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Islamic World News ( 8 Jan 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Hatred Material in School Syllabus of Pakistan Spoiling Children

  • New Age Islam News Bureau

    8 Jan 2012
  • Afghan inmates 'abused' at US-run Bagram prison
  • Saif Gaddafi sets Libya's new rulers a test of commitment to human rights
  • Murder is off-limits in Islam: An Imam of Islamic Society of Kingston
  • Hindu group 'flew Pakistan flag to create tension'
  • Pakistan wants halt to Arab 'religious colonialism'
  • EU responds positively to Iran's talks offer
  • New Blast Hits Syria as Monitors Visit
  • Islam in US must adhere to modern church, state reality
  • Political mud-slinging upsets Kazi Nazrul's family
  • Blast kills 2 Shia pilgrims in Iraq
  • Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) World Assembly to Actively Participate in Najaf Plan
  • Govt. Bluffing to score political points: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf
  • Malaysian opposition leader prepared for jail on verdict eve of sodomy charges
  • Egypt's Coptic pope celebrates Christmas with call for unity
  • Sheikh Hasina to visit Tripura from Jan 11
  • Thousands Hold Prayers for Syria Bombing Dead
  • Govt will not ask Swiss to reopen probe against me: Zardari
  • Indian-American Dr Sudhanshu Prasad takes oath of office on Gita for NJ council
  • US reaches out to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
  • U.S. Navy rescues Iranian fishing boat from pirates
  • Iran's IRGC begins military drill in eastern country
  • Musharraf denies he knew Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan

Complied by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: Afghan inmates 'abused' at US-run Bagram prison



Hatred Material in School Syllabus of Pakistan Spoiling Children

By Arsalan Haider

LAHORE: January 8, 2012, The Pakistani society has witnessed a considerable surge in the number of incidents of terrorism and violence against minorities during the last decade.

If we try to search for the reasons for this gradual spread of intolerance, violence and terrorism, we come to know that the roots of these problems lie in most schoolbooks, which are being considered a major source for the promotion of hatred against minorities.

According to some educationists and experts, this hatred material was made part of the syllabus during the era of Ziaul Haq, who tried to Islamicise every department, including the education.

General Zia presented an education policy during his government, giving highest priority to the revision of the curricula with a view to reorganising the entire content on Islamic thoughts and giving education an ideological orientation so that the Islamic ideology floods the thinking of the younger generation.

He wanted to mould the youngsters’ minds, in order to refashion society according to the Islamic tenets.

Islamicising the education sector resulted in the spread of hatred against non-Muslims and minorities, which eventually triggered incidents of violent against minorities.

Such hatred material has been identified by several governmental and non-governmental organisations time and again, but the authorities concerned remained silent over the issue.

The material causing anti-non-Muslim sentiments to trigger can easily be found in many lessons of the social studies and Pakistan studies.

A chapter in the social studies book of class 8 – regarding the ideology of Pakistan – states that the creation of Pakistan was crucial because the religion and the identity of Muslims in united India were at stake.

The lesson also states that Hindus believed that theirs’ was the only nation in the sub-continent, and that other nations should either merge in it, or quit India.

In the same chapter, it is also written that no one could tolerate blasphemy against his religion, but the English officers encouraged the priests to move against Muslims, and also participate in their meeting. In the Pakistan studies book of class 10, a chapter titled Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a heading about the causes for the separation of East Pakistan and the role of the Indian government, which states that when Pakistan came into being, the Hindus tried their best to weaken and destroy it.

A study was conducted on hatred materials being taught to students, in which over 100 textbooks for pupils from grade 1 to grade 10 across the four provinces were reviewed. The report showed that the books contained religious discrimination and falsified historical accounts, which eventually increases violence and religious extremism.

It is the need of the hour that the authorities try to review these textbooks and make necessity changes to reduce the increasing level of intolerance, violence and terrorism in our society.


Afghan inmates 'abused' at US-run Bagram prison

8 January 2012

Afghan investigators have accused the US Army of abusing detainees at its main prison in the country, saying inmates had reported being tortured and held without evidence.

The findings come days after President Hamid Karzai called for the facility at Bagram air base to be handed over to Afghan control within a month.

The move surprised the US, which had been working with the Afghans on a phased handover over two years.

The US says it will examine the claims.

"We take seriously and investigate all allegations of detainee abuse," a spokesman for the US embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, said.

The head of the commission investigating abuse accusations, Gul Rahman Qazi, said prisoners had complained of abuse including beatings, humiliating body searches and being exposed to extreme cold.

"During our visit to Bagram some of the prisoners talked of misconduct, some alleged they had been tortured," he told a news conference in Kabul.

He cited the case of 71-year-old Abdul Jabar, who said he had been held in a pitch-black room and lost a tooth after being punched.

"There was no evidence of torture on prisoners' bodies, but they claimed that they had been tortured," Mr Qazi said.

Detainee status

Bagram prison, officially known as the Parwan Detention Center, is located in one of the largest military bases for Nato-led forces fighting in Afghanistan and holds 3,000 detainees, including terror suspects.

The Afghans control some 300 of the detainees.

President Hamid Karzai has called for the facility to be handed over to Afghan control

The status of detainees held there is a key issue in negotiations on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

On 5 January, Mr Karzai demanded that the prison should be transferred to Afghan control within a month, and set up the commission to investigate the handover.

It was the latest step in the deteriorating relationship between Mr Karzai and Washington. He has been angered by discussions the US and other Afghan stakeholder have had on the possibility of the Taliban opening an office in Qatar, as a base for future peace talks.

The US responded to Mr Karzai's demand by saying it had been working "for some time with the Afghan government on appropriate timing and pace for transfer of the detention facilities".

"We need to do this in a manner that is maximally responsible. That's what we want to do. And we're going to... keep working on it," said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Mr Qazi said the transfer should take place "as soon as possible", but added that how the jail was maintained under Afghan control was also an "important issue".

"The Afghan side should work on it seriously and with full responsibility," he said.


Saif Gaddafi sets Libya's new rulers a test of commitment to human rights

Chris Stephen, 7 January 2012

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi – who served during the Libya uprising as a loyal lieutenant of his father – pictured in captivity in Zintan. Photograph: Ismail Zitouni/Reuters

Home for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is currently a converted living room with a dirty beige carpet in a compound close to Zintan, a modest mountain town 100 miles south-east of Libya's capital, Tripoli. Uniformed guards are his only company and he is denied visitors, television, radio and the internet.

He shakes hands with his few visitors with his left hand, because the thumb and forefinger of his right have been severed. He insists this was the result of being targeted in a Nato air strike, but some Libyans think it was the work of a rebel sympathiser, as punishment for Saif's habit of wagging his finger at rebels on his television broadcasts. Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, granted a rare interview with Saif, reported that he looked well and gets fed three times a day. What Saif does not get is access to a lawyer, or any sight of the charges that Libya's new rulers say he faces.

Which is why, less than three months after his father's death, Saif is fast becoming an unlikely rallying point for international human rights advocates. It is a twist of fate no one would have anticipated, but Libya's rulers face increasing criticism over their failure to fulfil promises to set up a proper justice system. Saif, always the most influential son of the late Muammar Gaddafi, has been languishing in his makeshift prison cell since being arrested by militias in November.

The failure of the authorities to tell him what he is charged with or give him access to a lawyer has prompted a torrent of criticism from rights groups.

And the ruling National Transitional Council now appears to be on a collision course with the international criminal court (ICC) over its failure to hand him over to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.

