Saturday, December 24, 2011

Javed Hashmi joins PTI

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) firebrand leader Makhdoom Javed Hashmi has reached the Multan airport and announced that he is joining Pakistan Tehreek-eInsaf (PTI), a private TV reported Saturday.
According to the report, PML-N workers blocked the road outside his house to prevent him reaching the airport. Workers were chanting slogans and expressed their solidarity with the party and the senior leader.
However, Hashmi was successful in reaching the airport to catch his flight for Karachi where PTI chief Imran Khan is likely to receive him at the Karachi airport. PML-N failed in its last effort to stop Makhdom Javed Hashmi from joining PTI.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Deadly Suicide Bombings Hit Damascus

Pakistani Christians Face Alienation, Discrimination

China says top diplomat visits Pakistan


China’s senior diplomat Dai Bingguo arrived in Pakistan on Friday for talks with the country whose relations with key backer, the United States, have gone from bad to worse, state news agency Xinhua said.

Dai will meet Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily briefing.

Dai is a state councillor who steers foreign policy for China’s top leaders. He outranks Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who answers to Dai.

The visit is meant to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties and will “take relations to a new high”, Liu said.

Both sides will use this visit to “discuss the future development of practical cooperation and exchange views on other issues of mutual concern,” Liu said, without elaborating.

“China is satisfied with the present course of bilateral relations and has total confidence in prospects for future cooperation the future,” Liu added.

Liu did not give other details on Dai’s trip.

Beijing has voiced support for Islamabad during months of worsening Pakistani American relations, which were shaken by the US incursion in May that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden near a Pakistani military base, and a cross-border attack by US forces that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last month.

Pakistan has been trying to move closer to Asian powerhouse China as ties with the United States have suffered.

China and Pakistan call each other “all-weather friends” and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to counter-balance US influence across the region.

China invested more than $200 million to help build the deep-sea Gwadar port on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, partly with a view to opening an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf, across Pakistan to western China.

China also helped Pakistan build its main nuclear power generation facility at Chashma in Punjab province.

Two reactors are in operation and two more are planned. Analysts say China agreed to expand the Chashma complex to counter a 2008 nuclear energy deal between India and the United States.

PPP sees PML-N in love with establishment

The Pakistan People`s Party, which appears to be in confrontation mood with the military establishment, believes the PML-N in an effort to maintain its position in the face of growing popularity of Imran Khan`s PTI will not support it (PPP) to save democracy.

“The PML-N is trying to get closer to the establishment to anticipate PTI`s popularity in Punjab and for this reason it is playing in latter`s hands,” says president`s assistant political secretary Fauzia Wahab.

She told Dawn on Thursday that the PPP was in no delusion that the PML-N would go with it to save democracy. “We do not believe in recent statements of Nawaz Sharif that his party was anti-establishment and will not support any move to wrap up the democratic system,” she said, adding the PML-N chief filed the petition in the Supreme Court with regard to the memo controversy in an attempt to dispel the impression that it was the PML-N, not the PTI, that had establishment`s support.

The former PPP information secretary said Mr Sharif`s demand for early elections was not feasible because no situation under the Constitution had arisen to go for it. “Mr Sharif should learn a lesson from the past and instead of indulging in the 1990s politics he should lend his support to strengthen democracy in the country,” she said.

GOVERNOR: Governor Latif Khosa said all institutions, including the army, were under the control of the democratic government according to the Constitution.

Talking to reporters at a function organised in connection with Christmas at Governor`s House on Thursday, the governor denied that there had been any rift between the army and the civilian leadership. “There is no truth in these rumours,” he said.

Mr Khosa said the parliament could even undo court decisions through legislation.

Payroll tax deal passes Congress in rare win for Obama


The US Congress has approved a short-term renewal of a payroll tax cut, a day after House Republicans caved in to overwhelming pressure on the issue.

The bill extends the tax cut as well as unemployment insurance for two-months.

Lawmakers held voice votes on the deal, requiring only a few members to be present.

A joint conference committee will work on a year-long deal, after the holiday recess. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama to sign into law.The deal keeps in place a tax cut that saves about $1,000 (£638) each year for an average US income, and prevents almost two million unemployed people from losing jobless benefits of about $300 a week.

Senate and House Democrat leaders named their own appointees on Friday to a conference committee tasked with extending the compromise to a full-year version.

On Thursday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner told members of his party about his U-turn in a muted conference call, where they could not ask questions.

A similar call last weekend prompted a revolt from Tea Party-backed opponents of the bipartisan deal, prompting this week's political showdown.

Thursday's about-turn was a rare retreat for Republicans, who since gaining control of the House in 2010's mid-term elections have wrung a string of concessions from the White House.

Conservatives were initially sceptical about extending the payroll tax break, which economists say would aid US economic recovery.But as Republicans demurred over the $120bn (£76bn) cost of the plan, Democrats had accused them of backing tax cuts only for the wealthiest Americans.

Correspondents say Mr Boehner's back-pedalling reflects a realisation in his party that it would have faced blame for an effective tax rise on US workers in a general election year.

After the Senate vote, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he wanted the new year to be turning point for Congress.

"I hope this Congress has had a had very good learning experience, especially the newer members," Mr Reid said in a press conference. "The American people need this institution to work effectively," he added.

Israel's treatment of women is hardly that of a democracy

Rachel Shabi

A 'dignified' dress code and gender segregation show Israel is fast becoming bigoted about dissent and difference
While we've been distracted by alarmism over newly elected Islamist leaders enforcing hijabs and bikini bans in the Arab world, Israel is already embroiled in attempts to rein in this unruly matter of female "immodesty".

Last week, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported on businesses in the southern town of Sderot signing up to a "dignified" dress code – whereby female employees must be "modestly" clothed. So far 20 stores have adopted this long-sleeves directive, initiated by a religious group which says it did not actively threaten to boycott non-signatory shops – but which, nonetheless, has considerable buying power. Not surprisingly, the women subjected to this new code have described it as religious coercion.

This is on top of some other instances of an apparent increase in ultra-religious modesty decrees. There have been recent religious pronouncements that men should walk out of army ceremonies where women are singing (immodestly, of course); along with attempts to erase women's faces from billboard advertising and increased attempts to impose gender-segregated queuing in stores.

Last week, religiously imposed gender segregation of buses prompted a stand-off, as a female passenger simply refused to move to the back – despite requests to do so from the bus driver and a police officer called in to sort out the dispute. Dozens of public bus lines used by Israel's ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) sector have been gender-segregated for years. Israel's supreme court tried to reverse this practice a year ago, but balked at actually banning the "women at the back" policy – making it more a voluntary issue.

The woman who stood up to it all sparked a round of indignation at these religious dictates in the Israeli media – and from Israeli leaders, including prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who issued some generic outrage premised on those favourite politico buzzwords: unity and coexistence.

Netanyahu is in a coalition that includes dominant religious parties – a support base he isn't likely to antagonise. Israeli governments are adept at making the right noises over religious enforcements in public spaces, but meanwhile doing nothing to seriously tackle the flourish. Underpinning this is the matter that, while Israel might be secular on the streets, it has never been secular as a state – with fundamentals from birth to death managed in some way by rabbis.

But this vocal protest premised on liberal, secular values is an easy run for Israel's leaders. Gender rights is one of the cornerstones of Israel's self-image as "the only democracy in the Middle East". Officials championing the subject can rely on solid support from mainstream Israelis – still a non-Orthodox majority – who worry that the Haredi sector's influence over public norms is getting out of hand. Part of the public fight-back includes a plan, on New Year's Day, for a mass boarding of gender-segregated buses to challenge this arrangement.

Pointedly, there is a big difference when it comes to defending another component of Israel's "only democracy" calling card: freedom of expression. In that frame, the Israeli government is currently trying to pass a series of laws that salute the spirit of McCarthy, while large sections of the public seem to have approved the line that any criticism of the country is basically treason.

But it seems unlikely that these trends are unrelated. Israel is increasingly becoming a place that's bigoted about dissent and difference. If the landscape as a whole is more aggressively intolerant, why shouldn't that include the Haredi sector, too?

Bahrain police attack Shiite opposition
Security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas attacked the headquarters of Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition party in the capital on Friday after the group challenged a new government ban on its weekly protests. Police also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters attempting to protest elsewhere in the capital.

