Archive for the ‘civil society’ Category

Commentary: Momentous day for Pakistan, Bhutto’s legacy

March 18, 2008
By Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari is the co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party and widower of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Pakistan in December.

In this handout photo released by Pakistan Parliament House, ...
In this handout photo released by Pakistan Parliament House, Asif Ali Zardari, left, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party waves as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif looks on during the National assembly’s first session at Parliament House in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday, March 17, 2008. Pakistan inaugurated a new parliament on Monday dominated by opponents of President Pervez Musharraf who have vowed to crimp his powers and review his U.S.-backed policies against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
(AP Photo/Pakistan Parliament House, HO)

(CNN) — Monday was a momentous day for the people of Pakistan, but a bittersweet day for me.

Sitting in the gallery watching a democratically elected National Assembly headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party and its coalition partners, I thought of the terrible price paid for this moment of liberty. I thought of the many jailed, beaten, tortured, and exiled. I thought of all of those who had their reputations assaulted. I thought of the undermining and dismantling of Pakistani civil society. I thought of the attacks on the independence and autonomy of the judicial system. I thought of the censorship of the press, emergency rule and martial law.

But of course more than anything else, I thought of my beloved wife, Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, who sacrificed her life for her beliefs and her country. This was the day of her triumph, the vindication of her long battle for the restoration of democracy. For my country, this was a day of celebration. But for me and our children, this day was also a day of tears. Democracy had come to Pakistan, but at a terrible, terrible price.

Last week, the two largest political parties in Pakistan agreed to form a coalition government that would restore democracy and bring stability to our country. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which I lead after the assassination of my wife, has joined the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to form a broad-based, democratic, liberal government in Pakistan — an umbrella of reconciliation and consensus. The new prime minister, from the PPP, will be announced within the next few days.

In agreeing to form a coalition government Mr. Sharif and I have responded to the mandate given by the people of Pakistan in the February 18 election. Pakistan’s people no longer want to live under the thumb of a dictator. They want an end to terrorism and violence and wish to join the rest of the modern world in the pursuit of peace and prosperity. They want to restore the supremacy of the people’s house, the National Assembly, and free it from the sword of Damocles of a marginal presidency with inflated, unconstitutional authority.

Pakistan’s political leaders and people have suffered from the politics of personal destruction; we have been battered by dictatorship; we have seen civil society taken apart and a free and independent judiciary destroyed. We have seen international assistance, secured in the name of fighting terrorism, diverted towards making Pakistan’s affluent few richer. We have seen progress on education, health and women’s rights stopped and reversed. But now, with renewed confidence in democratic parties like the PPP and PML-N, it is time for the rebirth of a democratic, vital and progressive Pakistan.

Some fear a coalition government would lack the necessary strength to tackle Pakistan’s myriad problems. But cooperation between the country’s biggest political parties, representing an overwhelming majority of the people, would bring greater stability than one-man rule. Together, the PPP and PML-N will be able to build a strong civil society. That would go a long way to erasing the scars of militarism and militancy. We will focus on providing education and employment at the grassroots levels so the country’s youth can play an integral role in building a strong national economy.

Under the rule of Pervez Musharraf, extremists were allowed to thrive along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The key to improving security there is not to make citizens in Pakistan’s tribal areas feel like second-rate citizens kept under lock and key, caught between the threats of violence from militants and the military. Rather, we must let all of our citizens, including those in the Federally Administered Tribal Area, know they are part participants in the growth of Pakistan’s economy and civil society.

Fostering a better level of trust and understanding among the people in the border areas, and delivering on their key needs, is essential to enhancing security in the FATA and throughout Pakistan. While immediate steps must be taken to hunt down identified terrorists, the long-term solution to extremism lies in respecting the will of the people and in providing them with a means of livelihood at every level — food, clothing, shelter, jobs and education. By talking to and respecting our people, we will be able to isolate the extremists and terrorists.

Those of us who are now in a position of leadership seek, in my wife’s words, “a tomorrow better than any of the yesterdays we have ever known.” We see a Pakistan where all children, regardless of their socio-economic standing or their gender, are guaranteed compulsory and quality primary and secondary education. We see a Pakistani educational system of quality teachers, who receive decent salaries, and teach in modern classrooms with state-of-the-art computers and technology. We see a Pakistan where political madrassas that teach hatred are closed, and educational institutions that focus on science and technology flourish.

