Tolo News – Zarif’s Taliban comments spark backlash from Afghan Government

President’s deputy spokesman said in a Facebook post that Iranian foreign ministry officials have become spokesmen for Taliban.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 10 January 2019. In response to a recent statement by the Iranian foreign minister about the role of the Taliban in the future government in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesman Shahhussain Murtazavi in a Facebook post has said that Iranian foreign ministry officials have turned into Taliban spokesmen.

In an interview with India’s NDTV on Wednesday Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it is impossible to have a future Afghan government without a role for the Taliban. However, he said the group should not have a dominant role in a future Afghan government, which will be formed after a possible peace deal between Kabul government and the militant group.

“I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban. But we also believe that the Taliban do not have, should not have, a dominant role in Afghanistan. Of course, at the end of the day that is a decision the Afghans need to make,” Zarif said.

Murtazavi said that Iran favors the ideology of Mullah Omar, the late founder of Taliban group and said that Iran strongly fears a democratic Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani has said he does not accept peace at the price of delaying the presidential elections. “I am ready for any kind of sacrifice for peace, but a sustainable peace, not at the price of delaying the elections,” said Ghani.

It was better for Iran, instead of hearing the voice of the Taliban, to hear the voice of its political opponents. He said that Iran fears the current freedom in Afghanistan has become a model for Iran.

“Certainly, such statements create division between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and this would have a negative impact on our relations.

We hope that all world and regional countries respect the leadership and ownership of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” said Sibghatullah Ahmadi, spokesman to Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

Earlier this month, Taliban confirmed that the group had visited Tehran on issues around peace and security in Afghanistan.

Later, Iranian media announced that the talks were designed to set parameters for negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“A Taliban delegation was in Tehran yesterday (Sunday). They had comprehensive negotiations with the Iranian deputy foreign minister,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.

This comes after Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said on December 28 that Iranian officials had met with the Taliban and that details were shared with the Afghan government on Shamkhani’s trip to Kabul last week.

Some political analysts meanwhile have said the Taliban are continuing their insurgency to get a role in political power.

“The Taliban are fighting to take on the power, peace will not be restored in Afghanistan until the Taliban do not join the political power,” said political analyst Jawed Kohistani.

But, the High Peace Council (HPC) has called on Pakistan to take solid steps towards peace in Afghanistan.

“Steps taken by Pakistan are not sufficient, Pakistan as a neighboring country needs to do its homework for the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Sayed Ehsan Tahiri, spokesman to HPC.

This comes at a time when President Ashraf Ghani’s Special Representative on Regional Affairs for Consensus on Peace, Mohammad Umer Daudzai, expressed hopes that the war, which has ravaged Afghanistan for over 17 years and cost the United States about $1 trillion, will end in 2019.

Daudzai summed up his optimism in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, saying: “We are naming 2019 as a year of peace for Afghanistan.”

“We have never named a year as the year of peace. Now, from the High Peace Council’s address, we are naming 2019 as the year of peace in Afghanistan. And I am pretty sure we will get there,” he said.

There is speculation that Iranian officials, during their recent trips to Afghanistan, have rallied for more roles to be considered for Iran in the peace negotiation talks in Afghanistan.

Iran officials also said they had the ability to bring Taliban to the peace table. Iran’s Shamkhani had also said Taliban were ready to lay down their arms.

The remarks come amid increasing efforts by the Afghan government and the international community, the United States at the top, on finding a political solution to the war in Afghanistan.

In line with these efforts, the Afghan president’s special envoy Daudzai is on a four-day visit in Islamabad where he has met with Pakistani officials and will hold other meetings in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has also started another multi-nation trip on Afghan peace in which he will visit India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Tribune – Judgment day for dera chief

Hope floats for slain journalist’s family

Sirsa – Haryana – India, 10 January 2019. Back in 2002, a journalist dared to tell the unpleasant truth about a mighty sect head.

In his eveninger, aptly titled Poora Sach, he published an anonymous letter, written to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, about the alleged rape of sadhvis at Sirsa’s politically patronised Dera Sacha Sauda. His voice was silenced, predictably, with bullets.

Ram Chander Chhatrapati was shot at outside his residence in Sirsa. After a struggle lasting four weeks, he lost the battle for life.

Over 16 years later, judgment day is nigh. The CBI special court in Panchkula is set to pronounce its verdict in the murder case on Friday.

Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who is serving a 20-year term in Rohtak’s Sunaria jail for the rape of two of his followers, will make an appearance before the court through video-conferencing.

The once-bitten-twice-shy Haryana authorities seem keen to avoid a repeat of the mayhem triggered by his conviction in the rape cases on August 25, 2017. The Manohar Lal Khattar government had come under fire for grossly mishandling the situation and allowing a sea of dera supporters to invade Panchkula.

