Monday, November 29, 2010

Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran

The King of Saudi Arabia privately urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons programme, according to diplomatic cables leaked by the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks.The first tranche of more than 250,000 classified cables released by the WikiLeaks site says American officials were also told to spy on the United Nations’ leadership and get biometric information on its secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

The cables detail claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the Royal family and criticism of Britain’s military operations in Afghanistan and David Cameron.

The cables include requests for “specific intelligence” about British MPs. The communiques last night threatened a global diplomatic crisis and put America’s relations with Europe and the Middle East under a cloud. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was depicted as “risk aversive”, while the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was an “alpha dog”. Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai was “driven by paranoia”. The unguarded comments were contained in the classified cables from US embassies, details of which were published by several newspapers on the internet last night. Some of the cables were sent as recently as last February.

The first package of memos published by The Guardian, the New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel failed to name the British Royal or the behaviour. The cables are being released over the coming fortnight, rather than all at once, putting America’s foreign relations under unprecedented pressure.

One of the most damaging allegations was that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah repeatedly urged America to attack Iran.

The Saudi leader was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”.

The leak said he told the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake” at a meeting in 2008. The leaks also disclose how leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.

The papers also claimed that the US Government was running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at Mr Ban and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK. They alleged that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called for biometric information on the UN secretary general.

A classified directive was issued to US diplomats under the name of the secretary of state in July last year, asking for forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.

American diplomats were also asked to compile a profile of Alan Duncan, the homosexual former oil trader who is now the international development minister.

The Americans particularly asked for information on the relationship between Mr Duncan and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, with whom he used to share a flat, and also Mr Cameron.

The US administration also wanted information “on key UN officials, to include under-secretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers” as well as intelligence on Mr Ban’s “management and decision-making style”.

Washington asked for credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers for UN figures and “biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives”. The secret “national human intelligence collection directive” was sent to US missions at the UN in New York, Vienna and Rome as well as 33 embassies and consulates, including those in London, Paris and Moscow.

Some of the cables offered personal and highly embarrassing descriptions of other world leaders. Kim Jong-il, of North Korea, was said to suffer from epileptic fits, while President Medvedev of Russia was “hesitant”.

The documents also claimed that Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was known for his “wild parties” while Libya’s president Muammar Gaddafi had a “sumptuous blonde as a nursing sister”.

Barack Obama was reported to want to “look East rather than West” while feeling no emotional connection towards Europe.

Washington tended to view the world in terms of two super powers with the European Union playing a secondary role, the cables said.

According to a review of the WikiLeaks documents published in the New York Times, Saudi donors were chief financiers of militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Chinese government operatives had waged a campaign of computer sabotage targeting the United States and its allies.

The WikiLeaks website suffered its own “cyber attack” hours before the release of the documents, with unknown hackers trying to stop the publication.

The White House last night condemned the “reckless and dangerous action” in releasing the classified US diplomatic cables, saying it could endanger lives and risk relations with friendly countries.

Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, said: “When the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies around the world.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We condemn any unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK.

“We have a very strong relationship with the US government. That will continue”.

Buckingham Palace said it had no information about any allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the Royal family.

It is not known who was the source of the leak, however there has been speculation that it could have come from Bradley Manning, a US Army soldier, who has been accused of leaking and transmitting national security information.

He was charged in July.

It also emerged that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, had been rebuffed by the US government after he sought information “regarding individuals who may be 'at significant risk of harm’ because of” his planned release of classified documents.

His unusual move to open an 11th-hour dialogue about the documents came after a Swedish appeals court last week upheld an arrest warrant on rape charges for Mr Assange, validating an international warrant.

Mr Assange, who denies he has committed any crime, was believed to have recently spent time in London but his whereabouts yesterday were unknown. He had been under investigation in Sweden since August over rape.

One report said that Wikileaks had 251,287 cables from 270 US embassies and consulates from a single computer server.

The leaked documents went on to make further allegations. They claimed that Iran had obtained missiles from North Korea to give it the capacity to launch strikes on capitals in Western Europe for the first time.

According to a cable dated last Feb 24, North Korea sent to Iran 19 of the missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Intelligence agencies believe Tehran is some way from developing a nuclear warhead. The officials said the deal had significantly advanced Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Other findings include how since 2007, America had mounted a highly secret effort to remove from a Pakistani research reactor enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. Frustrations with Pakistan were reflected in reported comments by King Abdullah who called President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to progress, adding: “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”

The cables reveal the desperate attempts by the US administration to find homes for former Guantánamo Bay detainees.

In one instance Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama. In another accepting prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe”.

The cables also detailed suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government after the vice-president was caught with $52 million (£33 million) in cash on a visit to the United Arab Emirates last year.

They also detailed how one state department communiqué had named Saudi donors as the chief financiers of al-Qaeda, while China was engaged in a global effort to hack into Google’s computers.

Wikileaks embassy cables: The key points at a glance

US standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: leaks

By Masroor Gilani (AFP) – 7 hours ago

ISLAMABAD — The United States has led top secret efforts to remove highly enriched uranium from Pakistan for years, worried it could be used to make an "illicit" nuclear device, according to leaked US cables.

The New York Times said they were among quarter of a million confidential American diplomatic cables released by whistleblower WikiLeaks in what Pakistan condemned as an "irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official doucments".

The country's nuclear arsenal is one of the most sensitive topics for the United States as it tries to improve relations with the conservative Muslim nation on the front line in the campaign against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Parts of Pakistan's northwest is gripped by a homegrown Taliban insurgency. Its semi-autonomous wild border area with Afghanistan is subject to a covert US drone war targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders.

Islamist militants embarked on a nationwide bombing campaign across Pakistan in 2007, the same year that the Times said the secret efforts began.

In May 2009, it quoted then US ambassador Anne Patterson as saying that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts.

The Times attributed the reason to a nameless Pakistani official who said: "If the local media got word of the fuel removal, 'they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan?s nuclear weapons'".

Islamabad has been adamant that its nuclear weapons are in safe hands and US President Barack Obama has publicly concurred.

But the Times said the leaked documents showed the United States trying to remove the uranium from a research reactor, fearing it could be diverted for use in an "illicit nuclear device".

The newspaper did not elaborate on how the United States had sought to remove the uranium or the nature of any such device.

Experts estimate that Pakistan already has up to 100 nuclear weapons.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said it had been offically informed of the leaks by the US government in advance.

"At this stage we are examining the relevant documents and their contents," ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP when asked about the Times report.

The United States has longstanding concerns about proliferation from Pakistan and is reported to have set up an elite squad that could fly into the country and attempt to secure its weapons should the government disintegrate.

Pakistan announced that it had nuclear weapons in 1998, scrambling to secure the technology after India's first nuclear test in 1974.

Western analysts believe China assisted Pakistan in developing the Khushab nuclear site to produce plutonium, which can be miniaturised for cruise missiles -- presumably aimed at India.

In 2004, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's bomb, confessed to running a nuclear black market that sent secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He was put under house arrest for five years.

Although he retracted his remarks, US officials say he is still a risk.

Pakistan also opposes a proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would limit access to highly enriched uranium and plutonium used to make weapons.

Pakistan says the treaty would give a permanent nuclear imbalance to India, with which it has fought three full-fledged wars since independence in 1947.
Day 1, Sunday 28 November

There are no fewer than 251,287 cables from more than 250 US embassies around the world, obtained by Wikileaks. We present a day-by-day guide to the revelations from the US embassy cables both from the Guardian and its international media partners in the story.
The US faces a worldwide diplomatic crisis. More than 250,000 classified cables from American embassies are leaked, many sent as recently as February.

• Saudi Arabia put pressure on the US to attack Iran. Other Arab allies also secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.

• Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations, including the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.

• Details of the round-the-clock offensive by US government officials, politicians, diplomats and military officers to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and roll back its advance across the Middle East.

• How Israel regarded 2010 as a "critical year" for tackling Iran's alleged quest for nuclear weapons and warned the United States that time is running out to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

• The secret EU plot to boycott the inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president after the disputed Iranian election in 2009.

• Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were denied blueprints for a secret nuclear reactor near Qom and told by Iran that evidence of bomb-grade uranium enrichment was forged.

