Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Budget of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa increased to Rs 21bn

PESHAWAR : President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday urged the people of province not to let outsiders enter their ranks and unite to protect their motherland against all challenges.

Addressing a tribal jirga here at the Governor House, the President said every citizen has to play his role as complacency has no place in such challenging times.

He said the people of the province need to check that their neighbours were not illegal foreigners or involved in unlawful activities so that they might not create problems for the locals.

The President who was on a day-long visit to the provincial metropolis said, the people here have a better understanding of their surroundings, social customs and must work together to create a safe environment. He assured full support of the government in this regard.

"We will not let anyone take even an inch of our land and will protect it at the cost of our lives as we know how much sacrifices were rendered to get liberation from the British," he said.

He said it was his vision that Pakistan emerges as a major world trade route and added the government was committed to achieve all these goals with the help of the people.

The President greeted the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for getting their true recognition and thanked Allah Almighty for bestowing the present government the honour of giving the province its new identity.

He said the decision of the new name was the result of a consensus that reflected the political maturity of the people and the political party.

President Zardari said the government was facing several challenges but added that all these would be surmounted. He recalled the past when there was no crime in Fata and the area was totally peaceful. However, he regretted that all those who were granted a refuge in these areas, turned out to be bitter enemies in the end.

President pointed that Shaheed Benazir Bhutto lost her life and said her supreme sacrifice was for the sovereignty of Pakistan. He invited the tribal elders to visit Islamabad at their convenience and assured that all their problems would be resolved.

He also assured that all those who lost their lives in the province be given equal compensation. He said the budget of the province has increased 30 per cent. The president said the total budget would touch Rs 21 billion after adding foreign aid and additional resources of Rs 8 billion from the federal government.

President pointed at the distribution of the new BISP cards and said all the deserving people would get their cards through a transparent and clean system.

President Zardari said the government was pursuing the policy of reconciliation of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and said the NFC award and 18th amendment were small steps in this regard and assured that much more would be done by the government.

The President said jirgas need to be formed and consensus will be achieved to take along the people of Fata and to address their problems.

Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Owais Ahmed Ghani thanked the President for his support to the province and in particular the Fata, to counter the challenges the province was facing.

Karzai's brother says UN should not leave south

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The powerful half brother of President Hamid Karzai urged the international aid community Tuesday not to pull out of the troubled southern city of Kandahar, where a deteriorating security situation prompted the U.N. to scale back its operations.
The world body said Monday it had relocated several foreign employees to Kabul and told more than 200 Afghan workers to stay home.The announcement came hours after three bombings — one targeting a local police official — shook the city. A recent rash of attacks comes ahead of a joint Afghan-NATO operation to try to wrest control of the area from Taliban militants."We are not facing a big threat," said Ahmad Wali Karzai, a top official in Kandahar province and the most important power broker in southern Afghanistan. He added that the security situation was far worse a few years ago."You get one or two incidents once or twice a week," he told The Associated Press. "That shouldn't be a concern. A suicide attack can happen anywhere."
Later, Karzai told reporters in Kandahar that pulling out of the city plays into the Taliban's hands and will affect humanitarian assistance.
Since April 12, at least 20 civilians, including eight children, have been killed in Kandahar, according to an AP count. Local officials, aid workers and contractors for U.S. development projects have been targeted by Taliban fighters trying to disrupt the upcoming military operation, expected to accelerate this summer.
A senior Western official familiar with U.N. operations said 16 U.N. workers based in Kandahar were moved to a more heavily secured compound Sunday night before going to Kabul and perhaps other destinations. The official spoke anonymously because the information had not been publicly released by the United Nations.
The U.N. has been on the defensive in Afghanistan since October, when three suicide attackers stormed a Kabul residence where dozens of staffers lived. Five U.N. employees and three Afghan citizens were killed in a two-hour siege.
After that attack, the U.N. sent about 600 of its 1,100 foreign staffers either out of the country or relocated them to safer quarters. Many eventually were recalled to Kabul; others chose not to renew their contracts or terminated their tours in Afghanistan early.The U.N. had previously used only Afghan police officers to protect most staff living quarters. Since then, it has added international armed guards to all its buildings.On Tuesday, the Afghan government renounced a U.N. report that says friendly fire from Afghan security forces may have killed four of the five U.N. staffers that died during the assault.An Interior Ministry spokesman said a separate investigation by the Afghan government and the European Union police mission reached another conclusion."Our findings show that these people were killed as a result of the shootings of the bombers, the terrorists who were wearing police uniforms," ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said. He said that the U.N. had ignored requests from the government to share their evidence and called for NATO to launch an independent investigation into the event.Regarding the situation in Kandahar, Bashary said the Afghan government is committed to providing security to U.N. staffers throughout the country.
In Kabul, security forces were setting up extra roadblocks and checkpoints ahead of Wednesday's celebration to mark the Mujahedeen victory over the Soviets in the 1980s war. The deputy police chief in Kabul said a rocket hit the ground near the Ministry of Urban Development in the capital early Tuesday, but there were no casualties.
In April 2008, insurgents tried to assassinate President Karzai during the celebration. Three people were killed and eight others were wounded.On Tuesday, a NATO service member was killed in eastern Afghanistan in a small-arms attack. NATO did not release the service member's name or nationality.Also Tuesday, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said a rocket attack killed three civilians and wounded three others inside a home in the northern Kunduz province. The ministry blamed insurgents for the Monday night attack.Kunduz had been relatively quiet until a few years ago when Taliban activity began to increase, threatening NATO supply routes south from Central Asia.In the Argandab district of Kandahar on Tuesday morning, a roadside bomb exploded near a school while NATO troops tried to defuse it, but nobody was hurt, NATO said.In Helmand and Ghazni provinces, gunbattles killed eight militants Monday — two in Helmand and six in Ghazni, the Interior Ministry said. Both battles pitted militants against private security workers.

