular. We’re all aware of that. So for security reasons, we don’t announce some pieces of travel.”

WHERE SHOULD HAZARAS GO?

By Mohammed Hanif

2012 was a bad year for the Hazara community in southern Pakistan. The community 59ec09b846083had been devastated by a series of targeted killings and suicide attacks. Even their future protectors weren’t safe. Police cadets belonging to the Hazara community had been targeted and killed, mid-ranking police officers belonging to the community had been assassinated.

That year I interviewed a leader of the Hazara Shia community in Quetta about the future prospects for the Hazaras. Abdul Qayyam Changezi was weary of attending funerals of his loved ones. It’s a small community concentrated in parts of Quetta. So chances were that, whenever someone got killed, he either knew them or their family. Changezi had a desperate solution to save his people.

“It’s quite obvious that the government and security agencies are either not interested in protecting us, or are unable to do so,” he spoke in measured sentences without anger, as if trying to argue his way out of a mass murder. “The government should sell everything we own. Our houses, our businesses, the furniture in our houses, our pots and pans, every single thing. With that money they should buy a large ship and put all of us on that ship and push us out into the open sea. Surely there is one country somewhere out there in the world that will take us.”

The ship of Changezi’s imagination already existed and was plying its human cargo in the rough seawaters between Indonesia and Australia.

Since 2008, when the attacks against the Hazara community increased, Hazaras had been selling off their houses and businesses in search of that mythical ship. Many ended up in Malaysia and Indonesia from where they could pay four to six thousand US dollars to get on a boat that would take them to places such as Australia and New Zealand. The journey could last 50 to 60 hours and, in the words of one Hazara who attempted the journey more than six times, you either reached the promised land or became fish fodder.

The worst was yet to come.

If Hazaras thought they were having trouble coping with an atrocious year in 2012, the following year turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Hazaras were being target-killed, their places of worship had become death traps, their community elders had been systematically eliminated.

The year 2013 became the year of mass murder. In the first two months of the year two huge blasts killed more than 200 people and injured thousands. The brutality of the mass murders was only matched by the cruel half-hearted response of the Pakistani state.

In February 2013, Hazaras refused to bury hundreds of their dead. In the bitter cold nights of winter, they sat on the streets with the coffins of their family members and friends, demanding justice, demanding protection. There were protests across the country and roads were blocked in major cities. The Pakistani government made vague promises of providing protection and managed to convince the community to hold funerals and bury their dead.

But during these protests one thing became clear: Hazaras stood alone. The only people who turned up at the protests in solidarity were the other non-Hazara members of the Shia community. Some politicians and civil society activists did show up but the level of apathy was as brutal as the bloodbath itself.

For most Pakistanis in big cities where the protests took place, Hazaras were being nothing more than a nuisance and disrupting traffic and causing delays in their daily commute. It was the same logic that their killers used to target them. It seemed that the whole country was a silent spectator, if not a cheerleader to this ongoing atrocity.

When it became clear that Hazara killings will not end in Pakistan any time soon, when it became obvious that the very people tasked with protecting citizens were facilitating their killers, the exodus began. Some Hazaras moved to other parts of the country. But the Hazara’s cursed fate is in their face. Descendants of Central Asian immigrants, they are immediately recognizable in any part of the Pakistan.

There are debates amongst human rights activists over whether Hazara genocide is ethnic or sectarian. Senior police officials often claim that Hazaras are targeted routinely because they look different. Most Hazaras have Central Asian features and they have been historically targeted in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of their ethnicity.

According to some historians, in the 19th century almost half the population of Hazaras in Afghanistan was massacred. Law enforcers seem to suggest that, somehow if Hazaras didn’t look different, maybe, they will be spared. But that is not strictly true. There are many Hazaras from mixed marriages who don’t look any different, and they are still targeted. Their killers tracked them down in Karachi and killed them.

If you were a Hazara in Pakistan, you were a marked person. If death didn’t catch you in a bomb blast, it would come in the shape of a bullet in the back of your head. It didn’t matter if you worked for the police or any security agencies, it didn’t matter if you were an Olympian boxer or a famous TV actor or a much loved school teacher; all were on an arbitrary death row.

Hazara businessmen closed their shops and stayed home. Hazara government employees were told not to turn up for work and reassured that they would keep getting their salaries. Hazara university-going students abandoned their education and loitered around their neighborhood streets. The lucky ones sold their houses and businesses and ended up in Malaysia and Indonesia, hoping to make it to Australia.

SHIPS TO NOWHERE

I met Haji Shabbir on the outskirts of Bogor, Indonesia, the hub of Hazara refugees from Pakistan. Thousands of Hazara refugees have been living and waiting here for three to four years, hoping to get asylum in a Western country. Haji Shabbir was one of those people who almost got lucky.

“We got on the boat and it travelled for about 40 hours and then the engine developed a problem,” says Shabbir. “The boat owners had given us a satellite phone so we called for a rescue and they brought us back to Jakarta and detained us in a hotel.”

At night they all escaped. Either Indonesian police had no interest in keeping them or some bribe exchanged hands. Another attempt in a boat was aborted after about 16 hours.

“Once I had to take this boat and I got stuck in the traffic and the boat left without me,” adds Shabbir. “In total I made six attempts and four years later, I am still here.”

While Hazaras were flocking from Pakistan to take the boat that promised to take them to safety, the Australian government changed its policy and announced that it would not accept any refugees arriving through boat. Their cases were now to be processed off-shore.

The Australian government also published advertisements in Pakistani newspapers and on internet portals, in half a dozen languages, warning refugees not to attempt the boat journey. In order to prove that they were serious about this new policy, they deported vulnerable individuals and minors who had boarded the boat and reached Australian shores.

The town of Bogor outside Jakarta and its surrounding areas have become a purgatory of sorts for Hazara refugees. All they can talk about is the status of their asylum case, even though there is little to talk about as most of them have no clue at what stage their case is. They can seek a counseling appointment with one of the UN officials where they are always told the same thing: “We are waiting; you should also wait.”

This waiting game can tire some people out. After spending three-and-a-half years in Bogor, Haji Shabbir decided that he had waited enough. “If I have to die I might as well go back to Quetta and confront my fate,” he says. He contacted the UN representatives and told them that he was withdrawing his asylum application. “If you choose to go back, the UN pays for your return ticket. I told my family and they said ‘Moharram is coming and people are trying to run away from Quetta, what kind of unlucky man are you that you are returning to Quetta!’” Haji Shabbir stuck to his decision. Then, in the middle of Moharram, when the security in Quetta is as tight as it can get, four Hazara women were shot dead while travelling in a bus. Shabbir cancelled his ticket and decided to stay put as a refugee.

KILLERS ARE US

What do Pakistan’s security agencies do when Hazaras are targeted? In Bogor I met Mama, a refugee who has been waiting for his fate to be decided for the past three-and-a-half years. He is a former security official from Quetta who insists on remaining anonymous and says that he should be referred to as Mama. He saw the unfolding of carnage after carnage from inside and felt utterly helpless.

Mama joined the Frontier Constabulary (FC) as a computer operator and served for four years. Later, his duties included managing the media for the paramilitary force that, along with the police and army, is tasked with maintaining law and order in Quetta city as well as the entire province of Balochistan. “FC probably has had as many people killed as Hazaras,” says Mama. “We were totally helpless. Every time Hazaras got killed, FC went after Baloch insurgents rather than targeting the actual culprits.”

He was part of many meetings and raids that took place after every major incident against the Hazaras. “In these meetings it was often said that Hazaras are rioting again rather than discussing how to protect them. After every major incident, we raided villages and rounded up dozens of Baloch youth who clearly had no hand in these attacks.

It became a vicious cycle.

First, Hazaras would be targeted and then Baloch communities would be raided. Even when they managed to arrest the actual suspects, they were handed over to the Anti Terrorist Force, they were held in lock-ups inside the military cantonment and they managed to escape these lock ups.”

Like Mama, many Hazara refugees and independent journalists believe there’s a nexus between Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies and the sectarian militias that have been accused of Hazara killings. A sub-inspector in the civilian intelligence agency Special Branch, who left his job to seek asylum after his police officer cousins were shot dead, claims he saw this complicity first-hand. “We chased two terrorists after a targeted attack in Quetta,” he told me. “They were on a motorbike, they drove up to the cantonment gate and disappeared. We told the military guys that two terrorists have just entered your area and we are chasing them. We were asked for our identity cards and then told in stern terms to turn back and never mention the incident to anyone.”

I had heard such stories second-hand before; it was the first time someone had claimed directly to have been himself involved in such an experience.

FC veteran Mama believes that ordinary soldiers have nothing to do with the sectarian attacks. “A law-enforcement agency cannot afford to have a religion. Ordinary soldiers have no clue what’s going on around them. It’s a section of intelligence agencies who patronize these sectarian groups. They are out of control. We have no idea where they take their orders from. It was obvious they [the sectarian groups] were taking money from Gulf [groups] who want to target Shias.”

THE PURGATORY

When Maliha Ali left Pakistan, she was preparing for her ‘O’-Level exams. For the past three-and-a-half years, she has been living in Cisarua, outside Bogor, with her family and has no way of continuing with her examinations. Her father, Liaquat Ali Changezi, a former TV actor and documentary producer, decided to leave Quetta along with his family when many of his close colleagues were killed.

“There came a time when the school administration told me not to send my kids to school because they were putting the entire school at risk,” says Changezi. He was also asked by the Quetta TV manager not to show up at the office because it put his other colleagues at risk.

Having spent more than three-and-a-half years in Bogor waiting for his asylum application to be processed, Changezi feels these are years that have been taken out of his life. His daughter Maliha feels the same.

“These were the most important years of my life, I should be studying, preparing for the future, but we are sitting here waiting for some country to take us in so that we can start a new life,” says Maliha.

The biggest challenge that Hazara refugees face in Indonesia is that they are not allowed to work and, even worse, they are not allowed to attend schools. A whole generation of Hazara children is at the risk of remaining illiterate. With the help of other refugees, Changezi has set up a center where young children can be given elementary education by Hazara volunteers.

There are a couple of other such centers which have become community hubs where people can bring their families and seek counseling.

Maliha is a volunteer teacher at one such center. “Sometimes I think it’s ironic that I am at an age where I should be attending a school myself but instead I have become a teacher.” Then she becomes wistful about her time in Quetta and tries to console herself. “At least we can play football here. We couldn’t play in Quetta.”

The story published in Dawn and is being republished in magazine with special thanks.

The writer is an author and journalist. His new novel Red Birds comes out in September 2018

Published in Dawn

Why India Needs a Balochistan Policy

By Jyotsna Mehra

New Delhi should ascertain what Balochistan means to India and proceed to have a clear policy. The benefits of doing that are plenty, as secure borders will allow India to focus more significantly on its other major goals, including social and economic.

It has been well over a year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the countrythediplomat_2016-08-16_16-03-49-386x219 frantically speculating over his (yet another) “unprecedented” move – his explicit invocation of the Baloch cause in his Independence Day address.

Shortly thereafter, the situation picked up pace. India took the issue to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA); All India Radio enhanced its Balochi service; and Baloch leaders started frequenting Indian prime-time news debates.

Beyond India, the message was heard loud and clear as Baloch dissidents and nationalists hailed Modi’s speech as a long-awaited show of support to their movement, while Pakistani military and state circles expressed their anger, arguably reflected in the killings of 17 Indian soldiers in Uri just a month later, allegedly by Pakistan-trained militants.

However, things seem to have barely moved beyond the grand talk.

Baloch leaders anticipate with dwindling hope India’s championing of their right to self-determination. In fact, Brahamdagh Bugti sought to get asylum in the country, but his efforts appear to have gone in vain. And despite delivering the much-celebrated scathing reply to Pakistan at the recent UNGA, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has failed to call out the Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the carefully blanketed subjugation and ethnic cleansing of the Baloch.

