Saturday, July 30, 2011

Angelina Jolie gets Sarajevo film festival award

Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie was close to tears as she received a special award during an unannounced visit to Sarajevo's film festival Saturday with partner Brad Pitt.

"I will start crying if you don't stop," Oscar-awarded Jolie told the audience who gave her a standing ovation at the city's National Theater.

Jolie chose Bosnia's 1992-95 war as the setting for her first film as a director. "In the Land of Blood and Honey" is due to be released in December.

She has also visited Bosnia as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N.'s refugee agency UNHCR and funded the construction of several houses for returnees in eastern Bosnia.

Festival director Mirsad Purivatra presented Jolie with a heart-shaped award when she appeared at the closing ceremony.

"Tonight we are giving the honorary Heart of Sarajevo to a great artist, not only for the great impact she has in the world of cinema but also for persisting and her active engagement in the complexities of the real world we live in," Purivatra said.

Jolie, dressed in a long peach dress, stood on stage with eyes full of tears waiting for the clapping to die down.

"I told Brad in the car I was afraid I was going to cry," she said, her voice breaking.

Jolie's film tells the story of a love affair between a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) woman and a Serb, who were on opposite warring sides during the conflict.

She planned to shoot parts of the film in Sarajevo and engaged a local crew. But she had to move to Budapest after some female victims of sexual violence objected to details in the plot and Bosnian authorities canceled a filming permit.

"I am so honored to be here at this festival," Jolie said after receiving the award. "There is no greater example of the strengths of the artists and the festival that began during the war and grew stronger every year."

The Sarajevo film festival was launched toward the end of the Bosnian capital's 43-month siege by Bosnian Serb forces.

Jolie presented Austrian actor Thomas Schubert with the award for the best actor for his role in the film "Atmen," directed by Karl Markovics.

Atmen, about a young offender searching for his mother, was also named best film in the festival.

Romanian actress Ada Condeascu won the prize for best actress for her role in the film "Loverboy."

Quetta incident provokes protests

An angry mob protested against the killing of eleven people including three women Saturday, Geo News reported. The mob caused damage to property while different political parties mourned the incident. A shutter down strike call was given by the Hazara Democratic Party.

According to police, gunmen opened fire on a van and a rickshaw as a result of which fourteen including two women were injured. Three of these individuals died on the spot while eight including one woman succumbed to their injuries on the way to the hospital.

The injured were taken to the Bolan Medical Complex. The relatives of the victims arrived at the hospital and protested against the incident blocking the Barori Road.

The angry mob burnt three cars and a motorcycle on the road and threw stones at cars. Some individuals of the mob also fired at Bolan Medical Complex and the area was cordoned off by police and FC personnel. Tear gas was used to disperse the protesters.

The incident was condemned by the Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan along with the Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party. Leader of the Hazara Democratic Party, Abdul Khaliq Hazara appealed to people to remain calm and protest peacefully.

Meanwhile the police informed the media that several people had been arrested in connection with the firing incident on Sariab Road which took place on Friday and a complete investigation would be conducted into this incident as well.

Obama Presses Both Parties to Compromise on Debt

US president repeats view that crisis can be solved, but only if Democrats, Republicans work together

Democrats, Republicans disagree on state of debt talks

Top congressional Democrats and Republicans disagreed Saturday over whether any progress was being made on a deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling and avoid a potentially catastrophic default.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, held a 4 p.m. ET afternoon press conference in which they both said a deal was close. Two hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, asserted the claims of his Republican counterparts were simply "not true."
The Republicans are holding "meaningless press conferences" and "refuse to negotiate in good faith," Reid said. "The process has not been moved forward during this day."
"I'm more optimistic than my friend the majority leader," McConnell replied. "I think we've got a chance of getting there."McConnell spoke with Vice President Joe Biden several times Saturday, according to a senior administration official. Boehner talked to Obama Friday night, a GOP aide told CNN. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, huddled behind closed doors with Obama at the White House.
The varied assessments of the state of play came shortly after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected Reid's debt ceiling plan Saturday afternoon -- partisan payback for the Democratic-controlled Senate's rejection of Boehner's plan Friday night.
Reid's plan needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and with 246 "yes" votes it fell short. One hundred seventy-three voted against it. Most Democrats supported the measure; every Republican voted against it.
The Senate voted 59-41 Friday evening to table Boehner's measure -- effectively killing it only hours after the House approved it in a 218-210 vote. Most Republicans supported the Boehner plan while Democrats unanimously opposed it.
GOP leaders in the House were forced to delay the vote on Boehner's bill by a day while the speaker rounded up support from wary tea party conservatives. Boehner's deal with conservatives -- adding a provision requiring congressional approval of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in order to raise the debt limit next year -- was sharply criticized by Democrats, who called it a political nonstarter.
Boehner's "gone to the dark side," Pelosi said Saturday. "Let's go from the dark side to the bright side."
Despite the House's pre-emptive rejection of the Reid plan, Senate Democrats say they are moving forward with its consideration. The Senate is tentatively scheduled to take up Reid's proposal beginning at 1 a.m. ET on Sunday -- part of that chamber's arcane procedural path required to get something passed before the Treasury runs out of funds.
Any proposal put forward by Reid will ultimately need the support of at least seven Senate Republicans in order to reach the 60-vote margin required to overcome a certain GOP filibuster.
Forty-three of the Senate's 47 Republicans sent a letter to Reid Saturday promising to oppose his plan as currently drafted. Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Massachusetts' Scott Brown, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski declined to sign it.
McConnell urged Reid early Saturday afternoon to hold a quick vote on his bill in order to clear the way for new talks.Your plan "will not pass the Senate. It will not pass the House It is simply a nonstarter," McConnell told Reid on the Senate floor. "Hold the vote here and now" and let's "not waste another minute of the nation's time."
Reid responded by accusing the Republicans of wasting time on the Boehner plan, and criticized the Senate GOP for not allowing his plan to be considered with a simple majority vote.
"The two parties must work together to forge an agreement that preserves this nation's economy," Reid said. "My door is still open."
Democratic leaders vehemently object not only to the balanced budget amendment, but also the GOP's insistence that a second debt ceiling vote be held before the next election. They argue that reaching bipartisan agreement on another debt ceiling hike during an election year could be nearly impossible, and that short-term extensions of the limit could further destabilize the economy.
Obama urged compromise Friday, and asked Senate Democrats and Republicans on Friday to take the lead in the congressional deliberations.
"This is not a situation where the two parties are miles apart," the president insisted. But "we are almost out of time."
As the political maneuvering continues, the clock continues to tick down. If Congress fails to raise the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2, Americans could face rising interest rates and a declining dollar, among other problems.
Some financial experts have warned of a downgrade of America's triple-A credit rating and a potential stock market plunge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped for a sixth straight day on Friday.
Without an increase in the debt limit, the federal government will not be able to pay all its bills next month. Obama recently indicated he can't guarantee Social Security checks will be mailed out on time.
Leaders of both parties now agree that any deal to raise the debt ceiling should include long-term spending reductions to help control spiraling deficits. But they still differ on both the timetable and requirements tied to certain cuts.
Both the Reid and Boehner plans suffered setbacks earlier this week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released reports concluding that they fell short of their stated deficit reduction goals.
Boehner's plan, which has since been revised, proposed generating a total of $917 billion in savings while initially raising the debt ceiling by $900 billion. The speaker has pledged to match any debt ceiling hike with dollar-for-dollar spending cuts.His plan, however, would require a second vote by Congress to raise the debt ceiling by a combined $2.5 trillion -- enough to last through the end of 2012. It would create a special congressional committee to recommend additional savings of $1.6 trillion or more.
Any failure on the part of Congress to enact mandated spending reductions or abide by new spending caps would trigger automatic across-the-board budget cuts.
The plan, as amended Friday, also calls for congressional passage of a balanced budget amendment before the second vote to raise the debt ceiling, which would likely be required at some point during the winter.
As for Reid's plan, a revised version he proposed Friday would reduce deficits over the next decade by $2.4 trillion and raise the debt ceiling by a similar amount. It includes $1 trillion in savings based on the planned U.S. withdrawals from military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Reid's plan also would establish a congressional committee made up of 12 House and Senate members to consider additional options for debt reduction. The committee's proposals would be guaranteed by a Senate vote with no amendments by the end of the year.
In addition, it incorporates a process based on a proposal by McConnell that would give Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling in two steps while providing Congress the opportunity to vote its disapproval.
Among other things, Reid has stressed that his plan meets the key GOP demand for no additional taxes. Boehner, however, argued this week that Reid's plan fails to tackle popular entitlement programs such as Medicare, which are among the biggest drivers of the debt.
A recent CNN/ORC International Poll reveals a growing public exasperation and demand for compromise. Sixty-four percent of respondents to a July 18-20 survey preferred a deal with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Only 34% preferred a debt reduction plan based solely on spending reductions.
According to the poll, the public is sharply divided along partisan lines; Democrats and independents are open to a number of different approaches because they think a failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause a major crisis for the country. Republicans, however, draw the line at tax increases, and a narrow majority of them oppose raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances.

