Thursday, June 30, 2011

UN report outlines steps to prevent electoral violence in Asia

A new U.N. report warns that Asian nations are at risk of electoral violence, driven by real and perceived fraud and corruption, and stresses the need for strong oversight and other measures to strengthen election credibility.

In ‘Understanding Electoral Violence in Asia,’ the UN Development Programme (UNDP) studies electoral processes in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand, drawing lessons and making recommendations to reduce the risk of electoral violence. The mere suspicion or allegation of fraud is often enough in democracies where there is a lack of confidence in authorities for people to react violently, says the study.
According to the report, in a number of cases political parties and political party supporters were the main instigators of physical violence, citing several types of groups and organizations that play key roles in either preventing or perpetuating electoral violence.
The design of political systems, the mandate and powers of electoral laws and election monitoring, as well as the role of civic education, media and civil society in informing voters can all help to reduce or prevent the likelihood of election-related violence, it adds.
The report points out that the state itself can also contribute to election disorder. In instances where security forces are seen to be partisan or corrupt, there is a higher chance that they will be purveyors of violence rather than protectors of peace.
The media, when controlled by special interests, can also have a destructive role in promoting narrow interests, inflammatory political rhetoric and retarding democratic processes, it says.
The report recommends measures to strengthen election credibility, which it says is key to preventing electoral violence. These include strong oversight and enforcement powers for election commissions, wide-ranging dispute resolution mechanisms and systems to track party political spending, as well as ensuring perpetrators of electoral violence are brought to justice.

Afghan army violates borderline

Afghan National Army has violated the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderline again on Thursday by firing three mortar shells at the Pakistani border, Geo News reported.

According to sources, the mortar shells fired by the Afghan army fell 900 meters inside South Waziristan in the area of Angoradda.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Afghan army fired nine mortar shells and violated the borderline. However, no casualties were reported from the incident, sources added.

Pakistan has protested against the indiscriminate violation of border limits from the Afghan army.

Weight loss surgery may cure obese diabetics: study

Most obese people with diabetes will be cured of it by weight loss surgery, with gastric bypass surgery allowing more than 80 percent of patients to come off their diabetes medication, according to a study.

The report in Archives of Surgery concerned a review of earlier studies led by Rick Meijer, at the Institute for Cardiovascular Research at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, who said the findings exceeded what was possible with more conventional diabetes treatments.

"In standard practice, only a very minor group of individuals with an iron will can lose enough weight to be cured from type 2 diabetes mellitus," Meijer said in an email to Reuters Health, referring to the most common type of diabetes.

Meijer and his colleagues pooled data from nine studies of diabetics who underwent either a gastric bypass -- which makes the stomach smaller and allows food to bypass part of the small intestine -- or gastric band surgery, in which the capacity of the stomach is reduced by using an adjustable band.

Eight of the studies included between 23 and 177 patients, while the last one traced 82,000 people. Each followed patients for at least a year.

After gastric bypass, 83 percent of patients could stop taking their diabetes medications, some within days of the surgery. After gastric banding, 62 percent could stop.

"Surgery ought to be considered front line therapy for diabetes among obese people," said Jon Gould, who heads the weight loss surgery program at the University of Wisconsin and was not involved in the study.

Meijer said about 90 percent of cases of diabetes are due to excessive weight, though not all diabetics would be eligible for the weight loss surgery.

It's also unclear how long surgery's impact on diabetes can last. One study included in the review found that 10 years after surgery, just one third of people whose diabetes had abated still had good control of their blood sugar.

Surgery of course has the potential for complications that wouldn't occur with drugs.

One study followed patients up to a month after surgery found that 7 percent experienced some problems, mainly minor wound infections. But massive bleeding, kidney failure and other serious complications occurred in more than 2 percent of patients.

Other side effects include nausea and some food intolerance, with some patients also gaining weight back over time.

Gould said the initial cost of the surgery, compared to the extended costs of diabetes care and other health effects of being obese, can be recouped after 18 months to two years.

"It would be a huge upfront cost, but looking at this from the bigger picture, I think if we can cure instead of manage the complications, we will save money in the long run," he told Reuters Health.

What's behind the rioting in Greece?

Greek politicians have voted to bring in an unpopular package of austerity measures designed to rein in debt levels that threaten to destabilize the country's economy.

What are they voting for?

A harsh program of cuts proposed by Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou's government to meet requirements demanded in exchange for international rescue loans.

The aim is to cut $20 billion in public spending while raising a further $20 billion through taxes and privatization. This means increased VAT, higher levies on householders and companies and sharp hikes in fuel, alcohol and tobacco prices.

Spending cuts will see heavy public sector job losses, school closures and restrictions on welfare benefits. There will also be sell offs of state assets and ventures including the postal service and key ports.

Why is it needed?

Without the measures Greece's debt would continue to climb and there is a strong chance it will default on repayments. This would have severe ramifications on the country's economy and threaten its participation in the 17-nation eurozone.
International investors would desert, leaving the country in economic freefall. Greece is already receiving international money to help stave off a financial meltdown, but unless it agrees to impose the austerity package, it may be denied the next scheduled payment of a $156 billion bailout agreed last year.

Further bailouts could also be unforthcoming.

Why are people rioting?

Times are tough for the Greek people and anger and frustration at their predicament continues to boil over into civil unrest.

The country's parlous financial state has been widely blamed on years of mismanagement by politicians and businessmen and ordinary members are upset and being made to foot the bill through job cuts and tax hikes.

Greeks have already agreed to earlier austerity measures in 2010 which prompted street violence.

Greece's leading unions have been organizing strikes and the latest protests, which degenerated into rioting in central Athens on Tuesday. Further demonstrations on Wednesday quickly turned to sporadic violence.

Is there an alternative to the austerity package?

Other than face certain default and the financial chaos that would entail, Greece has little alternative if it wants to continue receiving international financial assistance.

Olli Rehn, a European Union commission leading the bloc's bailout discussions has warned that Greece has "no Plan B." If parliament fails to approve the austerity measures, it is possible they will be redrafted and put to a new vote, but this will further dent economic confidence in Greece.

The big question also facing Greece and its international backers is how to prevent further default down the line.

There are proposals to push back some debt payments to ease pressure -- but these will again be dependent on Greece's willingness to get its own finances in order.

What happens next?

Wednesday's vote covers the initial part of the austerity package to raise taxes and cut public spending. Now the measures have passed, parliament will vote on Thursday to change the law to allow them to be implemented.

Once the law is in place, Greece will receive its next bailout payment and European officials will begin discussing details of a second rescue deal.

With Greece facing many more tough decisions on the long road to recovery, there is a strong possibility of more protests and potentially more rioting.

Why does Greece matter?

The International Monetary Fund is pouring cash into Greece just so it can pay its debts. So are eurozone partners, much to the fury of people in countries such as Germany and France who question why their taxes should be used to pay for the profligacy of others.

However, there's good reason why the international financial community is rallying to Greece's aid. If Greece defaults, this could undermine confidence in other weak eurozone countries like Ireland and Portugal, pushing them into the same predicament.

The burden of similar bailouts could undermine the euro and threaten its future. A Greek default would also hurt major global financial institutions exposed to the country's debt, setting in motion a new worldwide banking crisis.

What if you're planning a trip to Greece?

One of Greece's economic saving graces is its tourism industry, which has continued to bring in billions of dollars annually even as the economy falters. But given the unrest and industrial action, there are concerns that the country is no longer a safe destination.

The U.S. State Department and British Foreign Office advise that most Greek vacations are trouble free, but warn citizens to avoid demonstrations in major urban centers and to be aware of strikes affecting flights, ferries and fuel availability.

The austerity measures are actually having some benefits for travellers, as the government strives to protect its tourism industry. Airport and ferry duties have been reduced, as has VAT on tourist accommodation.

British unions begin mass strike action

The British coalition government faces the most serious challenge ever by the unions as hundreds of thousands of teachers, civil servants and others move to protest their pensions, job cuts and pay freezes.
The 24-hour walkout means schools and colleges will be closed or running with the minimum staff as teachers and lecturers take action while all public sector departments where civil servants work including Job Centres and tax and benefit offices will be affected.
The action features members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and the University and College Union (UCU) who are especially angry over government's pensions reform saying the new arrangements will deliver “20%-50% less than the current pension scheme for a full career in public service”.They are also outraged by the prospects of paying more into their annual pension contributions while getting smaller payments after retirement.This comes as the massive march in London which is planned to be followed by a rally in Westminster has led to the Police to cancel all its personnel leaves to be able to tackle the situation.
The mass action is especially important as the government is pushing with a costly campaign in Libya, yet at home it is trying to persuade people that the cuts to their lives is meant to provide them a better future rather than funding more wars.
That point was echoed by the national convener of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German.
“The same people who tell us that the country 'can't afford' to pay pensions or provide public services have now entered into their third major war in 10 years - with no end in sight,” she said.

