1990 election was rigged, rules SC

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered legal proceedings against a former head of intelligence and former army chief over allegations that politicians were bankrolled to stop the current ruling Pakistan People’s Party from winning the 1990 election.

It was a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court 16 years after retired air marshal Asghar Khan filed a case, accusing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of doling out money to a group of politicians in the 1990s.

A three-judge bench comprising the chief justice, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain issued the short order after hearing a petition filed in 1996 by Khan requesting the court to look into allegations that the Inter-Services Intelligence had financed many politicians in the 1990 election by dishing out Rs140 million to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and stop Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from coming to power. The petition was based on an affidavit of Durrani.

The Supreme Court in its short order ruled that there was ample evidence to suggest that the 1990 election was rigged and that a political cell maintained by the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan supported the formation of the IJI to stop a victory of the PPP. The ruling said Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Baig and Durrani violated the Constitution.

“Late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the then President of Pakistan, General (R) Aslam Baig and General (R) Asad Durrani acted in violation of the  Constitution,” said the apex court, adding the federal government should take “necessary steps under the Constitution and Law against them.”

Stating that corruption was carried out in the 1990 election, the ruling said that the president, the army chief and the ISI’s director-general were not authorised to constitute an election cell. It added that the state should implement its authority through the elected representatives of the people.

The election cell “was aided by General (R) Mirza Aslam Baig who was the Chief of Army Staff and by General (R) Asad Durrani, the then Director General ISI and they participated in the unlawful activities of the Election Cell in violation of the responsibilities of the Army and ISI.”

The apex court moreover ruled that political cells of the ISI and the President House should be abolished and ordered the government to take legal action against former retired generals involved in the corruption as well as against Younus Habib, former president of the now defunct Mehran Bank.

The court further ordered that money that was illegally disbursed among the politicians by the then president and the ISI should be recovered and deposited in the Habib Bank along with the accumulated interest on it. Adding to that, the short order said that legal action should also be taken against the politicians who received the money.

“Mr. M. Younas A. Habib, the then Chief Executive of Habib Bank Ltd…arranged/provided Rs.140 million belonging to public exchequer, out of which an amount of Rs.60 million was distributed to politicians,” added the short order.

The ruling further said that Federal Investigation Agency should investigate into the matter, adding that, if evidence was found against anyone, action should be taken against them.

Moreover, the Supreme Court said that political activism was not the domain of the military and the intelligence agencies. Their job is to cooperate with the government, the judgment said.

Friday’s proceedings

During the hearing, Attorney General Irfan Qadir began presenting his arguments.

Qadir said he was representing the federation and the defence ministry.

Responding to which, Chief Justice Iftikhar directed Qadir to produce the document enabling him to represent the defence ministry.

The attorney general said he would try to assist the court to the best of his abilities “in the short time that was available” to him.

Qadir criticised the judiciary upon which the bench expressed its displeasure.

The attorney general said he had reservations over comments alleged to have been made by Justice Khawaja.

“Justice Khawaja said the Pakistan People’s Party government had failed to perform in the past four years,” Qadir said.

Upon which, Justice Hussain said: “You should not name a particular judge. Those were the remarks of the bench.”

The attorney general requested the bench to exclude the concerned remarks from the record of the case.

Qadir added that judges had taken oaths under the PCO in the past and had also allowed the military to step in, in violation of the Constitution.

The attorney general moreover said that the Asghar Khan case had been pending for the past 15 years and blamed the judiciary for the delay.

He further alleged that “the present judiciary” wanted to “destabilise the government”.

The chief justice remarked that Rs140 million had been given out by Younus Habib and asked as to who was responsible for that.

He further said that evidence suggested that the money was distributed at the behest of the presidency, adding that, prima facie the President House was involved in the operation.

The chief justice reiterated that the president should be impartial and should not partake in political activity.

Responding to which, the attorney general said that the president’s oath does not restrict him from partaking in politics, adding that, the office of the president was also a political position.

The president’s oath is not any different from the oaths administered to the prime minister and the ministers, Qadir said.

Upon which, the chief justice said that the Constitution entitles the president, not the prime minister, as the head of state.

The attorney general added the parliament had on several occasions saved the judiciary from embarrassment.

Chief Justice Iftikhar said the judiciary would not allow derailment of democracy in the country.

