Monday, May 31, 2010

NATO Has High Hopes for Afghan Peace Council

KABUL, Afghanistan — Western leaders are banking on a national peace council set to begin here on Wednesday to start a new chapter in Afghanistan’s political life, bringing the country together and strengthening President Hamid Karzai, even as security deteriorated on Sunday in several areas of the country.
In a joint news conference, the NATO commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and the senior civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, emphasized that the West supported the peace council, called a jirga, even as many Afghans questioned whether those attending would truly represent the many factions in the country.
“This is a big week for Afghanistan,” said Mr. Sedwill, who described the conference as “the first of a series of major political events that are going to set the agenda of 2010.”
The jirga will be followed by the Kabul Conference on economic development in July and parliamentary elections in September.
“This is a critical moment for this country to bring together all of the people of Afghanistan, their representatives, in an opportunity to set the direction forward and create a national consensus behind the overall approach to security, to development, to reconciliation,” Mr. Sedwill said.
The Electoral Complaints Commission announced Sunday that 85 candidates had been preliminarily barred from participating in the parliamentary elections because they are members of illegal armed groups. They will have the right to appeal. Still, the number is far more than that in the first round of parliamentary elections in 2005, when just 17 people were disqualified for the same reason, according to a former E.C.C. commissioner, Fahim Hakim.
The increase suggests that a more rigorous review system is now in place, analysts say.
Even as the peace efforts proceed in the capital, Kabul, security appeared to be deteriorating in districts in the east and south of the country and on the western border, where Afghan insurgents trained in Iran are returning to fight and smuggling in weapons, General McChrystal said.
“There is clear evidence of Iranian activities, in some cases supplying weaponry and training to the Taliban that is inappropriate,” he said.
In Nuristan Province, on the country’s eastern border, hundreds of local and Pakistani Taliban have taken control of a remote district near the Pakistan border, Barg-e-Matal. The number of fighters who have crossed the border from Pakistan swelled through the week and now has reached 1,000 to 1,500, said Gen. Zaman Mamozai, the commander of the Afghan Border Police for the eastern region of Afghanistan.
They are “mostly from Pakistan and are conducting collective attacks,” he said.
It appears that many of the Taliban from Pakistan had come to Nuristan in search of a new haven after having come under attack from the Pakistani Army in Pakistan. There are few Afghan security troops in Nuristan’s rugged mountains and only a small number of American troops in the province.
NATO leaders say that they cannot control the entire country with the number of troops they have and had to rely on Afghan forces in remote areas. But because not enough Afghans have been trained, NATO officials say they may have to live with some insurgent havens.
As we execute our strategy and our capacity to secure areas, we must prioritize the order in which we do those, and how we deploy our forces and our assets,” General McChrystal said when asked whether Barg-e-Matal was being allowed to become a sanctuary.
“The Taliban can still muster strength in places and there are a lot of unknowns there,” added a senior NATO officer, speaking about Nuristan on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record on the matter.
“If there are Taliban there, so what?” he said, adding that the district was far from any population center. He acknowledged that the situation would become more complicated if the Taliban filter out of remote mountain redoubts and into populated areas.
There was violence as well in the southeastern province of Khost, where a barely completed high school, built with international aid, was blown up late Saturday night by men using rocket-propelled grenades and bombs.
The school, which cost $220,000 to build, would have provided classrooms for 1,300 students, said Musa Majrooh, the spokesman for the Khost Education Department. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied that the Taliban were involved in the blast.
Also in Khost, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle at the entrance to the police battalion that patrols suburban areas. Nine police officers were wounded, two of them seriously.
In Nangahar Province, in the east, which until recently was relatively calm, two bombings killed five members of the Afghan security forces, and in Badakhshan Province in the far northeast, six counternarcotics officers were killed when their patrol vehicle was blown up by a homemade bomb.
They were on a mission to eradicate poppy, and the province’s governor, Baz Mohammed, accused narcotics traffickers and the Taliban of setting the bomb.
Sharifullah Sahak and Waheed Abdul Wafa contributed reporting from Kabul, and an Afghan employee of The New York Times from Khost.

