Tuesday, April 6, 2010

18th Amendment bill tabled, Zia’s name deleted

The Federal Cabinet in a special meeting under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday unanimously approved the proposed 18th amendment bill 2010.The bill is placed before the both houses of the parliament by the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms.
Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister said the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill 2010 will strengthen the federation and democracy.
He further said that the bill would serve as a landmark in the constitutional history of the country and that the people would long remember this achievement of their elected representatives.Earlier, Raza Rabbani, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms explained salient features of the bill.He said it was a unique peace of legislation in many ways.The most important feature is that an incumbent President himself has given away his powers to the parliament and the people of Pakistan.Moreover, the bill will seek to repeal LFO as well as 17th amendment which were the symbols of dictatorial regime. General Zia-ul-Haq’s name has also been stricken out from the Constitution, he said.He further said that the passage of the bill will take the nation back to original constitution of 1973. This legislation has enjoyed maximum consensus of political parties on the issue of provincial autonomy.He informed the cabinet that the federal government will set up a committee to oversee the implementation and to provide guidance in framing the rules that will be required for implementation of the provisions of the bill.Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said 18th Amendment was a dividend of politics of reconciliation that would strengthen institutions and create balance of power between the President and the Parliament. “Today all stakeholders are on one pitch.The President, the Prime Minister, Supreme Court and the Parliament are working in complete harmony and it is the biggest dividend of reconciliatory politics,” he said soon after Senator Raza Rabbani presented the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the National Assembly.“Politics of reconciliation not only made us achieve this great goal but also paved way for Aghaz-e-Huqooq Balochistan, NFC Award and successfully fighting terrorism with full might,” he added.“It was the politics of reconciliation that the nation stood united in war against terrorism and it was for the first time in history of mankind that 2.5 million IDPs were repatriated to their houses within three months,” he added.He eulogized the national leadership who, he said, were united at one platform for the supreme national interest. “It is unity in diversity to do away with wrong doings of dictatorial regimes.” He appreciated the Constitutional Reforms Committee as well as its Chairman who brushed aside all confusions regarding these amendments. “I hold them in high esteem as they held 77 formal and more than 40 informal meetings to nullify the amendments of dictators. It manifest their commitment to the constitution.”
He said Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif realized the mistakes of past and jointly signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) for restoration of real democracy in the country. “And these amendments constitute number of those sections as well as fulfillment of the manifesto of political parties.”
The Prime Minister appreciated the sacrifices of the nation and the armed forces in fight agaisnt terrorism.He said it was not an ordinary task to bring all state organs in their constitutional ambit because if only President had refused, there could have not been balance of power.“The amendments, this Parliament is going to make, are for strengthening the institutions, and not any individual as the dictators did in the past,” he said.
“When I met President Zardari, I said power is a musical chair. One should not go after a thing, that is not permanent. So we need to strengthen institutions and not the persons,” he said.The Prime Minister said during his tenure in the government neither there was any incident of political victimization nor there was any political prisoner.“What we have today, is a fruit of unity. No matter we are in government or in the opposition, let us pledge to stand united for supreme national interests,” the Prime Minister said and once again congratulated the Chairman and the members of the Constitutional Reforms Committee.

