Wednesday, December 29, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR


Let this coming year be better than all the others. Vow to do some of the things you've always wanted to do but couldn't find the time. Call up a forgotten friend. Drop an old grudge, and replace it with some pleasant memories. Vow not to make a promise you don't think you can keep. Walk tall, and smile more.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Obama Is Set to Shuffle His Staff

New York Times


President Obama is planning the first major reorganization of his administration, preparing to shuffle several positions in the West Wing as he tries to fortify his political team for the realities of divided government and his own re-election. The president is studying how to maximize the power of the executive branch, advisers said, seeking insight from veterans of previous administrations and fresh advice from business leaders to guide the second half of his term.

He is reviewing the restructuring plan during the holidays, aides said, and intends to make the first announcements in the opening days of January.

A reshaping of the economic team, beginning by naming a new director of the National Economic Council, is among the most urgent priorities of the new year. Gene Sperling, a counselor to the Treasury secretary who held the position in the Clinton administration, is among the final contenders to succeed Lawrence H. Summers in the job, along with Roger C. Altman, a Wall Street investment banker who also served in the Clinton administration.

When Republicans assume control of the House on Jan. 5, ending four years of a full Democratic majority in Congress, the president’s approach to policy and politics is poised to change on several fronts.

The White House is hiring more lawyers to handle oversight investigations from the new Congress, even as the president sets up a re-election headquarters in Chicago and considers ways to streamline operations inside the West Wing.

“You’re not going to see wholesale changes, but there will be significant changes. I think that’s desirable,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser who is leaving the White House next month. “This is a bubble. It’s been an intense couple of years, and there’s an advantage to bringing in folks who have a fresh set of senses — smell, touch and feel — about what’s going on out there.”

The first personnel change inside the White House is the arrival of David Plouffe, who managed Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. For the last two years, Mr. Plouffe has been one of the president’s closest outside confidants, but he is set to replace Mr. Axelrod as his chief political adviser, with a broad portfolio.

Jim Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff, will depart early next year to manage the re-election campaign in Chicago. His departure, along with those of others inside the West Wing, has created vacancies among the president’s top echelon of advisers that are at the heart of the reorganization plan.

At the final cabinet meeting of the year, on Dec. 8, the president renewed his request that if any members intended to step down, they needed to signal their intentions. White House officials said they believed that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is the only cabinet member who definitely plans to leave next year, although one other departure is possible.

There has been far less turnover for the Obama administration than for some of its recent predecessors. But at the midpoint of his term, several aides are considering new opportunities, including the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs will probably either become a senior adviser to the president or work outside the White House, defending Mr. Obama on television and beginning to define the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates. The leading contenders for his job are Jay Carney, a spokesman for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and Bill Burton, a deputy press secretary.

Two months before the midterm elections, even before it became clear that Democrats would lose their Congressional majority, the president ordered a review of how the White House operated and how it could be modernized. The mission of the Reorganization Plan, as it is called at the White House, expanded after the sweeping Republican victory.

Pete Rouse, now the interim White House chief of staff, was already working on the plan in October when Rahm Emanuel stepped down as chief of staff to run for mayor of Chicago. The process has been a highly guarded secret even inside the White House, with Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser; Robert F. Bauer, the general counsel; and Mr. Axelrod also providing guidance.

The president was frustrated by the bureaucracy of the administration, aides said, and asked Mr. Rouse to recommend ways to improve internal communication and efficiency. Several recommendations were given to the president before he left Washington on Wednesday night to spend Christmas with his family in Hawaii, aides said.

The review has created anxiety in the corridors of the West Wing, where many aides who have spent at least four years working for Mr. Obama are uncertain of their next assignments. Some will be dispatched to Chicago, where the re-election effort is scheduled to be well under way by the spring, with the fund-raising, political and communications staff among the first to report for duty.

The week after the midterm elections, the president began an extensive series of one-on-one conversations in the Oval Office about how he could make the best use of the final two years of his first term.

Mr. Obama discussed the pitfalls — and opportunities — of divided government with former President Bill Clinton during a long meeting this month. He also has held private discussions with an array of figures, including Leon E. Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., who served as a chief of staff to Mr. Clinton; John D. Podesta, another former Clinton chief of staff; Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader; and Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Obama is reading the biography “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” by Lou Cannon, aides said, and recently completed “The Clinton Tapes,” by Taylor Branch, who chronicled the 42nd president through a series of private interviews.

Despite all his time studying the Clinton administration, Mr. Obama told his aides that he had no intention of following the precise path of Mr. Clinton, who after the Democratic midterm election defeats of 1994 ordered a clearing of the decks inside the White House, installed competing teams of advisers and employed a centrist policy of triangulation. In fact, several advisers confirmed, the word “triangulation” has been banned by Mr. Obama because he does not believe it accurately describes his approach.

On Wednesday afternoon, even as lawmakers were approving a burst of Mr. Obama’s legislative priorities in the waning hours of the Congressional session, the president and a small circle of advisers convened to sketch out the next two months. Mr. Obama intends not only to extend a hand to Republicans but also to begin detaching himself more from Congress and spending more time making his case directly to the American people.

“In a world of divided government, getting things done requires a mix of compromise and confrontation,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “What are the things you can do without Congress? In some cases, that involves executive orders, but it also involves using the bully pulpit of the presidency to make a political argument about the direction of the country.”

Pakistan to review blasphemy laws, official says

Pakistan will review blasphemy laws to prevent them from targeting innocent people, a government official said.
The government will form a committee of scholars to revisit the law, said Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minority affairs.
It will submit its suggestions and procedures, which will be implemented to stop the law's misuse, the minister said Thursday.
"After the formation of the committee we will .... find the way that whether through the legislation or some other procedural way we can stop the blasphemy law," Bhatti said.
On pardoning of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy of Islam, Bhatti said the president will wait for the judicial proceedings.
Bibi's lawyer has said that the proceedings might take years because the case is still in high court and may later go to the Supreme court.
Religious parties are planning protests after Friday prayers. The parties have been upset since the governor of Punjab province helped file a mercy petition with President Asif Ali Zardari's office requesting a pardon for Bibi.
Parties including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal ur Rehman (JUI-F) party will hold the rallies on Christmas Eve, said Moulana Amjad Khan, party spokesman.
A Pakistani court in November found the 45-year-old woman guilty of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a 2009 argument with Muslim fellow field workers.
The offense is punishable by death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan's penal code.
But an investigation by a Pakistani government ministry found the charges stemmed from "religious and personal enmity" and recommended Bibi's release. Zardari has said he would pardon Bibi, but a court has ruled that the president can't act until the sentence is confirmed by a higher court -- a process her lawyer says could take two to three years.
About 2 million Christians live in Pakistan. The Islamic nation has a population of about 170 million, according to government statistics
as religious parties plan Friday rallies to protest possible changes.

Peshawar Fashion Week.

(A model presents a creation by Pakistani designer Omer Saeed, during the Pakistan Fashion Week 2010 in Karachi, Pakistan, 09 April 2010.)



Embrace yourself for the upcoming Peshawar Fashion Week. Now get ready to experience another wondrous fashion sensation of glamour and artistic imagination to happen in the city of Peshawar. Yes, after Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, Peshawar is all ready to enter into the grand arena of Pakistani fashion industry with it's Peshawar Fashion week to happen in 2011. The credit for this revolutionary change goes to Waqas Ahmed of the Peshawar Fashion Council, who is so determined to make Peshawar enter in the glamorous world of fashion.

“I had been working with Style 360 for the past six years and even when I approached my friends in the fashion industry, they started to laugh at me. But I felt that if every major city can have a fashion week, why not Peshawar? We also have a lot of talent that just needs to be unearthed and nurtured.

There are many women designing and selling clothes from their own boutiques and lots of photographers are here as well. With the right kind of media projection even these small scale designers can become Hassan Sheheryar Yasin andi Khawar Riaz", said the incredibly determined Waqas] while talking to The Daily Mail.

“I want to dispel the image of Peshawar as backward which is very wrong. Even last month we had the design students from Iqra University present their thesis as a fashion show,” he added.

“I am going to try my best to make this venture a success and with the support of a few famous designers and models I am sure we can set this project off on a positive path.” Let’s hope that Pakistan fashion industry might become another platform to project Pakistan as a city of culture and creativity and not the terrorism and racism!

Militancy out, science in.... Swat Students exhibition.

The Express Tribune
A science and arts exhibition titled “I do, I learn” was held by the students of Swat to show their interest and love of education. The event was organised by the students of Khushal Public School and College. It was the first such event in the region since the restoration of peace, as such activities were banned by the Mullah Fazlullah led Taliban in Swat.

Talking to The Express Tribune, a grade 10 student at the school, Faraz, who seemed very excited by the arrangements said, “We are having a great time, by making science models we want to show how different science technologies can be applied practically, the activity will definitely develop and improve our creativity and will help us understand scientific knowledge in the truest sense.”