Saudi Arabia faces a revolution ― women driving

By Dale McFeatters
The world over a driver's license and access to a car are considered an important, even vital, personal freedom. It would not be surprising if some American teenagers believed it was enshrined somewhere in the Constitution.

All the world over, that is, except Saudi Arabia, the only nation that bans women from driving.

But change is coming, if slowly. Last Friday women were urged to drive when doing their routine errands and many did, often with their husbands beside them.

The last demonstration was 20 years ago and the 47 women who participated were labeled infidel whores, had their passports confiscated and if they worked for the government were fired by royal decree.

This time when the police acted, and many of them did not, the women were given tickets for driving without a license or escorted home and admonished not to drive again. However, many well-to-do women were technically driving legally because they had valid foreign licenses.

But this is the era of social media and videos of the women driving made it to YouTube and various Facebook pages. In fact, there is a special Saudi Facebook page, Women2Drive, and a website,

The organizer of the demonstration, Manal al-Sharif, was jailed last month for nine days as a cautionary warning but nine days is a relative inconvenience compared to what the earlier batch of women drivers went through.

There is no Saudi law against women driving but the government will not issue a woman a driver's license. Women do drive, usually pickup trucks, out in the country and in the desert.

But Saudi Arabia's harsh Wahabi version of Islam allows women virtually not rights, certainly not to drive. Women need the permission of their husband or male guardian to travel, study, hold a job, see the doctor, visit a government office or simply go outside. These religious strictures, like the dress code that calls for women to be completely covered, are enforced by religious police with nightsticks.

King Abdullah, a reformer but a very cautious one, believes women will one day drive in his country but he is ailing and his successor might not be so open-minded.

The driving ban is a growing source of international embarrassment to the kingdom but the factor ultimately driving the change is likely to be economic.

Women make up 60 percent of the country's college graduates and they are an increasingly important to a skilled workforce. It does the economy no good if they can't get to work in a timely fashion. And the 800,000 to 1 million foreign workers imported to chauffeur them around drain $4 billion a year out of the economy in remittances.

But perhaps the biggest restraint on women driving is fear of the unknown, what it would do to the kingdom's carefully calibrated social order. One protesting women driver told The New York Times "even a small fight would be revolutionary for Saudi Arabia." That's exactly what the religious leaders and their conservative allies are afraid of.

Siege in Kabul

Kabul was the latest scene of mayhem on Tuesday night when eight insurgents — three suicide bombers and the rest armed gunmen — stormed the Intercontinental Hotel, laying siege to the premises and the guests inside. The brazen attack and its counter-operation by NATO forces lasted some five hours, leaving 19 people dead including the eight militants. The ordeal ended only when NATO helicopters fired rockets at the Taliban insurgents positioned on the roof of the hotel. This was a well-orchestrated attack and has, no doubt, placed the US drawdown plan in a whole new light.

The Intercontinental Hotel has been largely abandoned by foreigners and important guests in favour of the better guarded Serena Hotel. That is why it is surprising that on the day this attack happened, a meeting of provincial governors was slated to take place in the hotel and another was to be conducted the next day (Wednesday) on the topic of the transition process. There is no doubt that the timing of the attack was related to this high level meeting that, surprisingly, was not held at the Serena. This extremely complex and defiant attack proves what keen analysts have been saying all along: we can talk about withdrawal of US troops but what are they actually leaving behind? No doubt, a country wracked by civil war and terrorism.

The dialogue being initiated between the US and the insurgents who are willing to ‘negotiate’ and ‘rehabilitate’ seems flimsy. There is no way all the insurgent Taliban are on board for these talks. It is now being speculated that the Taliban faction that is willing to talk to the US is Mullah Omar’s as he has distanced himself from al Qaeda. However, the Haqqani network is still a close ally of al Qaeda. No surprise then that the Haqqani group has claimed responsibility for this attack — following the same pattern of its terror attacks aimed at targets in Kabul. This is devastating for the US withdrawal plan. With a vehement strain of the Taliban attacking the US and showing their defiance at any mention of negotiation, the transition process will find it difficult to make headway. The attack on the Intercontinental Hotel is just the latest spoiler in the run up to the potential peace process that is embryonically underway. Hope seems bleak in front of the looming spectre of civil war.

Saudi Religious Police Detained 5 Women for Driving, Group Reports

The religious police in Saudi Arabia arrested five women on Tuesday for driving in defiance of a ban on women getting behind the wheel in the conservative kingdom, according to activists and local media reports.

Saudi Women for Driving, an informal coalition of leading Saudi women’s rights activists, bloggers and academics, said in a statement that the women were arrested in Jidda, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city.

“If Saudi police think arresting women drivers is going to stop what has already become the largest women’s rights movement in Saudi history, they are sorely mistaken,” the coalition said in a statement released by, a Web site where members can create and promote online petitions for social change. “On the contrary, these arrests will encourage more women to get behind the wheel in direct defiance of this ridiculous abuse of our most basic human rights.”

The coalition said that the religious police arrested four of the women when they were driving in the Dorat al Arous neighborhood in Jidda, a port city along the Red Sea. The four, ages 21 and 22 and riding in one car, were taken to a police station, where they signed a pledge not to drive again, the group’s report said. A fifth woman was arrested later Tuesday night while driving in the neighborhood of Suleimaniyah.

Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi blogger and a member in the coalition, said that all the women have been released. “This will not scare us,” she said.

Sabq, a Saudi news Web site, reported one of the women was arrested after residents told the police about an unveiled woman driving a car. The Web site said that the woman was driving with her brother and that they were both taken into custody.

On June 17, a group of Saudi women launched a nationwide right-to-drive campaign, in which 42 women took to the road. They said their campaign was inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, where street protests toppled the authoritarian governments of Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of the United States and female leaders in Europe announced support for the right-to-drive campaign.

The campaign came a month after Manal Al-Sharif, a Saudi mother, was arrested for driving her car in late May.

The arrests Tuesday were the first to be reported in the oil-rich kingdom since the campaign began.

Saudi Arabian law does not forbid women from driving, but a religious fatwa dictates that Saudi women must be driven by male drivers or male family members.

Women in the kingdom live under many restrictions. They must also have written permission from a male guardian — a father, son, husband or brother — to leave the country, work or undergo a medical operation.

Lake Saiful Maluk, Lalazar continue to dazzle sightseers

An excursion tour to the lush green Kaghan valley remains incomplete without taking the adventurous jeep ride to Lake Saiful Maluk

and Lalazar meadows if one is short of time to roam around Shogran, Sari Paya, Lalusar and Babusar Top.

The 50 to 60 minutes jeep journey to Lake Saiful Maluk, situated at an altitude of 10,500 feet above sea level and at a distance of 10 kilometres from Naran town, is as much enjoyable as the exotic boat ride at the crystalline waters of the lake, which is tributary of the Kunhar River.

Pony ride is another option available for reaching the lake besides walking the entire way that takes about three hours. A fleet of about 50 jeeps ply the Naran-Lake Saiful Maluk route and a jeep could be rented for Rs1,800 to Rs2,000 for the two-way travel. Though tourist season in Kaghan valley begins in mid-May and closes in mid-October, the ideal summer climate is June to September.

“The three months (June to August) is peak season for us as snowfall normally starts in late October,” stated one of the three jeep drivers taking a group of Peshawar-based journalists to Lake Saiful Maluk.

However, the travel to the picturesque Lalazar pastureland, situated 21 kilometres onward from Naran, is not as much exhausting as it is on the just 15 to 20 minutes drive from Batakundi on the main Naran-Babusar road.

A rest house of the Forest Department and two small hotels are available to provide food and drinks to the visitors besides a limited accommodation facility.

“The forest rest house was constructed in the 50s but unfortunately the road leading to the area has yet to gain attention of the authorities. The residents repair the road on self-help basis or through donation from tourists. Since the land here is jointly owned [shamilat], landlords are not allowing proper road construction,” complained Imtiaz Hussain, the owner of a small hotel. He held the elected public representatives responsible for keeping the area backward. Lalazar can attract a large number of tourists that would lead to economic prosperity of the local population if the road were blacktopped, he added.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Industries Syed Ahmad Hussain Shah, who was elected from the Kaghan valley constituency, along with Minister for Sports and Tourism Syed Aqil Shah, announced the establishment of the Kaghan Development Authority (KDA) and installation of state-of-the-art chairlift from Naran to the Saiful Maluk Lake.