“I was really shocked to see tear gas and rubber bullets hit our offices,” said vice president of the Al Wefaq party, Sheik Hussain Al Daihi. He said he was inside the building with foreign journalists when the security forces attacked and that a 13-year-old girl among those hurt had a serious injury to her thigh.Friday’s clampdown was the latest episode in 10 months of unrest between Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy and an opposition movement led by the country’s majority Shiites, who have long complained of discrimination.

“We are a people that won’t be broken. All this repression and brutality is the source of our strength and determination to continue the struggle and defend our national rights,” Al Daihi said later in a statement.

Authorities banned the weekly Friday protests for the first time since emergency laws were lifted in June. The Interior Ministry “gave silly excuses” to ban the event, including that it would block traffic and endanger others in the area, Al Daihi said.

Defying government orders, Shiite clerics on Friday also held prayer services on the rubble of mosques that had been bulldozed by authorities earlier this year. It was the first time that Shiite clerics have actively taken part in the protest movement, openly defying the government.

The Shiite clerics say at least 38 mosques used by their congregations were destroyed since the protests began in February.

“We will start a campaign to defend our religious sites and the first such activity starts with a protest at the end of the prayer at Diraz grand mosque,” senior Shiite cleric Sheik Isa Qassim said during his Friday sermon. Diraz is an opposition stronghold northwest of the capital.

“We demand democracy for one people, Sunni and Shiite, and we understand the approach of the government that aims to divide our people. We are the ones who insist on unity, and because of this we are targeted by the government,” he said.

Qassim called on international allies of Bahrain to exert pressure on the government because of what he said was it lack of will to reform.

Bahrain is a key U.S. ally in the Gulf and is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Since February, at least 40 people have been killed.

Hundreds of activists have been detained and brought to trial on anti-state charges in a special security court set up after authorities imposed marital law and invited a Saudi-led Gulf military force into the country to help deal with dissent in the tiny island kingdom.

Bahrain lifted emergency rule in June. Since then, government opponents have clashed with police almost every night.

All state institutions have to work in ambit of Constituion

A meeting of the PPP core committee was held at Aiwan-e-Sadr which was chaired by Co-Chairman PPP President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the meeting which lasted for two hours reviewed the overall political situation in the country with special reference to recent developments. The prime minister gave a comprehensive briefing on the overall situation.

The meeting reiterated its unswerving commitment to the principles of parliamentary sovereignty, constitutionalism and rule of law and said the party and the government would uphold these principles under all circumstances.

The meeting also reiterated that all institutions of the state have to work within the ambit of the Constitution without trespassing into domain of others.

Babar said that the meeting reposed full confidence in the leadership of Co-Chairman President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief Executive Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

He said that the meeting also discussed arrangements for the proposed rally in Garhi Khuda Baksh on December 27 to mark the 4th martyrdom anniversary of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

Obama: 'Enough Is Enough' on Payroll Tax Fight

Malika-e-Tarannum Noor Jehan remembered

Legendary singer Malika-e-Tarannum Noor Jehan was remembered on her death anniversary, here on Friday.

Renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of her time in South Asia, Noor Jehan and was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum for a career spanning seven decades.

Born in a Punjabi family of musicians, Noor Jehan was pushed by her parents to follow in their musical footsteps and become a singer but she was more interested in acting in films and graced the earliest Pakistani films with her performances. She holds a remarkable record of 10,000 songs to her singing credits in various languages of India and Pakistan including Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Sindhi languages. Along with Ahmed Rushdi, she holds the highest record of film songs in the history of Pakistani cinema. She is also considered to be the first female Pakistani film director.

Noor Jehan was born September 21, 1926 in Kasur, Punjab and was one of the eleven children of professional musicians Madad Ali and Fateh Bibi. She made her film debut in 1935 as a child artist in K.D. Mehra directed Pind di Kuri. In 1939, Ghulam Haider composed songs for Jehan which led to her early popularity. She then recorded her first song Shala Jawaniyan Mane for Dalsukh M. Pancholi's movie Gul Bakavli. In 1942, she played the main lead opposite Pran in the film Khandaan.
In 1945, she achieved a milestone, when she sung a Qawwali with Zohrabai Ambalewali and Amirbai Karnataki which was "Aahen Na Bhareen Shikave Na Kiye". This was the first ever Qawwali recorded in female voices in South Asian films.
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Jehan decided to move to Pakistan along with her husband Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. She left Bombay and settled in Karachi with her family.
Three years after settling in Pakistan, Noor Jehan starred in her first film in Pakistan, Chan wey (1951), opposite Santosh Kumar, which was also her first Punjabi film as a heroine. Shaukat and Noor Jehan directed this film together making Noor Jehan Pakistan's first female director. Noor Jehan's second film in Pakistan was Dopatta (1952) which turned out to be an even bigger success than Chan wey (1951).
Her penultimate film as an actress/singer was Mirza Ghalib (1961). This contributed to the strengthening of her iconic stature. She gained another audience for herself. Her rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob naj maang is a unique example of tarranum, reciting poetry as a song. Noor Jehan last starred in Baaji in 1963, though not in a leading role. Noor Jehan bade farewell to acting in 1963 after a career of 33 years (1930 to 1963). The pressure of being a mother of six children and the demanding wife of a hero (Ejaz Durrani) forced her to give up her career. Noor Jehan made 14 films in Pakistan, ten in Urdu, four in Punjabi.

After quitting acting she took up playback singing. She made her debut as a playback singer in 1960 with the film Salma. Her first initial playback for a Pakistani film was for Jan-e-Bahar (1958), in which she sang the song Kaisa Naseeb Layi Thi, picturised on Musarrat Nazir.
She received many awards, including the highest Pakistani honour in entertainment, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (The Pride of Performance) in 1966, Pakistan's top civil award. She sang a large number of duets with Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana and Mujeeb Aalam.

In 1986, on a tour of North America, Jehan suffered from chest pains and was diagnosed with angina pectoris after which she underwent a surgery to install a pacemaker. In 2000, Jehan was hospitalised in Karachi and suffered a heart attack. On Saturday afternoon, December 23, 2000, Noor Jehan breathed her last, as a result of heart failure.

Outspoken Afghan Rights Official Ousted

There have been few causes that Ahmad Nader Nadery, the prominent Afghan human rights activist, shied away from over the past decade: he spoke out on the killings of civilians by NATO and Taliban forces, on election fraud by President Hamid Karzai’s supporters, even on land grabs by rich and well-connected Afghans whose houses now dominate central Kabul’s broken streets.

But this week, Mr. Karzai and his closest aides seemed to have had enough of Mr. Nadery. He was effectively forced out of the leadership of a national human rights commission, according to Afghan rights activists and Western officials. The decision appeared final, although there remained a slight chance it could be reversed, they said.

Mr. Nadery, 36, has long been an irritant to Afghanistan’s elite. But the final straw for the Karzai administration appeared to be a report that he has championed, which exhaustively details atrocities committed here over three decades of war, the officials and activists said. The officials asked not to be identified because they are lobbying the Karzai administration to be more open about its decision — and to reconsider it. The activists also said they were worried that speaking out publicly could jeopardize their safety.

Mr. Nadery’s ouster from the C, which is appointed by the government but acts independently, raised fresh questions about the Karzai administration’s commitment to human rights, which have been a major focus of the international effort here for the past decade. In that time, a small but vocal community of activists has grown up, and Mr. Nadery was at their forefront.

Lately, though, the activists have found themselves under increasing pressure on two flanks. On one side is a government dominated by former warlords whom Mr. Karzai cannot afford to alienate; on the other, the Taliban and their allies, with their own checkered history on human rights. As the United States starts to cut back its forces and financing and pushes the government to negotiate with the Taliban, hard-won rights for women and minorities face an uncertain future.

The people named as offenders in the report — which Mr. Nadery described on Thursday as his “most important work” — include Taliban commanders and powerful politicians. Many were leaders of the mujahedeen resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and then played major roles in the civil war of the mid-1990s, the officials and activists said; some are now senior figures in the government.

Mr. Karzai’s spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Mr. Nadery, whose five-year term ran out on Dec. 16, said he was not formally told that his tenure would not be renewed. The terms of two other members of the nine-member commission also may not have been renewed, the officials said.

“This sends a very disturbing message to the people of Afghanistan that if you speak out about human rights, if you demand justice, you will be silenced,” said Dallas Mazoori, a former colleague of Mr. Nadery’s who remains involved in human rights issues in Afghanistan. She called him “the face of human rights in Afghanistan.”