Faraz and his classmate Furasan displayed a large number of plants and enthusiastically briefed every one who visited their stall. “Through this stall, we want to show different medicinal plants to the visitors and inform people of their importance in our daily life.”

“I have made a model of a volcano to show people how it evolves and what are its effects,” said Gul Ranga Ali, a girl student of the school. She said that it is a great opportunity to practically show people from her community, especially her parents, what they have learnt at school. “I wish we are continuously provided such opportunities, as these events were impossible for us to conduct during the times of Taliban,” she added.

Idrees, another student holding a stall in the exhibition said, “This is a real learning opportunity for us, our teachers should arrange more of such practical events on an ongoing process so that the student take keen interest in studies and not get bored by monotonous theory.”

A local journalist, Amjad Ali Sahaab said he was inspired to see such activities being held in Swat for the first time. He said that such are essential to make our new generation more creative. “I pay special tribute to the school administration that has provided such a positive and constructive environment to its students,” he added.

A large number of locals, including army officers and parents of schoolchildren attended the exhibition and appreciated the school administration for organising such an event.

Peshawar all set for 31st National Games

The Express Tribune


Twice postponed due to security threats, the 31st National Games are finally being held in the provincial capital from December 25 to 31. The motto for the games is “play for peace”.

The games were originally scheduled to be held in Peshawar in November of 2009, but the plan was postponed due to aggravating security conditions in the city. The national games were then scheduled in March but were again postponed. However, now preparations for holding the mega sporting event are in their final stages.

At least 7,000 players from 15 organisations, including four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are participating in these events. Qayyum Stadium Complex, where inauguration and concluding ceremony for the games will take place, is witnessing activity – an unusual phenomenon for the city locals for the past some years.

The major roads of the city have been festooned with banners welcoming players, while security has been beefed up with security barricades being set up on Bara Road in Peshawar cantonment limits.

“I hope the games take place peacefully,” said Samia Sehar, a Lahore-based athlete of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) while talking to The Express Tribune. “My parents were hesitant in letting me come to Peshawar given the security risk,” she said. She added that along with her teammates, she plans to stay indoors and avoid going to the markets.

“Pakhtuns are well-known for their hospitality,” said Bushra, the Wapda coach. She said that after arriving in city, the team members have been busy with their practice and have not gone outside. She hoped that the games are held in a peacefully.

Manzar Khan, an organiser, said that they were eager to receive all the guest players in the city. “This event will restore some of the lost lustre of the provincial capital, which was overshadowed by terrorist threats,” he said.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Minister for Sports, Culture and Tourism, Syed Aqil Shah, who is supervising works at Qayyum Stadium told The Express Tribune that all arrangements to hold the games have been made and he was “satisfied with the security arrangements”.

He said that under the security arrangements, all guests will have to come to stadium through Col Sher Khan Stadium on Khyber Road. The authorities will provide a shuttle service to all the visitors and this arrangement will be for the whole period of games.

Shah said that Executive Committee of Pakistan Olympics Association (POA) earlier held a meeting in which POA Chairman Arif Hassan expressed his satisfaction over the arrangements for the national games.

He said that players of the departments including PAF, Air Force, Railway and Higher Education Commission will stay at their own facilities. He added that the number of teams participating in the games had drastically increased as Fata, AJK and G-B were also participating. He said that Pakistan Army will also aid in ensuring security during the event.

In November 2008, a suicide bomb attack killed at least four persons and injured around a dozen at the gate of Qayyum Stadium during the concluding ceremony of the Inter-Provincial Games.

Three including 2 students hurt in Peshawar blast

PESHAWAR: At least three people including two students were injured on Friday in a blast at a private school in Palosi.
According to police sources, the explosion of improvised explosive device (IED) caused the two schoolrooms to collapse, injuring three people including students Muhammed Ibrahim and Naveed Akhtar and a school teacher Sajjad Ali.
The blast was so powerful that the windowpanes of nearby buildings broke triggering panic in the area.

Founder of a School for Afghan Girls

www.surgar.net

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took her son's life, Sally Goodrich did something as redemptive as it was audacious: She traveled to Afghanistan and built a school there for girls in an area thick with Taliban fighters.Ms. Goodrich, who died Saturday at age 65 of ovarian cancer, was a Vermont educator whose son, Peter Goodrich, was aboard United Airlines flight 175 when the plane slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001. Peter Goodrich was age 33 when he was killed.
Overcome with grief and rage, she decided to channel her feelings into cultural outreach—something she thought her son would have done.
"This is really Peter's journey," Ms. Goodrich told the Boston Globe in 2005, during a visit to Afghanistan's Logar province south of Kabul, where the school was under construction. "I am living to move my child's life forward."
A month after the attacks, Ms. Goodrich and her husband Don helped found Families of September 11, a survivors' support and advocacy organization (of which Mr. Goodrich is still chairman). Still, life seemed dark to Ms. Goodrich, who next endured a cancer diagnosis and the death of her father. She became severely depressed.
In 2004, a childhood friend of Peter Goodrich who was serving in the Marines in Afghanistan contacted Ms. Goodrich with a proposal that she later called "the moment of grace." He suggested she organize a program to collect supplies for a rural Afghan schoolteacher whom the Taliban had been threatening because he insisted on teaching girls. Soon she hit on the idea of building a school for girls, and created a charitable foundation. She raised nearly $300,000.
Working with an Afghan nongovernmental organization and Pashtun tribesmen, Ms. Goodrich managed to complete a two-story, 26-classroom schoolhouse meant for 500 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. It opened in 2006. In a glass case in the principal's office was an English-language Koran that had once belonged to Peter Goodrich. A computer programmer by occupation, he wasn't Muslim or even religious, but his interest in the Koran's teachings had been her inspiration.
Raised in Bennington, Vt., Ms. Goodrich married at 19 and had two sons. When they reached adolescence, she returned to school and found work as a remedial reading instructor at schools in southern Vermont and Massachusetts. She became a program administrator and had a reputation for garnering grants for impoverished districts.
At the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation, she helped provide funding for wells, a dental clinic in Kabul and tricycles for victims of landmines. The foundation also sponsors Afghan students to study in the U.S., several of whom lived with the Goodrich family.
In 2009, a bomb exploded not far from the school, killing more than a dozen schoolchildren. The bomb's intended target was unclear, and the school remained open.
Ms. Goodrich visited Afghanistan several times to check on progress and meet the people she was trying to help. "What a great place to be heartbroken," she told O, The Oprah Magazine in 2007. "Anyone who's in pain should have the experience of being plunked down in a place where everyone is heartbroken."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Russians celebrate Stalin's birthday in Red Square

Supporters of former Communist dictator Josef Stalin laid flowers on his grave Tuesday to mark the 131st anniversary of his birth in a show of support at a time when his legacy is hotly debated in Russia.

A crowd of about 500 mostly elderly citizens waved red hammer-and-sickle flags gas and cheered as speakers denounced Kremlin moves to balance Stalin's hero status with reminders of the oppression and violence that marked his rule.

"Again we reaffirmed that Stalin's era was the most productive, victorious and unique in the history of our state," Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov said.President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to launch a new "de-Stalinisation" drive in January to battle the Soviet leader's lingering cult status with an education campaign on the millions who died in purges, forced collectivization, and Gulag hard labor camps under his orders.

But his legacy remains one of the most sensitive issues in Russia and rights groups have voiced alarm over attempts by officials, especially during Vladimir Putin's 2000-2008 presidency, to whitewash his crimes in textbooks and play up his role in industrializing the country.

For the nostalgic supporters who filed onto Red Square on Tuesday, Stalin remains revered for his almost 30-year rule when he led Russia to the status of a great power and defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. He died in 1953.

"I spit in the faces of anyone who talks to me of de-Stalinisation," said Vladimir Markov, a doctor who worked with the Soviet space program.

"Stalin was our atom and our universe. Stalin was our path to the stars. My generation has him in their blood. You see wisened, courageous faces of these old people."

Some sang Soviet military marches, others held Stalin portraits and banners lambasting Russia's ruling elite aloft, as they laid red carnations at Lenin's Mausoleum and Stalin's granite tomb.
The Georgian-born Stalin was voted Russia's third most popular historical figure in a 2008 nationwide poll.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

China to Award 'Confucius Prize' as Counter to Nobel

voa.com
A newly formed Chinese organization says it will award its own peace prize on Thursday, a day before the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Norway to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The announcement comes just three weeks after a Chinese newspaper proposed the creation of the "Confucius Peace Prize," named for the famed Chinese philosopher. It follows determined efforts to undermine Friday's Nobel ceremony in Oslo by pressuring governments to boycott the event.

