Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Minority minister and the missing security

Shahbaz Gill, a domestic servant employed at the house of Shahbaz Bhatti`s mother, told Dawn that he was locking the door of the house “after seeing off sahib at the main gate” when he heard the first few shots. He ran out along with a sister of Bhatti and saw that the attack had been targeted against the minister.

When asked if the minister was accompanied by security guards, Gil said: “I really don`t know. At least, when I closed the main door there wasn`t any police vehicle around.”

Gil`s words highlighted the mystery that continued to remain unanswered for the rest of the day. Why was the minister travelling without his security guards?

It is important to note here that Bhatti had been facing threats since the recent controversy over the Blasphemy Law had blown up. Especially after Taseer`s assassination, Bhatti had said time and again that his life was in danger. This is why he was shifting to the minister`s enclave on the very day that he died because the enclave enjoyed better security.

The only and first Christian member of the federal cabinet, Bhatti had preferred till now to stay in his private residence. However, he had decided to make this move after three years because of security concerns.

In fact in a video which appeared on BBC on Wednesday, he can be seen predicting his own death. Recorded about four months ago, according to media reports, and to be broadcast in the event of his death, the video shows the minister speaking of threats from the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

“These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles,” he says.But why would a man aware of the dangers to his life be travelling alone? The answers that came to light were inadequate. According to the authorities, the minister was in the habit of leaving his security guards behind.

In a hurriedly arranged news conference at PIMS, Chief Commissioner Tariq Mehmood Pirzada and Inspector General of Police Wajid Ali Durrani were at pains to explain that the incident was not a security lapse. They claimed that the minister was provided security cover — six men from the Frontier Constabulary, five policemen as well as four guards of his own choosing from the police. These numbers were confirmed by the interior ministry.

They further added that the minister was in the habit of visiting his mother accompanied only by his personal driver. His security squad waited for him at his office-cum-residence in I-8/4.

“He directed his guards not to give him security cover whenever he visited his mother`s residence,” the police quoted his guards. Dawn

That his official staff, including the guards, was waiting for him at his office was confirmed by others including his official driver. “We got a call from the driver of the minister who told us that he (Bhatti) had been attacked so we rushed to the location minutes away from his private residence,” Salamat, the official driver told .

However, a senior police officer, who did not want to be named, said that the security guards should have been with the minister all the time. In his opinion, it was illogical that someone who feared for his life would have left his security guards behind.

Dawn has also learnt that Bhatti had unsuccessfully sought high level security and a bullet-proof car from the government.

He is said to have sent a number of letters to the interior ministry demanding security similar to that enjoyed by ministers such as Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Law Minister Babar Awan. They have four to five security vehicles in their squad.“Mr Bhatti had demanded a bullet-proof car from the government,” a close relative of the slain leader and PPP minority women wing president Dr Tasneem Kausar said.

She said the interior ministry had not responded and as a result he had hired private security guards. However, she also conceded that she had “not seen any official guards at the residence of the minister.”

A senior official at the interior ministry told on the condition of anonymity that the interior ministry had not received any such request from Bhatti. “Rather he sent some letters to the ministry, demanding fool proof security,” he added. He too claimed that the minister did not use the security guards when he went to his residence.

“Usually a head constable or an assistant sub inspector is in-charge of the security squad of a minister and such men dare not disobey the minister,” he said.

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been formed to probe into the assassination. The police said that the sketches of the attackers had been prepared and released to the public.

Intelligence agencies answerable to Balochistan govt: SC

During a hearing of the missing persons’ case on Tuesday, the Supreme Court directed the Balochistan government to contact intelligence agencies regarding the issue, DawnNews reported.

The apex court further said that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other intelligence agencies were answerable to the Balochistan government as well as to the courts.

During the hearing, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry remarked that despite the law and order situation in the province, authorities had failed to apprehend a significant number of suspects involved in target killings and kidnapping for ransom.

Moreover, Advocate General Balochistan told the court that 244 people had been killed in the province in 2010 and that the provincial government had compensated the affected families.