'What's the big fuss over Khar's fashion?'

She is rich, stylish, and travels the world - so what's the big deal about Pakistan's youngest and first female foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar's Birkin bag, Roberto Cavalli shades and Jimmy Choo heels that were on view during her visit here, ask Indian and Pakistani designers.

Her classic black Hermes' Birkin could cost anything above $10,000-$15,000, her Roberto Cavalli shades cost over $500 and the Jimmy Choo heels over $900.

Karachi-based designer Huma Adnan admits Khar, whose three-day trip to India concluded Thursday, is one of the most stylish politicians in her country, but finds it strange that there is so much discussion in India over her dressing."I know Hina for the past 15 years. She is a public figure with a very conservative and neat look. Her sense of using right accessories makes her different from other politicians. But the fact that she wears high-end brands should not be a topic of discussion. She belongs to a rich family, owns property in why not," Adnan asked while speaking to us over the phone.

When Khar landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here Tuesday for talks with her Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna, her blue ensemble, teamed with a simple string of pearls, oversized handbag and shades grabbed many eyeballs.

A post-graduate in hospitality and tourism from the University of Massachusetts, Khar has her roots in a wealthy feudal family of southern Punjab and owns Lahore's posh Polo Lounge, a haunt of the rich and the powerful.

In past appearances across the border, she has been spotted sporting bags from luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Designer Fahad Hussayn from Lahore said: "I believe a woman always picks up an accessory that is driven by her persona. And with how she carries herself, you can tell the style statement is not newly acquired."

Khar likes her subdued, yet stylish dressing - something she proved with the cream ensemble she wore during India-Pakistan talks here.

Aamna Isani, a senior fashion journalist from Karachi, feels proud that Indians are lauding Khar's dress sense.

"It's good to know that a Pakistani leader is emerging as a style icon. The last fashion icon we had was Benazir Bhutto, who represented a perfect mixture of style and grace," Isani told us.

Tens of thousands protest cost of living in Israel

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in 10 cities across the country on Saturday evening to protest against the high cost of living, AFP correspondents reported.
More than 30,000 demonstrated in downtown Tel Aviv as thousands more marched in Jerusalem, in the northern city of Haifa and in Nazareth.
Organisers of the protests said that five thousand were marching in Jerusalem towards the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, carrying banners that read "A whole generation wants a future."
Demonstrations over the high cost of living spread in recent weeks throughout Israel, with demonstrators setting up protest camps to demand affordable housing and denounce social inequalities.
On Thursday protesters occupied the roof of the Tel Aviv stock exchange, a day after the powerful Histadrut labour union threw its support behind the demonstrators.
Histadrut said it was issuing Netanyahu with an ultimatum.
"If by Saturday evening, the prime minister has failed to meet with our secretary general Ofer Eini to discuss solutions to lift this social crisis, Histadrut will use all means at our disposal to support the demands of the protesters," a spokeswoman for the union told AFP earlier this week.
She declined to say whether Histadrut would call on its members to join a general strike announced by Israel's Union of Local Authorities on Wednesday.
The August 1 one-day strike will see local authority offices shut down and rubbish collections halted.
Since 2004, Israel's economic growth rate has averaged 4.5 percent, while unemployment has fallen to around six percent from close to 11 percent over the same period.
But gaps between Israel's rich and poor are among the widest in the Western world. In 2011, Israel ranked fifth for unequal income distribution among the 34 member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Netanyahu was forced to cancel a trip to Poland this week to address demonstrators and offered them reforms which they rejected as insufficient.

Afghans arrest Taliban leader, army turncoat

A senior Defense Ministry official who allegedly leaked secrets that helped the Taliban stage suicide attacks in Kabul has been arrested by the Afghan Intelligence Service — one of three high profile arrests announced Saturday by the agency.
A spokesman also said a senior Taliban official accused of leading an insurgent propaganda campaign in eastern Afghanistan, and an insurgent who allegedly helped organize an April 1 attack against the U.N. headquarters in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif that killed 11 people, including seven foreign U.N. employees.
Infiltration has become a serious concern for Afghan forces and the U.S.-led military alliance that is training them — often on bases they share. The Taliban have said the practice has become one of their main strategies in their war against the U.S.-led coalition and President Hamid Karzai's government.
Several attacks involving bombers wearing military uniforms have targeted foreign troops as well as official Afghan institutions, including an April suicide bombing by an attacker wearing an army uniform that killed three people at the Defense Ministry.
The intelligence service recently arrested Gul Mohammad, an army officer who was serving at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Kabul, the agency's spokesman Lutifullah Mashal said at a news conference.
Mohammad, who was an eight-year veteran of the army, was in charge of three checkpoints in the capital — one near NATO headquarters and the presidential palace, and two others on a road where the coalition has many bases and training facilities.
Mashal said insurgents offered Mohammad 200,000 Pakistanis rupees ($2,300) to help organize suicide attacks in Kabul. Many of the suicide bombers operating inside Afghanistan are thought to be trained in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, which border provinces such as Nuristan and Nangarhar.
Mashal did not give Mohammad's rank or provide any other details about his role at the ministry, but said he was from the Taliban-controlled Waygal district in northeastern Nuristan province. Mashal said Mohammad is also thought to have supplied insurgents in the area with information on Afghan army troop movements.
He said Maulvi Rahimullah, who was allegedly responsible for the media, publication department and Internet services for a Taliban shura, or council, based in Peshawar, Pakistan, had been detained. Rahimullah, who was from the Pachir Wagam district of eastern Nangarhar province, also was a member of that shura, Mashal said.
According to Mashal, he also went by the alias Azrat Bilal and was reportedly the Taliban deputy shadow governor of Nangarhar in charge of recruiting in four eastern Afghan provinces. The third man arrested was identified as a suspected weapons supplier named Maulvi Sabor who was arrested in Balkh province.
Mashal said all the arrests occurred in areas where the international military coalition has transferred responsibility for security to Afghan forces. Two provinces and five provincial capitals were turned over to government forces earlier this month, part of a gradual handover of responsibility that will lead to full Afghan control by the end of 2014, when foreign combat troops are to leave the country.
"This is a good achievement for Afghan forces in these area, and a loss for the enemies who are trying to attack in those places where the transition of forces is taking place," Mashal said.
But violence continued around the country unabated.
Insurgents killed seven Afghan soldiers and a translator alongside two NATO service members in a bombing and ambush Friday in eastern Paktia province, according to the deputy provincial governor Abdul Rahman Mangal. He said the group was on patrol in the Zurmat district.
Police acting on tips in Kunar province also intercepted six would-be suicide bombers who local residents said were on their way to conduct an attack in the provincial capital of Asadabad, said Wasifullah Wasify. The provincial spokesman said one attacker blew himself up outside the vehicle on a road in Khas Kunar district, injuring one policeman. Police shot and killed two attackers and arrested two others, but one escaped, he said.