Militant assassinations sow new fear in Afghan city

On Sunday evening in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar two masked men on a motorbike stopped in the middle of a bazaar, pulled out guns, killed a man and then sped off.The dead man was Haji Abdul-Hai, a tribal chieftain with strong connections to the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, which is the target of a bitter Taliban insurgency.The assassination of government officials, their associates or anyone notably linked to the government has become routine in the volatile city.A series of shockingly audacious murders in recent months has spread fear throughout the city and as far as the highest levels of leadership in Kabul.The UN on Monday ordered its 200 Afghan staff in the city to remain indoors for their own safety, and relocated foreign staff to Kabul, a spokesman said.Karzai held a National Security Council meeting at the weekend to discuss the deadly surge of attacks against officials in his home town.The security chiefs presented Karzai with a plan aimed at countering the attacks, said his spokesman, Waheed Omar, adding: "The president will personally follow this."Since late February, when Taliban assailants killed Abdul Majid Babai, provincial director of information and culture, 12 people, mostly working for the provincial government, have been murdered.The killing spree has emerged as US and NATO troops have been conducting military operations in and around the city as part of a stealthy offensive to eradicate the militant threat.Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban movement in the 1990s, capital of their 1996-2001 regime, and has long been the heartland of the insurgency.
Much of the city, as well as large swathes of the province, are under Taliban control.
NATO and the United States have 126,000 troops in Afghanistan battling the insurgency, with the number set to reach 150,000 by August. Many are heading south, military officials have said, with the aim of neutralizing the Taliban by the time the Ramadan religious festival begins in August.
As the campaign intensifies, the Taliban are adapting their own tactics, adding assassination to crude mines and suicide bombings.
The recent killings have been almost identical. So far this month, four people have been shot by men on motorbikes: Abdul-Hai, as well as a deputy mayor, an agriculture official and a young Afghan woman working for a US aid organisation.
The militants have claimed responsibility, with a spokesman saying Abdul-Hai was killed "because his brothers are working for the puppet government".
Yousuf Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesman, told AFP by phone from an unknown location that the deadly campaign "will continue".
"We will kill anyone working for the puppet government," he said.
The killings appear to have had the desired effect.
"Lots of people are scared, I'm scared," said a senior government official in Kandahar, requesting anonymity.The official said many people in his department had resigned in recent weeks and more were threatening to do so, fearful of becoming targets.Even worse, he said, their fear could prompt them to get close to the militants as a way of ensuring their safety."If this situation continues, if these assassinations are not stopped, I tell you lots of government officials will establish contact with the Taliban."They will have to. They'll make contact with the Taliban to protect themselves," the official told AFP, adding: "This has to stop."
The assassinations are eroding support for the Karzai government, already unpopular across much of the south and east, where the Taliban presence is strongest.
"This government can't protect us," said Dost Mohammad, a baker in downtown Kandahar.
"We already had lots of problems with Taliban bomb attacks and suicide attacks," he said. "Now we have one more thing. Every day I sit by the radio to see who else has been assassinated."
Kandahar authorities are working on a plan to try to deal with this new challenge, said Zalmai Ayoubi, a provincial government spokesman.
"The assassination of prominent people has escalated. We're working on a plan and hope with the implementation of that plan that the situation improves," he said, without going into detail.