The announcement was made at the concluding ceremony of the three-day Kaghan festival organised by the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The ministers revealed the provincial government decision to establish KDA and execute more than Rs2 billion rupees chairlift project during the current fiscal year. They promised taking concrete steps for promoting tourism in the area.

During the opening ceremony, Aqil Shah also announced holding of Kaghan festival on regular basis and said that from now on it would be part of the tourism calendar like the Shandoor polo festival.

Kabul much safer than it was: Obama

US President Barack Obama insisted on Wednesday that Kabul is "much safer than it was" but said he expected attacks like the one on the Intercontinental Hotel to continue for "some time".

Nine heavily armed Taliban militants, some in suicide vests, stormed the hotel late on Tuesday, sparking a ferocious battle with Afghan commandos and a Nato helicopter gunship that left at least 21 dead, including the attackers.

The brazen attack, which left the landmark hotel on a hill overlooking the capital ablaze for hours, was seen as a direct rebuttal from the Taliban to Obama's claims of progress as he seeks to wind up the 10-year-old war.

It came only days after Obama announced the "beginning of the end" of the conflict in Afghanistan and tried to reassure American voters ahead of his 2012 re-election campaign that the "tide of war is receding".

In his first public comments on the Intercontinental attack, Obama insisted that the Afghan forces who are responsible for security in Kabul are doing "a reasonably good job" and their capacity is increasing.

"Keep in mind the drawdown hasn't begun. So we understood that Afghanistan is a dangerous place, that the Taliban is still active, and that there are still going to be events like this on occasion," he said.

Haqqani network leader suspected in Kabul hotel attack killed

A top Haqqani network leader suspected of providing support for Tuesday's deadly attack at a Kabul hotel was killed in an airstrike in southeast Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force said Thursday.

Ismail Jan, who is the deputy to the senior Haqqani commander, and several fighters were killed in a precision airstrike Wednesday in Paktiya province.

Jan was an insurgent leader in the Khost-Gardez Pass area, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the international coalition said.

Afghan government officials blamed the al Qaeda-linked militant group for the siege on the Kabul Hotel Inter-Continental that left 12 victims and all nine attackers dead.

The level of violence in the country was signficantly higher in the past three months than it was in the same period last year, the United Nations said Thursday.

There were 17 suicide attacks in April 2011, more than in any single month last year, the world body said.

Kandahar suffered the most, with most of the incidents in the quarter taking place in the city or nearby.Nearly 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded, 80% of them as a result of "anti-government elements."

The attackers who struck the Hotel Inter-Contintental were with the Haqqani network, said the Afghan interior ministry.

The group of terrorists loyal to the warlord Siraq Haqqani is based in Pakistan.

They entered the hotel late Tuesday night by avoiding the main entrance and attacking a smaller one on the other side of the hotel that was guarded by two Afghan police, said Falak Merzahi, a spokesman for the interior ministry.

The attackers killed the two officers and stormed the hotel, Merzahi said.

Six of the attackers ended up detonating their explosives; three were shot and killed on the roof of the hotel, Afghan officials said.

Although a NATO helicopter carrying International Security Assistance Force snipers flew to the scene and fired at the attackers, Merzahi said it was Afghan army soldiers who ultimately killed the three gunmen on the roof.

ISAF said its forces stopped firing on the roof when Afghan soldiers arrived.

The 12 others killed are two police officers, nine Afghans and one foreigner, Merzahi said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the attack will not interrupt the planned handover of power from international forces to Afghan troops.

President Barack Obama has said U.S. troops will start withdrawing from Afghanistan in July, and that a military handover should be completed in 2014.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bhutto was hanged in haste: Attorney General

The Attorney General of Pakistan said on Wednesday that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged after a rushed decision and that the Supreme Court needs to re-examine his murder trial, DawnNews reported.

The attorney general said that a sentence cannot be implemented within seven days of the issuance of a black warrant, however, in Bhutto’s case, he was hanged within 12 hours of the warrant being issued against him.

An eleven-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is hearing the Bhutto reference case.

The hearing of the case has been adjourned until July and the date will be announced depending on the availability of the bench.

Rights violations worsen in Balochistan: HRCP

Human rights violations in Pakistan’s southwest province of Balochistan are getting worse as militants and security forces target civilians, while authorities seem unwilling to rein in lawlessness, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent non-governmental organisation, said in its report that lawlessness in the province had proliferated at an alarming rate with a growing numbers of targeted killings, kidnappings, enforced disappearances and attacks on religious minorities.

For decades, Balochistan has been facing a low-level insurgency by nationalists who want more control over the province’s natural resources, which they say are unfairly exploited by the federal government.

Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairwoman, said at least 140 mutilated bodies of people gone missing had been found in the past year.

“A very dangerous trend has emerged that those who disappeared were now found dead on roadsides. The bodies have torture marks,” she told a news conference at an Islamabad hotel.

HRCP report says 143 people have gone missing since 2009 but Yusuf said the number could be much higher because the commission reported only those cases which it could verify.

There was evidence to substantiate families’ claims that victims were kidnapped by security forces or had been killed while in custody, she added.

Yusuf said insurgents and religious extremists were also involved in killings of ethnic and religious minorities.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest and poorest province, borders Afghanistan and Iran, and has large mineral reserves, including oil, gas, copper and gold.

Due to the continued violence and insecurity, most foreign and local investors avoid investing money in Balochistan, which hinders its development.

Yusuf warned that the insurgency could flare up if the government continued to fail to implement a political solution to the Baluchistan situation.

“The Baluchistan government seems non-existent,” she said.

“They have surrendered their authority to security forces and they (forces) are calling the shots,” she said.

Nawaz League has failed in Punjab

Opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz Ahmed on Tuesday said the the Nawaz League had utterly failed in Punjab and soon its so-called popularity graph would descend further.

“The party (PML-N) leadership ran amok for lust of power and time is not off when they will be out of power even from the Punjab province,” he said while talking to reporters outside the Punjab Assembly.

Riaz regretted that “unscrupulous elements” were bent to “finish” the Punjab Assembly but he announced they would foil any such move with the support of masses. He said PPP was a popular party and its leaders by sacrificing their lives had made it invincible.

Riaz said that the Peoples Party had emerged as a single majority party in the AJK polls and hoped it would form a government independently. However, he said other political parties would also be invited to join the government as coalition partner.

While answering a question, he said the MQM was their allied party they would soon reconcile with it for the sake of democracy in the country.

“MQM people are good they will surely return to alliance,” Riaz said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa:Sleepless nights in resource-rich province
By-Sadia Qasim Shah
People are spending sleepless nights and living under a constant misery due to excessive power breakdowns. Looking at how things are, those responsible seem to be just some sadists. Indeed, these are hard times for a common man.

All the government has been doing in the recent years is to move clocks one hour forward to save power in an effort to cheat the reality of record loadshedding with no cogent plan to solve the problem.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, excessive power outages have affected everyone`s life. People of the urban areas are suffering frequent and unannounced power breakdowns while in rural areas people have to put up without electricity most of the time. Those seem to be reliving times when electricity was not provided; life was peaceful then, we hear from the aged ones.

One wonders why the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province rich with hydel, natural gas and mineral resources is so poor when it comes to facilities derived from these resources.

But why would those having a facility think about the have-nots. The lucky ones don`t need to worry about loadshedding as they have resources to manage heavy-duty generators. The VIPs or those who are just very important persons because they have been elected by people or assigned duty to serve the public and the country are enjoying double power connections. If one power-line goes off the other is turned on.

In this darkness, there are some rays of hope. The Peshawar High Court is hearing a suo motu case against excessive power outages by the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco). Now one is not sure whether the case would continue to be heard during the entire summer and make any difference in the lives of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but at least it questioned the power utility and the relevant bodies about the hike in power tariffs, distribution system and excessive and discriminatory loadshedding hours in urban and rural areas.

The PHC also asked about their failure to meet the requirement of 1.7 million electricity consumers of the province, which is generating at least 3,600 MW hydel power against its consumption of 1,700 MW. Interestingly, around 17 per cent of the total generated electricity has been assigned to the Pesco under the government`s approved policy.

The ongoing court case has raised some serious questions based on latest facts and figures about the province`s capacity to produce hydel power and the little share it is receiving.