In e-mails to news organizations Wednesday, Confucius Prize organizers said the initial award will honor former Taiwan Vice President Lien Chen, who "built a bridge of peace between Taiwan and the mainland." Lien was chairman of Taiwan's Nationalist Party in 2005 when he made a historic trip to China, helping to ease decades of tensions between the two governments.

Other nominees for the Confucius prize included former South African President Nelson Mandela, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

The awards committee chairman told the Associated Press that the group is not an official government body, but said it worked closely with China's Ministry of Culture.

The e-mailed statement said the award was created as "a peaceful response" to the Nobel decision and to explain the Chinese people's views of peace.

Chinese officials were outraged when the Nobel Prize was awarded to Liu, whom Beijing considers a criminal. Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence for his advocacy of broad democratic reforms in China. His wife and supporters are prevented from traveling to Oslo to attend the award ceremony on his behalf.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa declared `sensitive`

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Wednesday declared almost half of the province as `sensitive` and approved added security measures, involving army and helicopter gunships, to maintain law and order during Muharram.

According to the Muharram security plan, 12 districts of the province had been declared as `sensitive`, where extraordinary security arrangements would be put in place, Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain told a press conference.

Security plan of the government was reviewed in the 26th provincial cabinet meeting, which was held with Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti in the chair. The provincial police officer briefed the cabinet about current security situation and future steps to maintain peace in the province.

The sensitive districts included Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, Kohat, Haripur, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Nowshera, Mardan, Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Tank, the minister said.He said peace committees were mobilised in the sensitive areas to augment law enforcement agencies` efforts to maintain law and order during Muharram.

“Display of hate material and wall-chalking have been banned, hotels and inns is constantly being checked as well as special checkpoints have been set up in different parts of the province,” the minister said.

In addition to police, he said, 109 platoons of Frontier Reserve Police, 39 platoons of Elite Force and 800 retired army personnel would be deployed in the sensitive areas. Similarly, 41 platoons of Frontier Constabulary and 1,500 each personnel of Frontier Corps and Pak Army would be deployed along with police in the province, he added.

Mr Hussain said that army would also provide helicopter gunships for aerial surveillance of Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu and Kohat districts. The provincial cabinet also approved rewarding those political and social leaders, who were fighting terrorism in their respective areas, the minister said and added as a token of recognition of their services the government would allot plots to their families.

The cabinet authorized the chief minister to decide allotment of plots on case to case basis, for which criteria would be devised by a scrutiny committee.

The cabinet also reviewed implementation of its previous decisions and the chief minister directed all the divisional commissioners to disburse the outstanding cash compensation to the legal heirs of those killed and injured in the subversive acts within a period of one month.

To a question, the minister said that complete elimination of terrorism would take at least 14 years; however, there were some positive signs as well.

“It seems that international forces and regional players may strike a deal that will result in formation of a national Afghan government and put a brake on militancy both in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said. The positive development may take a year or two, he added.

UN urges Afghanistan to protect women’s rights

Afghanistan must eliminate widespread traditional customs that harm women and girls, such as child marriage, ‘‘honor killings’’ and giving away girls to settle disputes, a report by the United Nations said Thursday.

The report by the UN mission in Afghanistan found religious leaders sometimes reinforced the customs by invoking their interpretation of Islam.

‘‘In most cases, however, these practices are inconsistent with Sharia law as well as Afghan and international law, and violate the human rights of women,’’ the report said.

Researchers found such practices in varying degrees across the country and among all ethnic groups, based on 150 individual and group interviews this year in 29 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

‘‘Forced marriage is not a harmful tradition in our culture,’’ a man on the Faryab provincial in northern Afghanistan told researchers. ‘‘I know my daughter’s best interests and since she does not leave the house, she does not understand the world and it will not be possible or acceptable for her to choose her own husband.’’

The UN urged the implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, which was enacted in 2009 and which criminalizes actions including buying and selling women for marriage and child marriage.

‘‘The urgent need now is to raise awareness of the EVAW law and ensure its full implementation,’’ said Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA. ‘‘The Afghan police and judiciary require far more guidance, support and oversight from national-level authorities on how to properly apply the law.’’

She added: ‘‘As long as women and girls are subject to practices that harm, degrade and deny them their human rights, little meaningful and sustainable progress for women’s rights can be achieved in Afghanistan.’’

Afghanistan, which is mostly rural, has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world at 44 years for both men and women.

The plight of women in Afghanistan gained worldwide attention this year when a young Afghan woman who said her nose and ears were sliced off to punish her for running away from her violent husband appeared on the Aug. 9 cover of Time magazine.

Under orders from a Taliban commander acting as a judge, she was disfigured last year as punishment for fleeing her husband’s home, according to Time’s story in August and other accounts.

Just 18 years old at the time, Aisha said she ran away to escape her in-laws’ beatings and abuse. Her father-in-law was arrested about two weeks ago.

Peshawar Fashion Week

Peshawar is set to host its own fashion week in 2011, but the reaction in the fashion community in Lahore and Karachi has been fairly stereotypical and ironically similar to the stereotyped coverage fashion week received from the international press.

But the recently formed Peshawar Fashion Council is not deterred.

“I had been working with Style 360 for the last six years and even when I approached my friends in the fashion industry, they started to laugh at me. But I felt that if every major city can have a fashion week, why not Peshawar? We also have a lot of talent that just needs to be unearthed and nurtured. There are many women designing and selling clothes from their own boutiques and lots of photographers are here as well. With the right kind of media projection even these small scale designers can become Hassan Sheheryar Yasins and Khawar Riazes,” said Waqas Ahmed of the Peshawar Fashion Council.

“We did not make any formal announcements as yet since we are still finalising the logistics and our media partner. I want to dispel the image of Peshawar as backward which is very wrong. Even last month we had the design students from Iqra University present their thesis as a fashion show,” said Ahmed.

Large-scale events in Pakistan come with security risks, but Ahmed promises to manage security at a private hotel which shall be the venue of the event.

So far Pakistan has four scheduled fashion weeks, two per season from Fashion Pakistan and Pakistan Fashion Design Council, amongst a plethora of corporate-sponsored fashion events and the recent additions of Islamabad Fashion Week and Bridal Couture Week. With only a small segment of the society that can participate and create avenues for business at these events, there is serious concern that the business angle to the fashion industry will be lost with the increasing number of events.

Ahmed defends this concern. He told The Express Tribune, “Everyone associated with the fashion industry, whether they are make-up artistes, models or designers, are making considerable money. If this industry was not profitable, even if it is just for a privileged few, people would have adopted different professions by now. So there is scope for work here.”

“It is just about projecting things in a good way. No profession is good or bad; it is only people working there that make it so. If we make it a respectable forum then good people from honourable homes will come forth to participate in it,” said an optimistic Ahmed. “I am going to try my best to make this venture a success and with the support of a few famous designers and models I am sure we can set this project off on a positive path.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2010.

House passes immigration Dream Act

The House passed a landmark youth immigration bill known as the Dream Act on Wednesday night largely along party lines, but the measure faces a tough test in the Senate as Democrats struggle to pass priority legislation in the waning days of this Congress.

Eight Republicans joined in approving the bill, 216 to 198. Thirty-eight Democrats voted no. The measure offers a path to citizenship for young people who were brought to this country illegally before age 16 and who have enrolled in college or entered the military.

President Obama said the passage was historic. "This vote is not only the right thing to do for a group of talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own by continuing their education or serving in the military, but it is the right thing for the United States of America," he said in a statement.

Obama called on the Senate to follow suit.

The bill could come up there as soon as Thursday but is unlikely to attract the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Republican senators have vowed to block all legislation until a stalemate over the George W. Bush-era tax cuts is resolved. Obama and the GOP have reached a deal, but Democrats haven't signed on.

The Dream Act isn't the only Democratic priority at stake.

Earlier in the day, the Senate postponed at least until Thursday a vote on repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the 1993 ban on openly gay personnel in the military.

Democrats worked late into the night trying to strike a deal with the few Republican senators who support lifting the policy but who have asked for more time to debate it.

The lame-duck congressional session offers Democrats their best chance to pass both bills because, in January, Republicans will hold the majority in the House and more seats in the Senate.

The House passed the Dream Act after a late, hastily scheduled vote. Proponents called it the most significant immigration legislation to pass the House in a decade.

"Let's give the dream kids an opportunity. They are American in every way but a piece of paper," said Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leading supporter. "We have come here to support the rule of law, yes, but to change the law when it is unfair."

A handful of Republicans in both chambers criticized the Dream Act as "nightmare" amnesty legislation bound to be abused and easily subject to fraud. They said it would create more competition for work in a recession.

