Monday, October 10, 2011

Election Commission blames NADRA and floods for delay

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will not be able to complete the verification of fresh electoral rolls in time to meet the March 2012 deadline, Provincial Election Commissioner Sono Khan Baloch said on Monday.

The ECP planned to finish verifying voters by October 30. It then takes six weeks for the lists to be published and another three weeks to put the rolls under new inspection. Corrections are made at this stage at the commission’s district offices. In the last two phases, they planned to verify or add names through short text messages, to finally publish the lists by March 2012.

“Verification of voters displaced in rural Sindh and the rectification of lapses in preparing voter data are the main causes of the anticipated delay,” Baloch explained to the media at a consultative meeting with political leaders, civil society members and other stakeholders.

Baloch held the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) responsible for errors in the electoral list drafts. He explained that the authority had mangled data on CNICs when it came to family numbers and areas.

“Due to mistakes in NADRA’s data, members of one family have become scattered in separate polling blocks,” he alleged. “This means a family living in a particular area will be casting its votes at two or more separate polling stations.”

He added that, while cumbersome, NADRA’s errors would take less time to fix as compared to the time it would take to verify and register voters in flood-hit areas. However, the election commissioner could not elaborate on whether they would correct NADRA’s data on CNIC holders before the electoral rolls were rectified.

“Besides NADRA, we also collect data from district administrations and registration is also carried out by the staff and hired staff of the ECP itself,” he said.

ECP member Justice (retd) Roshan Essani told the gathering that verification teams have begun work in flooded areas from where water is receding.

Haphazard lists

Sindh Fisheries Minister Zahid Bhurgari, PPP workers and residents of Qasimabad and rural tehsils of Hyderabad complained of omissions of their areas’ voters from the rolls. They also claimed that voters in the City and Latifabad tehsils of Hyderabad have been duplicated.

“Voters of union council 1 of the City tehsil are also registered in union council 2 which is a clear case of the doubling of votes,” Bhurgari told The Express Tribune. He alleged that the issue is most common in the City and Latifabad lists.

The two tehsils are considered Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) strongholds while the Qasimabad and rural Hyderabad tehsils always return Pakistan Peoples Party members.

The 2011 electoral roll draft has around 1.13 million voters in Hyderabad – up from 922,214 in 2007.

“The list is likely to have more names after the omissions are sorted out,” Aijaz Anwar Chauhan, assistant election commissioner, assured The Express Tribune.

The MQM, on the other hand, had its own objections. A member of the party’s zonal committee complained about the increase in the number of voters in Qasimabad. However, MQM MPA Suhail Yousuf intervened, saying that the party has no oppositions to an increase or decrease in voters in any part of the city.

PPP’s Roshan Solangi, meanwhile, explained the population surge in Qasimabad by pointing out the number of people migrating into the town from Latifabad, City and other districts. Qamar Din Lakho of PPP’s rural Hyderabad tehsil made a surprising revelation – 15,000 people from his area who filled out NADRA forms for CNICs back in 2008 are still waiting for their cards.

“We re-registered all of them again in 2010 only to be told that any applicant with a duplication of data cannot be issued the CNIC.”

Mukhtiar Korejo, a resident of Jamshoro district, informed the ECP officials that their staff has yet to reach 20 per cent of the district’s population that lives in mountainous areas.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Benazir always believed in policy of reconciliation: Bhayo

Member Central Executive Committee (CEC) of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Sardar Wahid Bakhsh Bhayo has said Shaheed Benazir Bhutto (BB) always believed in the policy of reconciliation and forgiveness.

President and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari is a realistic person, who is pursuing BB’s unfinished mission of developing the country and providing employment opportunities to youths, he expressed these views in an exclusive interview with Daily Times at the State Guest House, Karachi.

He said that following the incarceration and hanging of father at the hands of a military dictator, BB experienced an unstable period, which was further aggravated by the untimely death of her brother Shahnawaz Bhutto, a murder that still remain shrouded in mystery.

Bhayo further said that for 11 years of the dictator’s regime, BB lived away from her people and motherland. “Despite living abroad for all this time, she still had complete acquaintance with her party’s affairs at central, provincial and district level. If any party leader ever expressed reservations against the other, her decision remained acceptable to all concerned”, he said.

Bhayo said it was her vision to accommodate the party workers and their families, who dedicated their lives for the democracy and party, adding, “It was her utmost desire and aspiration to compensate them commensurate to their sacrifices.”

