Sunday, January 13, 2013

Balochistan CM dismissed after Shia protests throughout Pakistan

Governor’s rule imposed in Balochistan
Dawn, Jan 14, 2013

QUETTA: The PPP government finally yielded to the protests that had enveloped the entire country over the weekend and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf announced in front of a gathering of representatives of Hazara Shia community late on Sunday night that the provincial government was being dismissed forthwith and governor’s rule was being imposed in the whole of Balochistan.
“After holding consultations with all the stakeholders, we have decided to invoke Article 234 of the Constitution. Governor’s rule is being imposed in the province and the provincial government is being dismissed,” Mr Ashraf announced in front of the Hazara representatives.

His announcement was welcomed by thousands of Hazara Shias who had been staging a sit-in in freezing cold on Alamdar Road for the last three days along with the bodies of dozens of people killed in bombings on Thursday.

The prime minister took a bold but extremely necessary step of visiting the place in the middle of the night to make the announcement.

Earlier in the day, leaving Interior Minister Rehman Malik to deal with the Qadri march on Islamabad, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf rushed to Quetta as the government braced itself against countrywide protests.

As night fell the protests had gained so much momentum that when media reports came that the prime minister was considering dismissing the provincial government, they seemed believable.

Protesting the carnage caused by three blasts in the provincial capital on Thursday, Hazaras, along with the unburied bodies of the victims, took to the streets on Friday, saying that the sit-in would not end and the funerals would not take place till the government called in the military to put an end to the attacks.

By Saturday, parallel protests had begun in major cities such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad — organised by Shia groups and parties as well as civil society.

On Sunday, these protests seemed to have enveloped the entire country, reducing the long march, which had dominated the political scene for the past few weeks, to a side story.

From Lahore to Karachi to Islamabad to Multan in the south and Skardu in the snow-covered north, the protests drew in more and more people. From religious leaders to women and children, the Pakistanis were united in condemning the targeted killing of an ethnic community and a sect, whose deaths had dominated the stories of violence and mayhem coming out of Pakistan in 2012.

Slogans such as “End to the killings of Shias” reverberated in every city and placards that read “Am I the next victim” were pictured in the hands of men, women and small children.

In Islamabad, the civil society protest continued overnight.

The Shia groups and parties, which had dispersed late on Saturday night, re-appeared and blocked a major road connecting the twin cities. Another protest by the parties also blocked part of the Islamabad-Lahore motorway.

In the opposite end of Pakistan, one group of protesters headed for the heavily protected Bilawal House where President Asif Ali Zardari has been ensconced for weeks. Despite being threatened by water canons — a favoured SOP of the Karachi police — the protest continued.

Other protests in the city were at Malir, M.A. Jinnah Road, Ancholi in Federal ‘B’ Area and North Nazimabad. At most of the protests, women were present in large numbers.

These were not protests that were limited to a particular political party or a particular social class.

Lahore too witnessed protests.

The demonstrations and the anger behind them were so palpable that the political leadership was forced to react in an unprecedented manner. The barrage of criticism directed at the PPP at the centre and in Balochistan had sent the party leadership into feverish activity by Sunday morning.

The prime minister flew into Quetta and was holed up in the Governor’s House all day, accompanied by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.

There was no news on when he planned to return but there were multiple reports that the PPP was now going to do something it had refused to do earlier when the Supreme Court had observed in its order on the Balochistan security situation case that the
 provincial government had lost its constitutional authority to rule.

The federal government had then refused to touch the provincial government but on Sunday it could no longer hold firm.

Prime Minister Raja Ashraf met provincial ministers, conferred with the governor and Law Minister Farooq Naek on the various options available which included, reportedly, the dismissal of the government and imposition of governor’s rule.

Phone calls went back and forth.

But despite all the activity, the Balochistan chief minister, who is probably the most criticised politician in the country at the moment, and a PPP member, did not return to Pakistan.

