Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pukhtunkhwa(NWFP)virtually turned into cultural wasteland

PESHAWAR: The North-West Frontier Province with its rich cultural heritage has been turned into a cultural wasteland for the last few years.

The most trumpeted cultural directorate is yet to become functional at the historic Gor Gathri complex, while artistes and singers are still under threat and yet to restart their career. Private cultural and literary functions are being held at their own risk.

“The government has made tall claims to establish cultural directorate and work for the benefits of the poets and artistes but no such promise has been fulfilled. The state-run television station in Peshawar too has no plan to air quality cultural or literary programmes for the last many months. The artistes and writers are demoralized with the Philistine attitude of the government. On the contrary whatever the government says is no more than hollow slogans,” deplored Prof Abaseen Yousafzai, a Pashto poet and chairman of the Pashto Department at the Islamia College University.

Providing protection and security to the artistes is another important issue. A year ago many singers and performing artistes were threatened with dire consequences if they did not give up their profession while some were even kidnapped for ransom and released on the condition of quitting the profession. Some started reciting na’ats.

Kafayat Shah Bacha who was a popular folk singer began sporting a beard and started reciting religious hymns. Many artistes left NWFP and moved to other cities in the country or abroad to escape the wrath of the militants. Haroon Bacha, another noted singer, sought political asylum in 2009 in the US.

“If there is no cultural activity, how can the singers and artistes survive? It is now the question of the survival of the artistes themselves, let alone the arts and culture in the NWFP,” observed a young singer, Bakhtiar Khattak.

“There are eight audio recording studios in the city, a few amateur singers turn up for singing as there is no academy or government sponsorship. It is at their own risk that they invest in a music chart and take it to private TV channel for airing without caring for its quality,” he said.

Prof Dr Rajwali Shah Khattak, director Centre of Pashto Language and Literature, University of Peshawar, told The News that it was unfortunate that owing to recent wave of militancy, Frontier cultural heritage was affected in several ways.

He felt bombing mausoleum of great Sufi poet Rahman Baba was a tragic incident not only for Pashtuns but for all human beings. “In Peshawar’s Dabgari Bazaar there were 30 to 50 shops where musical instruments used to be hand-made and put on sale but now only two rabab making shops are left there which I believe is a great cultural loss. We must try to revive our rich cultural heritage by organizing cultural and literary events otherwise posterity will not forgive us,” Dr Rajwali Shah Khattak said.

UK expels Israeli diplomat over Dubai slaying case

Britain has expelled an Israeli diplomat over the alleged use of forged U.K. passports in the assassination of a Hamas operative in a suspected Mossad hit.

Israel said it was disappointed but vowed to strengthen its relationship with Britain.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband told lawmakers on Tuesday that the Israeli diplomat, who has not been named, was removed from London following an investigation into the use of 12 fake U.K. passports in the Jan 20 slaying in Dubai.

He says a British investigation found “compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible” for the forged passports.

Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, said Israel was “disappointed by the decision of the British government” but affirmed his commitment to a relationship ``of mutual importance.''

Karzai holds peace talks with Hekmatyar group

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has met delegates from Afghanistan’s second-biggest militant group and is studying their peace proposals, his spokesman said on Monday.

Hezb-e-Islami is headed by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is black-listed as a terrorist by the United Nations and the United States. The latter accuses him of taking part in and supporting attacks by al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Karzai has been pursuing peace talks in the hope of ending the crippling insurgency led by the Taliban, while the United States implements a troop surge designed to weaken the militants.

Hezb-e-Islami had said it would only hold peace talks with Karzai’s government once all foreign forces had quit Afghan soil. The latest move could thus be seen as an early success in the president’s reconciliation efforts.

“I confirm that a meeting between the Hezb-e-Islami delegation and the president took place a couple of days back,” presidential spokesman Waheed Omar told AFP.

“They brought with them a peace plan, a proposal, and the president is studying it,” he said, confirming that the president had yet to respond to the plan.

The US State Department designated Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, as a terrorist in 2003, accusing him of taking part in and supporting al Qaeda and Taliban attacks.

Hezb-e-Islami’s spokesman Haroon Zarghon told AFP that the delegation of senior members handed Karzai a 15-point document they hoped would form the basis of peace talks.

Of the 15 points, “one of them is to set a clear timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces and another the formation of an interim administration”, Zarghon said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The delegation currently in Kabul is headed by Qutbuddin Helal, Hekmatyar’s deputy and also a former prime minister, Qaribul Rehman Sayeed, Ghairat Baheer and other prominent figures who formed Hezb-e-Islami, Zarghon said.

Talks: He said Hezb-e-Islami would “for Afghanistan’s well-being and prosperity” also encourage the Taliban to pursue peace negotiations. afp

Afghanistan Signs Understanding With UN to Fight Illegal Chemical Trade

Senior Afghanistan officials and the U.N. Environment Program have agreed to work together to fight the illegal trade in banned chemicals.

In a memorandum of understanding signed in Bangkok, the United Nations and Afghanistan took aim at chemicals that scientists say harm the ozone layer and contribute to climate change.

Afghanistan Ministry of Finance Deputy Minister For Customs And Revenue Sa'id Mubin Shah says the United Nations will help train Afghan customs officials to identify the dangerous chemicals.

"Especially in the current time in need of building our capacity for the customs officials; without capacity the official cannot do many things so that is why it is very important, and identification especially of the chemical which is destroying the ozone layer," he said.