Western officials said they were dismayed that the Karzai administration had made the decision this week at a private meeting of Mr. Karzai and some senior officials and aides whom Mr. Nadery has criticized.

Mr. Nadery’s replacement is an associate of the first vice president, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, activists and officials said; one Western official called the choice “exactly the wrong sign.”

Mr. Nadery declined on Thursday to discuss the details of the atrocities report, which has been in the works for about three years. It was not clear when it would be released. In an earlier interview, he had said the report documented “more than 180 mass graves, some with large numbers.” As for who was responsible, he said: “Unfortunately, it belongs to all sides in different stages of the conflict. The majority of people killed, a lot of them were P.O.W.’s or civilians.”

Mr. Nadery, who grew up in Kabul, was briefly imprisoned by the Taliban in the late 1990s, along with other Kabul University students, for writing reports advocating peace and dropping them anonymously at the United Nations office in the city. “We didn’t know where to send them,” he said.

After the fall of the Taliban, he became a prominent rights activist and was named to the commission in 2004; his five-year term formally began in December 2006.

Mr. Nadery also runs the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan and said he expected to stay on there. But he will lose his government security detail when the decree announcing his departure is released, a step expected on Saturday.

“I’ve received death threats,” Mr. Nadery said in an interview. “I am worried about my life, and my wife and our small daughter and my parents, who live with me.” Still, he said, he did not plan to leave the country.

PML-N’s help sought to down government

While its leader has gone out of his way to openly reject any military intervention, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been approached by elements within the security establishment, which is seeking help in dislodging the government, The Express Tribune has learnt.

The PML-N remains non-committal, however.

According to well-placed sources, the PML-N leadership is willing to get onboard only after concrete guarantees and on certain terms of conditions.

In the aftermath of the Memogate issue, officials of the country’s premier intelligence agency have been shuttling back and forth to take the PML-N on board, sources say.

A brigadier of the intelligence agency held detailed sessions with three key leaders of the PML-N’s second-tier leadership, days before hearing on Memogate scandal started in the Supreme Court on December 1st. Later meetings were held with the party’s top leadership, sources add.

These meetings took place on the nights between November 27 and 28, and November 28 and 29; the first one in Islamabad, the second one in Murree.

Sources say the opposition party was given blueprints of a possible scenario sans President Zardari – a 2007-like, ‘emergency plus’ situation, with a pledge of holding fresh polls within three months.

The same official, according to some sources – other sources say it was a different official of the same rank – held a meeting with a top judicial officer during the same period.

No guarantees, no decision

Of the limited choices available to oust an adamant president, a ‘quasi-judicial-military coup’ appeared to be the top option.

For the PML-N though, making unconditional, solemn commitments was not viable, especially when there were no guarantees that the promise of new polls within the given time frame will be met.

The indecisiveness was later evident from the mixed signals coming through different quarters in the party.

A party MNA from Potohar, on National Assembly floor, termed the alleged memo a ‘mere piece of paper’. A senator, and a relative of Sharifs, who had been one of the three interlocutors at the late November meetings, rebutted the MNA’s claim, and called it his ‘personal point of view’.

NY protests offer warning to Chinese rich

By Rong Xiaoqing
There aren't many Chinese camping in Zuccotti Park, the home of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement. Not a surprise. Chinese immigrants have long been known for being silent and invisible at political events, especially one like this that was started mainly by young white hipsters.

But it doesn't mean there aren't Chinese at the scene. These days tourists from China coming to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center and the newly opened 9/11 Memorial seem to have added Zuccotti Park, which is only a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero, as a must-see.

The Chinese tourists won't usually walk into the protesting crowd. They like to walk around the edges of the park, taking some pictures and making some comments within their own groups. The middle aged man I met the other afternoon was a typical example. He exaggeratedly waved his fist to the crowd and shouted jokingly, "We Chinese people support you guys!" before he was pulled away by his laughing wife and daughter.

The curiosity is understandable. Protesting is nothing new in American history and marching and protesting have almost become street fixtures in New York since the 2008 financial meltdown. But for many Chinese tourists, who have only just started to come to the US in large numbers, Occupy Wall Street may be the first major American demonstration that they have witnessed in person, thanks to the long lasting nature, the convenient location of the protest and the lavish coverage in the Chinese media.

But if the Chinese tourists, who presumably belong to the wealthy class in their own country, simply take what's happening in Zuccotti Park as an exotic street drama without thinking about how it reflects on themselves, they may have cause for regret.

Resentment against the rich, which is a major engine of the movement, exists in both the US, where wealth has been flowing for a long time and China, where wealth has been accumulating rapidly. But the American rich, who are the target of the Wall Street protesters and the Chinese rich, who are mainly amused gawkers here, couldn't be more different.

In the US, the rich have a tradition of giving back to society. The donation from robber barons in the 19th century blessed New York with many gifts, such as the renowned Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller Plaza.

The foundations of George Soros and Bill Gates are pushing earthshaking changes in the nation and in the world. Even Zuccotti Park was built and maintained by the real estate firm Brookfield Properties for the public as part of a planning deal with the authorities. In China, philanthropy is still an infant idea that scares many rich people away.

In the US, the rich often try to avoid flaunting their wealth in public, especially when the economy is weak. Billionaires like Warren Buffet and the late Steve Jobs have been known for dressing simply. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may often fly on his private jet to Bermuda for vacations, but he is also known for wearing the same pair of shoes for 10 years. Since the economy started to nosedive, shops on Fifth Avenue started to use logo-less shopping bags to cater to the need of their customers who want to be anonymous when buying luxuries.

To be sure, the American rich are not Santa Clauses. They still hold an ever-increasing amount of national wealth and use their money to fight political efforts to make them pay more, and that's what ignited Occupy Wall Street. But even when they become the target, multi-millionaires from Blackrock's Laurence Fink to Citigroup's Vikram Pandit still manage to publicly indicate that they are sympathetic and understanding of their attackers.

Much of this is merely self serving – a way of heading off criticism or worse. But it seems to be working. At least, the protesters only want to push the rich to give back more rather than having them beheaded.

The newly rich in China are still on a learning curve. One thing they may want to be aware of is that being rich is not only about knowing how to drink wine, collect art, golf or ride horses.

Sometimes, it is not about how much money you have and how generous you are. It is the sophistication of getting more by taking less and showing people you care about wider society that has yet to become part of Chinese behavior.

The author is a New York-based journalist.

Egyptians to stage anti-junta rally

Egyptian activists have called for a major rally in the capital Cairo to protest the ruling junta's management of Egypt's domestic affairs and the military's delay in transferring power to a civilian rule.

Egypt's opposition activists called on their compatriots to join Friday's protest and take to the streets in a march in the capital.

"The current predicament we have reached is a result of the army council's reluctance to play its role, its intentional foot-dragging, breaking its obligations and failing over the economy and security, putting the whole country on the edge of a huge crisis," said a statement signed by two dozen parties including the youth movements and others calling for the protest.

Egypt's Revolution Youth Movement, which played a lead role in massive demonstrations that brought down the US-sponsored Mubarak regime in February, said the army's handling of the latest street protests showed it was seeking to "protect the previous regime.”

At least, one hundred people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces as well as sectarian violence since the military took power.

The deaths, coupled with the brutality shown by army troops against protesters that included women, have prompted some activists to consider suing the ruling generals in local courts or have them put on trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Activists and political groups have become increasingly critical of military rulers' management of Egypt's transitional period, which the junta had promised would be a six-month span.

They have also widely rebuked the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, for his reluctance to implement sweeping changes and dismantle elements of the former regime.

The military rulers have yet to give a clear timetable for their plan to step down and hand over power.

They have instead proposed holding a presidential election by late next year.

Saudis could still flog woman who dared to drive car .

A SAUDI woman sentenced to ten lashes for flouting the country's ban on women driving has not been officially pardoned, despite reports to the contrary - and her sentence may still be carried out at any time.

Shaima Jastaniya, 34, was given the draconian sentence by a court in Jedda in September after she persistently ignored the ban, which is not enshrined in law but handed down in fatwas by Muslim clerics, making Saudi Arabia the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Then 87-year-old King Adbullah, who has overseen a gentle thawing of his hardline rule in recent years, announced he had pardoned Jastaniya – a move much reported in the world's media.

Now The Times reports that the increasingly powerful – and conservative – Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz has exerted his influence to make sure Abdullah’s pardon has no real force.