By the evening, even politicians were echoing the protesters’ demand to remove him. The MQM, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali and PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain demanded that he be removed.

The political leadership was also forced into action by the growing protests.

Imran Khan, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf chief, turned up at the Quetta protest early on Sunday morning, while the rest of the political leaders also headed for protest destinations in various cities later. Some PML-N leaders showed up at a protest in Lahore while the MQM joined the protesters in Karachi. Even the local Jamaat-i-Islami representative in Islamabad spoke at the civil society protest.

Others were forced to provide sound bites to the media in a bid to show they cared. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf also spoke to news channels on the issue.

All eyes are now on the Bilawal House in Karachi and the Governor’s House in Quetta — only they can now end this wave of anger that has swept the entire country.

— Additional reporting by our correspondents in Quetta, Karachi and Lahore

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Same weapons being used in Karachi violence

Same Weapons Being Used in Karachi Violence
Imran Ayub, Dawn, December 28, 2012

KARACHI: As the city descends into fear amid a renewed wave of killings, the police authorities see one or more organised groups behind what was earlier being called ‘tit-for-tat sectarian attacks’ as forensic investigations into nearly 90 cases found that same weapons had been used in targeting people from different sects and political parties, it emerged on Thursday.

A top police official confirmed to Dawn that under forensic findings it seemed ‘crystal clear’ that the recent wave of killings had nothing to do with sectarian rivalry rather it was an attempt to ‘destabilise the city peace’ to achieve ‘certain targets’.

However, the real face of a ‘third force’ still remains a mystery for both the authorities and police investigators.

“There is definitely a third force,” Sindh IG Fayyaz Ahmed Leghari told Dawn. “It’s not yet ascertained that it’s external or internal as no major arrest has been made on these lines.”

He said: “But it has nothing to do with sectarian differences. If they were the cause, you would have been witnessing violence in every street of the country.”

Asked about reasons for his confidence about the ‘third force’ involved in the killings, he based his conclusion on findings of forensic investigations into a number of recent incidents that had earlier been described as sectarian killings.

“For instance, we have found that the weapon used in one targeted attack was also used in another,” said IG Leghari.

He explained that on Nov 29, a young couple, Iqbal Hussain and Dilshad Fatima who were employees of the Karachi Institute of Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine (KIRAN), was gunned down near Safoora Goth and the following day another man, Nazar Abbas, was killed on Shaheed-i-Millat Road whose 12-year-old daughter, Mehzar Zehra, was wounded in the attack.

The police investigators and the media then suspected sectarian motives for both attacks as all the victims belonged to the Shia sect, he said.

However, he added, the Dec 3 killing of a seminary teacher off Abul Hasan Ispahani Road and forensic analysis of spent bullet casings one after another incident told a different story.

“On Dec 3, Maulana Mufti Mohammad Ismail of Madressah Ahsan-ul-Uloom was shot dead, off Abul Hasan Ispahani Road. Interestingly, the forensic examination in all these cases suggested that the same weapon was used in all three shootings,” said IG Leghari, reiterating that it was for this reason that the police believed “it’s not the sectarian violence or shooting on an ideological basis”.

Violence returned to the city mainly in the second quarter of 2012 with frequent killings and targeted attacks apparently on sectarian grounds after a gap of some months when Karachi started limping back to normality after the Supreme Court of Pakistan had taken suo motu notice of series of killings.

Many people belonging to the Shia sect — with a significant number of them from same families — lost their lives to the menace. Similarly, a number of men belonging to the Sunni sect, including seminary students and teachers, were killed in incidents of firing in different parts of the city.

While no serious effort from government quarters was witnessed to track the attackers and expose their motive, the Sindh police forensic division has made some progress on these lines.

“We have digital images of over 7,000 empties [spent bullet casings],” said Additional IG forensic division Muneer Sheikh. He said: “After a forensic analysis so far in some 90 cases this year we have found weapons of different calibers used in the multiple killings. Modern technology is being used for the analysis of every spent bullet casing according to global standards of forensic investigations,” he added.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fisk: How many have been killed in Syria?