The agreement sets up a framework for helping Afghan customs officers implement the Montreal Protocol.

The 1989 protocol calls for phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons and hydro-chlorofluorocarbons, which scientists say damage the ozone layer. The ozone layer blocks harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Scientists also say that CFCs act as greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

UNEP Regional Director Young Woo Park says the agreement will help reduce illegal trade in the banned chemicals in South Asia. "The country, as the world knows, has the internal war, but they still show the importance of the environment and they willingly sign this MOU to make to deal with one of the environmental issues - ozone layer destruction; also at the same time how to deal with the illegal traffic of chemical substances," he said.

Park says the trade is difficult to curb as the chemicals are cheap and there is easy access to supplies outside Afghanistan. But he says the Afghan government has pledge to halt the trade within its borders despite the country's war.

The UNEP estimates that local and international crime syndicates earn up to $30 billion annually from the illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities such as ozone-depleting substances, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste and endangered species.

Pakistan Day celebrated with renewed commitment

In the face of manifold internal and external challenges, the nation celebrated Pakistan Day on Tuesday with a pledge to make the country a strong, progressive and prosperous Islamic welfare state in accordance with the vision of the Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The day is celebrated every year in commemoration of 'The Pakistan Resolution' adopted on March 23, 1940.

The day was dawn with a 31-gun salute in the federal capital, and 21-gun salutes in provincial capitals. After Fajr prayers, special prayers were also offered for the country's progress, strength and solidarity.

Seminars and special functions were organised across the country to pay homage to the Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

Speakers highlighted sacrifices rendered by the people for the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims of India.

It may be noted that The All India Muslim League held its annual session at Minto Park, Lahore, from March 22 to 24, 1940. On March 23, 1940, "The Pakistan Resolution" was adopted through which the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent pledged to create an independent homeland, where they could live in accordance with their religious and cultural values.

On this occasion, President Asif Ali Zardari conferred awards on outstanding civil and military personalities in recognition of their meritorious services at an investiture ceremony at Aiwan-e-Sadar. Similar functions were held at Governor Houses in the provincial capitals ie Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.

Newspapers brought out supplements to highlight the importance of the day and the ideals of Quaid-i-Azam, under whose leadership Muslims passed Pakistan Resolution in Lahore on March 23, 1940, a momentous milestone in the history of Pakistan movement.

The public and private radio and TV channels also telecasted special programmes. Thanksgiving prayers were offered in places of worship.

Pakistan Rangers held a musical show to commemorate the Pakistan Day festivities at Wagha border on Tuesday. Singers flock at the Wagha border sang national songs to mark the occasion.

Power stays away in Peshawar on Pak Day

Residents of Peshawar didn’t get a respite from long hours of load shedding even on Pakistan Day (Tuesday) and several areas of the city don’t have power supply for last many hours.

In different areas of Peshawar, unannounced load shedding for long hours has been going on. In the important trade centre of the city, Sikandra Pura, load shedding for 4 hours at a time has affected domestic shoppers as well as the business class people.

In Jahangirabad on University Road, power supply is suspended since 8:00 am whereas in suburban and rural areas of the city load shedding continues for 12 hours.

According to PASCO authorities, the province’s power short fall is 600 MW and long hours of load shedding are meant to cover the difference between the demand and supply of electricity.

Obama Signs Landmark Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON — With the stroke of President Obama’s pen, his health care overhaul — the most sweeping social legislation enacted in decades — became law on Tuesday.

Mr. Obama affixed his curlicue signature, almost letter by letter, to the measure, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, surrounded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and a raft of other lawmakers who spent the past year on a legislative roller-coaster ride trying to pass it. Aides said he would pass out the 20 pens he used as mementoes.

The ceremony included two special guests: Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who had been a driving force for health care legislation before his death last year, and Connie Anderson, the sister of Natoma Canfield, the Ohio cancer survivor whose struggle to pay skyrocketing health insurance premiums became a touchstone of Mr. Obama’s campaign to overhaul the system.

Mr. Kennedy’s son, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, was also there, carrying a gift for the president: a copy of a bill his father introduced in 1970 to provide national health insurance. On it, the younger Mr. Kennedy had written a personal message to Mr. Obama.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. began the ceremony with remarks lauding the president’s “perseverence” and “clarity of purpose.”

The White House took on a festive air for the occasion, as senators mingled in the grand foyer of the Executive Mansion before the signing ceremony. A Marine pianist was playing as lawmakers and other guests, including patients and their advocates, chatted in anticipation of Mr. Obama’s arrival. As they filtered into the East Room, many lawmakers took out cameras to photograph one another and record the moment.

The landmark bill, passed by the House on Sunday night by a vote of 219-212, will provide coverage to an estimated 30 million people who currently lack it. Its passage assures Mr. Obama a place in history as the American president who succeeded at revamping the nation’s health care system where others, notably Bill Clinton, tried mightily and failed.

The measure will require most Americans to have health insurance coverage; would add 16 million people to the Medicaid rolls; and would subsidize private coverage for low- and middle-income people. It will cost the government about $938 billion over 10 years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which has also estimated that the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over a decade.

Despite the president’s signature, the legislative work on the measure is not over, nor is the intense partisan fight over it. Republicans are already vowing to repeal the bill. And the legislative battle will flare anew in the Senate on Tuesday, where lawmakers are set to take up a package of changes to the measure under the parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation.