Thursday, March 31, 2011

Young voters have not abandoned Obama: poll

Young voters, who were crucial to President Barack Obama's election in 2008, have not soured on him and now support the Democrat in greater numbers than in the fall, according to a Harvard University poll.

The survey also showed that young voters worry most about the economy, and still turn to traditional news outlets for political coverage.

In the latest iteration of Harvard's Institute of Politics poll of 18 to 29 year olds, 55 percent of the so-called Millenial Generation approve of Obama's job performance, up by six percentage points from the previous poll in October.

Looking forward to 2012, Obama leads a generic Republican candidate by 12 percentage points, results show.

John Della Volpe, polling director at the Institute of Politics, called the numbers "extremely important" for Obama as the presidential race nears.

"He cannot get re-elected without a significant majority of young people," said Della Volpe.

Jobs and the economy are the top worry among the 3,000 Millenials surveyed, with health care a distant concern in comparison.

Many still view their personal financial situation as "very bad" or "fairly bad" with 82 percent of four-year college students saying it will be "difficult" to land permanent jobs after graduation.

With 80 percent of the age group on Facebook and a quarter posting on Twitter, it may not be surprising that social media tools that also include blogs and YouTube are viewed as having a "greater political impact than in-person advocacy" when it comes to campaigns.

This could make a significant difference in upcoming elections.

"Political campaigns which incorporate an effective youth outreach strategy will have a strong advantage in the 2012 cycle," said Della Volpe.

Still, traditional news outlets topped Facebook-friend status updates as the go-to source on political news and information for nearly half of those surveyed.

NY's Little Italy, not so Italian anymore

Saudi Arabia: Let Women Vote, Run for Office

The Saudi government's refusal to let women vote in municipal elections in September 2011 unlawfully deprives women of their rights to full and equal status under the law

Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the election committee to allow women to vote and to run for seats on the municipal councils.

On March 28, 2011, ‘Abd al-Rahman Dahmash, president of the general committee for the election of municipal council members, said, "We are not prepared for the participation of women in the municipal elections now." He promised that women will be allowed to participate in the future.

One woman told Human Rights Watch: "We wish for women to represent us in the Shura council, in ministries...what's the problem with that?...But, I am a minor in the eyes of my government."

In 2005, when Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections, the kingdom's first and only elections for political office, the government justified the exclusion of women by saying that election workers could not verify women's identity since many did not have an identity card. The government also barred women from running as candidates. The Interior Ministry started issuing identity cards to women ages 22 and over in 2000, with the intention of easing daily activities and averting fraud and forgery.

"The government of Saudi Arabia cannot expect Saudi women to believe that a lack of preparation is behind the denial of their rights to political participation," said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch. "This was a preposterous excuse in 2005, and even more so now. This crude sex discrimination is an insult to millions of Saudi women."

Another female activist told Human Rights Watch: "They had six years to make the necessary preparations, but there is no will to allow women to participate. The decision crushed all our hopes. Some Saudi women have all the qualifications necessary and want to become part of the political process in their country."

The Saudi election committee also announced on March 28 that voter and candidate registration will take place between late April and early June. Voters in the September 22 election will choose members of 219 municipal councils across the nation.

The government has undertaken a number of reforms to Saudi Arabia's election system since 2005, but none have addressed women's participation. Instead, the government has focused on such issues as the number of districts, qualifications for candidates, penalties for election fraud, and the role and membership of municipal councils.

In the rest of the Gulf region, and indeed most countries in the rest of the world, women have the right to vote and run for office, Human Rights Watch said. Women in Bahrain won the right to vote and run for elections in 2002. In 2010, Fatima Salman became the first woman in Bahrain to win a seat on a municipal council. Women in Kuwait voted for the first time in municipal elections in 2005; two women were appointed to municipal councils for the first time, and four women serve in Kuwait's parliament.

"It's appalling that while women in all other countries, including Saudi Arabia's neighboring countries, are able to participate in political life, Saudi women are left out," Khalife said.

Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2000. The kingdom entered two reservations, neither having any bearing on gender-based discrimination in political participation.

The CEDAW committee, the treaty monitoring body, noted in 2008 its concern about the exclusion of women from the first municipal elections in Saudi Arabia. The committee encouraged the Saudi government to "take sustained measures ... to accelerate the increase in the participation and representation of women in elected and appointed bodies in all areas and at all levels of public and political life." The committee also recommended that the Saudi government should offer training in leadership and negotiation skills for current and future women leaders and carry out activities to raise awareness about the importance of women's participation in their country's decision-making processes.

The Arab Charter for Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia acceded to, states in article 24(3) that, "Every citizen has the right to stand for election and choose his representative in free and fair elections under conditions guaranteeing equality between all citizens." Article 3 of the Charter provides that signatories to the Charter must ensure that all individuals have the right to enjoy all rights and freedoms recognized without distinction to sex.

Women are also sidelined from political participation at other levels in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz appoints members of the Shura Council, a body with some functions of a national parliament, but has appointed no women, although the Shura Council president in 2006 appointed six women as advisers. In 2009, King Abdullah appointed Nura al-Fayiz deputy minister of education, responsible for girls' education.

Saudi women of all ages live under a male guardianship system, preventing women to work, study, marry, or travel, without the permission of a male guardian - a father, husband, or brother.

BAHRAIN: Crackdown continues, opposition and human rights groups say

While regional attention is riveted by the ongoing unrest in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the government of Bahrain has been left in relative peace by the international community to continue its crackdown against the anti-government protest movement there, human rights groups say.

"The last few nights they been raiding houses and beating and arresting people," Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Babylon & Beyond, adding that approximately 400 people are either missing or in custody.

"Some people were also arrested at checkpoints controlled by thugs brought in from other Arab and Asian countries -- they wear black masks in the streets," Ragab said.

Saudi and other Gulf Arab security forces entered Bahrain at the invitation of the government two weeks ago, and activists claim additional muscle has been brought in from Pakistan and possibly other Asian countries.
Ragab accused security forces and the army of targeting Bahraini Shiites, who constitute a majority in the country and have made up the bulk of the opposition movement. The Sunni-dominated government and ruling family are backed by the United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain. Twenty-four people have been killed in clashes between police and demonstrators since the protest movement erupted on Feb. 14, the government said Tuesday.

The video featured above was posted on YouTube and claims to show a masked Saudi soldier destroying a Shiite religious banner in Bahrain.Another video posted by the same user claims to show a Bahraini demonstrator being arrested. Neither video could be verified.

"The government says it is taking steps to ensure stability and security, but what's happening is the exact opposite. We're in one of the most dangerous stages, where citizens have no security," Mattar Ibrahim Mattar, a member of the country's largest Shiite opposition group Wefaq, told Reuters.

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch released a report on Wednesday in which it accused Bahraini security forces of beating and detaining wounded protesters, and even of denying some live-saving treatment.

"Since the Bahraini Defense Force (BDF) took over the country's largest public medical facility on March 16, 2011, security and military forces have sought out and threatened, beaten and detained patients injured by teargas, rubber bullets, birdshot pellets, and live ammunition," the report said. "These patients also have been removed from hospitals or forcibly transferred to other medical facilities, often against medical advice."

Syrian pres. orders probe into deaths

Syrian president has ordered to form a committee to probe the deaths of a number of civilians and security forces in the cities of Dara'a and Latakia, a report says.

Bashar al-Assad has ordered the Head of the High Judiciary Council on Thursday to form a committee to investigate the deaths of over 60 people during two weeks of unrest in the two cities.

The committee will conduct its work according to the valid laws and is entitled to turn to whoever it deems fit for help in the mission assigned to it, he said.

It also has the right to demand whatever information or documents from the bodies concerned, SANA -- the Syrian Arab news agency -- reported.

Minister of Justice Ahmad Younes, deputy chairman of the Higher Judiciary Council, issued resolution No. 905 dated March 31, 2011 on forming a special committee headed by General Prosecutor Taysir Awad.

The committee will immediately investigate all the events that claimed the lives of a number of civilian and military personnel in Dara'a and Latakia provinces.

The committee will also look into ways to lift the emergency law that has been effective in the country for the last 48 years and is expected to complete the study before April 25.

On Wednesday, Assad warned that Syria is the target of a big plot from outside. He said enemies have taken advantage of the people's legitimate demands to create division and undermine the country's stability.

Hillary Clinton's top score

By:CNN Associate Producer Gabriella Schwarz
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

hit a milestone Thursday, receiving her highest favorable rating since assuming her role in the Obama administration, according to a new poll.
The Gallup survey showed her favorable rating at 66 percent, up from 61 percent in July - a number that beat President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Vice President Joe Biden. The new figure was her highest rating to date since serving as chief diplomat and just one point below her all-time high of 67 percent in December 1998.