Another reminder that we can't take "evidence" at face value in the Syrian case even if it comes from the UN. It is not just the question of accuracy, but also the narrative that this evidence is embedded in and its assumptions and politics. The so-called "international community" and its institutions are not neutral actors in this case. Their very choice of the terms, such as "rebels" vs. "terrorists", is political.

Why the numbers game doesn’t add up in the killing fields of Syria
Are the dead from Assad's army even counted in these statistics?

Robert Fisk, The Independent, Sunday 6 January 2013

Notice how Syria’s civil war casualty figures shot up by 15,000 overnight last week? The world’s press had happily settled into the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” statistic of 45,000 dead in almost three years.

But then at New Year’s the UN’s Human Rights Commission tells the world that the real figure is close to 60,000. Come again? Did 15,000 Syrians climb into a mass grave on 1 January, 2013?

First, however, a health warning. No-one disputes the carnage in Syria. But figuring out just how many souls die in a civil war – and whose “side” they were on when they expired – is a mighty dangerous game.

News desks beware, for history suggests that the “bad guy” must always be held responsible for the greatest number of deaths – at least in the Middle East – and that civilians who become “fighters” end up in civilian death lists, while men and women killed by the “good guys” don’t get on lists at all. It’s not just a question of lies, damned lies and statistics; in a war, each side produces its own rules for the dead. And none of them tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Government dead

For example, how many Syrian soldiers, pro-government militiamen, pro-government supporters and civilian sympathisers are counted among the statistics. SANA, the Syrian government news agency, once spoke of 2,000 dead among Assad’s military. Assad’s own officers suggested to me in Damascus last year that this figure had reached at least 6,000. I suspect it may be nearer to 10,000 pro-Assad soldiers who have now been killed. So does this mean that at least one sixth of the UN figures actually comprise the army which is accused by the West of committing atrocities? And if this is true, how many more “pro-Assad” civilians should be added to the list; hundreds of recent victims of the Syrian war have been Christians – who could scarcely rank among the insurgents. Does this account for one figure, which puts pro-government dead as more than 13,000?

One reason, of course, why the pro-opposition “Syrian Observatory” suspects the UN figure is inflated, is that the ladies and gentlemen of the Human Rights Commission want to heap more coals of derision upon the slumbering – and certainly impotent – UN Security Council. The UN, after all, is not a committee of wise men, but a monumental political beast, not unlike a giant donkey. Give it the carrot of a bigger mass grave and it might plod a little faster.

So how many rebels have been killed in Syria? We are told that almost 5,500 military defectors are among the dead. So are 372 Palestinians, killed in inter-Palestinian fighting around the largest refugee camp in Damascus.

Who to count?

It’s sobering to remember how we have wrestled with the same kind of statistics in the past. In “our” Iraq war from 2003-2009 – note how we assume the conflict ended when “we” abandoned the country, although another 4,500 Iraqis were killed in 2012 alone – every blue-eyed Western casualty was meticulously listed. But the Western occupation authorities went along with General Tommy Franks’ obscene invention about the Iraqi dead, that “we don’t do body counts”. The Pentagon was later revealed to have kept a list of civilian dead up to 2005 – the total was 25,902 – but these figures were slyly contrived. They listed only civilians killed by insurgents: unarmed Iraqis killed by Western military forces found no place in the Pentagon’s figures.

But you can go further back. Armenians claim – with good reason – that a million and a half of their people were victims of the 1915 Turkish genocide. But the Turks still peddle the myth that these figures were falsified, and that Armenians died in the “chaos” of internal conflict during the First World War.

And what about the Second World War? Did 40 million die, as we used to believe, or was it 70 million (more likely if you include the Sino-Japanese war)? Against this hecatomb, a 15,000 discrepancy in the killing fields of Syria is hardly surprising.