Friday, May 21, 2010

Peshawar's Youths Plot Their Future Amid Violence

In an area of Pakistan that has become synonymous with Islamist militants, a mural on a wall speaks of the other side of ethnic Pashtun culture: "Welcome to the Northwest Frontier Province, the home of hospitality."The mural is out of date -- the province was just renamed Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. And while the snarl of traffic at the entrance of Peshawar gives the impression of life humming normally, this thousand-year-old city is under siege.It is the capital of the restive province and gateway to Pakistan's lawless tribal belt. Suicide bombers have attacked the city nearly 40 times in the past 14 months. The famous market of the Old City is a favorite target -- and is considered too dangerous to visit.Talk of terrorism now dominates conversations in the city.

At the University of Peshawar, Qassim Kahn, 23, says because of the violence, "we can only dream about our plans, but we can't give them shape."Some of this region's young people are pessimistic that their lives will improve anytime soon.
Annan Saeed, 21, is studying economics at the Institute of Management Sciences in Hayatabad, an affluent suburb of Peshawar. She doesn't see things getting better.
"You might see that in Islamabad or Lahore," she says, "but Peshawar, basically it's not. It's not getting better at all."
Asked what effect the threat of violence has had on her daily life, Saeed says, "Totally ruined actually. ... Because you're fearful about your life the whole time. You're going out, you're not so sure you're going to come back home or not."
Music offers a means of expression for two young men in Peshawar who are rebelling against the claustrophobic atmosphere. They've formed a band that blends Western music with traditional Pashtun songs -- a risky thing to do here.

One of the defiant musicians, Mohammad Ameer Khan, taught himself to play guitar over the Internet and by mimicking what he saw on MTV. The other, Dilawar Qazi, 21, is a rapper.
"I remember people saying, 'Oh, Pashtun music and rock -- Oh my God, are you sure you're going to be taking that risk?' So I was like, yeah, why not?" Khan says.
Kazi says he wants to get his college degree and get out of Pakistan.
But other young people manage to maintain their optimism. Instead of letting their situation make them depressed, they insist that their country can have a bright future.
"Good pictures are developed in dark," says Fatima Khan, 20, a student at the Institute of Management Sciences. "Similarly, I'm optimistic about one day I'm going to get my prosperous country back."
Another student, Jawad Zeb, says the turmoil has made his generation's members strong enough to improve their lives.
"We are still carrying on our fight," says Zeb, 22. "We know that we can come out of it as a strong nation.""We're no different from the youth" anywhere in the world, Zeb says. "We've just evolved our lives according to the situation."

Russian president adds enduringly sinister Soviet-era ZiL limo to wish list

They were the ultimate symbols of Soviet power, used to whiz politburo members through snowy Moscow streets to the forbidding walls of the Kremlin. The ZiL limousine was the favoured mode of transport for a succession of leaders. Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev all had one. After communism collapsed, however, Boris Yeltsin got himself a Mercedes.

Now, President Dmitry Medvedev has decided to trade in his Mercedes and bring back the ZiL, in what appears to be the latest attempt by Russia's nostalgic leadership to turn the country into a Soviet theme park. Medvedev has asked aides to examine whether the austere and enduringly sinister limousine can be brought back into production.

"There is a presidential order to explore this … We are currently discussing this with factories," Vladimir Kozhin, the head of the presidential property department, told Ekho Moskvy radio station. He added: "I do not exclude that in the medium term we will again see old but modern ZiLs."

Until now, the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has expressed a preference for German vehicles – a love affair that may have begun when he was a KGB spy in east Germany. He has been keen to restore the emblems of superpower status, including the Soviet national anthem and showing off tanks and intercontinental missiles at the annual Red Square parade.

Today Dmitry Lomakov, who runs a classic car museum in Moscow, welcomed the ZiL's comeback, two decades after the Soviet Union's demise. "If it depended on me our leaders would already be driving them," he said. "The car of a leader is a symbol of the state, a bit like the tsar's orb and sceptre. We are a great power. We have a great history of automobile industry. We are not Botswana or Uganda."

The ZiL was one of the best cars in the world, Lomakov added, superior in every respect to the Rolls Royce. "I've driven a ZiL. It's a much more contemporary vehicle," he said. "We are capable of producing a real presidential vehicle as we have done in the past."

The gas-guzzling ZiL was modelled on the sleek American Packard. The Moscow automobile factory that built the limousine was founded in 1916 and is Russia's oldest. It initially churned out ZiSs, named after Josef Stalin. After Stalin's death, Khrushchev renamed the plant the Zavod imeni Likhachova – the Likhachev factory, after its director – with the cars given the distinctive ZiL initials.

Although production virtually halted after 1991, the Kremlin appears to have ordered at least two cabriolets for Red Square troop reviews. Earlier this month the defence minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, managed not to fall out of the back as his ZiL rolled across the cobbles.

The parade – which also featured British and US troops – was an unashamedly theatrical event that included Russian soldiers in historical uniforms carrying red communist banners. Although the Kremlin scrapped an earlier proposal to display portraits of Stalin, Lenin made several guest appearances. The Bolshevik leader and his mausoleum were tactfully hidden by a VIP tribune, however.

Today ZiL produces trucks and armoured fighting vehicles, though two luxury cars – a ZiL 41047 limousine and ZiL 41041 sedan – appear on its website.

A spokesman told the Moscow Times yesterday it was ready to restart production, if the investment was there. "We are always ready for new work," the spokesman said.

Obama Hails Breakthrough on Wall Street Reform

The Wall Street reform bill - the biggest shakeup since the 1930s - was passed late last night. Here are some of the key measures:
What we know
• There will be a new consumer financial protection bureau set up within the Federal Reserve, but independent from the central bank. It will tackle "abusive" mis-selling of mortgages, credit cards and other loan products. Banks and other financial institutions worry that reporting standards will become a burden, and that certain credit products could be banned.

• Most of the $600 trillion derivatives market will be forced through central clearing houses to increase oversight and to reduce the risk of one counterparty going bankrupt. There will be exemptions for non-financial companies using the contracts to hedge risk. Banks will be forced to spin off their derivatives dealing businesses.

• Government will be able to seize and wind up a large financial institution if it runs into difficulties and poses a risk to the wider financial system. It will be able to wipe out shareholders and fire executives. Creditors will be paid by the government upfront but those payments would be recouped later from levies on the industry.

• There will be a new multi-authority oversight body to identify risks in the financial system – the financial stability oversight council of regulators chaired by the treasury secretary. Companies considered systemically significant will face stricter capital, leverage and liquidity requirements and will have to draw up a "living will" to ensure an orderly wind-down should they fail.

And what we don't

• Will deposit-taking banks have to to spin off their proprietary trading arms and sell stakes in hedge funds and private equity firms? This is the Volcker rule, named after former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, who has argued for a complete separation of banks' risky "casino" activities from their commercial operations. Obama wants the Volcker rule implemented, but the Senate bill states that regulators will write the precise detail of the rule in the future.

This suggests that it could be watered down, although Democrats are still pushing for stricter controls.

Social dynamics in Balochistan

Akbar Mayo
Ongoing clashes between Pakhtun and Baloch students in several educational institutions do not signal good. This is the symptom of the problem. Balochistan is the only province of Pakistan that shares boundaries with the two most strategically important countries of the world: Afghanistan and Iran. At the same time, besides Punjab, it is also the only province that has direct inland connection with all of the provinces of Pakistan. Therefore, the status of Balochistan as a prime strategic location is axiomatic. Representing the five per cent of total population, Balochistan constitutes the 42 per cent of total area of Pakistan. Furthermore, it is also the only federating unit where two significant ethnicities, the Baloch and the Pakhtuns, reside in almost equal proportions. This article aims at highlighting the critical dimensions of relations between both the communities. Though, at the moment both communities are at relative peace, there can be no speculations about peace in future. Each group has a history of wars and feuds, and there exists a visible crack in the socio-economic outlooks of both societies. Before delineating Pakhtun-Baloch relations, it will be pertinent to have a glimpse of the comparative view of their social build-up. The Baloch is a loosely interconnected ethnic group, majority of which is residing in Balochistan. It is divided into two major sub-groups; Sulaimani and Makrani. Contrary to this, the Pakhtuns are more interconnected and divided into hundreds of larger sub-groups. The majority of Pukhtuns resides in NWFP. They are proud of their rich cultural identity. Except few tribes, Pakhtuns speak Pakhto. However, from lingual perspective, the Balochs are divided into several lingual groups in Pakistan: Seraiki speaking Baloch, Sindhi speaking Baloch, Balochi speaking Baloch, Makrani speaking Baloch and etc. In Balochistan, the Pakhtuns are more educated and developed than the Baloch people. Overall, both populations have different socio-economic outlooks. Though, the Pakhtuns have not asserted their presence on the landscape of Balochistan so far, however, the chances of their likely dominance are understandable to anyone interested in the affairs of the province. Up till now, the Pakhtuns have proved to be tolerant towards other ethnicities in Balochistan. They have never resented for Baloch-dominated governance of the province. At the moment, the highest officials of the province, the Governor and the Chief Ministers, belong to the Baloch tribes. Interestingly, since the creation of the office of chief minister in Balochistan, only one Pakhtun held the office only for one year. Currently, out of 38 ministries, 13 are held by the Pakhtuns. And these do not include key portfolios. Despite being comparatively ignored in political terms, the Pakhtun people are happy and want to live in peace. Contrary to this, certain Baloch militant groups have manifested violent resentment to the Pakhtun people. Time and again, the Baloch student federations have created mess at campuses particularly for demanding fixation of quota for the Pakhtun students in all public sector universities and medical colleges in the province. Responding to this, the Pakhtun student federations have stressed for open merit. On the issue of education, two decades ago, the relations between both ethnic groups saw a period of extreme stiffness when an agriculture university was shifted from Kalat to the Pakhtun dominated Pishin. Decision was taken in view of the suitability of land for agriculture experiments and research. However, the move was withdrawn later. Even today, Pakhtun belt has not a single public sector university to name although the Pakhtun students constitute majority of the university students in the province. Similarly, in business sector, the Pakhtuns are restricted to conduct their activities in the areas where it is not possible for the Baloch people to bar them whereas the Baloch businessmen can carry on their businesses freely in Pakhtun areas. Karachi-Quetta highway is the only road that passes through the Baloch areas and on which the Pakhtun transporters can move. However, visiting Yousaf Goth bus stand in Karachi, one finds that not even a single Pakhtun transport company exists to provide travel facilities from Karachi to Gawader. Likewise, whenever ships are unloaded at Gawader Port, one can feel the absence of Pakhtun transport companies carrying goods across country. Last year, education minister of Balochistan was assassinated by a certain Baloch militant group. Though, the event went unnoticed, however the Pakhtuns gravely felt the brutal disappearance of their leader at the hands of the Baloch militant group. Inaction aside, there exist a thinking among the Pakhtuns of being targeted by the Balochs far unjust reasons. While the names of Pakhtun parties suggest that they only breathe for Pakhtuns on this planet, however, their leadership has been silent so far and has compromised the freedom and equality of Pakhtuns. Now two student groups each representing its respective community have started attacking each other. Dozens of students from both sides suffered injuries. Though for the time being FC has been employed to maintain status quo however, no word for the removal of root cause of this prolonging problem has been uttered by leadership of both communities. To conclude, in certain aspects the Pakhtun tolerance towards the Baloch response is a positive sign. However, the perennial compromise of the interests of Pakhtun community may evolve into a volcano of rage and rack the already messy province. Therefore, the leadership of both communities should gauge the underpinnings of contemporary relations between the Pakhtuns and the Balochs and should establish durable basis for lasting peace and harmony between them. Whoever supports anti-Pakhtun attitude must bear in mind that the word Balochistan does not mean that Pakhtuns deserve a secondary status in the province.