It’s time New Delhi ascertains what Balochistan means to India; the country needs secure borders to focus more significantly on its other major goals – social, environmental, economic – to carve out a bigger niche for itself on the world stage.

The crisis in Balochistan began as a result of the forced annexation of the Baloch territory in April 1948 by the Pakistani forces, and the subsequent elimination of Baloch cultural identity. The crisis escalated when the Punjabi elite tried to inculcate a new sense of Pakistaniyat into the many people(s) – majorly, the Baloch, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Bengalis – who had lived for centuries on the land that suddenly became Pakistan.

The conflict has intensified, as explained by the exiled Baloch leader and foreign spokesperson of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), Hammal Haider Baloch, and also a 70-year-long blood-soaked history, with the shocking plunder of natural resources, gross abuse of human rights and reprehensible political repression in Balochistan.

While the latest census figures indicate an economic revival in Pakistan’s largest but historically most impoverished and resource-rich province, Karima Baloch warns of deception and elusiveness. The 30-year-old chairperson of the Baloch Student Organization, Azad (BSO-Azad), laments that her fellow Baloch have been “reduced to a minority in their own province” and their voices have been further stifled as a result of massive influx of non-Baloch workers employed in ‘mega projects’ of resource extraction.

Add to this the ever-lurking danger to the lives of journalists and human rights activists who challenge the state narrative and try to access information from the insurgency hotspots – think Muhammad Afzal Khwaja, Mumtaz Alam, Irshad Mastoi, Abdul Razzaq Baloch and Sabeen Mahmud, among many others who have fallen victim to the evil designs of the deep state as they dared to operate in Pakistan’s dangerous information vacuum.

The situation is only expected to worsen with even tighter controls and increased militarization in the region, carried out to facilitate the smooth functioning of the projects run by the powerful consortia from Pakistan’s largest arms supplier, China, under the grandiose China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Or as Hammal Baloch calls it, the “China Pakistan Economic Exploitation Corridor”. With fears of a slow genocide escaping the eyes of the international community, Hammal and Karima appeal to “democratic powers such as India” to extend support to the Baloch and give a powerful voice to their woes.

For India, the question at this stage is neither about the means of its support to Baloch nor the desired result. Instead, India first needs to reaffirm, explicitly, its solidarity with the Baloch and then formulate a policy of consistently supporting them.

Even without considering a decision between the two end goals – an independent Balochistan or the uplift of the Baloch within the parameters of reformed Pakistani federalism – and focusing solely on the crisis at hand and even with something as inconsequential-sounding as ‘moral support’ – extended consistently, India will strengthen the invisible yet bloody movement by taking it global, and to some degree, secure its own strategic and economic interests.

However, what has developed in India since Modi’s speech is anything but consistent, reactionary and jingoism-driven hue and cry over Balochistan by impetuous politicians as well as insincere and irascible nationalists who blurt out the ‘B-word’ whenever Pakistan brings up Kashmir.

Such a response-based, tit-for-tat use of the Baloch card does more harm for India than good. It gives Pakistan an incentive to internationalize the Kashmir issue to silence India and does not offer any real support to the Baloch. Worse still, tacitly equating the two profoundly dissimilar conflicts in this manner discounts the role played by Pakistan in giving the Kashmir issue its present shape and undermines India’s efforts, under its asymmetric model of federalism, to resolve the crisis in the valley.

On the other hand, a long-term Balochistan policy resulting in a stronger and better organized Baloch insurgency will keep Pakistani forces tied up domestically, and a consistent one will weaken them.

Given that Pakistani military is more inclined than the civilian government in supporting militants to achieve foreign policy objectives in Kashmir, increased tension in Balochistan will not only reduce its engagement in Kashmir but also control, to some extent, militancy in the valley. The possibility of dealing with a more visible, louder and powerful Baloch movement as a result of India’s constant support will deter the military establishment from avoiding talks with the Baloch dissidents and also from sponsoring cross-border terrorism.

There is more – a stronger Baloch movement will directly target extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Khorasan and Lashkar-e-Janghvi, which are being used to quell the insurgency in the province.

While economic stability and growth in Pakistan would have traditionally been considered in India’s interest, the geographical design of CPEC, which has Balochistan’s Gwadar as its vital nodal point, poses the threat of internationalization of the Kashmir dispute. This infrastructure development corridor will run from Kashgar in Western China and pass through the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, over which India places a territorial claim.

Moreover, by providing the Chinese with a chance to develop a deep sea port in Gwadar, CPEC will undermine India’s regional interest by granting China the optimal strategic location on the Arabian sea, close to the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Gwadar, along with the rest of the “string of pearls” ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh could hold the key to Chinese influence in India’s neighborhood.

While it might be tempting for an energy-hungry India to think of independent Balochistan in terms of a major investment destination and a resource-rich ally, supporting the Baloch, and thus impeding CPEC, will also weaken, in the short term, the competition Indian-developed Iranian port of Chahbahar could face in the future from the Chinese-developed Gwadar.

Acting on his initiated and much talked-about call of support to the Baloch cause could prove instrumental to Modi in securing him a second prime-ministerial term. First, because it will tackle public dissatisfaction with his initial handling of Pakistan – ‘saree diplomacy’ vis-à-vis Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Uri attacks – and second, because it will strengthen his image as a risk-taking and forward-moving leader.

More importantly, a Balochistan policy will help India attain a voice that has, since the days of the Gujral Doctrine, largely been muted internationally or at least riddled with a form of perpetual neutrality that pulls back aspiring democratic world powers to a state of confusing reluctance.

With Gwadar being developed into a shiny new metropolis complete with a large airport and a string of five-star hotels – as local Baloch population get driven off their lands, deprived of necessities such as water and energy; with the number of Chinese and other non-Baloch settlers essentially doubling each year, with frequent suspension of internet connections and continuing saga of indiscriminate killings and mass scale torture – the recent silence on the part of the ‘moral power’ India is deafening.

A strategy designed to nourish a genuine freedom movement, which in its current phase is being led by secularists and democrats such as Karima and Hammal Baloch, will testify to the firmness of India’s belief in democratic ideals and reiterate her desire to be a vocal, relevant and change-inducing power, while giving the neglected Baloch the much-needed global visibility and enabling India to break free from years of essential impotency against Pakistan’s use of non-conventional forms of warfare, as well as to powerfully assert herself vis-à-vis a creeping Chinese maritime dominance in the region.

Published in www. swarajyamag.com

Finland, We Hardly Knew Ye

By ILARI KAILA, TUOMAS KAILA

The Finnish welfare state is being eroded, and the far right has gained momentum. As the country turns one hundred, what’s happened to Finland?

You’ve got to hand it to Finland: in its centennial year, the country enjoys “strong brand recognition” and “positive brand sentiment” — to use the kind of corporate-speak that’s in vogue with much of Finland’s contemporary political class.

Judging by the international news stories circulating on social media, our native country is a veritable Shangri-La. Its citizens are ecstatically happy — perhaps because we are a mysterious people ”of quiet strength and pride,” or because we’ve uncovered the “Secret to Success With Schools, Moms, Kids . . .

and Everything.” Finns aren’t just technologically but socially innovative. Everyone is taken care of, from the cradle to the grave, by a friendly Santa Claus state: even as we speak, Finland is pushing the boundaries of its already stellar public education  and social welfare systems. The country is welcoming and egalitarian, with free health care for all and high speeding tickets for millionaires. It’s inclusive and progressive; last in corruption, number one in homoerotic postage stamps.

But here’s a more urgent story you aren’t likely to see: much of what once made Finland an exceptional place to live is being systematically dismantled. Finland should not be held up as a beacon of equality and progress. All the media hype and myths notwithstanding, there is no secret Nordic formula for social justice. The famed Finnish welfare state, while still much more generous than the US’s, mirrors the trajectory of other industrialized nations, from its advancement after World War II to its current erosion. And with the curtailment of the welfare state, political space is opening up for the far right.

So how did we get here?

The Rise and Fall of a Nordic Welfare State

On New Year’s Eve 1917, a Finnish delegation, seeking an audience with Russia’s new Bolshevik leadership, waited patiently in the ice-cold lobby of the Council of People’s Commissars in St Petersburg. The place was brimming with people: chain-smoking commissars, civil servants, typists, sailors, Red Army officers.

Shortly before midnight, the fur-coat-clad Finns were presented with a letter: their appeal for independence had been granted. Nominally, it was just a proposal addressed to the Central Executive Committee; in practice, it was an order, bearing the signatures of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin.

Lenin was reluctant to go and shake hands with the overjoyed delegation. “What,” he said, “am I supposed to say to those bourgeois?” Trotsky, too, refused to do the honors, joking: “I wouldn’t mind having the lot of them arrested.”

It wasn’t just “those bourgeois” whose sentiments were represented by the delegation visiting that New Year’s Eve, however. Despite the explosive class animosity simmering within Finnish society, on national sovereignty there existed an uneasy consensus with the Left. In fact, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) had sent their own delegation to Saint Petersburg just days before.

In the following decades, the SDP would play a central role in building the welfare state as we know it — and later, with the advent of neoliberalism, in beginning to dismantle it. It was the SDP whose ”utopian” 1903 manifesto had called for universal suffrage, gender equality, free education, universal health care, child care, maternity leave, prohibition of child labor, and many other things that would form the basis of the Finnish welfare state.

But all this would happen only much later, after the deep class divisions had first come to a head. Soon after Soviet Russia recognized its former Grand Duchy as a sovereign state, a civil war broke out between the socialist Red Guards and the conservative White Guards. Over ten thousand German soldiers landed in southern Finland to fight alongside the Whites, while the Soviets supplied arms to the Reds.

Even as civil wars go, it was a brutal affair, killing off more than 1 percent of the entire population. The Reds suffered their greatest casualties in the aftermath of their crushing defeat, subjected to mass starvation in prison camps and unlawful executions.

In the 1930s, Finland briefly flirted with fascism. Reactionary nationalists held great sway in the armed forces, in government, and among business elites. The rightward shift culminated with the explicitly fascist Lapua Movement attempting a coup in 1932.

In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland after the Finnish government refused to cede any territory. The incursion was a watershed, as the country united against a common enemy.

Emerging from the devastation, the agrarian society — plagued by high levels of inequality and poverty — began rapidly transforming into an industrialized and urbanized Nordic welfare state. Despite the failed Red Rebellion a couple decades earlier, there was still broad-based support for left-wing policies. The restructured SDP, now “social democratic” in the postwar sense — working within capitalism rather than trying to go beyond it — was again a major player in the political arena. The party pushed through important welfare policies such as social insurance, disability care, and maternity assistance.

But advances seldom happen top-down, and the story of the Finnish welfare state is no exception. Fear of a radical left-wing uprising, under the shadow of the USSR, was one impetus for the welfare state’s expansion. Another was a growing awareness that transfers of wealth could be seen as an investment rather than an expense. This conclusion — originating within the SDP’s ranks — was borne out in the economy, and made it possible for Finland to build public services rivaling those of the much wealthier Sweden, eventually giving birth to major corporations like Nokia.

In the 1950s, mass protests and strikes forced the government to abandon plans to slash hard-won rights like child benefits, and to compensate for the disappearing communal safety net in rural Finland by expanding unemployment benefits. As a governing party, the SDP often found itself at loggerheads with its base, as well as with the increasingly influential — and only recently decriminalized — communists.

To the Soviet leadership, however, Finland’s non-revolutionary social democrats were traitors, pure and simple. For decades, other “openly bourgeois” party leaders of the newly formed nation enjoyed much better diplomatic relations with their eastern neighbor — most notably, Finland’s centrist, semi-authoritarian president Urho Kekkonen, the self-styled commie whisperer, who managed to stay in power for nearly three decades, until 1982. Kekkonen, who as a teenager had led a firing squad executing Reds, is even believed to have been a KGB agent (code name: “Timo”).