He further said that former interior minister Lt-Gen (retd) Naseerullah Babar had also revealed that money was distributed to politicians to manipulate the country’s politics, adding that, it was allegedly done in the greater national interest.

The attorney general said those involved in the decisions of the past were important personalities, adding that, the individuals who were accused of receiving the money should also be heard.

Education in Sindh University takes a Nose dive

Class in Sindh University, Jamshoro (Credit: dunyanews.tv.com)


WHAT are the qualities — in terms of scholarship and character — that one should seek in the head of a university if it is to be run competently and produce excellence in education?

Inarguably he must, above all, inspire his students so that he can lead them with his moral strength and knowledge. Considering the fact that many of our universities are in a state of crisis today, it is time we looked at the leadership factor to determine what has gone wrong.

Sindh University presents itself as a perfect example of how poor leadership can destroy an institution of higher education. There has been unrest at the campus at Jamshoro since January when a teacher was murdered. The protest is directed against the vice chancellor, Dr Nazir Mughal. When he was dispatched on ‘forced leave’ in February and his controversial orders dismissing some faculty members withdrawn, a semblance of peace was restored and classes resumed.

Yet all was not well at Jamshoro, because stopgap solutions do not resolve problems. Last month Dr Mughal was back and there has been trouble again. Immediately after his return the vice chancellor announced summer vacations and the examinations that were in progress were disrupted. Soon thereafter a really heinous crime occurred. Two professors — Amar Sindhu, who received bullet wounds, and Arfana Mallah, the secretary general of the Sindh University Teachers’ Association (Suta) — were attacked. Masked gunmen opened fire on them, giving rise to widespread anger. It was plain that those in power were trying to eliminate the VC’s two most vocal critics.

What is at the root of this crisis? The fact is that Dr Mughal does not enjoy the confidence of the faculty. There are serious charges against him. In a petition filed before the Supreme Court, Marvi Memon, a former Senator, has listed a number of them.

They range from the absence of transparency in his appointment in 2010 to his failure to keep peace on campus. Two students and a teacher have been murdered in the last two years. Allegations of corruption, embezzlement and other malpractices have also been levelled.

Meanwhile the vice chancellor has kept himself in office by manipulating pro-PPP student groups. As a champion of the ruling party’s interests he also enjoys the support of political patrons who need compliant and subservient subordinates in critical positions. Since student unions remain banned from Gen Zia’s days, there is no way of knowing where the youth stand on the issue.

All this has affected academic standards while charters have been granted with abandon to institutions with dubious credentials. Instead of universities being cradles of research and intellectual regeneration, they are stagnating. The powers that be have clamped down on students to prevent original thinking that could challenge the status quo.

Dr Mughal had earlier served as vice chancellor of Sindh University from 1995-98 and was reappointed quite arbitrarily in 2010 because of his connections in the right quarters. That was a slap in the face of education in Pakistan considering that his credentials are not impeccable. A committee appointed after his last dismissal in 1998 had recommended disciplinary action against him. In his last tenure he was removed when a student was killed on campus and there was widespread public agitation.

The Suta has now issued a white paper that levels 24 charges against the vice chancellor. Some of them cast doubts on his eligibility for the post he holds today. His association with two educational institutions with foreign links is said to have kept him away from Sindh University, where he was first appointed in 1974 but never confirmed as his presence there was minimal.

The white paper meticulously records photocopies of bills and memoranda in support of corruption charges ranging from financial embezzlement to academic malpractices such as allowing students with zero attendance to appear in examinations, nepotism in the appointment of teachers and the sale of teaching positions. It calls for an independent enquiry.

What is, however, most serious is the fact that the vice chancellor’s relations with the faculty are adversarial and militate against healthy academic activity. The rise in violence at Sindh University — 235 FIRs have been registered since 2010 — is disturbing. Attacking teachers is no solution when matters have reached such a state.

While it is a matter of serious concern that the students of Sindh are being denied a good education and their academic life stands disrupted, the wider implications of the troubles in Jamshoro are grave. Marvi Memon spoke of the vice chancellor’s role being indispensable in facilitating the election of MNAs (said to be 23 in number) who have suspect degrees from Sindh University. She requested the Supreme Court to ask the Higher Education Commission to verify their degrees. This has not happened.

What is happening in Sindh’s universities can at best be described as the politicisation of higher education to facilitate the perpetuation of a party in office. If the axe falls on MNAs who support the present government, that would be destabilising for it. Schools have already been used to consolidate the power of those in office by planting their henchmen in educational institutions. Universities are also being used for the same purpose even though this practice has been deemed illegal by the Lahore High Court in the case of the appointment of the vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences, Lahore and others.