Miliband slams Afghan poll interference claims

LONDON– Foreign Secretary David Miliband slammed Tuesday allegations of Western interference in Afghanistan's elections as "malign".Referring to a row which has strained ties between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Washington, he insisted British troops had helped secure elections tainted by allegations of fraud last year.
"It's very important we say clearly that any suggestion of Britain or any other country irregularly interfering in the election processes of Afghanistan is completely without foundation," he told lawmakers in the House of Commons."Our troops were there guaranteeing the safety of people seeking to go and vote and I'm sure it is a unified position across this house to have absolutely no truck with such malign suggestions -- especially about our troops, but actually about our whole country," he added.
His comments came after the United States and Karzai traded fresh recriminations Monday after failing to put a lid on a row over election fraud.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Karzai had told lawmakers that the United States was interfering with Afghan affairs and that the Taliban would become a legitimate resistance movement if it did not stop.
The paper said that in the private meeting, the Afghan president even suggested he could join the Taliban himself, if parliament did not support his efforts to take control of the country's election commission."The remarks are troubling and the substance of the remarks is simply not true," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, following the latest Karzai outbursts, just a week after President Barack Obama's surprise visit to Kabul.Karzai triggered the row last week with a speech blaming "foreigners" for widespread vote fraud in the presidential and provincial elections last year, and warning that the 126,000 NATO-led troops there risked being seen as "invaders".

Tensions Mount Between Washington and its Puppet in Kabul

(Center for Research on Globalization)

Thursday’s warning by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that US and other NATO troops could be regarded as “invaders” in his country provided a rare glimpse into the political realities in Afghanistan—and called forth a furious reaction from the Obama administration and the American media.
Karzai denounced those in the Washington and the Western media who have criticized the corruption and incompetence of his regime, complaining, “They wanted to have a puppet government. They wanted a servant government.”
The outburst came one day after the Afghan parliament voted to strip Karzai of the power he had claimed to name all five members of the country’s election commission, which is to oversee parliamentary elections in the fall. The decision came under heavy pressure from the US ambassador.
Karzai declared, “In this situation there is a thin curtain between invasion and cooperation-assistance.” He warned that if the people concluded that those in the Afghan government were simply mercenaries for the Western powers, the Taliban-led insurgency “could become a national resistance.”
What Karzai warns of as a possible outcome for the US-led war in Afghanistan has already largely come to pass, as an extraordinary report in Sunday’s New York Times makes clear.In a front-page dispatch from Marja, the district recently conquered by the US Marines in the first major offensive since Obama ordered an escalation of the war, Times correspondent Richard A. Oppel, Jr. writes that the Marines have no control in the region outside their own bases, the Taliban are resurgent, and those collaborating with the US occupation are isolated and targeted for retaliation. Most US-funded reconstruction work has been forced to shut down.
Oppel concludes: “In Marja, the Taliban are hardly a distinct militant group, and the Marines have collided with a Taliban identity so dominant that the movement appears more akin to the only political organization in a one-party town, with an influence that touches everyone. Even the Marines admit to being somewhat flummoxed.”
“We’ve got to re-evaluate our definition of the word ‘enemy,’” Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand Province, told the Times. “Most people here identify themselves as Taliban.”
Those fighting the occupation of Afghanistan are invariably described in the Western media as “Taliban,” in an effort to provide a “democratic” and “progressive” cover for the US-led military intervention. What Karzai suggests, and the Times report in effect confirms, is that the US-NATO war is directed against virtually the entire population of the country.
Karzai’s speech lifts the veil over the real nature of the US war in Afghanistan, sold to the American people over nearly nine years as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The US is engaged in a brutal colonial war aimed at propping up a puppet regime that will serve US interests in Central Asia—one of the largest suppliers of oil and gas to the world market.
It is unusual for the head of a government sustained entirely by US arms and dollars to issue such a public rebuke to his master. This is to be explained by two factors: the growing hostility of the Afghan people to the occupation, in which thousands of innocent people have been killed by American bombs, rockets, night-time commando raids and outright massacres; and the desperation of Karzai, who feels himself increasingly marginalized in his nominal role as head of the Afghan state.
The Afghan president’s speech, to a gathering of election officials, came four days after the visit by Barack Obama to Kabul, where the US president had a confrontational meeting with Karzai. Published reports said that Obama berated Karzai over the corruption in his regime and the vote-rigging in last year’s presidential election. No doubt the topic of Karzai’s recent overtures to Iran and China were also raised.
Karzai’s remarks provoked an immediate response from Washington. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called his statement “troubling” and “cause for real and genuine concern.” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley described Karzai’s intervention as “preposterous.”
US officials sought to contain the political uproar over Karzai’s comments, with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the real political power in Kabul, calling on the Afghan president to “clarify” his remarks, which he promptly did the next day in a long phone conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But the blast from their Afghan puppet has left American officials in a difficult position. To dismiss Karzai’s diatribe as lunacy—the New York Daily Newseditorial was headlined “Cuckoo Karzai”—means that 1,000 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans have lost their lives to keep a madman in power.
The New York Times, in an editorial April 3, called Karzai’s criticism “delusional” and warned that his statement could have political repercussions in the United States, because “it undermines the fragile public support for President Obama’s strategy” of pouring 30,000 more US troops into the Afghanistan war.
“Mr. Karzai is encouraging those who want the United States out of Afghanistan,” the editorial concluded. “He risks boiling down a more complicated policy debate to the notion that American lives are being sacrificed simply to keep him in power. It’s hard to think of a better way to doom Afghanistan’s future, as well as his own.”
The last phrase has a sinister ring, harking back nearly 50 years to when a previous US puppet ran afoul of Washington—in 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, facing similar criticism for corruption, incompetence and vote-rigging, was overthrown and murdered in a US-backed military coup, setting the stage for a decade of even deeper US military intervention.
The Times returned to the subject again in an article posted on the front page of its web site Sunday afternoon, noting that Karzai had intensified his criticism of the US in a meeting with his parliamentary faction. “If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban,” he reportedly said.
The Times article mulled over possible options for US policy towards Karzai, listing three options: “threaten to withdraw, or actually withdraw, troops; use diplomacy, which so far has had little result; and find ways to expand citizen participation in the government.”
The last “option” is meaningless in an occupied country where all such “participation” is dictated by the occupying powers. It is perhaps a euphemism for the one action which has been the most commonly used weapon in the arsenal of American imperialism—a coup engineered and facilitated by Washington.
Sections of the former Northern Alliance, based in the Tajik minority, are certainly capable of carrying out such an action with the proper encouragement from the Obama administration. There is no doubt that discussions about that possibility are under way in the White House, Pentagon and CIA—as well as how to package it as greater “citizen participation” in the Kabul regime.