Another positive move to safeguard the public interest was initiated by the Human Rights Commission of South Asia by filing public interest litigation against the power tariff increase by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) for Pesco consumers. One very pertinent point it has raised is that the Nepra should provide the due share of power to the Pesco consumers and end loadshedding before increasing the tariff.

The commission has also questioned the imposition of fuel adjustment charges on the province, which is producing hydel power with the lowest rate of Rs1.01 per unit for the Central Power Purchase Agency (CPPA) and buying the same back at an average rate of almost Rs10 per unit from the Pesco.

The commission has contended that since there is no thermal generation or IPP unit in the province, therefore, imposition of fuel adjustment charges on the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is unjust and unconstitutional.

Whether judiciary would get the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa some justice and alleviate the troubles related to excessive power outages? Hope is after all what keeps you going in tough times.

Entire world's eyes fixed on Bhutto reference case: CJ

Attorney General arguing in the presidential reference on revisiting Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) murder case said that the executions normally carried out during 7 to 21 days of death warrant, while in the case of Bhutto it was hastily done.

The chief justice advised AG to present the constitutional and legal rationales and refrain from repeating the arguments of Babar Awan representing the federation.

Supreme Court eleven-member bench headed by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was hearing the case this morning here.

Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Huque in his arguments further said that the Lahore High Court acted as the trial court in Bhutto case brazenly negating the court orders.

Chief Justice in his remarks said that the presidential reference relates to an international personality’s case on which the entire world’s eyes were fixed on it and added that the court would answer only those questions raised in the reference.

Entire world's eyes fixed on Bhutto reference case: CJ

China rolls out red carpet for Sudan president

China rolled out the red carpet Wednesday for a state visit by Sudan's president, who is wanted on an international warrant that accuses him of war crimes.
President Omar al-Bashir was visiting China, a major trading partner and investor in his country, just days before southern Sudan becomes independent and with the warrant from the International Criminal Court hanging over his head.
Al-Bashir was greeted by President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People and given an honor guard reception.
Hu said he was very happy to see al-Bashir in Beijing.
"I believe that this visit will definitely have great significance for the consolidation and development of traditionally friendly relations between China and Sudan," Hu said. "I am willing to have thorough exchanges with you on our developing relations and other shared issues."
Al-Bashir thanked his hosts for his "warm welcome and treatment."
Their talks are expected to focus on challenges in the African nation ahead of south Sudan's independence July 9.
Violence has escalated in areas contested by the north and soon-to-be-independent south, and China has said its wants both sides to peacefully settle the disputes.
South Sudan's declaration of independence next month will be the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war that killed more than 2 million people.
The violence also resulted in the war crimes charges against al-Bashir, the first against a sitting head of state until similar charges this week against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who is accused him of crimes against humanity for killing civilians who rose up against his rule.
China is not a member of the court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, and has said the charges accusing al-Bashir of orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur could cause further instability in the region.
China has major oil investments in Sudan and has long had close ties with the leaders of the north. It has been courting support in the oil-producing south.
Several agreements are expected to be signed while al-Bashir is in Beijing. The China National Petroleum Corp., which signed a 20-year, multibillion-dollar development deal with Sudan in June 2007, signed an agreement Tuesday with the Sudan government to boost cooperation. A company statement did not give details.
Al-Bashir's arrival in China was delayed a day after still not fully explained confusion over a flight plan.
Sudan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Sudan News Agency that al-Bashir's plane had been instructed to change its route while flying over Turkmenistan but was unable to do so, and instead returned to Tehran.

Polo played for first time in Swat

Polo was introduced in Swat valley during the ‘Spirit of Swat Festival’ being held in collaboration with the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation & Settlement Authority (PaRRSA) and the United Nations Development Programme.

The Swat Green team won the trophy by defeating the Swat Red team at the Kabal Ground. It was the first time that polo was played in Swat and a match was held. The initial round of the match ended in a draw as both teams scored a goal each. The Swat Green played well subsequently, made some smart moves and scored three consecutive goals to win the match.

Commissioner Malakand Fakhar-e-Alam and Brigadier (R) Kamal Zaib were the chief guests on the occasion. Captain Adil and Col Khalid of the Swat Green were the scorers with three and two goals, respectively.

Talking to reporters, the commissioner admired the event and the players and said the successful holding of the polo match was reflective of restoration of peace in the area. He thanked the organisers and spectators who thronged the venue. Later, prizes were distributed among players.

Pakistan says stop “blame game” at US, Afghan talks

Pakistan on Tuesday called for the “blame game” to stop as the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan met to discuss security in the region amid a Taliban insurgency and heightened tensions over cross border shelling.

President Hamid Karzai has condemned the firing of 470 rockets from Pakistan into Afghanistan over the past three weeks. Islamabad says only that “a few accidental rounds” may have crossed the border when it pursued militants who had attacked its security forces.

The escalation of fighting on the border between Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal areas and Afghanistan has underscored the difficulties the three countries face in working together to reach a political settlement to the 10-year Afghan war.

“We need to end this blame-game,” Salman Bashir, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, told a news conference after a meeting of three countries in Kabul, without making any specific reference to border shelling.

“We need to take ownership for our own affairs, this problem will not go away if we keep on pointing finger at each other, we have done it for too long and I think it is time that our two great nations decide.”

Afghanistan has often blamed elements within the Pakistan government for supporting the Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan blames Afghanistan for giving refuge to militants on its side of the border, particularly in eastern Kunar province, leaving it vulnerable to counter-attack when it chases them out of its own tribal areas.

The talks were formally aimed at mapping out plans for reconciliation with the Taliban, but the shelling had been expected to dominate the agenda.

The meeting, between US envoy Marc Grossman and top diplomats from Afghanistan and Pakistan, followed President Barack Obama’s announcement last week of a faster-than-expected troop withdrawal, accompanied by talks with the Taliban.

Top military commanders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States met in Kabul on Monday to review the situation on the border, a Pakistan army statement said.

Pakistan, badly bruised after US forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 2, is keen to show it has a constructive role to play in helping the United States to bring stability to Afghanistan.

It has long wanted the United States to hold talks with the Taliban to seek a political settlement to the Afghan conflict which it says is fuelling its own domestic religious insurgency.

The United States has come some way towards sharing that view, opening its own preliminary talks with the Taliban.

Karzai has also been pushing for reconciliation with the Taliban and for the first time in the 10-year war, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States all share — in theory at least — a commitment to seek a political settlement.

Attack on hotel in Kabul ends with deaths of 7 Taliban, 11 others

Seven Taliban attacked Kabul's Hotel Inter-Continental in a brazen, carefully orchestrated operation that began Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday, ending with their deaths and those of 11 other people some six hours after it began, police said.
"We are still searching the hotel; the death number may increase," said Chief of Criminal Investigations Mohammad Zahir on Wednesday morning. Twelve people were wounded or injured, he added.
"The situation is secure," Interior Minister Bismullah Khan said. By then, the top floor of the hotel was ablaze, but within a couple of hours, the flames were gone, though smoke continued to rise from the wreckage.
Two security personnel were killed in the attack, he said.
By dawn, security forces were allowing reporters to approach the hotel, and some guests were seen departing.Saiz Ahmed, a U.S. citizen in Kabul for a Ph.D. project, was among them. "I'm sure none of us thought we were going to make it," he said after having stayed on the floor of his darkened bedroom for more than five hours listening to gunfire and occasional bomb blasts. "I wrote my little will -- just in case."
The Taliban penetrated the hotel's typically heavy security in the attack, and one of them detonated an explosion on the second floor, said Erin Cunningham, a journalist for The Daily in Kabul.
Rocket-propelled grenades were launched from the roof of the hotel toward the first vice president's house. A few moments later, the hotel was rocked by three explosions, one of which knocked her off her feet, Cunningham said. U.S. forces were on the scene, she added.
At about 2 a.m., four hours after the attack began, International Security Assistance Force helicopters fired at insurgents on the roof, killing as many as three of the gunmen, ISAF spokesman Maj. Tim James told CNN.
An hour later, ISAF said the Afghan security forces had cleared the roof and were clearing the rest of the hotel.
At 4 a.m., police believed that all the attackers were dead, "but one was alive and hidden, and he started to resist" and continued to do so until 6:20 a.m., Zahir said.
Kabul hotel guest describes attack Taliban claims Kabul hotel attack
Operates primarily in Afghanistan, Pakistan since 1994