The former Democratic New York senator received a 65 percent favorability rating in the most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released March 16, which showed a partisan divide. Nine out of ten Democrats and nearly two-thirds of independent voters said they had a favorable opinion of her; six out of ten Republicans said they had an unfavorable view of Clinton.
The results of the Gallup survey were also divided along party lines. Forty percent of Republicans, 62 percent of independents and 92 percent of Democrats had a favorable view of the former first lady.
The Gallup poll was conducted March 25-27, with 1,027 adults questioned nationwide and had an overall sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted March 11-13, with 1,023 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

U.S. officials, opposition warn Libya could get bloodier

From the halls of Congress to the shell-pocked streets of Libyan cities, intertwined themes rang clear Thursday: Leader Moammar Gadhafi is determined to prevail, and the opposition needs more training and allied air strikes to have a chance.
"Gadhafi will "kill as many (people) as he must to crush the rebellion," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee.
The rebels, who were regrouping after several setbacks, pinned their hopes on more coalition air power, which will likely increase as weather improves.
"We want more to bring a speedy end to this," Col. Ahmed Omar Bani, an opposition spokesman, told CNN. "A strike is not a strike unless it kills," he said.CIA operatives have been in Libya working with rebel leaders to try to reverse gains by loyalist forces, a U.S. intelligence source said.
The United States, insisting it is now fulfilling more of a support role in the coalition, shifted in that direction as NATO took sole command of air operations in Libya.
The ferocity of this month's fighting and Gadhafi's advantage in firepower was clearly evident in Misrata, which has seen snipers, significant casualties and destruction.
A witness told CNN Thursday there "is utter madness" and Gadhafi's men are going door-to-door evicting and terrorizing people.
"I am afraid it will be one big massacre here in Misrata" if the international forces "do not do more," he said. CNN did not identify the witness for security reasons.
Saddoun El-Misurati, a spokesman for the Libyan opposition in Misrata, described intense fighting and casualties in the city.
"We managed to get two shipments, so far, of badly needed medical supplies to the hospitals. But obviously we still need more supplies in dealing with the day-to-day casualties and the situation on the ground," he said.
Gadhafi's military capabilities had been steadily eroded since the onset of U.N.-sanctioned air strikes, U.S. officials have said.
But the dictator's forces outnumber the rebels by about 10-to-1 in terms of armor and other ground forces, Mullen noted.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also speaking before the House committee, warned that the Libyan rebels still need significant training and assistance.
"It's pretty much a pickup ballgame" right now, he said.U.S. and British officials say no decision has been made about whether to arm the opposition.
Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN's "The Situation Room" she opposes doing that. The Democratic senator cited failures of such a move in other conflicts.
Bani -- asked whether he is open to the idea of ground forces from outside Libya joining the rebels' effort -- responded that "all options are open to us."
"It has been very hard the past few days because the freedom forces have been facing heavy tanks and artillery weapons with very light weapons," the spokesman said.
While some members of the Libyan military reportedly defected to join the opposition, the rebels include many volunteers who have not been trained.
Over the weekend, CNN reported that rebels had taken al-Brega, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad, and reached a town just east of Sirte. But in the past three days, opposition fighters have been pushed back eastward.
CNN's Ben Wedeman, reporting Thursday from near al-Brega, said the rebels, armed with light mortars and machine guns, have displayed no strategy in their running battles with loyalist troops.
Gates reiterated the Obama administration's promise that no U.S. ground forces will be used in Libya, telling committee members that the rebels had indicated they didn't want such an intervention.
But the United States does have CIA personnel on the ground.
A U.S. intelligence source said the CIA is operating in the country to help increase U.S. "military and political understanding" of the situation.
A former counterterrorism official with knowledge of U.S. Libya policy said there is a presidential finding authorizing the CIA to conduct operations in support of U.S. policy in Libya, including assessing the opposition and determining their needs.
Specific activities by CIA officers will be determined by conditions on the ground and would need further approval from the White House, the source said.
A former senior intelligence official said officers "might be advising [rebels] on how to target the adversary, how to use the weapons they have, reconnaissance and counter-surveillance."
Presidential findings are a type of secret order authorizing some covert intelligence operations.
The CIA has had a presence in Libya for some time, a U.S. official told CNN earlier this month. "The intelligence community is aggressively pursuing information on the ground," the official said. The CIA sent additional personnel to Libya to augment officers on the ground after the anti-government protests erupted, the official said, without giving details.
CIA officers assisted with the rescue of one of two U.S. airmen whose fighter jet crashed in Libya on March 21, a knowledgeable U.S. source said.
NATO emphasized Thursday that the U.N. resolution authorizing action in Libya precludes "occupation forces."
NATO Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, indicated that the presence of foreign intelligence personnel does not violate U.N. Security Council 1973, which authorized action in Libya.
Rebel forces have been demanding an end to Gadhafi's nearly 42 years of rule in Libya. They have faced sustained attacks by a regime fighting to stay in power and portraying the opposition as terrorists backed by al Qaeda.
Rebel forces have lost Bin Jawad and the key oil town of Ras Lanuf and are backed up to the al-Brega area, Bani said Wednesday.
Ajdabiya, which is east of al-Brega, will be prepared as a "defense point" if the withdrawal continues farther east, he said.
Amid the setbacks faced by rebels, a significant crack in Gadhafi's armor surfaced when Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa fled to London on Wednesday and told the government there that he has resigned, the British Foreign Office said.
Koussa -- a former head of Libyan intelligence -- was a stalwart defender of the government as recently as a month ago. But in recent weeks his demeanor had visibly changed. At one recent media briefing, he kept his head down as he read a statement and left early.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Koussa had not been offered any immunity.
Koussa's defection provides evidence "that Gadhafi's regime ... is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within," said Hague, adding that Koussa is voluntarily speaking with officials in the United Kingdom.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Thursday that Koussa did not tell the government he planned to resign before he flew to Britain. Ibrahim said Koussa asked for sick leave and the government gave him permission to leave the country and receive intensive medical care.
The government had another setback Thursday, with news that an official who was picked as Libyan ambassador to the United Nations has defected.
A relative and an opposition leader said Thursday that former Foreign Minister Ali Abdussalam Treki was in Cairo.

India census: population goes up to 1.21bn

India's population has grown by 181 million people over the past decade to 1.21bn, according to the 2011 census.

More people now live in India than in the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Bangladesh combined.

India is on course to overtake China as the world's most populous nation by 2030, but its growth rate is falling, figures show. China has 1.3bn people.

The census also reveals a continuing preference for boys - India's sex ratio is at its worst since independence.

Female foeticide remains common in India, although sex-selective abortion based on ultrasound scans is illegal. Sons are still seen by many as wage-earners for the future.

Statistics show fewer girls than boys are being born or surviving. The gender imbalance has widened every decade since independence in 1947.

According to the 2011 census, 914 girls were born for every 1,000 boys under the age of six, compared with 927 for every 1,000 boys in the 2001 census.

"This is a matter of grave concern," Census Commissioner C Chandramauli told a press conference in the capital, Delhi.

Government officials said they would review all their policies towards this issue, which they admitted were failing.

FATA still to get its due


An all-party conference in Peshawar demanded full rights for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in the immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan, like political parties extending their role, repeal of the colonial Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and a judicial dispensation under Pakistan’s Supreme Court among other things. Last week lawmakers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA called on President Asif Ali Zardari with identical demands and the president assured them the PPP government is already working on giving financial and internal autonomy of the region like Gilgit-Baltistan. In fact the PPP government took the first initiative by scrapping the FCR and making room for all political parties to operate in this difficult hilly tract area that has so far been nominally controlled by the Federal government and the president alone has the authority to amend rules in FATA. Pakistan’s constitution is also applicable through the same FCR as was left by British in 1901. Such lawless conditions give the people of the region, the poorest of the poor, have promoted religious extremism and terrorism. Their representation in parliament is nothing less than a joke because they ‘elect’ 12 for the National Assembly who form the electoral college for eight members to the Senate. This ‘election’ seems a farce as big landlords (Maliks) alone have represented the people of FATA who possess money and can buy their ‘election’ to parliament. Tribesmen were given the right to vote in the 1997 general elections. Prior to this they were selected by tribal elders. As for the political agents, they wield unfettered powers who have a legal authority to collectively punish a whole tribe under the FCR that are the most inhuman penalty that shows how the colonial masters perpetrated their repression on human beings. Fata as a region of seven agencies from North Waziristan to Khyber needs immediate measures to mitigate the sufferings of about 10 million people, who yearn to get their constitutional, political and socio-economic rights in addition to judicial dispensation within the ambit of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. These rights are as inalienable as of the people of Pakistan elsewhere. Such a remedy can be done within an administrative solution of establishing a new province of Pakistan which has its own assembly whose members are chosen by its people in an independent manner and free will. Likewise, FATA must have its own high court, police in place of Khasdars and with a due share in the National Finance Commission’s divisible pool. With rich natural resources, blooming forestry and eye-catching scenic beauty, the region is endowed with all the potential to develop its own industry and boost agricultural productivity. With Pakistan’s constitution guaranteeing autonomy to other provinces, the province of FATA can be established and this is what we expect of the ruling PPP to do and do it immediately.

