Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Expectations after justice

The problem with us Pakistanis is that we don’t often have a happy moment and when we have one, we don’t live it to the fullest. Hence, all we have to show for our marches behind a Benazir Bhutto or a Nawaz Sharif are swollen feet, aching backs and a bad temper.

We need destinations along the way to keep ourselves going. Man has landed on the moon. Let’s not get bogged down in details of whether he was pulled up by the president or pushed up by someone else. We must celebrate and savour what has already been achieved before we consolidate and move on. Will he find signs of life on the planet? Let’s hope he will and we will have a new human settlement.

A certain calm prevails in Lahore on the morning of March 16, 2009. There is a sense of relief and the prospects for business, traders say, are good. The city moves ahead with confidence, its labours of the previous day having brought it quick rewards. The large crowd that threw its weight behind Mian Nawaz Sharif must definitely have played a part in the decision to restore Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. A housewife in Lahore is waiting for inflation to dip sharply and the law and order situation to improve drastically before she goes on her next shopping spree. Advocate Asma Jahangir reminds Asif Ali Zardari that his and his party’s election last year was not an end in itself but that the PPP was supposed to actually bring in democracy after it came to power.

A similar task now challenges the chief justice — he must now work to bring in justice, at least the rule of law. But, of course, post-celebration, the people need to be chastened against coming up with unreasonable demands for the just-freed judiciary.

It is doubtful that the cautious words spoken by Athar Minallah are going to be good enough to hold back a people whose expectations have been raised so high. But surely, while Mian Shahbaz Sharif also warns the crowd to not expect streams of milk and honey to flow in this land, the more principled amongst us would be inclined to believe that a certain level of lawfulness will be maintained. Now that the judiciary is free, it is not too much to expect that Punjab will be getting rid of its police encounters.

Speaking of the province, it’s fortunate that we survived the last-minute scare of the pro-judiciary movement being blown into a full-scale war between various units in the federation. It would be fair to say that the long march had a far from ideal start in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan while the Frontier’s response had yet to be fully recorded as the matter was decided before the promised caravans from Haripur and Abbottabad set out for a sit-in in Islamabad.

The lawyers were at the centre of it but it finally took a politician angry at being thrown out of power in Punjab to force the issue. The massive rally in Lahore on Sunday and its timing were proof of just how offended the people here actually were at the disqualification of their leaders. This was an out and out Punjab issue tagged with the independence of judiciary and an impression was surely created that the people of Punjab were the most vocal supporters of the judges.

By way of a compromise between positions, it can be said that, lately at least, provinces other than Punjab were at best indifferent to the idea rather than being averse to it: only they found themselves faced with problems more pressing than the restoration of Justice Chaudhry.
One huge factor that led to the restoration movement being painted as a Punjab issue was the (forced or voluntary) withdrawal of the PPP, which has a presence all over the country, from Justice Chaudhry’s caravan. As Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani now rather weakly recalls, the PPP had given the movement its sweat and blood.

There were a few PPP flags fluttering outside Justice Chaudhry’s residence after the restoration on Sunday night. Many of its workers will be out to claim credit for the return of the chief justice but all this can hardly help the party revive its image after its leader(s) anti-popular profile in recent months. Also, while the judges issue may have been solved, President Asif Zardari continues to bear the brunt of a vicious campaign.

Power had brought him charges of corruption; absolute power exposes him to even stronger allegations that are deemed as being absolutely correct. If he wants to salvage his party in the all-important Punjab province as well as in the Frontier and Balochistan he has only one option — he must cleanse himself of absolute powers and for a change act like a democrat.

The chorus against him will not stop, it will not stop at least until he repeals the 17th Amendment. Actually the PPP must reinvent itself not only because it has suffered this glaring setback on the judges issue but more importantly to act as an anti-thesis to the consolidation of the right as witnessed on the Lahore streets on Sunday.

If not for its own sake, for the sake of others who believe that right now — like always — it is their only option to maintain some kind of parity in Pakistani politics. Unless it does, it is not needed. The first step towards that direction would be for the PPP to try and woo back some of its dissenters to the party’s centre-stage.

And surely, without colliding with anyone, it has to come up with its own show of strength some time soon to control the damage caused by President Zardari’s prolonged opposition and ultimately his seemingly abject surrender to the demand of Justice Chaudhry’s reinstatement. Zardari’s party must merge itself with the party of Benazir Bhutto.