Jastaniya's father was summoned to the Interior Ministry last week, the paper reports, to be told that his daughter was pardoned. However, when he asked for written guarantees that she would not be flogged, his request was refused.

The newspaper says it has learned that the original punishment could still be carried out at any time – and the verdict has not been overturned. Activist Mohammed al-Qahtani told the paper: "They will keep this hanging over her in case she does anything else."

Jastaniya has become the focal point for a campaign of civil disobedience by women drivers which culminated in a 'mass drive' where 50 women flouted the ban in convoy, writing about it later on social networking sights.

Aware that it was the focus of world attention, the authorities let the protest go ahead unhindered. It seemed like a watershed moment, but there has been a quiet crackdown since.

One woman activist in Riyadh told the Times anonymously: "The campaign is dying right now. People are afraid. They have seen what happened to Shaima and the others." ·

Read more:

'Blue bra girl' rallies Egypt's women vs. oppression

By Isobel Coleman,CNN

The Egyptian revolution has a new, and shocking, image: It's the Egyptian flag, but the eagle in the middle has been replaced by a simple blue bra. The image refers to the recent, savage beating of an abaya-clad female protester by Egyptian military forces.

Graphic videos of the beating, captured on phones and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, have quickly proliferated. They show a limp woman being dragged by her arms along the street. Her abaya is ripped open, exposing her naked torso and blue bra. Security forces surround her, many wielding batons. As the beating progresses, the guards hit her and one even stomps on her. Photos of the man bringing his heavy boot down on her bare stomach made the front page of newspapers around the world.

In response, thousands of women -- and men -- marched Tuesday in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Observers say it was the largest demonstration of women in Egypt in decades. Not since 1919, when women mobilized under the leadership of feminist Hoda Sha'rawi in anti-colonial demonstrations against the British have so many Egyptian women taken to the streets. (After representing Egyptian women at the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Rome in 1923, Sha'rawi returned to Cairo and very publicly removed her veil.)Women have played an important role in Egypt's modern revolution but have struggled to translate their activism into a political role in the new, emerging system. They have been excluded from important decision-making bodies, and the military leadership declined to continue a Mubarak-era quota for women that ensured them at least 64 seats in parliament. Based on early election results, it appears that few women will win a place in the new government.

Nevertheless, one intrepid woman, Bothaina Kamel, is breaking ground with her candidacy for president. The campaign of Kamel, a well-known television presenter, at first was shocking, and certainly quixotic, with polls indicating her support is less than 1%. But her persistence has gained her credibility. While she has little chance of winning, she is helping to normalize the idea of women in politics -- an idea that is deeply contested in Egyptian society. Leaders of Salafi parties, which gained a surprising 20% of the vote in the first rounds of elections, have spoken out against women running for office.The recent women's protest may breathe life into a movement that desperately needs new energy. In the early weeks of the revolution, women activists tried to bring attention to women's issues but never succeeded in getting the masses behind them.

A women's march in Tahrir Square to mark International Women's Day on March 8 ended badly. Only a few hundred women showed up, and they were soon harassed by a mob of angry men who shouted at them to go home and warned that their demands for rights were against Islam.

Around the same time, the Egyptian military rounded up scores of women demonstrators, and in a show of raw intimidation, subjected many of them to "virginity tests." Military leaders at first denied the accusations, and later defended their abuse by claiming the women "were not like your daughter or mine."

In a remarkable show of courage, one of the victims, Samira Ibrahim, is pursuing a criminal case against the military for her ordeal. The only one of the 17 victims willing to take her case to court, Ibrahim is challenging not only the heavy-handed tactics of the military but also the social stigma associated with her issue.

The woman attacked by the military in the recent protests has declined to come forward, so for now she is only known as "blue bra girl." But her mistreatment seems to be a galvanizing force. Thousands of people joined the march through Cairo on Tuesday, many of them taking to the streets for the first time in outrage. Organizers of the march used the hashtag #BlueBra on Twitter to encourage people to join them.

Some of the protesters held giant posters of the blue bra/flag icon. Others carried photographs of the beating. Men formed a cordon around the women, chanting "The women of Egypt are the red line." Still, many Egyptians were not supportive.

Bloggers and tweeters offered negative comments on the blue bra girl -- criticizing her for being out in public protesting in the first place and accusing her of being provocative for not wearing more clothes under her abaya.

It remains to be seen whether these new humiliations for Egyptian women will lead to significant changes. But given the country's deep-seated patriarchy, women in Egypt should not take their rights for granted.

Pakistan deadliest for journalists for 2nd year

Pakistan is the world's deadliest country to work in for journalists, a dubious distinction it has earned for the second year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in its annual report.
Of the 43 journalists killed worldwide in direct relation to their work in 2011, seven died in Pakistan, the non-profit organization said on its website Tuesday. Eight journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2010, the group said.
Umar Cheema, a senior Pakistani journalist who was abducted and beaten last year, told CNN that the news was "alarming and unfortunate" and meant that "we are not out of the woods yet."
"Forces against the freedom of speech are against us and this is evidence that the establishment allows such forces to thrive within a culture of impunity," Cheema said.
The journalists killed in Pakistan in 2011 included Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for Asia Times Online, who exposed links between al Qaeda and the Pakistani navy in his book published after his death.
The CPJ report also said that Pakistan was the worst country in the world for finding justice for journalist deaths.
Another group, Reporters without Borders, documented 10 journalists killed in Pakistan in 2011, the highest number on its annual press freedom barometer.
The CPJ statement said it was still investigating another 35 journalist deaths worldwide to determine if they were work-related.

President Zardari signs two women’s rights bills into law

On his first working day after suffering from an ailment that took him to Dubai for treatment, President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday gave assent to two bills aimed at provisions for enhanced punishment to several offences against women.
The first bill was the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill of 2011, which was passed by the National Assembly on November 15 and by the Senate on December 12.
Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement that the president signed both bills to coincide with the National Day for Working Women to highlight the government’s commitment to protecting women from abuse by raising the bar for crimes against them.
While signing the bills, the president said that in line with the vision of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the government would continue to empower women and the signing of the bills into law was a manifestation of this policy. He said the signing of the new laws was an auspicious occasion as December 22 marked the National Working Women’s Day.
The new law seeks to punish offences against women such as giving them in marriage in ‘Badal-e-sulah’, wanni or swara, depriving them from inheritance, forced marriage and marriage to the Holy Quran.
A new chapter (XXA) containing three clauses has also been inserted in the code seeking to prohibit three offences against women. The offences punishable with various terms of imprisonment and fine include depriving women from inheriting property, forced marriage and marriage to the Holy Quran.
The presidential spokesman said the other bill that the president assented to was the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Bill of 2011. This bill, he said, sought to provide punishment of 14 years to life imprisonment for crimes of disfiguring and defacing of human organs or body by a corrosive substance.