Peshawar blasts disrupts routine life

PESHAWAR: The series of bomb blasts in the vicinity of US Consulate here Monday paralysed routine life in the city and sent a wave of fear and panic among the residents of the provincial metropolis.

All the main roads including Khyber Road, Mall Road, University Road and Airport Road were blocked for all kinds of traffic soon after the bomb blasts that took place near Hayat Avenue Square, also known Shama Chowk.

Shopping centres and offices located in Peshawar Cantt Bazaar were closed as huge explosions broke windowpanes of many buildings in Saddar Bazaar. The public transport and other vehicular traffic plying between Hayatabad and interior City was diverted to Bara Road, thus creating problems for commuters and motorists as the heavily barricaded road witnessed worst traffic jams on various points.

“The first bomb blast was so powerful that we think it had occurred somewhere at Saddar Bazaar,” said shopkeeper Noor Wali, adding that the intended buyers left the market after the explosion. He said the whole market was closed within minutes amid panic when the second and third blasts shook the area.

Though the bazaars and streets in Cantonment wore a deserted look after the blast, the police officials at various checkpoints were seen standing alert. After the string of explosions, a brief visit to Cantt bazaar revealed that glass doors and windowpanes of many offices and shops at Deans Trade Centre, offices at Mall Road and shopping centres at main Saddar Bazaar had been broken.

Due to traffic jam and diversion of mini-buses to Bara Road, hundreds of commuters and motorists faced problems. Entry of vehicles from Ring Road to Peshawar City was not allowed for an hour or so, testing the patience of hundreds of motorists who were on way to their offices or homes located in the Cantonment. “I have changed many routes on my way to office from Hayatabad,” said a motorist, adding that refusal of entry to motorists from Ring Road was unnecessary. The University and Khyber roads were opened for traffic one and a half hours after the blast.