• Saudi Arabia complained directly to the Iranian foreign minister of Iranian "meddling" in the Middle East.

• The US accused Iran of abusing the strict neutrality of the Iranian Red Crescent (IRC) society to smuggle intelligence agents and weapons into other countries, including Lebanon.

• Britain's ambassador to Iran gave the US a private masterclass on how to negotiate with Iran.

• How a 75-year-old American of Iranian descent rode a horse over a freezing mountain range into Turkey after officials confiscated his passport.


• The story of how the 250,000 US embassy cables were leaked.

• Background on Siprnet: where America stores its secret cables.

• Editor's note: publishing the cables.

• Explore the Guardian's searchable database of the leaked embassy cables

Der Spiegel

A long piece in English primarily about the US view of Germany, including some bracing views of Berlin's leadership and the description of Chancellor Angela Merkel as "risk averse and rarely creative".

New York Times

The New York Times highlights US intelligence assessments that Iran has acquired missiles from North Korea which could for the first time enable Tehran to strike at western European capitals.

El País

A trawl through the 3,620 documents in the haul originating from the US embassy in Madrid, dating from 2004 to this year (in Spanish).

Le Monde

The French paper also leads on the allegations of US spying on UN leaders but also covers Washington's view of France, as gleaned from the cables (in French). President Nicolas Sarkozy is described as "susceptible and authoritarian", and a French diplomatic adviser has described Iran as a fascist state and Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez as a madman transforming his country into another Zimbabwe.

Kabul says US relations unaffected by Karzai claims

Afghanistan said Monday its relations with the United States would not be affected by leaked cables portraying President Hamid Karzai as weak and paranoid, and his brother as a corrupt drugs baron.

The American diplomatic cables raised the issue of suspected high-level corruption within the Afghan government, long a concern among Western backers who see it as undermining the nine-year war against the Taliban.

Internet whistleblower WikiLeaks has begun releasing a quarter of a million confidential US diplomatic cables, detailing embarrassing and inflammatory episodes in what the White House called a "reckless and dangerous action".

But Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer told a news conference the leaks "won't have any impact on the strategic relations between the US and Afghanistan".

"We don't see anything substantive in the document that will strain the relationship," Omer told reporters, adding: "We'll wait and see what else comes out before making further comment."

On leaked US criticism of Karzai as an "extremely weak" leader, which follows negative US media reports, Omer said: "Such comments are not new. But the president... will carry on with what he thinks is good for Afghanistan."

US diplomats described Karzai in the documents as "driven by paranoia" and "conspiracy theories".

The leaked cables also reveal American feelings about the president's younger brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, long dogged by claims of unsavoury links with the lucrative opium trade and private security firms, which he denies.

Western officials have kept quiet in public on the tainted record of the president's half brother, who is a powerful figure in Kandahar, where US forces are leading the fight to break the Taliban.

But one note, that followed a meeting between the younger Karzai and US envoy Frank Ruggiero in September 2009, revealed:

"While we must deal with AWK (Ahmed Wali Karzai) as the head of the provincial council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker."

Kandahar is a make-or-break battleground in the US-led fight to defeat the insurgency, and the United States has poured thousands of extra troops into the area to wrest initiative from the Taliban and bolster the Afghan government.

"The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt," the report said.

In the 2009 meeting with American and Canadian officials, the president's brother urged the allies not to fund small-scale cash projects -- a cornerstone of its counter-insurgency strategy -- but to build large mega-projects instead.

"Given AWK's reputation for shady dealings, his recommendations for large, costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism," the report said.

"We will continue to urge AWK to improve his own credibility gap," said the report, adding that both Ahmed Wali Karzai and Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa had tried to influence the awarding of contracts in the province.

Ahmed Wali Karzai also showed disdain for elections in the region, the report said, claiming that local elders were better placed to provide governance.

In a second meeting in February, Ahmed Wali Karzai told Ruggiero that he was willing to take a polygraph test to prove his innocence over claims of his involvement in the opium trade.

"He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign, particularly relating to his influence over the police," said the cable.

"We will need to monitor his activity closely."

Another cable from the US embassy in Kabul said former vice president Ahmed Zia Massoud carried 52 million dollars in cash to Dubai last year.

The cable referred to the cash as "a significant amount" that Massoud "was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money?s origin or destination," it said.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Karachi plane crash aftermath

A cargo plane crashed into a housing complex in Karachi soon after takeoff, setting off a huge blaze and killing all crew members.

Woman fighting sex slavery

CNN Hero of the Year:

(CNN) -- A woman whose group has rescued more than 12,000 women and girls from sex slavery has been named the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year.

Anuradha Koirala was chosen by the public in an online poll that ran for eight weeks on CNN's Anderson Cooper revealed the result at the conclusion of the fourth annual "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute."

"Human trafficking is a crime, a heinous crime, a shame to humanity," Koirala said earlier in the evening after being introduced as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2010. "I ask everyone to join me to create a society free of trafficking. We need to do this for all our daughters."

Koirala was introduced by actress Demi Moore, who along with her husband, Ashton Kutcher, created DNA, The Demi and Ashton Foundation, which aims to eliminate child sex slavery worldwide.

"Every day this woman confronts the worst of what humanity has to offer," Moore said of Koirala. "She says, 'Stop. Stop selling our girls.' By raiding brothels and patrolling the India-Nepal border, she saves girls from being sold into the sex trade, where they are being repeatedly raped for profit, tortured and enslaved.
"Since 1993, she has helped rescue more than 12,000 women and girls. Through her organization Maiti Nepal, she has provided more than a shelter for these girls and young women, she has created a home. It is a place for them to heal, go to school, learn a skill, and for some who are infected with HIV/AIDS, it is the place where they can spend their days surrounded by love."

See Koirala's fan page on CNN Heroes

Koirala will receive $100,000 to continue her work with Maiti Nepal, in addition to the $25,000 awarded to each of the top 10 Heroes honored.

"This is another responsibility to me to work with all your support," Koirala told the audience after being named Hero of the Year. "We have to end this heinous crime. Please join hands with me to end this crime. ... Please try to respect the youth. They are the ones who are going to build the next generation. Thank you so much."

Koirala's speech capped the gala event, which was taped November 20 before an audience of nearly 5,000 and premiered Thanksgiving night on the global networks of CNN.

The show opened with a salute to the 33 Chilean miners and five of the people who rescued them last month after the miners spent 69 days underground.

"For 69 days we were amazed by these 33 brave miners," Cooper said in welcoming the miners onto the Shrine stage. "Their ordeal was unthinkable; their rescue, unbelievable. No one has ever been trapped underground so deep for so long and survived.

"They endured a nightmare, experienced a miracle, and in the end became each others' brothers and heroes. On behalf of CNN Heroes, we salute all 33 Chilean miners."

After the miners sang the Chilean national anthem, two of them -- speaking through a translator and holding the Chilean flag -- expressed their appreciation.

"We want to thank the world, and we want to thank God for your prayers," Luis Urzua told the audience in Spanish.

"Our families suffered. Our children suffered, too. But thanks to the prayers of the whole world, we could come out of this difficulty," Mario Sepulveda added.

"Some of our rescuers are here with us tonight," Urzua said. "Thank you for bringing us home. You are our heroes."

CNN brought the miners and their rescuers to the United States to attend the tribute show. The five rescuers were selected to represent the many thousands whose talent and effort led to the dramatic rescue.
The top 10 CNN Heroes, chosen by a blue-ribbon panel from an initial pool of more than 10,000 nominations from more than 100 countries, were each honored with a documentary tribute and introduced by a celebrity presenter.

The program also featured performances by Grammy Award-winners Bon Jovi, John Legend and Sugarland.

Rock legends Bon Jovi performed "What Do You Got?," a new song from their greatest hits album, which came out earlier this month. Legend performed "Wake Up Everybody" along with hip-hop artist Common and R&B singer Melanie Fiona. Sugarland performed "Stand Up," a new song from their album "The Incredible Machine," which made its debut in October.

All three performances echoed the spirit of the CNN Heroes campaign, which salutes everyday people whose extraordinary accomplishments are making a difference in their communities and beyond.