Camels: Afghan proxy warriors

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan- Afghan warlords Ghawsudin and Sher Arab have been at war for most of their lives, sometimes fighting side by side as they did against the Soviets, other times fighting each other.
Now, almost nine years into a new era -- a US-sponsored government challenged by a Taliban-led insurgency tearing their country apart -- the two men are again at war, but this time they use proxies to fight their battles.
At sports festivals across Afghanistan's relatively peaceful north, Ghawsudin and Sher Arab are represented in the ring by giant Central Asian camels.
Banned as un-Islamic under the Taliban's radical 1996-2001 regime, camel fighting is a violent feature of daily life in Afghanistan, a country where the value of both men and animals is based on their fighting skills.
In the northern province of Balkh, Ghawsudin and Arab are well known, not only as veteran warriors but as owners of the best fighting camels in the land, and as masters of the game.
"We wait all year for this," said Khwaja Habib, a farmer from Balkh's Dawlat Abad district, ahead of a mighty clash between Luk and Nar, two enormous camels representing, respectively, Ghawsudin and Arab.
"They have the strongest camels, it's going to be a real game," Habib told AFP, as more than a dozen men escorted the two camels onto a dirt field circled by thousands of spectators, almost all of them men.
The animals are positioned face-to-face and then, spitting with fury, ram each other in a battle that resembles a men's wrestling match.
The crowd roars its approval as one of the camels -- it is Luk, Ghawsudin's beast -- forces the other into submission by pressing down on his neck with his massive chest.
"He's going to kill him," shouts the referee in the muddy ring before ordering that the muzzled animals be separated ahead of a second round.
The men, with their long beards and turbans, roar their protest but the decision has been made by the losing camel, Nar, who has picked himself up and is running out of the ring.
According to the rules of camel fighting, by turning tail the giant grey has conceded to Luk.Laughter erupts, banknotes are exchanged as gamblers collect or pay on their bets and Ghawsudin accepts congratulations as a dozen of his men parade Luk in a lap of honour.
"Yes, we won," Ghawsudin said. "As usual."
"It's an old tradition that we have inherited from our ancestors," Ghawsudin, who uses only one name, told AFP as his fans cheered his victory.
"We like it -- especially when we win," he said, with a loud laugh.
Camel fighting has made a strong comeback as a spectator sport since the Taliban regime -- which also banned music, kite flying and education for girls -- was overthrown in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Its popularity is mostly concentrated in the north, where the Taliban have had
little influence, even when they were in power.
As a result, the northern provinces have been largely shielded from Taliban excesses, though Kunduz and Baghlan have seen a rise in insurgency-related violence in recent years.
The relative peace of the north -- especially in Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh -- has allowed people to revive such traditions as buzkashi, a frantic, mounted polo-like sport using a headless goat carcass rather than a ball, and kite flying.
But making animals fight each other and betting on the outcome is a favourite pastime: along with camel fighting, sports festivals often include ram fighting, dog fighting, even bird fighting.
The enthusiasm on show in the north stands in stark contrast to the south, where the insurgency is concentrated and where most ordinary people live in fear of both the militants and the NATO-backed forces fighting them.
Animal fights have been specifically targeted by militants in the southern provinces, making attendance a high-risk venture.In February 2008, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 80 people at a dog fight in Kandahar. Most of the dead were farmers having a flutter.
But even in Mazar-i-Sharif, nothing is taken for granted.
"We have security. Without security you can't have fun," Ghawsudin said.
Negotiations begin for a second bout and a fresh pair of camels are escorted into the ring --- again representing the former warlords.
But this time the fighting lasts hardly two minutes as Arab's camel pulls back after the first contact with Ghawsudin's spitting light-gray.
Mocking laughter from the crowd fills the air.
"It's his unlucky day," said one spectator, referring to Arab who has left without saying a word.