"The American people want us to focus on creating jobs and getting Americans back to work. This will prevent Americans from getting jobs," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R- Texas). "It puts the interest of illegal immigrants ahead of those of law-abiding Americans."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bhutto : True Story Of Benazir Bhutto


Bhutto follows the complex journey of Benazir Bhutto who stood up and was not afraid of generals and dictators. This movie is powerful and empowering. Most households have heard of Benazir Bhutto but they do not know the extent of what she was aiming to do and the extent of what her own country did to her. This movie is going to be a knock out because the topic is pure and powerful in itself. Directed by Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara and is starring Tariq Ali, Reza Aslan, Diana Aveni, Benazir Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto, and Arianna Huffington.

Bhutto is the story behind one of the most complex and amazing woman of our time. Her name is Benazir Bhutto and she lived in one of the most dangerous places on earth. She was in Pakistan when things started getting bad but she wasn’t afraid or threatened by it. She even managed to become prime minister, though she didn’t have much power in her position. While prime minister her family started getting murdered and she was arrested. This film gives you an intimate look at the whole story.

Suicide Bombings Kill 50 in Pakistan

Monday, December 6, 2010

Call for new social contract for Balochistan

Political leaders here have underlined the need for formulating a new social contract to resolve the Balochistan problem.

Speaking at a seminar, they said the 18th Amendment was a good step towards resolving the issues faced by smaller provinces but it fell short in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of Balochistan.

At the seminar organised by Centre for Research and Security Studies and Association for Integrated Development Balochistan, they said all stakeholders needed to hold talks for evolving a new social contract to resolve issues of the smaller provinces.

Senior leaders of Baloch and Pakhtun nationalist parties and representatives of civil society participated in the seminar.

Dr Ishaq Baloch of NP termed the 18th Amendment a great step but said it should have taken much earlier. “More measures are needed to implement the constitution in letter and spirit for resolving issues,” he said, adding that no issue could be resolved until the 18the Amendment was enforced completely.

He stressed the need for removing the sense of deprivation in the people of Balochistan and for easing the prevailing unrest in the province. The government should work for the recovery of missing persons, he added.

Aurangzaib Kasi of ANP said that the 18th Amendment did not provide complete solution to Balochistan’s problems, adding that only transfer of some federal ministries’ powers to provinces could not resolve all issues.

He highlighted the problems being faced by Balochistan and said military and civil establishment was responsible for the situation in the province. He called for holding talks with Baloch leadership and implementing the 18th Amendment without any delay.Advocate Agha Hasan of BNP-Mengal said Balochistan had very important geo-political position.

He said the people of the province were being victimised just for seeking control on their own resources. He said his party would continue struggle for the right of self-determination.

Mohammad Usman Kakar of PkMAP said that provincial autonomy and genuine democracy was the need of hour. He accused the committee for the 18th Amendment for not including all recommendations and proposals presented by political parties.

Senior journalist Sadiq Baloch said the 18th Amendment was a better step in given circumstances. He said military operations and discriminatory attitude of establishment were responsible for situation in Balochistan, adding that the issue should be resolved through negotiation.

Islamabad-based journalist Imtiaz Gul said the leadership of Balochistan was responsible for situation in the province. He termed the 18th Amendment a better step.

Call for new social contract for Balochistan

Political leaders here have underlined the need for formulating a new social contract to resolve the Balochistan problem.

Speaking at a seminar, they said the 18th Amendment was a good step towards resolving the issues faced by smaller provinces but it fell short in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of Balochistan.

At the seminar organised by Centre for Research and Security Studies and Association for Integrated Development Balochistan, they said all stakeholders needed to hold talks for evolving a new social contract to resolve issues of the smaller provinces.

Senior leaders of Baloch and Pakhtun nationalist parties and representatives of civil society participated in the seminar.

Dr Ishaq Baloch of NP termed the 18th Amendment a great step but said it should have taken much earlier. “More measures are needed to implement the constitution in letter and spirit for resolving issues,” he said, adding that no issue could be resolved until the 18the Amendment was enforced completely.

He stressed the need for removing the sense of deprivation in the people of Balochistan and for easing the prevailing unrest in the province. The government should work for the recovery of missing persons, he added.

Aurangzaib Kasi of ANP said that the 18th Amendment did not provide complete solution to Balochistan’s problems, adding that only transfer of some federal ministries’ powers to provinces could not resolve all issues.

He highlighted the problems being faced by Balochistan and said military and civil establishment was responsible for the situation in the province. He called for holding talks with Baloch leadership and implementing the 18th Amendment without any delay.Advocate Agha Hasan of BNP-Mengal said Balochistan had very important geo-political position.

He said the people of the province were being victimised just for seeking control on their own resources. He said his party would continue struggle for the right of self-determination.

Mohammad Usman Kakar of PkMAP said that provincial autonomy and genuine democracy was the need of hour. He accused the committee for the 18th Amendment for not including all recommendations and proposals presented by political parties.

Senior journalist Sadiq Baloch said the 18th Amendment was a better step in given circumstances. He said military operations and discriminatory attitude of establishment were responsible for situation in Balochistan, adding that the issue should be resolved through negotiation.

Islamabad-based journalist Imtiaz Gul said the leadership of Balochistan was responsible for situation in the province. He termed the 18th Amendment a better step.

Pak-Afghan accord to knock out militant sanctuaries

Pakistan and Afghanistan renewed their commitment on Sunday to eliminate militant sanctuaries in their territories, which could have been used for acts of subversion in either country.

A joint declaration issued at the end of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s two-day visit to Kabul said the two countries would again undertake to effectively cooperate, combat and defeat these (terrorist) threats and eliminate their sanctuaries ‘wherever they are’.

The commitment came as a result of fresh Pakistani demand that the Afghan government should end Baloch insurgent infrastructure on its soil and hand over nationalist leaders, including Brahmdagh Bugti, who are believed to have taken refuge there.

President Hamid Karzai had pledged on Saturday in his meeting with Prime Minister Gilani to end Balochistan insurgency bases in Afghanistan which, he claimed, could have been operating without his knowledge.

But, he told the delegation that he also expected Pakistan to end Taliban safe havens in Fata that have long been alleged to foment violence in Afghanistan.

The commitment isn’t exactly new, but what’s different this time is the newfound understanding between the two sides that peace and stability in their countries were mutually interdependent.

Reiterating cooperation for collectively fighting terror, President Karzai had said: “We need to work together to end violence that continues to hurt both of us and that we should help each other with full knowledge of reality.”

After the talks, a senior Pakistani delegate told Dawn that there was a realisation on both sides that they were facing same issues from same quarters—in a reference to what President Karzai had earlier described in his media talk as ‘outside plots’ to keep both countries unstable.

“Terrorism and violent extremism and their international support networks are a major threat undermining peace and stability in the region and beyond,” the joint declaration noted.

RECONCILIATION: The declaration showed a change in Pakistan’s policy nuances on the issue of reconciliation, which is thought to be critical to peace in the war-torn country.

Neither public statements by Pakistani leaders nor the joint declaration reflected Pakistan’s desire of helping Afghanistan in making peace with Taliban.

The joint statement said: “Pakistan supports the efforts of the president, government and the people of Afghanistan for peace and national reconciliation, which should naturally be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led efforts.”

Weeks before the Kabul visit, Prime Minister Gilani had in an interview emphasised Pakistan’s indispensability to any settlement in Afghanistan and said: “Nothing can be done without us because we are part of the solution; we are not part of the problem.”

A senior Pakistani diplomat, who was part of the talks, said Islamabad no longer sought a role in peace talks. He went on to acknowledge that Pakistan’s unsaid longing for a reconciliation role was a ‘misplaced desire’.

This acknowledgement stems from an understanding that Islamabad’s offer to help Kabul make peace with Taliban was being misconstrued among the Afghans as an attempt to meddle in their internal affairs.

The reconciliation process has, according to a background briefing, reached a point where it is ready to take off. Contacts with leaders of warring factions have been established and a formal dialogue is about to commence soon.

TRADE: Both sides also agreed on ‘full and seamless implementation’ of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) from January 2011. Besides, there was an agreement on pursuing customs and tariff harmonisation and facilitating greater interaction among private sectors of the two countries to enhance trade.

Afghanistan and Pakistan intend to take their bilateral trade to $5 billion from the current $2 billion by 2015.

Apart from the agreement to take forward the Pak-Afghan relationship in a big way, the highlight of the visit was Pakistan government’s fresh initiative to reach out to the people of Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Gilani also addressed two different forums, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and newly-founded Pakistan-Afghanistan Graduate Alumni, which comprises 28,000 Afghans, who had graduated from Pakistani universities and professional institutions. In both the meetings, Mr Gilani stressed that expansion of ties could “yield enormous benefits for the people of the two countries”.

In the evening, Prime Minister Gilani inaugurated the reconstruction of Pakistan embassy ransacked by the then Northern Alliance activists in 1995. How much the situation has changed over two and a half decades was mirrored by the presence of Ahmad Wali Masood, brother of slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, and number of other figures from the grouping, which was once staunchly opposed to Pakistan, at the ceremony marking the start of reconstruction work.

Saudi Arabia still remain major sources of financing for militant movements like al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab neighbors still remain major sources of financing for militant movements like al-Qaida and the Taliban, according to leaked U.S. government documents.

The findings, detailed in a series of internal U.S. diplomatic cables spanning a period of several years, paint a stark picture of Washington's challenges in convincing key allies of the need to clamp down on terror funding, much of which is believed to stem from private donors in those nations.

But the cables, obtained and released by WikiLeaks, also offer a window into the delicate balancing act Gulf governments must perform in cracking down on extremist sympathizers while not running afoul of religious charitable duties and casting themselves as U.S. stooges before an increasingly skeptical populace.

"While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority," reads a December 2009 memo from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The cable said that while the kingdom has begun to "make important progress on this front, ... donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide."

Saudi Arabia, the homeland of most of the Sept. 11 hijackers, has repeatedly come under fire from the U.S. for its sluggish response to cracking down on terror financing. It has also been criticized for its reluctance to confront the fiery rhetoric espoused by some of its hardline clerics which is seen as either directly or indirectly fueling extremism.

Many of the criticisms and observations made in the U.S. documents rehash — albeit more directly — previously stated American concerns.

Amnesty demands action on Malaysian caning 'epidemic'

Caning in Malaysia has "hit epidemic proportions" with thousands of people subjected every year to beatings which leave permanent physical and mental scars, Amnesty International said Monday.

The London-based rights group called on the Malaysian government to immediately end the practice of judicial caning, which is meted out for immigration offences as well as more serious crimes like murder and rape.

"Caning in Malaysia has hit epidemic proportions," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International?s Asia-Pacific director.

"In every case that we examined, the punishment amounted to torture, which is absolutely prohibited under any circumstances."

Amnesty said in a report that since 2002, when parliament made immigration violations subject to caning, thousands of migrant workers and foreigners seeking asylum had undergone the punishment.

"According to our figures, more than 10,000 people are caned by authorities in Malaysia annually and this number is actually a conservative estimate," said report author Lance Lattig.

"At the very least, we would say the government should issue a moratorium on the caning of anyone who is seeking asylum because they are at risk of persecution in another country," he told a press conference.

Lattig said caning was introduced by British colonial authorities prior to Malaysia's independence in 1957 but that most former colonies had abandoned the practice.

"It exists as a residue of an extremely brutal form of Victorian punishment that exists in very few other places," he said.

The report detailed how in Malaysian prisons "specially trained caning officers tear into victims? bodies with a metre-long cane swung with both hands at high speed."

"The cane rips into the victim?s naked skin, pulps the fatty tissue below, and leaves scars that extend to muscle fibre. The pain is so severe that victims often lose consciousness."

Amnesty said that prison officers were paid a bonus for each stroke, enabling them to double their income by administering the punishment.

"Others take bribes to intentionally miss, sparing their victims," it said.

Malaysian home ministry and prison officials declined to comment on the report when contacted by AFP on Monday.

Corporal punishment has become a hot topic in Malaysia, particularly after a a Muslim mother-of-two was sentenced to six strokes and a fine last year for drinking alcohol.

However, caning for religious offences -- ordered by Islamic courts which run in parallel with civil courts in the Muslim-majority country -- is much lighter than in the civil justice system.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno's sentence for drinking alcohol was eventually reduced to community service but three other women then received between four and six strokes of the cane after being convicted of sex outside marriage.

The penalties triggered uproar among women's activists and human rights advocates

Amnesty demands action on Malaysian caning 'epidemic'

Caning in Malaysia has "hit epidemic proportions" with thousands of people subjected every year to beatings which leave permanent physical and mental scars, Amnesty International said Monday.

The London-based rights group called on the Malaysian government to immediately end the practice of judicial caning, which is meted out for immigration offences as well as more serious crimes like murder and rape.

"Caning in Malaysia has hit epidemic proportions," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International?s Asia-Pacific director.

"In every case that we examined, the punishment amounted to torture, which is absolutely prohibited under any circumstances."

Amnesty said in a report that since 2002, when parliament made immigration violations subject to caning, thousands of migrant workers and foreigners seeking asylum had undergone the punishment.

"According to our figures, more than 10,000 people are caned by authorities in Malaysia annually and this number is actually a conservative estimate," said report author Lance Lattig.

"At the very least, we would say the government should issue a moratorium on the caning of anyone who is seeking asylum because they are at risk of persecution in another country," he told a press conference.

Lattig said caning was introduced by British colonial authorities prior to Malaysia's independence in 1957 but that most former colonies had abandoned the practice.

"It exists as a residue of an extremely brutal form of Victorian punishment that exists in very few other places," he said.

The report detailed how in Malaysian prisons "specially trained caning officers tear into victims? bodies with a metre-long cane swung with both hands at high speed."

"The cane rips into the victim?s naked skin, pulps the fatty tissue below, and leaves scars that extend to muscle fibre. The pain is so severe that victims often lose consciousness."

Amnesty said that prison officers were paid a bonus for each stroke, enabling them to double their income by administering the punishment.

"Others take bribes to intentionally miss, sparing their victims," it said.

Malaysian home ministry and prison officials declined to comment on the report when contacted by AFP on Monday.

Corporal punishment has become a hot topic in Malaysia, particularly after a a Muslim mother-of-two was sentenced to six strokes and a fine last year for drinking alcohol.

However, caning for religious offences -- ordered by Islamic courts which run in parallel with civil courts in the Muslim-majority country -- is much lighter than in the civil justice system.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno's sentence for drinking alcohol was eventually reduced to community service but three other women then received between four and six strokes of the cane after being convicted of sex outside marriage.

The penalties triggered uproar among women's activists and human rights advocates

Pakistan woman recounts ordeal under Taliban

(AP) ASHAR BAND, Pakistan (AP) — Girls now go to school in this mountain town and the military patrols keep security. But Saira Bibi's eyes still flash with pain and anger through the small gap in her veil as she recounts how the Taliban who once ruled here dragged her from home and flogged her in front of her neighbors.

It didn't matter that she always wore a body-covering burqa, nor that she rarely left her mud-brick home. It didn't matter that her conservative in-laws scoffed at the accusation she was an adulterer. To the Islamist extremists who had taken over her tiny town above Pakistan's Swat Valley, a rumor was enough.

"They came and took me to the school, where 150 or 200 people had been gathered. They pushed me to the ground and hit me 15 times," says Bibi, 30, holding her 1-year-old son as he reaches for the safety pin keeping her veil in place. Her right hand fidgets under the fabric as she recalls her humiliation nearly two years ago.

Bibi is one of the first women to openly speak about being publicly punished during the Pakistani Taliban's rule over this resort area. Her tale is a painful reminder of how Swat's conservative, ethnic Pashtun culture descended into harsh theocratic rule that banned girls from school, women from markets and executed anyone who resisted.

An iconic video of a flogging much like Bibi describes helped galvanize Pakistani public support for last year's army offensive that finally drove the Taliban out of the Swat Valley, following several failed peace deals with the militants. The footage of the beating was shown repeatedly on national television, stirring outrage among many who were getting their first up-close glimpse of the Taliban's brutality.

More than a year since the offensive, life is starting to resemble normal in Swat. Schoolgirls again flock giggling on the streets of the main city, Mingora. Veiled women shop for food and clothes. Most of the 2 million who fled Taliban oppression and the fighting to oust them have returned.

"Our enrollment is increasing all the time," says Anwar Sultan, principal of the state-run Saidu Sharif girls' high school in Mingora. A loudspeaker recites Quranic verses as some 1,500 teenagers pour into the courtyard, some wearing high heels with their traditional tunics and bright shawls.

But not everything is as it was. Soldiers now stand on street corners and at checkpoints. The jagged mountain trail leading to Bibi's village of Ashar Band is strewn with the rubble of damaged buildings. Some 300 schools the Taliban burned in the region have not yet been rebuilt. Occasional attacks — a raid on a checkpoint last month wounded one soldier — remind residents that militancy is still a threat.

The Taliban takeover of Swat, which was near-total by 2008, came as a shock to many Pakistanis accustomed to thinking of the militants as far away, a mostly Afghan movement fighting American troops across the border. No one expected the homegrown version to start beheading people in a middle-class honeymoon destination only 175 miles (280 kilometers) away from Islamabad, the capital.

Many in the area were initially supportive when Swat Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah began preaching hard-line Islam over local radio. Some women even donated their jewelry to the cause, according to Sultan, the school principal. But over the months, armed men started roaming through the area, meting out harsh punishment for anyone who opposed them and driving out local authorities.

Bibi was one of dozens of women who fell victim to the militants' zeal. On the porch of the couple's tiny dirt-floor home, Bibi and her husband, Fazal-e-Azim, say a vindictive cousin spread the false rumor she was unfaithful while Azim was working in another city. Punishment was swift, even though Azim's own family argued her innocence.