Celebrity presenters included Halle Berry, Demi Moore, Jessica Alba, Kid Rock, LL Cool J, Renee Zellweger, Gerard Butler, Kiefer Sutherland, Marisa Tomei, Aaron Eckhart and Holly Robinson Peete.

"CNN Heroes has illustrated the best of humanity through the telling of stories of selfless acts of kindness, courage and perseverance" said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide. "We are honored to bring these Heroes the recognition they so deserve. It is a program the entire CNN family is proud of and excited to share with our viewers on Thanksgiving night."

Again this year, producer/director Joel Gallen served as executive producer of "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute." Among his credits, Gallen produced telethon events supporting victims of the Haiti earthquake, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. He won an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award for "America: A Tribute to Heroes."

Preceding the tribute broadcast, CNN and HLN aired a red carpet special, "Showbiz Tonight @ CNN Heroes," at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. Hosted by A.J. Hammer and Brooke Anderson, the special featured exclusive coverage of celebrity arrivals and interviews, as well as a celebrity-hosted social media suite tapping into the worldwide online passion and interest in the Heroes event.

Here are the 2010 top 10 CNN Heroes in alphabetical order:

Guadalupe Arizpe De La Vega founded a hospital in Juarez, Mexico, that cares for about 900 people daily -- regardless of their ability to pay. Despite the escalating violence in the city, the 74-year-old travels there several times a week to make sure residents get the care they need. Learn more about Guadalupe

Susan Burton was once caught in a cycle of addiction and incarceration. Today, her nonprofit A New Way of Life Reentry Project provides sober housing and other support services to formerly incarcerated women in California. Learn more about Susan

With her weight-loss challenge, Shape Up Vicksburg, Linda Fondren is helping her Mississippi hometown battle the bulge. Through free fitness activities and nutrition classes, residents have lost nearly 15,000 pounds to date. Learn more about Linda

Anuradha Koirala is fighting to prevent the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Nepal's women and girls. Since 1993, she and her group, Maiti Nepal, have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 victims. Learn more about Anuradha

Narayanan Krishnan brings hot meals and dignity to India's homeless and destitute -- 365 days per year -- through his nonprofit Akshaya Trust. Since 2002, he has served more than 1.2 million meals. Learn more about Narayanan

Since 1992, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow has dedicated his life to helping people in need. Today, his program, Mary's Meals -- run from a tin shed in the Scottish highlands -- provides free daily meals to more than 400,000 children around the world. Learn more about Magnus

Harmon Parker is using his masonry skills to save lives. Since 1997 he has helped build 45 footbridges over perilous rivers in Kenya, protecting people from flash floods and predatory animals. The bridges also connect isolated villagers to valuable resources. Learn more about Harmon

Aki Ra is helping to make his native Cambodia safer by clearing land mines -- many of which he planted years ago as a child soldier. Since 1993, he and his Cambodian Self Help Demining organization have cleared about 50,000 mines and unexploded weapons. Learn more about Aki Ra

Evans Wadongo, 23, invented a way for rural families in Kenya to replace smoky kerosene and firelight with solar power. Through his Use Solar, Save Lives program, he's distributed an estimated 10,000 free solar lanterns. Learn more about Evans

Since 2005, Texas home builder Dan Wallrath has given injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans homes of their own -- mortgage-free. He and his Operation Finally Home team have five new custom homes under construction.

Christians flee Karachi over threats

Several Christian families in Pakistani city of Karachi have fled their homes while many have sent their women to safer places after a Christian boy eloped with a Muslim girl, causing tension in their neighbourhood , a media report said.

The situation in Karachi's Saeedabad area has become tense after an 18-year-old Muslim girl eloped with a 20-yearold Christian boy last week, The News International reported. The couple fled to Faisalabad, where the boy converted to Islam and married the girl.

Following the incident, the girl's family and activists of a political party allegedly threatened the Christian community of dire consequences if the girl did not return home. The girl's family also stoned the locality's church, forced a local school to shut down and reportedly forced the Christian people to migrate from the area.
William Sattar, a social activist , alleged that police were picking up boys from the area and beating them up.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nato leaders endorse Afghanistan 2014 withdrawal date

Nato leaders have endorsed on Saturday a plan to start handing Afghan forces command of the war next year with the aim of ceding full control by 2014.
"We have launched the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters in their own house," Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference following a summit of Allied leaders in Lisbon.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, signed the plan along with Mr Rasmussen and Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general.

Earlier alliance leader suggested that Nato’s plan to wind down its combat mission was not set in stone, casting doubt on David Cameron’s fixed deadline for a British withdrawal. Despite Western leaders’ eagerness to leave Afghanistan, the Nato timetable remains conditional, dependent on the ability of the Kabul government to secure the country against the Taliban.

The Obama administration made clear that 2014 was only “an aspirational goal” and Nato’s secretary-general warned the West must remain committed in Afghanistan “as long as it takes”.

A senior Nato official also warned of “inevitable setbacks” in the work to complete transition by the end of 2014.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman, said: “It does not necessarily mean that everywhere in the country [Afghan forces] will necessarily be in the lead and it does not mean that all US or coalition forces would necessarily be gone by that date.”

He added: “There may very well be the need for forces to remain in-country, albeit, hopefully, at smaller numbers, to assist the Afghans as they assume lead responsibility for the security of their country.”

The US military underlined its determination to continue to add resources to the Afghan battle by deploying heavily armoured tanks in Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war. The Marine Corps plans to use a company of Abrams tanks in areas of northern Helmand province where British forces were held to a stalemate by the Taliban by early spring.

While Nato’s schedule for transition is conditional, British officials in Lisbon made clear Mr Cameron’s timetable is unconditional. A British official in Lisbon said: “After 2015, we are not going to be in combat role. That’s absolutely clear.”

Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and has suffered 100 losses this year alone. The Prime Minister has made clear he wants most troops withdrawn before the next general election, due in May 2015.

Mr Cameron told MPs on Thursday that conditions in Afghanistan would not change his plan for 2015 to be the “endpoint” of British combat operations. He said: “I set the deadline of 2015, and yes, it is a deadline.” Mr Rasmussen told the BBC he thought Britain did not have a “concrete policy” on a withdrawal date.

He said: “I’m not aware of concrete policies for withdrawal and I believe all allies are committed to stay committed as long as it takes to do the job.

“We may also see, here and there, withdrawal of troops but the basic message is that we will stay committed as long as it takes.”

James Appathurai, the Nato spokesman, told reporters in Lisbon that the alliance is “fully confident” of meeting the 2014 target. But he added: “I must point out it is conditions-based.” Mark Sedwill, Nato’s senior civil in Kabul, underlined the difficulties the alliance will face in trying to follow its timetable.

“We are not indulging in a load of happy talk about the security situation in Afghanistan,” he said. “We believe we have regained the initiative but the progress is not irreversible. There are many challenges and inevitable set-backs ahead.”

Natural disasters since 1970 take heavy toll in Pakistan

A string of natural disasters, including floods and earthquakes, have left over 3.3 million people dead and caused a staggering loss of $2,300 billion between 1970 and 2008 in Pakistan, said a new book.

The book 'Natural Hazards, UN-Natural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention' said that a lot could be done to reduce the toll from such hazards even in the face of increased risk from climate change.

Daily Times reported Sunday that storms, floods, earthquakes, and droughts caused more than 3.3 million deaths and $2,300 billion in damage between 1970 and 2008.

The World Bank-UN book said that natural hazards often turn into disasters as a result of poor policies and practices.

'A deeper questioning of what happened, and why, could prevent a repetition of disasters,' said the book.

It projected that damage from disasters was going to grow, making prevention all the more critical.

The book went on to say that by the year 2100, financial damages from weather-related hazards may zoom up to $185 billion annually.

Pakistan was ravaged by floods this year that left over 1,700 dead and nearly 20 million homeless.

