Friday, January 21, 2011

Arab world ponders future after Tunisia

‘IT IS on everyone’s mind that the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and a general recession,” according to Amr Mousa, secretary general of the Arab League. He referred to events in Tunisia as an example of “big social shocks that many Arab societies are exposed to”. These are “serious events” which “shape the beginning of one era and the end of another”.

The summit at which he spoke did not explicitly refer to Tunisia, but behind the scenes, in national capitals and in the Arab media, that country’s remarkable popular transformation monopolises discussions about the region’s future. Two major questions arise: will similar events occur elsewhere in an Arab world dominated by authoritarian governments and dynasties – and what role might transnational and social media play in any such change?

It is easy for outsiders to assume a greater homogeneity in the region than actually exists.

The hub and spoke relationship with former imperial powers like France and Britain means its states and peoples are surprisingly separate from one another – as was the case with the Soviet-dominated states of central and eastern Europe after 1989.

US and EU policy towards the region has recently been driven by a master narrative derived from the “war on terror”. In this frame, the Ben Ali regime was tolerated and subsidised despite its human rights abuses and kleptocratic structure because it dealt with fundamentalist Islamic resistance in the 1990s.

Economic growth, education spending and neoliberal reforms seemed to promise a modernised and secular society capable of gradual change. In retrospect, their underside of unevenly distributed benefits, 30 per cent youth unemployment and inequalities are seen to have created the tinders of popular revolt. Tunisia’s ruling family network was distinctive in its control of the tourism-dominated economy and hated for its self-promotion and centralised policing, providing a ready target for generalised popular anger.

Distinctive too compared to neighbouring states is a weaker army and relatively independent trade union movement, the one refusing to intervene for the regime in its last days, and the other capable of calling a strike which gathered a huge popular response. Fundamentalist Islamist groups are conspicuously absent from the turmoil; but no one can be sure how the vacuum will be filled, including by religious leaders returning from exile more attuned to reformist approaches.

Tunisia is a small state compared to Egypt, Algeria or Morocco, lacking oil wealth but more developed in several respects. Poverty, unemployment and recession affect each of them, and other Arab states, too, as Mousa pointed out.

Compared to Algeria’s multiple arenas of power, Tunisia’s political system is much more centralised. There is more scope for political opposition in Morocco, however circumscribed. And in Egypt the media are more diverse and independent, if still corralled, and the labour movement less capable of asserting leadership, despite widespread social conflicts.

Such structural factors are likely to constrain or diffuse revolutionary contagion until the Tunisian situation more fully unfolds. A military coup would stifle contagion, whereas functioning democratic elections would enhance it.

One factor favouring a movement of democratisation is the trans-border Arabic broadcast and social media. As during previous crises in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, the Qatar-based satellite television channel al-Jazeera has played a central role in reporting the Tunisian events. Although banned from the state, its reporters relied on mobile phone photographs, Twitter and Facebook material to chronicle the escalating crisis and bring it to a wider Arab audience.

The impact of this reportage, reinforced by al-Jazeera’s favourable editorial line, should not be underestimated. Nor can the effects of the social media on which it drew so extensively.

Both types of media are new factors in the region’s public opinion, capable of bypassing or outwitting extensive state censorship and creating space for alternative politics. Television is more influential than the weaker printed media, while the social media embolden the emerging youthful and educated middle class. But as a study of new Arab journalism by Lawrence Pintak points out, in analysing media one should be careful about attributing them causal effects, as distinct from influencing or reinforcing emerging social and political movements.

Pintak quotes Rami Khouri, editor at large of the Beirut Daily Star , against conflating mass communication and mass democratisation, since “there remains a large gap between an informed citizenry and an empowered citizenry”. In the Financial Times , Khouri suspects “the Tunisian drama will be seen in retrospect more like the Solidarity movement in Poland that sparked a decade-long process of slow transformation in the Soviet satellites, than the fall of the Berlin Wall”.