"I only wish the same punishment for the people who unjustly punished my wife," Azim says.

Villager Sharif Khan, 70, recalls being forced at gunpoint to watch Bibi being beaten repeatedly with a stick, along with other villagers rounded up to the area.

"I felt sorry for her," Khan says. "But we were all helpless."

With the military now in control, the army has made efforts to improve lives of women in Swat. Among the initiatives outside Mingora is a vocational training center, where women study embroidery, glass-painting, hairstyling and other work they can do at home.

"According to our culture, women may make clothes or crafts to sell, but they do all this inside their homes, not outside," explains Uzma Nawaz, the center's 27-year-old director.

As for Bibi and Azim, they are moving on with their lives. Sitting by a cradle hanging from the rough-log roof beams, Bibi eyes soften as she nods to confirm she is pregnant again. She doesn't know if it's a boy or a girl, or what the family will do if the militants return, as some still fear in the valley.

Her husband, however, answers firmly.

"If the Taliban return," he says. "We will leave."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pakistan, Christianity Earns a Death Sentence

It all began a year and a half ago, with a quarrel over a bowl of water. A group of women farm workers were suffering in the heat near a village in Pakistans Punjab province. Aasia Noreen, an illiterate 45-year-old mother five, offered them water, but was rebuffed. Noreen was a Christian, they said, and therefore her water was unclean - sadly, a common taunt hurled at Pakistan's beleaguered Christians. But rather than swallowing the indignity, she mounted a stout defense of her faith.

Word of the exchange swiftly filtered through the village of Ittan Wali, in Sheikhupura district. The local mullah took to his mosque's loudspeakers, exhorting his followers to take action against Noreen. In a depressingly familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and legal observers familiar with the case. As a frenzied mob pursued her, the police intervened, taking her into custody. But far from protecting her, they arrested and charged Noreen with insulting Islam and its prophet. And on Nov. 8, after enduring 18 months in prison, she was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first woman to suffer that fate. (See how WikiLeaks' disclosure fueled anti-U.S. anger in Pakistan.)

In the ensuing weeks, the case of Noreen, popularly known as Aasia Bibi, has sparked a national furor. Human rights campaigners and lawyers have denounced the sentence. Religious fundamentalist groups, usually at odds with one another, have suddenly coalesced around a campaign to defend the blasphemy law and attack its critics. One politician who called for Noreen to be pardoned now faces a fatwa for alleged apostasy. Another politician, who is trying to have the blasphemy laws amended, has been warned that she will be besieged. On television, religious scholars have disagreed among themselves over the law's merits. Divisions are also being seen within the government, with powerful figures taking opposing sides. And there has even been global outrage, with Pope Benedict XVI last week calling for Noreen's freedom.

Noreen's case has spurred the first genuine debate over some of Pakistans most controversial laws. The original blasphemy law was drawn up by the British, in the Indian Penal Code of 1860, aimed at keeping the peace among the subcontinent's sometimes fractious diversity of faiths. Not only did Pakistan inherit the laws after partition, but it added to them. In the 1980s, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's military dictatorship introduced a slew of elastically worded clauses, including a death sentence for those deemed to have defiled the sacred name of the Prophet.

Before Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986, the number has soared to 962 - including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim sect, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. Close examination of the cases reveals the laws often being invoked to settle personal vendettas, or used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities. (See how WikiLeaks exposed insecurity over Pakistan nukes.)

Vague wording allows the blasphemy laws to be used an instrument of political and social coercion, says Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. And they give the state a sectarian character.

No conclusive evidence has been presented against Noreen, say people familiar with the case. The district judge relied on the testimonies of three other women, all of whom bore animus toward her. Noreen had long been under pressure by fellow farmworkers to convert to Islam, her family says. And the district judge ruled out any possibility of her innocence or mitigating circumstances.

Christians are subject to vicious prejudice in Pakistan, where there beliefs are said to make them "unclean." Municipalities routinely advertise jobs for cleaners with a note saying they would prefer Christian applicants. And defending their rights is not popular. When Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, visited Noreen in prison and urged her release, he was branded an apostate by fundamentalist groups. And in the fundamentalist view, apostasy, like blasphemy, is punishable by death.

Liberal lawmaker Sherry Rehman who has called for amendment of the blasphemy laws and removal of the death sentence clause was warned this week that she would be "besieged." It is a measure of the state's impotence in the face of extremist groups that such high-profile public figures can be openly threatened for merely advocating human rights, says Hasan, of Human Rights Watch.

Rehman insists that she won't be cowed by the threats. "I really can't be coerced into silencing myself like this," she tells TIME. "It's my freedom as a legislator to do as I do. If they want to talk, there's no issue. But to use coercion is unacceptable." Taseer, a notably outspoken politician, is phlegmatic. "It doesnt bother me," he tells TIME. "Who the hell are these illiterare maulvis to decide to whether I'm a Muslim or not?" (See pictures of Pakistan's waiting place.)

Rehman's reform effort is unlikely to succeed, because few politicians have dared to support it. Indeed, Babar Awan, the Law Minister has vowed to oppose any move against the blasphemy laws. What's more, the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who had last year suggested the laws should be reviewed after the killing of nine Christians in Punjab, now seems to be distancing himself. "It is not our party policy," he told a news channel this week, when asked about Rehman's bill. But Rehman, who spent years fighting laws that discriminate against women, says its mere submission is an important first step: "The first stone has been cast. It's not a taboo subject anymore to be taken up by legislators."

More worrying is the fate of Noreen. The Lahore High Court has taken the controversial step of saying that it won't allow President Asif Ali Zardari to issue a pardon, a move that legal experts have said is unconstitutional. Her family is now hoping that the higher courts will strike down the death sentence, or that she will eventually secure a pardon. And the fear doesn't end there. While no one has been executed for blasphemy yet, 32 people - including two judges - have been slain by vigilantes. At Friday prayers this week, Yousef Qureshi, a hardline cleric from the Mohabat Khan mosque in Peshawar, offered a reward of 500,000 rupees ($5,800) to "those who kill Aasia Bibi."

Even if pardoned, Rehman notes grimply, Noreen will no longer be able to to live in her community. For her own safety, she will have to be moved - simply for defending her right to choose her own faith.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Obama Makes Surprise Trip to Afghanistan

The Associated Press
President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday as casualties mount since the U.S. escalated the war last year.

Under intense security, Obama landed in night's darkness after a clandestine departure from the White House on Thursday, where plans of his trip into the war zone were tightly guarded.

Obama was to personally thank U.S. troops for their service during the holidays.

The White House said rough weather forced the president to abruptly scrap his plans to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital of Kabul. The White House determined the wind, dust and cloud cover made it unsafe for the president to fly by helicopter from the huge military complex in Bagram Air Field to the presidential palace.

In a rapidly changing sequence of events, the White House then said they would speak by secure videoconference -- but later said that, too, was dropped. Instead, the two leaders were expected to speak by phone.In total, Obama was to spend three hours on the ground in Afghanistan, about half the time he had scheduled.

Casualties have been on the rise since Obama deployed 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, with all of them in place by this summer. The higher casualty numbers reflect heavier fighting, especially in the south and east, as NATO forces push deep into insurgent strongholds in a bid to help Karzai's government gain control of more areas of the country and reverse the Taliban's momentum in the nine-year war.

The secret trip has been in the works for more than a month. National Security aide Ben Rhodes said Obama wanted to go to Afghanistan between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"It's always tough to serve in harm's way but when you're away from loved ones in the holiday season it's particularly hard, and the president wanted the ability to come out and have some time with them," Rhodes said.

Rhodes said the scrapping of the personal visit with Karzai would not have consequences because the two just met at a NATO summit in Lisbon two weeks ago.

Obama's visit to Afghanistan is his latest trip abroad since his party took a beating in the midterm elections last month. After Republicans captured the House and increased their ranks in the Senate on Nov. 2, Obama took a 10-day, four-country trip to Asia that produced setbacks -- he failed to secure a highly sought-after free trade agreement with South Korea and couldn't rally wide-ranging international support for action against China's currency manipulation.

Then he traveled to a NATO summit in Portugal where he was seen as playing a pivotal role in the alliance securing agreements on the Afghanistan war and missile defense.

Before the election, Obama spent just three days abroad this year, having traveled to the Czech Republican and Afghanistan in April. The recent burst of activity on the foreign policy front threatens to overshadow the president's promise to shift focus to the economy.

The government reported on Friday that the economy produced a lackluster 39,000 jobs in November, pushing the unemployment rate up to 9.8 percent, a seven-month high. Economists had forecast a gain of 145,000 jobs.

Obama's visit also comes at a particularly awkward moment in already strained U.S. relations with Afghanistan. Leaked U.S. cables show American diplomats portraying Afghanistan as rife with graft to the highest levels of government, with tens of millions of dollars flowing out of the country and a cash transfer network that facilitates bribes for corrupt Afghan officials, drug traffickers and insurgents.