ANP observes 3-day mourning across province

ANP observes 3-day mourning across province PESHAWAR: Awami National Party (ANP) is observing mourning today across the province over the killings of the Party’s worker in Timergarah suicide blasts.The entire province wears an air of grief and mourning in the wake of bomb blasts in Peshawar and Timergarah.The ANP announced three-day mourning on the killings of innocent people in the terror incidents yesterday.Programs in connection with condolence are being held at all district headquarters with the ANP flag lowered to half mast.The ANP’s NWFP President Afrasiab Khatak urged the workers to stay united against the terrorists and not to flinch back from sacrifices in foiling the designs of extremists.

Pakistan Seeks Return to Parliamentary System

Pakistan's parliament is preparing to vote to take away the president's power to dismiss the prime minister. It is also to vote to change the name of one of its provinces. The proposals have deep implications for the country's political and social structure.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is doing something very unusual for most politicians, he is asking parliament to take away some of his power.

In a speech Monday to a joint parliamentary session, he called on parliament to pass a new amendment to the constitution that would strip the president of the power to fire the prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly.

Former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, says it would in effect restore Pakistan to a state under which power rests with the prime minister and the president is a figurehead.

"The political parties see this as a way - of course, rightly - of restoring the '73 constitution to its original form, which basically means rebalancing power away from the president and towards the prime minister, and restoring to parliament to what it should have under a parliamentary system," said Lodhi.

That power to fire the government was first appropriated by a former military ruler, President Zia ul-Haq, in 1985. Zia died three years later, but that power remained in the president's hands. It was used three times in the 1990s to dismiss democratically elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and was retained by another military ruler, Pervez Musharraf.

In the last election in 2008, the head of Pakistan Peoples' Party, Asif Zardari, became president instead of prime minister. Zardari is the husband of former Prime Minister Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007.

Maleeha Lodhi says that since the president and prime minister are from the same party, stripping away the president's power will have little immediate practical effect. But, she adds, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani can be expected to gradually become more assertive.

"The more power is drained away from him [Zardari], it does mean it will enable Prime Minister Gilani, who is seen as a more consensual figure in Pakistani politics, to begin to assert himself and to establish greater autonomy than he has had in the past two years," added Lodhi.

The 18th Amendment also wipes away a vestige of British colonial rule on the Indian subcontinent. Under the proposal, the name of the North West Frontier Province will be changed to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Congressional Research Service South Asia analyst Alan Kronstadt says the change has long been a platform plank of the Awami National Party (ANP), an ethnic-Pashtun party that won the 2008 provincial elections.

"That is actually a long-standing request by many that the Frontier should reflect, as the other Pakistani provinces do, the name should reflect the majority ethnicity there," said Kronstadt. "And you have in power there the ANP, which is a Pashtun-nationalist party, and so they are proponents of what would be an important symbolic development."

A name change for the province has long been resisted, especially by the military, for fear it would reawaken dormant Pashtun nationalist sentiment for more autonomy or even separation from Pakistan. Longtime South Asia affairs analyst Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy says Pashtuns have often resented what they see as ethnic Punjabi domination of government institutions, particularly the military.

"In the case of the Pashtuns of the North West Frontier, the British rigged the elections at the time of independence so that the dominant movement in the Pashtun areas - which wanted an independent Pashtunistan and did not want to join Pakistan either - was marginalized," noted Harrison. "So you have had very serious tensions over the terms of the relationship between the dominant Punjab and these ethnic minority regions."

But Maleeha Lodhi, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, dismisses fears of rekindling Pashtun nationalism in Pakistan.

