Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Paul McCartney to be honoured by Barack Obama at White House

The ex-Beatle will appear next week, with the show being broadcast in the US over the summer.
The president and first lady are hosting the show in the East Room on June 2 for an event at which Sir Paul will receive the third Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress.

Last year the prize - awarded to musicians for a lifetime of songwriting - went to Stevie Wonder.
Sir Paul hinted at the appearance when he took part in a live webcast last week in which he mentioned the White House.
He told fans: ''If there is an announcement, remember where you heard it first.''
The prize commemorates George and Ira Gershwin, the legendary American songwriting team whose extensive manuscript collections reside in the Library of Congress.
The prize is awarded to musicians whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins.

US troops in Afghanistan surpass number in Iraq

American forces in Afghanistan have surpassed those in Iraq for the first time since Saddam Hussein was ousted as the struggle against the Taliban-led insurgency intensifies. Troops are continuing to flood into Afghanistan as part of Barack Obama's surge, while the United States is rapidly withdrawing from Iraq.
The most recent Pentagon figures show 94,000 US personnel are now in Afghanistan compared with 92,000 in Iraq. Mr Obama was elected on a pledge to pull US troops from their unpopular involvement in Iraq as soon as possible and instead focus on the "necessary war" to prop up Hamid Karzai's regime.
He said at the weekend: "As we end the war in Iraq ... we are pressing forward in Afghanistan." "There will be difficult days ahead. We will adapt, we will persist, and I have no doubt that together with our Afghan and international partners, we will succeed in Afghanistan."
US numbers in Afghanistan are scheduled to peak later this year at about 98,000 as the final detachments of 30,000 reinforcements ordered by Mr Obama in December arrive.
Britain currently has 9,500 troops in the international coalition.
Mr Obama has given his senior commander, Gen Stanley McChrystal, until July 2011 to turn the tide of the insurgency and bolster the Afghan forces. He has vowed to begin withdrawing US troops next summer.
This summer is expected to see continued heavy fighting in southern Afghanistan, particularly around Kandahar, as Gen McChrystal pushes into Taliban strongholds.
A total of 4,400 US troops have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion compared with just over a thousand in Afghanistan since 2001.
All US combat forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by September and the Iraq government has agreed the US military should leave completely by 2012.

Afghans accuse Defence Secretary Liam Fox of racism and disrespect

Liam Fox was under attack last night for damaging Britain’s relations with Kabul after he described Afghanistan as a “broken 13th-century country”.
The Defence Secretary’s comments, made in an interview with The Times published on Saturday, provoked fury from the Afghan Government and media with officials calling the claims racist.According to senior Afghan officials, Dr Fox’s characterisation of the country was raised at a meeting with President Karzai on Saturday. The President expressed his deep displeasure at the remarks, they said.In his interview Dr Fox said that there must be a distinction between military and humanitarian goals. “We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.”A senior Afghan government source said: “His view appears to be that Afghanistan has not changed since the 13th century and it implies that Afghanistan is a tribal and medieval society.“Despite the sacrifices of British soldiers and the massive support of the British Government we do not feel that there is a mutual respect. His remarks show a lack of trust.”The source added: “We see Britain as still a colonial, orientalist and racist country that they should have this view. Dr Fox really believes what he said, and he is not alone. London and Kabul must move on or things will be more difficult.”The issue provoked furious editorials in the Afghan press, with the daily Arman-e Melli publishing a leading article yesterday with the headline: “We don’t need Britain in Afghanistan”. At a press conference at the British Embassy in Kabul yesterday Dr Fox said: “Of course, what I was pointing out, and I welcome the opportunity to amplify it, is that the primary reason for sending our Armed Forces to Afghanistan was one of national security.“But clearly if we are to make the long-term gains that will provide the stability to maintain the momentum when our Armed Forces eventually hand over to the forces of the Afghans, we will require a long period of development in concert with the international authorities, the NGOs and our and other countries’ aid programmes.”Dr Fox was returning home last night with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, after meeting British Forces in Helmand province. A Ministry of Defence spokesman denied that there had been any confrontation and said that the allegations were “groundless and without truth”.Mr Mitchell said yesterday: “You can’t get a cigarette paper between Liam Fox’s views and mine on the importance of joining together better and more effectively defence, diplomacy and development.”
Liam Fox office said: “Hamid Karzai has used similar words himself, describing what the Taleban left behind as 13th or 14th-century.”
The visit was intended to display unity within the coalition British Government on what is regarded as the most important foreign policy issue.
The Defence Secretary got off to a controversial start, however, when he told The Times that Britain was not a “global policeman”.
He added that he wanted to “reset expectations and timelines”, a hint that he wanted to use the trip to accelerate the return of some of the British contingent.
Last night General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan, who also met Dr Fox, said that he was confident that the British would continue to serve in Afghanistan.
“British support is absolutely rock- solid — nobody has told me anything differently,” he told journalists at his headquarters in Kabul.
Davood Moradian, a senior policy adviser to the Afghan Government, said that the new Defence Secretary’s view contradicted Britain’s stated position, which committed Western nations to the pursuit of a “comprehensive approach” to Afghanistan’s problems.