China leader pledges US jobs

Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to help create needed jobs in the United States as he basked in a warm welcome in Chicago at the end of an often contentious state visit.
A day after heated discussions with lawmakers in Washington, Hu tried to show a more human side of the rising Asian power as he visited the third largest US city on Friday, where he met with business leaders, students and local dignitaries.
At a suburban warehouse, Hu toured an exhibition showcasing 10 Chinese companies that operate in the Midwestern metropolis which he said "have injected fresh momentum into the American economy and created jobs here."
"The Chinese government will continue to encourage our companies to do business and make investments here. We hope the American government will help provide a welcome environment for Chinese businesses," Hu said through an interpreter.
Hu afterward closed the long-awaited state visit, flying out of snowy O'Hare International Airport with the US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, seeing him off.
China has faced intense pressure from the United States and other major economies over its economic policies, with Beijing a favorite target of candidates during last year's congressional election.
Many US lawmakers accuse China of artificially keeping its currency low so it can flood the world with cheap exports. Hu, in a speech in Washington, hit back by saying that US consumers have saved $600 billion in the past decade thanks to "quality yet inexpensive Chinese products."
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, addressing a trade forum in Chicago on the sidelines of Hu's visit, said US businesses operating in China worry about the theft of intellectual property, closed decision-making and preferences toward domestic companies.
"In my travels across the country, I continue to hear stories of exasperation from American business leaders concerned about the commercial environment in China," Locke said.
Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming replied by calling for a boost in US exports to narrow the trade deficit.
"Our two countries need to sit down and work it out so there won't be such a huge trade deficit and trade surplus," he told the conference.
At the start of Hu's visit, President Barack Obama's administration said that China had agreed to contracts that would support 235,000 US jobs, including a $19 billion deal to buy 200 planes from Chicago-based Boeing Co.
Mayor Richard Daley escorted Hu throughout his tour of Chicago, the adopted hometown of Obama and headquarters of some 300 companies that do business in China including Boeing, telecom giant Motorola, and iconic chewing gum maker Wrigley.
"Our long-range goal is to make Chicago the most 'China-friendly' city in the United States," Daley said.
Hu started the final day of his state visit at a Chicago school that teaches Chinese language and culture. He beamed as a student presented him with a bouquet of orchids.
Chicago teenagers learning Chinese waved flags and shouted "Huanying," or "Welcome," as he arrived. Students donned traditional garb as they performed Chinese handkerchief and kung fu fan dances.
"I hope all the students here will value your precious time, study hard, enrich your lives and lay a full foundation for you future career and lives," Hu said, as he invited 20 of the teenagers and faculty members to visit China.
"We were especially struck by how bright and inquisitive the students are and by your many talents and you all around development."
Kristin Brantley, 16, said she studies Mandarin and Chinese culture because "I think it's going to be important in the future."
"It's pretty exciting. All my teachers have been telling us this is a huge deal," she told AFP.
Obama on Wednesday welcomed Hu for a gala black-tie dinner at the White House, part of efforts between the world's two largest economies to seek areas of cooperation despite rivalry on numerous issues.
Hu and Obama disagreed at a joint news conference on a series of points, including over China's human rights record.
But the Obama administration said that it sensed progress over North Korea, with China joining the United States in expressing concern over Pyongyang's uranium enrichment.
The New York Times reported Friday that Obama stepped up the tone on North Korea, warning Hu that the United States will have to redeploy forces in Asia unless Beijing reins in its ally.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did not confirm the report, but said that the US side had tried to get China to understand its deep concerns over North Korea's actions.

Tunisia to pay abuse victims, hunt Ben Ali clan

Tunisia will pay compensation to the families of victims of human rights abuse under its ousted authoritarian leader and will send envoys to other Arab states to pursue him, its prime minister said on Friday.

Anti-government protesters again took to the streets as Tunisia began three days of mourning for the dozens of people killed during president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's overthrow.

The interim government, which took over after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last week in the face of widespread popular unrest, has faced continued protests by crowds angry that members of the old guard are still in the cabinet.

Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali's prime minister who has remained in office to lead an interim coalition cabinet, made an effort to distance himself from the ousted president in an emotional television interview.

"I lived like Tunisians and I feared like Tunisians," he said. He promised compensation for the families of victims of human rights abuses, and said envoys to Arab capitals would make the case that Ben Ali should be tracked down.

"We are sure they (Arab leaders) will all be with the Tunisian people because what happened was a real revolution that made us proud of our country," he said.

Hundreds of people protested peacefully in central Tunis on Friday and outside the headquarters of the state-owned Tunisian Transport Company, demanding the removal of senior officials from Ben Ali's era.

An employee who gave his name as Moftah said: "This company has corrupt people and it's time to demand our rights. We're not going to be silent about this. We want this minority out."

In central Tunis crowds chanted: "We won't accept this government, we will never accept it."

Outside the prime minister's office, protesters jostled Ahmed Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Ettajdid Party and minister of higher education in the new cabinet, apparently angered at his role in a government they dislike.

State TV also showed hundreds of people protesting against the government in the southwestern town of Gafsa, Sfax on the coast and Tataouine in the far south.

Three days of national mourning were announced late on Thursday for the victims of the unrest that convulsed Tunisia for several weeks. The government says at least 78 people have been killed since the start of the uprising, while the United Nations has put the toll at around 100.


