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India spurns Imran’s olive branch, says probe offer is ‘lame excuse’

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India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Tuesday evening responded to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer for an investigation and dialogue over the Pulwama attack with further vitriol.

In a statement that spurned Islamabad’s effort to defuse tensions, New Delhi described PM Khan’s statement that Pakistan itself has been the biggest victim of terrorism as “far from the truth”.

“We are not surprised that the prime minister of Pakistan refuses to acknowledge the attack on our security forces in Pulwama as an act of terrorism. Prime minister of Pakistan has neither chosen to condemn this heinous act nor condoled with the bereaved families,” the MEA complained.

The complaint ignored Pakistan’s official stance on the matter, with the Foreign Office stating that Pakistan has always condemned acts of extreme violence in Kashmir.

“Disclaiming any link between the terrorist attack and Pakistan is an oft-repeated excuse by Pakistan,” the MEA wrote, alleging that PM Khan “has ignored claims” made by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as well as the bomber behind the attack.

However, no explanation was offered in the statement as to what these “claims” were that the Indian government believe prove a Pakistani link to the attack.

It is understood that JeM — which is banned in Pakistan and listed as a terrorist organisation — has claimed responsibility for the incident. It is unclear what the MEA believes ties JeM’s statement claiming responsibility of the attack to Pakistan.

After Pulwama, Pakistan has repeated that it is already taking action against JeM as it considers it a terrorist group.

According to Indian media reports, the bomber was a citizen of Indian occupied Kashmir. The parents of the bomber have stated that he turned to militancy after being humiliated and tortured by Indian occupation forces. No mention of how the bomber is connected to Pakistan was specified in the statement.

Instead of the ‘actionable evidence’ that PM Khan requested in order to be able to provide assistance to New Delhi, the MEA only repeated the accusation that “Jaish-e-Mohammad and its leader Masood Azhar are based in Pakistan. These should be sufficient proof for Pakistan to take action.”

“The Prime Minister of Pakistan has offered to investigate the matter if India provides proof. This is a lame excuse. In the horrific attack in Mumbai on 26/11, proof was provided to Pakistan. Despite this, the case has not progressed for the last more than 10 years. Likewise, on the terror attack on Pathankot airbase, there has been no progress,” the MEA has alleged.

The statement failed to acknowledge that Indian authorities themselves impeded the Pathankot investigation.

Regarding the Mumbai Attacks, PM Khan had stated in December 2018 in an interview to The Washington Post that he intended to see the case resolved and has asked his government to look into it.

The MEA also blocked Prime Minister Khan’s proposal for a dialogue with vague conditions stating, “Pakistan’s Prime Minister has called for dialogue and expressed his readiness to talk about terrorism. India has repeatedly stated that it is ready to engage in a comprehensive bilateral dialogue in an atmosphere free from terror and violence.”

The MEA also dedicated a paragraph to admonishing PM Khan for implying that the whipping up of war hysteria across the border may be politically motivated, especially given that the Indian general election is coming up later this year.

“India rejects this false allegation. India’s democracy is a model for the world which Pakistan would never understand,” it said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan in a recorded address earlier on Tuesday urged the Indian government to refrain from baseless accusations, seeking “actionable evidence” so that his government could act in this regard.

“You accused Pakistan without providing any evidence, or saying what we stand to gain from this,” the prime minister said in a recorded address. Still, he said, Pakistan was ready to cooperate with India in the investigation.

“If you have any actionable intelligence, give it to us, I guarantee that we will take action. And we will take action not because of [external] pressure, but because these people would be enemies of Pakistan. If anyone is acting from Pakistani soil, they are harming us.”

The prime minister, however, warned India of a befitting reply, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliation to a provocation. “We all know that starting a war is easy. [But] starting a war may be in our hands, ending it won’t be,” the PM said, hoping that better sense will prevail.

The PM said he wasn’t able to respond to Indian criticism earlier as his government was busy with the Saudi crown prince’s visit to the country. “If I had responded then the attention would have been diverted from Saudi royal’s visit,” he added.

Addressing the Indian government and media, he said you people accused Pakistan of masterminding the attack without any investigation.

“You wish to remain stuck in the past, and each time something happens in Kashmir, you want to hold Pakistan responsible. Instead of trying to resolve the Kashmir issue, start a dialogue or move forward, you want to make Islamabad your whipping boy again and again,” the prime minister lashed out.

India has a serious need to do introspection in Kashmir, he advised.

Addressing the Modi-led government in New Delhi, Imran said this is “Naya Pakistan—a new mindset and a new way of thinking” and the new government won’t let anyone use Pakistan’s soil to carry out terror attacks in the region nor does it want terror outfits operating within the country.