US troops in Afghanistan mark Memorial Day

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan remembered friends and colleagues Monday in solemn Memorial Day ceremonies to commemorate all of their nation's war dead.
The 9-year-old war raged on, meanwhile, with NATO forces launching airstrikes against Taliban militants who had forced government forces to abandon the Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan, an eastern province on the border with Pakistan. No casualty figures were given.
About 400 soldiers in camouflage uniforms and brown combat boots gathered at the sprawling Bagram Air Field outside the Afghan capital for a ceremony led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of some 94,000 U.S. troops in the country.
A color guard displayed the U.S. flag, as well as the flags of units serving in eastern Afghanistan, where the base is located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Kabul.
A steel construction beam from the World Trade Center destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was unveiled, engraved with inscrption "WTC 9 11 01". The beam was donated by citizens' group the Sons and Daughters of America of Breezy Point, a suburb in Queens, New York, where 29 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks lived, according to a letter read out at the ceremony.
McChrystal praised the soldiers for their sacrifice, telling them: "You're giving your time for other families."
"Today is about people. It is about the people we have lost and most importantly it's about the people who have been left behind," McChrystal said, referring to the families of those who have died.
Maj. John Sherwood, 38, of San Antonio, said Memorial Day is more somber in Afghanistan than in the U.S., as people remember friends who died.
"I think about a few people I knew, mostly back in Iraq," said Sherwood, of the 82nd Airborne Division based in Fort Bragg.
Maj. Sonya Powell, 42, of Cincinnati, said she though of two people: her executive officer who was killed in an aircraft crash in October, and her 4-year-old son, who is waiting for her to come home.
"It's very hard, but you don't dwell on it," said Powell, of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade. "You come here, you do your mission, and you pray."
In the latest fighting Monday, NATO aircraft pounded the Taliban in eastern Nuristan province after government forces last week abandoned the district's main town following a major assault by the militants, many of them coming in from Pakistan, Afghan officials said.
Taliban strength grew in the Nuristan area after U.S. troops abandoned an outpost where eight American soldiers were killed in a fierce attack last October.
NATO also reported the latest death of a service member, killed by a makeshift bomb in the country's south. It was NATO's 50th death this month, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph T. Breasseale said the latest service member killed was not an American, though an American was killed in a separate incident on Sunday that was reported earlier.
May is already the deadliest month this year for U.S. troops with 33 deaths — two more than in February when American, NATO and Afghan forces seized the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand province. The month also brought the 1,000th U.S. military death in the Afghan war since it began in 2001.
McChrystal, who is also NATO commander in Afghanistan, said on Sunday that Iran — Afghanistan's western neighbor — has generally assisted the Afghan government in fighting the insurgent group.
"There is, however, clear evidence of Iranian activity — in some cases providing weaponry and training to the Taliban — that is inappropriate," he said.
Last month, McChrystal said there were indications that Taliban were training in Iran, but not many and not in a way that suggested it was part of an Iranian government policy. He did not give details on how many people have trained in Iran at Sunday's news conference.
In Paktia province, NATO said a civilian contractor's helicopter crash-landed Sunday, killing one civilian on the ground and slightly injuring three crew members. The cause was being investigated, but there were no reports of insurgent involvement, NATO said.
In the north, insurgents detonated a remote-controlled bomb Sunday as a police convoy passed by, killing seven officers in a province previously considered to be relatively safe, said deputy provincial Gov. Shams-ul Rahman.
In nearby Kunduz province, militants attacked a police checkpoint in Ali Abad district, triggering a gunbattle that killed three insurgents and wounded seven others, the Interior Ministry said.
Eight Afghan police were wounded Sunday by a suicide bomber who struck a checkpoint on the outskirts of Khost City southeast of Kabul, officials said.
The AP's casualty figures are based on Defense Department reports of deaths as a direct result of the Afghan conflict, including personnel assigned to units in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Uzbekistan. Non-U.S. deaths are based on statements by governments that have contributed forces to the coalition.

President Obama,First family enjoys sleepover in own Chicago home

Good friends, good food and the comforts of his own home.

President Barack Obama enjoyed all three when he brought his family home to Chicago for a long Memorial Day holiday weekend. It was the first family's first sleepover at their red-brick home in more than a year.

Obama's only public appearance Sunday was for a roundtrip to a private gym for a workout. Top advisers updated him on efforts to manage the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the evening he joined family and friends at a neighbor's home, according to a White House aide.

The president was due back at the White House on Monday after paying respects to the nation's war dead during Memorial Day observances at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., south of Chicago.

Some veterans groups have criticized Obama, who has sent tens of thousands of troops into a ramped-up war in Afghanistan, for skipping the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Obama helped lay a wreath at Arlington last year but this year has handed the honor to Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama spoke at the Lincoln cemetery on Memorial Day in 2005.

Before taking office in January 2009, Obama expressed a desire to visit his $1.6 million home in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood about every six weeks.