ANP to defend democracy no matter the cirumstances


The Khyber Pakthunkhwa Minister for Environment and Forests, Wajid Ali Khan said here Thursday that Awami National Party (ANP) will defend democracy whatever the situation may arise in future and people will strongly resist against toppling of government through undemocratic means.”There would be no problem if all institutions work within its constitutional ambit,” he told APP. Wajid Khan said ANP was the only party that always raised voices in support of democracy and constitutional rule and never become part of dictatorial rule. Also, the civil society including media, political forces, lawyers, international community etc would not welcome unconstitutional change in the country, he maintained.He said democracy was the only way forward to address masses’ problems and country’s challenges and we should all work together to strengthen this system.”It is a high time of showing political stability and national unity keeping in view the current geo-political and security’s environment of the region,” he said. ”Instead to indulge in blame games and throwing mud on each others, we as nation should show political maturity, respects each others’ views and political mandates to resolve problems of masses.”The ANP leader, while out rightly rejecting the political jugglers’ speculations regarding political change, the Minister said the government was stable and will complete its tenure, adding people, civil society and political forces will protect democracy at all cost.”I do not foresee political change in the country. The opportunists, who are talking today about bringing revolutions have failed to deliver for masses and country uplift in their respective regimes. The democratic forces are united on single point agenda to take ship of democracy forward. Democracy is the destiny of people,” he remarked.The Minister said, “where were these opportunities and political jugglers when militancy and terrorism were in full peak in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Fata.” He said it was ANP that stood against enemy of peace like iron wall and even sacrificed their relatives, leaders and workers and never compromised on principles.Asked about joining of different politicians to Pakistan Tahrik-e-Insaf (PTI), the Minister said the political jugglers were again come out with catchy slogans to misguide people.”These elements change their loyalties like change of path by migratory birds and would face peoples’ wrath in next general election,” he added.The Minister said people were political mature and will make these opportunists accountable in next election. He said 2012 was election year of Senate and general election would be held in 2013.Asked about the rise of popularity graph of PTI, the Minister said, ANP has solid and ideological vote bank and has no threat to ANP from any political party.The Minister said rallies, political debates and meetings were the real essence of democracy and ANP considers it a positive development in democratic society. The ANP leader however, said these political activities should be based within constitutional parameters and democratic norms and values.”The media and internet have brought revolution in every sphere of life and elements indulge in catchy and hallow slogans and double standards politics have been exposed before masses,” he remarked.The Minister said ANP Swat Chapter will show its political strength in Mingora on Dec 26 where Chief Minister Khyber Pakthunkhwa Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and ANP Central President Asfandyar Wali Khan were likely to addressed and announce a mega development package for militancy and flood-hit Swat district.To a question about new provinces, the Minister said ANP will support every move in line with constitution. About future alliance with PPP, he said it was yet to be decided.The Minister said record development projects worth billions of rupees were initiated and completed in Swat district to help ameliorate lots of flood and terrorism stricken Swatis.ANP have completed all election promises referring to restoration of law and order in Swat and Malakand, gives name to province, granted provincial autonomy, abolishment of concurrent list, restoration of 1973 Constitution, establishment of Darul Qaza, Swat University and Seven Tehsil Municipal Administration, he concluded.

Nawaz Sharif...... Balochs need balm not trickery


Amid great fanfare has the PML (N) steered through the Punjab Assembly a resolution in support of its head honcho Mian Nawaz Sharif’s recent confabulations with Sardar Attaullah Mengal, which statedly focused on “compensation of the past injustices done to the people of Balochistan and steps to bring them in the national mainstream”. Yes, a huge raw deal has been dealt to our compatriots of Balochistan over the time by every successive central government and no stone must be left unturned to make amends to this colossal injustice done to them. But wasn’t Nawaz himself very much part of that terrible injustice dispensation? He was the prime minister twice and has an empty slate to show for the redress of the Balochs’ grief or for Balochistan’s progress during his two power stints. Wasn’t it he who himself had engineered the fall of Mengal’s scion Akhtar’s ministry in Balochistan in his second power stint at the centre? Akhtar’s grouse was very legitimate. He was sour, and very rightly so, for being kept in complete dark about the 1998 nuclear tests, when the testing site of Chagai was right on his domain. Was he not a Pakistani and a patriot, trustworthy to be taken aboard? He should have been told but told he was not. At least, he could have taken care of the residents of the area in and around the testing site, who were driven out from their homes before the tests and then left to wander about in the wilderness, like forsaken animals, unattended, all alone, and out in the open to fend for themselves. Not even had Nawaz bothered making him part of his gaudy show he enacted in Lahore to “celebrate” Pakistan’s nuclear accomplishment. When Akhtar spoke out, instead of trying mitigating his valid grouse, an angry Nawaz pulled down his government with an engineered no-confidence assembly device. Then with what face was he talking of injustices and compensations to Balochistan’s people to Attaullah and with what trust was the elderly Mengal chewing up his stinking hogwash? Anyway, that is between the two of them. But Balochistan’s people are yet to know if ever he had had some plan to alleviate their unenviable doleful predicament or for developing their ever-neglected province. Not even a plaque of his they see on any development works in the province; nor do they remember him for launching any scheme for their wellbeing. Balochistan’s mountains and plains and it deserts and valleys bear no sign at all of his any interest in the province or its people. He built a grand motorway between Lahore and Islamabad, which was not really needed any pressingly as existing roadways were more than enough. The precious billions that he consumed up on this unneeded showpiece he could have spent on indispensably-needed roads and expressways in Balochistan, but he did not. He built to Lahore airport a grand terminal building when the existing one could easily do, but thought of no plans to give Balochistan’s residents some adequate air travelling facilities. While he toyed frantically with constructing a controversial Kalabagh dam, he even didn’t fiddle with giving even a medium-size waterworks to Balochistan. Not known is he either for any real interest in exploiting the province’s tremendous mineral wealth for its progress and its residents’ prosperity. No university or institution of higher learning or professional education for the benefit of the province’s youths he established, as has done the military now. Not even had he bothered giving Balochistan’s younger generation some institutes for technical education to become respectable earning hands for very many a family. It is the army that has done it, too. It is really so disgusting hearing him of talking of injustices and compensations in Balochistan when he all through his power spells was so neglectful of its development needs and its residents’ urgent wants. He really sounds so sham, so fake and so unconvincing. Clearly, it is all politics he is doing, but shamefully on our Baloch compatriots’ deep gore and their painful sore, in inflicting of which he had had no lesser a part.He asks for bringing Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killers to justice. Yes, no violent killing must go unpunished. But why he keeps mum on mutilated and bullet-riddled corpses chilling the province’s air with intense human grief, anguish and dread? Is it because that continuing brutal slaughter of the Baloch commoners doesn’t promise him getting his bete noire Pervez Musharraf while the late Nawab’s does? And why is he asking no questions about the hands behind the Punjabi settlers’ ethnic cleansing in the province and target killings of its Urdu-speaking residents? Is it because he senses no profitable politics there for him? And he speaks not of the woes of the province’s huge community of Pakhtuns. Is it because he sees no brownie points there, too?The people of Balochistan do need a balm, definitely not trickery or dirty politicking, if Nawaz could understand.

Memogate issue............Something is rotten


The Memogate issue, a political scandal at best, seems to have developed into a matter of great import because the Supreme Court (SC) has decided to hear a petition related to the controversial memo. It is quite embarrassing that two supreme institutions — parliament and the SC — are investigating the same issue. When the prime minister had already ordered an inquiry into the matter through the parliamentary committee on national security, there was no need for the matter to be taken to the highest court. According to Article 184 (3.1) of the Constitution: “Exercise of jurisdiction. Court has to see that discretion is exercised in such a way that mischief and chaos is prevented. It should be exercised only when necessary, for injudicious exercise of such power, might result in grave and serious consequences.” Is it appropriate that the court and parliament are seized of the same matter? Should the petition be heard when it involves a spurious unsigned memo? It is important that the maintainability of the petition should first be addressed before the honourable justices exercise their jurisdiction so that mischief and chaos is prevented.

Judging by the responses submitted by the top military brass to the SC, it looks like they are jumping to conclusions when the very fact that has been ‘stated’ as a fact is still under investigation. What was also interesting to see was the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) reply to the SC on the memo issue. It admitted that the MoD had no control over the army and the ISI. An admission to this effect has sent everyone in a tizzy. Prime Minister Gilani also came down hard on the military, in a subtle yet aggressive manner, yesterday, while speaking in parliament. He said: “If they [military/ISI] say that they are not under the Ministry of Defence, then we should get out of this slavery, then this parliament has no importance, this system has no importance, then you are not sovereign...They are being paid from the state exchequer, from your revenue and from your taxes. If somebody thinks that they are not under the government, they are mistaken. They are under the government and they remain under the government, because we are the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan.”

That the prime minister made such a statement comes as no surprise given that a Reuters report quoting unnamed military sources claims that the military wants to get rid of President Zardari but through ‘legal means’. In order to oust the president, a two-thirds majority is needed in parliament. It is highly unlikely that the military is looking for that route. On the other hand, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) looks like it is not ready to go down without a fight. Prime Minister Gilani raised the issue of Osama bin Laden and asked who gave the most wanted terrorist the visa to enter and reside in Pakistan for six years. This was a direct dig at the military and its intelligence agencies. Mr Gilani made it clear that the military is accountable to parliament and that no institution can be a state within a state. In principle he is right, but has this parliament functioned in a way that commands respect from all state institutions and the people is a question to ponder. No one can disagree with the principle of civilian supremacy but Pakistan’s history is witness to how the military holds it in utter contempt and considers itself not to be subservient to the elected representatives. This is something that needs to be changed. The PPP might have asserted itself a bit late but it is good to finally see the government taking the high moral ground. Something is definitely rotten in the state.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ex-President Carter sends condolences to Kim Jong-un

Former President Jimmy Carter has sent North Korea a message of condolence over the death of Kim Jong-il and wished "every success" to the man expected to take over as dictator, according to the communist country's state-run news agency.

A dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Mr. Carter sent the message to Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il's son and heir apparent.

"In the message Jimmy Carter extended condolences to Kim Jong Un and the Korean people over the demise of leader Kim Jong Il. He wished Kim Jong Un every success as he assumes his new responsibility of leadership, looking forward to another visit to [North Korea] in the future," the KCNA dispatch read.

When contacted by The Washington Times for comment, the Carter Center provided an email contact to a spokeswoman who is out of the office until the New Year.

North Korea is routinely labeled as one of the world's most oppressive governments under an eccentric personality cult surrounding the Kim family. Harrowing reports from defectors describe North Korea as a dirt-poor nation filled with concentration camps and Communist propaganda. Kim Jong-il ran the reclusive country according to a "military first" policy since the mid-1990s, after a famine that may have killed as many as 2 million people.

Mr. Carter has visited North Korea twice — including a 1994 visit for talks on nuclear issues that led to a deal in which North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for oil deliveries and the construction of two nuclear reactors. That deal collapsed in 2002.

The former U.S. president also downplayed a 2010 North Korean attack on a South Korean island and disclosure of a uranium enrichment facility, saying the acts were merely "designed to remind the world that they deserve respect in negotiations that will shape their future."

Aussie Beer Wins Global Vote

Australia’s favorite beers are gaining traction overseas.
Following SABMiller’s acquisition of Foster’s Group for over US$10 billion, Coopers Brewery has been named the world’s top family business of 2011 by London magazine CampdenFB.


which enters its 150th year of operation in 2012 — received 38% of votes, trailed by Denmark’s Lego Group and Kenyan retailer Nakumatt which received 20% and 13% respectively. Readers were asked to consider a company’s financial performance as well as its commitment to best practice in areas including government and succession planning.

The largest Australian-owned brewery, in its fifth generation of ownership, defeated other contenders including U.S.-based cosmetic and perfume group Estee Lauder, Ford Motor and Spanish perfume and fashion house Puig.

On Wednesday, Coopers announced it has a 4% market share of all beer sales in Australia and produced a record 62.9 million liters of beer in the 2011 financial year, a touch above the 62 million liters recorded in 2010.

“Coopers has now enjoyed 10% compound annual growth in beer volumes for the past 15 years,” managing director Dr. Tim Cooper said in a statement. “Exports were steady at about 5% of revenue, despite the impact of the high Australian dollar,” he added.

Despite higher production levels, overall turnover in 2011 fell to 173 million Australian dollars (US$173 million) compared with the record A$179 million in 2010 while profit after tax fell to A$23 million from A$23.5 million.

With all this attention, Coopers may soon be known as Australian for beer.

Pakistan army wants Zardari out but not a coup

Pakistan's powerful army is fed up with unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari

and wants him out of office, but through legal means and without a repeat of the coups that are a hallmark of the country's 64 years of independence, military sources said.

Tensions are rising between Pakistan's civilian leaders and its generals over a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

"Who isn't fed up with Zardari? It's not just the opposition and the man on the street but people within the government too," said one military source who asked not to be named.

"But there has to be a proper way. No action is being planned by the army. Even if we tried, it would be very unpopular and not just with the government and the opposition but most Pakistanis too."

The Pakistani military spokesman declined comment.

General Ashfaq Kayani has pledged to keep the military out of Pakistani politics since taking over as army chief in 2007.

Any coup -- Pakistan has had three since independence in 1947 -- could further tarnish the military's public image which has already taken a battering after the bin Laden operation, widely seen in Pakistan as a violation of sovereignty.

But the army remains the arbiter of power and analysts say it has plenty of ways to pressure Zardari to step down, especially if a link is established between him and the memo, which sought the Pentagon's help in averting a feared coup.

Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on October 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for U.S. help to stave off a military coup in the days after the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.

Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, who denied involvement but resigned over the controversy. No evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup and the Pentagon at the time dismissed the memo as not credible.

Friction between Pakistan's civilian government and military have bedeviled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling for more than half its 64-year history after a series of coups.

In the past the army has asked Pakistani civilian leaders to resign and influenced judicial proceedings against them.

Haqqani's resignation was seen by many analysts as further weakening the civilian government, which is already beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence in the face of many challenges, including a weak economy and a Taliban insurgency.


Zardari returned to Pakistan this week from medical treatment in Dubai that raised speculation he would resign under pressure from the military over what has been dubbed "memogate."

Although his position is largely ceremonial, he wields considerable influence as leader of the ruling party and his forced departure would be a humiliation for the civilian leadership and could throw the country into turmoil.

One of the military sources suggested that no direct action would be needed against the government because it had already made so many mistakes.

"If the government is digging its own grave, we are not going to look for spades," the source said.

The military has reasserted itself after a November 26 NATO cross-border air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and the memo has also given it political ammunition.

In a statement submitted to the Supreme Court, which is looking into a petition demanding an inquiry into who may have been behind the memo, Kayani said it was a serious matter which required an investigation.

"We want anyone involved, be they in government or elsewhere, to be punished. But it is not for us to do anything. If the army moves to do anything it would have national as well as international repercussions," said another military source.

"So that is not likely. Anything that has to be done has to be done by the Supreme Court."

Officials from Zardari's ruling party have played down friction with the military and say they don't fear a coup.

But they fear that some judges in the increasingly aggressive Supreme Court dislike Zardari and could move against him.

"I am not bothered about the army. I think they are acting very sensibly and would not derail the system at the moment," a senior ruling party leader told Reuters.

"The worry probably would be what the Supreme Court does. They look in a mood to manipulate things."

The government's anxiety over memogate was highlighted in comments made by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Thursday.

"Let me make clear to you today that there are intrigues, conspiracies afoot to pack up the elected government," he said in a speech at the National Art Gallery.

New Afghan opposition coalition says can check Karzai

Dozens of Afghan political parties launched a new coalition bloc on Thursday hoping to pose a stronger challenge to the government of President Hamid Karzai, which they say is corrupt and misuses funds meant to rebuild their war-torn state.

In a room packed with hundreds of representatives from Afghanistan's provinces and ethnic groups, speakers said the bloc had secured enough support, including from a number of MPs, to provide a real counterweight to Karzai.

Karzai has ruled since soon after the Taliban government was toppled by U.S-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, but his grip on power has come under increasing pressure since a fraud-marred presidential election in 2009.

The National Coalition of Afghanistan, led by Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist who was Karzai's main rival in the 2009 vote, said the government had done little to rebuild the economy, erect infrastructure and bring people out of endemic poverty during Karzai's 10 years running the country.

Thousands of lives and billions of dollars have failed to secure Afghanistan and only fragile gains have been made in education and women's rights, falling well short of promises made a decade ago.

"We don't have any enmity with our friends who lead the country, but they have lost their way. Afghanistan's people are supporting the government but the gap between people and the government is growing day by day," Abdullah told the crowd.

The political battle has been undermining international efforts to foster good governance, particularly as the West starts handing over control of security to Afghan forces.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan, which stands at about 130,000, is due to withdraw the last of its combat troops by the end of 2014.

Political parties in Afghanistan rarely have the structure or discipline of parties in Western political systems. The new coalition is meant to present a joint opposition ahead of the next presidential vote, also due in 2014.

The bloc called for a more decentralized political system, with proper checks and balances, so the fate of the country is not dictated by a political elite. It also questioned Karzai's desire to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban.

One speaker accused Karzai of luring opposition members with money or government positions to sustain their support.

The bloc also accused Karzai of planning to change the constitution to be able to run for a third term in power when his current five-year term ends, an allegation the president has so far denied.

"Ten years for a president of a country is enough time. When will you stop corruption, stop the mafia?" said Humayun Shah Asifi, a 2004 presidential candidate.

Public holiday in Sindh on Benazir Bhutto anniversary

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has announced public holiday on the occasion of 4th death anniversary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

on December 27 (Tuesday), Geo News reported on Thursday.

The 4th death anniversary of slain leader of PPP chairperson and former prime minister of Pakistan is being observed across the country on December 27.

Arrangements are being made in Garhi Khuda Bux, the final resting place of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his other deceased family members and the central point for marking the anniversary of BB.

The widower of BB, President Asif Ali Zardari besides Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and other PPP leaders will be attending the anniversary programmes to be held in Garhi Khuda Bux on December 27.