In the lead-up to the Soviet Union’s dissolution, perspectives began to shift radically. It was now the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who looked to the Scandinavian states as a model for his reform efforts.

The 1980s were the peak years of the social-democratic welfare state in Finland, and it’s not surprising Gorbachev saw much to admire and emulate in his Nordic neighbors. Paradoxically, it was also the era of the “casino economy” — the newly deregulated banks doled out cheap loans to anyone who would ask, and markets soared. Finland’s liberalization of capital markets mirrored global trends, but the SDP’s concurrent change in direction was also ahead of its time, preceding similar “Third Way” shifts in the UK, Germany, and Sweden.

The eighties boom ended, as most do, with a bust: a banking crisis, bailouts at public expense, followed by the crippling depression of the 1990s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland saw its exports plummet.

Under Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, the SDP began to remodel itself along the lines of Tony Blair’s New Labour and Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, and his government doubled down on the neoliberal nostrums that had helped bring about the crisis. With the abolition of progressive capital gains taxation and the implementation of increasingly harsh austerity measures, Finland was set onto its current trajectory: downhill, and to the right.

True Finns, True Finland

It seems the international media never got the memo. Current news stories are stuck in the Finland of our childhood, in the 1980s. Though Finland is now an even wealthier nation, this growth has been channeled, since the 1990s, into the pockets of the rich, while the poor become poorer and more numerous. Fiscal sustainability is constantly,  and  dramatically, invoked as the bogeyman to justify public service cuts.

That the Finnish government has its population’s best interests at heart seems to be mostly assumed as a given, which makes for incredibly lazy reporting. News stories about Finland’s “innovative school reform” fail to mention that they provide cover for a brutal gutting of its prided education system and mass layoffs at universities, all with the ultimate goal of eliminating free higher education altogether. Reports about Finland’s experiments with a universal basic income buy into the government’s narrative — intended, in part, to distract from shrinking public services, health care privatization, and cuts that hurt the most marginalized.

While many imagine a Nordic utopia, Finland is presently run by a thin-skinned millionaire businessman with secret assets stowed away in tax shelters, family ties to companies on government contracts, and an obsession with media criticism of himself. Sound familiar?

And although Prime Minister Juha Sipilä isn’t trying to build a literal border wall, Finland’s inhumane response to the refugee crisis — along with its arming of Saudi Arabia — makes a mockery of all the centennial self-congratulation.

Sipilä’s right-wing coalition government hasn’t shied away from capitalizing on the xenophobic sentiment sweeping Europe, welcoming the once-marginalized Finns Party — translated originally, and more literally, as “the True Finns” — into the fold. The current defense minister, Jussi Niinistö, has openly admired the fascism of the 1930s Lapua Movement.

The erosion of egalitarian norms has extended to the rule of law. As a concession to the anti-immigrant Finns Party, the government tightened Finland’s already strict refugee policies to the point of flouting international treaty obligations and ignoring the laws of the land. The Immigration Service has separated families, locked up children and pregnant mothers, and sent asylum seekers back to conflict zones while their cases were still pending. Meanwhile, the government’s aggressive attempts to overhaul the entire health and social care system have repeatedly been rejected as unconstitutional. If they succeed, the damage will be hard to undo.

With the working-class base of the Finns Party feeling betrayed by their representatives’ acquiescence to austerity, the party has seen its support plummet in recent months. At the beginning of a chaotic convention in June, the Finns Party elected a new leader: Jussi Halla-aho, a far-right hardliner and crypto-fascist. But the government still would not topple: in an unprecedented maneuver, ministers from the Finns Party splintered, mid-term, into a new parliamentary group and continued with business as usual. We now have a party in power that didn’t exist during the election, and whose support among voters is a laughable 0.7 percent.

Having survived yet another scandal, the government went into PR mode, sanctimoniously denouncing Halla-aho and his Nazi-saluting minions — the very people they had partnered and governed with for two years. “We do not share the same values,” Sipilä declared in a press briefing.

Such ostensibly hostile (while in fact symbiotic) relationships between neoliberals and ethno-nationalists are increasingly common across the advanced capitalist world, from Clinton and Trump in the US to Macron and Le Pen in France. While the establishment plays good cop/bad cop to a bewildered and deeply divided electorate, the self-described centrists creep ever further to the right. And the strongest bulwark against the Right — robust, universalist social welfare policies — fall by the wayside. So much for Nordic exceptionalism.

The Finnish welfare state will not be dismantled overnight. Its principles are deeply rooted in the populace, and even codified in the constitution. On a more prosaic level, the overlapping interests of the administrative class, the trade unions and their leaders, and many in the political establishment serve as another layer of protection: there are still a great number of influential people, mostly hailing from the baby-boomer generation, who would not be served by drastic changes to the status quo. But what will the coming generational shift bring?

In the US, the trend is clear: young people are leaning left and loudly demanding the same rights that are guaranteed to their peers in Nordic countries. But while American youth place their hopes in the likes of Bernie Sanders and Nina Turner, Finland’s future leaders, who came of age as social democracy was neoliberalized, are looking to the Right. A recent poll found that, among Finns under the age of fifty, and particularly those aged twenty-five to thirty-four, the number one choice for prime minister is none other than Jussi Halla-aho, the nation’s most prominent far-right demagogue.

Happy birthday, Finland.

Published in Jacobin Magazine

State of Pakistan is inviting its favorite Islamists into parliament

It might seem like the Pakistani military is trying to defang its ostensible adversaries. It’s really trying to empower them.

BY MEMPHIS BARKER

The notorious jihadi Hafiz Saeed has apparently had a change of heart. Like many PAKISTAN-INDIA-KASHMIR-POLITICSextremists in Pakistan, the 67-year-old firebrand used to rage against democracy. But earlier this month a new political party, controlled in all but name by Saeed — the leader of the militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the alleged mastermind of a string of horrific massacres in India, including the killing of 166 people in Mumbai nine years ago — peacefully contested its first by-election for national parliament.

Bearded party workers from the Milli Muslim League wandered the streets of Lahore in hi-visibility jackets. Posters of Saeed were plastered across the city, in direct contravention of a ruling by the Election Commission, which does not recognize the MML as a party. The candidate backed by the MML, Yaqoob Sheikh, himself designated a terrorist by the U.S. Treasury in 2012, notched up an unexpectedly high 5 percent of the vote for the former National Assembly seat of recently ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. (A further 6 percent went to another new Islamist party, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, founded to cherish the legacy of a man who was hanged for the murder of a senator campaigning for reform of the country’s strict blasphemy laws.)

Why have bloodthirsty, anti-democratic groups suddenly chosen to enter the world of politics — and how have they been allowed to operate so openly? For the answer, look to Pakistan’s army. Earlier this year, according to Muhammad Amir Rana of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, the military held successful talks with several “banned organizations” over a deradicalization strategy that would, in theory, see them drop their AK-47s and pick up clipboards.

Well-meaning supporters of the strategy argue that not all extremists can be killed or locked up. Some point to the IRA in Ireland or Islamist radicals in Indonesia as proof that political engagement can defang terrorist groups. Others ask why the political transition now seen as the inevitable path of the Afghan Taliban should not also apply to Pakistan’s own jihadis.

But deradicalization is tricky at the best of times, and the conditions that made it work elsewhere in the past simply don’t apply to Pakistan today. Most of all, it needs a state willing to threaten non-state actors with something they would rather avoid (a military offensive) while proffering the reward of something they want (political influence). In Pakistan, neither condition is fulfilled. In fact, the “mainstreaming” project appears just as likely to strengthen jihadi militants as quell them — and you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder whether that isn’t really the point.

By global standards, the Pakistani army is large, well equipped, and well disciplined. But it’s next door to India, a foe three times its size, which has beaten it soundly in every conflict the two have ever had. That leaves the military willing to resort to the darkest methods to even the score.

The army has been chasing the possibility of a “good Taliban” for decades — starting with the Afghan Taliban itself, sponsored and supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. The main reason that Lashkar-e-Taiba and its charitable front, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, survive under Hafiz Saeed’s leadership is that as far as the military is concerned, they’re the good jihadis.

Lashkar-e-Taiba has never carried out an attack within Pakistan — at least one that’s made the press. Rather, it has served as a proxy for the military in its asymmetric war with India, particularly in the disputed territory of Kashmir. According to David Headley, one of the Lashkar-e-Taiba members involved in the 2008 attack on Mumbai, the ISI provided “financial, military, and moral” support for the operation.

The army proved how effective it can be in a recent sustained assault on the jihadis it doesn’t like — those who carry out attacks within the nation. A crackdown in the northeastern tribal areas came as a furious reply to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s 2014 massacre at a school in Peshawar. Deaths from terrorism have since fallen by two-thirds.

But none of the circumstances that have historically shielded Lashkar-e-Taiba from a similar military crackdown have changed — in fact, some of them have become more entrenched. The belligerent tone of Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has fueled the military’s hard-wired belief that it must retain all its assets in the 70-year-old conflict.

Meanwhile, the ever-expanding charitable works of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which the armed forces have supported by granting it permission to work in parts of the country that international nongovernmental organizations and other local organizations cannot reach, have softened public opinion. A popular actor congratulated Hafiz Saeed after the Lahore by-election, praising him as a “righteous man.” While much of Pakistan’s civilian elite share the condemnatory line of its English-language newspapers, read by 2 percent of the population, the broader public tends to a less harsh view. Just 36 percent of the population holds an unfavorable opinion of Lashkar-e-Taiba, compared to 60 percent for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, according to a 2015 Pew survey.

If the army has no clear incentive to wholly “deradicalize” Lashkar-e-Taiba at this point in time, it has more than enough to present its old strategic asset as newly defanged in order to ward off international pressure. America has reduced its aid to Pakistan for housing, in the words of U.S. President Donald Trump, “the very terrorists who we are fighting.” Allies closer to home have recently shown signs of losing patience with its tolerance of favored jihadi groups.

At last month’s BRICS summit among five of the world’s most rapidly developing nations, a statement was issued condemning — for the first time — Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates by name as a threat to regional stability. Pakistan’s civilian government daringly echoed the criticism. It cannot lift a finger against Saeed, given the military’s stranglehold over counterterrorism and foreign policy. But the sum effect of such glancing blows, and the potential diplomatic isolation that would result from maintaining the status quo, may have convinced elements of the military to make a show of “politically deradicalizing” its historic playmates.

The transformation might, moreover, yield strategic fruit. The army is known to loathe the recently ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who favored peace with India.

And the reduced margin of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s victory in Lahore last week, compared to the general election in 2013, owed much to the rise of the MML and its fellow religious party, which split the right-wing vote. The new parties’ street power alone might sway the future course of the country’s politics.

At large MML rallies, supporters chanted “Long live the Pakistan Army!” and — by coincidence or not — the party’s main goal is said to be opposing repeal of the broad, Islam-based articles of the constitution that the Supreme Court used to justify Sharif’s removal. It would take a brave politician to speak out in favor of reform when Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the MML control huge and boisterous vote banks.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior has so far resisted granting the Milli Muslim League the status of a political party — hence the need for MML to support its nominally independent candidate at arm’s length. But it may not be able to hold out much longer. One challenge the civilian government faces in dealing with Saeed’s organizations is the smoothness with which they adapt to rules. Jamaat-ud-Dawa, his charity, works zealously across the country. Its members carry out disaster relief, run around 200 schools, and have deliberately offered support to minorities — such as Hindus and Shiites — to win more public sympathy. The country’s former military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, referred to Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a “very fine NGO” in an interview earlier this year. Military officials point out that if the MML submits to the requirements of Pakistan’s Constitution, whether they “wear beards or not, they would not be stopped [from forming a party] anywhere in the world.”