Flood-hit farmers unaware of banks’ refinancing scheme

The refinancing scheme launched by the banks in the flood-affected areas has yet to gain momentum as majority of the affected farmers and landowners are still unaware of it.
According to the State Bank’s Small and Medium Enterprises Finance Department (SMEFD) circular No 16 issued on November 2 in line with the government’s policy to revive agricultural activities and State Bank of Pakistan’s relief measures to improve access to financing in flood-affected areas, it has been decided to launch a concessional financing scheme through banks for agricultural production and working capital finance to farmers and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the districts affected by recent floods.
Under the scheme, financing is being provided at affordable and concessional mark-up rates through banks and development finance institutions (DFIs) for which Rs10 billion has been allocated.
All categories of farmers including owners, owner-cum-tenants and tenants of the specified areas are eligible for agricultural loans under the scheme and banks shall provide agricultural loans to farmers as per their lending policy approved by their boards of directors and SBP rules and regulations.
Banks are encouraged to arrange for insurance of the loans provided under the scheme and Mandatory Crop Loan Insurance for five major crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane and maize to avoid risk of losses due to natural calamities.
The circular says that tenure of the crop production loans and repayment of the principal amount will be based on the cropping cycle up to a maximum period of one year.
The banks may also provide short-term loans to SME borrowers, as defined in Prudential Regulations for SMEs in flood-affected districts. The borrowing limit of SMEs will be fixed by the banks keeping in view credit requirements, cash flows, repayment capacity, risk profile of the borrowers, etc, within the maximum limit prescribed under the prudential regulations for SMEs.
The refinancing under the scheme is being provided to the banks at five per cent per acre. The banks are also permitted to charge a maximum spread of three per cent per acre from the borrowers. Therefore, the credit to SMEs and farmers will be available at eight per cent per acre.
In case the borrowers fail to repay the loan amount and instalment as per agreed dates, the bank is entitled to charge normal rate of mark up on such overdue principal amount, besides taking other actions to recover the same as are incidental to such defaults.
The mark up will be paid on quarterly basis in cases of financing to SMEs while the mark up on agricultural loans will be paid on half-yearly basis. The banks will not take more than five working days in evaluating an application for credit under the scheme from the date of receipt of complete information from a borrower.
The circular said that where the request was declined, the banks would explicitly inform the applicant of reasons for rejecting the application.The banks shall obtain an undertaking from a borrower that the disbursed amount will be utilised strictly for the purpose it has been granted.
The banks will ensure fulfilment of requisite pre-disbursement formalities by a borrower through due diligence as per their own internal arrangements to avoid malpractice and misuse of funds under the scheme.
The refinance is provided on the basis of certification and confirmation by the internal audit, SME, agri head, business chief of the financing bank that the loan is within the terms and conditions laid down in the scheme.
The farmers, landlords and SMEs in all 24 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are allowed to avail the loan financing, but so far the number of those seeking loan under the scheme is negligible. An office-bearer of the Sarhad Chamber of Agriculture told The News that the scheme was not fetching enough response even from the eligible affected people. He said the scheme was not properly publicised and most of the affected people, who happened to be poor tenants, seeking loans and financing facilities were still unaware of it. He said the banks should publicise the scheme the way they propagate their own products so that the deserving flood-affected landowners and tenants could benefit from it.

Rs57.288 mn irregularities in KP excise dept

Irregularities of Rs.57.288 million have been unearthed in the Excise and Taxation Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in heads of property, hotel, professional, token taxes, vehicle registration fee, annual renewal fee & security from real estate agents/motor bargain centres and to baccl development cess during financial year 2007-08.

The irregularities have been detected in the Audit Report on the Accounts of Revenue Receipts of the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa audit year 2008-09.

The irregularities covers property tax (Rs.39.374 million), hotel tax (Rs.9.415 million), professional tax (Rs.1.872 million), token tax (Rs.0.488 million), motor vehicle registration fee (Rs 0.195 million), annual renewal fee & security from real estate agents/motor bargain centre (Rs.0.575 million) and tobacco development cess (Rs.5.369 million).

The largest irregularity involving an amount of Rs.25.871 million was found due to non/short realization of property tax, which was to be recovered as arrears of land revenue under section 16 of the KP Urban Immovable Property Tax Act, 1958.

This provision of law was enforced by six Excise and Taxation Offices in 529 cases, which caused non/short realization of government revenue amount to Rs.25.980 million during the year 2007-08.

The department also failed in realization of property tax from autonomous bodies like municipal committees, TMAs, Pakistan Tobacco Board and Peshawar Electricity Supply Company (PESCO) incurring a loss of Rs.10.623 million on the revenue receipts of the department.

The lapse was pointed out by Audit during March, 2009 to May, 2009 and the department was requested to convene Departmental Accounts Committee (DAC) meeting, which was not arranged till finalization of the audit report.

In head of the recovery of property tax, the three Excise and Taxation Offices of Peshawar II, Nowshera and Kohat did not recover or less recovered 15 per cent share of the provincial government amounting to Rs.2.880 million from the cantonment boards of Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat.

The non/short realization of hotel tax, the two Excise & Taxation Offices did not deposit or less deposited hotel tax leviable at the rate of 5 per cent from the management of 17 hotels running under their jurisdiction in Peshawar and Haripur. The non/short realization of the hotel tax caused loss of government revenue of Rs.9.415 million during 2007-08.

The offices of the Excise & Taxation Department also failed in recovery of professional tax of Rs.1.912 million in 277 cases during 2007-08. The tax is required to be levied and recovered from all persons engaged in any profession, trade, calling or employment of different categories at prescribed rates, under section 7 of the KP Finance Act, 1990.

In head of Motor Vehicle Tax another amount of Rs.683 million not-realized in token tax and short realization of motor vehicle registration fee due to miscalculation of value of imported motor vehicles. In first instance token tax amount to Rs.0.488 million was not paid by the owners of 94 vehicles and in second instance resulted in short-realization of government revenue of Rs.0.195 million.

Similarly, in violation of KP Finance Act, 1995, five Excise and Taxation Offices did not realize Rs.0.311 million on account of annual renewal fee in 73 license renewal cases during 2007-08. In head of security deposits from real estate agents and motor vehicles dealers the department did not realize Rs.0.269 million.

The office of the Excise and Taxation Department in Mardan failed to recover or les recovered tobacco development cess and penalty amounting to Rs.5.369 million during 2007-08. The collection of cess was levied under section 11 of Finance Act, 1996 as amended vide KP Finance (Third Amendment) Ordinance 2003 and was to be collected directly from the tobacco factories on the basis of tobacco quota fixed for the factory by the Pakistan Tobacco Board in terms of recovery of Tobacco Cess Rules, 2004. The cess is payable in two equal installments i.e. first on or before December 31 and second on or before May 31 of the financial year concerned. In case of default in payment of cess or any part thereof by May 31, the defaulter shall be liable to pay a penalty @ 25% in addition to the cess due.

Friday, November 19, 2010

US tanks head for Afghanistan

The US is sending battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war against the Taliban, the Washington Post reported today.

Citing unnamed officers and defence officials, the paper said General David Petraeus, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, approved the move last month.

"The deployment of a company of M1 Abrams tanks, which will be fielded by the marines in the country's south-west, will allow ground forces to target insurgents from a greater distance – and with more of a lethal punch – than is possible from any other US military vehicle," the Post said.

The initial deployment called for 16 tanks to be used in parts of Helmand province, where marines and Taliban guerrillas were fighting, the paper said.

The 68-tonne tanks are propelled by a jet engine and equipped with a 120mm main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away.

US forces are engaged in an intense campaign around Kandahar in the south, the Taliban heartland. US and Nato aircraft have dropped more bombs and fired more missiles in October (1,000 in total) than in any single month since 2001. In the districts around Kandahar, soldiers from the army's 101st airborne division have destroyed dozens of homes that were thought to be booby-trapped, and they increased the use of high-explosive line charges – a weapon used only sparingly in the past – to blast through minefields.

A US officer familiar with the decision said the tanks would be used initially in parts of northern Helmand province, where the marines have been engaged in intense fighting against Taliban fighters typically armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs.

The initial deployment calls for about 16 tanks, but the overall number and area of operations could expand depending on needs, an officer told the Post. "The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower," the officer said. "It's pretty significant

Obama arrives in Portugal to meet with NATO allies

After the Asia trip, the president aims to show Europeans that their concerns are also a top priority. The focus for the weekend: the Afghan war.