Murder Attack on Teachers Vocal against Sindh University VC

Amar Sindhu (Credit: awamiawaz.net)
Hyderabad, July 10: The teachers leading the movement against the University of Sindh (SU) vice chancellor came under attack late Sunday night at the Super Highway.

Women rights activist Prof Amar Sindhu, the chairperson of the philosophy department at SU, was injured in the attack near Sajjad Restaurant as unidentified assailants opened fire at the two cars returning from Karachi with the office bearers of the SU Teachers Association inside.

The attackers sprayed the two cars with bullets and escaped. With burst tyres, the teachers took the cars to a nearby petrol pump.

The general secretary of Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association, Prof Arfana Mallah, was also present in the car but escaped unscathed.

Mallah, who is also a writer and hosts a current affairs talk show on a Sindhi television channel KTN, has been leading the movement at the SU for removal of its vice chancellor Dr Nazir A Mughal. The movement had started after the murder of Prof Bashir Channar on January 2, but became dormant after Mughal was sent on forced leave on February 21. The protests revived, however, with the return of the vice chancellor on June 29.

Earlier on Sunday, the teachers had held a press conference along with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Iqbal Zafar Jhagra in Karachi. They had condemned the return of Mughal and the attitude of the provincial government regarding the higher education institutions in the province.

Mallah, who teaches at the SU, told The Express Tribune that she saw three men take positions and open fire at the cars. She ruled out the possibility of robbery since the attackers did not try to do steal their car.

“It appears to be a planned attack,” she said. At least three bullets hit her car.

A case has been lodged at the Gadap police station but due to the confusion over the police jurisdictions, the final FIR will be registered with the Sohrab Goth police.

Young Woman Working for Social Change in FATA is Killed

Farida Afridi (Credit: tribune.com.pk)
Peshawar, July 5: Farida, belonging to the Afridi subtribe Kokikhel, was targeted on Wednesday morning at 6.30am when she left her house in Tehsil Jamrud Ghundi Kali for her office in Hayatabad.

“She was cornered by motorcyclists who shot her and she died on the way to Jamrud hospital,” said witness Abid Ali. Farida was 25.

Along with her sister Noor Zia, Farida was committed to social change and economic emancipation for women from the platform of a welfare organisation called the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA). Both women were among the founding members of the NGO and had a Masters degree in Gender Studies.

Due to tribal customs and traditions, women in the area remain mostly restricted and unable to achieve their true potential, but Farida broke all barriers and relentlessly worked for women’s development. “We have lost a great member of our team,” said Lal Jan, the technical advisor of the organisation.

To increase women’s involvement in the social and economic sphere, a few educated and aspiring women, including Farida who was still in school at that time, established SAWERA in 2004. The NGO works for the rights of women and children’s rights in the tribal belt.

Farida had three sisters and four brothers and she was the second eldest. She belonged to a poor family that had no personal enmity, Lal Jan said.

In an interview for The Express Tribune published in September 2011, Farida had said: “The government is oblivious to the general attitude of tribesmen towards women and the extent of inequality in our patriarchal society. This pushed us to start a struggle for their empowerment.”

The sisters faced tough resistance when they told their family about the path they had chosen for themselves. “We told our parents that we would work in accordance with our religious and cultural traditions, assuring them that we would never let the family honour suffer because of our line of work. Finally, they agreed,” Noor had said.

Syed Afzal Shinwari, project coordinator in Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP), said that SAWERA started small but is now an influential organisation. “Because of this brutal act, women in Fata will be discouraged to work and development will come to a halt,” he said.

“Both government and security agencies will be sleeping and people like Farida, Zartif Khan, Khan Habib Afridi and Mukarram Khan Atif will be mercilessly killed. We, the participants of civil society organisations in Peshawar, strongly condemn this tragic death and vow to raise our voice against this tyranny and brutality at the hands of anti-state elements who have been given a free hand to kill people from the civil society,” civil society group Strengthening Participatory Organisaion said in a statement.

The End Violence Against Women/Girl alliance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata also condemned the murder.

Farida’s struggle and efforts towards the empowerment of tribal women will never be forgotten.

