North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan
Chilling video: Pakistan has been rattled by a video that shows a Taliban commander from the country’s tribal region whipping a writhing 17-year-old girl with a leather strap—punishment for leaving home without being escorted by a male relative. “Leave me for the moment,” the anguished young woman screams, “you can beat me again later.” The video, apparently shot on cell phone, sparked outrage among human-rights activists and generated calls for the government to end its truce with the Taliban. The incident took place in the Swat region in northwest Pakistan, where the government has ceded control to the Taliban as part of a peace deal. A Taliban spokesman said the punishment was consistent with Islamic law, but said it should not have been meted out in public.
Rising insurgency: A suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque outside the Pakistani capital this week, killing 22 people and demonstrating the growing reach of the Islamic insurgency. The mosque attack came a day after eight troops were killed in a bombing in Islamabad and six days after militants stormed a police training center in Lahore. A Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which are aimed at fomenting violence between Sunnis and the Shiite minority and generating animosity toward the U.S. The militants say they will cease their bombings when the U.S. ends its missile strikes on militant strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The mosque bomber was intercepted by police and detonated his explosive before he could enter the compound, where at least 1,000 people were gathered.
Health care on the agenda: China this week announced that it was embarking on a massive overhaul of its health-care system, promising to provide “safe, effective, convenient, and affordable” health services to all 1.3 billion of its citizens by 2020. Despite China’s rapid economic growth, health care there is notoriously antiquated, and hundreds of millions of citizens have no insurance and virtually no access to quality care. Under the reform, the government says it would provide some insurance to all residents. Plans also call for hospitals and clinics in the impoverished countryside to be upgraded, while the price of essential medicines would be capped. The government did not provide any cost estimates.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Innocents trapped: More than 100,000 Sri Lankan civilians were trapped this week on a narrow swath of the island nation’s northern coast, where desperate Tamil rebels were hunkered down after a series of military defeats at the hands of government troops. The United Nations urged the government to hold its fire and pleaded with the rebels to allow the civilians to flee—in anticipation of what could be the final showdown in a civil war that has spanned 25 years and claimed more than 70,000 lives. The rebels, a brutal separatist ethnic insurgency, show no signs of surrendering. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected calls for a cease-fire, which he said would only allow the rebels to rearm.
‘Schindler’s list’ unearthed: The famous lifesaving list of names compiled by German industrialist Oskar Schindler has been discovered by a researcher at a Sydney library. The list, which helped hundreds of Jewish workers at Schindler’s factory escape death in the Holocaust, was found in research notes belonging to the Australian author of Schindler’s Ark—the basis for the Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List. Library curator Olwen Pryke said neither the library nor the book dealer from whom it bought the six boxes of material in 1996 realized the list was hidden among the documents. “It saved 801 men from the gas chambers,” Pryke said. “It’s an incredibly moving piece of history.”
Tough start: Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s controversial new foreign minister, caused on uproar on his first day in office last week when he declared that Israel was under no obligation to continue an American-backed peace effort with the Palestinians. Lieberman also seemed to rule out any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a peace deal with Syria. Palestinian leaders seized on the comments as proof that the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pulling out of the peace process. “This minister is an obstacle to peace,” said an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Some Israeli politicians seemed to agree. Ophir Pines-Paz, a member of Knesset from the Labor Party and part of Netanyahu’s coalition, called the Soviet-born Lieberman “a strategic threat to Israel.”
Zuma off the hook: South African prosecutors have dropped long-standing corruption charges against Jacob Zuma, president of the ruling African National Congress, citing “an intolerable abuse” by the former head of the unit spearheading the case. In taped telephone conversations released by prosecutors, the ex-chief of the anti-corruption agency is heard strategizing with Zuma’s rivals about using the legal process to hurt his political chances. But Zuma’s critics accused prosecutors of “buckling to political pressure” and said the central question of whether Zuma had repeatedly accepted bribes going back to 1999 remains unaddressed. Zuma is the clear favorite to win South Africa’s next presidential election, since the ANC is by far the country’s largest party.