Imposed strict Islamic laws, particularly on women, in Afghanistan

Controlled Afghan government from 1996-2001 until overthrow by U.S. forces

Led by Mullah Mohammed Omar

Mullah Omar and senior Taliban leaders believed to be living in Quetta
The Taliban
At least one of the attackers detonated his explosives, said Afghan Lt. Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi, the city's chief of police.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in an e-mail that the suicide attackers entered the hotel after killing the security guards at the entrance.
"One of the suicide attackers told us on the phone that they are in the lobby and chasing guests into their rooms by smashing the doors of the rooms," Mujahid told CNN in an e-mail he sent as the incident was unfolding.
There were no indications that U.S. military or diplomatic personnel were at the hotel, U.S. officials told CNN.
The Inter-Continental is popular among international guests. A news conference had been scheduled to take place there Wednesday to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces that U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week. Obama was briefed on the attack while en route back to Washington from Iowa, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Members of the Afghan National Security Forces were on the scene, but the city police had the lead, ISAF Maj. Jason Waggoner said in a statement. Waggoner said ISAF forces provided "some limited assistance."
Electricity around the hotel was shut off, said Jerome Starkey, a reporter for The Times.
The United States condemned the attack on the hotel, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saying it "once again demonstrates the terrorists' complete disregard for human life."
The hotel was developed by the InterContinental Hotels Group and opened in 1969. But it has had no association with the group since the Soviet invasion in 1979, though it continues to use the name and logo without connection to the parent company.
The incident came on the same day that Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell announced that NATO and other members of the international community involved in Afghanistan have decided to increase the number of security forces in the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to 352,000.
The current number of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is about 300,000, the commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan and commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command told the Atlanta Press Club.
The increased number will be sufficient to give the Afghans security without coalition forces having to do it, he said.
Tuesday's attack recalls a November 2008 assault on luxury hotels in Mumbai, India, which left more than 160 dead, including nine of the 10 gunmen who launched the attacks.
Officials said the gunmen targeted the Oberoi and the Taj Mahal hotels for their popularity with international travelers and tourists. The Taj Mahal was set afire.
The three-day stand-off between gunmen and police ended with the capture of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman. Kasab was sentenced to death in 2010 and is awaiting an appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court in New Delhi. India says Kasab has told investigators that he and the others were trained for more than a year in Pakistan by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a banned Islamic militant group.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kuwait arrests duo over Twitter comments

Kuwait will put two citizens on trial for criticising Gulf Arab ruling families on social media site Twitter, a security official said.

Nasser Abul, a Kuwaiti Shiite Muslim, was arrested for posting criticisms of the Sunni Muslim ruling families in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and Lawrence al-Rashidi posted defamatory comments of Kuwait's emir, the official said.

He said both would remain in detention for two more weeks before a hearing is scheduled, where they will likely face charges of harming the Gulf Arab state's interests and defaming the country's ruler after being arrested earlier in June.

Democracy activists have used social media such as Facebook and Twitter to debate, organise and share information in Bahrain, where the kingdom's Sunni rulers crushed a protest movement in March led mostly by the country's Shiite majority.

Bahrain called in troops from Sunni-led neighbours such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to enforce its crackdown.

OPEC member Kuwait, which has a Shiite minority, sent naval forces.

Bahrain questioned a rights activist in April for publishing an image which appeared to show signs of torture on a man who died in detention during the unrest.

It is not clear if the case will be brought to court.

Gulf Arab states, run by closely-allied ruling families, are trying to prevent protest movements that brought down Egyptian and Tunisian leaders earlier this year from taking off in their patch.

Afghans Build Security, and Hope to Avoid Infiltrators

For someone who had once joined an insurgent group, and whose family was tied to a top Taliban commander, Akmal had a strikingly easy path into the Afghan National Army.The district governor who approved his paperwork had never met him. A village elder who was supposed to vouch for him — as required by recruiting mandates — did little more than verify his identity.

No red flags went up when, after just six weeks in the army, he deserted. He returned more than three months later with the skimpiest of explanations and was allowed to rejoin. “I told them I got sick,” Akmal recalled.

Now Akmal, 18, who like many Afghans goes by one name, could face the death penalty for his admitted part in a suicide bombing on May 22 that killed six people on the grounds of the Afghan national military hospital.

He also helped in another suicide attack in February on a shopping mall in the capital, while he was absent without leave from the army, he said in an interview with The New York Times after his capture last month.

President Obama’s announcement last week of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan made clear that, more than ever, the onus is on Afghans to take responsibility for their own security. But the story of how Akmal went from jihadist to Afghan soldier and back again demonstrates the many problems that still plague the Afghan army and police force. These include the danger of Taliban infiltration, the divided loyalties of many recruits and even officers, and the sometimes explosive tensions between them and the foreign forces who are supposed to train them.

Interviews with intelligence officers, family members and other conspirators supported Akmal’s account. The Taliban never asked Akmal to join the Afghan National Army, he said. But once inside, he proved a useful tool. So have many others, NATO data show.

In the past two and a half years, 47 NATO soldiers have been killed by Afghan soldiers or police officers. Many of those deaths were the result of arguments that turned violent. But infiltrators are suspected in some of the cases, including one in which an Afghan soldier detonated a vest at an Afghan military base and another when a police officer killed the police chief at the Kandahar police headquarters.

As NATO hurries to build an Afghan security force of nearly 400,000 members by the end of 2014, Afghan military and intelligence officials concede that the task of screening the more than 8,000 army and police recruits who enlist each month is monumental.

“The army cannot do investigations for each individual person who joins,” said Gen. Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry.

This month, intelligence officials arrested a dozen people within the Defense and Interior Ministries, including an army colonel and a major, accusing them of aiding in an attack on the Defense Ministry headquarters in Kabul in April that left two soldiers dead.

Officials with the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan say there is no evidence to suggest that infiltration is widespread. Still, they began bringing 80 counterintelligence officers and specialists to Afghanistan this month to enhance the recruit screening process.

“There’s a major effort to turn Afghans once they’re already inside the security forces, as well as a push to infiltrate existing militants into the ranks,” said a senior United States military officer who is helping to oversee the influx.

The Taliban use a range of tactics, including paying relatives who are sympathetic to the insurgents, to lure Afghan security forces into cooperating with them. “They’re even trying cold-calling on their cellphones to see who might be interested,” said the American officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Akmal enlisted in the military for the same reason many people do: to escape poverty. But his heart remained with the insurgency. Though he was offered money, about $290, to help in the hospital attack, he considered it supplemental income and not a motivating factor, he said.

His background offered hints of trouble. He grew up in Shakar Dara, a small farming district north of Kabul that at one time had been a hotbed of Taliban activity.

His father had served under Anwar Dangar, a top Taliban commander, Akmal said. His uncle was Mr. Dangar’s brother-in-law, though the uncle said in an interview that he had cut ties to the Dangar family.

That uncle raised Akmal and his older brother from the time they were young, after their mother died and their father disappeared. But last year, he kicked them out.

With nowhere to go, his brother joined the police. Akmal went the opposite direction, following a friend named Waris — Mr. Dangar’s nephew — to eastern Afghanistan, where they joined Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an insurgent group. Frustrated that the group was not doing much fighting, Akmal returned to Kabul a month later and, desperate for work, joined the army.

Under guidelines established in September 2009, all army and police recruits must undergo criminal background checks, drug screening and biometric scans as part of an eight-step vetting process. But in a country where computers are rare and many criminal matters are handled through the informal justice system, background checks are difficult. So a key step requires that two village elders or guarantors sign letters testifying to the recruit’s “identity and motivation to serve.”

But both those who signed Akmal’s letters said they knew little about him.

“All I do is something like, ‘I confirm that this guy lives in this place and he is the son of this man,’ ” said Malik Mohammad Din, the head elder in Akmal’s village. “And then I stamp it and sign it.”

He added that he did not know Akmal had ever joined the insurgency, or he would not have signed. The district governor, Mehrabudin, said, “I sign the letters because the elder knows that person well and so I give my approval.”

Akmal was assigned to the 53rd Health Battalion and began training as a combat medic at the national military hospital in Kabul. He shared his insurgent sympathies with no one. But told his unit would be sent to the front lines after its training, he quickly deserted. “I didn’t want to fight the Taliban and kill them,” he said.

By then, his friend Waris, with the help of Afghan associates in Pakistan, was plotting a suicide bombing of Kabul City Center, a shopping mall. Akmal agreed to help stake out the target, instructing the bomber where to go to kill the most foreigners.

The plan called for the bomber to blow himself up deep inside the crowded mall, but security guards stopped him at the entrance and he set the vest off, killing himself and two guards.