President Obama arrived here this morning for two days of meetings with NATO allies as they craft a new plan for the war in Afghanistan and seek a new mission statement that will keep them relevant in the 21st century.

After a lengthy trip to expand American trade opportunities in Asia last week, Obama turned around immediately for a trip to reassure friends in Europe that their shared security and economic concerns are also a top priority. The focus for the weekend is forming the NATO plan to begin turning security responsibility for Afghanistan over to local forces this year, a long-term process that Obama now acknowledges will probably last into 2014.

At the same time, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with the allies to talk about cooperating on a missile defense shield for Europe. The idea was previously too distasteful for Russia to discuss in such an international forum, but warming relations between Obama and Medvedev helped to pave the way.

Power ship to supply electricity-starved Pakistan

The world's largest ship-based power plant has arrived off the Pakistani coast to try to mitigate the country's chronic electricity shortages, a company official said Friday.

The new supply still won't come close to ending electricity shortages that plague Pakistan, increasing widespread public frustration with the U.S.-allied government as it struggles to contain the Taliban insurgency.

The ship, which burns furnace oil, will generate about 230 megawatts for the national power grid, said Asad Mahmood, a spokesman for the vessel's Turkish owner Karkey Karadeniz Electrik. The owner has a five-year contract with the Pakistani national power company.

Now anchored off the southern port city Karachi, the Kaya Bey will begin feeding into the national grid within four weeks after a dedication ceremony Sunday, Mahmood said.

Still, the ship's contribution will only make a dent in the overall power crisis. Pakistan's energy demands outstrip supply by an estimated 5,000 MW, thanks to lack of investment, soaring usage and a crumbling electricity generation infrastructure that heavily relies on hydropower.

Power outages last up to 16 hours per day in some areas and damage industrial growth. The suffering is worst in summer, when the temperatures soar but power cuts mean fans and air conditioners won't work.

Saudi Arabia: Journalist Sentenced to Public Lashing

Saudi authorities should overturn a sentence of 50 lashes and two months in prison for a journalist who wrote about public anger over electricity cuts, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 26, 2010, the General Court in Qubba in northern Saudi Arabia imposed the sentence on Fahd al-Jukhaidib, Qubba correspondent for Al-Jazira, a daily national newspaper. He was charged with "incitement to gather in front of the electricity company" for reporting that citizens had been gathering to protest. He has appealed the verdict and remains at liberty.

"King Abdullah has encouraged citizens to voice their legitimate concerns," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But apparently those who do can expect a public lashing and a prison term."

Al-Jukhaidib's article describing the difficulties Qubba residents were experiencing as a result of frequent power cuts was published in Al-Jazira on September 7, 2008. The article, "Qubba Residents Gather to Demand Electricity," did not include a call for action but described the protest and the protesters' concerns:

Hundreds of citizens gathered in front of an electricity station in Qubba demanding that the company supply electricity in the town of Qubba. Repeated outages had caused damage to electrical appliances in houses and material losses for commercial business, and led to the declaration of an emergency situation for sick persons, in particular children and the elderly with asthma.

The verdict against al-Jukhaidib specifies that he is to receive 25 of the lashes in public in front of the electricity company. Al-Jukhaidib told Human Rights Watch that during his trial, 45 residents testified about the damages and losses they had incurred over the past 15 years because of the lack of a stable power supply, and about how managers of the electricity company had ignored their calls for improved service.

The Culture and Information Ministry, which is responsible for adjudicating complaints arising from publications, did not intervene because the Qubba prosecutor had classified the complaint from the electricity company against al-Jukhaidib as a "security" case of incitement. Al-Jukhaidib is principal of a local high school for boys as well as a journalist.

Al-Jukhaidib said the judge did not specify provisions of statutory law or of Islamic Sharia law prohibiting instigating or participating in public gatherings, or writing about them. Saudi Arabia does not have a penal code.

The government prohibits all public gatherings of a protest nature as a matter of policy. But there are no laws regulating this prohibition, and instigating a demonstration or writing about a public gathering are not recognizable criminal offenses. Judges have discretion in classifying any act as a crime and in setting punishments.

International law guarantees the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression. Saudi Arabia is one of only about 30 states worldwide that have not yet ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, where those rights are codified. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also affirms these rights. In April 2009, Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to ratify the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which in articles 24.f. and 32 guarantees the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of opinion and expression, and the right to impart news to others by any means.

In November 2007, Judge Ibrahim Husni of the Summary Court in Buraida, north of Riyadh, sentenced Professor Abdullah al-Hamid and his brother ‘Isa al-Hamid, two well-known advocates of political reform, to four months and six months in prison, respectively. The Investigation and Public Prosecution Department had charged the brothers with instigating a public demonstration. Judge Husni's verdict said the brothers should be punished because their actions could have led to acts forbidden in Islam.

"One wonders what the judge who convicted al-Jukhaidib considered the greater ignominy: a public gathering to demand electricity, or publicizing the gathering in the media," Wilcke said. "Free assembly and expression are both hallmarks of open, accountable societies, but they are in short supply in a country as repressive as Saudi Arabia."

Immigrant worker abuse in Middle East condemned by human rights group

International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has implored Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to make more effort to protect its immigrant workers, after shocking stories emerged about the abuse of three domestic workers.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, HRW said that it had received allegations from a maid in Kuwait whose employer drove nails into her body, a maid in Saudi Arabia who had 24 nails forced into her body, and a maid in Jordan who had been both beaten and forced to swallow nails.

The watchdog said the stories implied a “broader pattern of abuse”, and that the goverments of the three countries needed to create a stronger legal framework to protect their foreign workers.

"The wanton brutality alleged in these cases is shocking, but reports of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and labour exploitation such as non-payment of wages are nothing new,'' said Nisha Varia, a senior women's rights researcher at HRW.
Many domestic workers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait come from Asia, Africa and other countries in the Middle East in the hope of receiving higher salaries. Because employers in Middle East countries often act as workers' "sponsors" however, they exert extreme power over their staff. Employers can prevent workers changing jobs or leaving the country, and often withold salaries for years.

Several accounts of extreme abuse have made worldwide news in the past year. In August, a Sri Lankan housemaid in Saudi Arabia claimed that her employer had forced over 20 nails into her arms, legs and forehead, while an Indonesian maid has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since November 8 after being beaten by her employer.

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said he wants an "all-out diplomatic effort" to investigate the Indonesian maid's torture.

Ms Varia said that foreign domestic workers often found it very difficult to report abuse. "These workers are often isolated in private homes, and have problems speaking the language or understanding their legal rights. On top of this, if they do report abuse, they are likely to be treated as immigration offenders and detained or deported before the abuse is properly investigated.

"Employers or authorities also often respond to accusations by making counter-accusations, such as accusing a maid of adultery if she reports sexual abuse. The workers need to earn money, and they see making a report as too risky until they return home."

According to statistics recently published by campaign website Migrant Rights, a migrant worker commits suicide or attempts to on average every 2.5 days in Kuwait.

Several acts have been passed in recent years to try and improve immigrant workers' rights, but human rights campaigners say that the rules are difficult to enforce.

Fatima Gomar, editor of Migrant Rights, said: "In the Middle East, cases of migrant workers' abuse, even if it is severe, usually end without any charges being brought up against local employers who continue to act with impunity."

So far, Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) to have begun the process of abolishing the sponsorship system - though many of the changes made so far do not apply to domestic migrant workers.

Firing at Ahmedi worship place in Lahore; no casualties

Unknown assailants opened fire at an Ahmedi worship place in Lahore’s Mughalpura area, DawnNews reported.

The gunmen, however, managed to escape after security guards deputed at the worship place opened retaliatory fire.

No casualties were reported in the incident.

Police said the worship place was attacked by four to five assailants and that the firing lasted for a few minutes.

The attackers were using small weapons, police said, adding that empty bullet casings had been recovered from the site.

Ahmedis, a religious minority in Pakistan, have been targeted by militants in the past. In May 2010, at least 93 people were killed when militants attacked two Ahmedi worship places in Lahore.

Barack Obama coming to Kokomo

Indonesian maid body found in Saudi Arabia's dumptser

Indonesia demanded an investigation Friday into reports that a domestic worker was allegedly killed by her employer in Saudi Arabia and thrown into dumpster — the second case of maid abuse to emerge this week.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting called to discuss the need to protect hundreds of thousands of migrants who flock to the Middle East in search of work.