That runs a little wide of the truth, and, of course, operating a political party with one hand doesn’t prevent fostering jihad, covertly, with the other. Consider Hezbollah, for example. To date, Saeed’s outfits have played a similar double game as the Lebanese organization, which grew its militant wing alongside a burgeoning political front.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa, funded by charitable donations, operates from a sprawling base outside Lahore. Yet it was on the large lake inside those headquarters that Lashkar-e-Taiba militants reportedly prepared for their amphibious assault on Mumbai. If Saeed slips into the political mainstream, such practices suggest he will merely funnel some of the financial rewards to terrorist activities, while instructing his henchmen to smile for election officials.

The Pakistan army may find that its strategy backfires in another way. The whole point of using militants against India is to maintain a facade of plausible deniability. But bringing Saeed into the system puts all that at risk. After Lashkar-e-Taiba militants shot up the Indian parliament in 2001, 800,000 troops massed the border as India and Pakistan — two nuclear-armed nations — nearly went to war. The Pakistani state denied it had anything to do with the attack. That excuse was thin at the time. Repeating it now would wear it to vanishing point.

Article published in FP Foreignpolicy.com

Mental health and work

By Asma Humayun

HK heads a corporate organization in Islamabad. After his wife suffered from a depressive disorder, he developed a better insight into the illness. At work, he noticed a team member who often looked tired, had started to miss deadlines and was avoiding social contact. As he considered a strategy to broach the subject, another colleague indicated irritability and showed signs of strained relations with others. HK recognized that his team was struggling, but wasn’t sure what he should do to help them become aware of mental health problems and see if they could find a way to prevent these.

For 25 years, the world has observed World Mental Health Day on Oct 10. This year, the theme is ‘Mental Health in( the Workplace’. According to the World Health Organization, one in five people may experience mental health problems in the workplace. Despite the fact that most mental disorders can be treated successfully, a large number of people delay seeking help or may not access treatment. More than 70 per cent of people with mental illness actively conceal their condition because they fear being discriminated against.

In addition to personal suffering and the heightened burden of care on families, mental disorders exact a huge financial toll. This includes cost of treatment and also the earnings associated with lost productivity. Untreated mental disorders (in employees or their family members) result in diminished productivity at work, significant time off work (absenteeism), far more time needed to achieve targets, increase in workplace accidents/conflicts, higher turnover of staff and reduced opportunity for seeking employment. It is estimated that 10pc of the employed population takes time off work to cope with depression.

Recently, the World Bank identified mental health as a Global Development Priority; that is, an issue that has a critical impact on economic development, and personal and social well-being. Annual global costs of mental health problems are estimated at $2.5 trillion and expected to rise to $6tr by 2030. In India, mental illness is estimated to have cost $1.03tr (22pc of economic output) between 2012 and 2030. A modest estimate for the overall cost of mental disorders in Pakistan has been calculated as running into the millions per annum. These facts are of serious consequence for a country like Pakistan that has a young, growing population with nearly a third living below the national poverty line.

Inequality, harassment and unsafe working conditions can lead to mental illness.

Whilst there is enough knowledge of socioeconomic causes of stress in the workplace, there is still a considerable lack of awareness about mental health issues that contribute to poor performance.

Half of Pakistan’s population comprises women, but we continue to rank second last in the Global Gender Gap Index with the lowest female labor force participation rate in South Asia. For those who do get an opportunity to work, there are glaring discriminations. Three-quarters of women in the workforce have no formal education. Even where there is the same level of education/performance between the two sexes, women earn 38.6pc less than men, and are thereby labelled ‘secondary workers’.

This is not just an economic disadvantage, but also a worrying indicator of poor mental health in women. The rates of common mental disorders in Pakistan, known to be twice as high in women than men, are primarily associated with socioeconomic adversity.

Another concern is that up to 15pc of women experience postnatal depression after childbirth. According to the West Pakistan Maternity Benefit Ordinance, 1958, women are entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, which too is limited to government service or factories. On the contrary, India has approved a bill to allow a 26-week maternity leave period and nursery facilities to female employees.

The relationship between sexual harassment and subsequent anguish leading to mental disorders is also well established. Victims of sexual harassment range from domestic workers, secretarial staff, doctors, and even lawmakers. For a victim, a skeptical inquiry by men in charge or a sensationalist campaign by social media or the challenges of dealing with male-dominated law-enforcement agencies are strong deterrents that prevent women from coming forward to file complaints.

Headlines like ‘Pakistan — no country for women’ only reinforce the nonchalant, discriminatory attitudes. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2010, and the Protection against Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, are encouraging but widespread awareness campaigns and effective implementation of these laws is crucial for psychologically safe workplaces.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is not the only form of bullying, nor are women its only victims. In one study, at least 50pc of medical students reported being verbally abused during their training. In another study, one in six doctors experienced a physical attack and three in five encountered verbal abuse in the emergency department in the previous year. There were significantly high rates of burnout and mental disorders in these doctors. Another relevant example here is that of a recent petition filed by a doctor in the Islamabad High Court against excessive work hours (over 100 hours a week).

Increased workload, role conflict and inadequate compensation are also reported in the higher education sector. At times, signs indicating an unsafe work environment are subtle, for example extreme micromanaging, taking credit for other’s work, exclusionary practices, etc.

Inequality, the gender gap, sexual and other forms of harassment, and poor and unsafe working conditions are consistently associated with mental health problems. The relationship between stress at work and mental health problems is usually bidirectional, which means that compromised mental health further perpetuates stressful conditions.

There are evidence-based, cost-effective workplace interventions to reduce stigma and improve mental health and productivity. Similarly, effective treatments exist for common mental disorders, and employers can facilitate access to care for those who may need it.

Meaningful investments in mental health promotion, and prevention and treatment programs in the workplace lead to a more productive workforce. It has been established that $1 of investment in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work. Positive mental health in individuals eventually contributes to better economies and healthier communities.

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist. Published in Dawn.

Caitlan Coleman tells of forced abortion, disputes official account of her rescue in Pakistan

In first sit-down interview

“We were not crossing into Pakistan that day,” Coleman said on the grounds of an Ottawa hospital on Monday, and claims made by Islamabad and Washington that they were rescued Oct. 11 after crossing the border are false.

By MICHELLE SHEPHARD National Security Reporter

OTTAWA—Caitlan Coleman, the 31-year-old American woman who gave birth to herms_caitlancoleman.jpg.size-custom-crop.1086x0 three children while held hostage by the Haqqani network, says she is breaking her silence to dispute statements made about her family’s captivity and the day they were rescued.

“Right now everybody’s shunting blame and making claims. Pakistan says, no they were never in Pakistan, until the end. The U.S. says, no they were always in Pakistan; it was Pakistan’s responsibility. But neither of those are true,” she told the Star.

During her first interview since being rescued, Coleman added crucial details about the kidnapping case that has captured international attention and led to widespread speculation.

While she said she is not ready to speak publicly about all aspects of her captivity, she is certain they were held in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and claims made by Islamabad and Washington, that they were rescued Oct. 11 after crossing the border are false. “We were not crossing into Pakistan that day. We had been in Pakistan for more than a year at that point.”

Coleman was kidnapped with her husband, Joshua Boyle, a Canadian, in October 2012 in Afghanistan. They were held for five years by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network before their dramatic rescue by Pakistani forces. She was pregnant when she was taken captive.

Until reaching out to the Star, Coleman has shunned publicity, with the exception of Saturday night emails to her hometown paper about her memories of growing up in Pennsylvania. “Good friends and great times are not forgotten, even now,” she wrote to the York Daily Record.

Her 34-year-old husband, however, began speaking just hours after landing in Toronto, telling journalists at the airport that his wife had been raped and one of his daughters murdered.

His statement confirmed what the couple had darkly alluded to in letters and “proof-of-life” videos the captors released. Coleman said she had been “defiled” in front of her children and Boyle wrote vaguely of a terminated pregnancy.

Coleman said that the forced abortion was in retaliation for Boyle’s refusal of Haqqani network efforts to recruit him. “They were very angry because Joshua had been asked to join them, to work for them, and he said no,” she said. “They killed her by dosing the food. They put massive doses of estrogen in the food.”

High levels of estrogen in a pregnancy can force a miscarriage and Coleman says once she lost her baby, whom the couple named “Martyr,” the kidnappers boasted about what they had done.

The Taliban last week issued a statement refuting the claim, saying she miscarried naturally.

Coleman said they kept her other two pregnancies secret, and Boyle delivered both her youngest son and daughter by flashlight as she quietly labored in pain.

Coleman spoke to the Star Monday alone on the grounds of Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, as her husband cared for their sons, who are 4 and 2.

All three of her children, including her months-old daughter, who slept in her lap for part of the interview, have been undergoing tests at the hospital and still adapting to a life free from captivity, which includes trips to a playground on the property. Coleman was also receiving medical attention but said she had been recovering.

She said she’s aware of criticism on social media and elsewhere calling both her and Boyle reckless for travelling in Afghanistan while she was pregnant and then getting pregnant three more times while captive.

“It was a decision we made. We did think about it and talk about it and it’s difficult to explain all the reasons, but, for me, a large part was the fact that it has always been important to me to have a large family,” she said. “This took our life away from us — this captivity with no end in sight. And so I felt that it was our best choice at that time. We didn’t know if we would have that opportunity when we came back. We didn’t know how long it would be. It was already unprecedented, so we couldn’t say, ‘Oh we’ll only be here a year or six months.’”

During the interview, she at times laughed at the ridiculousness of a memory — at other times she grew quiet or simply said, “No comment.” She has continued to wear a hijab since returning to Canada but declined Monday to speak about whether she has converted to Islam.

The couple’s willingness to talk so early after their harrowing ordeal is part of what makes this story unique, along with the fact that Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. Canadian Colin Rutherford, who was released in January 2016 after five years in captivity, has still not spoken publicly about his captivity. Amanda Lindhout, who spent 460 days held hostage in Somalia before her release in 2009, would eventually write a bestselling book and give talks about her survival. But she was hospitalized and underwent intense therapy — which she continues today — for many years before speaking openly.

But Coleman said she hoped by speaking out she could help temper the politicking that is shaping the narrative of their kidnapping and rescue.

Pakistan’s army issued a statement hour after the young family was freed and safe in Islamabad that claimed they were alerted by U.S. agencies that the kidnappers were crossing from Afghanistan, at the Kurram Agency border, into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwestern Pakistan.

The next day, U.S. President Donald Trump hailed the rescue as “a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan.”

“The Pakistani government’s co-operation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region,” he said in a statement.

For some, the rescue was hailed as deft diplomacy and a direct line drawn from Trump’s hardline stance with Pakistan this summer, when he threatened that Islamabad had “much to lose” if it failed to co-operate on security issues in neighboring Afghanistan.

Coleman said they were moved quickly from Afghanistan to Pakistan after being kidnapped and the first six or seven months were among the most difficult.

“They first took us out of Afghanistan; it was several days’ drive. They took us to Miran Shah, in Pakistan, where we were kept for more than a year,” she said, adding that Boyle understood some Farsi, which helped them understand at times where they were. “It was very bad. My husband and I were separated at that time. He wasn’t allowed to see Najaeshi or spend any time with us.”

They named their oldest son Najaeshi Jonah.

“Then we were moved to the north of Miran Shah, to the house of a man who said he was called Mahmoud. He was very nice to Najaeshi and would provide us with amenities we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “He would take Najaeshi out to get him sunlight and nobody else did that at any other point.”

In 2014 and 2015, the family was moved often. It was during this time, Coleman says, she had the forced abortion and was raped. “We had a pen they didn’t know about and we were taking little scraps of paper and trying to hand out notes to anyone and everyone that wasn’t one of the guards or commanders involved in killing Martyr,” she said. “But then they took us, separated us, and beat us and that was when the assault on me happened because they wanted us to stop.”