Pakistan puts travel curbs on US diplomats

Pakistan has placed new travel restrictions on American diplomats living in the country, a U.S. official said Saturday, in the latest sign of the breakdown in ties between Islamabad and Washington since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan reacted furiously to the May 2 bin Laden raid deep inside the country because it was carried out with no warning to authorities in Islamabad. The fallout battered an already frayed relationship seen as key to the fight against al-Qaida and Washington's hopes of reaching a settlement in Afghanistan and withdrawing troops.
Islamabad sent home at least 90 U.S. soldiers training Pakistani troops in counterinsurgency and severely cut back on intelligence cooperation. The Obama administration, which took office pledging to strengthen ties with Islamabad, announced it was cutting more than one-third of its military aid to the country.
While Washington's large civilian aid program has been unaffected, the move to restrict diplomats' movements adds a new irritant to the relationship and suggests military-to-military tensions are bleeding into the civilian sphere.
A letter from the Foreign Ministry sent to the American Embassy last month states that all of its diplomats must now apply for special permission to leave the capital five days in advance of travel, including visits to cities where America has consulates.
Such curbs appear to be an unusual step between friendly states. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations requires host states to allow foreign diplomats "freedom of movement" in the country except for restricted areas. Other foreigners living in Pakistan are free to travel around most of the country.
There are ways, however, to restrict the movement of diplomats without violating the convention.
The letter, dated June 13, was obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday. The AP obtained a second letter dated this month from the Civil Aviation Authority to security officers at Benazir Bhutto International Airport instructing them to carry out the Foreign Ministry order.
A U.S. official confirmed the new restrictions and said the embassy was working with the government to resolve the issue. He did not give his name because of the sensitivity of the relationship at present.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was concerned about the restrictions and in a statement called on Pakistan "to ensure freedom of travel to diplomatic personnel."
It was unclear if other foreign missions in Islamabad had also received a similar notice.
In response to a question, the Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that no "U.S.-specific restrictions have been applied." It said Pakistan was fully mindful of its obligations under the Vienna Convention and was discussing the issue with the embassy.
Earlier this month, at least one carload of American diplomats was refused entry to Peshawar, the main northwestern city. Other diplomats have been able to travel unhindered outside Islamabad since the letter was sent, the American official said.
The United States is nominally a partner with Pakistan, but many Pakistanis, including those in the government, media and armed forces, regard it with mistrust or hostility. The bin Laden raid, and the shooting deaths of two Pakistani men by a CIA contractor in January, were taken as more signs that Washington has malevolent intentions in the country.
The fact that bin Laden had been hiding in an army town close to the capital only reinforced suspicions in Washington that Pakistan was an unreliable partner in the fight against al-Qaida. There are also growing frustrations with Islamabad over its refusal to act against powerful militant factions in the northwest that are killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan but pose no immediate threat to Pakistan.

Peshawar Artisan Training School, academy on the anvil.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Culture and Information, Mian Iftikhar Hussein, has said that the provincial government had launched a traditional loan scheme for the artists and

of this province so as to revive our old and indigenous art and culture which was on the verge of collapse due to our negligence.The said scheme in the 1st phase would be introduced in Peshawar and Malakand Divisions and would gradually be extended to the entire province, he added.He was chairing a meeting regarding traditional loan scheme at Peshawar. Besides others, the meeting was also attended by the Secretary Culture and Information, Azmat Hanif Orakzai, Provincial Chief Executive SMEDA, Javed Iqbal Khattak and Director Culture, Pervez Khan.

The meeting thoroughly debated upon the ways and means for issue of loans besides discussing its different aspects. The meeting was informed that pattern of Bacha Khan Khpal Rozgar Scheme would be adopted for the said scheme. The Chief Executive SMEDA on this occasion presented viable and useful suggestions and assured his full support in this regard.The culture minister maintained that the government was mulling to establish academy to be named Artisan Training School where besides giving training work on up gradation of old arts and skill would also be made.Similarly, those completing training in said school would be given grants so as they could earn their livelihood in a dignified manner, he continued.Mian Iftikhar Hussein further said that display area adjacent to the said institute would also be reserved when the artists exhibit their art and get access to the national as well as international market.He added that the eligible arts and skills would be officially notified and only the eligible artists could get the loans. He clarified that the artists would not be restricted to loans but possible help would also be extended to them.The Minister asserted that the nations, loosing their cultural values and traditions cease to exist, therefore, we would revive our old and indigenous culture and eradicate the menace of terrorism and militancy and other social evils by promoting our culture and traditions, he concluded.

Large Portion of Afghan Drug Money Goes to Traffickers: UN

A top UN anti-drugs official said on Friday that most of the Afghan drug money goes into the pockets of traffickers, stressing that strict border control will help curtail the illicit trade.

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said in an introduction to a new study, Global Afghan Opium Trade - A Threat Assessment, that curtailing the drug trade would benefit the Afghan people and the world.

"Trafficking in Afghan opiates is... very lucrative, generating some $61 billion in illicit funds in 2009 out of $68 billion for the global illicit opiate trade," according to the report.

"Most of this money went into the pockets of traffickers all along the transnational heroin distribution routes, and some went to insurgents." Afghan farmers earn relatively little from the trade, the report noted.

Heroin takes the bulk of the market, with 12 million to 13 million people consuming 375 tonnes of heroin per year; of that, 150 tonnes are consumed in Europe.

Afghanistan remains the hub for opium and heroin production in the world.

"Strengthening border controls at the most vulnerable points, such as along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan's Baluchistan province, could help stem the largest flows of heroin, opium and precursor chemicals," Fedotov said.

"Increasing the capacity to monitor and search shipping containers in airports, seaports and dry ports at key transit points and in destination countries could improve interdiction rates."

The UN official also suggested a need for building capacity and fostering intelligence sharing between ports and law enforcement authorities in key countries and regions.

World's most expensive wine sold

The heat is on in Russia

Heatwave hits Russia.

Pakistan shooting 11 killed

Sectarian violence in Quetta kills 11, wounds 3.

Democrats try to break debt impasse

Senate Democrats aimed to seize the initiative in efforts to head off a ruinous debt default by pushing their deficit-cutting plan on Saturday toward a possible compromise with a divided Republican Party.

Entrenched differences were still hampering a compromise as Democratic leaders accused their Republican counterparts of obstructionism, less than 100 hours before the government says it will run out of money to pay all its bills.

President Barack Obama used his presidential pulpit for the second time this week to urge rival lawmakers to strike a deal and avert what he has said would be an "inexcusable" default.

"There are multiple ways to resolve this problem," Obama said in his weekly address. "Congress must find common ground on a plan that can get support from both parties in the House. And it's got to be a plan that I can sign by Tuesday."

The debt saga shifted to the Senate late on Friday after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a deficit-cutting bill, breaking weeks of political inertia.

The Democratic-controlled Senate quickly killed that bill, as expected, but its earlier approval by the House lifted hopes that it could form part of a final compromise.

The mood in the Senate quickly soured, however, as Democratic leaders angrily accused Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of refusing to talk to them.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid modified his plan, taking elements of an earlier McConnell proposal with the hopes of picking up Republican votes.

But he declined McConnell's offer to vote on it immediately -- a sign that Reid does not yet have enough support.

The Senate now is expected to hold that vote early Sunday morning, setting up final passage on Monday morning, shortly before U.S. financial markets open.

The House has scheduled a vote for around 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) Saturday on a version of Reid's plan.

The government could run out of money to pay all its bills on Tuesday unless Congress agrees to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

"The country's in crisis. This is not a time for politics as usual," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer told a news conference.


Despite the harsh rhetoric, there are hopes that back-channel talks will yield a compromise over the weekend. Democrats say many rank-and-file Republicans are willing to compromise even if McConnell isn't.

McConnell wants to make sure the White House is involved to assure that any final package will make it past Obama's desk, Republican aides said.

"We are headed for a debt ceiling extension," said David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors in Sarasota, Florida. "The risk is that some accident causes actual default. It's not likely but possible."

Investors and foreign governments are likely to remain on edge, though, as procedural hurdles will make it hard for Congress to send a deal to Obama until Monday night.

Reid's revised proposal, which would cut $2.2 trillion over 10 years, incorporates parts of a "backup plan" first proposed by McConnell. The new version would essentially give Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling in three stages to cover U.S. borrowing needs through the 2012 elections when he is running for a second term.

Obama and his Democrats had hoped to avoid multiple votes before the election.

The world has watched in growing alarm as political gridlock in Washington has brought the world's largest economy close to an unprecedented national default, threatening to plunge world markets and economies into turmoil.

U.S. stocks endured their worst week in a year as the uncertainty made investors shy away from riskier assets and the dollar slumped to a record low against the safe-haven Swiss franc. Much worse could be in store if a U.S. debt deal doesn't appear to be on track by the time markets open on Monday.

A late deal also raises the prospect of the United States losing its top-notch AAA credit rating, which could rattle markets and raise borrowing costs for Americans struggling with unemployment above 9 percent.

Obama has rejected suggestions that he could invoke emergency measures to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling in the event the parties fail to bridge their sharp ideological differences over taxes and spending.

With a final deal still in doubt, the government has begun to prepare Wall Street banks for the possible consequences of a default. One of the first casualties could be a planned quarterly sale of $42 billion in new Treasury bonds that might have to be delayed or canceled.

Some U.S. companies and private equity firms are also hitting the pause button on deals, fearing that a failure to reach a deal could raise financing costs.