Russia gives U.S. Afghan drugs data, criticizes NATO

Russia's top drugs official gave a list of Afghan and Central Asian drug barons to U.S. anti-drugs tsar Gil Kerlikowske Sunday, but criticized U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan for failing to stem opium output.Russia is the world's biggest per capita user of heroin -- all of it flowing from Afghanistan -- and President Dmitry Medvedev has called drug abuse among the country's youth a threat to national security.
"I handed him (Kerlikowske) over a list of nine ... people living in Afghanistan or elsewhere in Central Asia and involved in drug trafficking by supplying wholesale batches of narcotics," Russia's drug enforcement chief Viktor Ivanov told a news conference.Moscow is willing to prosecute the suspects.
Ivanov said he met Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, at a Moscow airport during Kerlikowske's stopover en route to Stockholm -- their fourth meeting in less than a year.He said Russia had earlier supplied the names of around 25 other people involved in drug trade, as well as data on 175 drug laboratories operating in Afghanistan.
"To destroy these drug laboratories is the most urgent task, because these are already well-established cartels, with a stable hierarchy and structure, funding sources and technological equipment to produce narcotics," Ivanov said.Ivanov said Russia annually consumed 35 metric tones of heroin alone. If counted with other Afghan-made opiates, Russia's per capita consumption of opium was the biggest in the world.
However, while praising Moscow's cooperation with Washington in some aspects of the anti-drug fight, Ivanov criticized the U.S.-led coalition of NATO states fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for failing to eradicate opium output there.
He said Afghanistan accounted for 95 percent of the world's heroin output. The country now produces each year twice as much heroin than the entire world produced 10 years ago, he said.
In March, NATO rejected Russian calls for it to eradicate opium poppy fields in Afghanistan and urged Moscow to give more assistance against the insurgency.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said at the time that it was impossible to remove the only source of income for Afghan farmers without being able to provide them with an alternative.
"Where is the logic here? To destroy a plant is much cheaper than ... catching it later on the streets of Berlin, Rome, London, Moscow and so on," Ivanov said.
Opiates flow to Russia across Central Asia's often porous borders. Up to 2.5 million Russians are drug addicts, and some 90 percent of them use heroin. Each year 30,000 Russian drug users die and 80,000 people try narcotics for the first time.
Ivanov said Russia accounted for a fifth of the world's market of opiates estimated at a total of $65 billion.
He said Moscow would host an international forum on June 9-10 sponsored by the Kremlin where Russia would raise its concerns and call for the creation of an anti-drug coalition.

Billions needed to end US child hunger

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday urged Congress to plow billions more dollars into programs to end the twin scourges of child obesity and hunger, which impact children, the economy and national security.With some 17 million children living in households that have to sometimes skip meals to make ends meet, and with a third of US children obese or on the road to becoming so, Vilsack called on lawmakers to "appropriate one billion dollars a year more into programs" aimed at ending the two crises.President Barack Obama in his budget proposal for 2011 set aside an additional one billion dollars a year over 10 years for the child nutrition bill, which Congress is set to re-authorize this year.Childhood hunger and obesity should be made national priorities, said Vilsack, speaking at the launch of a report on child hunger at the Center for American Progress.Not only was it morally wrong for so many children to be going hungry in the world's richest nation, but hunger and obesity also impact the economy, US competitivity and even national security, Vilsack argued."Research shows that youngsters who are either obese or who are hungry simply do not learn as well as they ought to," said Vilsack."Youngsters who are obese take chronic disease into adulthood which substantially reduces their productivity as individuals and causes our health care costs to escalate," he said.
And with so many American children obese, military leaders have voiced concerns that not enough youngsters are fit to serve in the army, marine, navy and air force, which could impact US national security, he said.
The report says that child hunger costs the US economy at least 28 billion dollars per year "because poorly nourished children perform less well in school and require far more long-term health care spending."Further, food insufficiency severely hampers children?s emotional, intellectual, and physical development, and it strongly hinders the upward mobility of their parents," it says.