Edited by Zehra Abid

Pakistan Supreme Court Counters Move to Tarnish Chief Justice – Blames CJ’s Son & Business Tycoon, Malik Riaz for corruption

Supreme Court of Pakistan (Credit: article.wn.com)

ISLAMABAD, June 14: In the short order penned down during the hearing of the Arsalan Iftikhar case, the Supreme Court directed Attorney General Irfan Qadir to proceed according to the law and take required action against business tycoon Malik Riaz, his son-in-law Salman and the chief justice’s son Arsalan Iftikhar, Express News reported on Thursday.

In the order, the court said that while Malik Riaz claimed Rs327 million was given in cash, the documents presented only provided details of Arsalan’s visits and no proof of monetary transfers.

The short order also stated that Malik Riaz accepted giving money but did not express any regret over doing so. “The ones who give and the ones who accept bribes, both will go to hell,” said the order.

The order further stated that Riaz did not submit any statement on behalf of his son-in-law Salman and added that Riaz may have been used to bribing and getting his work done in the past.

In the order, the court stated that the media had attacked the judiciary, adding that the statements of journalists showed that they did not try to get their facts straight.

“Even today we are working to uphold the constitution whereas some elements are trying to sabotage it,” said Justice Jawad S Khawaja during the hearing. “The court stands against such unconstitutional acts.”

Later, speaking to the media, AG Qadir said that he had not decided upon a course of action as yet, adding that he would read the short order properly before deciding.

Read a copy of the short order here.

‘Case doesn’t fall under NAB’s jurisdiction’
National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman Fasih Bokhari said on Thursday that the Arsalan Iftikhar case is a matter between two people and has nothing to do with the national treasury, reported Express News.

Bokhari said that the case doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of NAB.

Earlier during the day, NAB spokesperson had said that the bureau will investigate the matter if a reference is sent to them against Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

When Nature’s Bounties are Privatized by a Greedy Class

Thandiani hill station (Credit: flickerhivemind.net)
Imagine for a moment that you get up one morning with a deep feeling of suffocation, darkness, depression and emptiness. You find the entire neighbourhood in a state of asphyxiation, gasping for every breath of air. Soon you begin to realise that a small group of rich, powerful, pampered and lawless individuals have sucked all the air and enclosed it in a huge glass dome for their exclusive consumption. They have also installed special reflectors that push all the sunlight into their massive private dome, leaving the rest to deal with the gloomy darkness.

The rich and the powerful also made sure that the dome encompassed the densest pine forests along with the most fragrant smelling flowers, lovely ladybirds, cuckoos, parrots, fireflies, beetles and butterflies. Thus the ordinary citizens are left with almost no element of nature that inherently belonged to all citizens. No longer did they have the right to access and enjoy the natural scenery, hilly resorts, forests and flowers. It was therefore natural for those outside the dome to feel very unequal, deprived and aggrieved. Their children will never know a firefly nor chase a butterfly. What was meant for everyone was now grabbed, allotted, purchased, cocooned and monopolized by a few.

But while it seemed blissful from outside, things were not as sparkling or serene for the spoiled rich brats who lived inside the dome. Propelled by greed and a desire to acquire and demonstrate their wealth and power, they began to do everything that was harmful for the beautiful natural environments they had managed to capture. They started to build huge and ugly houses barricaded by tall boundary walls destroying the landscape and blocking others from looking at the forests and mountains. To make it yet more exclusive, they placed large stones to prevent people walking on the scenic natural forest trails that passed close to their homes. In collusion with the government they began to cut the mountains to build roads that would exclusively lead to their personal residences. So what started out to be an open natural territory was now an ugly clutter of brick and mortar.

Some more obscene habits often associated with this self-indulgent class began to surface and to destroy the very peace and tranquility of this exclusive zone. The rich and powerful have a strong belief that life is meaningless without plastics, pampers, Prados and violating the law of the land. So they began to destroy the environment by throwing and spreading polythene bags, plastic bottles, used pampers, empty plastic cups, wrappers and disposable dishes. One could no longer walk on those majestic forest trails for they were now riddled with plastic, garbage and toxic waste. Atrophied by obesity and lack of exercise, these pampered delinquents and their accompanying urchins resort to high speed driving often in official vehicles consuming fuel and creating noise. The very peace and tranquility for which the exclusive zone had been created was now on the verge of a total collapse.