Responding to a question regarding the no-confidence move against PPP government in 1993, Bhayo said that after the martyrdom of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), the country witnessed the grim era of Zia’s Martial Law spanning over 11 years during which PPP’s leadership and workers were subjected to hardships and state repression.

As PPP took over the government in 1988, it failed to fulfil the pledges made with the masses and the fate of this term remained not different from the previous one, he added.

Every member of national & provincial assemblies, senators and party leaders had their own agenda to follow, which resulted in the dissolution of the government at the hands of their own nominated President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari in a short span of two and half years.

To a query, Bhayo said BB changed her mindset just after the removal of PPP’s second government in 1996. “She decided to sit in the opposition and regularly attended the National Assembly sessions. Being an opposition leader, she fought against a heavy mandate holding government,” he said.

“She was distressed after the removal of her second government, especially when her husband Asif Ali Zardari was put behind bars. BB herself faced several fake corruption cases and her family’s life went into total disarray, when she remained away from her children,” he said.

Bhayo said BB realising the ground realities and political culture of the country, decided to settle for a reconciliation process with her archrival Nawaz Sharif to foil conspiracies of establishment against democracy.

According to Bhayo’s observation, when BB returned to Pakistan on Oct 27, 2007, she had a completely changed mindset. Her attitude and speeches depicted a determination on her part for a fight against the anti-state, anti-people and anti-democratic forces through democracy,

The forces inimical to the people and democracy realising the changed attitude of BB decided to eliminate her through a well-hatched conspiracy, he added.

Commenting over the failure of present PPP government to end miseries of poor and downtrodden masses, he said it was a mere misperception of party’s rivals.

The present government inherited most of the problems from global crises and the financial crisis that not only affected this part of the world but also developed countries like United Stated and United Kingdom, he said.

Bhayo pointed out that the PPP government did not terminate services of ordinary workers and instead provided further employment opportunities to the needy, reducing the unemployment rate. Thousand of people rendered unemployed by the previous governments were reinstated during the current PPP government, he added.

He said that the government had been establishing new powerhouses along with several other projects so as to curtail the power shortage issue being faced by the country.

Commenting over the long debated honour killings (Karo-Kari) issue, he said it was a hype-up created by so-called human rights & non-governmental organisations and civil society, adding, they were merely interested in generating revenue by raising this issue.

He said, the issue was entirely Islamic and its salvation lies within ‘Qazi Courts’ which could be constituted to resolve the issue. If the courts had been constituted to provide swift justice, Karo-Kari issue would have been buried, he added.

Replying to a question, he said the people of Balochistan and Sindh, especially upper Sindh, had confidence in ‘Jirgas’ because they provided swift justice at their doorsteps without any hurdles and advocacy expenses.

Ironically, our prevailing judicial system had been very sluggish and people had been compelled to seek justice from ‘Sardars’ or ‘Waderas’.

Recollecting his first meeting with ZAB, Bhayo remained silent for a moment and then said it was in 1972 when he and Mir Murtaza Bhutto were studying at the Aitchison College Lahore. “It was dusk when I and Murtaza returned from the playground. He sat in the lawn and I was walking towards the hostel block when I saw a man in full-suit. He asked, “Hi young man do you know Murtaza and where is he now?”

I replied, “We were playing together but he is now having a nap, but I will soon bring him. After that ZAB, Murtaza and I went to a shop for a tea”, he added.

When ZAB was the prime minister, Bhayo invited him for a meeting with the student union of Maryland University on his visit to US, which was accepted and that was the first time he met BB.

Sardar Wahid Bakhsh Bhayo was born on Oct 15, 1954 in the home of Sardar Muhammad Jagan Khan Bhayo situated in a small village of district Shikarpur. He was enrolled in his village’s primary school but soon his father passed away and he got himself enrolled in the Grammar School, Quetta where he passed his primary level education. In 1973-74 Bhayo completed his High School studies from the Aitchison College Lahore. He then went to the University of Maryland, US to complete his Graduation in Business Administration.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pakistan would definitely rise: Sudanese Envoy

I AM impressed by the natural beauty and greenery of Pakistan. This is indeed a blessed land. It is full of natural resources. With peace and stability, foreign investment would be massive. The nation is full of talent and hardworking people. It is destined to rise no matter the difficulties and challenges the people are facing. I will always remain a friend and well-wisher of Pakistan.