Tuesday 10 January is the deadline set by the ICC last month for Libya's new rulers to tell the court's judges what plans they have for holding a trial that they insist must be on home territory, and to confirm "on an urgent basis" whether he is being held "incommunicado". Tripoli has yet to reply to the request, but a visit by Omar al-Bashir – the Sudanese president wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide and war crimes – is seen by some as a likely indicator of its response.

"Will the new Libya grant detainees the rights that Muammar Gaddafi had denied to Libyans for so long?" says Abrahams. "It's a question that gets to the heart of what Libya will become."

The former playboy son of Gaddafi famously consorted with Tony Blair and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, living the high life in his £10m mansion in London's Hampstead Garden Suburb. He cemented contacts with the London School of Economics, which awarded him a controversial doctorate, having pledged to work for reform and democracy in his father's Libya.

When rebellion broke out in February, Saif shared the reins of power with his enfeebled father, using state television broadcasts to launch diatribes against the country's rebels. NTC officials insist that the trial will be in Libya, not The Hague. "The ICC is just a secondary court, and the people of Libya will not allow Saif al-Islam to be tried outside," said NTC spokesman Mahmoud Shammam. But the ICC insists it is for Tripoli to persuade The Hague that in the postwar chaos Libya is capable of guaranteeing a fair trial. Setting up a war crimes process with an independent judiciary from scratch is a tall order, says Sir Geoffrey Nice, a British QC who prosecuted Serbia's former president Slobodan Milosevic. "A war crimes process is complex. One of the problems of the victors dispensing justice to the vanquished is there will be political interference."

Rights groups say the NTC is far from having a credible judicial system. "Instead of making comments in the media, they [the NTC] should engage with the court," said Carla Ferstman, director of British legal rights group Redress. "They have to come up with a plan for how they will deal with mass criminality over the past 40 years."

Confrontation with the ICC now looms, because the court insists that its mandate, received from the United Nations last year, gives it primacy to try Saif, unless Libya can prove its ability to hold a fair trial.

The chances of such an appeal succeeding appear slim: Saif is not the only former member of the Gaddafi regime held incommunicado. More than 7,000 prisoners of war languish in makeshift prisons across Libya, with access to neither lawyers nor a trial process.

Moreover, the NTC has yet to begin the investigation it promised into the death of Muammar Gaddafi, whose bloodied corpse was paraded by rebel forces hours after they captured him in the coastal city of Sirte.

Neighbouring Tunisia, Libya's partner in last year's Arab spring, last month refused to extradite Gaddafi's former prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, ruling that there were no guarantees that he will not be tortured once back in Libya.

The ICC has in the past taken a hard line on states wanting to hold war crimes trials on home soil. Last June it refused the petition of Kenya for permission to try six government officials indicted for mass murder, insisting the trial be held at The Hague.

Saif, 39, is not the only Gaddafi family member to accuse the NTC of failing to live up to its promises of establishing democracy and the rule of law. His sister, Aisha, who is in exile in Algeria, has engaged Israeli lawyer Nick Kaufman, a war crimes specialist, to demand that the ICC investigate their father's death.

Donatella Rovera, an Amnesty International official, said the NTC had failed to put in place a trial system with independent judges and skilled prosecutors. "At the moment there is no central authority to speak of, so it's difficult to speak of an independent judiciary," she said.

But Libyan leaders insist the country will hold a trial. "We are ready to prosecute him," said justice minister Mohammed al-Alagy. "We have adopted enough legal and judicial procedures to ensure a fair trial for him."

Any such trial of Saif will be eagerly watched, both at home and abroad. It is said that he holds damaging secrets relating to some of those who continue to hold powerful positions in Libya.

Meanwhile, outsiders will be watching to see if he reveals details of his father's contacts with Blair, and the central role he played in the controversial decision by the Scottish authorities to free the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 2009, on humanitarian grounds.

Should Libya go ahead with a trial, unsanctioned by the ICC and without international participation, it will pose a problem for both the UK and France, who backed the rebels with Nato air strikes, special forces and diplomatic support. Both David Cameron and France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, invested political capital in justifying their intervention in Libya, arguing that the new regime will mark a break with the country's authoritarian past.

And it is not just the international community that is wary of the NTC failing to deliver a robust legal system. So, too, are many Libyans.

Few in this war-ravaged country will shed a tear for the predicament of Saif. But protests are erupting across the country against the NTC, which is accused of incompetence and secrecy by the people it claims to serve.

The workings of the NTC remain a closely guarded secret, with key meetings held behind closed doors. "Its about transparency, we need transparency," said Hassan el-Amin, a Libyan who returned from 28 years of exile in the UK during the uprising.

For rights groups, the fate of Saif – and the 7,000 detainees – is the litmus test of the new regime's commitment to justice. "The rule of law should be there for everybody," said Rovera. Even Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.


Murder is off-limits in Islam: An Imam of Islamic Society of Kingston


Evidence in the Shafia case has reinforced stereotypes about honour killing. It’s time for Muslims to speak out against violence

KINGSTON, Ont. JANUARY 6, 2012 – The Shafia family murder trial, which resumes here on Monday, has caused anger, disbelief and sadness in those following it – Canadian Muslims along with everyone else.

But among Muslims there is also a deep sense of frustration, especially over a conversation that was presented as evidence by the prosecution:

“They betrayed humankind; they betrayed Islam; they betrayed our religion and creed; they betrayed our tradition; they betrayed everything,” Mohammad Shafia is heard saying, allegedly referring to his dead daughters, in a conversation recorded by police.

Shafia, his wife, Tooba Yahya, and their eldest son, Hamed, have been charged with four counts each of first-degree murder. All three have pleaded not guilty.

The mere mention of Islam in this context – regardless of whether it was the motivation behind the tragic deaths of four members of the Shafia family – reinforces the stereotype that killing in the name of honour is an Islamic practice.

Killing a family member who is thought to have tarnished the family’s honour is in no way sanctioned or promoted by Islamic teachings.

For starters, murder is totally off-limits in Islam. Having an affair, a relationship or a boyfriend, not wearing the Hijab, and so on – as dishonourable as these may be considered – are not cause for murder. Murder is prohibited to the severest degree and cannot be justified in any way, especially for girls who are under the care of their parents.

The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), who is regarded as a role model by Muslims, repeatedly emphasized kind treatment of women.

He is reported to have said: “The best of you is the one who is best to his women.”

After its advent in seventh-century Arabia, Islam put an end to the then-common practice of female infanticide. Just as they brought a barbaric practice to an end then, Muslims today have a responsibility to put a stop to the killing of girls in the name of honour – something unfortunately practised by some in predominantly Muslim societies as part of their ethnic or tribal culture.

That’s not to say that domestic violence is solely a Muslim problem. Domestic violence, and even killing in the name of honour, is a problem that cuts across geographic boundaries and ethnicities. Such killings have been committed by members of other faiths, even in Canada. The penal codes of countries including Argentina, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador allow for honour as a defence against a charge of murder, according to a 2002 United Nations report. Until 2009, “provocation” (including discovery of an adulterous spouse) was a legal defence in England. And a 2004 report for the European Union identified the Roma and female immigrants from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland as being at risk of being victims of “honour crimes” in Greece.

Homes and families are meant to be a source of love, peace and tranquility.

No human being – woman, man or child – deserves to be subjected to domestic violence or live under the threat of violence or death. There are professionally trained individuals and organizations within the Muslim community available to offer assistance.

Individually, many imams and Muslim community leaders have been working to put an end to domestic violence. Realizing that their messages may not be getting through as well as they had hoped, more than 120 Canadian imams, community leaders and Muslim organizations recently signed on to a call to action against domestic violence.