The post-judgment violence had claimed over 40 lives, besides the loss of government and private property worth crores of rupees.

The Chhatrapati family, which has bravely refused to bow before the sect all these years, is hoping that its long wait for justice and closure will finally end.

The developments are also being watched closely by the country’s journalistic fraternity, which remains vulnerable to threats or worse for calling a spade a spade. India’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index-2018 was a lowly 138 (out of 180 countries), one place below Myanmar and one above Pakistan.

Several journalists, including Gauri Lankesh, have lost their lives in recent years for taking on radicals.

Many others have been browbeaten into self-censorship by unleashing prosecution proceedings on them. The sorry state of affairs will only worsen for the fourth estate if it’s let down by the judicial system.

Noord-Westbuitensingel – Grote Kerk

Noord West Buitensingel
25 December 2018

Tracks to/from Den Haag Centraal
Tram 2 and RandstadRail 3 and 4

RandstadRail 3 to Loosduinen

RandstadRail 3 to Loosduinen

RandstadRail 3 to Zoetermeer Centrum

RandstadRail 3 to Zoetermeer Centrum

Grote Kerk
25 December 2018

Tram 1 to temporary terminus

To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

India Today – Sikh youth killing: Thirty panch, sarpanch resign en masse in Pulwama

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – Pakistan, 10 January 2019. Following the killing of a Sikh youth by unknown gunmen in Tral, 30 panch and sarpanch have resigned in the Pulwama district of South Kashmir.

The slain youth, who was identified as Simranjeet Singh, was the brother of a newly elected sarpanch.

According to All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC), “About 30 in number, all Sikhs who recently won panch and sarpanch elections in South Kashmir, have resigned en-masse in view of security concerns, following the killing of a Sikh youth in Tral area of South Kashmir.”

The APSCC said that some people with vested interests were trying to harm the centuries-old communal harmony in the Valley.

However, the authorities have not accepted their resignations yet.

In the last panchayat election that was held in 2011, more than two dozen elected panchayat members were killed by militants following which at least 148 panchayat members resigned.

Approximately 25,000 panch and sarpanch have been elected in the recent panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, held in the end of 2018.

“It is now the responsibility of the government to provide us security as millitant outfits have already threatened those who participated in the panchayat polls,” an elected panch, on condition of anonymity, said.

Dawn – ‘They have burnt Mummy and Papa’: What happened to the children of Shama and Shahzad Masih?

Couple who was lynched over blasphemy accusations left behind three young children, one of whom witnessed the horror.

Xari Jalil

Kot Radha Kishan – Kasur District – Panjab – Pakistan, 10 January 2019. Do you remember the ill-fated Shama and Shahzad Masih, the Christian couple from Kasur’s Kot Radha Kishan district in a brick kiln village called Chak 59?

The husband and wife, who was pregnant at the time, were falsely accused in 2014 of blasphemy, then lynched by a mob who first paraded them naked and then set them on fire.

Four years have passed since that terrifying ordeal.

As their legacy, the couple left behind a woeful tale of mob brutality, of the extreme misuse of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, and even the question of the cruel treatment meted out to brick kiln workers who are modern day ‘slaves’.

But they also left behind three little children, who have now moved to the city, away from the horrors of the dusty, smoky brick kiln where their parents once worked.

Remembering Shama and Shahzad

Ten-year-old Suleman, the eldest of the three, was the only one to have seen what happened to his parents on that cursed day. His relatives, who are now the guardians of the children, say he was utterly shaken and deeply affected by the tragedy.

Poonam, who was just two years old at the time, had fallen down. Quick to act, their maternal aunt had picked her up and the other two children and had fled the scene before the mob turned on them.

The wooden slippers that bonded labourers wear while working lie near the spot where Shahzad and Shama Masih were burnt alive in Rosa Tibba village, Kot Radha Kishan.

“Suleman had bad dreams for a long time. He would often wake up screaming for his parents,” says Shama’s father, Mukhtiar Masih, who now has full custody of the three.

Even now the children are a little apprehensive when meeting strangers.

As if to prove a point he turns to them and asks blatantly “You remember Mama and Papa?” The children nod.

Something stirs in them. Suleman goes to the the cupboard, climbs to the top most shelf and takes out a banner with photographs of his deceased parents. It is the only picture he has of his father.

The media has been publishing the wrong picture of the couple. The woman in this picture is Shahzad’s niece, who is alive and well.

“That’s him, that’s my father,” he says pointing to the picture of a thin, gaunt man, with a mustache and the trace of a stubble on his face.

“Ae Mama ni ai (This isn’t Mummy),” says Sonia, her face falling slightly, as she looks at the woman. All three children speak only in Punjabi.