From there, she says, they were moved to Spin Ghar, just over the border in Afghanistan, southeast of Kabul. They were often drugged for the transport and put in the trunk of a vehicle.

“They were always saying you’ll go free in one week or two weeks and this was one of the times they said, ‘We’re going to this new place and one day, two days, maybe a week, you go free, you’re released.’”

They gave the houses nicknames, so the Spin Ghar home became “House of One Day.” They were there for months.

“Then they built a custom-built house for us. It was still close, in Spin Ghar. It was not good, not bad. It had problems, but no big problems … After that, we just stayed in a house for a short time, a day or two, because they were clearly running from something. One of them we called Dar el Fake Osama because one of their small commanders came but he was yelling that he was Osama bin Laden and we had to do everything he said,” Coleman said, shaking her head. “It was so bizarre.”

In a place they called the Cat Hotel, as they believed it was a hotel, they could see the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was there that Coleman says the kidnappers acquired a “jingle truck,” one of the brightly painted trucks adorned with bells that are ubiquitous on Pakistan’s roads. They were taken back into Pakistan in an area between Kohat and Bannu, she said.

They spent their final months there in what they called “Dar el Musa” (House of Musa). “Outside every day they were doing some training, or something was going on, and some guy was shouting and we laughed because whoever Musa was, he was not doing a good job,” she said. “He was always yelling, ‘No, no, no, Musa Musa.’”

She said they were held mainly in that house from about November 2016 until just two days before the rescue, when they were transferred to “the Mud House,” where the windows were covered with wet, packed dirt.

On Oct. 11, Coleman said, she was put in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car, after which some sort of car chase and gun battle broke out before they were freed.

“Our first fear — why we were not poking our heads up and yelling for help — was our fear that it was another gang trying to kidnap us. Possibly just part of the Haqqani network fighting with another part. They’re all just bandits,” she said.

“You’re a prisoner for so long, you’re so suspicious, I was still thinking we don’t know these people, we don’t know where they’re taking us.”

When she finally realized they were Pakistani forces and she was free, she doesn’t remember breaking down, or exactly how she reacted.

“I think I was mostly just in shock.”

Published in thestar.com

Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan

Human rights concerns in Pakistan include an increase in intimidation and attacks logo_printagainst the media by both state and non-state actors; restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); torture and ill-treatment in custody, particularly against terrorism suspects; discrimination against religious minorities; and a failure to protect the rights of women, girls and LGBT people.

Pakistan has implemented some of the recommendations from the second cycle of UPR in 2012. It established the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), a statutory authority to monitor human rights, but which still needs to be properly empowered to operate independently. Pakistan has also enacted legislation, as promised, criminalizing domestic violence and workplace harassment, addressing the lacunae in the anti-honor killing bill, and enacting a law to register Hindu marriages.

This submission will highlight key areas of concern that remain in Pakistan since its previous UPRs in 2012 and 2008.

Freedom of Religion

In adopting the second cycle UPR outcome report, Pakistan agreed to ensure accountability for violent attacks and other abuses on religious minorities. Pakistan also agreed to adopt measures to prevent the abuse of blasphemy laws, and halt forced conversions. Despite that, since 2012 religious minorities have faced sharply increased insecurity and persecution.

Attacks on Shia

The government has failed to take adequate steps to prevent and respond to deadly attacks on Shia and other religious minorities since 2012. In January 2015, at least 53 people were killed in a bomb blast at a Shia mosque in the city of Shikarpur in Sindh province; Jundullah, a splinter group of the Taliban that has pledged support for the armed extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), claimed responsibility for the attack. In February 2015, 19 people were killed after Taliban militants stormed a Shia mosque in Peshawar. In May 2015, an attack by Jundullah on members of the Ismaili Shia community in Karachi killed 43 people.

Attacks on Sufi Shrines

Militants attacked Sufi shrines resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people. In February 2017, a suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh claimed by ISIS killed at least 88 people and injured hundreds. In November 2016, at least 50 people were killed in an attack on the shrine of Shah Noorani in Khuzdar, Balochistan. In February 2013, an attack on a shrine in Shikarpur, Sindh killed four people.

Attacks on Ahmadiyya

The Ahmadiyya community remains subjected to longstanding discriminatory laws, and at risk of violent attacks. In 2013, militant groups accused them of illegally “posing as Muslims,” barred them from using their mosques in Lahore, vandalized their graves across Punjab province, and engaged in inciting violence against them.

Attacks on Christians

In September 2013, a suicide bombing during Sunday Mass at a church in Peshawar killed 81 worshippers and wounded more than 130, the deadliest attack in Pakistan’s history on the Christian minority. In March, suicide bombers belonging to Tehrik-i-Taliban targeted two churches in the Christian neighborhood of Youhana Abad in Lahore, killing 14. In March 2016, at least 74 people were killed and 338 others injured in a suicide bombing in a public park in Lahore. The primary target of the attack was Christians celebrating Easter.

Abuse of Blasphemy Laws

In its statement on the outcome report of the UPR, Pakistan promised to ”review and align the legislation with freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, as stipulated in the ICCPR.”

Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy, although no one to date has been executed for the crime. The Pakistani government failed to amend or repeal the blasphemy law provisions that provide a pretext for impunity and violence against religious minorities.

Dozens are facing blasphemy charges since 2012. At least 17 people are on death row and 20 are serving life sentences. Aasia Bibi, a Christian from Punjab province, who in 2010 became the first woman in the country’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, continues to languish in prison.

Members of the Ahmadiyya and Christian communities continue to be a major target of blasphemy prosecutions. In March 2014, a Lahore court sentenced Sawan Masih, a Christian, to death for blasphemy for alleged derogatory statements about the Prophet Muhammad. In April 2013, those allegations had prompted a 3,000-strong mob to attack a Christian residential community in Lahore and torch hundreds of houses. Police arrested Masih, but failed to otherwise intervene. On May 7, 2014, unidentified gunmen killed Rashid Rahman, a renowned human rights lawyer, in apparent retaliation for representing people accused of blasphemy.

Recommendations:

  • Promptly investigate and prosecute human rights abuses by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) and other militant groups;
  • Take urgent measures to protect members of the minority communities and other vulnerable groups across Pakistan;
  • Repeal laws that discriminate against minorities including section 295(C) of the Penal Code (the Blasphemy Law) and section 298, which targets the Ahmadiyya community:
  • Hold accountable individuals and groups responsible for inciting violence against religious minorities;
  • Invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief to visit Pakistan.

Freedom of Expression

Freedom of expression and the media has come under severe pressure from both state and non-state actors since 2012.

During its UPR review in 2012, Pakistan accepted the recommendation to take measures to “bring to justice perpetrators of attacks on journalists by effectively investigating all individuals and organizations accused of such abuses.” However, no progress has been made in this regard, nor has the government acted on its commitment to “introduce strong legislation prohibiting attacks against journalists to effectively investigate such acts and prosecute the perpetrators.”

Many journalists increasingly practice self-censorship, fearing retribution from security forces, military intelligence, and militant groups. Media outlets remained under pressure to avoid reporting on or criticizing human rights violations in counterterrorism operations. The Taliban and other armed groups threatened media outlets and targeted journalists and activists for their work.

At least 12 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2012.

In April 2014, unidentified gunmen attacked Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s most famous television presenters, in Karachi. Mir survived the attack and Jang/Geo—his employer and the country’s largest media conglomerate— accused the members of security forces of involvement in the incident. In March 2014, unidentified gunmen attacked Raza Rumi, a prominent columnist and television anchor in Lahore. Rumi was injured in the attack, which killed his driver.

In April 2015, Sabeen Mahmud, a prominent Pakistani social and human rights activist, was killed by militants. In August 2016, supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) attacked the office of ARY, one of the country’s largest news broadcasters, after Altaf Husain, the party chief, publicly encouraged them to attack media outlets for not covering party protests.

In January 2016, the Pakistan Rangers entered and, without a warrant, searched the Karachi house of Salman Masood, a New York Times journalist. The Interior Ministry issued an apology and ordered an inquiry, but is yet to make public any outcome or action based on those inquiries.

In January 2017, five men, Salman Haider, a well-known poet and academic, and bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Ahmad Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas, a social activist, went missing or were taken away from different cities. All five men, vocal critics of militant religious groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, used the internet to disseminate their views. Their near simultaneous disappearance and the government’s shutting down of their websites and blogs raises grave concerns of government involvement. Since then, although four of the five men have returned, no one has been held accountable for their abduction.

The Pakistani government announced the “Policy for Regulation of INGOs in Pakistan” on October 1, 2015, which requires all international human rights and humanitarian groups to register and obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Interior to carry out any activities in the country, and to restrict their operations to specific issues and geographical areas. The ministry is broadly empowered to cancel registrations on grounds of “involvement in any activity inconsistent with Pakistan’s national interests, or contrary to Government policy”—terms that have vague meanings and can be used for political reasons.

In August 2016, the Pakistan government also enacted the Prevention of Cybercrimes Act that allows the government to censor online content and to criminalize internet user activity under extremely broad and vague criteria. The law also sanctions government authorities to access data of internet users without judicial review or oversight.

Recommendations:

  • End the harassment, intimidation, use of coercion, violence and other abuses against media personnel. Lift formal and informal restrictions and decrees on the media that violate the right to freedom of expression;
  • Investigate and discipline or prosecute as appropriate any public officials perpetrating abuses against members of the media;
  • Review and amend the Prevention of Cybercrimes Act to ensure that it does not criminalize peaceful use of the internet, safeguards privacy rights, and enables free expression;
  • Withdraw the “Policy for Regulation of INGOs in Pakistan,” which will severely restrict operations by international NGOs and human rights workers.

Abusive counterterror measures

Pakistan faces a serious security threat, and has deployed measures to contain attacks by armed militants. However, there are serious allegations of human rights violations including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings during counterterrorism operations. Suspects are frequently detained without charge or tried without proper judicial process. Counterterrorism laws also continue to be misused to perpetuate vendettas as an instrument of political coercion.

In its 2012 UPR, the Pakistan government supported the recommendation to, “continue the reform of the judiciary, law enforcement and the penitentiary system, as well as continue the policy to reduce crime and corruption.” Instead of taking measures to reform the criminal justice system, in February 2015, the Pakistan government approved the functioning of secret military courts empowered to try civilians and impose the death penalty in terrorism-related cases for a period of two years.  From January 7, 2015 to January 6, 2017, military courts convicted 274 individuals and handed down 161 death sentences. At least 17 people have been executed after being convicted by a military court. On March 28, 2017, the Pakistan Senate approved a bill reinstating the military courts.

In July 2014, the Pakistan government enacted for a period of two years the Protection of Pakistan Act, a counterterrorism law that threatens basic rights and freedoms in violation of Pakistan’s international legal obligations.

Recommendations:

  • Review and rescind any proposal to reinstate military courts empowered to try civilians;
  • Impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty;
  • Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Security force violations and lack of accountability

In June 2014, in Model Town, a Lahore suburb, police fired without warning on supporters of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), an opposition political party, whose workers had tried to stop police demolition of security barriers erected in front of PAT headquarters. Authorities confirmed the deaths of at least eight PAT members.

In May 2016, Aftab Ahmad, a member of the Karachi-based MQM, was killed while in the custody of the Pakistan Rangers, a federal paramilitary force. An autopsy report found that over 35 percent of his body was covered in bruises and abrasions, indicating torture. In an unusual step, the chief of army staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, ordered a military inquiry into the death.

Pakistan supported the recommendation during its last UPR to, “specifically criminalize enforced disappearances in the penal code and reinforce the capacities of the Pakistanis Inquiry Commission on Enforced Disappearances in order that the Commission can fully carry out its mission.” Pakistan has failed to uphold that commitment. Pakistan has also ignored rulings from the Supreme Court in 2013 demanding justice for victims of enforced disappearances, as well as recommendations from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2012.