"It's definitely having a chilling impact on people's ability to get deals done right now," said one top investment banker who declined to be identified.

No confrontation between judiciary and government: Justice Javed

Senior Supreme Court Judge, Justice Javed Iqbal says there is no confrontation between the government and judiciary, Geo News reported.

The government has not disobeyed any orders of the Supreme Court however there has been a delay in their implementation. Justice Javed said the Supreme Court and Army were not playing any combined role.

Justice Javed Iqbal was being honoured by the Punjab Bar Council and said media hype was behind the creation of a possible confrontation between the judiciary and government and it was wrong to say that the government did not obey Supreme Court orders.

The main priorities of the Supreme Court are to uphold the constitution, rule of law and eliminate corruption. He added that this was also the attention of the government.

Speaking on relations with the army, Justice Iqbal said that the Supreme Court was proud of the armed forces.

'Bahrain regime - loss-loss situation'

There were expectations that the Bahraini regime would make changes, some concessions, and try to work with the opposition. Are those expectations being met?

Press TV interviews Syed Ali Wasif, Professor of International Law and Politics, about the revolution in Bahrain and the Saudi role in the regime clampdown on the people of Bahrain.

Press TV What about this, Mr. Wasif our guest said he would have thought that the regime would have tried to make some changes. Why didn't the regime try to work at all with the opposition? Did they think that by not working together, that the opposition was basically going to go away? How do you see the line that Bahraini government has taken in all of this?

Wasif Simply bad intentions, the government of Bahrain is not sincere with its people, with the opposition, and with the international community. The only thing that the government of Bahrain did, in the name of reform, was a sham reform, and to let out the pressure from within, and from outside.

It was the international pressure from international human rights groups, international human rights organizations, from the international community, so that is why they allowed some kind of demonstrations today, and earlier.

They release couple of prisoners, but still how could you have reforms, or meaningful dialogue, without the presence of the leadership of mainly al-Wafaq and other opposition groups?

Secondly in the presence of the military intervention of the Saudi occupying forces. And thirdly without giving a huge share of political space to the opposition, in Bahrain, so I think that is totally sham.

And the Bahraini government seems to be buying some more time in order to ease some tensions, in order to ease the pressure it has been going through for a while.

Press TV Let me jump in here, you said ; they are trying to buy some more time, buying more time to accomplish what with this type of tactic that is being used?

Wasif Buying time to accomplish - to crush the opposition, to appease the American government, and the White House Administration, to appease the international organizations, especially human rights organizations, and that is how they are doing it.

The problem is, they basically are under the pressure from the US Congress and the US different departments. I am asking the US departments and the US Congress that if they allowed the Polish Catholic clerical intervention in the movement for democracy in Poland, and in Nicaragua, why are they wary of the involvements of the Bahraini clerics in this movement? It has nothing to do with a negative aspect there.

So if they could allow Catholic clergy to participate in politics in the Philippines, in Nicaragua, in Poland, then why are the Americans wary about the participation, and involvement of the clerics in Bahrain? So that is why I think the Bahraini government is taking advantage of, and trying to buy more time for that.

Press TV What about that - that Washington is basically reassessing their priorities, not only in Bahrain, but it appears that in countries where the Arab revolutions are in progress, now the protestors more and more are chanting anti US slogans, and demanding Washington to stop interfering in their affairs. However, it was not the case at the beginning of any of these revolutions. Why do you think that is the case right now?

Wasif Paranoia, the specific mind set of the White House administration, which sees different events in different parts of the Middle East, with a specific goggle, with a specific perspective, that is the perspective of supporting despotic dictatorial and brutal regimes in that region.

So this is the main focus of those sitting in the White House, and the aides to the White House - to the President of the US.

Press TV What about the people themselves I am talking about, at the beginning of these revolutions, even we saw in Egypt, we see in Yemen, and Libya, and Bahrain.

That at the beginning the people really did not start off with anti-American slogans, but more and more in all these movements, we are starting to hear more and more anti-American slogans. Why do you think that is the case?

Wasif Simply, every now and then I meet with the so called “specialist on the Middle East” here, in the Washington D. C. area. They don't know the language of the region, they have never been to that region, they do not know the political dynamics of that region, and still they are recognize as an expert in the Middle Eastern affairs.

So is the case with Obama aides, and different administration people there in the Obama Administration and the White House as well. This is the problem, they cannot conceive a Middle East without the support of a dictator.

And that is why in the short run they are doing okay, but in the long run, it's a total loss-loss, situation, to the US foreign policy and to the US national interests in that region.

It’s Up to the Senate


It was hard to imagine that the House bill to raise the debt limit, and slash and burn the economy, could get any worse. But on Friday it did.

The bill, which narrowly passed the House with 218 Republican votes and none from Democrats, would allow the government to keep borrowing only until November or December and then require both the Senate and the House to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the limit could be raised again.

That’s right, in a bid to win over his recalcitrant caucus, Speaker John Boehner agreed to go through all of this again in just a few months — and then hold the country hostage to passing an amendment that will never get the two-thirds of each chamber that it would need. The bill was, as it should have been, promptly dismissed by the Senate.

Now the only hope left for avoiding default on Tuesday is for the Senate to piece together a compromise that can pass with bipartisan majorities in both chambers. It will undoubtedly cut far too much, at a time when the economy can’t afford it. It will contain no needed revenue increases and could still trigger a downgrade. But it would eliminate the imminent threat of financial chaos.

For six months, House leaders catered to their Tea Party members, perhaps hoping that they could turn them to a reasonable path, or at least count on their votes in a clinch. That wish crumbled on Thursday night. At least two dozen Republicans, mostly freshmen, adamantly refused Mr. Boehner’s pleas to support his bill — his last shot at keeping the House’s positions relevant.

Instead of worsening the bill, Mr. Boehner could have negotiated with Democrats to construct one with a chance of resolving the standoff and passing in the Senate. But concerned largely with preserving his position, he gave in to the very lawmakers who have been insisting for weeks that the Obama administration is lying about the coming default. That argument alone should have given him pause about giving in to their demands.

The Senate quickly tabled the revised House bill. The legislation being prepared by Harry Reid, the majority leader, would raise the debt ceiling through March 2013. That avoids another showdown, and potential meltdown, in the middle of the crucial retail shopping period and at the start of the presidential campaign cycle, when Washington will be even less open to rational compromise.

The bill would cut the deficit by about $2.4 trillion over the next decade. Unlike the House bill, it spares Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from benefit cuts, and counts the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as part of its savings, easing the burden on domestic programs. Unfortunately, it surrenders to the unrealistic Republican demand of no new revenues, cutting too much spending at a time when the economy is still in serious need of government help.

Mr. Reid is negotiating with Republicans on their demands for an enforcement mechanism to make sure the deficit cuts take place in the later years of the deal. Both parties envision a bipartisan panel that could recommend cuts; if those are not adopted, some kind of automatic cuts would go into effect. This automatic knife can be dangerous, arbitrarily cutting without regard to economic circumstances. Democrats should insist that taxes and revenues are not ruled out as a way to lower the deficit.

The House planned a deliberately obstructionist vote on Saturday against the Reid bill, but some Senate Republicans are signaling they are willing to agree to this more reasonable framework. If enough of them can join the Democrats and ignore the bleats of the Tea Party, it may still be possible to avert calamity.

US Senate kills Republican debt plan

The Democrat-led US Senate has voted to set aside a House-passed Republican bill to avert a potential ruinous debt default, setting the stage for weekend talks on forging a compromise plan.

Legislators voted 59-41 against Republican House Speaker John Boehner's measure to raise the $14.3 trillion US debt ceiling in two stages to enable Washington to pay its bills past a Tuesday deadline.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hoped Republican Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would help work out a final deal, the outlines of which were far from clear with the clock ticking down.

The US economy hit its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling on May 16 and has used spending and accounting adjustments, as well as higher-than-expected tax receipts, to continue operating normally - but can only do so through Tuesday.

Twenty-two House Republicans joined all 188 Democrats voting in opposing Boehner's legislation, while 218 Republicans backed it - eking out the 216 votes needed for passage in the lower chamber.

A key sticking point was the duration of any debt limit increase: Reid and his Senate allies rejected Boehner's plan in large part because it would set the stage for another high-stakes showdown in a few months.

"We cannot be in this battle all the time," said Reid, whose own plan would spare Obama another politically fraught debt battle as he seeks a second term in the November 2012 elections.