Obama's last minute Holiday shopping trip

With Christmas only four days away, President Obama did some last-minute holiday shopping escaping the legislative stalemate in Congress over the payroll tax extensions.

The president took first dog Bo with him to visit an Alexandria, Virginia shopping center.

First stop: PetSmart – where Bo checked out a small poodle named "Cinnamon," according to its owner.

On the same day the White House website asked "what does $40 mean to you?" the president spent $41 for a rubber chew toy and a large bone.

His next stop: Best Buy – where the president said, "this [stop] is for the girls now." After browsing games in the Wii section, he settled on Just Dance 3 for first daughters Sasha and Malia.

"The girls beat me every time on these dance games," the president said. "But you'll never get a picture of me (playing) because I get graded F every time."

His total bill came to almost $200 for the dance game, the Sims 3 Pets video game and two $50 Apple gift cards. As he pulled out his credit card at the big box store the president joked, "Let's see if my credit card still works."

All that shopping can leave a president hungry, so stop #3: a local pizzeria where he purchased three large pizzas to-go.

Grand total: The president spent nearly $300 on his last-minute shopping trip.

First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters are already in Hawaii on vacation. Hopefully, they have been busy enjoying the beach and not reading online about their famous father's shopping excursion! Gifts are so much better when they are a surprise.

PML-N leader Javed Hashmi all set to join PTI

The PML-N leader Makhdoom Javed Hashmi is all set to join Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Reliable sources informed Online that all formalities have been duly fulfilled for a formal announcement within next few days. Makhdoom Javed Hashmi has been reported to be quite agitated over being constantly ignored/bypassed/sidetracked, and is known to have publicly criticided PML-N’s leadership in meetings.
Seeking no peace of mind, he has finally decided to resign from PML-N and join PTI. Sources have informed that he was constantly in touch with Imran Khan over the issue and Imran Khan eventually acquiesced to his (Makhdoom Javed) request.
Sixty-three years old leader of the PML-N Javed Hashmi is a key opposition leader in Pakistan, and one of the prominent leaders of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) which campaigned against the Musharraf regime.
He started his career in politics during his university days from the platform of Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT), the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. In the capacity of his practical politics, he has also served in Zia-ul-Haq‘s cabinet.
On April 12 2004, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for inciting mutiny in the army, forgery and defamation, by circulating a letter written by military officers calling for an investigation into alleged corruption in the armed forces and criticising President Pervez Musharraf and his relationship with US President George W Bush.

ANP to back resolution on Hazara province: minister

Minister of State for Health Sardar Shahjahan Yusuf Wednesday claimed that the Awami National Party would support the Hazara province resolution in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

Speaking at a press conference, he said that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had taken the ANP leader Asfandyar Wali on board on the issue. He said the Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and other political parties would also vote in favour of the Hazara resolution that would soon be tabled in the provincial assembly.

Sardar Shahjahan said the prime minister was already in contact with the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments on the issue of creating more provinces in the country. He said that work on the Hazara Expressway would soon be inaugurated and would cost Rs47 billion as the Asian Development Bank had approved funds for the project. The minister said the commissioner Hazara division had removed the hurdles in the construction of the expressway and the compensation process for the landowners was in progress.

Report blames both US, Pakistan for Nato attack


The US investigations into the Nov 26 border attack by Nato forces that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has reportedly concluded that both US and Pakistan forces bear responsibility for the incident, The New York Times reported.

The report said: "Mistakes by both American and Pakistani forces led to airstrikes against Pakistani border posts that killed 24 Pakistani Army soldiers last month".

Even though it spread blame between both countries, the key finding of the investigation is likely to further enrage Pakistan: that the airstrikes were ultimately justified because Pakistani soldiers fired first on a joint team of Afghan and American special operations forces operating along the often poorly demarcated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, American and Western officials, who asked not to be identified because the report of the investigation had not yet been released, said Thursday.

The report says that the joint Afghan-American patrol, which was operating in a remote and mountainous area between the Afghan province of Kunar and the Pakistani tribal area of Mohmand, came under machine gun and mortar fire from at least one of the Pakistani border posts sometime around midnight on Nov. 26, American and Western officials said. The American official said the Afghan and American special operations forces believed they were being attacked by militants, at least initially, and called for air support.

Why the Pakistanis were firing remains unclear, the American official said. But in the days after the airstrikes, another American official in Washington provided part of an explanation: the Pakistanis apparently had intelligence that the Taliban was planning to attack the border posts and the Pakistani soldiers may have mistaken the Afghan and American troopers for militants.

The United States military report lends credence to that theory: the officials said it finds that NATO did not inform Pakistan that the operation on the border was taking place, and thus the Pakistani soldiers would not have known to expect allied forces near their posts. NATO and Pakistani forces are supposed to inform each other when launching operations on the border precisely to avoid the kind of mistake that took place on Nov. 26.

The second American mistake came when the airstrikes were called in. The Americans apparently gave the Pakistani Army the wrong coordinates that were to be struck by Apache attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship, the officials said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the Pakistanis cleared the strikes after getting the wrong coordinates. They have said they did not; regardless, the strikes began before their officers based at NATO coordination posts in Afghanistan had a chance to check with superiors in Pakistan, according to the Pakistani account of what took place.

But, as the report shows, even if Pakistan did clear the strikes, the posts still probably would have been hit because the Pakistanis had been given the wrong coordinates.

Another safeguard also failed, according to the report: Pakistan never told NATO it had established the border posts, which had been up for about three months, said a Western official in Kabul. Both sides are supposed to inform each other when setting up new positions along the border, another measure intended to avoid strikes against each other.

Whether any American service members will be disciplined in connection with the incident has not been decided, the American and Western officials said.

NATO's Afghanistan headquarters and the United States Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the investigation, referring queries to the Defense Department and State Department in Washington. Pakistani officials did not offer any immediate reaction.

But given the indignant Pakistani response to the raid - "They killed our sons and we can never forgive this," said one senior Pakistani defense official in a recent interview, speaking anonymously because he still works with Americans - Washington was bracing for another round of recrimination, said the American and Western officials.

A ban on the shipment of NATO supplies through Pakistan, which was put in place after the strike, is expected to remain for some time, the officials said. NATO officials have said the blockade is not affecting operations because less than 30 percent of supplies for coalition forces in Afghanistan are currently shipped through Pakistan.

More damaging is the faltering military and counter-terror cooperation between Washington and Islamabad after a year of crises that began with the shooting of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in the city of Lahore. The two sides no longer conduct joint operations along the border, which they had started doing a few years ago, and intelligence-sharing on a range of threats from al Qaeda to lesser known Islamist militant groups has also fallen off, the American and Western officials said.

Pakistan’s Gilani spells out fear of being ousted

As talk of a rift between his government and the military gathers pace, Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani today said “no institution can be a state within a state” and warned that “conspiracies” are being hatched to “pack up” his democratically-elected government.

People will have to decide whether they want “elected people or a dictatorship”, he added.“I want to make it clear today that there are intrigues and conspiracies going on and the conspiracy is to pack up the elected government,” Prime Minister Gilani said while addressing a function organised to commemorate the birth anniversary of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

“I want to tell them that whether we are in government or opposition or among the people, we will fight for the rights of the people of Pakistan,” he said without giving details of who was behind the conspiracies against his government.

The premier made a veiled reference to the differences between his government and the army, saying “no institution can be a state within a state”.

He added: “Nobody can say they are not under the government. Every institution of this country, including the Ministry of Defence, is under the prime minister.

“There should be no ambiguity that anybody can claim that I am independent…If any individual thinks they are not under the government, they are mistaken.

“They are under the government and will remain under the government because we are the elected, chosen representatives of the people of Pakistan.”

Gilani said the people have to decide whether they want “elected people or a dictatorship”.

The prime minister’s unusual remarks came in the backdrop of tensions between the civilian government and the powerful military over the memogate scandal.

The army and ISI have urged the Supreme Court to conduct a probe into the alleged memo made public by Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz that had sought US help to prevent a feared coup in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.

However, the government has challenged the apex court’s jurisdiction to hear a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the memogate scandal, saying the matter is already being investigated by a parliamentary panel.

Meanwhile, in another twist in the memogate case, the defence ministry on Wednesday informed the apex court in an affidavit that it had “no operational control” over the military or the ISI.

The ministry stated it was not in a position to confirm or deny the stand taken by the military and ISI on the memo issue.