Pakistan, Afghan MPs slam agencies for pursuing interests Tahir Khan

Pakistan and Afghan lawmakers Wednesday said that the intelligence agencies of the two countries are ‘pursuing their own individual interest’ whereas terrorism was a common enemy demanding collective action by the agencies of the two countries herelaid great emphasis on joint efforts to tackle the problem of terrorism which has not only caused death and destruction in the region but has been the major impediment in the development of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. “They urged cooperation of each other’s Parliament to bring to the notice of their respective Governments problems identified by the other side for immediate remedial action. This, they thought, would greatly help in bringing the two countries further closer to each other,” a joint statement, released at the conclusion of the meeting, said. The two sides felt the need of establishing a Joint Commission, established already, to identify problems between them. The task of the Commission would be to find solutions to these problems which will help in cementing brotherly relations between the two neighbours. The parliamentarians expressed concern on longer delays for clearance of goods under Afghan Transit Trade which was causing huge financial loss. They agreed on finding a solution to this long over-due problem for streamlining business relation between the two countries. The lawmakers felt the need and importance of media in moulding public opinion. It can play a positive role in bridging the trust deficit that unfortunately still exists somewhat between the people of the two countries. The two sides agreed to hold their next meeting in Kabul in May this year. The parliamentarians discussed issues of importance that impact the relations between the two neighbouring Islamic countries. A delegation of 20 Afghan Parliamentarians, belonging to the Senate and National Assembly of Afghanistan (Meshrano Jirga and Wolesi Jirga respectively) had a detailed dialogue with their Pakistani counterparts on issues of mutual interest including Terrorism, Afghan Transit Trade and the role of media in bringing the two countries closer to one another. Speaking at a press conference upon the conclusion of the Parliamentarians Dialogue, co-chairs of the Pak-Afghan Parliamentary Dialogue Sayed Ishaq Gailani, Member of Afghan Wolesi Jirga and Senator Salim Saifullah Khan, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan, said that Parliamentary dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan must continue in order to strengthen Pak-Afghan ties. “No country is closer to our heart than Afghanistan,” said Senator Salim Saifullah, adding that the first-ever visit of Senate Foreign Affairs Committee was undertaken to Kabul earlier this month before the Senate and National Assembly of Pakistan welcomed the 20-member Afghan Parliamentary delegation to Pakistan. Senator Mir Jan Muhammad Jamali, Deputy Chairman Senate of Pakistan and Mr. Faisal Karim Kundi, MNA, Deputy Speaker National Assembly of Pakistan welcomed and remained engaged in a dialogue with Afghan MPs alongside a multi-party Pakistan Parliamentary delegation, informed Senator Saifullah. “Parliamentarians from two sides discussed terrorism, trade, narcotics and education in a candid interaction,” said Sayed Ishaq Gailani while addressing the press conference. Terrorists have harmed both countries and a regional conference to counter terrorism must be held, he believed, to counter the scourge. Our Pakistani Parliamentary brothers and sisters agree that our interaction will pave the way for strengthening relations, he said. The Co-chairs thanked PILDAT for facilitating the Parliamentary interaction adding that the next dialogue of the series will be held in Kabul in May this year. Earlier, Afghan Parliamentarians called on Chairman Senate Senator Farooq H Naik in the Parliament House. In welcoming the Afghan delegation, Senator Naik was joined by Senator Jan Muhammad Jamali, Deputy Chairman Senate,Senator Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Leader of the House in the Senate, Senator Jahangir Bader, PPPP, Senator Mohammad Ishaq Dar, Leader of the PML-N Parliamentary party, Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel, ANP, Senator Salim Saifullah Khan, PML, Senator Kulsoom Parveen, PML, Senator Saleh Shah, Ind. and Senator Abdul Rahim Khan Mandokhel, PKMAP. Chairman Senate said that two brotherly countries have unbreakable historical, cultural and religious ties. He said that peace in Afghanistan is important for peace in Pakistan and peace in the region. Terrorism is a common problem which needs to be addressed jointly, adding that a regional approach is required in this regard. Thanking on behalf of the Afghan delegates for the warm welcome received by delegation in Pakistan, Sayed Ishaq Gailani raised the issue of bottlenecks in Afghan transit trade and said MPs of two countries have a crucial role to play in resolving issues. Senator Nayyar Hussain Bukhari believed that relations have improved during current government tenure adding that President Zardari places huge importance on good relation of Pakistan with Afghanistan. Senator Ishaq Dar said that PML-N has always given great importance to Afghanistan and assured Afghan delegation that Afghan Students will be accommodated in Universities across Punjab.

Indian girls fall further into minority in latest census

Officials said they were alarmed at the tilting of India's gender balance further towards boys amid growing concerns over the impact of female foeticide by families who prefer sons.
According to the census 914 girls

are being born per 1,000 boys compared with 927 per 1000 in 2001. India now has 623.7 million males and 586.5 million females. Census Commissioner C. Chandramauli said the figures were a "matter of grave concern".
Dr A.L. Sharada, of the charity Laadli, which works to raise the status of Indian girls, said girls are still seen as a burden in India. "Marriage and dowry is the biggest burden for parents in India and the amount of money the parents need to shell out for a daughter's big fat wedding makes them a burden for their parents," he said. Boys, however, are seen as future breadwinners who will stay with their families.
The alarm over India's declining sex ratio overshadowed the striking growth in its population to within 120 million of overtaking China as the world's most populous country. India's population is forecast to overtake that of China in 2026, but the census revealed early signs that the growth is starting to slow.
While it has more people than the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan combined, its growth rate had fallen to 17.6 per cent from 21.5 per cent ten years ago. It is the first time population growth has fallen since 1921.Other data indicated rising literacy levels – up to 74 per cent from 65 per cent ten years ago.
Officials surveyed 300 million households to assess people's living conditions to help the government to develop its anti-poverty and development programmes.

Muslim beauty contestant says she faces threats

A British woman hoping to become the first Muslim to represent her country in the Miss Universe pageant has gotten "indirect" threats against her life, she told CNN on Thursday.

Shanna Bukhari said she'd received "a lot of support from all communities," but that she got "some hate mail from all communities as well."

"Indirect threats have been made," she said, including video links being posted of men "suggesting things could possibly happen."

While there had been no direct threats against her, she said, "it is upsetting to receive links of certain things that could possibly endanger someone's life."

Bukhari is proud of her origins and her religion, but it's the media that has made her religion an issue, she said.

"My intentions were not to bring my religion into this," she said.

She said she would participate in the swimsuit round of the contest, but would not be "exposing revealing parts of my body."

"I will not be wearing a bikini," she said. "I will be wearing a one-piece swimsuit and a sarong."

The current Miss USA, Rima Fakih, is the first Muslim woman to win that title.

Bukhari will learn May 1 whether she will represent her country at the Miss Universe pageant, which is in September.

Bahrain rally decries teenager's death

Protesters rally in a Bahraini village, condemning the recent death of a male teenager there at the hands of security forces.

Fifteen-year-old Sayed Ahmed died from a headshot in Sa'ar on Wednesday, Bahrain's Al Wefaq political party announced on its page on the social networking website Facebook.

The party stated that the victim had gone out to play and tried uselessly to run away when he noticed the security forces closing in.

The crowd amassed in hundreds carrying overhead Ahmed's coffin, plastered with the victim's picture before and after the shooting.

Joined recently by police units and troops from Saudi and the United Arab Emirates, the Bahraini government forces have launched a deadly crackdown on the popular revolution that began to sweep the Persian Gulf island on February 14.

Bahraini protesters continue to demand the ouster of the 200-year-old-plus monarchy as well as constitutional reforms.

Not counting the latest victim, at least 24 people have been killed and about 1,000 others injured during the government-sanctioned violence.

Also on Wednesday, the Human Rights Watch accused Bahraini forces of using violence against people that had already received injuries during earlier attacks.