Boehner's bill had sought to pair raising the debt ceiling by $900bn with spending cuts of some $917bn over 10 years, while requiring later debt limit increases be tied to congressional passage of a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution for ratification by the 50 states.

Reid, whose Democrats oppose tying the debt limit to such amendment, has offered a blueprint that would raise the debt ceiling by $2.7 trillion while cutting spending by some $2.2 trillion over 10 years.

Working on compromise formula

Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Capitol Hill, said the tussle will continue for some time as the two sides fail to make substantial progress towards a compromise.

"The Senate majority leader has already called this bill dead on arrival. The White House believes that if there is a compromise, it will have to come from the upper chamber of the congress," she said.

Reid has said a short-term solution is unacceptable and his own bill that would cut $2.2 trillion in spending over 10 years is expected to be amended to make it more palatable to moderate Republicans in the House.

The door is now open for talks on a compromise. If a compromise is worked out, a final vote in the Senate could take place as early as Monday or by midday on Tuesday, a Senate Democratic aide told Reuters.

The delays make it impossible for congress to strike a deal and send it Obama's desk until the 11th hour, injecting a dangerous level of uncertainty into already rattled financial markets. A late deal also raises the prospect that the United States will lose its top-notch AAA credit rating.

Administration officials say congress must find a compromise to raise the debt ceiling by Tuesday or the government will run out of cash to pay its bills. That could prompt an unprecedented federal default, which could rattle the economy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pakistan restricts movement of American diplomats

Pakistani government has imposed restrictions on the movement of US diplomats and other embassy officials in the country, media reports said on Friday.

All US diplomats will now require to get special no objection certificate for travelling to other cities, Geo television reported.

Pakistani authorities have imposed travel curbs on US diplomats few days ago. The same curbs would also apply on other diplomats, Geo reported quoted an unspecified sources as saying.

The US has also slapped similar curbs on Pakistani diplomats and embassy staffers in the US, the report said.

There was no official word and reaction from the US embassy.

The reports came days after Pakistan has repeatedly denied US Embassy employees entry into Peshawar city in the country's volatile northwest region, police said.

Two groups of US diplomats were sent back from areas in the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, this month, according to local media.

All foreigners are required to have special permission to enter the northwest and southwestern Balochistan province, officials say.

The reports came at a time when relations between the US and Pakistan have deteriorated after the this month blockade of USD 800 military aid. The decision was aimed at mounting pressure on Islamabad to take more steps against the Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

Saudi actress paves way for women artists

People are shocked that a Saudi father would allow his 18-year-old daughter to pursue her dream of moving to New York City to become a lowly actress and dancer.
Four years later Dina Shihabi has proved her naysayers wrong. The former Dubai resident has secured a place at one of the world's most prestigious performing arts schools, The Juilliard School, and New York University's graduate acting programme.
Dina was born in Riyadh, grew up in Dubai and moved to New York City in 2007. She will now pursue acting on a full-time basis and wants to encourage Arab girls with similar professional aspirations in the Middle East to seize available opportunities.
Dina's decision to pursue a career in the performing arts and move to New York was not well received initially.
A group performs in a theatre production. Dina wants to encourage Arab girls with similar professional aspirations in the Middle East to seize available opportunities.

"My father is an Arab and he is very cultured, intellectual and successful in what he does — he took a bit more time accepting me as an artist and I think it was my unwavering commitment to what I loved, and my mothers unrelenting support for me, that won him over," she says.
Knowing that she had found her life's passion won him over and it convinced him to accept her career choice. "I am aware that it isn't easy for an Arab father to have an artist daughter, but he makes sure I know that he is very proud of me."
She still struggles with people's ignorance and perceptions about her career. "So many people — friends, parents' friends, teachers — have not taken me seriously and some saw me lacking intelligence because I was a dancer and an actress. I think this view is so close minded."
Dina says the arts bring people and communities together and that women who choose this line of work should be respected in the Middle East.
"People have been shocked that my dad lets me do what I do as if I am doing something wrong. I don't get it!"
She adds that she has met a vibrant community of New York-based Middle East actors who inspire her and more Arabs are going into the arts. Growing up in Dubai, Dina attended Al Mawakeb School, Emirates International School and Dubai American Academy. She started dancing at the age of 13 when she took lessons from the UAE's "dancing queen" Sharmila Kamte who teaches dance classes at the Chaloub Studio in the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac). Kamte is known for having exacting standards and being a bit of a slave driver, which is why it's no surprise Dina describes herself as a terrible dancer when she started ballet, street jazz, jazz and hip hop classes. "Sharmila changed my life. I would not be doing what I love without her and my parents trusted her as a role model for me."
Dina also participated in school plays and auditioned for whatever was going on at the time.
It was at the Dubai American Academy that her drama teacher Mrs Mock who encouraged her to take up acting in addition to dancing, which she was already winning awards for. "Never underestimate a good teacher, and their words of encouragement."
The young performer says she always knew she wanted to live in New York City and applied to several musical theatre programmes and faced rejection at every turn until she was accepted at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for a two-year programme while dancing in her spare time.
"I still get rejected every day but I also get awesome acceptances and that makes it all worth it."
Some of these opportunities include working with well-known choreographers and performances on Saturday Night Live — with stars Justin Timberlake, Andy Samberg, and Emma Stone — and The Daily Show with John Stewart.
She has performed extensively in theatre productions such as a documentary theatre production Neither Heaven Nor Earth, a piece based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
She has had some exposure to film and her most recent part was in a Joel Fendelman film, David, which tells the story of Daud, an 11-year-old Muslim boy growing up in Brooklyn, New York. Dina plays Daud's sister, Aisha, who is coming to terms with her identity as a modern Muslim.
Making an ambitious move to fulfil her dreams
Dina was born in Riyadh and grew up in Dubai. At the age of 13 she took lessons from the UAE's "dancing queen" Sharmila Kamte who teaches dance at the Chaloub Studio in the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac).
In 2007, Dina moved to New York to work as a lowly actress and dancer when she was 18. She became a student of The Juilliard School of performing arts at the age of 22. In 2010, she pursued acting a full-time.
Dina is the first woman from the Arab world to be accepted into both Juilliard's Drama Division and New York University's Graduate Acting Programme.
Dina has performed on Saturday Night Live with stars Justin Timberlake, Andy Samberg, and Emma Stone and has also worked extensively in New York City with Oscar nominee directors such as Josh Fox.

Rahat Fateh Ali rocks Lahore!

What a night Wednesday’s was! Such a memory of the singing maestro Rahat Fateh Ali Khan cannot be erased. Lahoris were blessed indeed to be even an inch’s space away from Ustaad Rahat. J&S arranged Rahat Fateh Ali’s ‘Ishq Ka Safar’ was indeed an event to be attended. Attended by the Pakistani fashion and music industry’s who’s who, J&S managed to organise a success event presenting Rahat Fateh Ali’s greatest hits.

The event commenced with Ustaad Rahat singing ‘Aas Paas Hai Khuda’, and was applauded immensely by everyone present. Not to mention, Rahat’s son joined in with the legend’s crooning, with the crowd wowed and spellbound by the performance.

A source of pride for Pakistan, Rahat Fateh Ali has accomplished what the regulars dream of. It is just what Natasha ‘Natty’ Hussain said in her closing speech, “No Indian Bollywood music album is complete without Rahat’s songs, and no Indian or Pakistani enjoy a music album without Rahat’s songs being a part of it.”

Ending the show with Nusrat Fateh Ali’s ‘Mast Qalander Mast’ the event was a sure shot success story.