The media has erroneously been using a picture of Shahzad and another girl, captioning them as pictures of the couple. But the woman in the photo is Shahzad’s niece, who is alive and well.

Ironically, it was the cruel end of their parents that helped break the shackles of bonded labour for the children.

Today, Suleman, 10, Sonia, 8, and Poonam, 6, go to school and try to live their lives like ordinary children, but forever haunted by the brutality of the day their parents were lynched.

A helping hand

The rehabilitation of these children would not be possible without the help of a small organisation working in Lahore known as the Cecil Chaudhry and Iris Foundation (CICF). Named after the veteran air-force hero Cecil Chaudhry and his wife, the organisation is run by their daughter Michelle Chaudhry.

Out of the several that flocked to help after the couple’s murder in 2014, CICF was the only one that stayed aboard and continues to help the children to this day.

CICF organised a protest rally in order to demand Justice for the ill fated couple.

“At first we gave them counselling because they were so afraid they would not go to anyone at all,” says Michelle Chaudhry.

“Later we helped them enroll in our school in Youhanabad. We gave them uniforms, stationery, literally everything that parents give their children. There was no one else.”

She says Suleman is now slowly gaining momentum, but despite everything, even now there are times when he goes into a daze.

“We have tried our best to help him emotionally and otherwise. He is doing much better, but because he actually witnessed the incident it is inevitable that he recalls it from time to time.

“They are all progressing well,” adds Michelle. “The other two children were only two and four years old, so they do not remember the loss of their parents as such.

But when we first saw them, Sonia kept repeating the same sentence from time to time “Mummy papa nu saar dita” (they have burnt Mummy and Papa). Even for us, handling this was a heart-rending ordeal.”

Picking up the pieces

In school, the children are doing well.

“They have been getting top grades in class,” says Alyssa, who works in CICF.

“We are really very proud of them. And no one should be fooled by their shyness! These kids can be rowdy”.

“Suleman in school is one of the naughtiest boys around,” she says affectionately, glancing at him do his work. “He loves performing on stage.”

It is reassuring to see them get their academic life on track, but as time passes, the children’s needs will have to be reconsidered and this will pose to be an even bigger challenge for Michelle.

“They are people not a project,” she says. “If we took responsibility for them, we should continue with it.”

Right now the house they are living in is the property of the church, and has been given to them. It is not in their name.

“In any case we will be sending them to a boarding school eventually,” says Michelle, without taking the name of the school. “We want to groom them as much as possible. It has taken them four years to be accustomed to city life, but even now, they do not have the know-how that they should.”

This boarding school run by foreigners is located a little out of the city and Michelle is certain it will be good for Suleman.

“We are thinking of sending Suleman first as he is the eldest,” she says. “The girls are too little right now.”

Michelle says that she has to keep reminding people of them. “It’s only been four years and still people have more or less forgotten the incident, but I have to keep reminding them of the children. We get some donations which help.”

“It is an uncertain future, but we are with them all the way,” says Alyssa.

The reality is that Michelle has been paying for everything out of her own pocket.

“We are not getting any formal donations from anywhere,” she says. “We have to make sure that these children get their food, their clothes, their medical expenses, everything. It’s all done by us.”

Justice served

According to one version of the story making rounds, the trigger point was when eight months pregnant Shama began to question the status of their **peshgi**, which she argued with the contractor, had already been paid. Peshgi is a kind of ‘earnest payment’ that labourers pay to take a loan; this often keeps them indebted to their employers. Peshgi is a system of bonded labour.

It was the same contractor who then lured the couple on the pretext of talking and locked them up in his office.

On the directions of the kiln owner, he told the neighbourhood cleric that Shama had been caught burning some Quranic verses. In reality they had been burning some documents that belonged to Shahzad’s recently deceased father who was a faith healer (aamil).

The cleric made an announcement that they have committed blasphemy, and within half an hour a mob of hundreds had collected at the kiln. The mob pulled the couple outside the locked room, and dragged them to the flames of the brick kiln.

Some reports say that it is unclear whether the couple had been alive when they had been burnt. But one thing is certain: there was nothing left of them to bury.

The case dominated national news and sparked a global outcry. A top Vatican official described the lynching as a “humiliation for all of humanity”.

The case was instantly sent to an anti-terrorism court (ATC), and a total of 103 people were charged. In November 2016, five men were sentenced to death, including Yusuf Gujjar the kiln owner, sentences that are currently under appeal in the ATC, while 10 others were given varying jail terms for playing a supportive role in the killings.

The same court also acquitted 93 suspects in the case in 2016.

The lawyer for the family Riaz Anjum said that the five people who were awarded the death sentence were involved in dragging, beating and burning the couple.