Too many, human rights groups say, face slavery-like conditions, torture, sexual abuse and even death.

Indonesian Minister of Labor Muhaimin Iskandar said an embassy team was dispatched to the Saudi town of Abha to look into allegations the 36-year-old maid, Kikim Komalasari, had been killed by her bosses.

Her neck was slashed and she had severe cuts to the rest of her body, he said.

"It's shocking to hear this ... it's beyond inhumane," Yudhoyono said, adding, however, he was encouraged so far by the Saudi government's quick response. "I'm hopeful the perpetrators will be punished according to law."

The report came as a team of Indonesian officials headed to the Mideast to seek justice and medical help for another maid, Sumiati binti Salan Mustapa, who has been hospitalized in the Saudi city of Medina since Nov. 8.

The 23-year-old's employers allegedly burned her, broke her middle finger and cut her lips with scissors.

Earlier this week, New York-based group Human Rights Watch urged Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait to do more to protect domestic workers in their countries, saying a string of allegations point to a "broader pattern of abuse."

They were responding to reports that a Sri Lankan maid working in Jordan had been forced to swallow nails. Another maid employed in Kuwait claimed her employer drove nails into her body.

"The wanton brutality alleged in these cases is shocking," said Nisha Varia, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, which called on authorities to investigate claims promptly and bring those responsible to justice.
Islamic and Muslum nations call themselves "civilized". This is how they treat all the women. They only know how to abuse a woman to the point of death. I wonder who in their right mind would even think of going to a country like this to work when you know that there is a very strong possibility of being severely abused or even killed

Peace brings little hope to Swat orphans

The Express Tribune

Around 2,000 children orphaned in Swat during the operation against the terrorists face an uncertain future as there is no one to take charge.
There is no one to help these children meet their essential needs besides saving them from unscrupulous elements of society.
Children and women are the most vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence.
According to a survey more than 2,000 children lost one or both of their parent in bomb blasts by the terrorists and in cross firing between the army and the extremists. A larger number of children were traumatised who witnessed the violence and fled their broken homes to save their lives from the war.
Now that peace has been restored the orphans are suffering from not only privations of being without a guardian but also psychological and social difficulties the impact of which may be acute in the short-term but will undermine long-term mental health and psychosocial well being of the affected children.

Such traumatised children are completely ignored by the government authorities though some philanthropic organisations like Khpal Kor Foundation are in the field. Khpal Kor Foundation is the only orphanage providing free lodging, boarding and education of modern standard to the orphans.

Mohammad Ali, director of the Foundation, told the Express Tribune: “During the insurgency, ratio of the orphan children multiplied and more than 2,000 children were orphaned in the war; we accommodated 50 boys which number has now increased to 200; now we don’t have enough space.”

Talking about girls, he said, “Presently, no such organisation is working for girls who are more vulnerable, to harm. We are opening an orphanage for the girls of modern standard, where they will get lodging, boarding and education free of cost. Construction work is in progress but alone we cannot construct such a huge building. Government and other organisations will have to give a helping hand,” he said.

“We tried a lot for an appointment with the Chief Minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to brief him about the current situation of orphan children, particularly about girls and also about our planning in this regard but he could not spare time yet,” he added.

UNICEF has initiated a project activity to provide psycho-social support to the traumatised children of the Khpal Kor Foundation. Imran Khan, who is the coordinator of the project, told the Express Tribune, “When we admitted these war-affected orphan children they used to scream on nights; some fainted every now and then and were very much weak in studies; so we hired psychologists who properly identified their complaints, and referred them for counselling. “We are now giving them psycho-social treatment through recreational programmes. Another aim is to adjust them in the local private schools free of cost in which we are successful to a great extent,” he said.

Naila Zeb, a psychologist working in the same project told the Express Tribune, “The war-affected children are prone to fear of things like darkness while many hesitate to move into society. They feel that any time a crisis can occur, then these children have educational problems and cannot concentrate properly; some of them have undergone behavioural changes — they get very much aggressive, especially children from age 11 to 15.”

Regarding their psychological treatment she said, “We have proper mechanism for these children as one-to-one counselling sessions or group session are conducted, group activities like drawings and story writing for the identification of problems and their solution are carried. We are also encouraging them to take part in social activities, involve them with friends, engage them in healthy activities to enhance their mood and they are also encouraged with rewards to boost their self esteem.”

According to Dr Zeb a lot of children are getting better and improving towards normalcy. “Many of them are getting normal who are now taking part in social activities and games, their grades in education have also improved, but they need long-term psycho-social support as psychological issues are not overcome in short term.”

The number of war-affected traumatised orphan children is very high in Swat valley but for them only a few non-governmental organizations are active who have less space and limited resources. Government and UN organisations need to step forward .

'Pakistan will not take dictations in war on terror'

Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Amir Haider Hoti said Pakistan will not take dictations in the war on terror.

During a visit to wounded soldiers in a Peshawar hospital, the chief minister said “No one has any right to dictate to us regarding the operation in North Waziristan, as it is an internal matter.”

He confirmed that action would be taken in all those areas where the writ of the government is challenged.

Hoti further stressed that the provincial government is taking all possible steps to safely recover the abducted vice chancellor

'Pakistan will not take dictations in war on terror'

Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Amir Haider Hoti said Pakistan will not take dictations in the war on terror.

During a visit to wounded soldiers in a Peshawar hospital, the chief minister said “No one has any right to dictate to us regarding the operation in North Waziristan, as it is an internal matter.”

He confirmed that action would be taken in all those areas where the writ of the government is challenged.

Hoti further stressed that the provincial government is taking all possible steps to safely recover the abducted vice chancellor

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Afghanistan watchdog finds himself under scrutiny

The U.S. watchdog charged with combating corruption in the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild Afghanistan is defending his reputation Thursday as congressional critics press President Barack Obama to fire him for incompetence and mismanagement.

Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, is scheduled to testify before the Senate contracting oversight subcommittee in the wake of withering reviews from several senators, including Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a close ally of Obama's and the panel's chair.

Only the president can dismiss an inspector general.

The White House on Wednesday appeared reluctant to pick a side. Spokesman Tommy Vietor said Fields and his staff "have performed under very difficult circumstances to set up operations in Afghanistan." But Vietor also said the White House supports the hearing so Fields and the subcommittee can "discuss how to best provide oversight on Afghanistan reconstruction."

Chief among the senators' complaints is that Fields has failed to aggressively investigate allegations of fraud and waste involving the nearly $56 billion the U.S. has committed to improving schools, roads, electricity and medical facilities in Afghanistan. Instead, the senators say Fields has produced a series of mostly bland audits that haven't curbed the corruption undermining the U.S. mission and alienating Afghans from their own government.

Matthew McLauchlin, a former U.S. government official who supported legislation that created the oversight office in 2008, said the inspector general's office was intended to be an organization that fined people or put them in jail.

"They were to be focused on investigations and prosecutions," said McLauchlin, who served as the chief financial officer to the U.S. ambassador and commanding general in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2008. "But it's become an organization that does audits making recommendations on how things can be improved."

Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general appointed by former President George W. Bush, has argued that delays in getting more than $20 million to establish the organization set back plans to quickly hire experienced investigators and auditors.

Despite the slow start, the office — known as SIGAR — has issued 34 audit reports over the last 18 months examining reconstruction projects worth more than $4.4 billion, according to a report Fields sent to Congress last month. Fraud and corruption investigations SIGAR has conducted with other U.S. and Afghan agencies have resulted in $6.6 million in fines, repayments and recovered money.

But those figures haven't impressed McCaskill and other senators. In a letter to Obama in late September, McCaskill, along with Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, called SIGAR a "failing organization" in need of new leadership.

An analysis by Coburn's staff shows that inspectors general at the Pentagon, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development and for Iraq reconstruction have all been much more efficient than SIGAR at generating savings and recoveries.

The senators have also blasted Fields for giving Joseph Schmitz, a former Pentagon inspector general, a two-month consulting contract worth $95,000 to help the office make organizational changes to improve its effectiveness. Schmitz's tenure as Pentagon inspector general was marred by allegations of ethical misconduct and misleading Congress, according to the senators.