The new government said schools and universities would reopen on Monday and sporting events, also on hold since last week, would resume soon.

It offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups, including the banned Islamist opposition. Some political analysts say moderate Islamists could attract more followers in post-Ben Ali Tunisia than their secular rivals like to admit.The Islamist movement was the most oppressed of all the opposition movements under Ben Ali. Its followers are also much greater in number than those of the secular opposition," said Salah Jourchi, a Tunisian expert on Islamic movements.

Protesters have complained that despite a promised amnesty, only a few hundred of those imprisoned for political reasons during Ben Ali's 23-year rule had been released.

"We are in agreement for a general amnesty," Higher Education Minister Ibrahim said on Thursday.

Authorities have said they arrested 33 members of Ben Ali's family for crimes against the state. On Friday, Interior Minister Ahmed Friia named one of those held as Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Ben Ali's wife Leila.

"Regarding our ability to track down those relatives of the ex-president and his wife who ran away, fleeing from Tunisia will not help them," he told a televised news conference. "Tunisia has treaties with countries all over the world."

Tunisian state TV showed pictures of weapons being removed from the homes of Ben Ali family members. "This shows the excesses of this family," it said.

Ben Ali fell after weeks of unrest spurred by anger over poverty, unemployment and repression. It was the first popular uprising to topple an Arab leader in decades.

European traders said on Friday Tunisia's state grains agency had completed its first grains tender since the unrest.

Central Bank governor Mustafa Kamel Nabli told reporters Tunisia was considering postponing plans to borrow money abroad until its credit rating recovered.

"After what happened, we decided to review returning to international (debt) markets once things become clearer and after we return to (previous) rating levels," he said.

A 2014 deadline for the full convertibility of its dinar currency might also be delayed, he added

Karzai wins Russian backing on milestone visit

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted an invitation Friday to visit Afghanistan during a milestone summit with Hamid Karzai that aimed to revive the two sides' Soviet-era trade ties.

The embattled Afghan leader paid his first state visit to Russia amid political mayhem at home that saw him delay the seating of a new parliament and face renewed questions about his ability to lead the war-ravaged state.

But Karzai found warm support in Moscow during a visit in which he also held private talks in the country residence of Russia's de facto leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
"I told the president that we expect to see Afghanistan provide for its own security and state independence -- and that the Russian government was ready to extend Afghanistan thorough support," Medvedev said after the talks.

A joint statement said "Medvedev has gratefully accepted Hamid Karzai's invitation to visit Afghanistan" but gave no date for the trip.

Karzai has waged a war of words with Washington over the timing of international troops' withdrawal and his ability to prepare a force that can take over security duties once the NATO-led presence winds down by 2014.

He said that Russia was likely to play a much broader role in preparing Afghan soldiers -- an assignment that has been largely handled by Washington -- and repairing the country's heavily damaged bridges and dams.

"We hope that Russia will be able to help transfer responsibility for security to the Afghan government and forces by the end of 2014 so that Afghanistan can determine its own fate in the future," said Karzai.

His visit came amid Russian efforts to resurrect its economic and political presence in a country that has haunted Moscow since the dying days of the Soviet state.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to stamp out the US-backed mujahedeen resistance but its troops were forced to beat a retreat 10 years later.

That traumatic experience prompted Russia to refuse a direct role in the current Afghan campaign.

But Moscow has allowed NATO to conduct non-military transports across its territory and further sought to boost the number of lucrative trade deals it signs with Kabul in exchange for Russia's technological know-how.

The blooming relationship has been periodically clouded by Russian misgivings over Karzai's inability to curb the flow of opium and other drugs to former Soviet lands in Central Asia and Russia.

Karzai has lashed out at a joint US-Russia drugs raid on a laboratory in eastern Afghanistan in October and pointedly refused to be drawn on the issue when asked about it during his joint appearance with Medvedev.

But a top Russian security officials said Karzai had agreed to allow Russia to take part in future drug busts.

"Such operations will continue," Federal Drug Control Service chief Viktor Ivanov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

The two presidents' meeting concluded with the signature of an economic cooperation agreement and a broader commitment from the two heads of state to foster closer diplomatic relations.

A Kremlin communique said the agreements concerned Russia's construction of hydroelectric power plants and grain storage facilities around Afghanistan.

Putin separately promised Karzai some 500 million dollars in investments should Russia's Inter RAO UES energy company be put in charge of a major Afghan power line construction project.

The state-run ITAR-TASS news agency said the two sides also discussed Russia's supply of communication equipment to Afghanistan as well as fuel and spare parts.
Russia has sent more than 80 transport helicopters to Afghanistan under a 2009 agreement with the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the United States has decided to award a contract to Russia's state exporter to supply another 21 Mi-17 helicopters to the Afghan military.