China drives world wine market

The fourth Asian Vinexpo featuring 840 exhibitors from 32 countries opened Tuesday in Hong Kong as the global economic crisis pushed exporters to focus on the world's most promising market: China.
"A little like 2009 vintage Bordeaux, this Vinexpo is exceptional. There are more exhibitors and we expect more than 10,000 professionals, including a large number from China," said chief executive Robert Beynat.The annual wine and spirits fair is key to Hong Kong's bid to turn itself into a wine trading centre that sits on the doorstep of the vast Asian market with Chinese consumers showing a growing demand for foreign products.French wines occupy almost half the 8,500 square metre site, confirming their place as a favourite among Chinese consumers."China and Hong Kong are the most dynamic Asian markets with per capita consumption rising and strong import growth (8.7 million cases in 2008)," Beynat said."European and US producers are turning towards these markets to recover from the (economic) crisis."Italian, Spanish and German wines round out Europe's offering at the fair, with the US doubling the number of its exhibitors and Australian and New Zealand vintners boosting their presence by 30 percent.Asia-Pacific accounts for 50.6 percent of world spirits consumption with an expected 4.7 percent increase between 2009 and 2013.Although Japan remains the region's biggest wine importer, China will have nearly caught up in the next three years, according to Vinexpo.China is expected to be the world's seventh-largest wine consumer by 2013, it said."There are 100 to 150 million people in China who can afford to drink wine. It is these people, and not only millionaires, that we must reach," said Alain Vironneau, president of the Bordeaux Wine Council.Added Beynat: "Our challenge is to explain to Chinese consumers that there are good wines at all prices and they're not reserved just for the elite".

Clinton and Geithner Face Hurdles in China Talks

New York Times
China and the United States opened three days of high-level meetings here on Monday meant to broaden and deepen the ties between the world’s largest developed and developing economies. But the opening session instead laid bare a recurring theme between Beijing and Washington: the United States came with a long wish list for China on both economic and security issues, while China mostly wants to be left alone to pursue policies that are turning it into an economic superpower.

President Hu Jintao, welcoming the 200-strong American delegation in the Great Hall of the People, praised the “mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation” between the United States and China. Such coordination, he said, had helped speed the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.

On the crucial issue of China revaluing its currency — something the Obama administration had pushed for — Mr. Hu repeated China’s past promises to make its effectively fixed exchange rate respond more to the market, but the fact that the country’s top leader mentioned reform at all suggested it is on the leadership’s agenda.

Still, Mr. Hu also repeated that Beijing would move “under the principle of independent decision-making, controllability, and gradual progress.” Translation: China alone will determine the timing of any such move.

Economists said the deepening debt crisis in Greece, which came up immediately in the discussions on Monday, would make Beijing more reluctant to allow its currency to appreciate in value in the immediate future.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner did not mention China’s currency in his opening remarks, though he did allude to it in subsequent sessions. The administration has decided not to prod Beijing at this meeting, officials said, concluding that it would resist outside pressure.

The United States is hitting similar hurdles on security issues. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pressed China to support measures against North Korea following the strong evidence that it torpedoed a South Korean warship in March. But China has been skeptical of North Korea’s role and is reluctant to punish the North, with which it has close ties.

And while China agreed to a watered-down United Nations resolution on Iran’s nuclear program, it has not signed off on amendments against specific Iranian citizens and companies. With big planned investments in Iran’s oil and gas industry, China may well be in business with some of them.

In her speech to the opening session, Mrs. Clinton cited Iran and North Korea as issues in which Beijing and Washington must find common cause. “Today, we face another serious challenge provoked by the sinking of the South Korean ship,” she said. “So we must work together, again, to address this challenge and advance our shared objectives of peace and stability.”

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Ma Zhaoxu, was noncommittal, saying of the Korea crisis, “We hope all the relevant parties will exercise restraint and remain cool-headed.”

Some of this is cultural, to be sure. Chinese officials tend to speak far less directly than Americans. Mr. Hu did not mention Iran and North Korea, referring to regional “hot spots.” The fact that he frankly addressed the exchange rate of China’s currency, the renminbi, surprised some observers, and lent itself to varying interpretations.

For some experts, Mr. Hu’s pledge to “steadily advance the reform mechanism of the RMB exchange rate,” without repeating his previous references to the rate being “basically stable,” was a sign of conciliation. “It’s important, the fact they haven’t mentioned it,” said Ben Simpfendorfer, the China economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

But others interpreted it as a pre-emptive move to take the issue off the table. Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, noted that the crisis in Greece had rattled the Chinese on two levels. It was likely to curb their exports to Europe, and it had strengthened the renminbi relative to the swooning euro, which makes Chinese goods more costly in foreign markets.

“That double hit on China’s exports almost certainly means that they’re not going to move forward unless there is evidence of stabilization in the euro and stabilization in Europe’s recovery,” Mr. Prasad said.