"The whipped cream and the cherry on this particular situation is that here's somebody who's supposed to be the eyes and ears looking at contracting in a major way in Afghanistan, and he hires someone on a no-bid contract for $95,000 for two months' work," McCaskill said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in late September. "And you wonder why the public thinks we've lost our minds."

Schmitz, who resigned as Pentagon inspector general in 2005, has called the senators' description of his service "misleading" and "defamatory." The allegations were independently investigated and he was cleared of any wrongdoing, Schmitz says.

The subcommittee will also hear from the inspectors general at the FDIC and Tennessee Valley Authority, who led a series of independent reviews of Fields' office that uncovered multiple problems, including a failure to meet minimum standards for conducting investigations.

Fields says all the recommendations called for in the reviews have been implemented.

Since being established in 2008, the SIGAR has received $46.2 million for operating expenses and has a staff of 117, according to the report to Congress. Fields is seeking a budget of $35.6 million in 2011 and wants to hire about 60 more employees to better track reconstruction spending in Afghanistan.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pashto filmmakers dream of post-Taliban renaissance.
Spinning tales of love and revenge packed with testosterone, filmmakers from Pakistan’s Taliban-hit northwest dream of stamping out militancy and restoring their culture to a bygone era.

Coming from an area known as a Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold infamous for religious seminaries that recuit young men into “holy war”, Pashtun actors say they are promoting the benign side of their heritage.

Clad in traditional white shalwar kameez and topi prayer cap, director Ajab Gul says he uses cinema to promote pride in his warrior culture and provide an outlet for young men at risk of being lured by militant mullahs.

“The young generation is illiterate and unemployed and having a lot of problems. They need to be involved,” says the 45-year-old former actor.

“If you do not entertain and pay attention to the youth they will end up into terrorism.”

Filmmakers brush aside fears of Islamist attacks, but working with ageing equipment and desperate to keep their loss-hit industry alive, they admit the sector is in financial crisis. But it was not always that way.

The first Pashto film, made in India in the 1930s, was an adaptation of the Sufi love story, “Laila Majnu” and preceded the industry’s 1970s heyday when a series of classical cultural tales were adapted for the big screen.

But in the 1980s a new type of Pashto film was born that Gul and his actors say damaged the industry with its sexed-up love scenes — heavy on dancing and light on plot, in poor imitation of Bollywood cinema.

In one such trailer a woman in heavy make-up and a figure-hugging dress clutches the vest of her beefy beau and gazes beseechingly at the sky, while he, his hairy chest on display, stares moodily into the camera.

The scene switches to a fast action sequence in which men with fake beards and moustaches wage battle, throwing scarcely believable punches and firing pistols as their enemies are covered in splashes of red paint.

The new style offended cultural mores in an increasingly conservative Muslim society and their poor quality turned a generation of Pashtun moviegoers off films made in their own language.

“1980-1998 were very bad years for the Pashtun film industry, with very bad movies that weren’t suitable to our culture,” said Gul.

Pakistan has suffered increasing Islamisation, economic malaise and cultural marginalisation, but so great is suspicion of India it is perhaps unsurprising that filmmakers blame their rivals for conspiring in their decline.

“The main reason was RAW (Indian intelligence) trying to kill us off because they couldn’t compete with Pashtun culture and language,” says Gul.

His team, who work in Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore because of a lack of studios in the northwest, say they are trying to return Pashto film to its chaste roots while giving their own take on the community’s social problems.

Actress Rahila Agha, 39, who has worked in the industry for 11 years, plays a mother in Gul’s latest film, in which her two sons – one a police officer and another a traffic cop — are fighting.

“It’s about Pashtun traditions and rivalries,” says Gul.

Agha, who is not Pashtun but comes from the traditionally more moderate province of Punjab, says film plays a vital role in the Pashtun community.

“I’ve worked with many heroes,” says the buxom 39-year-old, fluttering her heavily made-up eyelashes. “People like me, that’s the reason I’m here.”

But the cinema refuses to tackle religious or cultural taboos head on.

“We cannot because of security,” says Gul.

“That’s our restriction, we can’t touch taboos… because we represent almost two million people, we have to live in that culture.”

Another convention unchallenged is male dominance in a society in which women often keep purdah, meaning that they are kept out of sight of men, and in which they are subject to arranged marriage, frequently as teenagers.

“In these movies women also have desires, but they accept the man’s supremacy,” says Gul. “This is the culture and this should be.”

But the industry is in dire straits, with only a dozen movies now made each year, down from 40 in its heyday. Gul says he often expects a 50 percent loss on each film distributed.

A lead actor in one of Gul’s movies now commands a fee of up to 200,000 Pakistani rupees (2,332 dollars).

Gul blames security fears among would-be moviegoers and poor equipment affecting production values, which contrast miserably with the big-budget and wildly popular Bollywood smash hits that play in cinemas across Pakistan.

Militants have launched attacks on music stores and other cultural institutions in the northwest, although cinemas have been largely untouched so far, residents say because of the films’ waning popularity.

Gul Akbar Khan Afridi, 70, chairman of the Pashtun film association, says a safer environment could turn the industry’s fortunes around.

“Because of the security situation people are not coming to the cinemas. If the situation improves, the film industry will be better,” he says, hopefully.

U.S. Plan Offers Path to Ending Combat in Afghanistan

New York Times
The Obama administration has developed a plan to begin transferring security duties in select areas of Afghanistan to that country’s forces over the next 18 to 24 months, with an eye toward ending the American combat mission there by 2014, officials said Sunday.

The phased four-year plan to wind down American and allied fighting in Afghanistan will be presented at a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon later this week, the officials said. It will reflect the most concrete vision for transition in Afghanistan assembled by civilian and military officials since President Obama took office last year.

In many respects, the concept follows the precedent set in Iraq, where a similar troop surge and strategy shift under President George W. Bush in 2007 enabled American-led coalition forces to eventually hand over security duties to the Iraqis region by region. By last summer, Mr. Obama was able to pull out two-thirds of United States forces from Iraq and declare America’s combat mission there over.

“Iraq is a pretty decent blueprint for how to transition in Afghanistan,” one American official said Sunday, insisting like others on anonymity to discuss the strategy before its presentation. “But the key will be constructing an Afghan force that is truly capable of taking the lead.”

The new transition planning comes as prospects for last year’s troop increase in Afghanistan and reformulated strategy there remain uncertain. American forces in Afghanistan have tripled under Mr. Obama, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander, has expressed confidence that they are making progress. But the last of the reinforcements arrived only recently, and officials in Washington have said it is too early to say whether the strategy will work.

Any such transition risks declaring Afghan units combat-ready before they really are, and officials emphasized Sunday that any transition would be based on local conditions, not a dictate from Washington, and would be a process, not an event. “This will be ground-up,” one official said.

The American government is already assessing which areas could be safely handed over to Afghan security forces and will be ready to identify them late this year or early next year, officials said. Every few months, more areas will begin the transition, with the last at the end of 2012. Those will almost certainly include the toughest areas, like Khost in the east and Kandahar in the south.

Even after Afghan forces have assumed the lead in a province, some American or NATO forces may remain or be positioned “over the horizon” elsewhere in Afghanistan ready to respond quickly if necessary. By the end of 2014, American and NATO combat forces could be withdrawn if conditions warrant, although tens of thousands very likely will remain for training, mentoring and other assistance, just as 50,000 American troops are still in Iraq.

The plan came amid escalating pressure from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to reduce the visibility of American troops, to halt night raids unless carried out by Afghan soldiers or police officers and to begin withdrawing foreign forces by next year. “The time has come to reduce military operations,” Mr. Karzai told The Washington Post in an interview that stirred renewed concern among American officials on Sunday. “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan.”

While Mr. Obama last year set July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal, he left undetermined the pace and schedule for pulling out the 100,000 American troops now in Afghanistan. The vow to begin bringing troops home helped mute anger among his liberal base but prompted some in the region to assume that America was rushing for the exits.

To emphasize America’s long-term commitment to the country, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have stressed in recent days that 2014 will be the critical date for Afghanistan to take full control of security, a date first set by Mr. Karzai.

The plan’s success depends in part on building an Afghan Army and police force genuinely able to defend their own country. The combined forces today have about 264,000 men, with a goal of 350,000 by 2013. Yet attrition has been a problem for years, with many soldiers and police officers simply walking away, some winding up with the insurgents.

The transition plan may draw skepticism among Republicans, who have complained about Mr. Obama’s previously announced intention to begin withdrawing some forces from the troop increase starting next July.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent in 2008, said Sunday that the president appeared to be basing his war planning on the politics of his liberal base. “You don’t fight and conduct wars that way,” Mr. McCain said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “You win, and then you leave. And that’s what we’ve done in Iraq.”

Appearing on the same program, the president’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, said any pullout would be driven by strategy. “We’ve always said it would be based on conditions on the ground, and that is still the case,” he said. “But it’s important to let the Afghans know that they have to pick up the pace in terms of training up the military, training up their police, being ready to accept responsibility.”

While Mr. Karzai has criticized the American military, his latest remarks appeared to go further. But a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, Waheed Omer, said “the president has just talked in line with the transition strategy of NATO.”

On the ground, the tempo of Special Operations raids has greatly increased, resulting in what the United States military says is a sixfold increase in captures and killings of Taliban commanders, but also in an increase in night raids that sometimes lead to civilian casualties.

“It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly,” Mr. Karzai said, suggesting they should by next year begin drawing down and confining themselves to their bases.

Mr. Omer said the suggestion that American troops be confined to bases referred to a long-term strategic partnership after 2014. But he said “the president does hold the view that there needs to be a reduction in visibility and intrusiveness.” He also said the “visibility and presence” of Afghan forces must increase.

A senior NATO official said that discussions about night raids had been held with Mr. Karzai, and that tactics had been adapted to recognize his sensitivity, including using Afghan partners.

The official said General Petraeus “is spending a considerable amount of time working with President Karzai and his national security team to build upon the progress we’ve made to date, ensuring the eventual transition to Afghan lead by the end of 2014.”

Pakistan selling land in Balochistan to Arabs.

QUETTA: Balochistan Assembly Speaker Aslam Bhootani has claimed that the federal government is using its influence to get thousands of acres of land allotted and sold to Arab Sheikhs from UAE for hunting.

The land is located close to the Coastal Highway and in Lyari Tehsil where the government is building a dam or water reservoir, the biggest in Balochistan. Addressing a news conference at the Quetta Press Club on Friday, he said that earlier the provincial government had taken back the 70,000 acres of land from an institution of the federal government after a lot of efforts made by Chief Minister Aslam Raisani. Now the same prized land is being allotted to the oil Sheikhs for hunting, the speaker said.

“Arab sheikhs who occasionally visit the area for hunting purposes want exclusive control over the vast tract of valuable land. Now they want to set up their private buildings and airport,” he said, adding that he was on an official visit to India when the incident took place and when he returned he informed the CM regarding the matter, who then stopped the summery from being issued. “If I will not protect the interests of the people then there is no justification for me to remain in office or be a member of the assembly,” he said.

“We acknowledge the efforts made by the PM to address the grievances of Balochistan, but it does not mean we can allow any one to sell our lands,” he said. The speaker demanded the federal government or the PM office not pressurise the provincial government on the issue because “we will not allow any one to become the owner of our land”.

Bhootani appreciated the efforts made by the Balochistan CM, who intervened in the matter and stopped the summery. “I hope that the problem will be addressed amicably.”

Pakistan for sale

Daily Times

A bombshell by Balochistan Assembly speaker Mohammad Aslam Bhoothani was dropped on Friday that the office of the prime minister was ‘pushing’ to sell 70,000 acres of land in Balochistan. According to Mr Bhoothani and media reports, the Prime Minister’s House is pressurising the Balochistan government via the Revenue Department to quickly approve the summary for selling the land to Arab sheikhs.

Politicians or people in power in Pakistan have a history of selling national assets to foreign companies and countries for a quick buck. Gwadar Port and Reko Diq projects are the biggest examples. In the past, governments had turned a blind eye to the fate of children being smuggled to the Middle East as camel jockeys. We are still coming to terms with the decision of the Musharraf regime to ‘sell’ Pakistani nationals post-9/11. A few days ago, the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court prevented 53 falcons from being illegally exported to Qatar. Less than a week ago 28 hunting licences were granted to numerous Gulf States luminaries for the Houbara Bustard. The Houbara Bustard is listed as an endangered species by international conservation bodies. Pakistan is a country of contradictions. It is most evident in the difference between our dealings with the US and Arab countries. It is all right for the Arabs to buy vast patches of land and hunt wildlife that is protected in their own countries but it becomes a matter of national sovereignty when US planes enter Pakistani airspace.

When questioned what if the Arabs pay a good amount for the land, Mr Bhoothani was correct in asking: “Would the government sell the whole of Balochistan if some outsider paid a handsome amount?” Or as a matter of fact, the rest of the country? There is already great justifiable resentment in Balochistan, Sindh and southern Punjab towards the violations of human rights and exploitation of the people and natural resources of these regions by the federation and Punjab. That resentment is fuelled by actual or proposed transfers of land in thse regions to Arab moneybags.

The problem is much deeper in Pakistan. Money has become the be all and end all in Pakistani society. It no longer matters whether money is made by legal or illegal means. We need to wake up and realise that money is not everything. There are some things money cannot buy, such as self-respect and dignity — a lesson our leaders would do well to learn. *

Musharraf’s mumbo-jumbo

EDITORIAL: Daily Times

Former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf only opens his mouth to change feet. On a speaking tour of the US, Musharraf pronounced that “civilian governments [in Pakistan] have never performed”. He said that an elected government has to deliver to the people and to the state but “if that is not happening, that is the problem in Pakistan”. By dislodging Nawaz Sharif’s government in a military coup in 1999, Mr Musharraf remained in power for nine years. He then formed a quislings party, the PML-Q, to legitimise his military rule while continuing an elaborate pretence that a civilian government was in place. Musharraf should ask himself why his handpicked government was not able to ‘deliver’ or ‘perform’ when it was in power. The numerous crises that our country is facing today are mostly due to Musharraf’s policies. That said, Musharraf needs to familiarise himself with the historical perspective of why democratically elected governments in Pakistan have had a hard time performing their duties.

First, it must be said that making a sweeping statement about civilian governments having “never performed” in Pakistan’s history is factually incorrect. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s first term was marked with relative success. Even Ms Benazir Bhutto’s and Mian Nawaz Sharif’s respective two stints in power — though incomplete each time — were not without some pro-people policies and reforms. Secondly, Musharraf conveniently ignored the real cause of why civil governments have had a hard time performing to the best of their abilities. Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators for more than half of its history since it came into being in 1947. Even when no military ruler is in power, the real power lies with our security establishment. Then there is the problem of continuity. As soon as a democratically elected government comes into power, the undemocratic forces launch a defamation campaign against it. Most of the civilian government’s tenure is wasted in defending itself while the shadows lurking in the dark remain busy in hatching conspiracies to destabilise it further. Another factor in the underperformance of civilian governments is that our establishment controls the foreign and security policies — two of the most important policies for any government. When a government is not able to decide on important issues like its diplomatic ties and defence policies, how can we expect it to perform well? As if that is not enough, there is always the fear of another military coup. We have seen in the past how our army chiefs have unceremoniously and unconstitutionally removed civilian governments. In a country where civilians are subservient to the whims and wishes of the high and mighty military establishment, the chances of a civilian government delivering on its promises is perhaps expecting too much. Military rule is inherently bad. Development cannot take place in its truest sense unless democracy is allowed to take root in Pakistan.

It is ironic that a man who toppled a civilian government is now being so dismissive of democracy. Mr Musharraf not only needs to brush up on history but also needs to come out of his delusional world where everything is hunky-dory as long as he or his military compatriots are in power. The icing on the cake is that Mr Musharraf recently launched his own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), in London. If he thinks that civilian governments are unable to deliver to the people, then why has he decided to enter politics as a ‘civilian’? General (retd) Musharraf should stick to delivering half-baked lectures all over the globe instead of trying his hand at politics.