Kabul: the best of times, the worst of times
The economy of Afghanistan, and its capital in particular, faces collapse when foreign forces and money leave. Words by Ben Doherty and photographs by Kate Geraghty, in Kabul.
It's a metaphor for this city, and its two-speed, ephemeral economy.
Looming over the dusty, noisy alley of metalworkers' lane in Kabul is a gleaming skyscraper.
Daily, the building's shadow sweeps over the metalworkers' wooden workshops. And then it is gone.
'We work 100 metres from these buildings,'' metalworker Kazem says, pointing, ''and less than a kilometre from the Presidential Palace but we have no electricity.''
He reaches into one side of the open waistcoat he wears over his shalwar kamiz, taking an imaginary wad of cash from the pocket and transferring it to the other side of the same garment.
''There is money in Kabul but they don't use [it] to help people. They make just like this. Take the money from one pocket to the other.''
Afghanistan's capital has boomed with the influx of overseas money during the war years of the past decade but many Afghans say they have seen little of the benefit, and they worry about what will happen to the economy, and their security, when the foreign forces, and their foreign money, leave.
There is no domestic economy in Afghanistan.
The World Bank has found that 97 per cent of the country's gross domestic product is linked to spending by the international military and donor communities.
And a report from the US Senate foreign relations committee last month warned: ''Afghanistan could suffer a severe economic depression when foreign troops leave in 2014 unless the proper planning begins now.''
The US spends about $US320 million ($290 million) a month in non-military aid in the country, and has poured in about $US18.8 billion over the past decade.
Today, there are two Kabuls. One flourishes on the back of Western attention and money. The other languishes, mired in a war-torn country benighted by corruption and violence.
The city has grown from about 1.5 million to more than 5 million in the past decade, as Afghans, seeking work and simple safety, flood the capital.
Gleaming new malls and apartment complexes have sprung up in the city centre for the rich, countered by swelling, crowded shantytowns at its outskirts for the poor.
Property prices now rival those of Western capitals. In 2009, house prices in parts of the city rose an astronomical 75 per cent. Rents went with them, forcing thousands further out.
Wages, too, have skyrocketed. But only for the few. Afghans who win contracts with embassies, international NGOs or foreign contractors, can earn $US1500 a month.
Public sector worker wages remain between $US50 and $US250 a month.
Kazem, 31, with three young children, earns far less again. He says ''ordinary Afghans'' have seen little benefit.
''In the early days, we used to get some contracts from NGOs for construction but now we don't see any of that money at all.''
The most lasting change he's seen is a near-trebling of the rent for the workshop he shares, from 3000 afghanis ($58) a month, to more than 8000.
Kazem says foreign money won't help Afghanistan in the long term, only a peaceful country will.
''We don't need aid, we don't need food, we need security. When security is good, business is good. We can make a strong country; we want to work to provide for our families.''
The co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, Thomas Ruttig, sees security and economy as intrinsically linked. One cannot be developed without the other.
The collapse of one imperils the other. The money that has flooded Afghanistan in the past decade has created an economic bubble, as well as a false sense of security, in the capital.
''I quote here an Afghan friend of mine, 'the day the West stops paying for the Afghan Army and the Afghan police, the next day there is no Afghan Army or Afghan police any more','' Mr Ruttig said.
''That's a very tough thing to say, very dramatic and probably a little bit exaggerated, but I think only a little bit exaggerated. There is a dependency on Western money.'' Without the international dollars flowing in, Afghanistan's economy will founder, Mr Ruttig said.
The country has almost no industry. Manufacturing barely exists and efforts to create a mining sector from the land's mineral wealth have so far amounted to little. The government is weak.
The Finance Ministry has admitted it is unable to collect taxes outside Kabul because it is unsafe and because its bureaucracy has essentially collapsed.
''The biggest part of the economy that is left is drugs … somewhere around 11 per cent of the Afghan population is involved in the drug economy,'' Mr Ruttig says.
Despite a fall in production, Afghanistan still accounts for 77 per cent of the world's opium, and the narco-palaces which dot the country are testament to the drug trade's continuing profitability.
Now, with an end date set for Western troops to pull out of the country, Afghans are looking beyond 2014.
''Most of the governments say, some say it on the record, most say it off the record, 'when the soldiers leave, the money will also leave','' Mr Ruttig says. ''So, you now have this stealing-and-putting-it-in-Dubai-accounts spree.
''A lot of money is now going out of the country because people need insurance for post-2014 and that includes the government.
''The Kabul Bank case [where it's alleged up to $US900 million in fraudulent loans were made to bank insiders] is a classic self-service instance … people put their money into the bank and they just steal it from them.''
In central Kabul, 23-year-old Parwiz Chakari manages his family's chic fashion house, Tolo Shopping.
Western styles are particularly popular with the capital's young and newly rich here; the ubiquitous Che Guevara is a T-shirt favourite.
Parwiz says that while the influx of money into Kabul means there are more people with money in their pockets, they are still only a small fraction of the population, and many of them are not spending it in the country. Business has been bruised, too, by a bombing six months ago a couple of hundred metres up the road.
''After an attack in the city, there is a few months bad for business. But it will come back to normal, as long as there are no more bombs. When the people feel safe, business comes back.''
The impending pull-out of US troops, and everything that comes with them, is a concern in Kabul's busiest business district. ''People worry. If the Americans do leave in 2014, the security might go bad, civil wars might start again.
''That is a fear people have, and that would affect the economy. But I am not sure the Americans will definitely leave,'' Parwiz says. Afghanistan has never been allowed to develop a peacetime economy, he said.
For all of his life his country has been occupied, or at war with itself. The conversation is interrupted by a woman in a burqa, who comes into the shop, hand out, begging for money.
''This is the real economy in Afghanistan,'' Parwiz says, shaking his head, ''people are still just trying to survive.''

Nawaz Sharif:The N in PML(N)

Everyone knows how the party election cookie crumbles in Pakistan. That

Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif won his party’s top slot in the elections the other day sprung no surprises. Even though there isn’t much party democracy in any of Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, it is the PML(N) that wears its lack of it on its sleeve. Consider: the Bhutto family is firmly in control of the PPP but for purposes of appearances, its co-chairman could argue that even an ordinary activist could challenge him and take his place; and there were, recently, some small voices of dissent. In contrast, imagine how silly, how surreal, would an anti-Nawaz faction look vying for control of the PML-Nawaz. Considering changing the name?

Having said that, it has to be admitted this shortcoming within the parties is vastly overplayed by the anti-politician narrative. The line – slapstick, really - that every military dictator uses after coming into power: since there aren’t any elections within the parties, there won’t be any elections in the country either!

No one holds a gun to the head of leaders within the political parties to stick with their party leadership. Within democracies, nascent ones specially, the more important aspect is who the end voters themselves approve of.

The concept of political dynasty has been turned into some sort of evil that cannot be negotiated with. In reality, it is these very dynasties that serve as points of focus and have enough of magnetism that keeps activists and voters enthralled during the dark days of military rule. It would not be unreasonable to posit that without the dynasties, the embers of democracy wouldn’t have been hot enough to revive every time this tinpot or that leaves. Given enough time, the pressures of an uninterrupted democratic process would force the current party leaders to cede way to activists.

On the “new” PML(N) leadership: they have their work cut out for them. With the PPP having cut a deal with the Q and the Chaudhrys having more realpolitik constituency-to-constituency skills than most of the N League put together, there is much to be done before the next elections.

As Makhdoom Javed Hashmi’s explained in his meandering drawl after being elected to the executive council, it’d take more than mere “principled politics” to match Asif Zardari’s skills.

US House passes Republican debt plan

The US House of Representatives has approved a Republican plan to cut the budget deficit, setting up a Senate vote within hours to set aside the bill and begin crafting a compromise acceptable to Democrats.

Republicans pushed their deficit-cutting plan through by a vote of 218-to-210 after the leadership reworked the bill to win over anti-tax conservatives in their ranks.

The revised Republican plan passed on Friday includes tougher requirements on Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and send it to the states for ratification, a long-time core demand of conservative Republicans who say it is the only way to control spending.

The two-step plan would cut spending initially by about by about $900 billion and lift the debt ceiling only enough to last a few months.

The Republican legislation, sharply criticised by President Barack Obama, faces certain death in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where all Democrats have vowed to vote against it later on Friday.

Working on compromise formula

Top Senate Democrat Harry Reid has said a short-term solution is unacceptable and is pushing his own bill that would cut $2.2 trillion in spending over 10 years.

Reid's plan is expected to be amended to make it more palatable to moderate Republicans in the House, and with Democratic votes offset the inevitable loss of support from anti-tax Tea Party-aligned Republicans.

But the passage of the bill breaks weeks of political inertia and opens the door to talks on a compromise that could pass Congress before Tuesday, after which the government says it will be unable to pay all of its bills without a deal.

If a compromise is worked out, a final vote in the Senate could take place as early as Monday or by midday on Tuesday, a Senate Democratic aide told Reuters.

The delays make it impossible for Congress to strike a deal and send it Obama's desk until the 11th hour, injecting a dangerous level of uncertainty into already rattled financial markets. A late deal also raises the prospect that the United States will lose its top-notch AAA credit rating.

Administration officials say Congress must find a compromise to raise the debt ceiling by Tuesday or the government will run out of cash to pay its bills. That could prompt an unprecedented federal default, which could rattle the economy.

Is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan going to disintegrate?