These were the highlights of a farewell interview with the outgoing Ambassador of Sudan Mr. Mohammed Omer Musa who shared with Pakistan Observer some interesting moments of his diplomatic life while serving in Islamabad.

When Musa was told that he would be stationed in Pakistan, many friends in the media were worried. The media projected Pakistan negatively due to law and order situation. However, When Musa arrived to Islamabad as a member of a military delegation, he assumed his duties as Ambassador of Sudan to Pakistan in the same day.

Additionally, the Prime Minister Sayed Yusuf Reza Gilani gave him the surprise of his life when he invited him to Iftar-Dinner party before presenting his credentials. The prime minister also was keen to seat him on the main table. The message of amity and goodwill to him and Sudan was conveyed in the best possible and powerful manner.

Among sincere friends, protocol can wait.

Musa immediately realized how wrong was international media and how lively is Pakistan, its leaders and people. Those moments would always live with him. They made him determined to promote the bilateral relation in every field.

Overwhelmed by the love and affection shown to him, Musa made a comprehensive plan to lift the relations. He made a comprehensive plan to activate the ties. Before he arrived to Pakistan, the last meeting of the Joint Ministerial Commission was held in 1996. Musa immediately worked on resuming the meeting of JMC and was successful in holding the meeting in March 2010. A compressive mechanism was devised by JMC to promote the relations in economic, trade and cultural ties.

The business community in Pakistan has also responded by investing in Sudan. In next August, an investment delegation would visit Sudan to sign an agreement on joint investment.

For Musa, geographic distance is no hindrance to trade and investment. The ties between the two countries and people are deep-rooted and based on common history, culture, customs, traditions and religion.

One characteristic of the bilateral relations is that they remain steady and have never been affected by political changes in the two countries. This would further help invigorate the ties to the benefit of the two peoples.

Having been fascinated by the natural beauty of Pakistan, Musa visited major cities including Rawalpindi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Muree, Peshawar, Charssada, Naushehra, Gilgit- Baltistan and Hyderabad. He also attended social functions by the civil society including wedding parties and was highly impressed by the local traditions, colours, songs and the strong family bonds in the Pakistani society. Musa was particularly moved by the warmth and generosity of the people. Resultantly, he never felt living away from his country.

Answering a question about a memorable occasion in his life while in Pakistan, Musa narrated his visit to Skardu. He, along with other diplomats were invited to attend an investment conference by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The conference was supposed to last two days. However, bad weather compelled the delegates to stay for five days. During the extra three days, the prime minister of Gilgit-Baltistan made an elaborate programme to show the delegates various places in the area and to enjoy breath-taking scenes of majestic nature. He thanks his stars for the most valuable delay.

During the 2010 flooding, Musa accompanied the Sudanese relief team and mixed with the people affected by the flood. He personally supervised distribution of the reliefs among the affectees. He also recommended that Sudan should build a hospital in Sindh as a token of goodwill from the government and people of Sudan.

Musa expressed special thanks to the foreign office for their cooperation and interests in strengthening the bilateral relations especially to foreign secretary Salman Bashir and Additional Secretary for Africa and the Middle East Mr. Muhammad Aslam.

His last message is : Be steadfast and don’t worry. Work hard. And with your talent and dedication, Pakistan would definitely rise.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pakistan's problem is that we did not make it British enough

Having told the Indians last year that Pakistan was basically a nest of terrorists, David Cameron has now told an audience of academics in Pakistan that the real problem is Britain! Not just Kashmir, he said, but pretty much all the world’s problems are our fault.

He really does like to please an audience. For once I agree with Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP and historian, who said: “To say that Britain is a cause of many of the world’s ills is na├»ve. To look back 50-odd years for the problems facing many post-colonial nations adds little to the understanding of the problems they face.

“David Cameron has a tendency to go to countries around the world and tell them what they want to hear, whether it is in Israel, Turkey, India and Pakistan.”

Peter Oborne is also correct in pointing out that apology does not make good diplomacy. It might make the people in the room like Cameron personally, because he has helped to reinforce a narrative which they hold dear, or which they benefit from – that Pakistan was hard done by and Britain (and India, of course) is to blame for its various failings. But that is just a narrative; Britain did many good things in southern Asia, and many bad things. Where two countries have an unambiguous history, then such contrition may be appropriate – the German chancellor in Israel, for instance – but Britain’s relationship with Pakistan is more nuanced. After all, as Oborne says, we did give them “parliamentary democracy, superb irrigation systems, excellent roads, the rule of law, the English language and, last but not least, the game of cricket”.

Apologising only builds the negative narrative, so that Pakistanis keen to play on the downsides of British rule can now say to their countrymen: “Look, even their prime minister says so.” That’s human nature. And apologising while handing over hundreds of millions of pounds in aid certainly does not encourage gratitude – only resentment.

Of Oborne’s list the most important, by far, is the rule of law. The reason the world speaks English today, not Urdu, Persian or Arabic, is that England, and a host of other, smaller countries in north-west Europe, were able to undermine traditional family, clan and religious structures and loyalties to create societies with wide circles of trust. England, the Netherlands and Denmark in particular were able to forge nation-states in which men did not rely on clans or religious leaders for protection; this rule of law, and the creation of a strong national (rather than tribal) identity, helped to bring about astonishing growth in trade, transport, education, science and medicine.

Those former colonies which have most flourished are those that have mimicked Britain. Pakistan, alas, is not one of them. Parliamentary rule did not survive military coups and Pakistan took the retrograde step of introducing Islamic law. The country has not looked forward since.

Today the constitution states that “no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Koran” while the Federal Shariat Court has the power to examine whether bills comply with Islamic law (England still has some idiosyncratic religious elements in its constitution, such as bishops in the Lords, but imagine, for instance, if a body of Christian scholars could veto legislation if it contradicted Leviticus). Meanwhile Pakistan has made little progress in nation-building, tribal loyalty is supreme, and cousin marriage – an absolute guarantor of national failure, since it retards the development of civil society – is widespread. Meanwhile the country is rated 143rd on Transparency International’s corruption index (a good measure of civil virtue, which itself is a fairly good measure of national loyalty), which means that for all the good our aid money will do, we may as well build a new Millennium Dome. Out of chocolate. In the Western Isles.

If Britain owes Pakistan an apology, it is for not doing enough to make it more British.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Public representatives urged to monitor National Emergency Action Plan

In a PILDAT arranged National workshop on the National Emergency Action Plan 2011 for Polio Eradication, Parliamentarians and MPAs from all Provincial Assemblies believed that public representatives should effectively monitor and oversee the National Emergency Action Plan 2011 for Polio eradication. “To eradicate polio a nation- wide awareness campaign should be launched with effective participation of Parliamentarians and media,” said experts in the National Workshop. A strategy through which both public representatives take a pro-active role in overseeing the programme as well as Federal and Provincial Governments inform legislators ahead of campaigns to ensure legislators involvement and oversight is crucial to ensuring the success of the National Emergency Action Plan, said Parliamentarians and MPAs. In 2011 so far 24 cases of polio have been detected across Pakistan which is twice as compared to 12 in the same period in 2010 – an alarming scenario believed experts and legislators, and requires effective measures to counter the spread as well.

Ms. Fozia Ejaz Khan, MNA and Vice President Parliamentary Caucus on Immunization, chaired the session. Other speakers included Mr. Tariq Fazal Choudhary, MNA, General Secretary Parliamentary Caucus on Immunization, Mr. Wazir Baig, Speaker, Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly, Dr. Abdul Khaliq Achakzai, MPA and Provincial Minister for Youth Affairs, Balochistan, Dr. Asad Ashraf, MPA, Convener, Parliamentary Caucus to promote Immunization In the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, , Mr. Anwar Ahmed Mehar, MPA, Convener, Parliamentary Caucus to promote Immunization in the Provincial Assembly of Sindh, Mr. Moin Aamir Pirzada, Convener, Parliamentary Caucus to promote Immunization in the Provincial Assembly of the Sindh, Dr. Azhar Abid Raza, Health Specialist, UNICEF, Mr. Agha Ishfaq, Deputy National Programme Manager, EPI, Government of Pakistan and Ms. Aasiya Riaz, Joint Director PILDAT.

