Thursday, December 9, 2010

China to Award 'Confucius Prize' as Counter to Nobel
A newly formed Chinese organization says it will award its own peace prize on Thursday, a day before the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Norway to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The announcement comes just three weeks after a Chinese newspaper proposed the creation of the "Confucius Peace Prize," named for the famed Chinese philosopher. It follows determined efforts to undermine Friday's Nobel ceremony in Oslo by pressuring governments to boycott the event.

In e-mails to news organizations Wednesday, Confucius Prize organizers said the initial award will honor former Taiwan Vice President Lien Chen, who "built a bridge of peace between Taiwan and the mainland." Lien was chairman of Taiwan's Nationalist Party in 2005 when he made a historic trip to China, helping to ease decades of tensions between the two governments.

Other nominees for the Confucius prize included former South African President Nelson Mandela, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

The awards committee chairman told the Associated Press that the group is not an official government body, but said it worked closely with China's Ministry of Culture.

The e-mailed statement said the award was created as "a peaceful response" to the Nobel decision and to explain the Chinese people's views of peace.

Chinese officials were outraged when the Nobel Prize was awarded to Liu, whom Beijing considers a criminal. Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence for his advocacy of broad democratic reforms in China. His wife and supporters are prevented from traveling to Oslo to attend the award ceremony on his behalf.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa declared `sensitive`

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Wednesday declared almost half of the province as `sensitive` and approved added security measures, involving army and helicopter gunships, to maintain law and order during Muharram.

According to the Muharram security plan, 12 districts of the province had been declared as `sensitive`, where extraordinary security arrangements would be put in place, Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain told a press conference.

Security plan of the government was reviewed in the 26th provincial cabinet meeting, which was held with Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti in the chair. The provincial police officer briefed the cabinet about current security situation and future steps to maintain peace in the province.

The sensitive districts included Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, Kohat, Haripur, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Nowshera, Mardan, Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Tank, the minister said.He said peace committees were mobilised in the sensitive areas to augment law enforcement agencies` efforts to maintain law and order during Muharram.

“Display of hate material and wall-chalking have been banned, hotels and inns is constantly being checked as well as special checkpoints have been set up in different parts of the province,” the minister said.

In addition to police, he said, 109 platoons of Frontier Reserve Police, 39 platoons of Elite Force and 800 retired army personnel would be deployed in the sensitive areas. Similarly, 41 platoons of Frontier Constabulary and 1,500 each personnel of Frontier Corps and Pak Army would be deployed along with police in the province, he added.

Mr Hussain said that army would also provide helicopter gunships for aerial surveillance of Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu and Kohat districts. The provincial cabinet also approved rewarding those political and social leaders, who were fighting terrorism in their respective areas, the minister said and added as a token of recognition of their services the government would allot plots to their families.

The cabinet authorized the chief minister to decide allotment of plots on case to case basis, for which criteria would be devised by a scrutiny committee.

The cabinet also reviewed implementation of its previous decisions and the chief minister directed all the divisional commissioners to disburse the outstanding cash compensation to the legal heirs of those killed and injured in the subversive acts within a period of one month.

To a question, the minister said that complete elimination of terrorism would take at least 14 years; however, there were some positive signs as well.

“It seems that international forces and regional players may strike a deal that will result in formation of a national Afghan government and put a brake on militancy both in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said. The positive development may take a year or two, he added.

UN urges Afghanistan to protect women’s rights

Afghanistan must eliminate widespread traditional customs that harm women and girls, such as child marriage, ‘‘honor killings’’ and giving away girls to settle disputes, a report by the United Nations said Thursday.

The report by the UN mission in Afghanistan found religious leaders sometimes reinforced the customs by invoking their interpretation of Islam.

‘‘In most cases, however, these practices are inconsistent with Sharia law as well as Afghan and international law, and violate the human rights of women,’’ the report said.

Researchers found such practices in varying degrees across the country and among all ethnic groups, based on 150 individual and group interviews this year in 29 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

‘‘Forced marriage is not a harmful tradition in our culture,’’ a man on the Faryab provincial in northern Afghanistan told researchers. ‘‘I know my daughter’s best interests and since she does not leave the house, she does not understand the world and it will not be possible or acceptable for her to choose her own husband.’’

The UN urged the implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, which was enacted in 2009 and which criminalizes actions including buying and selling women for marriage and child marriage.

‘‘The urgent need now is to raise awareness of the EVAW law and ensure its full implementation,’’ said Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA. ‘‘The Afghan police and judiciary require far more guidance, support and oversight from national-level authorities on how to properly apply the law.’’

She added: ‘‘As long as women and girls are subject to practices that harm, degrade and deny them their human rights, little meaningful and sustainable progress for women’s rights can be achieved in Afghanistan.’’