Afterward, Akmal fled briefly to Pakistan, but returned to Kabul a month later. Finding himself homeless again, he rejoined the army, saying he had been hospitalized with an infectious disease to explain his absence.

That he was allowed back was troubling but not unusual, Afghan and NATO officials said. Afghan soldiers often leave without permission to help their families. In fact, there is no penalty for desertion, according to the Defense Ministry.

“There is not yet a culture in the military that says you can’t go away and do harvests and come back,” said Maj. Gen. D. Michael Day, deputy commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

A few weeks after Akmal rejoined, Waris called with a new target: the national military hospital. Akmal’s job would be to supply an army uniform and arrange for the bomber to get past the guards at the heavily fortified complex. Akmal called his brother, the police officer, who is also now in custody, for help.

Two days before the attack, Akmal went to the home of another of the conspirators in Shakar Dara and met the suicide bomber, a burly Pakistani, for the first time. That night Akmal taught him how to walk like a soldier and gave him his army uniform and boots. As a final preparation, they rigged a grenade fuse to the suicide vest.

The next morning, Waris and Akmal escorted the bomber by taxi into Kabul. Inside a restroom at the Pul-e-Khesthi Mosque downtown, the bomber changed into the uniform, the vest hidden underneath. Outside the hospital, where Akmal’s brother had arranged for the bomber to pass through, Akmal gave the bomber a cellphone and they left him.

A few minutes later, Akmal called. The bomber told him he was seated under a tree outside a hospital dining tent, where dozens of medical trainees were just sitting down to lunch. As Akmal and Waris’s taxi weaved through downtown traffic, a report of a suicide blast at the hospital blared over the radio.

Akmal dialed the phone again. This time, no one answered.

Punjabi Taliban enemies of Pakistan

The Punjabi Taliban are the enemies of Pakistan and they should be dealt with accordingly, Punjab Governor Latif Khosa said on Monday.

They are the enemies of Islam and humanity,” Khosa told a news conference at the Governor’s House.

Suicide attacks were forbidden in Islam, he said. However, the governor stopped short while supporting military action against the strongholds of the Taliban in Punjab.

Separately, Khosa said that no political force was in favour of “derailing democracy”, adding that a strong political system would guarantee a strong economy.

“I don’t think any political force believes in third-party takeovers. No political force wants that democracy should be derailed,” he said.

The governor said that the recent boiling political atmosphere in the wake of the elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir would subside after the success of the Pakistan People’s Party’s.

“I understand that temperature can rise when such events take place,” he said in indirect reference to the blame-game between Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari. “The tolerance level of Zardari is quite high,” Khosa said, suggesting that whatever Nawaz was saying against the PPP leader had little effect on him.

The governor showed his unease at the way Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was running the affairs of the government. “I will continue to remind him that he is bound by law to keep the governor informed about administrative decisions,” Khosa said.

Monday, June 27, 2011

US to provide technical assistance for FM radios

The US government will provide technical assistance for establishment of FM Radio stations of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and improvement in their managerial, operational and production capabilities under an agreement signed here at the Chief Minster`s House on Monday.

In this regard, Acting US Consul General Ms Constance C. Arvis and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Director Information Shoaibuddin Khan signed the letter of agreement in the presence of the chief minister, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Secretary Information Azmat Haneef.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Hoti said that his government was well aware of the importance and outreach of radio broadcast and that was why they had allocated funds in annual development programme for establishment of as many as 24 FM Radio stations throughout the province, says a handout.

He said that these radio stations would be run with the involvement of local communities so as to bring their problems to light. The chief minister said that were fully aware of the genuine needs of the people at grass-roots level and committed to solution of their problems.

The provincial government, he said, had also planned the establishment of its own television station, for the feasibility study was under way.

The chief minister said that the provincial government had evolved a communication strategy to reach the people and the establishment of FM Radio stations and the TV channel was part of it.

He said that radio was an effective medium among the mass communication channels through which a large portion of population could easily be accessed.

Ms Arvis assured the chief minister that the US government would fully support the development of local media in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Kayani in Kabul: Pakistan comes under fire for cross border shelling

Fighting across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border will overshadow talks when the two countries meet along with the United States on Tuesday to map-out plans for reconciliation with the Taliban.
Pakistan on Monday rejected Afghan allegations it had fired 470 rockets into Afghanistan over the past three weeks, saying only that “a few accidental rounds” may have crossed the border when it pursued militants who had attacked its security forces. Afghanistan voiced its anger as Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, met with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his presidential palace in Kabul on Monday.
Kayani is in Afghanistan to attend a tripartite commission comprising him, Chief of the Afghan General Staff, General Sher Mahammed Karimi, and General David H. Petreaus Chief of the Afghan General Staff, General Sher Mahammed Karimi, and General David H. Petreaus.
The escalation of fighting on the border between Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal areas and Afghanistan has underscored the difficulties the three countries face in working together to reach a political settlement to the 10-year Afghan war.
“I think the main thing on the agenda this time may be the situation on the border,” said Waheed Mujhda, political analyst at the Afghan Analytical and Advisory Centre in Kabul.
The meeting, between US envoy Marc Grossman and top diplomats and military commanders from Afghanistan and Pakistan including,, follows President Barack Obama’s announcement last week of a faster-than-expected troop withdrawal, accompanied by talks with the Taliban.
“It’s a way to coordinate efforts on reconciliation but also a way for Afghanistan and the US to state clearly to the government of Pakistan … to end the support by Pakistan of safe havens,” Grossman told a news conference.
Pakistan blames Afghanistan for giving refuge to militants on its side of the border, particularly in eastern Kunar province, leaving it vulnerable to counter-attack when it chases them out of its own tribal areas.
Top military commanders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States met in Kabul on Monday to review the situation on the border, a Pakistan army statement said.
Generals Ashfaq Kayani, Sher Mohammad Karimi and David Petraeus looked at ways of improving the effectiveness of operations, the statement said.
“Steps for better coordination and enhanced cooperation to avoid misunderstandings as regard to the border security were also discussed,” it said.
Pakistan badly bruised after US forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 2, is keen to show it has a constructive role to play in helping the United States to bring stability to Afghanistan.
It has long wanted the United States to hold talks with the Taliban to seek a political settlement to the Afghan conflict which it says is fuelling its own domestic Islamist insurgency.
The United States has come some way towards sharing that view, opening its own preliminary talks with the Taliban.
It has also softened its stance on talks by saying its demands that insurgents renounce violence, sever ties with al Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution are outcomes rather than preconditions for negotiations — a suggestion made last year by Pakistan.
“Strategically the two countries are on same page,” a senior military official said last month. “There are issues on operational and tactical levels.”
Karzai has also been pushing for reconciliation with the Taliban and for the first time in the 10-year war, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States all share — in theory at least — a commitment to seek a political settlement.
Distrust on all sides
But deep distrust remains, both between the United States and Pakistan and between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan has so far been excluded from Washington’s early contacts with the Taliban, Grossman told a news conference in Kabul. “Up to now, the government of Pakistan has not been involved in that particular process at all, as yet.”
Kabul accuses Pakistan of continuing to support the Afghan Taliban, whom it openly backed when they were in power from 1996 to 2001, to maintain its influence in Afghanistan.
It also says Islamabad is trying to manipulate peace talks to its advantage, to the point of sabotaging them if they do not go in the direction it wants.
“We expect practical steps from Pakistan in the weeks and months ahead to help sustain the peace process,” a senior Afghan government official said. “The ball is in Pakistan’s court.”
With the Taliban talks still at a preliminary stage, and vulnerable to ethnic and regional rivalries which could plunge Afghanistan deeper into civil war as US troops withdraw, the cross-border shelling has added another complication to a fragile situation.
The Afghan government said on Sunday that “it strongly condemned the firing of 470 rockets over the past three weeks from the Pakistan side of the border in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangahar provinces”.
President Hamid Karzai expressed his deep concern, it said, and asked Pakistan to immediately stop firing into Afghanistan.
A spokesman for Karzai said on Monday Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul had been summoned over the issue, adding: “We are sure it can be resolved.”
Pakistan army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said no rounds had been intentionally fired into Afghanistan.
In the last month, there had been five major attacks from the Afghan side of the border in which 55 men in the Pakistani security forces had been killed and 80 wounded. “The fleeing militants were engaged by the security forces and a few accidental rounds going across cannot be ruled out,” he said.
Pakistan says militants, including Pakistani Taliban commanders, have taken refuge on the Afghan side after it launched military operations to drive them out of its Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
It was angered by a US decision to thin out its troops in eastern Afghanistan, including the Korengal valley in Kunar province, when Washington decided to concentrate on population centres in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban heartland.
“For quite some time we have been highlighting that there are safe havens across the border,” Abbas said. “Something should be done about these.”
Before the killing of bin Laden, the United States had been talking about improving coordination of military operations on both sides of the border so that they could work with, rather than against, each other, in fighting insurgents.
That cooperation may have deteriorated in the breakdown of trust which followed the unilateral US raid to get bin Laden, perhaps explaining the escalation in cross-border shelling.
It is impossible to verify independently exactly what is happening on the remote mountainous border.