A main concern in the cables appears to be Karzai himself, who emerges as a mercurial figure. In a July 7, 2009, dispatch, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry describes "two contrasting portraits" of the Afghan president.

"The first is of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building and overly self-conscious that his time in the spotlight of glowing reviews from the international community has passed," the cable says. "The other is that of an ever-shrewd politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero. ... In order to recalibrate our relationship with Karzai, we must deal with and challenge both of these personalities."

Minority Shiites make gains in Afghan poll

A minority Shiite group made gains in the Afghan Parliament after Pashtuns stayed away from the polls, election results indicate.
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission announced Wednesday it certified the results of the September election for the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of Parliament.
The minority Hazara community took 59, or about 24 percent, of the 249 seats up for grabs in the September vote, U.S. diplomats told CNN International. The CIA World Factbook indicates the community makes up only 9 percent of the population in Afghanistan.
Pashtuns, the Sunni majority in Afghanistan, didn't turn out in large numbers at the polls because of intimidation or violence in their provincial districts.
Western and Afghan officials told the news agency the disparity could lead to sectarian tensions in the country as it struggles to gain a democratic foothold in the war environment.
More than 2,500 candidates competed for the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga. The IEC in October threw out around 1.3 million ballots -- about 25 percent of the total cast -- because of irregularities, fraud and tampering.
U.N. officials, while recognizing fraud in the election, praised Afghan authorities for investigating the irregularities.

Bhutto: For Pakistan's Heroine, A Hagiography

A new documentary about Benazir Bhutto lets a full hour go by before entertaining the mildest doubts about its subject, the hugely popular prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated on her triumphant return to Karachi from exile in 2007.

Bhutto is smart and thorough on the inflamed history of Pakistan. But as a portrait of the first woman elected head of state in an Islamic nation, it comes closer to hero-worship than to considered biography. Front-loaded with glowing testimonials from family and FOB's East and West, the movie gives a startling degree of face time to its own co-producer, Mark Siegel, a political consultant and close friend of Bhutto who co-authored a book with her.

The director, Duane Baughman, also a political consultant, helped get Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton elected, so he knows how to brand a public figure, dead or alive.

Not that this particular public figure needs much enlarging. Bhutto’s sense of mission and her personal courage, as she returned again and again to try and democratize a nation whose military leaders blithely murdered their opposition, are beyond dispute. Like her adored father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first democratically elected head of state (and the creator of its nuclear program), she struggled to bring basic services to a country mired in poverty, illiteracy and chronic conflict across its volatile borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran — to say nothing of its ambivalent dependency on a United States worried to death by the Taliban, al-Qaida and the enriched uranium in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

About Bhutto’s failings and mistakes, however, the film is discreet to the point of squeamishness. Luckily, this magnificently complicated woman’s contradictions tumble out anyway. Almost despite itself, the movie offers a riveting melodrama about a daddy’s girl born into a close but feuding Western-educated dynasty known both for its populist politics and its champagne tastes. (The Bhuttos were thought of — admiringly, Baughman implies, though given the straits in which most Pakistanis live, one wonders — as the Kennedys of Pakistan.)

From grieving family and friends (inevitably, Arianna Huffington was a pal at Oxford), we learn of a serious-minded young woman freed from her burqa by Dad while still in her teens. At Harvard, where she roomed with Kathleen Kennedy, she absorbed feminism and leftist politics.

Yet later she willingly submitted to an arranged marriage with a Karachi playboy-entrepreneur, Asif Ali Zardari, who has been Pakistan’s president since the fall of Pervez Musharraf in 2008. She prayed to Allah in public, yet worked hard to bring schooling to girls in an Islamic state vehemently opposed to rights for women.

Bhutto inherited her father’s charm, charisma and elegant tailoring, as well as his preference for backroom wheeler-dealing. Remarkably, her father chose Benazir over her two brothers as his successor, and her political career eerily echoed his, zigzagging between triumph, prison, exile and return to repeated rapturous welcomes from adoring masses.

Bookended by footage of the sniper fire and suicide bombing that killed her, Bhutto faithfully follows the hectic arcs of her life and death. Yet the movie glides smoothly past the corruption charges — never proved or disproved — that led to Bhutto's exile and her husband's imprisonment, effectively dismissing them as trumped up by her enemies. Much time is spent, meanwhile, on the moving but sentimental memories of her tearful family, topped up with new but unedifying audiotapes of Bhutto herself outlining her ideals, the harshness of her incarceration in a Pakistani prison and the loneliness of exile in Dubai.

Bhutto could stand a less adulatory tone — and more reliable skeptics than her clearly disgruntled niece, for instance, when it comes to topics such as Bhutto's role in the mysterious plane crash that killed the military dictator responsible for her father's murder. Despite herself, and for all her efforts toward reconciliation, Bhutto proved an enormously polarizing figure.

Perhaps she had no choice, in a country so riven by internal strife and external threat. At its best, Bhutto is a fascinating study in the difficulties of bringing democracy to a radically unstable nation plagued by its colonial legacy, by the cowboy politics of a dictatorial military, by daily terrorism and the sporadic interventions of world powers arguably less interested in rural voting rights than in pushing their own interests on the global stage.

Bhutto’s untimely death at 54 years old was a private tragedy and a tremendous loss for a country desperate for moderate leadership. But she was a heroine, not a saint. Eliding this distinction, Bhutto unwittingly diminishes her.

'Bhutto': For Pakistan's Heroine, A Hagiography

www.npr.org

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/02/131698909/-bhutto-for-pakistan-s-heroine-a-hagiography
A new documentary about Benazir Bhutto lets a full hour go by before entertaining the mildest doubts about its subject, the hugely popular prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated on her triumphant return to Karachi from exile in 2007.

Bhutto is smart and thorough on the inflamed history of Pakistan. But as a portrait of the first woman elected head of state in an Islamic nation, it comes closer to hero-worship than to considered biography. Front-loaded with glowing testimonials from family and FOB's East and West, the movie gives a startling degree of face time to its own co-producer, Mark Siegel, a political consultant and close friend of Bhutto who co-authored a book with her.

The director, Duane Baughman, also a political consultant, helped get Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton elected, so he knows how to brand a public figure, dead or alive.

Not that this particular public figure needs much enlarging. Bhutto’s sense of mission and her personal courage, as she returned again and again to try and democratize a nation whose military leaders blithely murdered their opposition, are beyond dispute. Like her adored father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first democratically elected head of state (and the creator of its nuclear program), she struggled to bring basic services to a country mired in poverty, illiteracy and chronic conflict across its volatile borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran — to say nothing of its ambivalent dependency on a United States worried to death by the Taliban, al-Qaida and the enriched uranium in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

About Bhutto’s failings and mistakes, however, the film is discreet to the point of squeamishness. Luckily, this magnificently complicated woman’s contradictions tumble out anyway. Almost despite itself, the movie offers a riveting melodrama about a daddy’s girl born into a close but feuding Western-educated dynasty known both for its populist politics and its champagne tastes. (The Bhuttos were thought of — admiringly, Baughman implies, though given the straits in which most Pakistanis live, one wonders — as the Kennedys of Pakistan.)

From grieving family and friends (inevitably, Arianna Huffington was a pal at Oxford), we learn of a serious-minded young woman freed from her burqa by Dad while still in her teens. At Harvard, where she roomed with Kathleen Kennedy, she absorbed feminism and leftist politics.
Yet later she willingly submitted to an arranged marriage with a Karachi playboy-entrepreneur, Asif Ali Zardari, who has been Pakistan’s president since the fall of Pervez Musharraf in 2008. She prayed to Allah in public, yet worked hard to bring schooling to girls in an Islamic state vehemently opposed to rights for women.

Bhutto inherited her father’s charm, charisma and elegant tailoring, as well as his preference for backroom wheeler-dealing. Remarkably, her father chose Benazir over her two brothers as his successor, and her political career eerily echoed his, zigzagging between triumph, prison, exile and return to repeated rapturous welcomes from adoring masses.

Bookended by footage of the sniper fire and suicide bombing that killed her, Bhutto faithfully follows the hectic arcs of her life and death. Yet the movie glides smoothly past the corruption charges — never proved or disproved — that led to Bhutto's exile and her husband's imprisonment, effectively dismissing them as trumped up by her enemies. Much time is spent, meanwhile, on the moving but sentimental memories of her tearful family, topped up with new but unedifying audiotapes of Bhutto herself outlining her ideals, the harshness of her incarceration in a Pakistani prison and the loneliness of exile in Dubai.