Chinese Leader Gets Ride on Chicago’s Big Shoulders

After three days of rock-star treatment — a glittering state dinner at the White House, a lunch with hundreds of American business and policy leaders who fairly gushed praise, a Thursday evening dinner here capped by a $1 million gift to Chinese students — President Hu Jintao of China and an entourage of senior officials departed for home on Friday.

Perhaps nowhere was he celebrated more than in Chicago, which is working feverishly to establish itself as the go-to city for Chinese corporate offices and investment. Mayor Richard M. Daley has been to China four times in six years to promote his (and President Obama’s) hometown. Chicago’s public schools have enrolled 12,000 students in Mandarin classes.

And one of Chicago’s elite public schools, Walter Payton College Prep, is host to the Chinese government’s most ardent effort at image-polishing — a Confucius Institute, one of roughly 280 established worldwide. On Thursday, Mr. Hu dined on filet mignon with civic and business leaders and Mayor Daley, who announced a $1 million grant from the Margot and Tom Pritzker Family Foundation to bring promising Chinese designers and architects to study at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The following morning, Mr. Hu reciprocated. During a visit to Payton College Prep, he announced that his government would bring 20 of the school’s faculty and students to China during this summer, prompting cheers from students — all of whom are studying Mandarin and needed no translation to understand his remarks. Whether Chicago’s courtship of Mr. Hu will pay off remains to be seen. But so far, it has not done badly. About 30 Chinese companies have offices in the city, officials say, and about 300 Chicago companies operate in China.

Translation Tweak

“President Hu realizes that — and told the world — that China has to do better.”

That was the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, on Thursday, a day after Mr. Hu said at a news conference with Mr. Obama that “a lot still needs to be done in terms of human rights” in China.

One would have to work hard, Mr. Gibbs added, to recall any Chinese leader “making such a frank admission.”

True enough. But on closer inspection, it appeared that — publicly, at least — Mr. Hu actually conceded nothing. The problem begins with China’s definition of human rights. Practically, the government defines them in terms of economic development: a 2008 statement to the United Nations, for example, mentioned poverty, famine, disease, war, climate change and food, and financial and oil crises as threats to human rights. Political rights went unmentioned.

And Mr. Hu’s remarks that China had a long way to go? “They say that all the time,” said Susan Shirk, a professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Consider the 2009 edition of “Progress in China’s Human Rights,” a high-level government document. “Due to its inadequate and unbalanced development,” the report says of China, “there is still much room for improvement in its human rights conditions.”

Finally, Mr. Hu caught the ears of some American officials and China watchers when he said on Thursday that China accepted the “universal value” of human rights. That would signal a shift in official policy; up to now, the state media has condemned the notion that human rights are a universal value, dismissing it as a Western belief that is unsuited to China.

But in fact, it was Mr. Hu’s translator, not the Chinese president, who uttered the words “universal value.” What Mr. Hu actually said, it was later discovered, was “universal principle” — government boilerplate that underlies China’s longstanding policies.

Piano Politics?

One of the highlights of the state dinner was a performance by Lang Lang, a Chinese pianist who has been a sensation in music circles. Mr. Lang played a duet with the American jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, then a haunting traditional Chinese melody called “My Motherland.”

In China, it turns out, “My Motherland” is better known as the theme from the film “Battle on Shangganling Mountain,” a 1956 Chinese classic about a Korean War battle in which a vastly outnumbered band of Chinese soldiers held off American and United Nations forces for 42 days.

If, in retrospect, “My Motherland” might seem to be a regrettable choice for a state dinner, it clearly was unintentional. Mr. Lang, an American-trained pianist who divides his time between the United States and China, is an artist who melds American and Chinese cultures.

The Onion Weighs In

Not many American policymakers would disagree that the United States’ growing indebtedness to China, which has financed American spending through its purchases of Treasury bonds, is an issue of concern. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it succinctly when, according to one of the WikiLeaks cables made public last year, she asked the Australian prime minister, “How do you deal toughly with your banker?”

But leave it to The Onion, the satirical news outlet, to come up with a bright side to making your competitor rich. After the state dinner, the editors posted this flash on Twitter: “> @TheOnion: BREAKING #NEWS: Chinese President Hu Jintao Pays For #StateDinner While President Obama in Bathroom”

FATA-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Indoor Games to start Monday

The first FATA-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Indoor Games would commence on Monday with the collaboration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Olympic Association and Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP) here at Qayyum Sports Complex.