The rights body said it had documented several cases in which the forces had "severely harassed or beaten" patients under medical care in the country's Salmaniya hospital in Manama.

The Saudi-backed forces have recently been sighted destroying religious and historical monuments.

Syrian president orders review of Syrian laws

Facing a massive protest movement demanding reform, Syria's president has set up committees to look into the deaths of civilians during nearly two weeks of unrest and replacing decades-old emergency laws.

Thursday's move appears to be a carefully designed attempt by President Bashar al-Assad to show he will not be pressured to implement reform, instead, he will make changes at his own pace.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported on Thursday that investigative committees have been set up to look into possible causes in the deaths of protesters, including the 1962 census in east Syria, which resulted in many Kurds being denied nationality.

On Wednesday, Assad defied expectations that he would announce sweeping changes, instead blaming two weeks of popular revolt on a foreign conspiracy during his first public address since the protests began.

It was not immediately clear whether Thursday's overtures would succeed in pacifying a growing protest movement in one of regions most autocratic regimes.

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Damascus, says the "promise of investigation", a day after Assad failed to announce any reforms during his widely anticipated speech, proves that the Syrian government "is going to move at its own pace with regard to change".

'Martyrs Day'

Activists have called for massive demonstrations across Syrian provinces on Friday, dubbing it "Martyrs Day''.

The day could prove to be a turning point in the country's future.

Syrian TV said the ruling Baath Party's regional command formed a committee made up of legal experts to study legislation that would "guarantee the country's security and dignity of Syrians and combat terrorism''.This would pave the way for lifting the state of emergency laws,'' it said. The widely despised, decades-old emergency laws give the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge.

The state-run news agency said the committee would complete its study by April 25.

Syrian TV also said Assad has set up a judicial committee tasked with urgently investigating the circumstances that led to the death of Syrian civilians and security forces in the southern city of Daraa and port city of Latakia.

Assad dismissed his 32-member cabinet on Tuesday in a move designed to mollify the anti-government protesters, but the overture was largely symbolic.

Assad holds the lion's share of power in the authoritarian regime, and there are no real opposition figures or alternatives to the current leadership.

The protests were sparked off by the arrest of several teenagers who wrote anti-government graffiti on walls in the southern city of Daraa.

They spread to other parts of the country last week, and human rights groups say more than 60 people have been killed since March 18 as security forces cracked down on the demonstrations.

'Protesters arrested'

An anti-government protester in Daraa said on Thursday that security forces arrested up to 17 people in the city overnight. He said a sit-in by a few hundred protesters near al-Omari mosque, the epicentre of protests, ended on Thursday.

However, he said protesters were regrouping for more demonstrations in Daraa and nearby areas on Friday. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

In Assad's speech before parliament on Wednesday, his first speech since the protests began, he said Syria is being subjected to a "major conspiracy''.

He made only a passing reference to the protesters' calls for change, saying he was in favour of reform, but acknowledged there have been delays.

"The question is what reforms do we need,'' he said, without offering any specifics.

Social networking sites immediately responded with activists calling on Syrians to take to the streets.

Sectarian tensions

Within hours of Assad's speech, residents of the Mediterranean port city of Latakia said troops opened fire during a protest by about 100 people, although it was not immediately clear whether they were firing in the air or at the protesters. The residents asked that their names not be published for fear of reprisals.Latakia, which has a potentially volatile mix of different religious groups, already has become a flashpoint for violence that could take on a dangerous sectarian tone in the coming days and weeks.

The anti-government protests and ensuing violence have brought Syria's sectarian tensions into the open for the first time in decades, a taboo topic because Syria has a Sunni majority ruled by minority Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam.

Assad has placed his fellow Alawites into most positions of power in Syria.

However, he also has used increased economic freedom and prosperity to win the allegiance of the prosperous Sunni Muslim merchant classes, while punishing dissenters with arrest, imprisonment and physical abuse.

Assad, who inherited power 11 years ago from his father, appears to be following the same strategy of other autocratic leaders who attempt to quell uprisings by offering minor concessions coupled with brutal crackdowns.

The formula failed in Tunisia and Egypt, where citizens accepted nothing less than the ouster of the regime.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Belgium: Should the world be more like Belgium?