Ms. Fozia Ejaz Khan stressed on the need for public representatives to take interest and work in their own areas to make immunization campaign a successful mission. “Media should run effective awareness campaigns especially an on FM radio that is the main source of information in FATA and other remote areas,” she added. Till we all work on this eradication mission as a national duty regardless of pay and perks and remuneration, unfortunately, this too shall remain a disaster, she said. While chairing the session she said that small pockets of areas should be targeted and campaigns should run in periodic manner to make it more result oriented. She stressed on revision of the honorarium for the field workers associated with the polio campaigns. Religious leaders should be involved in awareness campaigns to overcome misconceptions.

Dr. Azhar Abid Raza, while speaking on the occasion, said that Pakistan is one of the only four (4) countries in the world where polio still exists and Pakistan is the only country where number of polio cases is rising as seen in 2010. He told that 144 polio cases were found in 40 districts across Pakistan in 2010 while during the same period last year in Afghanistan 4 cases were found, 12 cases were detected in India and only I case was found in Nigeria. In 2011, while not a single case has been detected so far in any of these countries, Pakistan has already seen 24 reported as compared to 12 in same period last year. He believed that persistent operational challenges include security and access in FATA, KPK, and Balochistan, increasing fatigue, service delivery and quality, accountability and lake of awareness are major challenges though he believed if public representatives put their weight behind the campaign and effectively oversee and coordinate, Pakistan too can stop the spread of this virus.

Talking on the strategies to implement the National Emergency Action Plan, Agha Ishfaq, briefed that FATA, Central Punjab, Quetta, Qilla Abdullah, Karachi, Hyderabad and Jacobabad are high risk areas in Pakistan. He believed that polio coverage in far off areas is not satisfactory which needs to be addressed properly. He said that migrated population is yet another source of polio virus transmission. He admitted that over 250,000 children are still inaccessible in FATA. He stressed that a plan on districts level should be prepared which should be focused on local needs. Campaigns for 33 high risk districts was launched in 2010 but there is still 1% missed areas in KPK, Balochistan and Sindh while missed areas in FATA are 2%, said Agha Ashfaq in his presentation.

Mr. Tariq Fazal Choudhary, MNA appreciated PILDAT for highlighting issue of such national importance. He believed that it is not necessary that all polio cases are reported across Pakistan and the ground realities could be much more drastic as presented by the experts today. He stressed that health departments need to coordinate campaigns with public representatives and it’s a sorry state of affairs that despite efforts, effective coordination is still missing in this crucial area.

Mr. Wazir Baig said that all our efforts should be continued to eradicate polio from Pakistan as well as to maintain polio-free status of areas such as Gilgit-Baltistan. He said that no polio case has been registered in Gilgit Baltistan for some years due to the efforts made by health department and NGOs. He said that legislators of Gilgit Baltistan are also actively involved in polio campaigns.

Dr. Abdul Khaliq Achakzai, believed that of the spread of polio in Pakistan should be declared as the most important national emergency. He believed that in Balochistan, Qilla Abdullah is marked as high risk area because it is on the border of Afghanistan and the union councils in which these cases were reported, all are on the border. He believed that the people have misconceptions about polio vaccination which need to be addressed. He said that health department never involves public representatives in immunization campaigns. He stressed that far flung and border areas should be given special attention.

Dr. Asad Ashraf believed that until all children of Pakistan are not vaccinated we should not relax. He said all the countries except 3 Muslim countries are polio-free except India and in India the most hit province is Bihar which is a Muslim majority province. He believed that it is because of misperceptions among Muslims regarding polio vaccine. He especially shed light on Government of Punjab’s lead in testing polio vaccination and then making sure only effective and quality vaccine is used in Pakistan.

Mr. Anwar Ahmed Mehar was of the opinion that if polio is decreasing in Afghanistan why it is on rise in FATA. He said that awareness campaign is the most important factor in the efforts of eradicating polio and public representative can play a very important role in this regard. He stressed that misconceptions can also be removed by creating awareness among masses.

Mr. Moin Aamir Pirzada believed that public representative should take a pro-active role and personally get involved in polio eradication campaign, demand from health officials to inform them ahead of campaigns and personally be part of campaigns. It is unlikely that once effective oversight of representatives is there, virus could still spread.