"Our friends are here. Our family is here. We are going to try to come back here as often as possible ... at least once every six weeks or couple of months," he told the Chicago Tribune back then.

But the demands of the presidency and his daughters' busy schedules of weekend soccer and basketball games, birthday parties and sleepovers have thwarted his intentions.

First lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, Obama's mother-in-law Marian Robinson and family dog Bo arrived in Chicago on Thursday night.

On Friday, Obama interrupted his getaway to visit the Louisiana coast for an update on efforts to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf. He also sought to assure coastal residents, and others unhappy with the federal government's response to the nation's largest oil spill, that he is in command.

Back in Chicago on Saturday, Obama indulged in one of his favorite sports — a game of basketball — at the University of Chicago Lab School where his daughters were enrolled when the family lived in Chicago.

A member of the group of reporters that travels with Obama also briefly saw Mrs. Obama in the backyard of their home, wearing yellow rubber gloves. The reporters were stationed nearby to await word on Obama's next move.

That word came just before the family took a rare stroll down the now-barricaded public streets surrounding Obama's house to the home of neighbor and friend Marty Nesbitt for a backyard barbecue. They stayed until after dark. The Obamas, including a casually dressed, sandal-clad president and Bo, were joined by Mrs. Robinson, her son Craig, his wife Kelly and their new baby.

Russians to study warship sinking probe

Russian experts arrived in Seoul on Monday to review findings of an investigation that blamed North Korea for the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, as the South sought to build support for U.N. punishment of the North.
If Russia endorses the multinational probe's conclusions, the move could convince China and other major powers to support possible U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang for the sinking two months ago of the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors.
The South Koreans shared the investigation's findings with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last weekend before a summit, but Beijing has yet to blame North Korea or support any potential U.N. action against its longtime ally.
Wen is now in Japan, where he was expected to face more pressure to censure North Korea. On Monday, he met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who said Tokyo strongly supports Seoul's plans to bring North Korea before the U.N. Security Council for sanctions or condemnation.
North Korea has denied sinking the ship and has said the multinational investigation — involving America, Britain, Sweden and Australia — was a biased probe conducted by South Korea's allies.
A Russian endorsement of the investigation could greatly contribute to the legitimacy of the conclusions. Like China, Moscow is a traditional North Korean ally and a veto-holding permanent council member.
The Russian team — including torpedo and submarine experts — arrived Monday and were to stay in South Korea for several days as they review the investigation results and examine the ship's wreckage, said a Defense Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department policy.
The official declined to provide further details, citing Russia's request not to publicize many of the team's activities.
Russia's ambassador in Seoul, Konstantin V. Vnukov, told a forum Friday that Moscow will determine its position on the U.N. action on North Korea after the experts study the probe results, according to YTN television network.

Child Brides Escape Marriage, but Not Lashes

KABUL, Afghanistan — The two Afghan girls had every reason to expect the law would be on their side when a policeman at a checkpoint stopped the bus they were in. Disguised in boys’ clothes, the girls, ages 13 and 14, had been fleeing for two days along rutted roads and over mountain passes to escape their illegal, forced marriages to much older men, and now they had made it to relatively liberal Herat Province.

Instead, the police officer spotted them as girls, ignored their pleas and promptly sent them back to their remote village in Ghor Province. There they were publicly and viciously flogged for daring to run away from their husbands.

Their tormentors, who videotaped the abuse, were not the Taliban, but local mullahs and the former warlord, now a pro-government figure who largely rules the district where the girls live.

Neither girl flinched visibly at the beatings, and afterward both walked away with their heads unbowed. Sympathizers of the victims smuggled out two video recordings of the floggings to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which released them on Saturday after unsuccessfully lobbying for government action.

The ordeal of Afghanistan’s child brides illustrates an uncomfortable truth. What in most countries would be considered a criminal offense is in many parts of Afghanistan a cultural norm, one which the government has been either unable or unwilling to challenge effectively.

According to a Unicef study, from 2000 to 2008, the brides in 43 percent of Afghan marriages were under 18. Although the Afghan Constitution forbids the marriage of girls under the age of 16, tribal customs often condone marriage once puberty is reached, or even earlier.

Flogging is also illegal.