Bhutto could stand a less adulatory tone — and more reliable skeptics than her clearly disgruntled niece, for instance, when it comes to topics such as Bhutto's role in the mysterious plane crash that killed the military dictator responsible for her father's murder. Despite herself, and for all her efforts toward reconciliation, Bhutto proved an enormously polarizing figure.

Perhaps she had no choice, in a country so riven by internal strife and external threat. At its best, Bhutto is a fascinating study in the difficulties of bringing democracy to a radically unstable nation plagued by its colonial legacy, by the cowboy politics of a dictatorial military, by daily terrorism and the sporadic interventions of world powers arguably less interested in rural voting rights than in pushing their own interests on the global stage.

Bhutto’s untimely death at 54 years old was a private tragedy and a tremendous loss for a country desperate for moderate leadership. But she was a heroine, not a saint. Eliding this distinction, Bhutto unwittingly diminishes her.

How should the world respond to WikiLeaks exposé?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shahbaz Sharif tipped off LeT post 26/11: WikiLeaks

Pakistan opposition leader Nawaz Sharif's brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif "tipped-off" the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) about impending UN sanctions after the terror group attacked Mumbai in November 2008, reveals a US cable exposed by WikiLeaks. The tip-off helped the outfit to clean out its bank accounts before they could be raided.

The Guardian reported that six weeks after LeT gunmen killed 166 people in the Mumbai carnage, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari told the US of his "frustration" that Shahbaz Sharif's government in Punjab province helped the terror group evade UN sanctions.

A month earlier, Shahbaz Sharif "tipped off" the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), LeT's charity wing, "resulting in almost empty bank accounts", Zardari told the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson.

US diplomats weren't able to confirm the allegation, but they admitted that JuD did appear to have received a warning from somewhere.

The cable in January 2009 said: "Information from the ministry of the interior does indicate that bank accounts contained surprisingly small amounts."

Senator Pervaiz Rashid, an adviser to Shahbaz Sharif, however, said: "There's nothing true in it."

"Zardari is our political opponent and he wants to topple our government."

He said Shahbaz Sharif couldn't have known about the UN sanctions as the UN coordinated its action with the federal government and not the provincial one.

The embassy cables have for the first time revealed the drama that unfolded behind the scenes after the Mumbai attacks in which 10 gunmen from Pakistan sneaked into India's financial capital and unleashed mayhem for over three days.

The media report said that US diplomats found themselves playing the role of harried intermediaries to prevent a war between Pakistan and India.

A week after the 2008 terror attack an Indian official said his government was distinguishing between Pakistan's civilian government, "which India believed was not involved in the attacks", and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

"We are not yet ready to give ISI a clean chit," the official said.

The US embassy became alarmed four weeks later by Indian plans to release a "sanitised" intelligence dossier that, they feared, could scuttle intelligence sharing or thwart efforts to prevent a second attack.

The note read: "There are still Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) sleeper and other cells in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as many law enforcement leads which need to be pursued."

The cables show that Pakistan's generals who are normally antagonistic towards India appeared to be conciliatory, the daily reported.

Almost six weeks after the attack in Mumbai, Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, said he was "determined to exercise restraint in his actions with India".

"If there is any clue about another attack," he told General David Petraeus at his Rawalpindi headquarters, "please share it with us."

General Shuja Pasha, the intelligence chief, in late 2009 travelled to Oman and Iran to "follow up on reports he received in Washington about a terrorist attack on India".

He sent warnings to Israel "about information about attacks against Israeli targets in India".

Earlier in the year, he told Patterson, information about a second attack on India had "come his way", which he conveyed to Delhi via the CIA.

US diplomats noted that the secretive trial of Lashkar leader Zakhi ur Rehman Lakhvi and six other suspects "is proceeding, though at a slow pace".

American officials observed that there is "no smoking gun tying the Mumbai LeT operation to ISI" but are less sure if the spy agency has, as promised, cut all its ties.

"Despite arrests of key LeT/JuD leaders and closure of some of their camps, it is unclear if the ISI has finally abandoned its policy of using these proxy forces as a foreign policy tool," notes a briefing to the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke in February 2009.

WikiLeaks bombs rock Islamabad

Dawn.com
There has always been widespread dismay in Pakistan about unabashed US interference in the country’s internal matters. But the latest cache of American embassy cables leaked by WikiLeaks has laid bare the extent of the interference and involvement.

But more shocking are revelations about how much leverage the Americans were being given by the country’s civilian and military leadership to micro-manage domestic politics.

The global concern about the safety of the country’s nuclear arsenal, the presence of US special forces and elite counter-terrorism teams (courtesy Bob Woodward) were all old stuff for many here, but what definitely interests all are the views that various leaders espoused about each other and never shied away from sharing them with American diplomats.

The power wielded by the US is at its full display in the leaked cables that used less than diplomatic language to describe what was taking place in Islamabad’s echelons of power.

“We should help the Zardari/Gilani government complete its full five-year term in office” as it best served US interests, says one of the leaked communiques.

The political fallout from these leaks is imminent.

The presidency and the army’s general headquarters both clearly knew that they were not getting along well, but certainly they didn’t expect each other to wash the dirty linen before foreign diplomats.

At one point, a cable sent by the embassy talks about Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani forewarning then ambassador Anne Patterson about the likelihood of him removing President Asif Ali Zardari, if such a situation arose during PML-N-supported lawyers’ long march in March last year, and installing ANP leader Asfandyar Wali in his place.

“During ambassador’s fourth meeting in a week with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani on March 10, he again hinted that he might, however reluctantly, have to persuade President Zardari to resign if the situation sharply deteriorates. He mentioned Asfandyar Wali Khan as a possible replacement,” one of the cables reads.

The implied message in Gen Kayani’s contingency planning was immediately read by the ambassador as a plea to intervene and compel both parties to back down or else the army would play its role.

The general, at a later stage, told the American envoy that he was least interested in taking over and had he been, there was a good opportunity during the long march.

The general, whom the cables describe as a person difficult to understand and who tends to mumble, looked quite articulate when it came to expressing his opinions about political leaders.

“Kayani made it clear that regardless of how much he disliked Zardari, he distrusted Nawaz even more,” one of the cables says.

But, Gen Kayani was not alone in voicing his disenchantment with President Zardari who by virtue of his office is also the supreme commander of the armed forces.The president, in turn, could be seen complaining to the Americans that his army chief could oust him.

He is said to have confided in American Vice-President Joe Biden that “Kayani will take me out”.

President Zardari, in a meeting with the US ambassador, is said to have detailed out his plans if he were to be assassinated.

The president reportedly told Ms Patterson his sister Faryal Talpur would then be named president and that he had requested the United Arab Emirates government to take in his family in the event of his death.

Cables show Ms Talpur as one person about whom everyone had positive feelings. If President Zardari considered her the most suitable person to succeed him, embassy officers were very impressed with her and saw her as extremely energetic and well respected. More importantly, Kayani once told the ambassador that she would be a better president than her brother.

In a separate conversation, the president appears to be telling the then British foreign secretary David Miliband how the military and the ISI kept him in dark about critical information.

In a discussion on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, he said ‘my people’ had not brought specific information to him about the individuals named in the information passed to the ISI.

It was not only the civilian president and army chief pitted against each other. A reading of the leaked cables shows how President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani worked at cross purposes.

President’s media coordinator Farah Naz Ispahani had confided to an American diplomat: “We are very unhappy with the way Gilani has gone off the reservation” while Mr Zardari was in China. She was referring to talks between Mr Gilani and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif without President Zardari’s blessings in the lead up to the long march.

But another cable noted that reports of Zardari-Gilani tensions were probably exaggerated and credited the prime minister for peaceful resolution of the judicial crisis.

Away from the political bickering, leaked cables show differences over critical foreign policy and security issues.

Gen Kayani in his conversations with American diplomats, the cables suggest, tried to pass the blame for an impasse on different issues like military action in Waziristan and start of back-channel talks with India to the president.

While Gen Kayani and ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha informed the Americans about the resentment in the army ranks about alleged corruption and mis-governance by the president, one of the leaked documents expresses doubts if the army chief ever conveyed those concerns with the same seriousness to Mr Zardari.

The American ambassador opined that Gen Kayani shared the disquiet with her with the belief that the US had the most influence over President Zardari. This perception is confirmed in another diplomatic communication: “Zardari is our best ally in Pakistan right now.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gilani and US Ambassador Cameron Munter tried to give an impression that the leaks wouldn’t hurt their relations much.

Ambassador Munter, who called on the prime minister, said: “Malicious WikiLeaks will not have any affect on the strong, strategic partnership between Pakistan and the USA, as both sides are resolute to address the misperceptions in the interest of long-term, cordial bilateral relations.”

Prime Minister Gilani said: “The government will ensure that Pakistan’s national interests are not compromised by such mischief in any manner.”

At a ceremony earlier in the day, Mr Munter said: “Working together, we will get past the WikiLeaks problems.”