This is a European country riven by ethnic tensions. Its public debt is almost as big as its total annual output and it's in the middle of a political crisis so deep that this week it passes Iraq as the modern-day state whose politicians have taken the longest to form a government.
Yet the buses run more or less on time, the garbage is collected twice a week, exports of pharmaceuticals, steel cord, chocolate and beer are uninterrupted -- and it can still take about a month to get a new telephone line.
Governing is never easy. In the past year or so, it has sometimes seemed impossible. Just ask North Africa's rulers who, after a long period of stability, not to mention repression and abuses, have faced popular uprisings demanding their ousters. In the United States, the big two parties have fallen victims in different ways to the upstart populist Tea Party movement. In Europe, governments in Britain and Ireland have been kicked out in the aftermath of the financial crisis. This month, the government in Portugal collapsed.
Meantime in Belgium, whose Dutch- and French-speaking parties can't agree on what powers should be devolved from the center to the regions, the absence of government is hardly commented on. More than nine months after a June 2010 election, talk in bars and cafes strays only occasionally to the country's political predicament. "We're not really following it anymore," says a bartender in the Flemish town of Mechelen with a shrug.
"It's a crisis without an audience," says Carl Devos, politics professor at the University of Ghent. "It's a bit absurd."
In a world of upheaval, the fact that one of its oldest democracies has kept ticking over without validated political leadership is remarkable, even if its citizens don't see it.
Belgium managed the whole of its six-month presidency of the European Union last year with a caretaker government. That same government has laid out a 2011 budget and dispatched fighter jets to play their part in guaranteeing the no-fly zone over Libya. In the first three months of 2011 it's reached almost half its target for this year's bond issues.
Would some countries work better without a government? Could the world learn something from Belgium's experience?
One thing's for sure, having no government can be cheaper. New administrations bring new projects -- and new costs.
"One consequence of not having a working government is that the cost of public spending is not so high," says Philippe Ledent, economist at financial services company ING Belgium. "In the short-term, there is no real negative effect. I thought there would be on confidence, but in the end it's been rather limited."
Financial markets were rattled by Belgium's political paralysis at the end of November and early January, but since the start of February they seem to have calmed. Government 10-year bond yields are a little above 4 percent, about 1 percentage point more than benchmark German equivalents.
That compares with spreads of nearly 7 percent and over 9 percent respectively for EU bailout recipients Ireland and Greece. This year could have been a challenge with around 26 billion euros of Belgian bonds due to mature, but heavy issuance in 2010 allowed the debt agency to buy back a third of the maturing paper ahead of time.
Even though Belgium's public debt is well above the euro zone average, it has not carried out austerity measures like those seen in other European countries, because there's no fully fledged government empowered to enact them.
"I have heard it said that a caretaker government is the best you can have, as it is most unlikely to raise taxes," says Rudy Andeweg, political science professor at Leiden University.
Business confidence is at its highest level since July 2007. In February, consumer confidence too was also at a 3-1/2 year high, although surging oil prices dragged it down a little in March.
There have been hiccups: Belgium's business federation says some IT companies reliant on public sector contracts have been hit by the fact that the government can only roll over small payments, and can't launch new tenders. Smaller banks would likely have benefited from an adjustment to banking taxation, which the financial community backs, but which cannot be enacted until a government is in place.
But being in the euro has sheltered the country from the most dramatic consequences. Since 1999, Belgium's monetary policy has been determined by central bankers in Frankfurt.
One of the secrets to Belgium's stability is force of habit. Like the Netherlands next door, the country of nearly 11 million is used to having caretaker governments for extended periods.
Proportional representation -- which gives parties parliamentary seats based on their share of the vote rather than handing all power to the overall winner -- makes it usual for governments to rule in coalitions, and coalitions take time to form.
It's not an uncommon set-up in Europe: Austrians, Italians, Finns or Germans are pretty sanguine about a gap between an election and a new government taking power. In Germany, a "grand coalition" of the main center-left and center-right parties took two months to form in 2005 and in Austria four months were needed in 1999-2000 for the Christian Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party to forge an alliance.
In countries with a winner-takes-all system, single-party rule is the norm and the prospect of a coalition can be more alarming. Britain is a good example: last year, the threat of protracted wrangling between the three main parties rattled financial markets before May's election, causing a sell-off of government bonds, or gilts. In the end, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats forged a coalition just five days after the vote, but not before the pound had slid, British shares had fallen and gilts had underperformed their German counterparts.
Belgians are used to long drawn-out discussions. The cause of the latest political row dates back decades, to the creation of separate linguistic areas in 1962 which laid the ground for the country's current structure.
That in itself was years in the making. Now, despite fresh suggestions that the country should split itself in two along ethnic lines, Belgian leaders seem happy to keep talking.
"As complex as the situation is at the moment, it is still much simpler than the problems that would arise if we decided that the Belgian state must be dissolved," says Karl-Heinz Lambertz, premier of Belgium's small group of German speakers, who are mostly viewed as neutral in the stand-off between Dutch- and French-speakers.
One requirement for any country considering a spell without an elected government is a functioning bureaucracy. Belgians like to carp about the size and cost of theirs -- the business federation says it has 7 more civil servants per 1,000 citizens than its nearest neighbors, at an extra cost of 5 to 6 billion euros a year -- but it keeps things working, which may be a cost worth paying for now.
"It may have faced criticism, but our government administration is certainly functioning," said Ghent University's Devos. Unlike in some countries, such as the United States, senior civil servants in Europe are generally not elected or appointed by ruling parties, which makes any period of transition smoother.
On top of that, many players besides politicians have pivotal roles. "The system is less dependent on a dominant leader. You have unions and employer groups, controlling agencies," said Keukeleire, of the University of Leuven and College of Europe. "The European Union, international organisations and international agreements also determine the limits of government."
In fact, central government in Belgium doesn't actually have all that much power at all. It's restricted to managing public finances, the army, judicial system, foreign affairs and certain other issues such as social security and nuclear power. That makes leadership a less coveted prize than in more centralized countries.
It's a similar story in the Netherlands, next door.
"In some countries, the president can appoint ministers, judges and people in administrative functions and in the army," says Jan Tuit, a senior adviser at the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy. "If you look at for example the power of the Dutch prime minister, it's really very limited. He cannot even reshuffle the cabinet."
And the longer Belgium's caretaker government has been in charge, the more powers it is assuming, or being given.
"Of course it's better to have a government with full competence, but it's possible as a caretaker government to take many decisions and we are doing that," acting Finance Minister Didier Reynders told Reuters.
The country's constitution has nothing to say on caretaker governments. In theory, a stand-in government would just cover a month or two before a new administration is sworn in, but the prolonged deadlock means the unwritten rules are changing.
"As time goes by, the scope of decisions taken by the government is widening. You could not have imagined six months ago that the government would nominate a new director of the national bank. Now they have done so," said Rudi Thomaes, chief executive of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium.
Having a monarch has also helped. As head of state, King Albert II has been busy appointing mediators, but he has also demanded the caretaker government revise the 2011 budget, a highly unusual intervention.
And despite the vacuum at the top, Belgium has plenty of government to keep it ticking over. The country has five federated regional governing bodies, not counting provincial and local authorities. "You cannot say that Belgium is stuck," says Ghent University's Devos. "We have many other governments running the country."
There are separate administrations representing the regions of Wallonia and Brussels, for French speakers and for German-speaking minority and a joint one covering the province of Flanders and Dutch speakers.
In a series of reforms since 1970, the powers of the regions and language communities have grown and those of the federal state shrunk. That's at the heart of the current impasse: Dutch-speaking Flemish people, who make up about 60 percent of the Belgian population, have voted for parties seeking yet more control for the regions and fewer subsidies for French-speaking Wallonia, where the unemployment rate is double that of Flanders.
Yet in some ways it's a boon: already, culture and education are the exclusive preserves of the language communities. The regions control a wide range of policy areas including the economy, employment, agriculture, housing, energy, transport and foreign trade.
Lambertz, premier of Belgium's German speakers, says the federal system has helped in the present crisis. "The current system isn't all that bad. Otherwise, it would have collapsed or the country would have found itself in crisis and that is not the case. Whoever travels through Belgium doesn't notice much of the current difficulties," he said.
Federal states from Australia to Switzerland might also benefit from their multiple layers of government in the absence of a national administration.
But in most places, and especially in the developing world, strong political leaders are needed to fill the hole created by a lack of bureaucracy. In Iraq last year, for example, nine months of political limbo delayed investments to rebuild the war-torn country and left people short of basic services such as water and power.
Even in developed democracies, being without political leadership can be crippling. The lack of a plan to manage its debts has sent Portugal's bond yields to new highs this week, inflating the cost of borrowing and increasing the chances the country will need an international bailout. Portugal faces a political vacuum of at least two months, if a snap election is called, with a caretaker government reduced to basic management of public affairs.
"It's a pretty messy situation," says Ken Wattret, chief euro zone economist at BNP Paribas. "In the Belgian context that may be fine, but Portugal has a pressing need to deliver a credible consolidation program."
And even Belgium has had to put important decisions on hold. Analysts and economists say it needs to reform its pensions system and its labor market, reduce energy consumption and determine what to do with asylum seekers. It's muddling along with unresolved questions about the future of nuclear power. These are decisions for the long term that a caretaker government simply cannot take.
"The longer these items are unresolved, the more costly they become. We have a fire brigade to put out fires, but we cannot renovate the building," said Ghent University's Devos.
The business federation says a government is urgently needed to rein in the debt and tackle the rising cost of an aging population. Its chief, Rudi Thomaes, said the deadlock really began four years ago at the 2007 election, as disputes over the future of the country stalled progress elsewhere.
"If I make the comparison with other countries I see a huge difference," Thomaes says, poring over a chart listing the budgetary efforts of six countries - France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Yet Devos and others say that Belgium might need a crisis such as this to force through change acceptable to its Dutch and French speakers. It may indeed look back on nine month or even a year of political deadlock as a price worth paying.

China's attitude on Libya: Give peace a chance

People's Daily
China's President Hu jintao

meeting his French counterpart Micolas Sarkozy in Beijing called for immediate cease-fire in Libya, including NATO-led multinational air strikes there, to avoid rising civilian deaths and injuries.

Hu told Sarkozy that the world should "give peace a chance", through well-willed peaceful negotiations on the table, while not via guns and missiles.

The Chinese President stressed that "history has time and again proved the use of military force is no answer to any problem, but, complicate the problem". Hu emphasized that the ultimate solution lies in "dialogue and other peaceful means".

France has championed the Western-led military assault against Colonel Muammar Gadhafi's government forces, which has raised eyebrows across the globe.

Hu said that the United Nation Security Council resolution on setting a no-fly zone in Libya was meant to end internal violence and protect civilians in the North African country. However, any military action that causes a greater humanitarian crisis in Libya "runs counter to the original intention" of the resolution.

China abstained when the resolution, initiated by France, Britain and the United States, was put to a vote.

Firm opposition to use of force

The Chinese President reiterated Beijing's firm opposition to the use of force, and expressed support for any political move to ease the Libyan situation.

Hu noted that some countries and regional organizations had put forward "constructive" proposals and suggestions to solve the Libyan crisis, which should "deserve a positive response" from the world community.

"Let's give peace a chance. This conforms to the interests of all sides concerned," President Hu said.

Besides China, the African Union, Russia and Brazil, have opposed the NATO-led air strikes in Libya. African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping, who has opposed any military intervention in Libya, shunned the international conference held in London Tuesday to discuss Libya's future.

Russia has been voicing concern about civilian casualties and excessive use of force since the operation began. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the West yesterday against supplying weapons to Libyan rebels and called for a quick end to hostilities there.

Yet differences on Libya between China and France have not impaired bilateral ties, which both leaders pledged to advance during their talks.

Sarkozy is visiting China to attend a seminar on the international monetary system on Thursday in Nanjing, in Southeast China's Jiangsu province.

As France holds the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 leading developed and emerging economies, Sarkozy proposed to hold the French-organized seminar in a Chinese city, seeking to enroll Beijing's support in reforming the international monetary system, the AFP reported.

After China, Sarkozy is scheduled to visit Japan as the first head of state since the catastrophic March 11 earthquake which grabbed lives of more than 11,000. Many more remain missing.

Afghan parliamentarians seek investment from Pak

Afghan parliamentarians have offered Pakistan business community to consider sizeable investment in the reconstruction phase of Afghanistan and have also sought technical assistance in the mutually interested areas to deepen further economic cooperation.

A 30-member group of Afghan parliamentarians led by Syed Ishaq Jilani was invited at an exclusive dinner meeting hosted by Iftikhar Ali Malik, Vice President SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SAARC CCI). The meeting was coordinated and moderated by Jahangir Bader, Secretary General, Pakistan Peoples Party.

Speaking on the occasion, Engineer Abdul Ghaffar, Member of Afghanistan Parliament, said that Pakistan has always helped Afghanistan in time of need particularly shelter to Afghan refugees and requested to the business community that Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) would help further promote economic cooperation between two countries.