This was stated by Provincial Minister for Sports Syed Aqil Shah while addressing a press conference here on Sunday.

Flanked by Program Manager Tahir Ali of CAMP and Secretary of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Olympic Association, Syed Aqil Shah said that the Game is first of its kind wherein players from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would compete.

A total of 150 players in events like Wrestling, Table Tennis, (Men & Women), Snooker, Judo, Karate, Badminton (Men & Women), Weightlifting, Football and Volleyball would compete in the Games to be continued for five-day.

Tahir Ali on this occasion said that CAMP has so far initiated 25 projects in different sectors for the youth development across the country including FATA. He thanked Syed Aqil Shah for extending all out support in holding the Games in befitting manners.

The aim and objective of the Games is to give awareness to the youth to come forward for establishing durable peace, democracy and development. The youth are the key assets and our future builders of the nation so the CAMP has give due importance by involving them in healthy activities.

He said all the indoor games have been included but with a special request made by Syed Aqil Shah so the events of Football and Volleyball (Men) have been in the overall discipline list. "We want to provide a proper platform for the youth of FATA in particular and other part in general so that they could come up and show their skills at national and international levels," he added.

Syed Aqil Shah said that he would talk to the Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani regarding holding of field games in future while utilizing the same platform. He said there is no dearth of talent in FATA, specially in games like volleyball, football, basketball and athletics, therefore, in future these games would also be included to provide due opportunities of the player of FATA to come up in the main stream of talent.

Afghan assembly must meet 'as soon as possible:' US

The United States called Friday for the new parliament in Kabul to "convene as soon as possible" after Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided to delay its opening.

"We're working to try to resolve this, but we've made clear, as has the UN, that we believe that parliament should convene as soon as possible," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) earlier voiced "deep concern" at Karzai's decision and said it wanted to see the fraud-hit parliament convene "as soon as possible."

The comments increased the pressure on Karzai, already facing a tense situation after many lawmakers vowed to open the parliament without him on Sunday in open defiance of his authority.

The US government, Crowley said, is "working to try to resolve" the situation, especially through US ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

"We obviously want to see the political process and the government move forward. There's no shortage of action for the government to take," he said.

Bacha Khan's Message In Pakistan And Afghanistan

Followers of the nonviolent Pashtun movement known as Khudai Khidmatgar Movement (Servants of God) are marking 23 years since the death of their legendary leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. In addition to celebrations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, peace gatherings, discussions, and seminars are being held in Europe, United States, and the Middle East to pay tribute to a beloved leader who admirers say dedicated his life to social, political, economic, and cultural emancipation for Pashtuns.

These days, the region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border garners international headlines mostly with images of war, destruction, and violence. From the rugged and mountainous Waziristan tribal region to the picturesque Swat Valley, the conflict between Pakistani security forces and Taliban militants has displaced millions of people, left thousands dead or wounded, and destroyed health and educational infrastructure in the region.

Many outside observers in the West do not know that peace-loving Pashtuns living in the violence-marred border regions once struggled under the banner of an epoch-making nonviolent movement. In the 1930s, Khan (1890-1988), also known as Bacha Khan (King Khan), launched his nonviolent movement to reform the stagnant Pashtun society and to mobilize Pashtuns to struggle for their rights against British imperial rule in the Indian subcontinent through peaceful agitation.

"Very rarely does the world see leaders who raise their society from the ignominious depths of ignorance and obscurity to the heights of enlightenment and glory. Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of this rare breed of leaders," writes Sher Zaman Taizi, an eminent Pashtun scholar.

Himself the son of a feudal lord, Abdul Ghafar Khan advocated land reforms, equal economic opportunities, social justice, change through education, and peaceful coexistence of all communities irrespective of their ethnic and religious affiliations.Despite high claims and yearning for lasting peace and stability in the region by the international community, the fact remains that we have failed to revive Bacha Khan’s philosophy of non-violence. The perpetrators of violence have seized the upper hand by popularizing characters like Mullah Omar and Baitullah Mehsud and marginalizing true heroic figures like Bacha Khan -- who is not very well known to the younger generations either inside or outside of the Pashtun heartlands.

"I was shocked at how we in the West know nothing about Bacha Khan," says Human Rights Watch's Peter Bouckaert. "We learned about Gandhi in school. Almost everybody in the United States and Europe has seen the movies about Gandhi and the role he played in the nonviolence movement and then as an inspiration for Martin Luther King and others."

Bouckaert tells RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that he first learned about Bacha Khan in 2001, when, while sifting through some pictures in the home of a friend, he saw a photo of Gandhi standing next to a bearded man. His host then told him the story of Khan and his importance in the Pashtun community.