By:Shahid Ilyas
Daily Times

The republic is currently represented by a few Punjabi generals, religious fundamentalists, feudal lords and Syeds. This clique has to decide between two options. Either the Islamic Republic is allowed to disintegrate, or it has to fashion itself according to its ground realities

The disintegration of Pakistan is taken for granted everywhere, both in Pakistan and abroad. Much has been written about how it will look like in 2015. People like Salmaan Taseer being eliminated one by one, a central government controlling the Punjabi heartland and Karachi only while the rest ruled by thugs and terrorists. Today the state has lost control of large areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In southern Punjab and rural Sindh it is either the dacoits or the Islamist fundamentalists — in alliance with feudal-cum-politicians — who control public opinion. So the prospect in 2015 is not difficult to fathom.

What is it that ails the Islamic Republic?

To begin with, the foundation of the state — which is fundamentally a secular and nationalist entity emanating from western political philosophy — was based on religion. Strangely, Iqbal and Jinnah — well-aware of the western political thought — uttered it on numerous occasions that Islam was what necessitated Pakistan. And Maududi — the prophet of pan-Islamism fundamentalism — and others took it from there. The generals — unfortunately for the people inhabiting the areas that constitute Pakistan — bought into this ideology and have since propagated the same with earnest. They put forward Islam as raison d’être for the creation and perpetuation of Pakistan.

This is precisely the reason that Pakistan could not emerge as a successful state. Starting from Jinnah, all the successive governments said no to diversity. They talked against ‘provincialism’ and stressed unity on the basis of their faith. They imposed on them Urdu as the ‘national language’. A language spoken by a handful of immigrants from India could not be accepted as such by great leaders of the various nationalities inhabiting Pakistan including the Sindhis, Baloch and Pashtuns. They simply could not digest the idea of abandoning their own national languages for a foreign language. Upon that the political and economic exploitation of the smaller nationalities by a clique of generals, mainly composed of Punjabis and immigrants from India, further convinced the different nationalities of the dysfunctional character of the Islamic Republic. This resulted in the declaration of independence by the Bengalis and the emergence of the sovereign state of Bangladesh in 1971.

Since then the Islamic Republic is surviving on borrowed time. The generals consume most of the country’s resources on fighting wars against the Baloch and Pashtuns, apart from keeping alive their mythical threat from India. It tried — largely in vain — to divest the Pashtuns of their secularism and nationalism by introducing Islamist fundamentalism into them. They were successful to some extent, but it soon started to hit the Islamic Republic itself more strongly than anyone else. Moreover, when free elections were held, the Pashtuns — even after the military’s brainwashing efforts — overwhelmingly voted for the secular and nationalist parties of the great Badshah Khan, the Awami National Party (ANP). Secularism is the part and parcel of Pashtun, Baloch and Sindhi nationalism.

Without going into proving what has already been proved many times over, the Islamic Republic can survive as a state only if it collects enough courage to accept the ground realities. The republic is currently represented by a few Punjabi generals, religious fundamentalists, feudal lords and Syeds. This clique has to decide between two options. Either the Islamic Republic is allowed to disintegrate, or it has to fashion itself according to its ground realities.

If the clique goes for seeing the writing on the wall, the languages of all the nationalities will be declared as national languages. It will release its hold on all subjects except foreign affairs, currency and defence — subjects that will be looked after by a committee of equal number of members from the four nationalities. The appointment of governors and federal bureaucrats to the provinces will be stopped forthwith. The smaller nationalities will be allocated more seats in the National Assembly than their numerical strength requires. Senate will be made powerful and will be brought on an equal footing with the National Assembly. All nationalities will be given an equal chance of holding the highest federal posts (not Ghulam Ishaques), including the prime minister, president, chiefs of the armed forces and subordinate officers, judges of the central courts, heads and employees of federal bodies, heads and employees of semi-autonomous and autonomous bodies, heads and employees of foreign missions and so on and so forth.

Or it can continue on the present course, in which case it continues losing its authority and ultimately ends up defending itself in their castles in the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi. But for how long can they afford to stay in these dreamlands? Where will the money come from? Who and for how long will recognise it as a viable state? Ultimately, it will complete its journey to a complete chaos and eventual disintegration.

The mullahs, military, Syed and bureaucrats have to make a choice. Ironically, they stand as losers in each choice!

Balochistan: the horror continues


Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently released a 132-page report on Balochistan titled, ‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years’: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan’. “Pakistan’s security forces are engaging in an abusive free-for-all in Balochistan as Baloch nationalists and suspected militants ‘disappear,’ and in many cases are executed,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The issue of the ‘disappeared’ Baloch, more commonly known as ‘missing persons’, is not something unknown. The Supreme Court took up the issue of missing persons but unfortunately the apex court did not pursue it in the manner that was demanded. For the past few years, the number of missing persons has increased alarmingly. Tortured, bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch nationalists are often found dumped randomly in Balochistan. According to HRW’s report, “The inability of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of disappearances is exacerbated by the continuing failure of Pakistani authorities at the national and provincial level to exert the political will to address the issue of disappearances in Balochistan. The authorities have failed so far to send a strong message to the security forces and intelligence agencies and to implement a set of concrete measures that would put an end to the practice of enforced disappearances.” This is exactly what the Baloch have been saying for years now. No one is willing to take action against the army and its intelligence agencies for the abuses being carried out in the name of ‘national interest’. It is appalling to see the government, the military, the ISI and the Frontier Corps (FC) denying such allegations when independent sources, both internal and external, are pointing towards grave human rights abuses in Balochistan. Their denials are sounding more and more hollow in the face of piling evidence.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP’s) report, ‘Balochistan: blinkered slide into chaos’, was released last month. According to the HRCP, “In the cases of enforced disappearance brought before it, the mission found that there were credible allegations of the involvement of state security forces.” Both the HRCP and HRW are well-respected and reliable sources. The situation in Balochistan is getting worse with each passing day. If the state of Pakistan does not end the ongoing military operation in Balochistan, it will become an international issue and Pakistani authorities can be hauled over international courts. Under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P), endorsed by the UN General Assembly, the international community can “take timely and decisive action to prevent and halt mass atrocities when a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations”. The Baloch can go to the UN if the genocide is not stopped in Balochistan. Not only are Baloch nationalists abducted and killed by our security forces, sectarian outfits unleashed by our intelligence agencies are involved in killing Shia Muslims in the province. Just yesterday, unidentified gunmen killed seven Shia Muslims in Quetta; they were pilgrims going to Iran to visit sacred places.

The military and the government must take stock of the situation in Balochistan and stop harassment of dissident Baloch voices. Extrajudicial killings have become a norm. The state of Pakistan has been warned countless times that it cannot stop the disintegration of our country if some big power gets interested in resource-rich Balochistan because of its geo-strategic position. The government keeps pointing fingers at India for funding Baloch insurgents without an iota of proof. It is not India that is pushing the Baloch towards separation; Pakistan itself is responsible for alienating the Baloch to an extent that they are now asking for azaadi (freedom).