The above narrative, barring a few lines of “poetic license” is not just utterly true but also one that snugly fits the situation at the heavenly hill resorts of Nathiagali, Doongagali and other Galiyat. These wonderful gifts of nature are now being systematically acquired, allotted and plundered by the ruling and the wanting to rule elite of Pakistan. The booty is shared by those in power, the ministers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, rich businessmen, their friends, relatives and cronies. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has already approved the plunder of yet another hill station (Thandiani) by approving 1,200 kanals for residential and commercial purposes. Likewise Rs100 million have been approved for developing infrastructure to facilitate similar devastation at Malsa and Beringali hill resorts.

The massive acquisition and personalization of the natural heritage that belongs to all citizens of Pakistan is a violation of the fundamental right of ordinary citizens of Pakistan. It violates their right to equality and equal opportunity, their right of access to natural resources and locations, their right to preserve the natural heritage and their right to move freely at hills and forests now usurped by the insensitive and self-centred elite of Pakistan.

Several studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that the rich and the powerful behave more unethically and more unlawfully than their poorer counterparts. No one could better exemplify the results of these studies (carried out at the University of California, Berkeley) than the parasitic lawless elite of Pakistan. They have not just taken over our natural heritage but also built on it hundreds of rest houses staffed and maintained by the state (at taxpayers’ expense) for the luxury of high officials. As an example, Rs3 million are spent only to maintain rest houses for TMA and DCO Abbotabad.

Even an organisation like PESCO that is facing losses worth Rs40 billion has no shame in grabbing a two-kanal piece of land in Nathiagali for building a lodge that will provide luxury holidays to those actually responsible for its losses. What we need is a government that will reverse these plunders and declare our forests and hill stations as a common heritage and shared property of all citizens of Pakistan.

Ex MNA from Kohistan Threatens Working Women

Maulvi Abdul Haleem (Credit: elections.com.pk)

MANSEHRA, May 5: Former Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal MNA from Kohistan Maulvi Abdul Haleem on Saturday warned women working in non-governmental organisations against entering his district and said violators of the warning would be forcibly married off to locals.

“I issued a decree during Friday sermon that getting education for degrees by women is repugnant to Islamic injunctions because if a woman gets degree, she may use it for job, an act which Islam doesn’t allow in absence of mehram (close relatives),” he told reporters here.

Mr Haleem said: “If women working in NGOs enter Kohistan, we won’t spare them and solemnise their nikkah (marriage) with local men.”

Maulana Haleem, who remained MNA during the Musharraf regime, said if a woman got education and used it for job, then it was against the teachings of Islam.

“That’s why girls are not going to schools in Kohistan and girl schools are used as cattle pen,” he said.

The ex-MNA, who was once a mufti at Darul Uloom Haqqania, Akora Khattak, and also taught top clerics Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulana Anwarul Haq, Maulana Nizamuddin Shamazai, said he was not opposed to NGOs and would ensure complete protection of their male staffers in Kohistan.

He said if NGOs wanted to work for women’s development, they should spend money for the purpose through government departments.

“We won’t let them (NGOs) influence our women in the name of empowerment and financial support through women workers of NGOs,” said the ex-MNA, who remained the district chairman in Kohistan during the General Ziaul Haq regime.

He said he issued a decree in the past in favour of poppy cultivation and trade and continued to believe so.

“I also rose up against the unjustified slaughtering of animals by Jehanzeb Khan, the ruler of the formerly Swat state, at his birthday. Kohistan was part of the state of Swat at that time. Even he (ruler) put me behind the bars but I didn’t withdraw the decree,” he said.

The ex-MNA said killing of women in the name of honour was a ‘local custom and religious practice’ in Kohistan.

He said if someone witnessed female members of his family roaming with ghair mehram (other than close relatives), he could kill her without producing four witnesses,” he said.

Meanwhile, a man was killed and his father and two brothers critically wounded on Saturday when their rival tribesmen attacked their house in Palis area.

A dispute over the ownership of a water reservoir was blamed for the Narng Shahkhail attack on Badakhail tribesmen.

The dead included Azizur Rehman, while the injured were his father, Mohammad Asghar, and his brothers, Mohammad Essa and Abdul Quddos, whose condition was stated be critical at a local hospital.

The Palis police lodged an FIR and began investigation. Last year, four people were killed and three injured when Badakhail and Narng Shah-khail tribes exchanged heavy fire over the same dispute.