Chief Justice Iftikhar directed Chief Secretary Balochistan to submit within four weeks a report regarding the local government elections and the missing lawyers.

Lawyers protest Bhatti’s murder

Pakistani lawyers and human rights activists rally to condemn the killing of Christian leader Shahbaz Bhatti

Yemen protests hit Saleh fiefdom, military in Sanaa

Yemeni protests demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule spread to a tribal area considered his political stronghold Tuesday, and military vehicles deployed in the capital.

Around 10,000 protesters marched in the city of Dhamar, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Sanaa, residents said by telephone. Dhamar is known for ties to Saleh and is the hometown of Yemen's prime minister, interior minister and head judge.
"Leave! leave!" the protesters shouted in Dhamar, just two days after Saleh loyalists there held a similar-sized rally. Protesters also pelted a municipal official with rocks.
Burgeoning protests fueled by anger over poverty and corruption, and a series of defections from Saleh's political and tribal allies, have added pressure on him to step aside this year even as he pledges to stay on until his term ends in 2013.
"Across the board, what you're seeing is that more and more people are really starting to crystallize around this single call for the president to step down," Princeton University Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen said.
In the capital Sanaa, where thousands of protesters have camped out for weeks, military vehicles with armed soldiers spread across streets in what appeared to be a response to calls by youth activists for a march to the presidential palace.
Police brought out water cannon and placed concrete blocks around Sanaa University, the rallying point for anti-Saleh protest that had been quiet in recent days, after weeks of fierce clashes across the country between government loyalists and protesters killed at least 27 people.
Yemen, neighbor to oil giant Saudi Arabia, was teetering on the brink of failed statehood even before recent protests. Saleh has struggled to cement a truce with Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north and curb secessionist rebellion in the south, all while fighting al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing.
Analysts say protests may be reaching a point where it will be difficult for Saleh, a shrewd politician, to cling to power.
Yemen's foreign minister blamed growing protests on poor economic conditions. Some 40 percent of Yemen's 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger. Abubakr al-Qirbi said he wanted foreign donors to inject up to $6 billion to fill a five-year budget gap.
"What we need is really development and economic growth because the present political crisis is really as a result of the economic situation in Yemen," he said at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers' meeting Monday in Abu Dhabi.
Protesters, who are demanding greater participation in a government largely led by Saleh's closest allies, say they are frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment, which is at 35 percent or higher.
Princeton's Johnsen said calls for foreign aid where a tactical move by Saleh to buy time to divide the protesters.
"Yemen wants more money to come in and Saleh wants to try and fragment the protesters as much as he can. President Saleh is trying to string this out as long as possible in the hopes he can pit different interest groups against one another" he said.
Last week, Saleh rejected a plan by the opposition coalition which would have implemented political and electoral reforms paving the way for him to step down in 2011, instead accepting a more modest reform package from religious clerics.
Thousands of primary and secondary students marched in the southern provinces of Shabwa, Aden and Lahaj Tuesday. UNICEF said earlier it was concerned some protesters were threatening students to join protests
"No studying, no teaching until the president falls," they shouted, echoing a chant started earlier in the day by university students in Ibb, south of the capital.
In Ibb, protesters marched through the streets to denounce a Sunday attack against an anti-government protest camp by Saleh loyalists. Some 60 people were wounded in the melee, and Omar Atta, 18, died from his injuries Monday night.
"My son sacrificed himself, this is my family's gift to the revolution in Yemen," his father said in a tearful speech to protesters in Ibb Tuesday

Afghan president tells his people hard year ahead

Afghanistan's president has warned his people that the coming year will be difficult as U.S.-led forces slowly start handing over responsibility for the country's security to Afghan troops.

Hamid Karzai has also renewed a call for the closure of foreign military bases that run reconstruction and development programs, and the private security companies that protect many construction projects funded by international donors.

Karzai spoke on Tuesday at an event marking International Women's Day.