As part of this initiative, imams across the country gave sermons on Dec. 9 condemning domestic and honour-based killings. The following day, the White Ribbon campaign, in which men undertook a pledge against domestic violence, was launched in Toronto’s Muslim community.

These are just a few of the many steps that must be taken in order to eradicate domestic violence and killings in the name of honour.

As Muslim leaders, as individuals and as Canadians, we have a responsibility to tackle this shared problem, because even one victim of domestic violence is one too many. Sikander Ziad Hashmiis an imam at the Islamic Society of Kingston in Kingston, Ont. He can be reached through his website,


Hindu group 'flew Pakistan flag to create tension'

By Habib Beary

Bangalore, 5 January 2012,

The flag raised in Sindgi. The incident caused increased communal tension

Six members of a right-wing Hindu group have been arrested in India's southern Karnataka state for raising Pakistan's national flag on a government building.

Police say those arrested belong to the Sri Rama Sena group.

The flag was raised in Sindgi, near Bijapur, on 1 January, leading to angry protests by Hindu organisations and the stoning of a Muslim prayer hall.

Police say Sri Rama Sena was trying to create "communal disharmony" in an area with a sizeable Muslim presence.

Sri Rama Sena is a fringe group that claimed responsibility for attacking women outside a pub in the coastal district of Mangalore in 2009, saying that allowing females in pubs was against Indian culture.

'Dividing society'

Inspector general of police Charan Reddy told the BBC the situation in Sindgi was "now peaceful".

"It seems they were out to create communal disharmony," he said.

Hindu organisations had called for strikes in a number of towns around Bijapur to protest against the flag-raising.

But Mr Reddy said police investigations had led them to members of the Sri Rama Sena, a group founded by Pramod Muthalik after it broke away from the Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the long-standing Hindu nationalist organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Mr Muthalik is the leading suspect in the attack on the women in Mangalore.

Former chief minister and Janata Dal Secular party leader HD Kumaraswamy said of the flag-raising: "It is such a shame. I blame the RSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the incident. They want to divide society on religious lines."

Bijapur is close to Hyderabad in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and is a historic town with a sizeable Muslim population.

Police arrested Sri Rama Sena members for the desecration of a mosque in Mysore a few years ago.

The carcass of a pig was thrown near the prayer hall, an act that triggered major riots between Hindus and Muslims.

Karnataka was also rocked by a series of attacks on churches by right-wing groups in 2008, immediately after the BJP came to power.


Pakistan wants halt to Arab 'religious colonialism'

Sanjay Sharma, TNN 

CHANDIGARH: Jan 8, 2012,  A section of Pakistanis have raised their voice against Arab colonialism (imposing Wahhabi Islam over Sufi Islam) amidst attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan.

"Saudi Arabia which is undemocratic, is exporting Wahhabi Islam to Pakistan where Sufis have been traditionally popular," Sayeeda Diep from the Lahore-based Institute for Peace and Secular studies, told The Times of India.

"An undemocratic Saudi Arabia is funding Wahhabis to crush democratic aspirations in entire world including in Pakistan apparently to let rulers continue their dynastic rule in Saudi Arabia," she said during her visit to India. Petro dollars are being pumped world over to promote this school of Islam projecting it closer to the original form.

"The people of Pakistan need to fight both American as well Arab colonialism," she said.

Both India and Pakistan have seen Sufism grow over a millennium and recent attacks have only been on such shrines in Pakistan. The Taliban and extreme forces in Pakistan are getting support and funds from Wahhabis. Wahhabis do not approve of shrines and saints which are sources of inspiration for Sufis who are known for mysticism. Wahhabi movement emerged in the 18th century.

So popular is Sufism in Pakistan that even Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is a descendent of a Sufi from Multan. Ajmer Sharief, Nizamuddin Aulia and scores of saints, pirs have been worshipped in India.

Such intolerant are Wahhabis in Pakistan that two theologians Javed Ahmed Shamdi and Maulana Tahir-Ul-Quadri had to look for a secure place after they criticized extremists. The latter, in fact, fled to Canada after issuing a fatwa against the killings of innocents.

"There is no space for theological debate like the one that has already started in India," she said.

Diep had to be hospitalized after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Tasir who was fighting against blasphemy law. Her tears just did not stop for three days and she went into depression feeling there is no hope in Pakistan for secular beliefs. Diep was jailed four times for fighting the government on regressive steps. One of her campaigns was asking for registration of cases against the Mullah who issued an edict against those who attended funeral of Salman Tasir shot by his security guard. When she started, only four persons attended her candle light protest against Mullahs. Now, the number has gone up to 70 persons.


EU responds positively to Iran's talks offer


DUBAI, January 7, 2012, The prospects of the nuclear talks between Iran and the six global powers have brightened after European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, using Turkish diplomatic channels, responded positively to Tehran's offer to resume the stalled dialogue.

Iran's daily Tehran Times, reporting on the joint press conference in Tehran by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi, said the visiting Minister had carried a message from Ms. Ashton to Iranian officials, calling for the resumption of nuclear talks. Ms. Ashton leads the five permanent Security Council members and Germany in a dialogue with Iran centred on Tehran's nuclear programme.

Addressing the press conference, Mr. Davutoglu said: “I gave [Ms.] Ashton's message to Mr. Salehi, the Foreign Minister of Iran, [and] the Foreign Minister of Iran also expressed readiness [for dialogue].”

Ms. Ashton's reciprocation came after Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, on December 31 invited the global powers for a new round of talks. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Mr. Jalili as saying: “We formally declared to them [the intent] to return to the path of dialogue for cooperation.”

During the press conference, Mr. Davutoglu hoped that the resumption of dialogue with Iran would “calm down” the existing “unfavourable climate” that Iran and the West were experiencing. In a show of strength, Iran has just concluded naval manoeuvres, suggesting that if pushed to the brink, it would block the oil transit channel of the Strait of Hormuz — a move that was likely to spiral oil prices beyond control and hurt Western economies. Iran's naval exercises have followed Washington's threat that it would block Iran's oil exports — a grim warning that Tehran has termed as a declaration of “economic war”. Iran and the six global powers had, a year ago, met in Istanbul, but the talks there failed to achieve a breakthrough. Earlier, a trilateral dialogue among Turkey, Brazil and Iran had led to the signing of the “Tehran declaration”, which had ignited hopes of imparting tangible momentum to nuclear diplomacy involving Iran and its six interlocutors.

At the press conference, Mr. Salehi said that he endorsed Ms. Ashton's suggestion that Turkey should be the venue of the next round of talks. “Personally I think that Turkey is the best place for the talks to take place,” Mr. Salehi observed.

Hoping to shape the upcoming dialogue, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday telephoned to convey to his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev that Tehran supported Moscow's efforts to use diplomacy to resolve the crisis surrounding his country's nuclear programme. Iran's Ambassador to Russia Seyed Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi said Tehran supported Moscow's revised “step-by-step” approach which not only recognises Iran's rights to access peaceful nuclear energy, but also “calls for the removal of the different dimensions of sanctions in return of each step by Iran”.

Midair during his return from Tehran, Mr. Davutoglu told journalists travelling with him that Turkey and Iran should assume leadership for healing the region's sectarian Sunni-Shia rift, which was finding a particularly ominous expression in Iraq. Recent sectarian attacks have targeted Iraq's majority Shia community, soon after the withdrawal of American forces from the country.

Turkish daily Today's Zaman quoted Mr. Davutoglu as saying that a pervasive dialogue between Iran and Turkey “could become an opportunity to avert sectarian conflicts in the region”.

Iran exercises substantial influence in Iraq, but Mr. Davutoglu said that Turkey, too, bonded well not only with the country's Sunni community, but also with Iraq's Shias and Kurds, who mainly reside in northern Iraq. During his stay in Iran, the visiting Minister held talks with influential Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.