Man wants to get married

PESHAWAR: Hashmat Ali must have exhausted all options to persuade his father to get him married before reaching the Peshawar Press Club holding a banner Tuesday to publicly voice his grievance.The banner carried an appeal by him in Urdu, complaining that his father Shahzad Gul despite being a wealthy man was refusing to arrange his marriage. “My younger brothers have got married even though they were jobless. I am the oldest and am employed but my father has yet to arrange me marriage,” read the appeal.According to Hashmat Ali, he was a chowkidar at the girls’ hostel at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar and was getting Rs5,000 monthly salary. The girls’ hostel apparently was the nursing hostel at the biggest public hospital in the NWFP. Imagine being a guard at a hostel full of young girls and still unable to find a wife.Talking to reporters, Hashmat Ali in all seriousness said there was no particular reason for his father not to agree to his marriage. Unlike his unemployed brothers, he said he had a regular job and would be able to share the expenses of his household once he got married.One would have to see whether Hashmat Ali’s public appeal would move his father, who is a resident of Peshawar Saddar, to find him a wife or make him so angry that he may decide to keep his desperate son a bachelor all his life.

Reconstruction of Rehman Baba shrine ordered

PESHAWAR: Chief Secretary NWFP Sahibzada Riaz Noor has directed the PDA authorities to immediately start initial work for the reconstruction of the Shrine of Sufi Poet Rahman Baba which was damaged in a bomb blast few days back. He issued these directives during his visit to the Mausoleum of Rahman Baba in Peshawar on Tuesday. Secretaries of Finance, Planning & Development, Works & Services and Local Government Departments, Commissioner Peshawar Division, Chief Engineer C&W, DG PDA and other concerned officials were present on the occasion. The Chief Secretary directed the concerned officials to prepare PC I of the reconstruction plan of the Mazaar within one month so as to submit it to the Federal Government for the release of fund. The total cost which is estimated at Rs. 30 million will be born by the Federal Government. Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary directed the Finance Department to release the necessary fund so that work could be taken in hand immediately. The reconstruction would be completed in six months. Sahibzada Riaz Noor further directed to involve the experts of Engineering University so that the design of the building was made in accordance with the present day building code and it could sustain shocks of earthquakes. He directed to maintain the old design of the tomb, improve the decoration work of the building and inscribe the Quranic and poetic versus on the inner walls of the mausoleum. He also directed for comprehensive security arrangements during and after the reconstruction work.

White House talks cover North, global recession and banks crisis

THE TAOISEACH was given a warm welcome by President Barack Obama at the White House before discussions on a range of issues including the global recession, the banking crisis and the latest terrorist atrocities in Northern Ireland.

Mr Cowen said Mr Obama had made it clear he did not consider Ireland as a tax haven.

The two men also spoke about recent events in Northern Ireland. Mr Obama said later that the thoughts and prayers of Americans everywhere went out to the families of the fallen.

“I want everyone listening to know this: the United States will always stand with those who work towards peace. After seeing former adversaries mourning and praying and working together this week, I’ve never been more confident that peace will prevail,” he said.

As well as meeting for 40 minutes, the president and the Taoiseach spoke at three events to mark St Patrick’s Day, before meeting again at last night’s reception in the White House.

Mr Cowen invited the president and Michelle Obama to Ireland while Mr Obama announced that the new US ambassador to Ireland is Dan Rooney, the owner of Superbowl champions the Pittsburgh Steelers and the co-founder of the American Ireland Fund.

The president made a number of good-humoured references to his distant Irish ancestry.

“It turns out that we have something in common. He hails from Co Offaly and it was brought to my attention on the campaign that my great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side came to America from a small village in Co Offaly, as well. We are still speculating on whether we are related,” he said at the presentation of a bowl of shamrock.

At a lunch on Capitol Hill hosted by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, Mr Obama returned to the theme of his Offaly connections.

“When I was a relatively unknown candidate for office, I didn’t know about this part of my heritage, which would have been very helpful in Chicago. So I thought I was bluffing when I put the apostrophe after the O. I tried to explain that ‘Barack’ was an ancient Celtic name.

“Taoiseach, I hope our efforts today put me on the path of earning that apostrophe.”

Earlier, Mr Obama said that the events in the US to mark St Patrick’s Day were an affirmation of one of the strongest bonds between peoples that exist in the world.

“The bond between our countries could not be stronger. As somebody who comes from Chicago, I know a little bit about Ireland and the warmth, the good humour, and the fierce passion and intelligence of the Irish people is something that has informed our own culture, as well.

“Today is a day for all the people of America and Ireland to celebrate our shared history and our shared future with joy and good cheer, so I can’t think of a better place to take the Taoiseach for lunch than the Congress,” said Mr Obama to ironic laughter.