During his address today, Gilani said his government had the “highest regard and respect for the army” because it had stood up against terrorism and extremists, but made it clear that no institution could function without the support of the people.

Gilani said he had worked for public “ownership” of military operations by taking “responsibility for all military actions in country”.

He further said: “No military can fight against anybody without the support of the masses. If there is no support, no war can be won.”

At the same time, he appeared to hold out an olive branch to the army by saying: “My military is disciplined and they follow the constitution of Pakistan”.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for almost half of its history and no elected leader has been able to complete his full term.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bashir Bilour asks Fazlullah, other militants to face courts

Bashir Bilour, who is parliamentary leader of the Awami National Party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, asked the fugitive leader of the Swat Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, and his comrades to face courts in Pakistan. He said the militants’ dream to establish a parallel administration was not going to come true. “It’s not the rule of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which handed over the whole Malakand region and Swat to the Taliban,” he remarked.

The minister said that the Pakhtuns were being subjected to atrocities and terrorism through a well-hatched conspiracy, which was mainly due to the disunity among them. “Had Pakistan avoided interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbouring countries, there would not have been bloodshed on our soil,” he argued.

Bashir Bilour said the dream of renaming the province as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa came true after a long struggle and the longstanding problems being faced by the Pakhtuns were being resolved after getting provincial autonomy. “The day is not far off when the federation would only have foreign and defence departments while all the remaining ministries will be devolved to the provinces, which will go a long way in putting the provinces on the path to prosperity,” he hoped.

The 18th Amendment, he said, would herald an era of prosperity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as the provincial government would shortly start work on Munda and Spaylanai power projects. He said these projects would not only cater to the energy needs of the province but also provide sufficient water for irrigation purposes.

Mass March by Cairo Women in Protest Over Abuse by Soldiers

Several thousand women demanding the end of military rule marched through downtown Cairo on Tuesday evening in an extraordinary expression of anger over images of soldiers beating, stripping and kicking female demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

“Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” they chanted. “Where is the field marshal?” they demanded of the top military officer, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. “The girls of Egypt are here.”

Historians called the event the biggest women’s demonstration in modern Egyptian history, the most significant since a 1919 march against British colonialism inaugurated women’s activism here, and a rarity in the Arab world. It also added a new and unexpected wave of protesters opposing the ruling military council’s efforts to retain power and its tactics for suppressing public discontent.

The protest’s scale stunned even feminists here. In Egypt’s stiffly patriarchal culture, previous attempts to organize women’s events in Tahrir Square during this year’s protests almost always fizzled or, in one case in March, ended in the physical harassment of a small group of women by a larger crowd of men.

“It was amazing the number of women that came out from all over the place,” said Zeinab Abul-Magd, a historian who has studied women’s activism here. “I expected fewer than 300.”

The march abruptly pushed women to the center of Egyptian political life after they had been left out almost completely. Although women stood at the forefront of the initial revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago, few had prominent roles in the various revolutionary coalitions formed in the uprising’s aftermath. Almost no women have won seats in the early rounds of parliamentary elections. And the continuing demonstrations against military rule have often degenerated into battles in which young men and the security police hurl rocks at each other.

On the fifth day of clashes that have killed at least 14 people, many women in the march said they hoped their demonstration would undercut the military council’s efforts to portray demonstrators as little more than hooligans, vandals and arsonists. “This will show those who stay home that we are not thugs,” said Fadwa Khaled, 25, a computer engineer.

The women’s demand for a voice in political life appeared to run counter to the recent election victories of conservative Islamists. But the march was hardly dominated by secular liberals. It contained a broad spectrum of Egyptian women, including homemakers demonstrating for the first time and young mothers carrying babies, with a majority in traditional Muslim head scarves and a few in face-covering veils. And their chants mixed calls for women’s empowerment with others demanding more “gallantry” from Egyptian men.

Their voice was evidently heard at military headquarters. Even before the march broke up, the ruling generals reversed themselevs to offer an apology to women for unspecified “violations.”

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces expresses its utmost sorrow for the great women of Egypt, for the violations that took place during the recent events,” the council said in a statement. “It stresses its great appreciation for the women of Egypt.”

The statement asserted that the council had already taken “all the legal actions to hold whoever is responsible accountable.” But it gave no indication that anyone in the military has been publicly investigated or charged for any misconduct, and the statement also reprised the council’s recent attempt to pin blame for the clashes on the protestors themselves. The generals urged calm “until we can reveal the infiltrating and paid agents of thuggery that aim at destruction, sabotage and damaging the revolution and the great Egyptian youth.”

Egypt’s military rulers came under fire from international human rights groups soon after they took power in February for performing invasive, pseudo-medical “virginity tests” on several women detained after a protest in March. But in Egypt’s conservative culture, few of the women subjected to that humiliation have come forward to criticize the generals publicly.

The spark for the march on Tuesday came over the weekend, when hundreds of military police officers in riot gear repeatedly stormed Tahrir Square, indiscriminately beating anyone they could catch. Videos showed more than one instance in which officers grabbed and stripped female demonstrators, tearing off their Muslim head scarves. And in the most infamous case caught on video, a half-dozen soldiers beat a supine woman with batons and ripped off her abaya to reveal a blue bra. Then one of them kicked her in the chest.

Recalling that event at a news conference Tuesday, the woman’s friend Hassan Shahin said he had told the soldiers: “I’m a journalist, and this is a girl. Wait, I’ll take her away from here.” But, he said, “nobody listened, and one of them jumped on me, and they started beating me with batons.”

No doubt fearful of the stigma that would come with her public humiliation, the victim has declined to step forward publicly, so some activists now refer to her only as “blue bra girl.” The photos of her beating and disrobing, however, have quickly circulated on the Internet and have been broadcast by television stations around the world.

In Washington on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the recent events in Egypt “shocking.”

“Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Mrs. Clinton said.

“Women are being attacked, stripped and beaten in the streets,” she added, arguing that what she called the systematic degradation of Egyptian women “disgraces the state and its uniform.”

As recently as Tuesday morning, however, many activists here said that because relatively few Egyptians have access to the Internet, read independent newspapers or watch independent satellite television news, the blue bra video was far more widely familiar in the United States than in Egypt.

“Four blocks from here, no one knows about this,” said Aalam Wassef, a blogger and an activist, at a meeting Tuesday morning in which activists announced a plan to set up screens in cities and towns around the country where people could see that video and others that contradict the generals’ version of events. (Other scenes include security forces hurling rocks and gasoline bombs, military police officers firing rifles and handguns and protesters bloodied by bullets.)

Some men who had seen the images questioned why the woman had been in the square, suggesting that her husband or father should have kept her at home. Other men have argued that she must have wanted the exposure because she wore fancy lingerie, or they have said she should have worn more clothes under her abaya.

But the woman’s ordeal began to receive new attention on Monday when Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the ruling military council, acknowledged what had happened during a news conference on state television. General Emara argued that the scene had been taken out of context and that the broader circumstances would explain what happened.

At the same news conference, a veteran female journalist who reports on the military stood up to ask the general for an apology to Egyptian women. “Or the next revolution will be a women’s revolution for real,” the journalist warned. The general tried to interrupt her — he said the military had learned of a new plan to attack the Parliament — and then he brushed off her request.

Many Egyptian women said later that they were outraged by his response.

When core activists called for a march Tuesday evening to protest the military’s treatment of women — organizers on Twitter used the hash tag “#BlueBra” — few could have expected the magnitude of the response.

The crowd seemed to grow at each step as the women marched, calling up to the apartment buildings lining the streets to urge others to join them. “Come down, come down,” they shouted in an echo of the protests that led to Mr. Mubarak’s ouster in February.

“If you don’t leave your house today to confront the militias of Tantawi, you will leave your house tomorrow so they can rape your daughter,” one sign declared.

“I am here because of our girls who were stripped in the street,” said Sohir Mahmoud, 50, a homemaker who said she was demonstrating for the first time.

“Men are not going to cover your flesh, so we will,” she told a younger woman. “We have to come down and call for our rights. Nobody is going to call for our rights for us.”

Along the sidewalks beside the march, some men came out to gawk and stare. Others chanted along with the women, “Freedom, freedom.”

“I came so that girls are not stripped in the streets again,” said Afaf Helal, 67, who was also demonstrating for the first time, “and because my daughters are always going to Tahrir. The army is supposed to protect the girls, not strip them!”