Friday, February 26, 2010

Buried in snow, Northeast to get more

A major winter storm will continue to wallop the Northeast on Friday, a day after heavy snow closed schools, roads and caused dangerous conditions.

Parts of New York could get as much as a foot of snow Friday. The storm is the third blizzard to hit the area in a month.

"The heavy wet snow will be sufficient to bring down trees and power lines and could also cause roof collapses," the National Weather Service said.

A snow-covered tree limb fell in Central Park on Thursday, killing a 46-year-old man. New York City's Parks Department warned residents to stay out of city parks after the incident.

Parts of New York had received from 22 to 30 inches by Thursday evening, the Weather Service said. Massachusetts was averaging 22 inches across the state. Parts of Pennsylvania had as much as 12 inches. Areas in Vermont received as much as 38 inches of snow.

The storm canceled more than 1,000 flights at New York area airports Thursday, said John Kelly, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Most cancellations were at Newark Liberty International Airport, with LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy Airport also scrapping flights.

More cancellations were expected Friday, airport officials said.

The latest wintery blast hasn't yet wreaked as much havoc as did February's two earlier blizzards. Power companies in the New York area were reporting few outages.

But for some, any more snow was just too much.

"I've just been shoveling," a weary man told CNN-affiliate WBRE. "And it looks like I'll be doing so more shoveling."

More girls among child labourers than boys

Girls outstrip boys in the child workforce and the number of children working in villages is more than twice that in cities and towns, according to a survey conducted by a non-governmental organisation.More than three million children are working as labourers in different industries with the majority linked to bangle manufacturing, carpet weaving and surgical industry.

Leaders of the Global Compact Pakistan Faseehul Karim Siddiki and Zaheer Arif, addressing a press conference at the press club on Thursday, said that though the number of child labourers was more than 3.3 million but authorities have failed in protecting their rights due to the lack of will to implement international laws. They regretted the government attitude in following comprehensive policy in this regard.

The prevalence of child labour practice is because of poverty, which, if can’t be abolished altogether should at least be curtailed by reducing their working hours so that they could pursue their education as well, they said.

They said that the football industry in Sialkot has been purged of this practice but girls in agriculture and as domestics outnumber boys and the ratio of child labour in rural and urban areas is 70:30.

They called on media and anti-child labour organisations to join hands for fending off this evil, for ever.

Syed Jawed Shah, president of the Indus Development Society said that in Larkana alone there were some 24,000 children engaged in carpet and newspaper industries, besides working in different arenas. These helpless souls, he said, more often face physical, sexual and mental harassment.

The leaders proposed of forming coalition groups at district level to effectively address the issue of child labour.

They also announced of establishing a branch of Global Compact Pakistan in Larkana.

Hillary urges rich Pakistanis to pay more tax

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged wealthy Pakistanis to pay a larger share of taxes to reduce their country’s dependence on foreign aid.

In a testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the top US diplomat reminded rich Pakistanis that they had a duty to enable their government to fund schools and hospitals and to spend more on other social projects by paying taxes.

“The very well-off” in Pakistan “do not pay their fair share for the services that are needed, in health and education primarily,” she observed.

Secretary Clinton said the US, along with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, was looking for ways to pressure nations that received loans and grants to broaden their tax base.

US spending on Pakistan, she said, were designed to promote political stability, weaken terrorist elements and help the war effort in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Mrs Clinton said the US, which last year approved a non-military annual aid package of $1.5 billion for Pakistan for five years, was also trying to boost trade and other investment opportunities in that country.

She appreciated the recent steps taken by the Pakistani government to help revive the ailing economy and noted that the Obama administration had committed to some large energy projects in Pakistan.

Such projects, she said, would enable Pakistan to overcome some of its major economic challenges by “keeping the power on and keeping those factories humming”.

The Obama administration, she noted, had “ordered a redirection of our aid so that we produce results that are in line with the needs and aspirations of the Pakistani people”. Meanwhile, documents produced before the US Congress show that since Sept 11, 2001, Pakistan has received nearly $18 billion of aid from the United States, including $11.5 billion in military assistance.

A Congressional compilation of the US aid to Pakistan showed that Islamabad received $6 billion in civilian aid after the Sept 11 attacks.

The Obama administration, in its latest annual budget, has proposed $1.6 billion in military assistance and about $1.4 billion as civilian assistance to Pakistan. This takes the total US aid to Pakistan to more than $20.7 billion post 9/11.

Of the military assistance, the maximum amount of $7.345 billion has come from the Coalition Support Fund, which Islamabad does not consider foreign assistance as this is reimbursement for its efforts to combat militants along the Afghan border.

This is followed by $2.164 billion in foreign military assistance. After coming to power, the Obama administration has so far provided $1.1 billion ($400 million in 2009 and $700 million in 2010) for Pakistan from the Counter-Insurgency Fund/Counter-Insurgency Capability Fund.

For the year 2011, the Obama administration has proposed $1.2 billion for Pakistan under this category.