The PPP has a vision to build a nation that is one of the great capital markets of the world; a revitalized nation that will generate international investment. We look forward to the complete electrification of all of our villages, the purification of our nation’s drinking water, the privatization of the public sector, the expansion of the energy sector, the development of our export industries, the modernization of our ports and the rebuilding our national infrastructure. All of these elements are essential to a Pakistan where a democratically elected government, with the mandate of the people, confronts and marginalizes the forces of extremism and terrorism wherever they may exist in our nation. In other words, I see the Pakistan for which my wife lived and died.

Pakistan’s democracy has not evolved over the past 60 years because the generals believed they should intervene in politics and run the country. The army’s misperception of itself as the country’s only viable institution, and its deep-rooted suspicion of the civilian political process, has prevented democracy from flourishing. The PPP and its allies will reverse the current regime’s suppression of civil society and free speech. We will establish a Press Complaints Commission similar to that of the United Kingdom and stand up for the democratic rights of citizens to freely establish television and radio stations, subject to the basic legal framework.

While the tasks ahead are not easy, the Pakistan Peoples Party plans to work in good faith with its fellow democratic parties and our coalition allies to achieve our goal of building a new, progressive Pakistan. Everything will not come at once. The reformation of Pakistan — politically, economically and socially — will be a long and complex process. But we are determined to begin and we are determined to succeed.

We did not come this far, we did not sacrifice this much, to fail.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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U.S. rights campaigner denied entry into Russia

February 20, 2008
By Conor Sweeney

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of a New York-based human rights group accused Russia on Wednesday of “bureaucratic harassment” of civil groups critical of the Kremlin after he was denied a visa to travel to Moscow.

The comments by Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth came two weeks before a presidential election opposition groups say furnishes Vladimir Putin‘s chosen successor with blanket media coverage. Europe‘s human rights watchdog, the OSCE, has opted not to field observers, citing lack of official cooperation.

Roth had been due to present a report in Moscow that said new laws on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were being used to crack down on groups the Kremlin does not like.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080220/us_nm/russia_ngos_dc_1

Muhammad Comments On Events: Tribal Areas, Pakistan

February 3, 2008

Dear John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom

Dear Sir,

I hope you and your team at the Peace and Freedom will be alright. As usual the situation in the tribal areas is tense.

Taliban fighters have been terrorising the people in tribal areas. But now Pakistan leaders have been accepting the fact that terrorists have been enjoying the support of some politicians and officials.

Today the leading newspaper of Pakistan Dawn discussed the situation in its editorial.  Caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan’s insistence that all political parties must make their stance on terrorism clear deserves to be noted.

In a television interview, the minister said many parties were going soft on terrorism, and this could help the militants. One wishes the minister had named the parties he had in mind, but one can see that many parties on the extreme right have maintained an attitude that often appears paradoxical, if not intriguing.

All political parties are, of course, quick to condemn an act of terrorism when it occurs, but often it appears that this is done for record’s sake. The Lal Masjid affair was more than an act of terrorism, and the stand-off leading finally to the crackdown in July last year provided ample evidence of the various parties’ stance on terrorism.

The issue gets mixed up with politics. Even the secular parties criticised not the Lal Majid brigade but the government in harsh terms. But here they were acting the way all opposition does — to make capital out of a situation, any situation, and embarrass the government. But, regrettably, many religious parties refrained from using their influence with the Rashid-Ghazi duo to end the stand-off peacefully. This was surprising because almost all madressah heads had distanced themselves from the Lal Masjid clerics, so blatantly criminal were their activities.

Similarly, many parties have chosen to keep quiet on the issue of suicide bombing. Suicide attacks have been planned and executed in cold blood as is evident from the targets that have been chosen — mosques, imambargahs, religious gatherings including Eid congregations, shopping centres and at least one school bus. Those in the opposition today ought to know they could be in power tomorrow and they will have to deal with the monster of terrorism, to which they are at the moment indifferent but which gets stronger by default.

Unfortunately, civil society on the whole has failed to stand up to extremism. The religious militants are a microscopic minority, but they have combined terror with their misguided concept of religion to frighten the majority into silence. This could prove disastrous for the nation.

Also, those fighting for human rights causes ought to know that the threat to freedom does not merely come from the government of the day; it also comes from parties with a fascist outlook and groups that preach persecution of women and minorities and wage war on culture in the name of Islam. Unless society itself stands up to terrorism, it is difficult to see how the state alone can deal with this monster.