Recommendations:

  • Make known the names and whereabouts of all detainees, and ensure they have access to family members and legal counsel;
  • Ensure compliance and transparency in arrest procedures to prevent enforced disappearances, torture and custodial killings; and hold to account those responsible for violations.

Women and girls

Violence against women and girls—including rape, “honor killings,” acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage—remained a serious problem. Pakistani activists estimate that there are about a 1,000 “honor killings” every year. In May 2014, 25-year-old Farzana Parveen, who was three-months pregnant, was stoned to death in front of a Lahore courthouse by family members angry that she had married without their permission. In July 2016, Qandeel Baloch, a well-known Pakistani model was killed by her brother in an “honor killing.” In 2012, Pakistan noted recommendations to decriminalize adultery and non-marital consensual sex.

Women and girls from religious minority communities are particularly vulnerable. A report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan found that at least 1,000 girls belonging to Christian and Hindu communities are forced to marry Muslim men every year. The government has failed to act to stop such forced marriages, and in 2012 noted a recommendation to “Amend discriminatory laws and vigilantly counter discrimination against marginalized groups, including women and girls, ethnic and religious minorities and provide a safe and just environment for all citizens in Pakistan.” Child marriage remains a serious concern in Pakistan, with 21 percent of girls marrying before the age of 18 according to UNICEF. The 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act currently sets the age of marriage at 18 for males and 16 for females.

Women have been denied the right to vote in various parts of the country. In May 2015, during a parliamentary by-election in Lower Dir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, none of the eligible 50,000 women in the constituency voted after warnings reportedly broadcast on mosque loudspeakers. Polling stations were guarded by “baton-wielding men,” according to news reports, who blocked the few women who attempted to vote.

Recommendations:

  • Reform all laws, policies, and practices that treat “honor killings” more leniently than other murders. Ensure the implementation of the law on “honor killings” to bring Pakistan into compliance with international legal standards;
  • Ensure the effective implementation of the legislation on domestic violence and acid attacks and prosecute those responsible.

Children

The Pakistani government failed to establish the National Commission on the Rights of the Child, an independent body to protect and enforce child rights in the country. Attacks on schools and the use of children in suicide bombings by the Taliban and affiliated armed extremist groups continued. Armed militant groups recruited children into combat. Security forces, political groups, and criminal gangs have also occupied and used education institutions, denying children the right to education.

In the last UPR in 2012, the Pakistan government accepted the recommendation to “consolidate measures to address sexual abuses and exploitation of children.” Nonetheless, rampant sexual abuse of children was exposed in August 2015, when police discovered that criminals had produced and sold more than 400 videos of girls and boys being sexually abused in Kasur, Punjab. These videos had been filmed over a span of 10 years, affecting 280 children.

In May 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded its review of Pakistan and expressed concern about a number of issues affecting children including executions, the impact of sectarian violence and terrorism, alleged torture and ill-treatment in police custody, and use of children in the worst forms of labor.

Recommendations:

  • Make 18 years the minimum age of marriage for women and men;
  • Create a comprehensive national action plan to end child marriage, investigate all complaints of child marriage promptly, intervene to prevent child marriage wherever possible, and prosecute anyone who has facilitated or arranged a child marriage in violation of the law;
  • Ensure that social welfare officers, social workers, and law enforcement officials identify and protect children who are victims of sexual abuse;
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute those responsible for sexual abuse of children;
  • Investigate and appropriately prosecute individuals responsible for attacks on students, teachers, and schools.
  • Respond to attacks on schools by promptly repairing damaging and ensuring that students can safely return to class.
  • Take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools, including by joining the Safe Schools Declaration.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In 2009, Pakistan’s Supreme Court asked the government to ensure rights of transgender people to basic education, employment, and protection, an important step toward legally recognizing gender identity and protecting transgender people. However, violent attacks against transgender and intersex women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province surged in 2016, with unknown assailants frequently targeting those involved in activism. Since January 2015, human rights groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have recorded dozens of threats and attacks against trans people and their property, including abuses while in police custody. In May 2015, Alisha, a 23-year-old transgender activist, was shot eight times in Peshawar, and died in the hospital while staff debated whether to put her in the male or female ward. In September 2016, the National Commission for Human Rights called on the government to investigate the attacks. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial parliament voted unanimously to ensure voting rights for transgender people; and a provincial court ruled that the national census should include three gender options.

Pakistan’s penal code continues to criminalize homosexuality, placing men who have sex with men at risk of police abuse and other violence and discrimination.

Recommendations:

  • Undertake prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into attacks on transgender people and ensure those responsible are brought to justice;
  • Arrange for the police to work with transgender communities and organizations to introduce sensitivity training in accordance with the 2009 Pakistan Supreme Court judgment on ending discrimination against transgender people and with international human rights principles.

Persons with Disabilities

During the 2012 UPR, the Pakistan government agreed to “continue working for the welfare of children, women and persons with disabilities.” Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011, yet implementation has been slow.  For example, under the convention, Pakistan is obliged to provide adequate health care, support, and procedural adjustments to enable people with disabilities to participate in the judicial process. Yet adequate safeguards for the rights of prisoners with disabilities have not been put in place. Some individuals with physical or psychosocial disabilities were on death row in very difficult conditions, including in solitary confinement, which can severely exacerbate previously existing mental health conditions.

Recommendations:

  • Ensure effective access to justice for people with disabilities, including by providing adequate health care, support, and procedural adjustments to enable people with disabilities to participate in the judicial process;
  • Prohibit the prolonged solitary confinement of any prisoner;
  • Prohibit solitary confinement of prisoners with psychosocial disabilities.

Published in Human Rights Watch hrw.com

Nawaz, Maryam and Capt Safdar indicted in Avenfield reference

By Muzamil Baloch

Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband 163654_5594237_updatesretired Captain Mohammad Safdar were indicted by an accountability court in Islamabad in connection with a reference pertaining to the Avenfield flats filed against them by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), reported.

All three accused pleaded not guilty to the charges. After their indictment, Maryam, Safdar and Nawaz Sharif’s pleader read out the following statement:

“I do not plead guilty. Charges are not only groundless, baseless and unfounded but also frivolous, and on top of that we are being denied our right to fair trial. The charges are being framed on a report that is incomplete and controversial. It will go down in history as [a] mockery of justice and travesty of justice. Moreover, the charges are being framed without awaiting the detailed order of the Supreme Court in the review petitions.”

Sharif, who is currently in the United Kingdom, and his sons Hassan and Hussain are likely to be indicted in the other two references later today.

The court proceeded with the indictment of Sharif, Maryam and Safdar after rejecting three applications filed by the trio requesting suspension of the indictment.

The court indicted the Sharif family members in the London properties reference even though Nawaz Sharif and lead defense counsel Khawaja Haris are both out of the country.

US will eradicate terrorism, with or without Pakistan: Tillerson

By Shehzad Baloch

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after visit of Pakistan talking to media has said that he rex_tillerson_suggests_regime_change_in_venezuela.jpg_1689854195did not visit Islamabad earlier this week to lecture or coerce Pakistanis but he did tell them that Washington is determined to eradicate terrorism from the region with their support or “in a different way”.

“And that’s not a threat. It’s just a matter of fact. We have to deal with the conditions on the ground. And as you know, the entire South Asia strategy is a conditions-based strategy,” he said.

Mr Tillerson said the message he delivered to Pakistan during the visit was: “Here’s what we need for Pakistan to do. We’re asking you to do this; we’re not demanding anything. You’re a sovereign country. You’ll decide what you want to do.”

On Thursday evening, Secretary Tillerson reviewed his seven-day visit to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia with the State Department press corps from Geneva, also highlighting key points of his talks in Islamabad on Tuesday. He said he had offered to help Pakistan resolve its disputes with India, a suggestion that may irk New Delhi, which opposes any third-party mediations with Pakistan.

“That would be a complete mischaracterization of the meeting,” said the top US diplomat when a journalist asked him if it would be accurate to say that he received a message of defiance from the Pakistanis who told him, “We will not be coerced”.

But he acknowledged that he told them Washington would implement its new strategy with or without Islamabad because “this is what we think is necessary. And if you don’t want to do that, don’t feel you can do it, we’ll adjust our tactics and our strategies to achieve the same objective a different way”.

Secretary Tillerson said he viewed US-Pakistan ties as “a respectful relationship” but, “we have some very legitimate tasks, some very legitimate concerns that we need their help addressing. I said to them, ‘You can do it or you can decide not to do it. And if you decide you don’t want to do it, just let us know. We’ll adjust our plans accordingly and we’ll deal with it ourselves’ “.

Another journalist referred to Indian media reports that Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed was not on a list of 75 terrorists that the US team handed over to Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Tuesday. The journalist also referred to a Pakistani media report that none of the 75 terrorists on the US list were Pakistanis and asked Secretary Tillerson to comment on both reports.

The secretary ignored the two points, saying instead that he had “a very healthy exchange of information on terrorists” with the Pakistanis. “We have provided them specific asks, beyond just names of individuals. We’ve provided them specific asks,” he said. “But we’ve also invited greater sharing from them as well. So we expect to receive information from them that will be useful.”

The United States, he said, was mainly interested in specific information about the location and movements of these terrorists, instead of indulging in the dispute whether they were based in Pakistan or Afghanistan. “As you know, the Pakistan-Afghan border is quite porous; in fact, it’s ill-defined. And so we’re less concerned about are they in Pakistani territory, in Afghanistan territory, or — as we are obtaining information so that we can eliminate them,” he said.

Mr Tillerson said he also explained President Donald Trump’s new strategy for South Asia in his discussions with Afghans, Pakistanis and Indian leaders, which requires the involvement of regional players — particularly India and Pakistan — for restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan is a key partner for the stability of the region. We have a long history of positive partnership with Pakistan, but Pakistan must do more to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within its country,” he said.

“The people of Pakistan have much to gain from a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, and a region that denies safe haven to terrorists. This was my principal message to Prime Minister (Shahid Khaqan) Abbasi, Chief of Army Staff (Gen Qamar) Bajwa, and the Pakistani leadership.”

He rejected the suggestion that he was lecturing Islamabad from Delhi and Kabul, which irritated Pakistanis. “I would not have characterized my direct discussions with them as lecturing at all. It was a very good and open exchange,” he said.

“In fact, we probably listened 80 per cent of the time and we talked 20 per cent. And it was important to me, because I have not engaged with Pakistani leadership previously. And so my objective was to listen a lot, to hear their perspective.”

The meetings in Islamabad, he added, provided both sides to share their views.

“We put our points forward. We put our expectations forward in no uncertain terms. There has been significant engagement prior to my visit, and there’ll be further engagement in the future, as we work through how we want to… exchange information and achieve the objective of eliminating these terrorist organizations, wherever they may be located.”

‘They have come for our children’

Thirteen-year-old Ulfat and eight-year-old Aftab came to the city from Mashkai, 23379868_1520653741344272_7288575257906292314_nBalochistan, with big dreams – the older brother wants to become a doctor, but the younger, perhaps, inspired by some cousins, wants to go into engineering. However, what the future holds for the two minor brothers remains a mystery for now since they have been missing for the past few days.

After midnight on October 28, unidentified men came knocking at their door in Gulshan-e-Hadeed and took away the children along with six other men picked up in raids in the locality and in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, according to Farah, who is the aunt of Ulfat and a distant relative of Aftab.

Farah, who sustained a spinal injury as she was pushed from the third floor during the commotion of that night, was protesting outside the Karachi Press Club along with members of the Baloch Human Rights Organization (BHRO) who have camped out there to demand the safe return of the group’s central information secretary, Nawaz Ata, and other teenaged students who they claim were picked up by security agencies.

“Upon their arrival to the city, both children were very eager to learn the new language but it appears that they would be deprived of the right to education as well,” she said wincing in pain every time she moved to readjust her position.