"As I learned more about Bacha Khan, I realized he was as important and as courageous a figure as Gandhi was," Bouckaert says. "He played an important role not only in the struggle for nonviolence, but also in the struggle against extremism."

Bacha Khan was a true visionary who believed that world peace is not possible without healthy debate on all outstanding issues between nations. He was a person who thought beyond the narrow interest of Pakistan, or India, or Afghanistan and pursued an agenda that sought to ensure peace in the region.Khan paid a very high price for his activism. He spent almost half of his life in prison.

"I think if his message of peace and co-existence had been embraced by more people in the region, we would not be faced with the very difficult condition that we continue to see in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Bouckaert says.

Unlike in Pakistan, Bacha Khan is both well-known and looked upon with great respect in India, where he is known as "the Frontier Gandhi." The Indian government even bestowed two prestigious awards on Khan, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1969, and the Bharat Ratna Award in 1987.

B.R. Singh, a former senior Indian civil servant, told RFE/RL of a visit by Gandhi to the frontier regions where he met with the leaders of Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar Movement.

"Gandhi asked them, 'What would you do if tomorrow Bacha Khan turns violent?' Now such was the impact that Bacha Khan had created, that they replied, 'We would remain nonviolent.'

"Certainly the Pashtuns had a reputation for violence, yet it is remarkable that Bacha Khan was able to bring about a peaceful transformation, and the Pashtun people followed him. He made them commit themselves to nonviolence," Singh recalls.

After struggling against social evils, superstition, and suppression for 70 years, Bacha Khan breathed his last at the age of 98 on January 20, 1988, at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. Pashtuns -- indeed, all the people of the world -- would do well to recall Khan's message of nonviolence and peace. Today, we remember him.

Attack on Sri Lankan cricketers was kidnap plot

The terrorist group which launched the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team planned to kidnap the players and swap them for militants jailed in Pakistan, according to one of the gunmen.
In an interview with Ahmad Faraz of Pakistan's Geo News television channel, Abdul Wahab, who was caught and jailed following the attack, said the raid was planned with militant leaders of the Lashkar e Jhangvi terrorist group in Waziristan. The LeJ is linked to various al-Qaeda and Taliban groups and has carried out a number of attacks on Christians and Shia Muslims.
The raid, in which six policemen and a driver were killed, left seven players and their coach injured. The ease with which the terrorists were able to strike at the players' team bus provoked serious criticism of the Pakistani authorities and calls for the country to be banned from hosting international cricket matches.
Abdul Wahab was one of 12 attackers who arrived on rickshaws close to Lahore's Gaddafi cricket stadium and ambushed the bus carrying the Sri Lankan team with a hail of machine gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. At the time the attack appeared to be inspired by the 2008 Mumbai attack in which ten terrorists killed 166 people in a three-day massacre.
In an interview with Geo News, Wahab, who is also known as Omar, said the group's plan had been to kidnap members of the Sri Lankan cricket team and hold them hostage until they could trade their freedom for the release of Lashkar e Jhangvi militants held in jail.
"The operation was planned in Waziristan and there were 12 of us designated for this mission. I belonged to the Lashkar e Jhangvi Amjad Farooqi group. We were supposed to take them hostage and then our superiors would have bargained their release in exchange for some of our companions in their custody," he said.He and his comrades had arrived at the Liberty roundabout close to the city centre a few minutes before the team bus. "We came in a rickshaw and on motorcycles that we had purchased for this operation," he added.

Barack Obama to run re-election campaign from Chicago

Barack Obama has finalised plans for his re-election campaign, deciding to move senior White House staff members to his home town of Chicago in an attempt to recreate the winning formula from 2008.
Although the next US presidential election is not until November 2012, and Mr Obama has little idea who his Republican opponent will be, discussions about the re-election effort have been taking place for months.
Aides have now revealed that Mr Obama decided on Chicago in order to help the campaign to escape the insular political atmosphere of Washington and to connect more easily with the "real" America.
The campaign will start by rebuilding the grassroots volunteer network that was crucial to Mr Obama's earlier success.
However, no president in the modern era has been re-elected with a headquarters so far from the capital, and some White House officials argued that the move to Chicago would lead to a lack of co-ordination.
Mr Obama will send Jim Messina, his deputy chief of staff, to run the campaign, along with two other aides, Julianna Smoot and Jennifer O'Malley Dillon. David Axelrod, his chief adviser in the White House and a Chicago native, will return home to advise the campaign.The president's thoughts are turning to re-election at a time when he is enjoying surprising political momentum. Despite a heavy defeat for his Democratic allies in Congress in November's midterm elections, he has since outmanoeuvred Republicans by moving to the centre. He has also been praised for his handling of the Arizona shooting.
Recent polls have shown that voters are increasingly appreciative of the president's job performance. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey showed Mr Obama's approval rating surging to 53 per cent, eight points higher than in December.
He is likely to begin campaigning in late spring or early summer, around the same time in the cycle as Bill Clinton and George W Bush, who both won second terms.
Within the next few months a number of Republicans hoping to win the nomination to challenge Mr Obama will throw their hats into the ring. Likely contenders include several former state governors such as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, as well as Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House.
Even at this early stage, the thrust of Mr Obama's case for re-election is clear. He will maintain that he staved off a second Great Depression and urge Americans not to change course in the middle of a recovery, however slow it may be.
He will also seek to turn his landmark health care reform into an electoral asset and say he has renewed America's image abroad after the polarising presidency of George W Bush. He will also be able to say he has brought US troops home from Iraq.