Indo-Pak Civilians Renew Calls to Demilitarize Siachen Glacier

Entrance to Siachen Glacier (Credit: news.kuwaitimes.net)

ISLAMABAD, April 11 — Pakistan and India’s military standoff in the frozen high mountains of Kashmir is not only costing soldiers’ lives, experts say — it is also wreaking havoc on the environment.

A huge avalanche on Saturday devastated Pakistan’s Gayani army camp on the fringes of the Siachen Glacier, where Pakistani and Indian soldiers brave bitter conditions to eyeball each other in a long-running territorial dispute.

Environmental experts say the heavy military presence is speeding up the melting of the glacier, one of the world’s largest outside the polar regions, and leaching poisonous materials into the Indus river system.

Faisal Nadeem Gorchani of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad said the glacier had shrunk by 10 kilometres (six miles) in the last 35 years. “More than half of the glacier reduction comes from the military presence,” he said.

Pakistani hydrologist and Siachen specialist Arshad Abbasi gave an even more alarming assessment of the glacier’s decline, and said that non-militarised areas had not suffered so badly. “More than 30 percent of the glacier has melted since 1984, while most of the Karakoram glaciers on the Pakistani side expanded,” he said.

Troop movements, training exercises and building infrastructure all accelerate melting, Gorchani said. Waste from the military camps is also a major problem, harming the local environment and threatening to pollute the water systems that millions of people across the subcontinent depend upon.

“Indian army officials have described the Siachen as ‘the world’s biggest and highest garbage dump’,” US expert Neal Kemkar said in an article for the Stanford Environmental Law Journal.

The report quoted estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature saying that on the Indian side alone, more than 900 kilos (2,000 pounds) of human waste was dropped into crevasses every day.

Kemkar said that 40 percent of the military waste was plastics and metal, and as there are no natural biodegrading agents present, “metals and plastics simply merge with the glacier as permanent pollutants, leaching toxins like cobalt, cadmium, and chromium into the ice.”

“This waste eventually reaches the Indus River, affecting drinking and irrigation water that millions of people downstream from the Siachen, both Indian and Pakistani, depend upon,” the report said.

Kemkar also warned the conflict had affected wildlife, with the habitat of animals such as the endangered snow leopard, the brown bear and the ibex — a type of wild goat — all threatened.

There is virtually no chance of any of the 138 people buried by Saturday’s avalanche being found alive, so they will likely be added to the list of those claimed by Siachen, dubbed “the world’s highest battleground”, with outposts more than 6,000 metres high.

An estimated 8,000 troops have died in the glacier’s freezing wastes since conflict over the area flared in 1984. Colonel Sher Khan, a retired Pakistani officer and mountain expert, says that not a single shot has been fired in anger in at least eight years and combat deaths in Siachen have numbered only in the dozens.

The rest have succumbed to frostbite, altitude sickness, heart failure and inadequate cold weather equipment — as well as avalanches and landslides.

Military experts quoted in local media say a Pakistani soldier dies around every three or four days in Siachen, and the latest disaster has led to louder calls for a negotiated end to the standoff, particularly given the huge expense of maintaining troops at such a high altitude.

The cost of the operation is kept under wraps but Pakistani daily newspaper The News reported that Pakistan spends $60 million a year on Siachen and India more than $200 million. In two countries where millions live below the poverty line this is a lot of money to defend an frozen, uninhabitable patch of mountain, but after nearly 30 years of stalemate, no-one is expecting a swift end to the dispute.

“It’s a matter of ego. Nobody is ready to take that step, even if they want it, because elections are coming,” said retired colonel Khan.

The soldiers facing each other across the icy, inhospitable mountain wastes have one thing in common, at least.

“India and Pakistan are not fighting each other in Siachen, they are both fighting the glacier, and nature takes its revenge by killing soldiers,” said Abbasi.

Pakistan’s Wish List for How to Censor Internet Access

You know that “overwhelmed” feeling you get when trying to censor the entire Internet manually? Pakistan does. Its current Internet censorship regime is run by hand at its two major Internet backbone companies, PTCL and TWA, and at various local Internet providers. The system isn’t working, says the government, which instead plans to deploy automated Internet censorship hardware capable of filtering up to 50 million URLs per box.

“Pakistani ISPs and backbone providers have expressed their inability to block millions of undesirable websites using current manual blocking systems,” said the government’s request for proposals (PDF) last week. “A national URL filtering and blocking system is therefore required to be deployed at national IP backbone [sic] of the country.”