The case of Khadija Rasoul, 13, and Basgol Sakhi, 14, from the village of Gardan-i-Top, in the Dulina district of Ghor Province, central Afghanistan, was notable for the failure of the authorities to do anything to protect the girls, despite opportunities to do so.

Forced into a so-called marriage exchange, where each girl was given to an elderly man in the other’s family, Khadija and Basgol later complained that their husbands beat them when they tried to resist consummating the unions. Dressed as boys, they escaped and got as far as western Herat Province, where their bus was stopped at a checkpoint and they were arrested.

Although Herat has shelters for battered and runaway women and girls, the police instead contacted the former warlord, Fazil Ahad Khan, whom Human Rights Commission workers describe as the self-appointed commander and morals enforcer in his district in Ghor Province, and returned the girls to his custody.

After a kangaroo trial by Mr. Khan and local religious leaders, according to the commission’s report on the episode, the girls were sentenced to 40 lashes each and flogged on Jan. 12.

In the video, the mullah, under Mr. Khan’s approving eye, administers the punishment with a leather strap, which he appears to wield with as much force as possible, striking each girl in turn on her legs and buttocks with a loud crack each time. Their heavy red winter chadors are pulled over their heads so only their skirts protect them from the blows.

The spectators are mostly armed men wearing camouflage uniforms, and at least three of them openly videotape the floggings. No women are present.

The mullah, whose name is not known, strikes the girls so hard that at one point he appears to have hurt his wrist and hands the strap to another man.

“Hold still,” the mullah admonishes the victims, who stand straight throughout. One of them can be seen in tears when her face is briefly exposed to view, but they remain silent.

When the second girl is flogged, an elderly man fills in for the mullah, but his blows appear less forceful and the mullah soon takes the strap back.

The spectators count the lashes out loud but several times seem to lose count and have to start over, or possibly they cannot count very high.

“Good job, mullah sir,” one of the men says as Mr. Khan leads them in prayer afterward.

“I was shocked when I watched the video,” said Mohammed Munir Khashi, an investigator with the commission. “I thought in the 21st century such a criminal incident could not happen in our country. It’s inhuman, anti-Islam and illegal.”

Fawzia Kofi, a prominent female member of Parliament, said the case may be shocking but is far from the only one. “I’m sure there are worse cases we don’t even know about,” she said. “Early marriage and forced marriage are the two most common forms of violent behavior against women and girls.”

The Human Rights Commission took the videotapes and the results of its investigation to the governor of Ghor Province, Sayed Iqbal Munib, who formed a commission to investigate it but took no action, saying the district was too insecure to send police there. A coalition of civic groups in the province called for his dismissal over the matter.

Nor has Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry replied to demands from the commission to take action in the case, according to the commission’s chairwoman, Sima Samar. A spokesman for the ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Forced marriage of Afghan girls is not limited to remote rural areas. In Herat city, a Unicef-financed women’s shelter run by an Afghan group, the Voice of Women Organization, shelters as many as 60 girls who have fled child marriages.

A group called Women for Afghan Women runs shelters in the capital, Kabul, as well as in nearby Kapisa Province and in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, all relatively liberal areas as Afghanistan goes, which have taken in 108 escaped child brides just since January, according to Executive Director Manizha Naderi.

Poverty is the motivation for many child marriages, either because a wealthy husband pays a large bride-price, or just because the father of the bride then has one less child to support. “Most of the time they are sold,” Ms. Naderi said. “And most of the time it’s a case where the husband is much, much older.”

She said it was also common practice among police officers who apprehend runaway child brides to return them to their families. “Most police don’t understand what’s in the law, or they’re just against it,” she said.

On Saturday, at the Women for Afghan Women shelter, at a secret location in Kabul, there were four fugitive child brides. All had been beaten, and most wept as they recounted their experiences.

Sakhina, a 15-year-old Hazara girl from Bamian, was sold into marriage to pay off her father’s debts when she was 12 or 13.

Her husband’s family used her as a domestic servant. “Every time they could, they found an excuse to beat me,” she said. “My brother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my husband, all of them beat me.”

Sumbol, 17, a Pashtun girl, said she was kidnapped and taken to Jalalabad, then given a choice: marry her tormentor, or become a suicide bomber. “He said, ‘If you don’t marry me I will put a bomb on your body and send you to the police station,’ ” Sumbol said.