4 million flood-hit Pakistanis still homeless: Red Cross

More than four million Pakistanis are still homeless six months after historic floods devastated the South Asian country, the Red Cross said Friday.
"Six months on from the devastating flooding in Pakistan, more than four million people remain in a desperate situation without adequate shelter," said the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in a statement.
Families who have begun leaving camps and temporary shelters have returned to find that their homes are no longer inhabitable, leading to a "secondary wave of displacement."
"The cruelty of this disaster is that millions of people were driven from their homes by the floods. They have endured miserable conditions, living for months under canvas or tarpaulins," said Gocha Guchashvili, IFRC flood operations coordinator in Pakistan.
"Now they are returning home to almost nothing. Their houses, their fields and their livelihoods are ruined," she noted.
Catastrophic monsoon rains that swept through the country in July and August affected 21 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land.
The IFRC urged donors to dig deep, saying that its appeal of 130 million Swiss francs (135 million dollars) is only 59 percent covered.
"Full funding will allow the IFRC to support 130,000 families in their recovery over two years," it noted.

Hu's US visit shapes new political civilization

The joint statement signed by the presidents of China and the US, setting out a new cooperative partnership, put to rest any fears that new Cold War might break out between China and the US.

Their coexistence has created a geo-political miracle. The next decades will tell whether the competition between China and the US will truly change human history, or if differences will triumph. The joint statement was dismissed by some overseas observers. A Reuters analysis stated that no major breakthrough was achieved by the visit of President Hu Jintao.

This view ignored the fact that China and the US are trying to shape a new political civilization. Dependence on mutual cooperation is leaving behind the traditional zero-sum competition between major powers.

Sino-US relations have gone up and down, but both countries have displayed significant care in their handling. China's rise has not challenged existing global institutions, and the US is showing a moderate and pragmatic attitude toward a rising power.

The public in both countries do maintain a certain distrust toward each other, but their leaders have correctly advanced bilateral ties in uncertain times, thus laying a foundation for lasting world peace.

Strong rhetoric, though eye-catching, cannot prevail over the desire of peace and prosperity. Mutual respect and mutual benefits advocated by the joint statement represent the desired true public opinion.

The visit of President Hu Jintao deserves the applause of the world. The message sent has soothed apprehensions in the Asia-Pacific region and ended various speculations. The clearer the stance of China and the US remains, the more stable global development can be. More resources can be devoted toward growth, rather than set aside for nameless fears.

But the cooperative partnership is still subject to change. President Obama said that "the US welcomes China's rise." The message has not been widely accepted in the US. The acceptance and judgment of China's rise in the US will largely decide the direction of Sino-US relations.

Confidence is reciprocal. Mutual trust between China and the US will be built gradually, but firmly.

Afghan Political Crisis Grows as Legislators Vow to Defy Karzai and Open Parliament

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s political crisis worsened on Thursday, as the winning candidates in September’s elections vowed to take their seats in the new Parliament on Sunday in defiance of a delay announced by President Hamid Karzai.

The declaration set up a potentially volatile showdown with the president, who announced on Wednesday that he would postpone the Parliament’s inauguration while a special court he appointed investigated allegations of fraud by losing candidates. Many of them are from Mr. Karzai’s political base in the heavily Pashtun south.

The winning candidates and several Afghan and international officials say the court has no jurisdiction, and Mr. Karzai’s opponents charge that the president is trying to engineer a more favorable outcome for himself.

There are growing concerns among diplomats, Afghan officials and candidates on all sides that the standoff could lead to violent protests and even open war between Afghanistan’s rival ethnic groups.