Mr Cowen told the president that there was a phrase in the Irish language, “Is féidir linn”.

“It may seem familiar. It translates as ‘Yes, we can’.”

At the second attempt the president responded in a respectable blas: “Is féidir linn. All right. I got that. Yes, we can.”

Hundreds of thousands throng Dublin for parade

Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world thronged the streets of Dublin today for the annual St Patrick’s Day parade.

Organisers estimate some 675,000 people lined the 2.5km route for the two-hour spectacle, which got underway at noon.

The parade, made up of around 2,000 performers and over 900 marching band members, began from Parnell Square North and is the highlight of the capital’s six-day St Patrick’s weekend festival. Performers included street theatre troupes, artists, giant puppetry, dancers and marching bands from Ireland and further afield.

In a special move to mark the GAA’s 125th anniversary, the four All-Ireland winning captains lined out as joint Grand Marshals. Tyrone Football captain Brian Dooher, Kilkenny Hurling’s Henry Shefflin, Cork footballer Angela Walsh and Cathriona Foley of the Cork Camogie squad were selected to lead the massive march.

The stars represented the four winning teams in the senior cup championships and were selected for their achievements on the fields of play, as well as to mark the momentous anniversary.

Previous grand marshals have included Eamonn Coughlan in 2008, Micheal O’Muircheartaigh in 2007 and the late Ronnie Drew in 2006.

International marching bands joined the parade from as far a field as New Mexico, Indiana, Las Vegas, Colorado, Louisiana, Florida, Italy, Germany, British Columbia and Canada.

The Parade Ceremonial Section was led by the Army Band, the Band of An Garda Siochána and Dublin Fire Brigade of Pipes and Drums.

The winner of Best Pageant was CITY FUSION with The Conference of Birds . One of the largest pageants in the parade, it celebrated the diversity of Dublin's cultural landscape. The project is an inter-cultural collaboration produced by St Patrick's Festival in association with Dublin City Council's Office for Integration.

The award for Best Marching Band went to Simsegräbsler from Hofstetten in Germany’s Black Forest.

St Patrick’s Festival spokeswoman Alison Kelly said the standard of floats and entrants in the parade was very high. “They’re just getting better every year,” she said. “The sun just made it a beautiful day and everybody had a great time.”

Superintendent Joe Gannon of Pearse Street Garda dtation said numbers were larger than expected. “Everything has gone perfectly. There were huge crowds, that far exceeded expectations we think,” he said.

There have been no reports of a repeat of the scenes of drunken violence that have blighted previous St Patrick's Day festivities.

Meanwhile, some 60,000 people took to the streets of Limerick today to watch the parade, which saw 3,000 participants and over 90 floats parade through the city centre. Tens of thousands more watched parades in Cork, Waterford and other towns across the country. Some 21 floats took part in a parade on Clare Island, Co. Mayo – making it the largest parade ever on the island.

In New York, the iconic Empire State Building will be lit up in green to coincide with the city's St Patrick's Day parade. Over 250,000 marchers and up to two million spectators are expected at the parade this year.

Bangladesh postpones Pakistan team tour

DHAKA: The future of cricket tours by teams to the subcontinent became bleaker Tuesday after Bangladeshi authorities said they were postponing Pakistan's tour because they could not ensure players' safety.

Pakistan was due to tour Bangladesh earlier this month but the dates were put on hold two days after gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in which seven players and an assistant coach were injured two weeks ago.

Bangladesh sports minister Ahad Ali Sarker told AFP that officials in his country had decided to postpone the tour because of concerns over player safety.

‘We have had to suspend the tour for the time being because of security concerns,’ he said, citing last month's mutiny at a military base in the Bangladeshi capital as the main reason for the postponement.

‘Our law enforcement agencies are at the moment hunting rebels wanted for last month's mutiny in Dhaka so it's not possible for us to give fool-proof security to the Pakistani cricket team.’ He said tours by all foreign teams in all sports codes to Bangladesh had been suspended until further notice.

The Pakistan team were originally scheduled to play two Twenty20 matches and five one-day internationals from March 10-22. Bangladesh said on March 5 it was revising the tour's itinerary.

‘Obviously the Pakistan cricket tour will take place as soon as we can ensure full security to the team,’ the minister added.

Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) spokesman Rabeed Imam told AFP that both countries were hopeful a new itinerary could be worked out.

‘The tour has been postponed again. It's not cancelled and the Bangladesh Cricket Board is trying to work out a new schedule with the Pakistani cricket authorities.’ Another BCB spokesman Jalal Yunus told AFP that a November series was possible.