Tariq Sayeed, immediate Past President SAARC CCI said that the private sector of Pakistan would request the government of Pakistan to implement APTTA in true spirit. He said that the agreement would help channelize legal trade and expand scope of economic cooperation. He also requested the leadership of Afghanistan to integrate Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry as a member of SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Iftikhar Ali Malik, Vice President said that Afghanistan has unique topography and has been serving as one of the oldest trade routes connecting Central Asian with Persia and Central Asia. Both countries have been enjoying amicable relations and stand firm in the time of need. He further said that the accession of Afghanistan to SAARC will help economic development of Afghanistan.

Hellay Arshad, member of Parliamentarian group from Afghanistan, whose birthday was also celebrated on the occasion, thanked the business community of Pakistan and SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry for creating this opportunity.

Senator Ghulam Ali, President FPCCI stressed the need for enhancing bilateral trade relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and requested the government of Afghanistan to involve Pakistani enterprise in the reconstruction phase of Afghanistan.

Bilateral trade between the two counties was estimated at $1.3 billion and trade balance is in favour of Pakistan by $1.2 billion. Senator Saleem Saifullah also spoke on the occasion.

The dinner was attended by more than 50 prominent business leaders from all over Pakistan and government officials.

Tax evasion in Pakistan

By:Murtaza Haider, Ph.D.
They travel abroad regularly, live in palatial homes and drive luxury vehicles. They are 2.3-million strong – they are the affluent Pakistanis who are also distinguished because they do not pay any taxes. They don’t even have a tax number, which suggests that these 2.3 million affluent Pakistanis have never paid taxes in Pakistan.

This is about to change, if one were to believe Salman Siddiqui, Chairman of the Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR). The FBR has issued notices to the 700,000 wealthiest of the 2.3 million affluent Pakistanis to pony up withheld taxes. Mr. Siddiqui did not elaborate on the penalties for those who would continue to evade taxes.

Tax evasion in Pakistan leaves the State with no option but to borrow money from lenders, such as the IMF. Consider this: in a nation of 180 million, fewer than two million are registered tax payers. Furthermore, tax revenue accounts for roughly 10 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP, which is extremely low even for Pakistan. The average among western European states is around 30-plus per cent. In neighbouring India, tax revenue accounts for 18 per cent of the GDP, which makes me wonder whether Indians have a better sense of citizenship than Pakistanis.In the words of the famous Canadian-born economist, John K. Galbraith, this leads to the classic case of “private opulence and public squalor” where the desire and demand for private goods is enhanced while spending on public utilities such as schools and parks decreases. In fact, Pakistan’s society and economy epitomises private opulence and public squalor where the fortunes of the rich and wealthy keep growing, while the State of Pakistan gets buried deeper in domestic and international debt.

The FBR has to squeeze hard these bloated tax-evading lemons. I would argue that even the sovereignty of Pakistan rests on the unpaid taxes of these 2.3 million affluent citizens. Consider the following numbers: if the very rich tax evaders are charged a nominal annual tax of $2,500, and the remaining 1.6 million not-so-wealthy evaders are charged $1,500 annually, this would generate an additional $4.2 billion in tax revenue.

Remember that the US is offering Pakistan annually $1.5 billion (in aid) through the Kerry Lugar Bill, in exchange for drone attacks on its own people. The $4.2 billion from the wealthiest tax-evaders could buy Pakistan its freedom from the United States.

And what of the tax penalty for avoiding taxes in the past? May I recommend a one-time penalty, $5,000 for the very rich and $2,500 for the second-tier rich, which would generate a one-time revenue of $7.5 billion. This is exactly the amount that the Kerry-Lugar Bill has promised for Pakistan over 5 years. Again the very rich, by paying their back taxes as one-time penalty, can off-set Pakistan’s dependence on American assistance.

The amounts I have suggested in taxes are not excessive by any account. It was only last month when we learnt that renowned Pakistani singer, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was caught with undeclared $124,000 in cash at the New Delhi airport. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan reportedly has no tax history in Pakistan. Would people like him find a few thousand dollars in taxes, burdensome?

Asking the very rich in Pakistan (who make several trips abroad for which the airfare of a single trip alone is around $1,500) to dole out $2,500 (or $1,500) in taxes is certainly not excessive. If you consider the equity they hold in their palatial homes or the luxury vehicles they drive, the amount I have suggested in taxes would appear insignificant for the very rich.

I live in a middle-class neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada, where I pay over $5,500 in property tax alone. My total tax bill (income and other consumption taxes) is an order of magnitude higher than my property tax bill. In fact, in Canada income taxes are the largest single line item in a household’s budget, followed by shelter and transport costs.

Canadians pay taxes even when they disagree with how the government spends their tax dollars. Consider the current right-wing government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper that has followed a more fear-laden agenda and has shifted towards spending on building prisons and buying fighter jets from the United States. Most Canadians abhor such spending decisions because Canada has experienced a significant decline in violent crime rate over the past decade and hence, does not need new prisons. Furthermore, Canada does not face any security threats from other countries for which it may need new fighter jets. Building prisons and buying fighter jets seems a huge waste of tax-payers’ dollars. Yet, I and other Canadians do not even for a second think of withholding taxes on the pretext that our tax dollars may be wasted on futile projects.

The relationship between the State and the citizen is defined by the citizen’s willingness to pay taxes. Withholding taxes weakens the State. A weakened State has no alternative but to compromise. In Pakistan’s case, it is not the politicians alone who have pushed the State to beg from the IMF or the United States. Instead, it is the citizens of Pakistan who refuse to buy a stake in the country’s future by paying taxes, have forced the State to borrow from IMF and other lenders.

All Pakistanis, irrespective of their political or religious persuasions, hate their country’s dependence on handouts from the United States, the IMF, the World Bank and other similar institutions. The easiest and surest way to break free of this economic dependency is for Pakistanis to pay their taxes.

‘Peshawar through the ages’ shown in flowers

Celebrating the 2,500 years of Peshawar as the oldest living city of South Asia, the Floral Art Society of Peshawar brought together women members of floral art societies from other cities, who exhibited their skills of traditional flower arrangement on Tuesday.

In relation to the theme of the floral show ‘Peshawar through the ages’, the artists arranged flowers and plants by mixing their work with the traditional arts of the city to depict how Peshawar once was.

Tourism Corporation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had collaborated with the society to organise the floral exhibition to show their skills to women of this province.

The exhibition attracted a large number of visitors.

Nowshaba Khalil, former president of the International Floral Society and now a council member of Floral Art Society, Karachi, demonstrated through her floral art how she remembered vines of Peshawar as a little girl when she visited the city with her parents.

President of FAS, Peshawar, Fareeda Nishtar also demonstrated her skills to a large number of women.Johar Jamal, secretary of the FAS, said that those who lived in Peshawar and remembered it as a city of greenery and flowers could not see it as a barren and polluted city with broken roads.

“We want to raise awareness among people, especially the youth, that they should make this city greener and more beautiful,” she said while stressing the need for more such exhibitions.

She said that they had been holding meetings with municipal authorities to decorate the city by planting trees and flowers instead of erecting concrete structures at crossroads.

Other visitors also praised the art of how beauty of simple flowers and roses could be enhanced through different arrangements.

On this occasion, Abid Haneef announced the launch of Horticulture Society of Pakistan’s Peshawar chapter, which would raise awareness of horticulture.

Shamim Saadullah Khan, former Principal of Aitcheson College and a horticulturist, said that he came to Peshawar after 38 years and there was no smell of sweet peas.

He said that people of Peshawar should raise their voice whenever they felt the need to safeguard the beauty and greenery of the city.

Karzai sacks official after women sing without headscarves

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sacked the deputy governor of a restive southern province after two women performed without headscarves at a high-profile concert he helped organise, an official from Helmand province said on Wednesday.

"Instead of being complimented for organising such a big show in order to bring a smile to people's faces, Karzai sacked the deputy governor," said Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for the Helmand governor.

"Unfortunately the president has some ultra-conservative people around him who advise him on these issues."

Abdul Satar Mirzakwal had been second in command for over three years in restive Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold where attacks are common and insecurity rife.

The concert, held last November, was the first major musical performance in the province for many years and featured Afghan star Farhad Darya, who now lives abroad.

It drew around 12,000 people, including foreign military officials stationed nearby, and the smooth staging was hailed as a huge security achievement for the Afghan national police.

Karzai's office declined to comment on the dismissal, which may have been aimed at currying political support in the more conservative swathes of Helmand society.