New Blast Hits Syria as Monitors Visit


BEIRUT, JANUARY 7, 2012—As the Arab League prepares to discuss the initial findings of its monitors in Syria, signs of instability in the country grew with the second suicide attack in around two weeks to target security forces in the capital, killing 24 people.

The government blamed Friday's attack in Damascus on al Qaeda, as it did a pair of bombings on Dec. 23, according to Syrian state media.

No group has claimed responsibility for either attack, and the Syrian government hasn't provided evidence that they were planned by al Qaeda. Many parties could benefit from the perception—true or false—that President Bashar al-Assad is losing his grip on power and can't secure his capital, analysts said.

"Depending on what message they want to put across, the same act of violence could be committed by different groups for different reasons," said Nawaf Kabbara, a political analyst in Lebanon.

Thousands attend the funerals of 26 people killed in Damascus in what the Syrian government said was a suicide bomb attack. (Video: Reuters/Photo: AP)

The armed wing of the opposition, the Free Syrian Army, denied involvement and accused the government of staging the attacks to divert attention from its crackdown.

Meanwhile, large demonstrations were held across Syria on Friday, in keeping with the tradition of taking to the streets after Friday noon prayers. Activists reported clashes and heavy shooting in several suburbs of Damascus.

On Saturday, activists reported attacks by troops on a sit-in in the restive central city of Homs, during which at least one person was killed, according to the Associated Press.

An Arab League committee is scheduled to meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the first report from a 60-member team traveling through Syria to observe the 10-month standoff between Mr. Assad's government and the opposition movement.

The Cairo meeting will signal if, or in what form, the fact-finding mission in Syria, which began Dec. 26 will complete its one-month mandate.

The fact-finding mission is the first ever dispatched by the Arab League, amid a new sense of accountability among Arabs ushered in by the past year's wave of pro-democracy movements across the region.

Some analysts said they expected the league to see the mission through, even if the result is to abandon its efforts to reach a resolution to the conflict, an outcome that would give momentum to any push to refer Syria to the United Nations Security Council.

"The monitoring mission is serving an important purpose. It's putting pressure on the regime to deliver its commitments. It's not expected to end Syria's violence," said Ayham Kamel an analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington.

Syrian activists say the presence of the Arab monitors has given new life to antigovernment protests, drawing more people to the streets and pressing some concessions from the Assad regime. Among those were the release of 4,000 political prisoners, according to the Syrian state-controlled news agency, as well as the withdrawal of heavy military artillery from some areas.

In the restive city of Hama, an air force commander, Col. Afif Suleiman, in uniform with a Syrian flag around his neck, announced he was defecting along with 30 of his soldiers, in a live interview on Friday with al-Jazeera news channel.

At the same time, human-rights activists said the monitors hadn't buffered the opposition from the regime. The Local Coordination Committees, a national network that organizes and documents protests in Syria, said several hundred people had been killed since the monitors arrived, and that 35 people, including one woman and child, were killed on Friday.

Many human-rights activists said they believed the Arab League mission might only buy Mr. Assad more time without yielding any meaningful changes. The league has been criticized by activists for not sending more monitors and for allowing the mission to be led by a Sudanese general who has allegedly taken part in human-rights crackdowns in Sudan.

The league on Thursday said that the team was expected to complete its mission and that the number of monitors would increase to 150, drawing from different expertise and backgrounds.

Activists also complain that Syrian security forces are hampering the monitors' movements and ability to freely talk to residents. The league has said its observers are traveling and talking to Syrians and that no conclusions should be drawn yet.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Friday citing an example of a Damascus resident who was arrested on Jan. 2, a day after speaking to Arab League monitors.

The head of the Arab League committee on Syria, Qatar's prime minister, Sheik Hamed bin Jassim al-Thani, said mistakes had been made with the mission. Sheik Hamed met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Friday to discuss receiving assistance and training from the U.N. for the mission. "I said we must evaluate the types of mistakes it made and without a shadow of doubt I see mistakes, even though we went into observe, not to stop the violence," said Sheik Hamed.

Meanwhile on Friday, television footage from Syria's state channels showed burned and mangled cars with blown-out windows, and blood and debris in the aftermath of the suicide bombing in Damascus, which went off near a bus carrying police officers in a populous neighborhood.


Islam in US must adhere to modern church, state reality

Jan. 7, 2012

Steve Odom

I wrote last week about the local controversy over whether Islam can be considered a "religion." (DNJ, Jan. 1) The other main reason for the charge that Islam is NOT a religion is the development and spread of Islamism, or "radical Islam" in the last 40 years. Since we in the West began really paying attention to Islam in the last decade or so, many have commented on the absence of any notion of the separation of "church and state" in majority Islam countries. There are many reasons for this, none of them simple.

By analogy with Moses, the lawgiver of Israel, Mohammed was both the political leader of his followers and their religious leader at the same time. Israel, however, was called as a specific ethnos, a people linked by ancestry and given a promised land. Israel did not begin with an outward oriented mission to bring the world into "submission" (Islam). It was more centripetal than centrifugal.

Islam, by contrast, exploded outward in political/military conquest into the power vacuum of the "burnt-over" district between the exhausted empires of Sassanid Persia (greater Iran) and the Byzantine Roman Empire (Greece, the Balkans, Turkey, the Caucasus, Syria, North Africa and the Levant). Very soon after Mohammed's hegira (migration with followers) to Medina in 622 AD (Year One in the Islamic calendar) he was the leader of a united Medina, having militarily defeated the Jews of Medina and conquered the remaining pagan Arabs of the city.

Because it arose as a unitary ideology, there was never a significant time in those early centuries during which Islam was practiced as a minority religion in conflict with the ruling government. In fairness, we need to remember that this was the universal experience in antiquity before the rise of Christianity. Religion was always coterminous with a people and its national identity. Islam expanded outward, first to Mecca, and then up the Arabian peninsula, defeating Byzantine and Persian armies in major battles, both within the first 10 years after Mohammed's death.

Contrast this with the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who were Jews. Jews had been accustomed to living under Roman domination for the previous 150 years, and under Greek, Persian and Babylonian rule for the 500 years before that. The subsequent Jewish/Roman relationship was not a happy one, and in 70 AD and 135 AD there were uprisings followed by swift and efficient Roman suppressions. Early Christians, small in number, were powerless politically and oriented in a different direction than Mohammed's first followers. Jesus had already rejected the political/military route that many had expected him to follow and this set the tone for at least the next 250 years of church history, during which time Christianity doctrinally became what it is today.

There was much mixing of government, religion, church and state after the time of Emperor Theodosius (381 AD), but the foundational documents (e.g., the New Testament) came from the earlier period of minority status, and seeded Jesus' ideas regarding the role of faith and worldly power ("my kingdom is not of this world"; "give to Caesar that which is Caesar's") into modern, Western thinking about religion and politics. At the time of the rise of Islam, however, Christianity was entirely identified with the ruling government of Rome, now based in Constantinople. This close-knit arrangement with church and state gradually dissolved as a result of the Reformation of the 16th century, the religious conflicts of the 17th century and the American founding of the 18th century.

So though it must be acknowledged that the kind of thinking about religion and politics that's been normative in Islamic writings for centuries is foreign to what we're now familiar with, just because a religion is very different from what we're accustomed to does not mean it's not a religion. Many Christians are very familiar, after all, with preachers opining that Christianity is "not a religion at all, but a relationship." In such cases, religion is often denigrated by Christian thinkers as what humanity does to try to reach God on its own, which would fit the way I, and many Christians, think about Islam and other religions.