Introducing the Session, Ms. Aasiya Riaz, Joint Director-PILDAT, said that PILDAT has facilitated the formation of Immunization Caucuses for National and Provincial Legislatures in order to facilitate the public representatives and to enhance their awareness and involvement into immunization campaigns. The continued transmission of poliovirus in Pakistan has become a national emergency. Pakistan now risks becoming the last remaining reservoir of endemic poliovirus transmission in the world, and the only remaining threat to achieving global polio eradication. In the light of the situation and its national and global implications, the President of Pakistan has directed the immediate development of an emergency action plan for polio eradication in Pakistan. The Goal of the Emergency Action Plan is to stop transmission of polio in Pakistan by the end of 2011. PILDAT’s objective of holding the National Workshop on the National Emergency Action Plan 2011 to Eradicate Polio is to discuss the importance and need of the plan, to review the strategies for its successful implementation, to identify what role Parliamentarians can play for the success of the plan and to sensitize the civil society and media on this serious issue. She thanked honourable public representatives who especially travelled from across Pakistan to be part of the Workshop.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pakistan, India must set up counterterrorism centres

The two-day strategic seminar organized under Aman Ki Asha concluded here on Wednesday with the conclusion that war is not an option for India and Pakistan.

The seminar was organized under the Aman Ki Asha initiative of the Jang Group and the Times of India for devising ways and means of reducing the acrimony that has thus far marked relations between the two countries and turn a new leaf in the ties for the mutual benefit of the people of the two countries.

The two-day seminar deliberated on a plethora of issues which promised lots of positive developments. The seminar was marked by lectures and closed sessions to discuss various issues like trade, counter-terrorism, and others. At the end of the conference, recommendations were made for starting a new chapter in the ties, which are listed below:

Conclusions and recommendations

1. War is not an option. The two sides should formulate policies, which should make war impossible.

2. Terrorism is a common enemy of the people of India and Pakistan. The governments of Pakistan and India must coordinate to combat terrorism and in this context, a joint mechanism agreed to in Havana needs to be strengthened by establishing Counter Terrorism Centres (CTC).

a) It is proposed that CTCs be established in New Delhi and Islamabad as a way to institutionalise cooperation against terrorism.

b) The mandate of CTCs would include regular communication, early warning, exchange of actionable Intelligence, monitoring of terrorist organisations, joint training in counter-terrorism and potentially joint responses/operations.

c) The CTCs would be headed by a secretary-level officer and include senior officers from all the intelligence and criminal investigation agencies.

d) There would be a dedicated hotline between the CTCs and there would be monthly meetings between the heads alternatively in Islamabad and New Delhi.

3. To promote stability and peace in the region there is a need to implement all the confidence building measures, which have already been agreed to between Islamabad and New Delhi.

4. The Pakistan and Indian governments should move ahead for the resolution of the pending issues like Sir Creek and Siachen Glacier.

5. Jammu & Kashmir remains one of the critical issues between the two countries and they should work for its early resolution, taking into account the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

6. Back channel needs to be revived at the earliest date.

7. There is a need for more civil society-led peace initiatives, like Aman Ki Asha, which would build public opinion and strengthen the hands of the two governments to resolve all outstanding issues.

8. The Indus Water Treaty has stood the test of time for more than five decades. There is value to utilising the existing provisions of the treaty for more optimal use of the water resources of the Indus River Basin.

9. The challenges of water scarcity and environment degradation must be addressed at the regional level.

These recommendations were accepted unanimously.

10. There is a need to develop an integrated energy plan for the provision of electricity and natural gas for South Asia.

11. The two countries should provide a level playing field to one another to boost trade and economic ties. For this, Islamabad should work to give most favored nation status to India, while New Delhi should remove the non-tariff barriers that will ensure a multi-fold increase in mutually beneficial trade.

12. There is a need to take bold initiatives in order to liberalise visa regime between the two countries. Practices like police reporting and city-specific visas should be done away with.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Civil society protests against killings in Lahore

Hundreds of protesters belonging to civil society, trade unions and legal fraternity staged a protest demonstration at Chur Chowk here on Tuesday against US national Raymond Davis who allegedly killed three Pakistanis in Lahore.

Holding placards with slogans against Raymond Davis, the demonstrators blocked traffic for more than an hour and demanded justice for victims. They said that the government of Pakistan should not succumb to the US pressure and punish Raymond Davis according to the law of the land.

The protesters said that Shumaila Kanwal, who committed suicide on February 6 in an attempt to secure justice for her husband allegedly killed by Raymond Davis in Lahore, was the daughter of the whole nation. They said that it was now the responsibility of Pakistani leadership to give justice to the families of the victims.