At a meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel here, more than 200 newly elected members of Parliament agreed in a public display of unity to open the new session on Sunday, with or without the president’s approval. If the government stopped them from entering the Parliament headquarters, they said, they would meet in the street or in a mosque.

“We don’t care about President Karzai’s decree about delaying the new Parliament, because this is totally against our national Constitution and against the election laws,” said the interim speaker of the new Parliament, Hajji Mohammad Sarwar Osmani, who is from Farah Province.

“Even if the government forces oppose us from going to the Parliament building,” he added, “those soldiers are also our sons, and we won’t arm wrestle with them. We will go to one of the big mosques in Kabul City or come to this hotel if the owner of the hotel lets us and start work of our new Parliament here.”

Naheed Farid, of Herat Province, the interim secretary of the body, said, “Maybe we’ll start in the street if we have to.”

The show of defiance by the incoming legislators not only heightened the prospect of a constitutional crisis, but also showed signs of ethnic fractures within the Parliament. Although 213 of the 249 elected members were at the meeting, it was not clear the extent to which the Pashtuns in the group would support the move. Some interviewed afterward said they would not attend the opening Sunday.

The members had already gathered at the hotel for a weeklong training session in preparation for what had been the expected inauguration on Sunday.

Mr. Osmani, who was named interim speaker by the members until a new speaker could be chosen after Parliament opened, said all of the attending members agreed. And throughout the two-and-a-half hour meeting, the only strong signal of dissent came when one member walked out near the end, later telling a reporter that he was too disturbed to talk.

Another member, Hajji Obaidullah, a new Pashtun member of Parliament from Oruzgan Province, said in an interview after the meeting that the winning candidates should wait for the special court to finish its work.

“Me, personally, I will not go to the Parliament on Sunday,” he said. “I will wait for the court’s decision.”

He said he thought 60 to 70 members, mainly Pashtuns, also believed that they should wait for Mr. Karzai to open the session.

“The reason why most of them said yes was because they were kind of under pressure or didn’t want to make any of their friends mad,” he said. “But the facts are something else, and you’ll see something different in one or two days.”

The uncertainty about what may happen on Sunday — whether the candidates’ efforts prompt riots or worse — is causing concern. One losing candidate who hopes for a new election predicted violence if the Parliament did not defer to Mr. Karzai.

“Warlordism will start again in this country,” said the former candidate, Abdul Hadi Safi, 49, a former Parliament member from Kapisa Province who lost his seat in September. “Because if these people do not believe in the president, in the courts and in Islam, then it’s better to start jihad against them.”

The question of whether Mr. Karzai will inaugurate the new Parliament has been brewing since election results were certified by separate commissions set up to run the elections and investigate complaints.

The commissions have the backing of the international community. But the Karzai administration, led by the attorney general, has appeared intent on overturning the results and forcing a new election, as well as indicting several members of the Independent Elections Commission, which ran the election, and the Elections Complaint Commission, which investigated voter irregularities.

The appointment of the special court last month added new fuel to the crisis.

The dispute is proving especially difficult for the international community in behind-the-scenes efforts to broker a deal. Establishing a stable, democratic government able to provide services across the country is a crucial steppingstone in the plan by the United States-led coalition forces to turn over responsibility for security of the country in 2014.

But for a government overrun by corruption and barely visible in many parts of the country, the electoral crisis is proving to be another step backward after the fraud-tainted presidential election in 2009, with no easy way to reverse course.

“Nobody wants to be on the wrong side,” meaning the losing side, said a Western diplomat in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid offending Afghan politicians. “There has to be an outcome so nobody loses face.”

According to this diplomat, the most likely outcome will be some form of a limited recount, rather than an outright annulment.

“A general recount is unrealistic,” the diplomat said. “Karzai now talks about changing 30 seats. That will not give him the Parliament he hoped for, but it is enough to say he did not lose.”

But any form of recount is likely to cause more discord, particularly from those forced to give up their seats.

President Karzai, meanwhile, left for Russia on Thursday for talks on trade and counternarcotics efforts with President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin. His office issued no statements and did not return calls about the Parliament issue on Thursday.

Pashtuns, who make up more than 40 percent of the population, are not alone among the aggrieved parties but have been the most outspoken in complaining about the results. They lost 26 members, giving them only 94 out of 249 seats.

Before lunch on Thursday, the winning candidates formed three committees: one to deal with the media; one to negotiate with the government to provide security for Sunday when they begin their work; and one to urge the international community to pressure Mr. Karzai into accepting the election results.

“In this regard, we want America, the United Nations, human rights groups and the international community to rescue our country from this crisis,” Mr. Osmani, the interim speaker, said. “Otherwise no one will be able to prevent this from leading to a bigger crisis and violence.”