In Japan, for example, the vast majority of people who take part in Shinto rituals also practice Buddhist ancestor worship. In our world, a Southern Baptist would never ask a Catholic priest to come perform an infant baptism. We don't "get" Japanese religious practices, just like we don't "get" Islamic political/religious attitudes. This is just another example of how unfamiliar religions don't always fit the default pattern of American ideas of religion.

Believe me, the last thing Americans want is somebody "defining" what a religion is, because the court of last appeal is always the government and it is not in the interest of any religious people to have the government involved in that. Shintoism and Japanese Buddhism are, of course, religions, just as Islam, with its complicated political/military history and, for some, distasteful, ideology is a religion, and therefore covered under our Constitution's First Amendment protections.

The secular nation-state, economically liberal, religiously tolerant, democratically governed, was designed from its beginning to tame competing religious ideologies (Catholic/Protestant and Protestant/Protestant) with freedom, expansion of personal property rights, property ownership and access to political power. If given the chance, the modern secular state will do the same with Islam of whatever form or forms. If Islam cannot adapt to that, it will probably meet the same unhappy fate bar-Kochba's Jewish followers met in 135 AD, when they decided that God would fight for them against the Roman legions of the Emperor Hadrian. He did not.

Steve Odom is the pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro and a former community member of The DNJ's Editorial Board. He blogs at


Political mud-slinging upsets Kazi Nazrul's family

Saibal Sen, TNN 

KOLKATA: Jan 6, 2012, She is 76-year-old, widowed 37 years ago. She is the daughter-in-law of Kazi Nazrul Islam. If Kalyani Kazi had her way, she would have steered clear of the debate over renaming Indira Bhavan and continue working with her children quietly to preserve the legacy of the poet. But Kalyani has been made a member of newly formed Nazrul Academy, chaired by poet Joy Goswami.

And today she is sad and hurt. "We never asked for anything. We don't want this political mud-slinging. Isn't Kazi Nazrul Islam above all these? I was really grateful when Mamata Banerjee proposed to set up a Nazrul Academy here in Kolkata. We thought at least something would be done. It always pained us to think that while Bangladesh could do so much for him, he remained forgotten here in his birthplace," she told TOI.


Blast kills 2 Shia pilgrims in Iraq

BAGHDAD: January 8, 2012, A roadside bomb targeting Shia pilgrims killed two people and wounded eight others south of Baghdad on Saturday, Iraqi officials said.

This was the third day in a row in which bombers presumed to be Sunni insurgents have struck at members of the country’s Shia majority.

Over 80 people have been killed in a wave of violence, which Iraqis fear will rekindle the large-scale sectarian bloodshed that brought the country to the edge of civil war several years ago. Most of the attacks have aimed at Shias commemorating the Arbaeen, a period ending 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS). Saturday’s blast targeted pilgrims walking to the holy city of Karbala as they passed through the town of Mahmoudiya, about 30 kilometres south of Baghdad, the officials said. The police and hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to brief the media.

A series of bombings targeting Shias claimed the lives of at least 78 people on Thursday, marking the second large-scale attack by terrorists since US forces pulled out last month. Two more Shia pilgrims were killed on Friday. In the southern city of Basra, about 400 people staged a protest on Saturday to denounce a decision by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, to shelter the country’s top Sunni politician after an arrest warrant was issued against him. ap\01\08\story_8-1-2012_pg7_21


Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) World Assembly to Actively Participate in Najaf Plan


(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - This is according to Hojat-ol-Islam Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, secretary general of the assembly, who also told IQNA that among other programs, it would cooperate in organization of the Ghadir International Conference in Najaf.

He said since a few years ago, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) selects three cities every year as the cultural capitals of the Islamic world in different regions (Africa, Arab world and Asia). “The holy city of Najaf was selected to be the Cultural Capital of the Islamic World in 2012 during a 2008 session of Culture Ministers of ISESCO member states.”

He said the holy city fully deserved the title because it has had a high status in the Islamic world since the early years of Islamic history, adding that it was the city where Imam Ali (AS) ruled and later on Imam Sadeq (AS) taught students, issued Fatwas and narrated Hadith.

“A seminary was established in Najaf over 1000 years ago when Sheikh Tousi moved to the city from Baghdad. Ever since, it was a hub of Islamic sciences s and many prominent scholars rose in the city. Therefore, Najaf fully deserves the title.”

Hojat-ol-Islam Akhtari stressed that the assembly would actively take part in the programs celebrating the selection of the city as the cultural capital of Muslim world.

“During the Fast of Ghadir last year, the Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) World Assembly organized a special conference on Ghadir and it will hold another such conference in Najaf this year, too. It will be held as part of the Najaf Plan.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, he urged for inviting followers of different faiths and Islamic schools of thought to attend the programs marking Najaf as the cultural capital of Islamic world.


Govt. Bluffing to score political points: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf

MULTAN: January 8, 2012, Calling the government move to create more provinces a ‘political bluff’, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Saturday that the incumbents of the Prime Minister House wanted to score political points.

“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani may dupe the people of south Punjab, but he cannot fool the Supreme Court,” Qureshi said while addressing a public gathering in Multan where former political figures announced joining the PTI.

He added that the administration would not be able to escape the NRO despite all its ‘lame excuses’ that it was planning to present before the apex court.

Qureshi warned of a ‘severe law and order situation’ in the country, if the government continued to ignore the Supreme Court orders. He alleged that the ‘corrupt’ government was dilly-dallying on implementing the court verdicts because it wanted to amass as much wealth as it could before its ouster from power.

Prime Minister Gilani doesn’t care for people’s problems, he is only interested in spending their hard-earned money to get his son elected from the NA-148 constituency in the next election, the PTI leader claimed. “Change in Pakistan is only possible, if the PTI comes into power,” he said.

Referring to the lack of consensus among the coalition partners on the issue of creating new provinces, Qureshi said the government should first put its own house in order before thinking about addressing people’s issues.

Referendum is the only way to settle this issue, like India did in its Punjab region, he said. “The Pakistan Peoples Party is no longer the party with a unique ideology, today it has been reduced to a Zardari league.”


Malaysian opposition leader prepared for jail on verdict eve of sodomy charges


Kuala Lumpur, Jan 08, 2012, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Sunday he was prepared to go to jail as he geared up for last-ditch rallies on the eve of a trial verdict that threatens his political career.

Anwar, 64, has toured the country in the past week, whipping up crowds of supporters with fiery speeches denouncing sodomy charges against him as a government frame-up aimed at neutralising him politically.

He was due to address supporters at his Kuala Lumpur home Sunday night, followed by a pair of separate rallies ahead of the following morning's highly anticipated verdict announcement.

In a brief interview at his home Sunday, Anwar told AFP he had prepared himself mentally for a guilty verdict on charges he sodomised a male aide in 2008.

Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by 20 years in jail. "Mentally, I am okay. I am psychologically prepared (for a guilty verdict)," said Anwar, who like many observers believes a guilty verdict is assured.

"Physically, of course, I am 64... my health conditions are, of course, not as great as when I was at the age of 50."

Kuala Lumpur was bracing for potential unrest, with the opposition saying it plans to gather 100,000 people outside the court on Monday where judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah will pronounce Anwar's fate.

But Anwar said his supporters were being urged to assemble peacefully and disperse quickly after the verdict. There have been no reports of unrest during his tour.

"I do not anticipate any violence tomorrow," said Anwar, who added that voters should take any revenge at the ballot box. Prime Minister Najib Razak must call the next elections by early 2012.

