Thursday, September 10, 2009

Amnesty plan ready for Balochistan

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to withdraw cases against Baloch leaders and grant general amnesty to political prisoners and those who are in exile or allegedly involved in anti-state activities.

Sources associated with the Balochistan Committee of Pakistan People’s Party said recommendations of the committee had been approved by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

‘We have presented the report to the president and the prime minister and it will be announced by Mr Zardari very soon,’ the committee’s head, Senator Raza Rabbani, said.

He refused to give details of the report and said it was the prerogative of PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari to make them public.

A source in the presidency confirmed that the president and the prime minister had approved amnesty to Baloch leaders, including those belonging to the Bugti tribe.

Some of Bugti tribe leaders, including Bramdagh Bugti, grandson of Nawab Akbar Bugti, have been accused of being involved in anti-state activities in Balochistan and other parts of the country.

Addressing a joint sitting of parliament, President Zardari had expressed his desire that Baloch leaders should be given general amnesty so that their grievances could be addressed and they could be brought into the political mainstream.

He had said: ‘Ways and means may be explored for the voluntary return of exiles and grant of general amnesty to political prisoners.’

Mr Zardari had stressed that an enabling environment needed to be created to facilitate the return and rehabilitation of displaced persons in Balochistan who fled their homes recently. ‘Give them the autonomy they have been demanding for 60 years,’ he said.

The president said he had visited Balochistan and felt bitterness of the past there as they (Baloch people) felt deprived and neglected. ‘We need to bring together the federating units in a spirit of mutual accommodation. Let us not give an excuse to our enemies to exploit the deprivations of the people of the province.’

In a recent meeting with Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi, the president said the government was determined to remove sense of deprivation among the Baloch people and address financial problems of the province.

Mr Zardari said the government had already announced special measures and packages for Balochistan. ‘People of Balochistan will be brought into mainstream of national life at par with people of other provinces in terms of development in light of the recommendations of the parliamentary committee on Balochistan,’ he said.

Poverty Rate Rose in 2008, Census Finds

In the recession, the nation’s poverty rate climbed to 13.2 percent last year, up from 12.5 percent in 2007, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Census Bureau. The report also documented a decline in employer-provided health insurance and in coverage for adults.

The rise in the poverty rate, to the highest level since 1997, portends even larger increases this year, which has registered far higher unemployment than in 2008, economists said.

The bureau said 39.8 million residents last year lived below the poverty line, defined as an income of $22,025 for a family of four.

In another sign of both the recession and the long-term stagnation of middle-class wages, median family incomes in 2008 fell to $50,300, compared with $52,200 the year before. This wiped out the income gains of the previous three years, the report said.

Adjusted for inflation, in fact, median family incomes were lower in 2008 than a decade earlier.

“This is the largest decline in the first year of a recession we’ve seen since the Census Bureau started collecting data after World War II,” said Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University, referring to household incomes. “We’ve seen a lost decade for the typical American family.”

The share of American residents who said they lacked health insurance throughout the entire year remained steady, at 15.4 percent, or 46.3 million people. But the total masked some more worrisome trends that are helping to drive the debate over a national health care overhaul.

Continuing an eight-year trend, the number of people with private or employer-sponsored insurance declined, while the number of people relying on government insurance programs including Medicare, Medicaid, the children’s insurance program and military insurance rose.

The share of children who were uninsured declined, to 9.9 percent from 11 percent in 2007, apparently because of the federal government’s special efforts to insure low-income children. But at the same time, the share of adults aged 18 to 64 without health insurance rose, to 20.3 percent in 2008 from 19.6 percent in 2007.

In a speech Thursday to promote his health care overhaul, President Obama referred to the census survey and said that things had grown worse since September 2008. “Over the last 12 months, it’s estimated that the ranks of the uninsured have swelled by nearly six million people,” he said.

The accuracy of the census numbers, which are collected each spring for the previous year as part of the Current Population Survey, is subject to debate. Family incomes in the poverty area do not include the value of food stamps, money received through tax credits or unreported income. On the other side, the poverty threshold has not been adjusted over the years to reflect the rising relative costs of housing and medical care and does not take account of large regional differences in the cost of living.

Whatever the flaws, which remain similar every year, “we think the C.P.S. data present a very good measure of the trends over time,” David S. Johnson, chief of the housing and household economic statistics division of the Census Bureau, said Thursday in an audio news conference.

Because unemployment has climbed so much more sharply in 2009 — averaging 9 percent, compared with an average of 5.8 percent in 2008 — “the real spike in poverty is going to be in the ’09 numbers, which we get next year,” said Sheldon Danziger, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan and co-editor, with Maria Cancian, of the coming book “Changing Poverty, Changing Policies” (Russell Sage Foundation).