Mark Sedwill, the top NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, recalled in a recent speech that the president had discovered on a visit to the Helmand town of Marjah last year that his leadership was not respected in the area.

"As President Karzai said afterwards, in areas like Marjah, people preferred the Taliban to his government and regarded him as a puppet: a point he was to repeat publicly and which has affected his political outlook since," Sedwill said.

Ahmadi said any questioning of the concert on moral grounds was unfounded.

"We worked very hard to get this project off the ground because the singers were so scared about going to Helmand, given the security situation," he said.

"Even old men were enjoying and dancing, it was not an immoral show or activity."

Syria maintains emergency law

Blast kills at least 12 in Pakistan

A suspected suicide bomber blows himself up near an Islamist party gathering in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 12 people.

Libya's foreign minister defects

Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister, has defected to the United Kingdom, the British foreign ministry has confirmed.

The ministry said in a statement that Koussa had arrived at Farnborough Airport, in the south of England, on a flight from Tunisia on Wednesday.

"He travelled here under his own free will. He has told us that he is resigning his post. We are discussing this with him and we will release further details in due course," the statement said.

"We encourage those around Gaddafi to abandon him and embrace a better future for Libya that allows political transition and real reform that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people."

It added that Koussa was one of the most senior officials in Gaddafi's government with a role to represent it internationally, which is "something that he is no longer willing to do".

Tunisia's TAP news agency said on Monday that Koussa had crossed over into Tunisia from Libya.

A government spokesman in the Libyan capital Tripoli had earlier denied speculation that he had defected.

"He is on a diplomatic mission," Mussa Ibrahim, the spokesman, said. He gave no further details.

Diplomats expelled

Earlier on Wednesday, the British government announced the expulsion of Libya's military attache and four other diplomats in protest and for intimidating opposition groups in London.

A government source quoted by Reuters said the diplomats, believed to be supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, have been given seven days to leave.

William Hague, the British foreign minister, told legislators the move was to "underline our grave concern at the regime's behaviour".

"... we have today taken steps to expel five diplomats at the Libyan embassy in London, including the military attache," he said in parliament on Wednesday.

"The government also judged that, were those individuals to remain in Britain, they could pose a threat to our security."Hague also announced that a British diplomatic mission led by senior diplomat Christopher Prentice had visited the rebel-held city of Benghazi earlier this week, and met key opposition groups including Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the rebel Libyan National Council.

Britain has long treated Libya as a rogue state. The 1984 shooting of a London policewoman from inside the Libyan embassy, the Libyan arming of IRA guerrillas in Northern Ireland and the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing over Scotland, for which a Libyan was convicted, contributed to Gaddafi being branded a pariah.

A foreign office spokesman, the expelled diplomats were thought to be strong Gaddafi supporters.

"We won't go into details on their activities," the spokesman said.

"But we believe they are among the strongest Gaddafi supporters in the embassy, that they have put pressure on Libyan opposition and student groups in the UK and that there is a risk of damage to UK national security if they remain."

Arms debate

Britain hosted an international conference on Tuesday that piled pressure on Gaddafi to quit and pledged to continue military action against his forces until he complies with a UN resolution to protect civilians.

At the London meeting, the question of arming Libyan rebels moved up the international agenda, although both Britain and the United States said they had taken no decision to supply arms.

On Wednesday, David Cameron, the British prime minister, repeated that line, adding that UN resolution 1973 allowed all necessary measures to protect civilians.

"Our view is that this would not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance to those protecting civilians in certain circumstances," Cameron told parliament.

"So ... we do not rule it out but we have not taken the decision to do so."

Expressing his reservations, British foreign minister Hague said introducing new weapons into a conflict could have "unforeseeable and unknown consequences".

"Such considerations would have to be very carefully weighed before the government changed its policy on this matter," he added.

Bahraini forces killed a teenager

Security forces in Bahrain have reportedly killed a male teenager amid continuing crackdown on the popular revolution around the country.
Fifteen-year-old Sayed Ahmed died from a headshot in the village of Saar on Wednesday, Bahrain's Al Wefaq political party announced on its page on the social networking website Facebook.
The party said the victim was out playing and tried to run when he saw the forces.
The revolution started to sweep the Shia-majority Persian Gulf island on February 14, calling for the ouster of the 230-year-old Sunni-led monarchy as well as constitutional reforms.The government, which has launched indiscriminate armed attacks on peaceful protesters, recently enlisted the support of police and military units from Saudi Arabia and the United Arabia Emirates.
Not counting the latest casualty, at least 24 people have been killed and about 1,000 others injured during the government-sanctioned violence.
Also on Wednesday, the Human Rights Watch accused Bahraini forces of using violence against people that had already received injuries during earlier attacks.
The rights body said it had documented several cases in which the forces had "severely harassed or beaten" patients under medical care in the country's Salmaniya hospital in Manama.

India beat Pakistan to reach World Cup final

India ensured they will play the World Cup final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai as a shaky Pakistan batting display gave the co-hosts a 29-run win in Mohali.

Sachin Tendulkar hit 85 as India opted to bat first but their total of 260-9 looked chaseable as Pakistan began their reply strongly.

But all five India bowlers weighed in with two wickets each to complete an emotional victory against their great rivals and set up an April 2 final against Sri Lanka.

Misbah-ul-Haq staged a late charge for Pakistan but, needing five sixes off the last over, he was caught by Virat Kholi with one ball remaining and the game already lost.

"This was like a final, whenever India and Pakistan play the pressure is double," said Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh, who like all his fellow bowlers took two wickets.

"We bowled really well, we fielded really well and we deserved the win.

"I'm really excited to be going to Mumbai to play the final in front of my second home crowd, seeing as I play for the Mumbai Indians (in the Indian Premier League)."

Late charge

Pakistan's inspirational World Cup captain Shahid Afridi scored 19 as he tried to inspire his team but fell for 19, leaving it to Test skipper Misbah to perform a late charge with 56 runs."I want to say sorry to my nation," said Afridi.

"We did our level best, but I hope everyone enjoyed it."

India, the 1983 champions, bowled out their neighbours for 231 in 49.5 overs to spark jubilant celebrations at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium.

Opting to bat first, India got off to a rollicking start and Tendulkar got a series of let-offs as he fell 15 short of his 100th one-day century.

Wahab Riaz's 5-46 haul restricted the co-hosts to a rather modest total, despite Umar Gul being hit for 69 runs off his eight overs.

Pakistan got off to a decent start too but losing wickets at regular intervals denied them any significant partnerships and batsmen such as Mohammad Hafeez (43) and Asad Shafiq (30) were guilty of throwing away their wickets at the most inopportune time.

Misbah's half-century offered late resistance but the moment he heaved the ball high into the air, only to see it fall into Kohli's hands, a deafening roar shook the 28,000-seater stadium and homes across India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was attending the match with his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, was seen applauding the men in blue while Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi punched the air in delight after watching the closing stages of the match in the midst of the crowd.

In India's innings, playing in his sixth Cricket World Cup, Tendulkar had an lbw decision overturned on appeal, was dropped by Misbah, Younus Khan and Umar Akmal, and narrowly avoided being stumped by Kamran Akmal.

Afridi, also the hapless bowler on three of those four occasions, could only hold his head in dismay as his teammates squandered opportunity after opportunity to cut short Tendulkar's 115-ball stay.

On a belter of a wicket, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had little hesitation in opting to bat first and he must have felt vindicated when Virender Sehwag (38) tore into the Pakistani attack.


The right-hander smashed five fours to milk 21 runs off Gul's second over, thus blunting Pakistan's pace spearhead but India could not make the most of the flying start.

Wahab trapped the opener leg before for 38 in the sixth over to end the 48-run opening stand and soon the boundary flow dried up.

The 68-run second wicket partnership between Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir (27) consolidated India's position but it was not without toil.

Hafeez ended the blossoming partnership by removing Gambhir and Riaz returned to claim Kohli (9) and the in-form Yuvraj Singh with successive deliveries to reduce the co-hosts, cruising merrily at 116-1 at one stage, to 141-4.

Suresh Raina's (36 not out) middle order cameo took India past the 250-mark.

India could have been in a bigger hole but Misbah dropped Tendulkar at mid-wicket, Younus grassed one at cover and Umar Akmal showed the same sloppiness, spilling one at mid-wicket.

Earlier in his innings, Tendulkar used a review to successfully overturn an lbw decision that had gone against him.

Just when it seemed nothing can stop the 37-year-old prolific run getter from scoring his 100th international century, Afridi caught the Indian off Saeed Ajmal's bowling, keeping his pre-match promise to deny Tendulkar the milestone.