Non-military assistance to Pakistan has increased considerably since last year, mainly because of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill.

Post 9/11, Pakistan has received $6 billion as civilian assistance, most of which — $4.7 billion — comes from the Economic Support Fund. For the year 2011, the US administration has proposed $1.322 billion as economic support to Pakistan.

CIA extends war on terror to Peshawar, Quetta in Pak

America's CIA has taken its war against Taliban and al-Qaeda from the mountainous Af-Pak border region to the bases in Pakistan's Peshawar and Quetta cities, a media report said today.

The report by New York Times said that the agencies that have previously shared a "tormented relationship" are now working on the several reconnaissance missions together but their long-term strategies when it comes to the Taliban and Pakistan's role in Afghanistan's future are different.

"Successful missions sometimes end with American and Pakistani spies toasting one another with Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, a gift from the CIA," the report said.

The Pakistani government, however, has downplayed the relationship between the ISI and CIA to avoid a backlash from the public, which disapproves of the strong American presence in their country especially when it costs civilian lives in the fighting.

Afghans Plant Flag and Their Hopes

New York Times
MARJA, Afghanistan — The black, red and green flag of Afghanistan was hoisted over the center of this onetime Taliban stronghold on Thursday, as Afghan officials symbolically claimed control after a major American-led military offensive.

While this city has emerged from the worst of the fighting, there were reports of scattered battles to the north of Marja, and American and Afghan troops continued to pursue Taliban militants. The militaries now face formidable challenges in securing the city enough for the government to begin to provide the services that it hopes will win people’s loyalty.

Residents who fled began to return, and some markets reopened Thursday. But there is little food because the major road into Marja is still mined, and the city remains a dangerous labyrinth of buried bombs, booby traps and pockets of insurgents.

With Afghan soldiers, tribal elders and residents of Marja looking on at the flag raising, the governor of Helmand Province, which includes Marja, and a top Afghan Army officer promised to restore security and stability to the city and to transform it from a bastion of the Taliban into a “symbol of peace.”

The officer, Gen. Sher Muhammad Zazai, the Afghan Army’s top commander in the Marja campaign, said the operation’s military goals were “almost achieved,” and he promised residents that the Taliban would no longer pose a threat to the area. Marja, a city of about 80,000 near the Pakistani border, had been a Taliban enclave for nearly three years.

But Gen. Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said at a news conference in Kabul that it could take up to a month for troops to defuse bombs and rout the remaining fighters. Sporadic fighting and resistance could last even longer, adding to the difficulties of setting up a fully functional local government. American military officials have described the battle for Marja as part of a larger campaign, political as much as military, to weaken the Taliban.

The governor of Helmand, Gulab Mangal, who attended the ceremony here, said that troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force would remain in the area until security was restored and that they would not allow Marja to fall again to the Taliban. He promised that reconstruction projects would begin soon and that President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government would run the city better than the Taliban had.

“What did they do for you people?” Mr. Mangal said at the ceremony, which took place near the site of the new government offices. “Are there any schools, clinics being built by the Taliban? Are they helping you?”

Coalition officials, trying to quickly restore government services, have begun to set up schools and hire employees to fill jobs in the district government.

Afghan officials also expressed their condolences over the civilians who were killed or wounded in the offensive, which began on Feb. 12 and was the largest military campaign since the invasion in 2001. But Mr. Mangal said it was a “great achievement” that so few civilians had been killed.

The military warned of the offensive for weeks in an effort to drive away Taliban militants and keep civilian casualties to a minimum. But the Afghan human rights commission said that 28 civilians had nonetheless been killed in the fighting. At least 12 service members in the NATO force, including 8 Americans, have been killed during the campaign.

On Thursday, some shop owners complained that their goods had been stolen while they were away, and they said that they wanted compensation.

As residents watched the flag raising on Thursday, some expressed mixed feelings about the change of power. They said that the Taliban had provided order and security and that the Afghan Army now needed to prove that it could open schools, clear mines and explosives from the roads and fields, and keep the population safe.

One shopkeeper, Baz Muhammad, 25, said he had returned to Marja after fleeing and staying away for 10 days during the fighting. He said that he welcomed the arrival of Afghan forces but that he was leery of foreign troops. He said he would support the return of the Taliban if NATO troops overstepped their bounds.

“People are saying they will raid our houses at night and they will kill us or detain us,” Mr. Muhammad said.

Juma Gul, 20, said his family had remained in the city even after his grandfather was shot and killed in front of his home.

“The operation was painful and full of miseries for our family,” Mr. Gul said, adding that he wanted to see the troops leave as soon as possible. “For us, they are not useful. We don’t want them to stay in Marja. We want them to leave. For us, both the Taliban and Marines are the same. They are fighting and killing us. We don’t want either.”

NATO said Thursday that two service members had died in southern Afghanistan — one on Wednesday when an improvised explosive device blew up, and the other on Thursday from small arms fire. A statement from NATO said neither service member died as part of the Marja campaign.