UN agencies to stay in Kandahar: Staffan

Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, has reassured presence of UN agencies in Kandahar despites insecurity. Staffan de Mistura who is also chief of United Nations Mission For Afghanistan (UNAMA) visited Kandahar today (May 20) to assess the situation on the ground and meet with local leaders and authorities and UN staff members, UNAMA said in a press statement. The UNAMA chief visit to Kandahar came at a time when UN temporarily withdrew its foreign staff from Kandahar a few weeks ago on security concerns and asked local staffers to say at home. During his day-long trip, Mr de Mistura reassured the people of Kandahar of the commitment and intention of UNAMA and UN agencies to be actively present in this region despite the insecurity, the statements said. Mr de Mistura stressed: "The UN has been here in this country and, particularly in the southern region, for a long time, and will continue to be there in support and by the side of the people of Kandahar even when times get difficult." Earlier in the day, the Special Representative had constructive discussions with Governor Tooryalai Wesa and the Chairman of Kandahar's Provincial Council Ahmad Wali Karzai. The Special Representative also met with tribal elders and heard their concerns on the security situation and access to humanitarian relief.

Miss USA to Behar: Pole-dancing pictures were all in fun
Miss USA Rima Fakih is a Muslim with Lebanese heritage, but her family is "not defined by religion," Fakih said.
"I'm an American girl," Fakih said. "And just to be clear, my family comes from many different backgrounds and religions."

The newest Miss USA, crowned last weekend, was interviewed Wednesday for HLN's "The Joy Behar Show."Fakih downplayed the significance of photographs that emerged online this week showing her dancing against a stripper's pole.
"Everyone took them as if I was stripping, which to be honest with you was just a competition," she said. "It was more of an event held by a radio station."
The Detroit, Michigan, radio station promotion held three years ago was like a class to help women "learn how to dance and feel sexy," she told Behar.
"To be extra funny, because I'm known to be silly, I put money in my bra," she said.
The controversy, however, has made her name a top search term on the internet, she said.
"Yeah, I'm the number one person on Yahoo or Google, I heard," she said.
Cheesecake photos helped last year's Miss USA runner-up, Carrie Prejean, become well known, but she was eventually stripped of her Miss California crown when racier images emerged.
Behar asked Fakih if there were any such photos of her that might eventually surface.
"Nothing at all," she said. "I've always been known to be very respectful to my family and my reputation."
The stripper pole photos did not upset her family, she said.
"They're very proud of me," she said. "They take it as if I'm not up there for beauty, or to pose in a bathing suit, but for something more significant -- for being beautiful on the inside, for being wise."
Fakih was born in Lebanon, but her family moved to New York when she was young. She moved to Michigan in 2003, where she attended the University of Michigan.
"My family comes from a Muslim background, and we're not defined by religion," she said. "I would like to say we're a spiritual liberal family."
Fakih will represent the United States in the Miss Universe pageant to take place in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August.