Pakistanis Living on Brink, and Often in the Dark

New York Times

LAHORE, Pakistan — The Taliban may be plotting bombings, and the economy is on the brink. But these days, the single biggest woe tormenting Pakistanis is as basic as an electric light bulb.
Pakistan is in the throes of an energy crisis, with Pakistanis now enduring about 12 hours of power cuts a day, a grueling schedule that is melting ice, stopping fans and enraging an already exhausted populace just as the blast furnace of summer gets started.
In an effort to stem that frustration, Pakistan’s government held an emergency meeting last week, bringing together top bureaucrats from across the country. But instead of easing the problem, it aggravated it, ordering power-saving measures that seemed calculated to smother some Pakistanis’ last remaining pleasures.
“They are playing a joke on us,” said Amina Ali, the mother of a bride at a wedding hall that was under orders to close early as part of the new energy-saving restrictions. Her brother chimed in: “The Pakistani people are a toy in the hands of the government.”The power failures could prove destabilizing if they go unchecked, analysts said. Pakistan badly needs its economy to expand to make space for its bulging young population, and chronic power cuts work against that.
It is a concern for the United States, which is trying to help steady Pakistan’s wobbly finances and keep its democratically elected government afloat. The Obama administration has pledged about $1 billion for energy over the next five years.
The crisis is a snarl of unmet responsibilities, and untangling it will not be easy. It has a cast of guilty characters that goes back years: governments that are incapable of planning ahead; bureaucrats who take bribes; even ordinary people who steal about 30 percent of all the power produced. The tribal areas in the west, for example, have no meters and have never paid for power.
The result is about $2 billion a year in energy that is generated but not paid for. Industry experts said they were skeptical the government had a way to close the growing gap between Pakistan’s demand for power and the energy sector’s ability to produce it.
“There is nobody in Islamabad who is working on a coherent, integrated plan,” said one industry executive who asked not to be identified because he did not want to be seen as being critical of the government. “The discussion just keeps going in circles.”
Which was why it seemed particularly galling when the government ordered stores to be shut at prime shopping time, 8 p.m., and wedding halls closed by 10. Weddings are important entertainment in Pakistan, and go on late into the night, with dancing, lights and finery.
“Should we just sit at home in the darkness and go to sleep?” sputtered Ms. Ali, waiting outside the Mughal-e-Azam banquet hall, whose owners had been warned the night before that it should be closed by 10 p.m. One of the owners, Moazzam Ilyas, was nervously trying to coax the event along, even though at 9:45, the groom had still not arrived.
Here in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, the power failures have been disastrous for small businesses. Ali Raza, a printing press owner, has watched his once-prospering label business sag as power cuts bite into printing time, delaying orders and frustrating clients.
Late last year, he sold two large Swedish presses and fired half his 35-member staff. He has given up much of his upper-middle-class lifestyle, selling his Toyota, quitting his gym and limiting purchases of fruit and meat.
As his life and business shrink, so does his determination to stay in Pakistan. “I should move from here before I have nothing,” he said, sitting in his office next to a blank computer monitor and motionless fan. “Staying means committing suicide.”
Poorer Pakistanis have it worse. In Lahore’s old city, an ancient warren of narrow streets full of cavelike workshops for metal and leather, the sound of circular saws stops suddenly at 4 p.m. Candles are lighted. The only noise is the tapping of hammers.
“There’s no income; we are very worried,” said Mirza Arif Beg, 33, a metal polisher whose family business is collapsing. “We feel helpless. Should we do crime?”
Stealing electricity seems to be an option available mostly to those with enough money to afford a bribe. It also might require some relation to the storied meter men, who are paid a pittance but are reported to live well off the proceeds.
“They have big houses, big cars,” said Muhamed E. Baderi, a plastic-tube maker who said he knew a metal-works company that regularly bribed its meter man to reduce its electric bill. “They know the art of meter tampering.”
Those who cannot afford to bribe have to pay or face being shut off. Muhamed Faqir, a 45-year-old buffalo farmer with five children, said he had to borrow from relatives to pay $50 in bills after his power was cut for eight days this winter.
The energy industry was already beginning to spiral when the current government took office in 2008, and to a large extent, the problem is inherited. Even so, the government and President Asif Ali Zardari are the lightning rods for public anger, which has begun to bubble up in the form of protests in some places in Punjab.
A basement full of cobblers in the old city, when asked to describe where they thought the crisis had come from, could come up with only curse words for their leaders.
The opposition party, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has played on that anger, trumpeting the crisis to score political points, analysts said, even though its government’s record in the 1990s was no better.
On Saturday, city government officials marched around Lahore’s most important markets at 8 p.m., demanding that merchants shutter their stores. Men with sticks from the local trade union made the final argument for those who were slow to comply.
“We want to shop,” said a woman glaring at the lowered gates of a shoe store. “People don’t get up early, and it’s hot. Now I’ll have to come back on Monday.”
The restrictions look menacing, but few believe they will last. Follow-through has never been Pakistan’s strong point, and the power-saving measures seemed unlikely to be an exception.
When the groom finally arrived at the marriage hall, it was after 10 p.m., and Mr. Ilyas looked distressed. A thick river of guests inched into the hall for dinner, which had been ready since 7, as a marching band played behind them in the dark.
But by 11, no one had come to shut the hall down. A basic truth about Pakistan had been revealed.
“It will be like this for 10 days, and after that will go back to the way it was,” Mr. Ilyas said. “This is the Pakistani way.”