‘We hope that after consultation with the Pakistan cricket officials we can find a time slot, maybe in November this year, for the series to come about.’

Obama suspends his Indian-Origin Chief Info Officer on corruption charges

WASHINGTON: The US President Barak Obama has suspended his Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra on corruption charges. Kundra had been in office for barely a week. He had to proceed on forced “leave” as the FBI had initiated an investigation into corruption charges against several persons, including the CIO, say media reports.

The agency has raided and searched Mr Kundara’s office. Before joining the White House Office of Management and Budget as Obama’s info czar, he was Director of a Telecommunication-Infrastructure Company.

The federal agents of the USA have already arrested an Indian-American businessman and a Washington DC government official on corruption charges and searched the offices of the capital city’s chief technology officer as part of a corruption probe.

Those arrested include Yusuf Acar, a contracting officer for Washington’s city government, and Sushil Bansal, a former employee.

The CIO and his coterie are accused of swindling the city of several million dollars through over-invoiced purchase orders for equipment and inflated billing for work by non-existent employees.

Urdu book on Khushal Khattak

PESHAWAR: The Pakhtun Cultural Society (Registered) Islamabad has published a book on Khushal Khan Khattak in Urdu. Ghani Khattak has penned the book ‘Khushal Khan — Afghan Qaumi Shair wa Philosopher.’ The writer has also to his credit book on Khushal in English titled Khushal Khan, the Afghan warrior poet and philosopher” which was liked by general readers. The book covers Khushal’s life, his relations with Mughals and his other thoughts especially his nationalist ideology, his hero —Nangyal and Sardar or the sovereign and his thoughts about the status of women and their obligations and rights.

Law Ministry issues notification of judges’ restoration

ISLAMABAD ( March 17, 2009) :Law Ministry on Tuesday issued a notification for the reinstatement of deposed judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a ministry official said on Tuesday.

Issues resolved with out any US threat: Clinton

WASHINGTON :Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that Pakistan's reinstatement of a deposed Supreme Court chief justice will allow Islamabad to return its attention to the crucial fight against Taliban and al Qaeda militants operating along the Afghan border.

As part of intense diplomatic efforts over the weekend, Clinton called both US-allied President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.

Zardari had refused to restore the independent-minded judge Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, prompting threats from Sharif's followers to march on the capital, raising fears of political instability in the nuclear-armed country.

Clinton told reporters that Pakistan's decision was "a first step of what has to be an ongoing reconciliation and compromising of political views that can stabilize civilian democracy and rule of law, both of which are essential to ... preventing extremism and violence from stalking the Pakistani people and the country."

When asked if the political turmoil was distracting Pakistan from the fight against extremists, Clinton said, "I think they understand what's at stake."

The United States, Clinton said after meeting at the State Department with Ireland's foreign minister, will continue to work closely with Pakistan. She said the consultations were part of "an ongoing effort to make our services available and to help the Pakistanis fight against our common enemies."

Sensitive to the perception that US pressure had forced Zardari's hand, Clinton was careful to say that the "Pakistanis themselves resolved the difficulties" — without any US threat or demand.

Earlier, a senior State Department official said that Clinton, in her calls, raised the prospect that US lawmakers could back away from US economic aid for Pakistan because of the turmoil. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private diplomatic exchange.

President signs summary of judges restoration

ISLAMABD:President Asif Ali Zardari has signed the summary of the restoration of the deposed judges on Tuesday and sent back it to the prime minister.

Earlier, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had sent the advice for reinstatement of deposed judges to President Zardari.

According to sources, the Law Ministry had sent the summary of judges restoration to the Prime Minister.

The notification for restoration of deposed judges including chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will be issued by today, sources added.

North Korean premier arrives in China

North Korea Premier Kim Yong-Il arrived in China on Tuesday for a five-day visit that coincides with the 60th anniversary celebration of diplomatic ties between the two countries, state media said.The visit is the first for Kim, who was elected in 2007.He is not related to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, who controls the country's military.As premier, Kim oversees economic policy and appoints ministers who are then confirmed by parliament.North Korea is one of China's closest allies and important trading partners.China is also hosting talks -- involving Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States -- that are aimed at persuading North Korea to scrap its nuclear program.North Korea has said it will soon launch a "satellite" into space that U.S. and South Korean officials say is a cover for test-firing a long-range missile.The missile, Taepodong-2, is thought to have an intended range of about 4,200 miles (6,700 kilometers) that, if true, could give it the capability of striking Alaska or Hawaii.