Afghanistan, which is mostly rural, has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world at 44 years for both men and women.

The plight of women in Afghanistan gained worldwide attention this year when a young Afghan woman who said her nose and ears were sliced off to punish her for running away from her violent husband appeared on the Aug. 9 cover of Time magazine.

Under orders from a Taliban commander acting as a judge, she was disfigured last year as punishment for fleeing her husband’s home, according to Time’s story in August and other accounts.

Just 18 years old at the time, Aisha said she ran away to escape her in-laws’ beatings and abuse. Her father-in-law was arrested about two weeks ago.

Peshawar Fashion Week

Peshawar is set to host its own fashion week in 2011, but the reaction in the fashion community in Lahore and Karachi has been fairly stereotypical and ironically similar to the stereotyped coverage fashion week received from the international press.

But the recently formed Peshawar Fashion Council is not deterred.

“I had been working with Style 360 for the last six years and even when I approached my friends in the fashion industry, they started to laugh at me. But I felt that if every major city can have a fashion week, why not Peshawar? We also have a lot of talent that just needs to be unearthed and nurtured. There are many women designing and selling clothes from their own boutiques and lots of photographers are here as well. With the right kind of media projection even these small scale designers can become Hassan Sheheryar Yasins and Khawar Riazes,” said Waqas Ahmed of the Peshawar Fashion Council.

“We did not make any formal announcements as yet since we are still finalising the logistics and our media partner. I want to dispel the image of Peshawar as backward which is very wrong. Even last month we had the design students from Iqra University present their thesis as a fashion show,” said Ahmed.

Large-scale events in Pakistan come with security risks, but Ahmed promises to manage security at a private hotel which shall be the venue of the event.

So far Pakistan has four scheduled fashion weeks, two per season from Fashion Pakistan and Pakistan Fashion Design Council, amongst a plethora of corporate-sponsored fashion events and the recent additions of Islamabad Fashion Week and Bridal Couture Week. With only a small segment of the society that can participate and create avenues for business at these events, there is serious concern that the business angle to the fashion industry will be lost with the increasing number of events.

Ahmed defends this concern. He told The Express Tribune, “Everyone associated with the fashion industry, whether they are make-up artistes, models or designers, are making considerable money. If this industry was not profitable, even if it is just for a privileged few, people would have adopted different professions by now. So there is scope for work here.”

“It is just about projecting things in a good way. No profession is good or bad; it is only people working there that make it so. If we make it a respectable forum then good people from honourable homes will come forth to participate in it,” said an optimistic Ahmed. “I am going to try my best to make this venture a success and with the support of a few famous designers and models I am sure we can set this project off on a positive path.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2010.

House passes immigration Dream Act

The House passed a landmark youth immigration bill known as the Dream Act on Wednesday night largely along party lines, but the measure faces a tough test in the Senate as Democrats struggle to pass priority legislation in the waning days of this Congress.

Eight Republicans joined in approving the bill, 216 to 198. Thirty-eight Democrats voted no. The measure offers a path to citizenship for young people who were brought to this country illegally before age 16 and who have enrolled in college or entered the military.

President Obama said the passage was historic. "This vote is not only the right thing to do for a group of talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own by continuing their education or serving in the military, but it is the right thing for the United States of America," he said in a statement.

Obama called on the Senate to follow suit.

The bill could come up there as soon as Thursday but is unlikely to attract the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Republican senators have vowed to block all legislation until a stalemate over the George W. Bush-era tax cuts is resolved. Obama and the GOP have reached a deal, but Democrats haven't signed on.

The Dream Act isn't the only Democratic priority at stake.

Earlier in the day, the Senate postponed at least until Thursday a vote on repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the 1993 ban on openly gay personnel in the military.

Democrats worked late into the night trying to strike a deal with the few Republican senators who support lifting the policy but who have asked for more time to debate it.

The lame-duck congressional session offers Democrats their best chance to pass both bills because, in January, Republicans will hold the majority in the House and more seats in the Senate.

The House passed the Dream Act after a late, hastily scheduled vote. Proponents called it the most significant immigration legislation to pass the House in a decade.

"Let's give the dream kids an opportunity. They are American in every way but a piece of paper," said Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leading supporter. "We have come here to support the rule of law, yes, but to change the law when it is unfair."

A handful of Republicans in both chambers criticized the Dream Act as "nightmare" amnesty legislation bound to be abused and easily subject to fraud. They said it would create more competition for work in a recession.

"The American people want us to focus on creating jobs and getting Americans back to work. This will prevent Americans from getting jobs," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R- Texas). "It puts the interest of illegal immigrants ahead of those of law-abiding Americans."