PPP wins AJK polls

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)

won a majority of seats in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) elections amid incidents of violence claiming three lives.

Those who were declared successful included former AJK prime ministers Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, Farooq Haider, Sardar Yaqoob and Sardar Attique.

Senior politicians like Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, Sardar Qamaruz Zaman, Siyab Khalid, Chaudhry Ismail and Tariq Farooq also won their seats.

According to the unofficial results announced late on Sunday, elections were postponed in three constituencies after the death of three people in the violence.

Elections were held on 37 seats of the AJK Legislative Assembly and according to the last unconfirmed reports, Pakistan People’s Party was ahead of other contestants with 19 seats, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) bagged seven, Muslim Conference (MC) four while two independent candidates were also declared successful.

The unofficial results revealed that in LA-1, Mirpur 1, PPP candidate Afsar Shahid succeeded with 10,152 votes. Masood Khalid, an independent candidate, was the runner up.

PPP’s Arshad Hussain succeeded from LA-4, Mirpur 4, another PPP candidate Chaudhry Pervaiz Ashraf secured his seat for Legislative Assembly from LA-5, Bhimber 1. From LA-6, Bhimber 2, independent candidate Ali Khan Swati was declared successful. In LA-7, Bhimber 3, PML-N candidate Chaudhry Tariq Farooq was the successful candidate, LA-8, Kotli 1 went to Muslim Conference candidate Malik Muhammad Nawaz. Voters elected PML-N candidate Rao Naseer LA-10 Kotli 3 and Chaudhry Yasin of the PPP from LA-11.

PPP’s Matloob Inqalabi, Muslim Conference’s Sardar Attique, and PPP’s Qamar Zaman succeeded in their respective constituencies.

The polling for the AJK elections in Lahore had been suspended after a scuffle between supporters of the PPP and the PML-N candidates. The PPP claimed that PPP workers Afzal Butt, Khalid Usman and PPP Punjab General Secretary Samiullah Khan were injured by the PML-N attackers. The polling started at 8am but the atmosphere soon became charged and Presiding Officer Malik Tahir Iqbal decided to suspend the polling.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani talked to AJK Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan over telephone and discussed the overall political situation in AJK.

Both the leaders agreed to work for the development, progress and prosperity of the people of AJK.

The Gujranwala police have registered cases against 100 PML-N and PPP workers after a clash during polling at LA-31 Jammu-II on Sunday.

Nawaz Sharif following Taliban line against Army: Sharmila

Pakistan Peoples’ Party Sindh Women Wing Secretary Information

Sharmila Faruqui has said that PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has been working on agenda of Taliban and anti-Pakistan forces by propagating against the Pakistan Army.

In a statement issued here on Sunday, she said: “Nawaz Sharif was meeting a hidden agenda to defame the Pakistan Army and destabilize the country on the instructions of his foreign bosses”.

She said the stability of the country is in civil-military mutual cooperation adding that but Mr. Sharif wanted to damage the interests of the country at national and international level by leveling false allegations on the Pakistan Army and the democratic government.

“Maulvi Nawaz Sharif having a specific “Jihadi mindset” wanted to meet nefarious designs of Taliban and extremist forces while such mindset could not be taken as a peaceful religion of Islam,” she said.

She said that it was the PPP led democratic government which fully supported the Pakistan Army to secure peace in Swat, FATA and Wazirstan and to foil conspiracies against the country. “Pakistan Flag is being hoisted in Swat once gain due to mutual cooperation of the PPP government and the Pakistan Army,” she said adding that we could not allow any one to try to weak our defense by launching negative propaganda against our armed forces.

She said the PPP government would continue fully backing the armed forces to maintain peace in the restive parts of the country.

She said that one person ‘Maulvi Mushtaq’ damaged democracy by awarding death sentence to an elected and popular Prime Minister Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was completely innocent in the case adding that now another Maulvi Nawaz Sharif was showing his frustration by leveling false accusations against the democratic government and the Pakistan Army.She said that Mr. Sharif has been continuing negative propaganda campaign against the Pakistan Army as he was suffering from frustration due to not being in power.She said that Mr. Sharif should not damage the interests of the 18 karore people of the country because of his frustration.

“Nawaz Sharif should play role of a politician and not as Maulvi Mushtaq,” she said. She further said that law minister of the Punjab government; Rana Sanaullah was not a law minister but minister for terrorism.

She said that statements of Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif in Lahore had exposed him and proved that he and his brother Nawaz Sharif was meeting hidden agenda of Taliban and anti-Pakistan elements.She said that how the Taliban could be taken as peaceful while they were carrying out attacks on mosques, Imambargahs, girls’ schools and public places.

World Food Program cuts Afghan food assistance

The U.N. World Food Program announced Monday it will cut food assistance to more than 3 million Afghans in about half the country's 34 provinces because of a shortage of money from donor nations.
The U.N. agency said it had planned to help feed more than 7 million people in Afghanistan this year, but a shortage of donor funds means 3.8 million people will be helped through meals provided at schools and training and work programs. The program said it needed an additional $220 million to continue its work in Afghanistan at the level originally planned.
The program will focus food assistance on helping the most needy Afghans, especially women and children, said Bradley Guerrant, the agency's deputy country director.
"We are working hard to raise the funds needed to restart these activities as soon as we can," he said.
Two roadside bomb blasts killed seven civilians Monday in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry said. A vehicle struck one of the bombs in Qarabagh district, killing four civilians, including two children, the ministry said. Another vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Ghazni city, killing three civilians.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

PPP secures majority in AJK elections

Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has secured majority in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly by securing 19 seats in elections on Sunday.

According to unofficial results of 34 seats so far, Pakistan Muslim League (N) stood at second position by grabbing nine seats, Muslim Conference got third position with four seats besides two independents.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) candidate and former Prime Minister of AJK Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry from LA-3 (City Mirpur-III) and President PPP AJK Ch. Abdul Majeed LA-2 (Chakswari Mirpur-II) have won their seats.

Among the other PPP winners were Afsar Shahid LA-1 (Dadayal Mirpur-I), Syed Azhar Hussain Gillani (LA 39, Valley-4), Sardar Yaqoob (LA 19 Rawalakot-3), Afsar Shahid (LA-39, Valley-4), Chaudhry Akbar Ibraheem (LA-34 Jammu-Gujarat), Abdul Salam Butt (LA-40, Valley-5) Sardar Qamar Zaman (LA-14, Bagh-II), Chaudhry Abdul Majeed (LA-2, Mirpur), Sardar Ghulam Sadiq (LA-18, Ponch-II) and Mian Abdul Waheed (LA-23, Neelum-1) Mutloob Inqalabi and some others.

President Muslim Conference Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan (LA-13,Bagh-1) and central PML(N) AJK Raja Farooq Haider also won their seats.

The result of one constituency from district Bagh has been held.

Arrest of Pakistani officer revives fears of extremism within military

Brigadier General Ali Khan was close to retiring at the end of a distinguished career in the Pakistani Army when he was detained early in May - and accused of links with an outlawed Islamist group.

His arrest, which became public Tuesday, shocked fellow officers at army headquarters and again raises the specter that senior ranks of the Pakistani officer corps may be infiltrated by Islamist militants.

Brigadier Khan is the most senior officer to face such allegations since 1995, according to a CNN analysis of previous cases.

Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said Khan was believed linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation). He said efforts were underway to arrest members of the group who had been in contact with Khan.

"The military has zero tolerance for any such activity and strict disciplinary action will be taken against those involved," said Major General Abbas.

Pakistani officials say Brigadier General Khan, who is 59, had an administrative role at army headquarters in Rawalpindi. His work did not involve counterterrorism and he did not command any unit. But he would have seen plenty of sensitive information.

Khan comes from a military family stretching back three generations, and has a son in the armed forces. Pakistani media report that one of his brothers is a colonel with the intelligence service.

Reuters news agency quoted Khan's wife as dismissing the allegations as "rubbish," saying her husband was "an intellectual, an honest, patriotic and ideological person."