In a concession rare for a country where dissent is tightly controlled, police said they would allow the courthouse gathering, provided that it did not get out of hand.

In July, a rally for electoral reform by tens of thousands in the capital was crushed by police using tear gas and water cannon. About 1,600 people were arrested.

The verdict announcement has kindled memories of Anwar's stunning fall from the ruling coalition more than a decade ago.

As deputy premier in the 1990s, Anwar was groomed by strongman prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to take power one day until a bitter row between them saw Anwar ousted in 1998, beaten, and ultimately jailed on sodomy and graft charges.

Thousands took to the streets in huge demonstrations calling for 'reformasi' (reform) and denouncing Anwar's ouster, which was widely viewed as politically motivated.

Anwar re-emerged years later at the helm of the opposition, inspiring an unlikely alliance of disparate parties to unprecedented parliamentary gains in 2008 general elections that shook the ruling establishment.

The new sodomy charge emerged shortly afterward. However, Anwar echoed many political observers in saying a guilty verdict would boost the opposition in the long run.

"I think they have made a big blunder (in bringing the charges)," he told AFP. He said the case also had shown that a recent promise by Najib to grant more civil liberties was merely an election ploy by an ultimately "authoritarian" regime.

But Anwar, looking tired, lamented the toll that his years of legal trouble have taken on his family, including his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who emerged as an opposition symbol during her husband's earlier political exile.

"I can see the anguish and sadness in their faces. But we have to endure," he said. Political law experts say Anwar has the right to stand in any upcoming elections until the appeals process is exhausted.


Egypt's Coptic pope celebrates Christmas with call for unity

David Shariatmadari and Damien Pearse, 7 January 2012

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church holds Christmas mass at the Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo. Photograph: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA

As Coptic Christians celebrated their first Christmas after the Egyptian revolution, their pope called for national unity amid fears that their community will suffer under Islamic majority rule.

Copts, who use of a 13-month calendar dating back to pharaonic times, celebrated Christmas Day on Saturday.

At the start of the festive celebrations in Egypt, prominent figures from across the political spectrum, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the ruling military council, attended Friday night mass at Cairo's main Coptic cathedral.

The Coptic pope, Shenouda III, commended their presence and appealed for national unity for "the sake of Egypt".

He said: "For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt. They all agree ... on the stability of this country, and in loving it and working for it, and to work with the Copts as one hand for the sake of Egypt."

The call for unity follows an escalation in violence against the Christian minority, an estimated 10% of Egypt's 85 million people, over the past year.

Many Christians blamed a series of street clashes, assaults on churches and other attacks on radical Islamists who have become increasingly bold after Mubarak's downfall.

The Coptic church traces its origins to 50 years after the death of Christ, when Mark the Evangelist took the gospel to the pagan city of Alexandria.

Members of British Copts, expatriate members of the Egyptian denomination, have also expressed their concerns over the events of the Arab spring.

"Because of the problems in the last 12 months, overall attendance every Sunday has increased significantly," said Nabil Raphael, a GP who has lived in London for the past 35 years. He is a regular at St Mark's church in Kensington. "Whenever there are problems in the mother church, people naturally get more interested and attend more regularly."

Christmas services took place across Britain, with centres of worship in London, Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Newcastle and Kirkcaldy, Scotland.

As families gathered for the late-night church services marking Christmas Eve, there was a sense of nervousness, as well as joy. "Last year started horrifically for us," said Egyptian-born Bishop Angaelos, who is based at the Coptic Centre, a manor house on the outskirts of Stevenage, Hertfordshire. "Just as we were going into new year celebrations we heard about the bombing."

The 1 January 2011 attack outside al-Qiddissine church in Alexandria, the worst sectarian violence in Egypt for more than a decade, left 23 dead.

Attacks on the community continued after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, prompting thousands of Copts to take to the streets in protest that no culprits had been brought to justice. The military violently quashed the most recent demonstration in October, leaving 27 dead and provoking further outrage.

"At the beginning [of the revolution] there was a great euphoria, a sense of hope for the future," said Angaelos. "The problem is that because of the lack of law and order, you then had a lot of extremism. We saw in the past 10 months more attacks on Christians and churches than over the past two years before that."

Amir Michaeel, 26, saw the revolution as a moment of hope for the country, which he left aged 12 when his father came to the UK to work. But he is concerned by the emergence of more organised Islamic parties.

Raphael is more categorical. "There is real concern about the likelihood of harsher treatment for the Copts if radical Islam is to rule Egypt."

Bishop Angaelos said the community had no issue with a Muslim majority government as long as the rights of Copts were protected: "What we want is a government which represents everyone in the country, not just one sector over another."


Sheikh Hasina to visit Tripura from Jan 11


AGARTALA, January 7, 2012, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would arrive Agartala on a two-day trip to Tripura on January 11, official sources said on Saturday.

The visit would be the first by any prime minister of Bangladesh to Tripura, which had played a key role in that country’s liberation war.

Ms. Hasina, who would head a 56-member delegation including Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and two other ministers, would be received by Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal, state Chief Secretary, S K Panda said.

Mr. Sibal would receive Ms. Hasina as a special emissary of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when she arrives at Agartala airport by a special aircraft from Dhaka at 3 p m on the day, he said.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari would also arrive here on the day on the occasion of the visit.

During her stay, Ms. Hasina would participate in discussions with business delegations of both countries and would be conferred the honorary doctorate of literature of Tripura Central University at its ninth convocation by Mr. Ansari.

She would return to Bangladesh on January 12 after a civic reception by Agartala Municipal Council, he added.


Thousands Hold Prayers for Syria Bombing Dead

Associated Press,

DAMASCUS, Syria, JANUARY 7, 2012,—Thousands of regime backers massed at a mosque in the Syrian capital Saturday for funeral prayers for policemen killed in a Damascus bombing, as the government vowed to respond with an "iron fist" to security threats.

Thousands attend the funerals of 26 people killed in Damascus in what the Syrian government said was a suicide bomb attack. (Video: Reuters/Photo: AP)

Coffins bearing 11 policemen, covered with Syrian flags, were brought into the Al-Hassan mosque for the prayers, a day after the explosion ripped through a Damascus intersection, killing 26 people and wounding 63. Officials said the attack was a suicide bombing, the second in two weeks to hit the normally quiet Syrian capital.

The regime of President Bashar Assad has touted the attacks as proof that it is being targeted by "terrorists." But the country's opposition demanded an independent investigation, accusing forces loyal to the Syrian regime of being behind the bombing to tarnish a 10-month-old uprising against Mr. Assad. The bombings have coincided with a mission by Arab League observers investigating Syria's crackdown on the protest.

In the hours after the bombing, Syrian troops opened fire on demonstrators holding anti-Assad sit-ins in two parts of the country, killing one and wounding at least 20, activists said. In other shootings, security forces killed at least six more people, activists said.

Friday's blast took place in Damascus' Midan neighborhood, one of the few parts of the heavily controlled capital that have seen protests against the regime. The Al-Hassan mosque, where Saturday's prayers took place, has been a launching point for anti-government protest marches following weekly prayers.

But on Saturday, it was swamped by supporters of the president.

Thousands of mourners outside the mosque chanted, "Freedom became terrorism. We are not scared of America, the mother of terrorism." Others chanted, "the people want the state of emergency," referring to the decades-old emergency laws that Mr. Assad lifted in April as part of reforms he promised.

A group of women wore black shirts emblazoned with President Assad's picture, labeled "the Shield of Syria," as policemen lined up to salute their slain comrades.

Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud told reporters inside the mosque that the explosion "is part of the scheme based on terrorism and killing that has been targeting Syria since nine months."