Despite the pain she was in, Farah was more worried about the whereabouts of the two kids, who are too young to partake in any activities whatsoever, she said.

“They are minors who had finally adjusted to their routines of attending schools, and returning to do their homework assignments and playing either games on streets or a laptop,” said Farah.

According to her, Ulfat wants to pursue medicine when he gets into ninth grade, while Aftab wants to be an engineer. Farah said it looks like that the authorities have come for our children.

“It appears that the authorities have changed their tactics lately,” said Asad Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). “Earlier, they would come after only those who were suspected of involvement in dubious activities. However now, they are targeting even those who are speaking up for the ones who go missing.”

Citing the case of Punhal Sario, who went missing in early August, Butt said that even though Sario had returned safely, it was difficult to ascertain the reason behind his enforced disappearance because he didn’t have a political background.

“He used to speak up for farmers and laborers. But now it is extremely shameful that even children are not being spared,” the HRCP member said. He urged the authorities to address this grave issue of enforced disappearances, saying such moves would only pave the way for contempt.

“We need to understand that it is bearable to see violence against one’s self but when children are targeted, even the most patient are bound to take a stand,” Butt remarked. As a citizen of this state, every individual has the right to voice their opinion, and if the authorities had any concerns, then the doors of the courts are always open, he said. Earlier, the BHRO representatives had gone to the HRCP to share their grievances stating that the police authorities are not cooperating with regards to the registration of an FIR.

Published in TheNews

Health threat: Hepatitis cases rising in Balochistan

By Basheer Ahmed Ijbari

Three districts of Balochistan — Musa Khel, Loralai and Sibi — have the highest number imagesof hepatitis cases in the province, health experts said at an awareness workshop held in Quetta. The number of hepatitis patients has reached alarming levels in Balochistan and the government and international development partners need to take stock of the situation, Dr Luqman Ahmed Butt said. Social mobiliser Wajih Akhtar said that sexual abuse and use of narcotics have given rise to number of patients suffering from HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Speakers also said that in Balochistan there is no concept of openly discussing issues of adolescent and young adults.

Catalans declare independence as Madrid imposes direct rule

The Catalan regional parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain, while the Spanish parliament has approved direct rule over the region.

Catalan MPs easily approved the move amid an opposition boycott.IMG_20171028_001104

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had told senators direct rule was needed to return “law, democracy and stability” to Catalonia.

The crisis began earlier this month when Catalonia held a controversial referendum on independence.

The Catalan government said that of the 43% of potential voters who took part, 90% were in favour of independence. But Spain’s Constitutional Court had ruled the vote illegal.

What happened in the Catalan parliament?

A motion declaring independence was approved on Friday with 70 in favour, 10 against, and two abstentions in the 135-seat chamber.

The measure calls for the transfer of legal powers from Spain to an independent Catalonia.

But the Spanish Constitutional Court is likely to declare it illegal, while the US, UK, Germany and France all expressed support for Spanish unity.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU “doesn’t need any more cracks, more splits”.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has called for supporters to “maintain the momentum” in a peaceful manner.

Crowds have been celebrating the declaration of independence and Spanish flags have been removed from some regional government buildings in Catalonia.

Catalonia independence: Spain takes charge of Catalan government

The Spanish government has stripped Catalonia of its autonomy and taken charge of its government.

The measures early on Saturday came after the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence on Friday.

An official state bulletin dismissed Catalan leaders and handed control of Catalonia to Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.

Earlier, Spain’s interior ministry took charge of Catalonia’s police after firing senior Catalan police officials.

On Friday, PM Mariano Rajoy announced the dissolution of the regional parliament and the removal of the Catalan leader, and called snap local elections.

Demonstrations for and against independence went on into the night. A large rally “for the unity of Spain and the constitution” is being held in Madrid.

The crisis began when Catalan leaders held an independence referendum, defying a ruling by the Constitutional Court which had declared it illegal.

The Catalan government said that of the 43% of potential voters who took part, 90% were in favor of independence. Others boycotted the vote after the court ruling.

India sends first Afghan wheat shipment via Iran port

Shipment paves way for Iran’s Chabahar to become reliable alternative trade route for Afghanistan: Indian foreign minister

By Shuriah Niazi

India sent its first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan from its Kandla port in western 2628952Gujarat state that will eventually reach the war-torn country via Iran’s Chabahar port.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani announced the flagging off the vessel from the Indian port through a joint video conference, according to a statement from the ministry.

The shipment is part of an Indian government commitment to supply 1.1 million tons of wheat to Afghanistan on basis of grants.

Swaraj and Rabbani noted the fact that the first shipment through Chabahar was made possible only after a trilateral deal on establishment of international transport and transit corridor had been signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Iran in May 2016.

Six more wheat shipments will be sent to Afghanistan over the next few months, the statement said. The ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to continue their cooperation for the benefit and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan and the region.

“The shipment of wheat is a landmark moment as it will pave the way for operationalization of the Chabahar port as an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity for Afghanistan.

“It will open up new opportunities for trade and transit from and to Afghanistan, and enhance trade and commerce between the three countries and the wider region,” Swaraj said in the statement.

India, Iran and Afghanistan are building the Chabahar Port in the strategic Iranian port city, apparently to counter the Gwadar port plan of Pakistan and China.

Gwadar port is in the mineral-rich southwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan province, which is billed as the gateway to the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

As part of the project, China is developing the Gwadar port where hundreds of Chinese and Pakistani officials and laborers continue to work on developmental projects.

Iran’s Chabahar currently connects India with Afghanistan by road and plans are on by Tehran to build a rail link with New Delhi’s support.

On June 9, The Economic Times said in its report that Tehran was considering a plan to link the strategically-located Chabahar port with various intra-Central Asia transport corridors.

The Iranian government also plans to link Chabahar with various Central Asian transport corridors to open up a second route for India’s outreach to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia republics.

Published in Indianexpress. com

US pressure on Pakistan

By Sankar Sen

Despite robust posturing, Pakistan appears to be caving in to American pressure. President Trump, in his first prime-time address, announced his policy towards Afghanistan and South-east Asia. He hit out at Pakistan for providing safe haven to what he called the “agents of chaos” that killed Americans in Afghanistan.

He warned that Pakistan has much to lose by harboring terrorists and then publicly articulated what his predecessors had said in private. He also announced that US troops would remain in Afghanistan without a timeframe. Before this stinging indictment of Pakistan, President Trump had received a report jointly compiled by scholars and experts from Asia Foundation Centre, Heritage Foundation, and Hudson Institute. The report advised the President to state that he intends to review the intelligence of Pakistan’s involvement in supporting terrorism much more critically than his predecessors. The group acknowledged that there is no silver bullet that can change the decade-old Pakistan policy of supporting terrorists.

But the administration must make it clear that Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO power would be in serious jeopardy, unless it supports US objectives relating to counter-terrorism. Initially the report was greeted with bitterness and anger across the Radcliffe Line. The military brass, including the Pakistan’s Army Chief, as well as political leaders and clerics have said that the US has not appreciated Pakistan’s contribution in the war against terrorism. They have criticized the US for bullying Pakistan, despite its history of cooperating with America in conflicts. Raza Rabani, the left-leaning Chairman of the Pakistan Senate, invoked the legacy of Vietnam and said that Trump will transform Pakistan into a “graveyard for American troops”.

Fears have been expressed that India, the US and Afghanistan are trying to destabilize and destroy Pakistan. China, its all-weather ally, as expected, has stepped forward to defend Pakistan. Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Hua Chunying has iterated that Pakistan is in the frontline in the fight against terrorism and has contributed its share in the task of upholding peace and stability in the region. The key question that arises is whether America is now serious and decisive in taking on Pakistan and then carry out the threats advanced by President Trump. Earlier, President Obama had told his advisers in 2009 that “we need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan”, sending its CIA Chief and National Security Adviser to deliver the message. The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had warned in 2011 that “you can’t keep a snake in your backyard and hope that it will bite your neighbor”.

The situation this time appears to be somewhat different. Military strategists and experts are of the view that infusion of more American troops in Afghanistan will not serve any purpose, if Pakistan continues to harbor and support the Afghan Taliban.

America has already started tightening the screws on Pakistan. It has given the country a taste of his financial vulnerability by banning operations of Habib Bank in the US. This bank is one of Pakistan’s leading financial institutions.

The Trump administration has also indicated to Pakistan that it has other weapons in its armory like stripping the country of its status as a non-NATO ally and then impose a ban on suspected ISI activists engaged in undercover operations in America. Further, if the US declares Pakistan as a terror state, it will dry up billions of dollars by way of IMF loans and Pakistan’s access to global finance.

There is also the possibility of a western visa ban. Many of Pakistan’s senior political and military leaders own prime property in London and in the US. When things get difficult in their own country, they camp in the West. Many civilian leaders believe that by supporting the terrorist groups at the bidding of the army and ISI, Pakistan is isolating itself from the international community and hurting its own interest.

Trump and his advisors are further annoyed with Pakistan whose nuclear secrets and their passage to North Korea are being recalled against the present backdrop of the missile tests and other antics by the North Korean dictator. Apologists for Pakistan in the Pentagon and the State Department have argued that excessive might eventually posit Pakistan in China’s camp. But China will not be able to do much to stave off the financial meltdown if the US decides to effect a squeeze. Beijing is also concerned over the growing ascendancy of the jihadis in Pakistan.

However, the nub of the matter is that as China challenges the post-Cold War global order, Pakistan has become its indispensable ally. Andrew Small in his well-researched book, China-Pakistan Axis ~ Asia’s New Geopolitics has pointed out that an alliance between Pakistan and China has now become stronger and Beijing wants Islamabad to play its role that China wants it to play. Another matter of concern for Pakistan is that America now wants India to play an important role in Afghanistan. The prospect of India with a major footprint in Afghanistan has alarmed Pakistan, according to Michel Kugelman of the Wilson Centre. Pakistan fears that its eternal enemy, India, might use Afghanistan as a base to meddle in Pakistan’s affairs, notably by extending support to the separatists in Balochistan.

No wonder Pakistan supports groups like the Haqqanis that promote Pakistan’s interest of keeping India at bay in Afghanistan. The US Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, in his testimony before the American Senate has said that he is prepared to give Pakistan one last chance and the US has an “enormously powerful number of weapons” if Pakistan does not follow through and be a better promoter of stability in the region. Pakistan’s civilian leaders are willing to cooperate with America and change its policy of coddling the terrorists.

Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif during his visit to the USA reportedly admitted that these terror groups have become liabilities, but Pakistan is finding it difficult to control the “monsters” that it has created. He also said that if the US provides evidence of Haqqani networks operating in Pakistan, the latter will take steps to destroy them. Now Islamabad has helped to secure the release of an American-Canadian couple in terrorist custody in Afghanistan with a view to ingratiating itself to Washington. It remains to be seen if this is just a face-saving and self-serving exercise and the Pakistan army is really willing to dump the Haqqani network which has been viewed as the “fighting arm of the ISI”. President Trump has lauded Pakistan’s cooperation but it remains to be seen how far the country is playing a double game as before.

It cannot completely dump them because of the fear that the Afghan Taliban will join hands with the Pakistani Taliban (Tahreek-i-Taliban) and create major problems for the army. ISI may try the familiar ruse of asking them to lie low till the storm blows over.

Hence strict American surveillance is needed to ensure that Pakistan gives up the perfidious game of speaking and acting differently. As regards the Laskar-eToiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, Pakistan’s policy will remain unchanged. The army is now trying to bring them to the mainstream. Milli Muslim League (MML) the political front of Hafiz Saeed led Jamat-ul-Dan has applied for registration as a mainstream political party. Pakistan intends to release Hafiz Saeed from house arrest, and hence for India there will be no respite from cross-border terrorism.