Shumaila Kanwal was the widow of Muhammad Faheem, one of two men who were allegedly shot and killed last month by Raymond Davis.

Azhar Mir, a social activist, while addressing the protest rally, said that police were trying to prove the two men criminals because of the US pressure. “All members of civil society are with the family of Shumaila Kanwal and they will not allow anyone to let Raymond Davis leave Pakistan,” he added.

He said that it was a test case for the federal and Punjab governments and if anyone would let Raymond Davis back to his country he would face public wrath, as Pakistanis were against the killing of innocent people. “The government should clarify its viewpoint and tell the nation about the status of Raymond Davis,” he said, adding that the media was playing a very important role and portraying the true picture of Americans.

Malik Humayun, another member of civil society, said: “Our government should not give immunity to Raymond Davis, as he is not a diplomat. No one has the right to kill any Pakistani. We trust our judiciary, but our leaders are under immense US pressure If Raymond Davis is released, every Pakistani will come out in the streets to protest against the government.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pakistan moves to disarm

Worried about ongoing targeted killings and growing gun violence, civil society organisations have started a de-weaponisation campaign in Karachi, and the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has filed a bill in the National Assembly seeking de-weaponisation across the country.

Last year was one of the most violent in Pakistan's history, with 801 people killed in Karachi alone. That is the most murders since 1995, when 1,742 people were killed, a Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) report says.

Some 40 people have been killed in targeted killing since January 13, which led to a partial curfew in parts of the city.

The MQM filed a bill in the National Assembly on January 17 seeking de-weaponisation across the country. The proposed law would ban the production, smuggling, import and use of firearms, ammunition and weapons throughout Pakistan, said Dr. Farooq Sattar, a key leader of the MQM.

The party also suggested forming a parliamentary committee to oversee the process, he said. A public outcry for de-weaponisation has been raised with every new wave of violence in Karachi.

“The present waves of anarchy and lawlessness have necessitated a need to launch a comprehensive de-weaponisation campaign to cleanse the city from the menace of illicit weapons,” said Farhat Parveen.“The present waves of anarchy and lawlessness have necessitated a need to launch a comprehensive de-weaponisation campaign to cleanse the city from the menace of illicit weapons,” said Farhat Parveen, head of the National Organisation for Working Communities (NOWC), a Karachi-based rights organisation.

The disarmament drive -- “Campaign for Peace” -- is run by NOWC with the collaboration of Oxfam-Novib Pakistan, Parveen told Central Asia Online last week. Civil society and professional organisations, traders, political parties and peace activists are part of the campaign, she added.

“Even though it is a difficult task, the disarming of the city is the need of the hour and has to be perused from some point,” Parveen said. Some of the victims of the violence were political activists, but most were apolitical daily wage labourers.

Crime statistics on rise in Karachi

From 2006-09, criminals and terrorists committed 6,894 attacks with illicit arms across the country, killing 9,634 people and injuring 18,788 others. Thousands of others were kidnapped for ransom, Sattar, who is also a federal minister, said.

The number of incidents of violence in Pakistan fell 11% from 2009 to 2010, but violence in Karachi rose 288%, according to a report by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.

Targeted killings in Karachi killed more people than suicide bombings did nationwide in 2010, media reported. Last year 1,208 people died in 335 suicide bombings, while 1,247 were criminally murdered. About 95% of “hit-and-run shootings” in Karachi were carried out with 9mm and .30 calibre pistols, police sources said, adding that these small arms are readily available on the black market.

Some Karachi residents keep around 50 weapons on a single license, Rehman Malik, Federal Interior Minister, said. He added that the government is devising a strategy to stop such abuses.

Central Asia Online has learned that the Sindh Interior Ministry has forwarded a recommendation to the Chief Minister to increase the penalties for possessing illegal weapons and make the possession of illegal weapons a non-bailable crime.

The government is amending Arms Rules 1924 and Pakistan Arms Ordinance 1965, and suggests that the penalty for keeping illegal weapons be increased to 10 years in prison, a senior Interior Ministry official told Central Asia Online.

Security affects businesses, medical care
The worsening security situation has prompted 150 businessmen and their families to leave the country, said Majyd Aziz, former head of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI). Targeted killings affect businesses as commercial areas close because of violence and riots, Aziz, who is also a leader the campaign to disarm Karachi, said.