A senior Chinese official said that Beijing would keep a “high alert and attention on the euro zone sovereign debt crisis.” He noted that it could affect not only Europe’s economic recovery but also Chinese exports. China exports more to the European Union than to the United States.

The United States needed a 48-vehicle motorcade to ferry its delegation to this second round of the so-called strategic and economic dialogue. Among the prominent names: the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, the commander of the military’s Pacific Command, Adm. Robert F. Willard, and the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius.

Some of the topics under discussion veered far from economics and security. Mrs. Clinton singled out Melanne Verveer, the State Department’s ambassador at large for women’s issues, who is meeting with Chinese women’s groups to discuss their progress in women’s rights.

Mr. Geithner lobbied against Chinese government procurement rules giving preference to products with intellectual property developed in China. American businesses, particularly in technology, say this handicaps them and deprives China of state-of-the-art products. “Innovation flourishes best when markets are open, competition is fair, and strong protections exist for ideas and inventions,” he said.

The Chinese have their pet issues as well: Beijing is pushing Washington to loosen controls on exports of high-technology equipment with potential military applications. A raft of questions from reporters for state-run Chinese media organizations suggested a coordinated campaign.

If American officials seemed likely to leave China with many of their wishes unfulfilled, there was one notable difference in this year’s meeting compared to the one last year in Washington: the American economy is growing again, which gave Mr. Geithner a rare chance to crow a bit.

Rather than identify the United States with the troubled economies of Europe, Mr. Geithner said the United States was holding its own with emerging economies like Brazil, India, and China.

“Economic growth in the U.S. and China is broader and stronger than many had anticipated, even a few months ago,” he said.

Peshawar fears influx of Taliban militants

PESHAWAR: There is growing concern by residents and tribal lashkars that militants have reached the suburbs of the provincial capital.
The concerns heightened after attacks on a girls school and a security checkpoint in Sherakera village, on the outskirts of Peshawar, close to the border of semi-tribal Darra Adam Khel region. The attack came following reports that militants fleeing security operations in tribal regions have started patrolling some villages in Frontier Regions (FR) Peshawar. “The movement of Taliban militants has increased in the region over the past few weeks,” a member of a tribal lashkar told The Express Tribune on conditions of anonymity.
He added that the operation in February in Frontier Regions Peshawar was not successful because most of the militants had fled the area before paramilitary troops had moved in. The elders said that militants had also warned tribal lashkars not to confront them. “We cannot challenge the powerful Taliban militants in the absence of support from the government,” he added. Dilawar Khan, head of the Adezai Qaumi Lashkar, told The Express Tribune that militants had come to the FR Peshawar areas of Bora and Pastowana from Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, Orakzai and Darra Adamkhel.
He added that local residents have shifted to safer places. Khan said that their lashkars had controlled the movement of militants till Adezai village. Peshawar’s Superintendent Police Syed Abdul Kalam said that policemen have been deployed in all areas and they are continuously monitoring the situation. “Tribal lashkars are also cooperating with the police and we will not allow militants to enter Peshawar,” he added.
On February 24, the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary (FC) had launched an operation, codenamed “Spring Cleaning”, in the remote FR Peshawar area. Until March 4, when the operation was wrapped up, 38 suspected militants had been killed. The FR region has a strategic location from where it is easy to approach Nowshera, Kohat, Peshawar and Darra Adamkhel.

Pashto Cultural Museum inaugurated

PESHAWAR: Vice-chancellor of the University of Peshawar Prof Dr Azmat Hayat Khan on Monday formally inaugurated the Pashto Cultural and Heritage Museum at the university.
The remaining part of the museum would be established at an estimated cost of Rs24 million in three years. Funds for the project have been provided by the Higher Education Commission, said Prof Dr Salma Shaheen, project director of the museum.
The writer said that the museum was aimed at preserving the Pakhtun culture and heritage so that people from abroad as well as locals and students could understand the way of life of Pakhtuns in the region. “We are on our way to gather the best material for the museum. For the purpose a special committee has been formed,” she said.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Azmat Hayat said it was a matter of pride for the university to have a museum that was the first of its kind in the country. “This museum is also aimed at providing the visitors a platform to understand our culture and way of life,” the vice-chancellor said. He appealed to the literati, poets and intellectuals of Pashto language to contribute their ideas for the betterment of the museum.

A leader of the ruling Awami National Party, Hashim Babar in his speech said it was dilemma that the world knows very little about Pakhtuns. He said the main reason behind this was that the Pakhtuns had not been able to project their true image.

He said the heroes of this region were not mentioned in history because the Pakhtuns had not been able to project them in different eras. “Pashto Museum is a very good initiative and the building needs to be transformed into a world class structure with brilliant collection so that we can inspire those who visit it,” he remarked, announcing Rs0.5 million for the museum.