Groups quit Egypt rally saying hijacked by Islamists

More than 30 political parties and movements withdrew from a rally on Friday that was organized to send a united message to the ruling army about reform, saying the event was hijacked by Islamist groups.
"Islamic law above the constitution," read banners in Cairo's Tahrir Square that was packed with tens of thousands of people. Protesters who fear Islamists will seek to dominate plans to rewrite the constitution demanded they be taken down.
"Islamic, Islamic, we don't want secular," they chanted in the square filled with many followers of the strict Salafist interpretation of Islam.
"There are so many (Islamic) beards. We certainly feel imposed upon," said student Samy Ali, 23. He said Salafists had tried to separate women and men camping there.
Islamists and more liberal groups have diverged on how hard to press the ruling generals for change. They have also been divided over the fate of the constitution, which is to be re-written after parliament is elected later this year.
Liberal groups fear the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best organized group, and other Islamists will dominate the vote.
A joint statement by more than 30 groups said Islamists and other groups had agreed on demands to make on Friday "to thwart attempts by the military council to divide the revolutionaries and distort their image." But the groups said "some Islamic currents" violated this agreement.
Abdelrahman al Barr, a senior Brotherhood member, said of the decision by other groups to quit Friday's rally: "Salafist slogans shouldn't be a cause for other political forces to withdraw. Everyone is free to say what they feel like."
But the Brotherhood is home to a broad range of views and some agreed Salafist actions were divisive. "There are certainly some Brotherhood members who are upset over the way Salafist groups have taken over the square," Brotherhood youth member Amr Salah said in Tahrir.
Friday's protests in Cairo and other cities had been called to deliver a unified message to the ruling army council, which took over when Hosni Mubarak was ousted on February 11. Many protesters now say it is not delivering on promises to change.
"We agreed on uniting our call for swift elections, resignation of the public prosecutor and the demands of the families of martyrs," said Mohamed Adel, spokesman of the April 6 movement, one of those which withdrew.
Those killed in the uprising to oust Mubarak are referred to as "martyrs."
Several groups, including the liberal Wafd party, also said they were withdrawing from a rally in Suez, east of Cairo, because Salafists were using it for their own ends.
In the Sinai Peninsula, where many people own weapons, about 150 people rallied in the town of Al-Arish. Some had banners with Islamic slogans. They fired shots in the air. Security sources said one youth and a policeman were wounded.
Alongside the Islamic slogans, there were other chants in Tahrir on Friday, such as "People and army, hand in hand."
Some protesters have accused the Brotherhood, which was banned under Mubarak but now enjoys unprecedented freedom, of making a pact with the army. The group denies this although differences over how hard to push the army remain.
Echoing the view held by many Islamists, preacher Mazhar Shaheen said in a sermon in Tahrir: "Our army will remain a red line, because it protected the great revolution ... No one can divide us and the army."
He said the army should provide a timetable for handing power to civilians. The generals say they are moving as fast as possible to do this and deny dragging their feet.
While the army is expected to hand day-to-day government to civilians after elections, some protesters expect it to keep a hand on power, partly because of its vast business interests. The army has also provided Egypt's rulers for six decades.
However, the Brotherhood has sought to heal some divisions with other groups. It made a statement of support for the April 6 movement, which in a rare move by the army, was singled out for trying to divide the people and the military. April 6 has been at the forefront of criticism of the military.
"The Brotherhood rejects discrediting and distorting any revolutionary force that chooses to rally peacefully," Mohamed Beltagy, a member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said.
One of the persistent protester demands has been for a swifter trial for Mubarak, now set for August 3. Protesters say the army wants to drag it out to protect its former commander-in-chief and the army from public humiliation.
Mubarak has been in hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since April. He has not been transferred to a prison, as his two sons and other officials have, due to illness.
An official in the hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh said on Friday Mubarak's condition was "almost stable" but he continued to suffer from severe depression, the official news agency MENA reported. Earlier this week, hospital officials told MENA the former president was weak and refusing to eat solid food.
A source close to Mubarak said on Thursday his lawyer would tell the court in Cairo he was too sick to attend. His two sons, the former interior minister and other officials being tried alongside him are expected to be present.

Explosion, firing in football stadium in SW Pakistan, casualties feared

An explosion and firing incident Friday evening outside a football stadium in southwestern Pakistani district killed and wounded several, said police.
The explosion took place as the inter-city final football match was being played inside a football stadium in Mastung district of the province and the chief guest was leaving after inauguration.
Local media reported that a bomb exploded as Sheraz Raisani, the younger brother of Chief Minister of Baluchistan, was getting in his car. It was not yet known whether he was hurt or not.
Firing erupted after the explosion, which was still continuing. Several people were feared killed and wounded but exact figures were not yet known.
Police and paramilitary force has cordoned off the site and rescue operation was underway.

Bahrain opposition slams dialogue report

Bahrain's main Shiite opposition formation slammed the national dialogue's recommendations submitted to King Hamad on Thursday, saying they do not represent its demands or the will of the people.
The conclusions of the dialogue carried "none of our demands" and "the dialogue does not represent the will of the people," the Islamic National Accord Association (Al-Wefaq) said in a statement posted on its page on social networking website Facebook.
Al-Wefaq reiterated its demands for an "elected government," an "elected parliament which has full legislative powers," and a "fair and independent judicial system" in the Shiite-majority Gulf nation.
The national dialogue, which began early this month, was aimed at discussing reforms in the Sunni-ruled kingdom which was rocked by Shiite-led protests from mid-February to mid-March.
But the dialogue "might contribute in complicating the political crisis," Al-Wefaq said.
King Hamad on Thursday said the report on the dialogue "reflects the determination (of the participants) to rise above the latest incidents," referring to the month of deadly pro-democracy protests crushed by the authorities.
The king expressed his "support" for the recommendations that, he said, notably included "reinforcing the independence of the judicial branch and the consolidation of human rights" in Bahrain.
Al-Wefaq had decided only at the last minute to join the dialogue, encouraged by the international community including the United States whose Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.
But the group, which won 18 out of 40 seats in the lower house of parliament in the last elections, had only five representatives out of some 300 delegates invited to the talks.
On July 17 the Shiite grouping announced it was pulling out of the dialogue, saying it was not aimed at achieving serious results.
Khalil al-Marzooq, who led the bloc's delegation to the talks, said in a statement "we are still demanding a serious dialogue between the people and a representative of the king, which would lead to clear constitutional provisions."
Authorities say 24 people were killed in the unrest that rocked the tiny kingdom.

JORDAN: Pro-democracy demonstrators show little sign of letup

After six months of Egypt- and Tunisia-inspired protests, Jordanian pro-democracy demonstrators calling for reforms and a wider public say in politics remain persistent and show little sign of ceding their demands.

Though demonstrations in Jordan have failed to generate the large numbers seen in other Arab countries such as Egypt and Yemen, hundreds and perhaps thousands continue to take to the streets of the Jordanian capital, Amman, in weekly anti-government rallies after Friday prayers to demand reforms.

"It is a consistent peaceful protest that is very stubborn," 29-year old Khaled Kamhawi, a member of the activist group March 24 Youth Movement, told Babylon and Beyond. "There is no compromise. Jordan is a small country suffering from big problems -- all due to political, administrative and financial fraud. The status quo is unsustainable."

Jordan is a monarchy ruled by the Hashemite King Abdullah II, who technically wields absolute control over political life. Though civil liberties are not nearly as curtailed as in Tunisia before the uprising or Syria under Bashar Assad, activists complain of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and prison abuse, as well as widespread corruption practiced by elites close to the king.

The opposition is a diverse pool that includes youth activists, leftists, Islamists and political independents.

Protests have been largely peaceful, but things turned ugly on July 15 when groups of club- and baton-swinging riot police and pro-government enforcers violently dispersed pro-democracy demonstrators when they tried to set up a protest camp in an Amman square, reportedly clubbing demonstrators as the crowds chanted "the people want to reform the regime."

The clampdown, in which scores of people were injured, came only a few days after Jordan's prime minister sternly warned against the pitching of a sit-in protest camp in Jordan mirroring those in Egypt and Yemen.

The incident appears to have backfired and upped tensions in the Hashemite kingdom, with scores of angry demonstrators arriving at a protest Friday with signs reading "No to government thugs" and calling for the prime minister's ouster and denouncing government corruption.

Mohammed Masri, a political analyst at Jordan University's Center for Strategic Studies, told Babylon & Beyond that the crackdown will only ratchet up popular pressure on the government and make demonstrations gain more sway in Jordanian society.

"What happened on that Friday is what is creating the crisis for the government," he said. "Every time they attack demonstrations with thugs or the police there will be a larger segment of Jordanians that are sympathetic with the protesters. What is creating the tension in Jordan and what is creating the crisis is the management of the crisis itself."

King Abdullah pledged to move forward with political and economic reform programs in January after weeks of large protests, but many complain that meaningful change in the kingdom appears to be coming too slowly at a time when the region is going through extraordinary changes.

"Things must move fast. What happened in Tunisia and Egypt ... are all indicators that a historical moment has come. We have to bring history with us, we have to catch up with the rest of the world," said Kamhawi, adding that his vision is for Jordan to become a democracy through a series of constitutional reforms.Earlier this month, King Abdullah endorsed a cabinet reshuffle in which the country's Interior Minister Saad Hayel Srour, whom protesters accused of ordering the police to crack down violently on protests, was replaced by a more moderate politician. But the move doesn't appear to have mollified the opposition.

"They didn't have confidence in the previous [government], now the new one is at the same point. They feel there is an unbalance between state institutions and that the government should be accountable to the parliament. Their demands are still very similar," said Masri.

On Friday, activists plan to hold a march to Amman's City Hall and protests are also expected in surrounding areas and provinces -- indicators, according to Kamhawi, that the pro-democracy movement is gaining ground.

"I believe the momentum is rising and that more people are getting involved -- not only in numbers but also in different geographic locations," said Kamhawi. "Many barriers have been broken in the past three months. The people have become one voice."