Bhutto panel to question senior Pakistan army officer

A panel of Pakistani civilians is to question a senior army officer over the murder of former PM Benazir Bhutto in 2007, officials say.No serving army officer has ever faced a civilian inquiry in Pakistan before.
The committee was set up by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to investigate questions raised by a UN inquiry into the assassination.It said the murder site had been hosed down too quickly by police, apparently on the orders of Maj Gen Nadeem Ijaz.The panel will interrogate a number of police officials as well as Gen Ijaz, who was then chief of the army's Military Intelligence (MI).
The committee is led by Cabinet Secretary Chaudhry Abdur Rauf. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial Home Secretary Fayyaz Toru and an army officer, Maj Gen Sajjad Ghani, are among its members.The committee is led by Cabinet Secretary Chaudhry Abdur Rauf. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial Home Secretary Fayyaz Toru and an army officer, Maj Gen Sajjad Ghani, are among its members.It was formed to determine why the crime scene was hosed down by police soon after Ms Bhutto's assassination in December 2007, and to submit a report to the prime minister within a week.
The committee met late on Monday evening to work out its terms of reference and to issue summonses to officers.
The UN report quotes at least two sources who suggest that top police official Saud Aziz - who ordered the hosing down of the crime scene - was not acting "independently" and was being leaned on by the army.
Ms Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi soon after addressing an election rally.
The military government at the time, headed by President Pervez Musharraf, blamed militant leader Baitullah Mehsud for ordering the assassination, a charge which he denied.
Many in Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) believe that the country's powerful security establishment may have been involved in eliminating Ms Bhutto.
The UN report published earlier this month said the assassination of Ms Bhutto could have been prevented and the subsequent inquiry was bungled.