Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pakistan's Nelson Mandela

Pakistan's continued detention of the Baluch nationalist hero, Akhtar Mengal, is fanning the flames of insurrection

By Peter Tatchell

(Courtesy The Guardian)

The years of western-backed dictatorship in Pakistan are coming to an end. Candidates supporting the tyrant Pervez Musharraf were trounced in last month's elections. Now, the democratically elected government of Pakistan's new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, has ordered the release of the judges that Musharraf deposed and detained. They were dismissed because they dared uphold the rule of law and challenge his regime's systemic violation of human rights.

The next big democratisation step being urged by the people of Pakistan is the release of the vast, unknown numbers of political prisoners. As well as the hundreds of people who are known to be detained, there are thousands more who have simply disappeared into hidden detention centres.

One of Pakistan's most celebrated political prisoners is the former chief minister of Pakistan-ruled Baluchistan, Akhtar Mengal, the president of the Baluchistan national party.

To the people of Baluchistan he is a nationalist hero. Many see him as their Nelson Mandela - unjustly jailed for defending the human rights of the oppressed Baluch people. His continuing detention without trial is fanning the flames of nationalist resentment and popular insurrection against Islamabad's tyranny.

According to Amnesty International and the Asian human rights commission, Mengal is illegally detained. Held in solitary confinement in Karachi prison since December 2006, he has been denied justice by the use of delaying tactics. In all this time, he has never been tried in an open court. Cursory court hearings have been conducted inside prison. No one, except one family member, has been allowed to witness any of the legal proceedings against him.

Mr Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the human rights commission of Pakistan, was present at the first hearing of Mengal's case in Karachi prison and this is what he saw: "Mr Mengal was brought into the courtroom and shoved into an iron cage with bars all around that stood in a corner away from his counsel."

Akhtar Mengal has not been arrested on corruption charges nor has he been charged with the abuse of power. He is facing trial for the alleged "abduction" of two undercover agents of Pakistan's security forces.

He was arrested, along with 500 party activists, in November 2006, the day before President Musharraf was due to visit Baluchistan. The mass arrests were apparently intended to stop party members from protesting against the savage Pakistani military operations on Baluch territory, and against the widespread arrests of Baluch human rights activists and their enforced "disappearance".

The events that led to his arrest began in April 2006. Mr Mengal reports that he and his family had been receiving threatening phone calls at the time. Because of these threats, he personally chauffeured his children to school.

On April 5, two men on a motorbike followed his car as he was taking his kids to school. Feeling menaced, Mengal stopped his car and asked the men who they were. They refused to explain themselves. Fearing for his safety, Mengal's security guards detained the two men and took them back to the Mengal residence, intending to hand them over to the police. By this stage, the two men admitted being army personnel.

The Pakistani senator, Sanaullah Baloch, recently recounted what happened next:

"Almost immediately, a large party of law-enforcement agency men arrived on the spot and took away their two colleagues who had been picked up, and laid siege to the house and its occupants.

On the intervention of the Sindh chief minister, it was agreed that no case would be filed if Mr Mengal's guards who were involved in the case were handed over to the police for questioning ... Akhtar Mengal remained free till November 28, 2006, when the Baluchistan police arrested him, along with senior members of his party.

Since then, all proceedings are being conducted in camera. Repeated humiliation of the Baluch and their political representatives will intensify the animosity felt by the troubled Baluch population. The judiciary's tilted role and the unproductive hearings ... have already shattered the credibility of the bench."

Akhtar Mengal is not the only political prisoner. Many other leaders from Pakistan's minority nationalities - Baluch, Sindhi and Pashtun - have been detained and abused on trumped up charges.

Veteran Baluch nationalists Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Nawab Khair Bux Khan Marri, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo, Sher Mohammed Marri and Mir Gul Khan Naseer have spent many years in prison for defending the human rights of the Baluch people and refusing to act as quislings for the Punjabi-dominated political and military establishment in Islamabad.

Senator Sanaullah Baloch has noted:

"Mengal's prolonged detention, mortification and the delay in the dispensation of justice has exposed the inequality that characterises our system. They also point to the inability of our courts to act independently without being influenced by the powers that be.

The (Pakistan) constitution guarantees that 'all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law'. The international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination also emphasises 'the right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice'. However, the Baluch have not been treated according to national and international laws. Constitutional guarantees and the courts have failed to protect their fundamental rights.

Akhtar Mengal, as a senior leader of a political party, is entitled to all basic rights and facilities. But he has been denied basic legal and human rights because of his political affiliations. The large number of political activists in Baluchistan, who have been detained and denied legal and prison rights, are entitled to just treatment in accordance with UN conventions. The government of Pakistan must abide by the laws of the country and international law and respect the rights of the Baluch. There should be an end to the injustice, intimidation and harassment being meted out to them."

PM outlines new policies in revolutionary speech: details

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani has announced revolutionary steps in his policy speech at the floor of National Assembly after getting unanimous vote of confidence from the house on Saturday.

The prime minister in his landmark speech increased the support price of wheat from Rs. 510 to 625 per 40 kilograms. He announced lifting of ban on student and trade unions, while changed the status of PEMRA to make it a subsidiary of the ministry of information.

Muslim League (Q), Functional League, People’s Party Sherpao and Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced to support the prime minister.

The prime minister in his speech thanked Almighty Allah for his election in this holy month.

He also expressed his gratitude to People’s Party’s slain leaders Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, co-chairman Asif Zardari and the party workers, leaders of allied parties Nawaz Sharif, Asfandyar Wali, Altaf Hussain, Pir Pagara, independent members and other parties that voted to him for confidence.

Prime Minister Gillani promised to take along all sides and work for the best interest of the country.

He vowed to strengthen the institutions and to improve law and order in the country. Talking about his government’s priorities he said terrorism and extremism is the most serious problem faced by the country. He called the militants to shun the path of violence and initiate dialogue with the government.

Price hike and unemployment are other key problems faced by the country, he said. The government would provide jobs to jobless, he said.

The prime minister welcomed the COAS decision of withdrawal of the on duty military officers from the civilian departments adding that it has boosted the prestige of the armed forces.

The Prime Minister announced repealing of the draconian Pemra laws of Nov 3, 2007 adding the Parliamentary Reconciliation Committee recommendations will be introduced.

The prime minister said media would be allowed to witness proceedings of the parliament.

Gillani said he would take along the APDM parties with him adding that all provinces have confidence over his government.

Speaking in the National Assembly after taking vote of confidence, he said maintaining law and order in the country would be the top priority of his government for which terrorism needs to be rooted out.

“We are ready to talk to all those who are ready to lay down their arms and wanted peace,” he said.

He said he would announce a special package for tribal areas to give them employment and to remove their backwardness and other social evils.

The Prime Minister also announced to revoke FCR.

He welcomed the announcement of the Chief of the Army Staff that all army personnel from the civil departments will be called back.

“This announcement by the COAS will enhance the dignity, respect and honour of the army.”

He expressed the hope that all the army personnel from civilian departments will be called back within two weeks.

The Prime Minister said his government will take steps for the restoration of deposed judges. As a first step, these judges have already been freed from detention.

Referring to power, flour and water crises in the country, Prime Minister Gilani said these problems were not easy to tackle. He said there was a possibility of more load shedding in the country during the summer season.

He said to overcome the electricity shortage in the country, which at present stands at 3000 megawatt, new power units will be set up and PEPCO has been asked to issue 10 million energy saver bulbs at discounted prices.

The shortage next year, he added, is expected to reach 4000 MW.

He said in the first phase of Thar Coal Project the electricity generation will be 5,000 mw which will increase to 20,000 mw in the next phase.

He said Wapda has been asked to complete the feasibility of large dams and investment in the project of Keti Bandar will be invited again and lighting on government buildings has been stopped.

To save the wastage of water, he added, canals will be brick lined and small dams constructed to ensure supply of water for irrigation and drinking purposes.

He said the budget of the Prime Minister House will be cut by 40 percent and hoped that other departments too will follow the example.

The cabinet members will not use a vehicle of more than 1600 cc and they will only be allowed Economy Plus class during air travel.

He said like many other democratic countries, during the Question Hour the Prime Minister would also be present in the house to answer questions.

To provide employment to the fresh graduates, Prime Minister announced the setting up of Literacy and Health Commission. It will also ensure employment to one person in a household.

He said a Madrassa Welfare Authority will be set up to carry out the audit of the accounts of all madrassas in the country. The authority will be responsible to ensure that curricula of all madrassas are uniform.

The Prime Minister said that every year one million housing units will be constructed in the country. He also announced the launch of 5-marla housing scheme in rural areas for the poor besides provision of houses on 80 square meters and flats in the cities for the general public.

He said all retiring government servants will be given flats or houses and the provinces have also been directed to launch similar schemes for the retired persons.

SAC-Islamabad Seminar on Student Politics on Sunday

SAC Isb-Rwp is holding a seminar on the students' role in politics -what it has been in the past and what it should be in the future- particularly with reference to the current political context, and why its important to begin a revival of student politics. The most time will be given to Q&A and participation from the floor.

To repeat:
The seminar is on Saturday, 29 March,
Rawalpindi Press Club (next to Liaqat Bagh)

ML-N, PPP resolve matters relating to ministries

ISLAMABAD: The Muslim League (ML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have finalized matters relating to the ministries and all appears set for its announcement today.

ML-N and PPP had constituted committee for the distribution of ministries in centre, which continued its deliberations for the last three weeks. Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif and Chaudhry Nisar on behalf of the ML-N, while Syed Naveed Qamar, Raza Rabbani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Sherry Rahman, Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and Qamruzzaman Kaira from PPP represented in the committee. The committee agreed on keeping the size of the cabinet small—in the first phase there would be 22 ministries, while in the second phase it could go up to 40.

(Courtesy GEO)

Gillani passes vote of confidence unanimously

Announces new policies, including new anti-terror policies, price relief package, student and trade union legalization, among others

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly expressed its confidence in Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani Saturday by passing a resolution for vote of confidence unanimously.

Earlier Prime Minister Gillani requested the opposition benches to support the motion for vote of confidence. In response Muslim League (Q), Functional League, Peoples Party Sherpao and Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced to support the PM.

Later Asfandyar Wali said that now the vote count is not required and asked the speaker to announce that the house has passed the resolution for vote of confidence.

The speaker announced that the National Assembly has passed the vote of confidence unanimously.

Prime Minister Gillani later in his speech thanked the allied parties and Muslim League (Q), Functional League, Peoples Party Sherpao and Muttahida Qaumi Movement for their support.

In his policy speech after the vote of confidence Prime Minister Gillani promised to take along all sides and work for the best interest of the country.

He vowed to strengthen institutions and to improve law and order in the country. Talking about his government’s priorities he said terrorism and extremism is the most serious problem faced by the country. He called the militants to shun the path of violence and initiate dialogue with the government.

Price hike and unemployment are other key problems faced by the country, he said. The government would provide jobs to jobless, he said. He also announced a lifting of the ban on student and trade unions. He also announced that the restrictions on the media would be reviewed, but stopped short of lifting them immediately.

PM Gilani asks militants to abandon path of violence

ISLAMABAD, March 29 (AFP): Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani Saturday urged militants to renounce violence and offered to hold talks with those who give up arms and join the new democratic era. Addressing the parliament after wining a unanimous vote of confidence, Gilani said terrorism was the biggest threat undermining Pakistan's stability. “Our first priority will be restoration of law and order and elimination of terrorism from the country,” said Gilani.

“The fight against terrorism is our own fight because it has claimed innocent lives of children and young men of Pakistan…unfortunately some people have made violence a means to express their views. I appeal to all those people to abandon the path of violence and join us in the journey of democracy.” Gilani promised a special package of political and economic reforms in tribal areas as part of government strategy to fight terrorism and extremism.