Dahida Abdul-Rahman, a 50-year-old housewife at the prayers, said the Arab observers should be thrown out of the country. "Since they came, terrorist attacks started," she said.

Two weeks ago, twin suicide bombings hit two intelligence agencies in the capital, killing 44 people.

Friday's blast hit a police bus and damaged a nearby police station, though it was impossible to determine what the exact target was. Afterward, the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police and security forces, vowed to use an "iron fist" against threats.

The violence marks a dramatic escalation of bloodshed in Syria as Arab League observers tour the country to investigate Mr. Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent. The monitoring mission will issue its first findings Sunday at a meeting in Cairo.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said Syrian troops fired late Friday upon scores of protesters who have been camped out in the central square of the northern town of Saraqeb for eight days. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 20 were wounded.

Both groups also reported attacks by troops on Saturday on another sit-in in the restive central city of Homs, during which at least one person was killed.

A Homs-based activist said troops attacked the protesters in a public garden, killing at least one. He added that army defectors fought back and pushed troops away.

"We live in a state of fear and our extreme fear comes from snipers," said Majd Amer who lives close to where the sit-in was held. He said thousands of people have been participating in the sit-in since Thursday.

The Observatory said security forces killed six other people Saturday.

While many of the anti-government protests sweeping the country remain peaceful, the uprising as a whole has become more violent in recent months as frustrated demonstrators take up arms to protect themselves from the steady military assault. An increasing number of army defectors also have launched attacks, killing soldiers and security forces.

The unrest has posed the most serious challenge to the Assad family's 40-year dynasty. The regime's crackdown has led to broad world-wide condemnation and sanctions, weakened the economy and left Mr. Assad an international pariah just as he was trying to open up his country and modernize the economy.

The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria isn't an uprising but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.


Govt will not ask Swiss to reopen probe against me: Zardari


ISLAMABAD, January 8, 2012, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has said the PPP-led government will not approach Swiss authorities to reopen a probe into allegations of money laundering against him, a move that could anger the Supreme Court which has been demanding the revival of the cases.

Mr. Zardari said asking the Swiss government to revive the corruption cases would be tantamount to putting his slain wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, on trial.

“It is a point of principle...the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will not try the grave of (Benazir Bhutto),” he said.

The President made the remarks during an interview with Geo News channel when he was asked if there was a “personal quarrel” between him and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has repeatedly asked the government to write to Swiss authorities to reopen the cases.

The cases against Mr. Zardari were closed in 2008 under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a graft amnesty that was issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf under a secret agreement with Bhutto.

Ms. Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber shortly after she returned to Pakistan from self-exile in December 2007.

Mr. Musharraf was forced to resign the following year and Mr. Zardari was subsequently elected the President.

In 2009, the apex court struck down the NRO, saying it was illegal and unconstitutional. It then asked the government to revive all cases that were closed under the NRO, including the cases against Mr. Zardari in Switzerland.

The government has refused to act on the court’s directive, saying the President enjoys immunity from prosecution.

“The NRO case, Swiss courts -- these are all history for us. About 12 to 15 months remain of my presidency. After that whichever government comes can write (to the Swiss authorities). Why should my government write?” Mr. Zardari said.

The President said reopening the cases in Switzerland would be tantamount to putting Ms. Bhutto, now a martyr, and her grave on trial.

“No allegations can be made against a martyr,” Mr. Zardari said.

In response to another question, he said the killing of Osama bin Laden by American special forces in Abbottabad in May last year was not the result of an operation conducted jointly by Pakistan and the U.S...

Mr. Zardari made it clear that he did not consider bin Laden a “hero” and that “violence has never been a means to an end for the PPP”.


Indian-American Dr Sudhanshu Prasad takes oath of office on Gita for NJ council


WASHINGTON: Jan 8, 2012, Indian-American physician Dr Sudhanshu Prasad, who was re-elected on a New Jersey township council, took oath of office on Gita for his second-term.

An internal medicine physician and a resident of the Iselin-Edison - which is dominated by Indian Americans -- area in New Jersey for over 25 years, Prasad was re-elected for his second term in the November 2011 elections.

57-year-old Prasad, with his roots from Patna in Bihar, said he chose the Gita because he grew up believing in it, and it is "where my conscience is."

He said his top goal in his second-term is to ensure that municipal property taxes remain as stable as possible, especially in the current challenging economic times, and to make the township more business-friendly.

Prasad, a former chairman of the JFK Hospital Department of Medicine in Edison, in his acceptance speech said in addition to providing essential services like police protection, fire safety and public works, he wants to be able to preserve high-quality health services for senior citizens and children in Edison.


US reaches out to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood


Washington, Jan 08, 2012, A once reluctant United States is reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood in a nod to Egypt's new political reality, but concerns linger about the group's attitude toward minorities, women and the peace treaty with Israel.

In the wake of president Hosni Mubarak's ouster last February, the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political arm, has claimed the lead in the final stage of parliamentary elections after leading throughout.

Liberal and secular opposition parties have fared poorly. "It's clear that they (the Brotherhood) are now the only game in town," and US officials must talk to them, said Marina Ottaway, who heads the Middle East program in Washington for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Even before the elections began, the United States knew it had to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political movement in an Egypt which is no longer dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said before the polls that the United States had pursued 'limited contacts' with the Brotherhood as Washington was 're-engaging in' a six-year-old policy in light of Egypt's political changes.

Ottaway said president George W. Bush's administration stopped talking about its Freedom Agenda of democracy promotion after candidates backed by the Brotherhood gained 20 percent of parliamentary seats in the 2005 election.

The administration, she told AFP, 'essentially bought Mubarak's line' that the Brotherhood and its links to Islamist militants were a threat to Egypt's and the region's stability, even though it had renounced violence decades ago.

The most populous Arab country, Egypt has been the lynchpin of US policy in the Middle East since 1979 when it became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

"The US essentially backed Mubarak in its repression of the Muslim Brotherhood," Ottaway said. US officials also turned down invitations by her think-tank to attend post-2005 meetings with Arab Islamist groups, including Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

"For the US now to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood is a big step, it's a step that's long overdue, but it's a step that the United States has resisted," she added. "It's a huge change and they're doing it out of necessity."

Analyst Nathan Brown said the Brotherhood has also 'given just enough in terms of reassuring signals to slightly raise the comfort level with them in the US' and justify contacts.

Brown, a George Washington University professor, said the Brotherhood also recognizes the reality that the United States remains an important diplomatic player it has to work with.

But Brown noted 'there's no question at all that the Muslim Brotherhood is just a socially and politically very conservative organisation' that raises concerns about the place of women and Egypt's Christian minority.

And there remains 'a big foreign policy concern' about the Brotherhood's attitude to the peace treaty with Israel.

"On that score, the Brotherhood has kind of given reassuring signals but at this point they're fairly general," he said, adding: "The Brotherhood, as an organization, is close to Hamas (in Gaza) and hostile to Israel."

Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor, said the Brotherhood does not want to 'rock the boat on foreign policy' or make certain drastic domestic changes as it seeks repairs for Egypt's badly damaged economy.

For one, he said, it will want Egypt to continue receiving US and other foreign aid. It is also unlikely, at least in the short term, to ban alcohol or bikinis as it tries to revive tourism, an economic mainstay, he said.

But he said the Brotherhood will be far more responsive to public opinion than Mubarak ever was.

If Israel launches a war in the Gaza Strip like the one in December 2008, he said, an Egypt under the Brotherhood's sway could take a 'far more aggressive' stance toward Israel, even if it does not seek an end to the peace treaty.