Analysis: Assad the intimidator

We’re reforming all the time, smiled Syria’s tyrant. So anyone demanding more change must be an enemy. And we all know how our enemies are treated.

It’s easy to scoff about the speech Bashar Assad delivered to the Syrian parliament on Wednesday.
The interminable, seemingly rambling oratory. The absence of specific commitments to reform. The risible conspiracy theorizing. The “spontaneous” interruptions from adoring legislators: “God, Syria and Bashar only,” they chanted. “Our souls, our blood, we sacrifice for you.”
Locals in the capital, according to some of the Western journalists reporting from Damascus, weren’t too impressed either. Peopled had gathered in cafes to watch, and the speech was broadcast over loudspeakers, noted a France 24 correspondent, but they quickly returned to their normal business. Assad didn’t promise anything, he didn’t say anything concrete, this reporter almost wailed.

Aah, but he did. Nothing binding about rescinding emergency laws or opening up the political process – nothing, that is, that would justify Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary CBS Face the Nation utterance on Sunday: “There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer.”

But there was meat in the message there, nonetheless -- a ruthless rationale amid the rambling. For Syria’s dictator, whose dutiful armed personnel have gunned down dozens of his people in the last few days, drew a very clear line between protesters and loyal Syrians.

Protesters in other Arab nations were pushing positive demands for change, and meeting the aspirations of the masses was a good thing, he said. But no one in his Syria had the slightest need to protest, since he was already working tirelessly to meet the needs of the people. “Whoever wants reform, we are here,” he said paternally, eminently reasonable. “Reform is not seasonal. There are no real hurdles to it.”

Thus it could only be enemies and plotters and conspirators and outside forces who were fostering the unrest of recent days. And he made plain that he, his security establishment and all good Syrians would stand tall and “unite” against such toxic forces, against the “big plot,” the “conspiracy.”

Almost three decades after the event, the savagery with which his father Hafez quashed a potential Islamic uprising, by sending the military to bomb and shell and gun down thousands upon thousands of people at Hama in February 1982, still stands as a terrifying deterrent to any Syrian contemplating taking their dissatisfaction with the dictatorship into the streets. Those killings stand as the deadliest single action by an Arab leader against his own people in the modern history of our region. It remains dangerous for Syrians to so much as put words like “Hama” and “massacre” into the same sentence.

What Bashar Assad did on Wednesday, with his talk of unity and standing tall and prevailing over devious enemies, was to link himself to his father’s brutal legacy.

He most certainly did not make concessions. He had seen all too clearly where a public willingness to nervously concede to demands for reform had gotten the likes of Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Assad wasn’t going down that route.

No, this was Assad the smiling tiger, vowing to retain his primacy. This was Assad, self-confident to the point of smug, laughing off ­ with that curious high-pitched giggle of his ­ the "lies" being peddled about Syria on hostile satellite TV stations. This was Assad telling those of his people who may have fancied that they smelled Mubarak-style weakness, who may have thought they could try their luck, that they have misjudged the moment. This was Assad, iron fist in velvet glove, telling those who had come out onto the streets that they had been “duped” by Syria’s fiendish enemies, and that while he was magnanimous enough to forgive them for what they had done thus far, he would not be so tolerant again.

And this was Assad, most importantly, relishing the simple fact that, whereas the armed forces in Tunisia and Egypt chose not to open fire to put down the people’s protests, there is no daylight between him and his troops.

Word is that further protests are being planned for Friday. We will see then whether Syria’s opposition got the message he delivered on Wednesday, and whether that message fulfilled its intimidatory purpose.

Afghanistan's Enterprising Women

By building their own businesses, women in Afghanistan are sustaining their communities through years of conflict. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon's recent book tells one of their stories.

Even in the most favorable business climate, starting a company is no small feat. Imagine daring to set up shop as a woman under the Taliban regime. That's just what Kamila Sidiqi did. Upon the Taliban gaining control of Kabul in 1996, Sidiqi's parents and older brother left the city, leaving her to care for her younger siblings. But because the Taliban forbade women from leaving home without a male guardian, she was barred from working outside the home. To provide an income for her family, Sidiqi started a tailoring business. Her business grew to employ more than 100 women in her neighborhood.

In The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, published this month, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells the story of Sidiqi's unlikely entrepreneurship. Lemmon, who worked for ABC News before earning an MBA from Harvard Business School, spent three years in Afghanistan interviewing Sidiqi and other women who launched businesses during the Taliban's rule. Lemmon, now a fellow and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke with Inc. senior reporter April Joyner about the continued growth of women's entrepreneurship in Afghanistan.

It's impressive that Kamila Sidiqi sought to build a business that would provide jobs for others, not just herself. Did you find other women with similar aims, or were most of them running businesses for their own subsistence?

I saw both. You see a lot of "necessity entrepreneurs": women who start businesses because there are no jobs they see as working for them and their families. They don't necessarily see themselves as entrepreneurs, but what they're doing is, on a small level, entrepreneurship. And people immediately understand the benefit of job creation, because otherwise, so many men would be supporting on their own 12, 13, 14 family members. Having a woman who earns income not only earns the woman respect but creates so much positive change for the family. So you see women who are very driven to create jobs and some women who are driven simply to make sure that they can support their families.

Sidiqi had limited business options under the Taliban regime. Is there a broader range of woman-run businesses in Afghanistan now?

Yes. During the Taliban years, the businesses had to be home-based. So you had women selling cotton, women who were making dresses, women who were making burqas. Now you see much more diversity. You see women in construction, women in business consultancy, women who are selling dried fruits and nuts, women who are exporting soccer balls.

What is Afghanistan's business climate like today?

The overall business climate is very difficult for men and women. Afghanistan is particularly difficult because the terrain is so difficult, and it's so expensive to export from there, and it's so expensive to import, because almost everything has to be imported from Pakistan or Iran. But it's particularly difficult for women, because women are often farther outside social and economic networks. So it's often harder for them to get access to capital, harder for them to avoid corruption.

But women are continuing to start businesses, despite the obstacles. I think they are very adept on the ground at identifying market opportunities, because people really understand the power of business to make a difference. People have a very strong, inherent sense of why business matters—because people want to be able to feed their families. And they feel very strongly that the thing that will be there long after the internationals leave is entrepreneurship.

How are women able to start businesses despite minimal access to capital? Or is entrepreneurship largely restricted to women who already have financial support?

I think for larger-scale entrepreneurship, it's true—for men and women—that people who already have capital tend to do better. But for very small businesses, women just invest anything they're able to earn. So they get around the challenge of access to capital by starting small and then reinvesting all their profits. So they might sell, say, dried fruits and nuts. You work with a cooperative, and then the money you earn from getting a contract, let's say you supply a hotel, then you go back and maybe buy equipment from there. It's a slower path to growth, but it does work over the long term for many.

What do you think would be most beneficial for enhancing entrepreneurship opportunities for women in Afghanistan?

I think there are probably two things. One is governance in general, so that businesses can function. I think corruption is a real issue. It's very difficult on small business owners because it takes a lot off the top. If they're able to win government contracts, they're often expected to give a percentage of that in bribes. The second issue is access to capital and business training. I think that 10,000 Women from Goldman Sachs and other programs that are on the ground are doing a very good job of helping start some of the training and helping women get access to world-class management training, but the challenge is that there's no way to get capital to start businesses afterward. I think that helping women to have better access to small business loans—loan guarantee programs in particular—could make a big difference.

You've also covered entrepreneurship among women in Rwanda and Bosnia. Did you see any similarities to Afghan women in their paths to starting businesses?

Yes. I think entrepreneurs are born and not created, and so I think you see a lot of similarities among entrepreneurs in different parts of the world. Their backdrop may be very different, but their drive to create a business and to create jobs remains very much the same, whether it's in Silicon Valley or Kandahar or Kabul. In some ways, you almost have to be entrepreneurial to survive a war economy. Even during the Taliban years, the economy really collapsed. It was entrepreneurship that pulled a lot of people, such as Kamila's family, through because entrepreneurship allowed them to find openings and make them real opportunities.

Are there any lessons we can take from Afghanistan for encouraging entrepreneurship in the United States?

I think that sometimes people are frightened to take the risk of entrepreneurship. The one thing you learn from looking at places like Afghanistan is that the power of business to do good is enormous. In some ways, there are so few viable alternatives that it makes taking that risk less frightening, because there are so few other jobs that you might want to go to that are competing with your entrepreneurial drive. But then there are people like Kamila who are turning down very well paying jobs in the international community because they believe in the power of entrepreneurship. They are, I think, great examples of just how much entrepreneurship can do for not just one family but for a whole community.