Again thank you very much,

Yours sincerely,

Muhammad Khrushid
Khar, Bajaur Agency,Tribal Areas Pakistan

The death of reading

November 21, 2007

Editorial
The Washington Times
November 21, 2007

To read or not to read: That is not the question for America’s teenagers and college students. They’ve already decided not to. Bombarded with media, computers and video games, their reading habits are declining measurably. Nor is it simply the young.

In an unprecedented research synthesis released this week, the National Endowment for the Arts shows how reading habits have declined in recent years with a grim picture of what could only be called the nation’s nonreading public.

Here are some of the troubling highlights of “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence.” From 1982 to 2002, the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who read literature dropped from 60 percent to 43 percent. Fifty-two percent of the same age demographic said they read a book voluntarily in 2002, which is down from 59 percent a decade earlier.

The percentage of 17-year-olds who read for pleasure almost every day dropped from 31 percent to 22 percent over the period 1984-2004. It also seems that a college education is ever less a guarantee of good reading skills. The sole bright spot occurs among 9-year-olds, whose reading comprehension has improved over the last decade.

Barring this exception, the results are remarkably and troublingly consistent in study after study. Money spent on books in the United States dropped 14 percent during the period 1985-2005 when accounting for inflation. Seventy-two percent of employers report finding high-school graduates “deficient” in reading comprehension. And the number of adults with bachelor’s degrees who score “proficient in reading prose” fell from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003.
With the rise of the Internet and online news consumption, some might argue that queries about “reading” fail to capture the entire picture if they do not account for online activities. But all modes of reading are not equal. We’ll take this argument more seriously when teenagers are found reading Shakespeare or Herman Melville online. Far likelier they are surfing MySpace or Facebook.

Our increasing failure to read constitutes a kind of creeping national illiteracy which should concern everyone, not simply librarians and booksellers. Literacy is an integral aspect of civil society. Substance, culture and literature should not be the ironic casualties of the “Information Age.”

Pakistan’s One-Man Calamity

November 17, 2007

 By Nawaz Sharif
The Washington Post
Saturday, November 17, 2007; Page A17

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — My country is in flames. There is no constitution. Judges have been sacked on a whim and arrested, political leaders locked up, television stations taken off the air. Human rights activists, lawyers and other members of civil society are bearing the brunt of a crackdown by a brutal regime. Extremism has assumed enormous and grave proportions.

All of this is the doing of one man: Pervez Musharraf. He first struck at the core of democracy on Oct. 12, 1999, when he dismissed my government at gunpoint. My government was chosen by the people of Pakistan in free and fair elections. But Musharraf so feared my popularity that he banished me from the country and won’t allow me to return. After Pakistan’s Supreme Court declared this year that I have a right to return, I flew into Islamabad in September. But Musharraf brazenly refused me admittance to my own country.

Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif

On Nov. 3, Musharraf struck again at democracy. He abrogated the constitution and declared a state of emergency. For Musharraf, the constitution is nothing but a piece of paper that can be crumpled and discarded. After the Supreme Court stood up to him early this year and attempted to restore the fundamental rights of the people, he dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. Stung by the successful civil society movement that led to Chaudhry’s reinstatement, Musharraf acted quickly after suspending the rule of law. The Supreme Court was considering Musharraf’s eligibility to be elected president despite being the army chief, but before the court could rule, Musharraf dismissed the entire judiciary. 

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In the Heart of Pakistan, a Deep Sense of Anxiety

November 7, 2007

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 7, 2007; Page A01

LAHORE, Pakistan, Nov. 6 — Three days after President Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule, a deep sense of anxiety prevails among Pakistan’s students, rights activists and intellectuals, who say the mass arrests being carried out by the government mark an unprecedented assault on civil society.

When Musharraf suspended the constitution Saturday, he said he had been forced to act by rising extremism and judicial interference in his efforts to protect the country. But in Lahore, an ancient city that has long served as the cultural and intellectual heart of Pakistan, many government critics see a smoke screen being used to quash opposition.

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/06/AR2007110600516.html?hpid=topnews

China cracks down on AIDS groups ahead of Olympics

August 16, 2007

By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers
August 16, 2007

BEIJING — Wary of exposing China‘s flaws to the news media’s glare before next year’s Olympic Games, authorities are cracking down on groups that help AIDS victims and orphans, shuttering their offices and banning meetings and other gatherings.

In one case, an activist in Henan province, where the nation’s AIDS crisis hit early, said police ordered him out of his office on Thursday and suggested that he flee the area for his own safety. Six other volunteers in the group were detained.

Read it all:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20070816/wl_mcclatchy/
20070816bcchinaaids_attn_national_foreign_editors_ytop_1