In discussing contacts with the Brotherhood, Clinton's spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week that Washington had 'some good reassurances from different interlocutors' on respect for human rights and Egypt's international obligations, an allusion to the peace treaty.

But she added: "We will continue to seek those kinds of reassurances going forward."


U.S. Navy rescues Iranian fishing boat from pirates


WASHINGTON, January 7, 2012, The political tensions between the U.S. and Iran over transit in and around the Persian Gulf gave way to photos of rescued Iranian fisherman happily wearing American Navy ball caps.

The fishermen were rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer on Thursday, more than 40 days after their boat was commandeered by suspected Somali pirates in the northern Arabian Sea.

The rescue came just days after Tehran warned the U.S. to keep its warships out of the Persian Gulf an irony not lost on US officials who trumpeted the news on Friday.

“We think it’s very doubtful that the Iranians or the pirates were aware of recent events of the last couple days,” Rear Adm Craig S Faller, Commander of the U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group involved in the rescue, told reporters by phone.

“Once we released them (the fishermen) today they went on their way very happily, I might add, waving to us wearing USS Kidd Navy ball caps,” he said.

Faller, speaking from the aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis in the Arabian Sea, said the fishermen, who had been living off the fish they could catch, expressed their thanks and are believed to be headed back to their homeport in Iran.

The rescue was carried out by American forces flying off the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, after crew on the Iranian fishing vessel, the Al Molai, made it clear they were in trouble.

The USS Kidd, part of the Stennis carrier group, was sailing in the Arabian Sea, after leaving the Persian Gulf, when it came to the sailors’ aid.

It was alerted to the hostage situation when the captain of the fishing boat spoke by radio to the Americans in Urdu a Pakistani dialect that he hoped the pirates near him would not understand and managed to convey that he needed help.

A US Navy team helicoptered to the ship, boarded it without any resistance, and detained 15 suspected Somali pirates. They had been holding the 13-member Iranian crew hostage and were using the boat as a “mother ship” for pirating operations in the Persian Gulf.

“They were scared,” US Navy Cmdr Jennifer L Ellinger, commander of the USS Kidd, said of the Iranians. “They pleaded with us to come over and board their vessel, invited us to come over. And we reassured them that we would be on our way.” Amid escalating tensions with Tehran, the Obama administration reveled in delivering the news.

“This is an incredible story. This is a great story,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, explaining that the very same American ships the Islamic republic protested for recently traveling through the Strait of Hormuz were responsible for the Iranian vessel’s recovery.

“They were obviously very grateful to be rescued from these pirates,” Nuland said.


Iran's IRGC begins military drill in eastern country

TEHRAN,   2012-01-08 (Xinhua) -- A senior military commander said Saturday that Iran's elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has started military drills codenamed "Shohaday-e Vahdat (Martyrs of Unity)" in eastern Iran, the local satellite Press TV reported.

Commander of IRGC Ground Forces Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said the first phase of the exercise started on Saturday in the vicinity of Khaf city in Iran's Khorasan province, adding that the main phase of the maneuvers will kick off on Monday, according to Press TV.

Bolstering security along Iran's border areas and strengthening the combat readiness of the IRGC Ground Forces are the main goals of the drills, Pakpour was quoted as saying.

"Practicing tactical strategies of the ground forces in various combat sections of asymmetrical warfare is another goal of the drills," he added.

Pakpour said the IRGC would use some of its tactical capabilities and innovations during the drills.

Noting that the exercise also aims to increase the readiness of IRGC forces under extreme climatic conditions, the commander said, "Shohaday-e Vahdat maneuvers are taking place in Khaf where the temperature drops 15-21 degrees below zero."

On Friday, local media reported, quoting an IRGC Navy Commander, that Iran's elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy plans to hold a large-scale military maneuver in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz in February,

The upcoming maneuver, titled Great Prophet-7, is one of a series of drills dubbed Great Prophet, and will be different compared to previous exercises held by the IRGC, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said late Thursday.

Fadavi stated the strategic Strait of Hormuz is completely under Iran's control, and all activities in the waterway are monitored by the Islamic republic.

The Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Persian Gulf with the Sea of Oman, is one of the world's most critical oil routes. Any incidents here may cause global oil market to fluctuate. On Tuesday, Iran's navy ended its 10-day naval drill, dubbed " Velayat 90", in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman which began on Dec. 24 amid increasing tensions between Iran and the West over a string of issues, including Iran's alleged role in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, attacks on the British embassy in Tehran, the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on the Iranian nuclear program, and disputes over a U.S. drone captured by Iran.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Wednesday that the European Union could decide on an oil embargo against Iran at a foreign ministers' meeting on Jan. 30.

During the "Velayat 90" exercise, Iran threatened to seal off the Strait of Hormuz if its oil exports are sanctioned.

On Dec. 28, the Pentagon warned Iran against any attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz, saying interference with the transit or passage of vessels through the waterway will not be tolerated.

Deputy Commander of Iran's IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Salami last week dismissed the U.S. warnings over Iranian threats to close Strait of Hormuz, adding Tehran does not seek Washington’s permission to implement its defense strategies in the Persian Gulf.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Wednesday the Persian Gulf region is highly important for global energy supply, and that Iran is not after creating tension. "But if the atmosphere changes into a war spirit and the situation in the region changes, all the decisions (of Iranians) would be made on the basis of new condition," Ramin Mehmanparast told Xinhua.

On the potential upcoming sanctions by the EU members on Iran's oil exports, the spokesman said that Iran's oil and its share in the supply of global crude market cannot be replaced.

The global energy market cannot easily disregard a country which has the second gas reserves and the fourth oil resources in the world, the Iranian spokesman said.


Musharraf denies he knew Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan


JERUSALEM: Jan 8, 2012, Pakistan's former President General Pervez Musharraf has denied having knowledge about the al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden living in his country during his tenure.

In his first ever interview to an Israeli daily, Ha'aretz, Musharraf insisted on his innocence and said he was 100 per cent sure about himself that he did not know he (Osama bin Laden) was there.

"I am very sure about my answer. Especially so because when they say bin Laden was there for five years, that means two years under my watch. Well, one cannot be sure of others, but one can be sure of oneself. And I am 100 percent sure of myself that I did not know he was there," Musharraf said when asked about Bin laden's presence.

"I say the question is, was there complicity or negligence? And I strongly believe it was negligence. Of course, that's not great either, it's terrible negligence and shameful. But, while both are bad - complicity would be worse," said the former President, who became a key ally of western in fight against terror post 9/11.

"I don't have any doubt of that. I know there was no complicity for those two years. And perhaps there was complicity during the latter three years, but I don't believe that either. It's not possible. It was negligence," he argued.

Musharraf, explaining the negligence, said that since Osama was not using telephone communications, it is human intelligence that comes to ISI, but no one knew him around that area.

"None of the neighbours knew him," he stressed. The former Pakistani leader also expresses anger at what he sees as a tendency in the West to portray bin Laden's hideout as easy to spot, thus hinting that the Pakistanis were either completely incompetent or, more likely, cooperating with the terrorist.

"They say in the West that he was living in a garrison town, and that the house was huge, with exceptionally high walls which stood out. But I disagree with all of this. This was no Fort Bragg [a massive US army base in North Carolina].

"He was staying in an open, tourist resort kind of place. Anyone going to the north could stop there. There are hotels, and schools and stores - so the story is exaggerated," Musharraf pointed out.

"And the house? It was bigger than average, but not much. And walls? They don't necessarily have walls in the US around houses, but in Pakistan the first thing a man does when he gets a house is build a wall around it. That may be abnormal in the West, but it's perfectly normal in Pakistan and does not arouse any suspicion at all," he argued in defence.