A number of physicians from Karachi have also left Pakistan because they were victims of violence, said Dr, Samreena Hashami, an officer of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA).

The continued re-enforcement of the ideas of militarisation in the educational curriculum, and society’s emphasis on militancy were the main reasons behind the weaponisation of society, said Javed Jabbar, a former federal Minister, involved in the campaign.

“We have to focus on traditional and non-traditional education because non-traditional education including media is promoting violence,” Jabbar said. He added that law enforcement needs to be reformed to make it able to effectively de-weaponize society.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

OIC Secretary General inaugurates 600 Housing Unites for Pakistanis affected by the Floods

The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu inaugurated the construction of 100 housing unites in D G Khan Village in the Punjab province being the first phase of a project totaling 600 housing unites funded by the OIC in six provinces in the country. The special ceremony was held on Tuesday 11 January 2011 in the presence of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, H. E. Yousaf Raza Gillani and high-ranking government officials, dignitaries and guests.

The housing unites were sponsored using funds contributed by the staff of the OIC General Secretariat and OIC organs in addition to assistance from Cameroon and Guyana. At the ceremony, Ihsanoglu presented a speech in which he underscored OIC assistance for the people affected by the floods that hit Pakistan last year. At the ceremony, the Secretary General received some of the people benefiting from the housing units to be built by the OIC for the people affected by the floods. This project comes in support of the Secretary General's efforts to rally support from the Muslim Ummah and civil society institutions to assist the people of Pakistan affected by the latest devastating floods.

Worth mentioning that the OIC Secretary General had played a proactive advocacy role in raising the awareness among the OIC Member States about the devastation caused by the unprecedented floods immediately after it occurred. And in response to the Secretary General's call for rendering assistance to Pakistan, the Member States governments and civil societies have in total allocated assistance and pledges to support Pakistan which amounted to 1 billion USD out of which a total of 680 Million US Dollars has been committed. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has allocated 250 Million USD in addition to shipment of humanitarian assistance to Pakistan immediately after the floods hit the country, and Turkey which has pledged to allocate 200 Million USD and Iran which has pledged to allocate 100 Million USD.

During the event, the Secretary General also honored the renowned Pakistani artist Mr. Abrar Ul Haq by designating him the first OIC Humanitarian Ambassador. This designation comes in recognition of Mr. Abrar's eminence in philanthropic and social work in his country and abroad to support needy people. It will enable him to promote the OIC humanitarian cause in his country and in other OIC Member States.

Earlier in the day, the Secretary General addressed the 14th Session of the General Assembly of the OIC Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) which will last three days.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Civil society says Taseer’s murder begining of ‘dark age’ in country

Human rights activists and members of civil society strongly condemned the brutal killing of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, terming it silencing of a voice for the weak and the beginning of a dark age in the country.

Renown journalist and human rights activist, Hussain Naqi, told Daily Times that Taseer had become a victim of the politics of extremism started by our establishment with the introduction of controversial laws like the blasphemy law.

He said Taseer had been a voice of tolerance in society and was the only one who took a clear stand against religious extremists by supporting their victims. Naqvi said that Taseer was a brave man, but it was tragic that he took that stand alone, which the government was supposed to take and that situation led to his assassination.

He said that his stand against blasphemy law was vital and he gave a voice to the demands of the civil society, human rights activists and those who were becoming victims of misuse of these laws. Naqvi said the government had played a selfish rule in the matter.

He said that it was also tragic that our judiciary could take note of Taseer’s stand on the Aasia Bibi case but never bothered to take action against people like the cleric of the Mohabbat Khan Mosque, who were issuing death decrees against him while promising prize for his assassins.

He said that media had also played a key role in developing a hate campaign against Taseer, as some media outlets were misusing their capacity to increase the ratings of their channels by inciting hatred and sectarianism in society.

PPP minority wing leader, Napolean Qayyom, told Daily Times that minorities and oppressed communities of Pakistan would never forget the great sacrifice of Taseer, saying he was a lion who had lost his life while protecting the weak.

MPA Pervaiz Rafique said that the non-Muslims of Pakistan would always be indebted to Taseer, who had protected them when there was nobody else to support them.

He said Taseer was not against the blasphemy law but only wanted to stop the misuse of such controversial laws in support of society and minorities. He said that it was also a great favour of Taseer that he founded Daily Times, which became a voice of minorities and promoter of tolerance in society.