"It's a fashion here that whosoever offers prayers and practices religion is dubbed as Taliban and militant," Reuters quoted her as saying.

One of his brothers, Bashir Khan, told the Pakistani television network Aaj that the brigadier had been in the army for 25 years – serving with UN peacekeepers in Bosnia and spending time in the United States. In 2008, Khan received the highest honor available to soldiers of his rank.

Khan's detention comes amid heightened concern about religious extremism within Pakistan's armed forces.

Hizb ut-Tahrir says it is committed to non-violence but has urged soldiers to rebel against the military hierarchy and its goal it to establish a global Islamic Caliphate.

Pakistani sources tell CNN that in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, it produced pamphlets urging soldiers to turn against their commanders.

The group was outlawed by General Pervez Musharraf in 2004 but a Pakistani court subsequently overturned the ban. It is also active in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Simon Valentine, a British researcher who has studied extremism in the Pakistani armed forces, said that while Hizb ut-Tahrir doesn't advocate violence "a cardinal element of its ideology and modus operandi is to infilitrate the armed forces and, once gaining sufficient support, cause a military coup."

"Despite claims of zero tolerance of HuT within the Army," he said, "militant Islam, including the HuT, has much support from the grass roots to the highest level within all branches of the armed forces."

Valentine, who has researched Hizb ut-Tahrir in depth, said its views enjoy widespread support throughout Pakistani society.

"Such militancy as seen in the HuT is fuelled by an increasing anti-Americanism which is rife throughout Pakistan," he told CNN.

Hassan Abbas, a scholar at Columbia University who has written extensively about Pakistani military intelligence, the ISI, told CNN he suspected there was more to the case than any alleged contacts with Hizb ul-Tahrir.

"Association with such a group would not be enough to hold him for six weeks," especially as Khan was weeks away from retirement, he said.

Abbas, author of "Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America's War on Terror," said there is an alarming trend that includes Pakistani pilots refusing to bomb militant strongholds, and units surrendering to militant groups rather than fire on them.

Last month, Pakistani Taliban insurgents stormed the Naval Air Station in Karachi, apparently armed with inside information on its layout and security. They destroyed two U.S. supplied surveillance aircraft.

Days before he was abducted and murdered, Pakistani journalist Syed Shahzad described that attack as "the violent beginning of an internal ideological struggle between Islamist elements in the Pakistani armed forces and their secular and liberal top brass."

He went on to quote unnamed sources in the ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence service, as saying: "It was shown several months ago that the Pakistan navy is vulnerable to Islamists when a marine commando unit official was arrested.....Now, they (intelligence) realize how the organization (navy) is riddled and vulnerable to the influence of militant organizations."

Last year two serving officers - including a colonel – and two former officers were indicted in a court martial for allegedly planning a terrorist attack on the Shamsi airbase.

Shamsi - in Balochistan province - is a remote base reportedly used by the United States drone program. The four were alleged to have been in contact with Hizb ut-Tahrir. They have pled not guilty.

And in 2004, several lower-ranking air force personnel were convicted in connection with assassination attempts against Pakistan's leader at the time, General Pervez Musharraf.

One of them, Abdul Islam Siddiqui, was hanged but maintained he was innocent of involvement. Other soldiers said they had been tortured into implicating him.

Valentine, who is a regular visitor to Pakistan, said Khan's arrest may be "part of an attempt to bolster the army's reputation amid accusations that it is pro-militant," in the wake of the raid by U.S. special forces that killed bin Laden.

But Hassan Abbas believes the military had no desire for the Khan case to become public. "The military is in deep crisis in the aftermath of Abbottabad," he says. "They would have preferred to hush this up."

CNN Hero working harder than ever to stop sex trafficking

Diabetes explosion leads to 350 million suffering from disease worldwide
Rates of diabetes have exploded in the past three decades with an estimated 350 million people in the world now suffering from the disease, according to new research.

Almost every region of the planet has seen a rise in diabetes prevalence or has failed to reduce levels of the disease, a major international study has revealed.
The condition, which is the result of poorly controlled sugar levels in the blood, can lead to serious compliations such as damage to the kidneys, blindness, nerve damage, heart disease and limb loss.
Each year, high blood sugar levels and diabetes kill three million people worldwide.
Increasing life span and increasing body weight are thought to be the main factors causing diabetes rates to rise, especially among women, say researchers.
But genetic factors in some ethnic groups, nutrition in the womb, diet in early life and levels of physical activity have also played a role in the rising diabetes rates.Scientists analysed blood sugar data on 2.7 million people aged 25 and over throughout the world and used the results to estimate diabetes prevalence.
Their results showed that the number of adults with diabetes more than doubled from 153 million in 1980 to 347 million in 2008, considerably higher than a 2009 estimate of 285 million.
Across the three decades, the proportion of men with diabetes rose by 18% from 8.3% to 9.8%. The proportion of women with diabetes increased even sharper, from 7.5% to 9.2%, an increase of 23%.
The findings were published in a special online report by The Lancet medical journal.
Professor Majid Ezzati, from Imperial College London, who co-led the investigation, said: "Diabetes is one of the biggest causes of morbidity (illness) and mortality worldwide.
"Our study has shown that diabetes is becoming more common almost everywhere in the world. This is in contrast to blood pressure and cholesterol, which have both fallen in many regions.
"Diabetes is much harder to prevent and treat than these other conditions."
Between 85% and 95% of diabetes cases fall into the type 2 category, which is linked to lifestyle. Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes is a separate auto-immune disorder and much less common.
The study showed that diabetes rates had risen most dramatically in Pacific island nations, where a greater proportion of people have the condition than anywhere else in the world. In the Marshal Islands, one in three women and one in four men have diabetes.
Elevated blood glucose and diabetes prevalence was also high in southern Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, central Asia, north Africa and the Middle East.
Among high-income countries, those of Western Europe had seen a relatively small increase in diabetes prevalence. Rates were highest in the US, Greenland, Malta, New Zealand and Spain and were lowest in The Netherlands, Austria and France.

Number of Afghanistan refugees has doubled in 2011

They are the faces of civilians caught in the crossfire in Afghanistan. Facing internal conflict, the number of people fleeing their homes in Afghanistan has more than doubled compared to this time last year, says Refugees International, an advocacy group for displaced persons.

"In the first five months of 2011, we have more than 91,000 people fleeing their homes. And this is in comparison to last year at the same time period when there was 42,000," Refugees International advocate Lynn Yoshikawa said.

"They are living in cramped corridors ... sharing homes, living outside in tents. They have a lot of difficulties with breathing conditions, very limited access to medical facilities to address the problems. A lot of it is chronic," said Yoshikawa.

Yoshikawa visited tent cities across Afghanistan earlier this year with her colleagues, taking photos of the refugees' living conditions and sharing them publicly for the first time with CNN. In describing the makeshift camps, Refugees International representatives say some were situated along major roads within Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, thrown together with discarded objects such as old cars, plastic tarps and torn sheets.

The humanitarian group warns that Afghans continue to be driven from their homes by coalition air strikes and special forces raids.

"There is still a lot of displacement happening and it's not being properly addressed," said Yoshikawa. "The military isn't reporting people that they see displaced from their military operations. That prevents humanitarian agencies from going to respond because often these are areas inaccessible because of these high levels of conflict."Gen. David Petraeus, outgoing Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, has long said the military tries to be as careful as possible.

A U.S. State Department's spokeswoman said Friday that despite President Obama's announcement to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan within the next 15 months, the United States is committed to Afghanistan's long-term stability.

"We do continue to support efforts internally in Afghanistan to ensure that refugees are well managed," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "With regard to the larger question of security in Afghanistan ... our goal is not to allow more insecurity but continue to transfer increasing security to the Afghans. Refugees and other folks who need protecting we have in mind as this strategy evolves with Afghans gaining more strength."

Yet questions remain about the extent of corruption within Afghanistan's security forces, including local police, who Refugees International says are now also driving Afghans from their homes.

"We talked to displaced people who said the Afghan local police, which are supported by U.S. military... are extorting money from people, demanding taxes, using their power to abuse civilians. They've also been implicated in allegations of murder and torture in these communities," explained Yoshikawa.Afghan government officials have often said they are already trying to improve their security forces. Nuland says the United States is working closely with Afghans to ensure there are "good human rights standards" and "anti-corruption standards"

Refugees International says larger humanitarian concerns remain, with many displaced families fearful of returning home after fleeing violence.

The group says that many of those critical local police units, tasked with protecting Afghan residents, are now so corrupt that they should not be funded until strict recruiting and discipline standards are met.