Roshana, a Tajik who is now 18, does not even know why her family gave her in marriage to an older man in Parwan when she was 14. The beatings were bad enough, but finally, she said, her husband tried to feed her rat poison.

In some ways, the two girls from Ghor were among the luckier child brides. After the floggings, the mullah declared them divorced and returned them to their own families.

Two years earlier, in nearby Murhab district, two girls who had been sold into marriage to the same family fled after being abused, according to a report by the Human Rights Commission. But they lost their way, were captured and forcibly returned. Their fathers — one the village mullah — took them up the mountain and killed them.

Peshawar blasts

PESHAWAR: The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) in collaboration with Social Welfare and Women Development Department and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is planning to conduct a survey for collecting data of the affectees of bomb blasts in Peshawar district.
The proposed survey, to be carried out in all Peshawar’s 92 union councils, would collect data about the people killed, injured or maimed and the property destroyed in bomb blasts. An official of the PDMA said that firms having expertise in carrying out surveys had been asked to submit proposals by June 2.
The official said the assessment would possibly be started in late June. The survey teams, he said, would go door-to-door to collect data about the blast affectees. The authorities, he added, were also considering a proposal for setting up registration points where affectees would fill a form and register themselves as affected by blasts.
The city saw scores of suicide blasts during the last two years, which killed hundreds of people and injured and maimed several thousands.
Most of the blasts in 2009 were carried out in busy bazaars of the city, which destroyed business outlets and inflicted huge material losses on the business community. The traders have been complaining that the government did not extend financial support and bail them out of the crisis caused by bomb blasts.
After the completion of the survey, the official said, the Social Welfare Department would prepare a report along with their recommendations as to how the affectees could be assisted.

First time in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

PESHAWAR: For the first time in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, neurosurgeons at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) here conducted live endoscopic surgery of human brain, bringing good news for the patients suffering from brain disorders.
“We conducted the first-ever live and successful endoscopic surgery on human brain,” remarked noted neurosurgeon and head of Neurosurgery Department at LRH and Postgraduate Medical Institute (PGMI), Prof Dr Mumtaz Khan.
The procedure is being used in the developed world for treating brain disorders with limited complications and excellent results, he explained. “It can be learnt under the supervision of skilful neurosurgeons on cadaver in laboratory or on living human brain,” he added.
Dr Mumtaz said the procedure was nowadays practiced worldwide and was quite successful. “The efforts of the neurosurgeons at the LRH made this huge challenge easy,” he said.
The neurosurgeon said patients in the province would be benefited as treatment for brain disorders would become available to them nearer home at reduced cost. Earlier, he pointed out that patients had to travel to Lahore and Karachi for the treatment. The new procedure brought down the treatment cost for a patient from Rs45, 000 to Rs9,000.

It was a challenging and exciting moment for the neurosurgeons and trainee doctors of the LRH when they gathered for this innovative event in their field on Saturday to conduct live endoscopic surgery on human brain.

A senior surgeon, Dr Nadeem Malik, was invited from Lahore to supervise Dr Mumtaz and his team performing the first live endoscopic surgery. Dr Mumtaz then performed four more cases in the presence of his 14-member team.

A pharmaceutical company arranged the multimedia and other necessary equipment to contribute to the success of the procedure.

Dr Mumtaz had earlier travelled to Germany to attend a workshop to refine his skills in the technique. The trip cost him Rs400,000, which he arranged from his own resources.

The provincial health department didn’t extend any support to him or the neurosurgery unit at LRH to perform this procedure.

The endoscopic machine used for performing the procedure is owned by Dr Mumtaz. Costing Rs450,000, the endoscopic machine needs to be provided to the neurosurgery department for its use.

There is also need to extend neurosurgery facilities to the district-level hospitals so that patients aren’t required to visit Peshawar for the purpose.

Pakistani court lifts ban on Facebook

A top information technology official says a Pakistani court has lifted a ban on the social networking website Facebook.
Najibullah Malik, secretary of the country's information technology ministry, says the Lahore High Court lifted the ban Monday after Facebook removed a page encouraging users to post images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Malik says Facebook also apologized for the page, which was offensive to many Muslims who regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.
As of midmorning Monday, access to Facebook was still restricted.
Malik says government officials are waiting for a written court order before they advise Internet service providers to restore access to Facebook.