The plan is to install the hardware on backbone links in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, from which it can be “centrally managed by a small and efficient team.”

The spec sheet

Pakistan has a long wish list for this censorship gear. It should be “capable of URL filtering and blocking, from domain level to sub folder, file levels and file types.” The hardware should be standalone and carrier-grade with redundant power supplies and “100 percent uptime.” it should provide for remote monitoring through SNMP, and it should do its dirty business on layers 2 or 3 of the 7-layer standard OSI networking model (those are the “data link” and “network” levels; particular application traffic, such as that from Skype or a Web browser, is way up at level 7).

Each installation should be scalable—Pakistan’s total Internet bandwidth is growing at around 50 percent each year—and each installation should be capable of filtering 100Gbps traffic with less than 1 millisecond of delay. Each piece of hardware must be able to “handle a block list of up to 50 million URLs,” and the system must support a Web-based app to update the block list categories.

Although the proposal makes clear that “Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered,” the new scheme isn’t leaving much to chance. In addition to filtering Web traffic, Pakistan also demands that the system be “rapidly programmable to support new protocols and applications.” In a follow-up document (PDF) answering questions about the system, the government makes clear that this refers to future filtering “for other well-known protocols like SMTP, FTP, etc.” So in addition to Web filtering, Pakistanis can soon look forward to having their e-mail scanned and censored by the government.

It’s impossible to know exactly what might be blocked, but Pakistan appears ready to grab international child porn blacklists from the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK to supplement its own lists.

Making censorship more efficient

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, Pakistan has had a long history with Internet censorship.

Ever since the Pakistan Telecommunication Act, passed in 1996, enacted a prohibition on people from transmitting messages that are “false‚ fabricated‚ indecent or obscene,” the PTA has increasingly intensified their efforts to censor content online. The PTA blocked thousands of sites in 2007—not just those containing pornographic material or content offensive to Islam, but numerous vital websites and services—in response to a Supreme Court ruling that ordered the blocking of “blasphemous” websites. In 2008, they briefly blocked YouTube because the site hosted Geert Wilder’s film “Fitna.” They blocked it again in 2010, over a hosted clip of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari telling an unruly audience member to “shut up.” In May of 2010, the PTA blocked Facebook in response to a controversy over a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed.

Most recently in November of last year, the PTA sent a notice to Pakistani mobile carriers to ban 1,600 terms and phrases from SMS texts within seven days or they would face legal penalties. It was soon revealed that the list originated from an American National Football League’s “naughty words” list—words that were banned from being printing on American football jerseys.

Not all Pakistanis like this. Bytes for All, a local tech organization, called on foreign firms to stay out of the bidding to “show their support for freedom of expression, speech and opinion in Pakistan.”

“A society without fundamental rights, particularly freedom of expression, speech, opinion and choice cannot call itself a democratic society,” the group’s statement concluded. “Let’s join hands to stop the coldblooded murder of the Internet in Pakistan!”

Govt Claims Crackdown on Extortion Mafias after Big Protests

Traders Demand Protection from Extortionists (Credit: thenews.com.pk)

Karachi, March 19: “In our profession, we don’t look at whether we’re strong, but if the other party is able to pay up,” says I*, with a 9mm pistol in hand, as he sits outside his apartment in District East. “This is give and take. No one is doing a favour. We ask for money to spare someone’s life and they pay up for the same reason. It’s a simple formula.”

Becoming an extortionist in Karachi is the easy way out to not just bankrolling a political party’s operations but also to rise in the murky hierarchy of criminal operations in Karachi.

Small-time criminals with no affiliation to gangs or political parties can easily call someone up, say that they are from so-and-so party or gang and make an extortion demand. Their entry into the city’s criminal operations has complicated how extortion works in Karachi, since it has become difficult to identify where the demand is actually coming from.

Instead of relying on other sources, every gang and criminal group in town is extorting money to be able to meet its budgetary needs. Almost all political and nationalist parties are involved in extorting money in Karachi, say observers. By one estimate, over Rs50 million is collected from traders, businessmen, shopkeepers, industrialists, factory owners and construction companies in Karachi, relying on a tried-and-tested formula of blackmail or asking for a ‘donation’ or ‘protection money’ on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

They are assisted by a network of employees, relatives, guards and drivers, and use cell phones, verbal demands conveyed by boys on motorcycles and written slips of papers to convey their calls for money. There is also a system of surveillance in place, so traders are told of where their children go to school and what their family members are up to so that they know that the extortionists are keeping an eye on them.