(The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences; former Director-General, National Human Rights Commission; and former Director, National Police Academy)

Published in The Statesman. com

Terror groups threaten Pakistan’s ‘stability and security’: Tillerson says in India

By Shehzad Baloch

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, during his visit to India, said that the United States was concerned that extremist groups “left unchecked in Pakistan” posed a “threat to the stability and security” of the government in Islamabad.

“This could lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability. It is not in anyone’s interests that the government of Pakistan be destabilized,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

Tillerson started talks with Indian leaders after his arrival in India and is expected to highlight the strong alliance between the two nations, with both anxious to counter China’s growing influence.

Tillerson arrived from Pakistan where he was given a low-key reception after US complaints about Islamabad backing Taliban militants on its soil.

Tillerson also laid a wreath at a memorial to India’s independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi, removing his shoes to approach a pillar marking the spot where Gandhi was shot dead on January 30, 1948.

Support for efforts to bolster the Afghan government, China’s influence and other Asian security issues were expected to dominate talks in New Delhi, officials said.

Last week, Tillerson had called for deeper cooperation with India in the face of growing Chinese influence in Asia and said Washington wanted to promote a “free and open” region led by prosperous democracies.

He also said Beijing sometimes flouted international conventions, citing the South China Sea dispute as an example.

India had welcomed the comments, saying they “highlighted our shared commitment to a rule-based international order”.

In Pakistan, Tillerson had met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other top officials.

“Tillerson reiterated President Trump’s message that Pakistan must increase its efforts to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within the country,” a statement from the US embassy said.

But he also expressed his appreciation to Pakistan for the sacrifices it has made in fighting militancy and for its help in securing the release of a US-Canadian family held captive by the Taliban for five years.

Missing people in census

By Mehtab S. Karim

The provisional results of the much-delayed census in Pakistan are shrouded in mystery Population-Cencus-2017-in-Pakistan-1and ambiguity due to lack of transparency. This has led to the validity of the entire exercise being questioned by many political leaders, media personalities, members of civil society, academics and policy planners. The 2017 census recorded a total population count of 207.8 million with an annual growth rate of 2.4pc during 1998-2017.

Surprisingly, the growth rate in Sindh — the destination for millions of migrants from other provinces — is at par with the national average. Meanwhile, growth rates of 3.41pc in Balochistan and 2.89pc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are on the higher side due to the inclusion of Afghan refugees who have intermingled with the local population there, unlike in Sindh — particularly in Karachi — where they, along with other migrants, remain isolated and thus perhaps have not been counted. However, Punjab’s annual growth rate of 2.13pc is mainly due to reduced fertility and migration within and outside the country.

Counting in a census is never perfect, and usually some people are left out. The best way to check the validity of a census result is through the universally accepted procedure of Post Enumeration Survey (PES) which is conducted in randomly selected areas following a census, and its results are cross-checked with the census results of the same areas. A PES is routinely conducted in many countries, with varying results. For example, the PES conducted in the US after its 1990 census revealed that 1.8pc of the population was missed; in Australia’s 2001 census, 2pc was missed; in India’s 2011 census, 2.3pc was missed with wide regional variations; and in Bangladesh’s 2011 census, 4.2pc was missed.

In Pakistan, a PES was conducted following the 1961 census, which indicated an undercount of 6.7pc and consequently the population was adjusted upwards. The PES results after the 1981 census were not released, whereas the exercise was not carried out after the 1998 census, nor is one planned following the 2017 census, where it is likely that, as elsewhere, between 2pc to 4pc people have been missed.

Another method of cross-verification of census results is through demographic modelling, which takes into account trends in demographic indicators (yearly estimates of birth, death, and migration rates) between two censuses. I carried out such an exercise using data from the annual demographic surveys conducted in Pakistan during 1982-97, and after taking migration into account, had estimated that in the 1998 census, about 6m (4.3pc) fewer people were counted, and most were missing from Sindh. Unfortunately, the annual Pakistan Demographic Survey was discontinued after 2007. In the absence of demographic indicators, it is thus difficult to estimate the population of Pakistan and its provinces.

Due to the influx of migrants from other provinces as well as the neighboring countries, Sindh’s share in the country’s population increased from 18pc in 1951 to 23pc in 1981. However, in the subsequent two censuses it has remained at the same level, apparently due to systematic undercounting of Sindh’s population. The evidence lies in the reported average number of persons living in a household in the three previous censuses. For example, the reported average number of persons per household declined sharply in Sindh from 6.8 in the 1981 census to 5.6 in 2017 and slightly so in Balochistan from 7.2 to seven. On the other hand, it increased sharply from 6.8 to 7.9 in KP and slightly from 6.3 to 6.4 in Punjab.

This is contrary to what is reported in the yearly household sample surveys conducted during 2000 and 2015 by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). These surveys indicate that the average number of persons in each household was 6.6 in Sindh; 6.2 in Punjab; 7.5 in KP and 7.5 in Balochistan. It is apparent that in the 2017 census, an average of one person has been missed in each household in Sindh and 0.5 persons in Balochistan. Thus in the 2017 census, about 9m people were possibly missed in Sindh and 0.7m in Balochistan. On the other hand, apparently about 3.5m people were over-counted in Punjab, and 1.8m in KP. Sindh’s population is perhaps about 57m constituting 27pc of the country’s population, instead of 48m which is 23pc share in the country’s population, as reported in the 2017 census due to possible undercounting.

In several meetings with senior PBS officials, demographic experts (including myself), had proposed that for a validity check a PES be conducted following the 2017 census, but unfortunately this was met with opposition, because of fears based on ‘what if results do not match?’ Earlier this month, it was reported in Dawn that PBS is not willing to entertain the Sindh government’s request to provide relevant documents in order to check the validity of the results of the 2017 census. Not only is this against the principle of transparency, but in case there is a genuine discrepancy in the numbers, it will result in misallocation of resources as well as National Assembly seats on the one hand, and also jeopardize key policy outcomes on the regional and macro levels on the other.

Census data is integral to the growth prospects of the country at large and its provinces in particular. In the absence of international standards of cross-validation that have not been followed, if the 2017 census results are accepted at face value, it could lead to discontent and deprivation in Sindh and Balochistan. Under these circumstances, only an independent commission of inquiry could investigate and validate the 2017 census results. Until the validity of the exercise is checked through a PES in randomly selected areas by a third party (eg jointly by a team of demographers and representatives of universities’ statistics departments) and the results are cross-checked, it would not be in the national interest to accept the 2017 census results at face value. Given that the census was conducted on the orders of the Supreme Court, it should consider taking suo motu notice of the matter, so that the truth may prevail.

The writer is a professor of demography and former member of the governing council of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

mehtabkarim@gmail.com

Published in Dawn

The Defeat of ISIS Must Mean an Independent Kurdistan

By AZIZ AHMAD

ERBIL, Iraq — Flanked by senior military commanders, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi 14ahmad-inyt-master768of Iraq  announced the defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul. The bloody, nine-month reconquest of Iraq’s second-largest city after three years of occupation by the terror group was achieved thanks to close military cooperation between our Kurdish pesh merga forces and the Iraqi Army.

But there are still large areas of the country where the Islamic State is dug in, and much remains to be done. For the Kurds, the partnership with Iraqi forces makes a long-overdue political reckoning necessary and urgent.

This is why Iraqi Kurdistan will take the important step of holding a referendum on independence on Sept. 25. We believe this vote will give us a mandate to pursue a negotiated settlement with Mr. Abadi — and political recognition from his government is paramount.

The outcome of an agreement between Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, will have repercussions far beyond our borders. The hope of the United States administration for a second, moderate Iraqi government in 2018 relies on buy-in from both the Kurds and the Iraqis.

Washington’s default position has been that a unified Iraq within its current borders offers a viable future for the country. That view needs to be overhauled. This failed policy has threatened the very fabric of our societies, both within and beyond Iraq’s borders, fueling repression at home and conflict abroad. Washington should now encourage Baghdad to negotiate with Erbil, to achieve a realignment in the region on our own terms that can shape bilateral relations between Iraq and Kurdistan.

This would be the culmination of decades of struggle for Kurdish self-determination. My own journey along this road began in March 1991. It was a day that should have brought regeneration for the Kurds of Iraq after an uprising against Saddam Hussein; instead, panic spread through my hometown, Zakho, in Iraqi Kurdistan. As I walked home beside my mother that spring evening, the sound of a nearby explosion sent us dashing for our neighbor’s bomb shelter.

Each year, I revisit that moment in the dark underground retreat filled with shaken mothers. Later that night, my family squeezed into a truck carrying dozens of others to the nearby foothills for a five-day trek to refuge from Saddam Hussein in Turkey. That journey on foot across the snow-covered mountains of northern Iraq remains seared in my memory.

A century after the breakdown of the Ottoman boundaries, Iraq remains a forced union of peoples whose national aspirations and sense of identity have been suppressed. Members of my family spent decades in exile from successive Iraqi governments that, since the turn of the 20th century, butchered generations of Kurdish men, women and children who struggled to find their place in this artificial state.

Thus there has always been a lingering, unresolved question of identity for the Kurds of Iraq. That identity will finally achieve resolution when the people of Iraqi Kurdistan vote in the referendum. This expression of popular will should not only close a long chapter of grief but also bring new certainty and stability to an increasingly volatile region plagued by sectarian conflict and bloodshed.

Inside Iraq, a vote for independence will reconfigure the relationship with Baghdad as a just agreement between two sovereign nations. In the past, the forced unity with Baghdad crippled our efforts in the fight against the Islamic State. Even as the extremist group overran the country, Baghdad continued to lobby against Western support for the Kurds.

This foolish expedient put us all at risk. It created an absurd situation in which the central government funneled billions of dollars for the administration of services in territory held by the Islamic State even as it suspended the Kurdistan Regional Government’s share of the national budget. Rather than come together to defeat a common existential threat, Baghdad blocked licenses for nonlethal equipment and armored vehicles for Kurdish security forces, further feeding ingrained resentments.

I saw the lifesaving difference that night-vision goggles could make for pesh merga sentries facing unseen adversaries in Mosul. By contrast, Baghdad’s Shiite militias were armed to the teeth with American gear, and their veterans receive state benefits.

In December 2016, I was part of a high-level Kurdish delegation that visited the White House to discuss our national aspirations. During a passionate exchange, we were asked to delay our dream of statehood for the sake of Iraq’s war against the Islamic State. We have heard this argument before, many times.

In 2003, we agreed to American requests to give the state of Iraq a chance. Since then, Baghdad’s failure to keep its promises of genuine partnership together with greater autonomy has hardened our resolve. We reject the premise that our independence would destabilize the country. The state of Iraq is prone to instability; the crises that threaten to tear it apart at the seams will not end with the Islamic State’s defeat. The country’s polarized political system, which is characterized by the privileged position of its Shiite leadership, will endure, leaving minorities, including Iraqi Sunnis, marginalized. It was precisely this toxic political space that allowed the Islamic State to emerge.

In the next six months, the Islamic State will be militarily defeated in Iraq. But rather than a repeating of past mistakes, the war’s imminent end should lead to a realistic assessment in Erbil, Baghdad and Washington about the country’s inevitable next chapter. Although we have differences on borders, an agreement in principle to live alongside each other as two independent states would be a meaningful start.

This move would not change Iraq’s fragile borders. It would instead formalize a relationship with Baghdad and our neighbors on an equal footing to define economic, security and trade terms. And just as neither Erbil nor Baghdad interfered with Iran’s recent elections or Turkey’s referendum, we expect those countries to recognize that this is a decision for Iraq and its peoples.

The risk of sticking with a broken model is considerable. But a return to the unending conflict to which Iraq has been condemned for much of the past century is not an option. The Kurds are tired of war. We want to live in peace, alongside neighbors governed by shared values and the rule of law.

Aziz Ahmad (@azizkahmad) is an assistant to the chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council.

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