At Hindu temple, Pakistan PM reaches out to minorities

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) atends a ceremony at 900-year-old Katas Raj temples, one of the holiest sites for Hindus, in district Chakwal, Katas Raj, Pakistan, on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Drazen Jorgic)
Updated 11 January 2017
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At Hindu temple, Pakistan PM reaches out to minorities

KATAS, Pakistan: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday inaugurated the restoration of an ancient Hindu temple complex in Punjab, a symbolic gesture that may appeal to the Muslim nation’s minority communities and soften the country’s image abroad.
However, the visit and other recent overtures to minority faiths and women, including the passing of pro-women legislation, could also alienate powerful religious hard-liners opposed to social change.
Sharif’s visit to the 900-year-old Katas Raj temples, one of the holiest sites in South Asia for Hindus, comes at a time when relations with Pakistan’s Hindu-majority neighbor India are at a low ebb and show few signs of improving.
“In my personal view, we are all are equal — Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians — and people belonging to other religions; we are all one,” Sharif told Reuters after a Hindu ritual was performed at the temples, located in the village of Katas some 110 km (70 miles) south of the capital Islamabad.
At the ceremony, attended by senior Christian, Sikh and Hindu leaders, Sharif chastised hard-line Muslim scholars who use “strange interpretations” of Islam to preach hate against other religions.
“I believe this is not lawful. No one should try to teach this sort of lesson, nor should anyone heed such lessons,” Sharif said.
Critics say Sharif’s government has not done enough to tackle hard-line religious groups inside Pakistan, including some with militant links, and accuse members of the ruling PML-N party of maintaining links with sectarian hard-liners.
Pakistani officials want to improve the country’s image, marred by religious violence and the persecution of minorities, in a bid to lure Western investors who are reluctant to come despite healthy economic growth and improving security.
“Pakistan’s image, economy, foreign investment, security — they are all interlinked,” said an aide to the prime minister.

Elections next year
Political analysts say Sharif’s visit to the Katas Raj temples was part of an effort to reach out to minority groups ahead of a general election scheduled for 2018, and would also appeal to more liberal, urban voters in Pakistan.
Non-Muslims make up only about three percent of the 190 million population, but they are clustered and their votes could swing some seats in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh.
Last month, Sharif re-named a university in honor of Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was shunned for decades as he hailed from the small Ahmadiyya community.
A mob of about 1,000 people attacked and burned an Ahmadiyya mosque a few days after the renaming, although it is not clear whether the two events were related.
Sharif’s attempt to burnish progressive credentials comes at a time when his party is confident it can retain power next year, boosted by the economic benefits from China’s $57 billion investment in road, rail and energy infrastructure.
The government has in the past year passed a bill that removed a loophole in existing law that allowed people convicted of so-called “honor killings” to walk free if they were pardoned by family members.
The provincial government of Punjab, which is run by Sharif’s bother Shebhaz, also enacted the Women’s Protection Act, giving women legal protection from domestic, psychological and sexual violence.
“Only a person who is secure about his vote bank can do that,” said Nadeem Paracha, a columnist for the English-language Dawn newspaper.
Huma Yusuf, an analyst for London-based Control Risks, said Sharif was “testing the boundaries” by pushing a more progressive agenda on issues that appeal to young urban voters, but added this would not herald drastic changes.
“PML-N knows Pakistan very well, so they are unlikely to push the boundaries too much,” she said.


US State Department imposes visa ban on several DRCongo officials

Updated 22 June 2018
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US State Department imposes visa ban on several DRCongo officials

  • The visa ban comes after the US Treasury sanctioned Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler on June 15, who it said had amassed a fortune through corrupt mining and oil deals in the DRC, using his close friendship with Kabila
  • Several senior Congolese officials involved in corruption travel frequently to the US, so the visa ban is an important step

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it had imposed visa bans on several senior officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo for corruption tied to the country’s electoral process to send a “strong signal” about the need for a peaceful transfer of power.
Washington declined to identify the individuals, saying it was not obligated to reveal them based on “foreign policy considerations.”
“Today’s actions send a strong signal that the US government is committed to fighting corruption, to supporting credible elections that lead to DRC’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of power,” the State Department said.
The move comes before elections scheduled in DRC for Dec. 23. There are concerns, however, that President Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father Laurent in 2001, could delay the vote to seek a third elected term.
The visa ban comes after the US Treasury sanctioned Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler on June 15, who it said had amassed a fortune through corrupt mining and oil deals in the DRC, using his close friendship with Kabila.
Sasha Lezhnev, deputy policy director at the nonprofit rights group Enough Project called Thursday’s visa ban an important step “to dissuade Kabila from putting his name on the ballot and help ensure a credible election.”
“Several senior Congolese officials involved in corruption travel frequently to the US, so the visa ban is an important step,” said Lezhnev. “They or the businesses they partner with also use US banks to process corrupt commercial deals, so the US and EU should enact stronger sanctions on their corporate networks to target their assets.”