A*, who works at a textile mill in SITE, is one of the many victims of extortionists.

“I had to stop going to the office for a few days. If I didn’t have anyone to support me I would have gone crazy,” he said.

Extortionists are known to call up traders and industrialists with their demands. While A never paid up, he was convinced that someone from his inner circle had provided his details to criminal groups.

Others have paid up or negotiated the amounts asked for them. According to one account, the amount can be discussed and brought down. Others have just shifted their families to other cities or countries.

Those targeted by extortionists play a cloak-and-dagger game, changing vehicles and cell phone numbers to escape their insistent calls.

The police also help traders deal with extortionists and advise them to negotiate. One industrialist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he shifted his family abroad because he was convinced that they would always use them as a way to get to his cheque book.

Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan and police officials have said that extortionist groups are not new to Karachi. But while it was once easy to know who was behind that mysterious phone call asking for hundreds of thousands of rupees, Karachi is far more complicated now with the myriad groups operating throughout the city, and those using their names to inspire fear in their victims.

Resistance isn’t a strategy either. Over half a dozen traders in Karachi, especially in the South district, have been killed for refusing to pay up.

Problems have also emerged with different groups battling out for turfs.

Paying extortion doesn’t mean the other group won’t approach you for money, and this has also seen a decrease in share for groups that were traditionally the sole operator in extortion. In some areas, the turfs are neatly demarcated and work with mutual understanding, given the political deals between the groups’ leaders or parties. But with the involvement of criminal groups with no political affiliation, a turf war has emerged and results in a renewal of target-based killings.

But there is no one to turn to. The police have been deemed as being ineffective in dealing with the situation; since it is highly politicised, few traders actually lodge First Information Reports (FIRs) with the city’s cops.

Even with the initiation of an Anti Extortion Cell, few have stepped up to register complaints and prefer to reply on personal connections to rid themselves of the extortionists. Despite the furore over extortion, Karachi police chief Akhtar Hussain Gorchani has only received 15 complaints in 10 days. “I thought extortion had reached a limit but I am confused at the few numbers of complaints received by the Anti Extortion Cell,” he told The Express Tribune. “Either people can’t develop trust in the police or there’s some other reason.”

Crime Investigation Department SSP Fayyaz Khan said that criminal gangs have complicated the city’s situation, since they use the names of influential political parties to back up their demands. He said there is violent retribution for those who refuse to pay up.

This also makes it difficult to estimate how much money is extorted from Karachi, though a source said that at least Rs10.5 million was demanded from the traders on Tariq Road each month. In his testimony to the Supreme Court of Pakistan last August, the DG Rangers said that extortion is a ‘normal practice’ and at least Rs10 million is collected every day, from shopkeepers to the city’s prominent businessmen. The negotiated amount that is paid is far less than what is being demanded.

For complainants who don’t have someone influential backing them up, they can’t find a way to track who has made the extortion demands over the phone. Often, a caller will use a single phone number to dial 20 traders and make demands, but the process of verification is difficult. The police do not appear to have access to trace calls, and requests end up going through several levels, from the SHO to the SSP to the DIG to the additional IG, who will then forward it to the Intelligence Bureau who will ask the Inter-Services Intelligence to help. It can take up to three months to trace calls through the official route, which makes the notion of listing the cell phone numbers being used in complaints useless.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

SOME BHATTA PRONE AREAS (according to police sources):

Gulshan-e-Maymar, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Sacchal, Gadap, Malir, Gulshan-e-Hadeed, Bin Qasim, Lyari, Old city areas, Garden, Golimar, Pak Colony, Site, Shershah scrap market, Saddar, Napier Road, Kharadar, Mithadar, New Karachi, Surjani, Ranchore Line, Soldier Bazaar, Shah Faisal Colony, Korangi, Landhi, Kharadar, Liaquatabad, Sohrab Goth, Orangi, Qasba, Banaras, Kati Pahari, SITE, Baldia, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Essa Nagri, Old Sabzi Mandi, Abul Hassan Ispahani Road, Hassan Square, Bahadurabad, Quaidabad, Keamari, Tariq Road, Sharafi Goth, Korangi, Lyari, Kharadar, Mithadar, New Karachi and Quaidabad.