"We have seen over the last two or three decades that the Pashtuns, who were once an alienated ethnic group, have been increasingly integrated into mainstream Pakistan," explained Lodhi. "They are represented in Pakistan's powerful military. They are represented in Pakistan's civil service. And, of course, they have entered in the last several decades Pakistan's industrial elite. So I do not think there is any danger of that kind anymore."

The 18th Amendment is widely expected to garner the necessary two-thirds majority with little trouble when a vote is taken, because its drafting was done by a bipartisan parliamentary commission.

Karzai, White House escalate war of words

A war of words between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the White House escalated on Monday, with Washington expressing frustration that an attempt to smooth over the feud had so far failed.Karzai said he stood by remarks from last week accusing the West of carrying out election fraud in Afghanistan, and appeared to sharpen the criticism still further by singling out the United States specifically for blame.
The White House said it was frustrated on behalf of the American public, and invoked the sacrifice made by families who send their loved ones off to fight. There are more than 120,000 Western troops in Afghanistan, including more than 80,000 Americans, set to rise to 100,000 Americans this year.
Karzai's continued defense of his anti-Western remarks could signal that he is pursuing a deliberate new policy of distancing himself from his Western backers, rather than simply having expressed frustration in a one-off outburst last week.
That could complicate U.S. counter-insurgency war strategy, which depends on showing a united front with Karzai's government and persuading Afghans that troops are there to support it.Karzai phoned U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday to smooth over the quarrel, but White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that since that phone call "it obviously didn't get any better.
"The remarks are troubling and the substance of the remarks is simply just not true," Gibbs said."On behalf of the American people we are frustrated with the remarks. I think that families all over this country have watched their loved ones go off a long way away to serve bravely in our armed forces and to help a country establish peace and security."
Gibbs said a May 12 visit by Karzai to Washington was still on and Washington would continue to work with Karzai, but had set benchmarks for his government. He did not expect Karzai's remarks to affect consideration in Congress of the Obama administration's request for funds to pay for the war.
In his speech on Thursday, Karzai said foreigners had bribed and threatened election workers to carry out fraud in last year's presidential election. He singled out the former deputy head of the U.N. mission in Kabul -- American diplomat Peter Galbraith -- as well as the French head of a European Union monitoring team.
In an interview with BBC television on Monday, Karzai for the first time appeared to ascribe blame for election fraud specifically to Washington, rather than the West as a whole.
"What I said about the election was all true, I won't repeat it, but it was all true," Karzai said."That the U.S. carried out the fraud?" the BBC correspondent asked."That's exactly what happened; I mentioned the elements who did it," Karzai said.He added: "We have partnership, we want to continue this alliance and partnership with the United States and the rest of the world, in the interest of both of us. But this has to be understood by all that Afghanistan is a sovereign country."
In other public remarks in recent days, Karzai told elders in the southern town of Kandahar on Sunday: "Afghanistan will be fixed when its people trust their president is independent ... when its people trust the government is independent and not a puppet."Karzai, who enjoyed close personal relations with President Barack Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, has had a frosty relationship with the Obama administration from the outset. It worsened during a three-month election fraud dispute last year.Obama made the first visit to Afghanistan of his presidency last week, nearly 15 months since taking office. The entire visit took place under cover of darkness and Obama refused to answer questions alongside Karzai, gestures some Afghans saw as snubs.The Obama administration has consistently accused Karzai of doing too little to fight corruption, an issue Karzai says is exaggerated in Western media and largely the fault of Western countries for poorly managing their own aid projects.Among other issues that may have provoked his more confrontational stance last week is a quarrel with parliament and Western countries about the role that foreigners would play in a parliamentary election in September.Karzai has launched a push this year to reach out to insurgents for talks, meeting a skeptical response from U.S. officials who say it is too soon to talk with Taliban leaders.U.S. officials have also briefed reporters that they would like to sideline Karzai's half brother, now a powerful figure in Kandahar, as part of their offensive there. Karzai has stood by his brother despite requests from Washington to push him aside.