“Pakistan has paid a huge price in the war against terrorism,” the PM said, adding we seek stability now. Extending an olive branch to India, Imran asked them to provide proof [if a Pakistani is involved in the attack] so that his government could bring the culprits in the dock.

“The decision has nothing to do with being under pressure [after India rhetoric], he said, adding that anyone using Pakistan’s soil for terror perpetuation anywhere was akin to state’s enemy.

He said his government was even ready to accept India’s pre-condition for Indo-Pak talks i.e. a dialogue on terror outfits operating in the region. “We are ready to hold talks on this regional issue, as we want an end to it,” the PM said, adding Pakistan has been badly affected by the scourge of terrorism.

Taking an exception to the war-hysteria whipped up by the India media and politicians that want ‘revenge’ for Pulwama attack, he wondered: “What law gives any country to become judge, jury and executioner? What sort of [sense of] justice is this?”

“If you think that if you can carry out any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliating, we will retaliate. There will be no way to respond other than to retaliate,” the prime minister warned.

OPINION

Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan

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As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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OPINION

Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.

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This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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OPINION

Hunza Valley: A case of educational enlightenment

Educational initiatives that have enlightened Hunza’s local communities are exemplary for others

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The Hunza Valley in Pakistan is known for its breathtaking beauty, lofty mountains, lakes, historical forts and fruit orchards. But equally enthralling are the educational initiatives that have enlightened Hunza’s local communities and are exemplary for others.

Hunza is a mountainous valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. Situated in the extreme northern part of the country, Hunza borders with the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan and the Xinjiang region of China. Hunza was an independent principality for more than 900 years, until the British gained control of it and the neighbouring valley of Nagar between 1889 and 1891 through a military conquest. The former princely state survived until 1974, when it was finally dissolved by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The centuries old history of the area is reflected in its rich cultural heritage and ethnic diversity. With mass migrations, conflicts and resettling of tribes, people of the region joyfully recount their historical traditions. They are also famous for the longevity of their lives.

But another trait which makes the people of Hunza distinct from the rest of the country, is its high literacy rate. While the literacy rate of the country is slightly above 50 percent, which in many rural areas is even lesser, the literacy rate in Hunza is believed to be nearly 80 percent, with some claiming it to be even more than 90 percent. What is the reason that a far flung, remote area perched at the top of the highest mountainous regions of the continent has been so successful in educating its people?

The evolution of education in Hunza valley was initiated in the year 1912 when the government of British India founded a primary school in Hunza state. But a major role has been played by the Ismaili Muslims, who make up nearly 90 percent of Hunza’s population.

In 1946, seventeen Diamond Jubilee Schools were established under the guidance and funding provided by Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims. Aga Khan Education Service played an important role in improving quality of education by arranging teachers training programs. Aga Khan Academies opened in Hunza which were later upgraded to Aga Khan Higher Secondary School for girls, with well trained teachers qualified from foreign universities. Locals also established community schools in late 1990s. Karakoram International University and its campus in Hunza provides quality education to students and degrees with scope of local and international markets, e.g. Tourism and Management.

Some unique initiatives include Al-Amyn Model School and Hassegawa Memorial Public School which are funded by Japan. These schools help re-establish the broken link between school and home. Here parents and grandparents are invited to share their wisdom with the younger generation. Parents come to know that their knowledge is not obsolete and that the younger generation can benefit from it.

Public schools are also opened by the Government of Pakistan which play a vital role in providing quality education to both boys and girls,
Being educated not only means to know how to read, write, think, or even being able to conjure new ideas, but having a cultured sense of oneself and the surrounding. In this sense, apart from being educated, the minds of people in Hunza are liberated from dogmas, and they encourage gender equality and critical thinking, which has led to the development of its pluralistic society.

Women have become an integral part of the local economy, including those who weave Hunza’s famous handicrafts. Both girls and boys study music in music schools established by USAID and Aga Khan Cultural and Support Program (AKCSP).

The world famous female mountaineer Samina Baig, international cricket player Diana Baig, female atheletes, models and singers are a depiction of gender equality and freedom from stereotypes. Although some of the remote mountainous regions of northern and northwestern Pakistan have been scarred by militant fundamentalism and terrorism, Hunza has largely avoided such associations, and the crime rate is extremely low.

Perhaps, this is why renowned international publications Washington Post and Foreign Policy Magazine have termed Hunza as a “success story for moderate Islam…. Once a hard Himalayan town where resident barely had enough food, Karimabad, in the Hunza Valley, is now one of Pakistan’s most idyllic spots and has become an oasis of tolerance, security, and good schools.”

Thus, an educational enlightenment including cultural, moral, social and economic progress of the community as well as the inculcation of deep respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, has helped eliminate poverty, and the promotion and implementation of secular pluralism and the advancement of the status of women in Hunza Valley.

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