He has repeatedly criticized the so-called provincial reconstruction teams — or PRTs — for undermining the central government by offering alternative sources of funding and public works. He has likened the private security companies to private militias.

Petraeus, Gates Libya 'Bombing' Joke

Afghanistan's only female governor

Gates Sees Crucial Test for U.S. in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Tuesday that the United States faces an “acid test” this spring and summer to determine if gains in the war are sustainable.

He also said that there are unlikely to be any American troop withdrawals in July from the hard-fought southern part of the country. President Obama has ordered that withdrawals begin in July and American commanders are determining where they will come from and how many there will be. Mr. Gates’s trip here is in part to participate in those discussions.

On the second day of a two-day trip to Afghanistan, Mr. Gates traveled first to the bloodiest spot in the war, the Taliban narcotics center of Sangin in Helmand Province, and then to a village in the Arghandab district of Kandahar Province, where a fledgling program to arm local Afghan police is underway. Both are in the south.

In an attempt to show that the United States is making progress, Mr. Gates strolled for 15 minutes without body armor — although surrounded by a heavily armed security force — down a dirt road to the Arghandab village of Tabin, where he met with eight new recruits of the Afghan Local Police.

The program, begun three months ago, was at first opposed by President Hamid Karzai, who feared it would create anti-government militias. But American commanders pushed it as a way to encourage Afghan men to defend their own villages instead of relying on American forces.

So far, 4,500 officers have enrolled. Mr. Gates said he was encouraged by the program, although he cautioned that progress in the war is “fragile and reversible.”

Tuesday was the first time he said that the troop withdrawals would probably not come from the south. Throughout the day, Mr. Gates and the commanders he met with predicted heavy fighting this spring and summer as the weather warms and the Taliban regroup from their traditional winter hiatus.

“We expect the Taliban to try and take back much of what they’ve lost,” Mr. Gates said. “And that will really in many respects be the acid test of how effective the progress we’ve made is going to be.”

In Sangin, where 29 American Marines have been killed and 175 wounded in the last five months, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jason Morris, said his Marines had killed some 400 insurgents since October and that the fighting had abated. But he said he was preparing for a new round.

“We’re expecting the violence to pick up in the next few weeks,” he said. The losses among the 900 men and women in Sangin are the heaviest losses of any battalion in the nearly decade-long war.

“Your success has come at a terrible price,” Mr. Gates told the Marines in remarks at Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin. Last November, Second Lt. Robert Kelly, 29, the son of Mr. Gates’s new senior military adviser, Lt. Gen. John Kelly, was killed in Sangin.

Child Protection Bureau inaugurated in Peshawar

The Social Welfare and Women Development Department in collaboration with the Unicef and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) here Saturday inaugurated the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) to protect the rights of street children.

Minister for Social Welfare Sitara Ayaz, Minister for Sports Syed Aqil Shah, SDC Director General Martin Dahinden, Unicef representative Robert Hanawalt and Unicef chief in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pirkoh Heinonen attended the ceremony.

Sitara Ayaz said the goal of the bureau was safe and protective environment for children where they could enjoy their rights to protection and development. She said it would provide food, shelter, education and vocational training particularly to street children. “Children would be provided psychosocial and life skills education for development of their personalities through recreational activities,” she said.

The minister said the child bureau would also be established in other parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. She said the initiative to protect the rights of children under the UNCRC and Child Protection and Welfare Act of the provincial government was planned with the assistance from the SDC and Unicef as street children are vulnerable to abuse and violence.

In his address, Robert Hanawalt said the establishment of the bureau was a great achievement of the KP government as other provinces in Pakistan were yet to develop framework on child protection.

He said at the moment there were more than 3,000 unaccompanied children in the city and its close environs with 20 percent on the streets.

He said the Unicef was working in Pakistan since 1964, helping the country in various domains and it was the major partner of the KP Social Welfare Department in protecting the rights of children.

Martin Dahinden, the SDC director general and a veteran diplomat highlighted the vision of the UN Convention on the Rights of Child. He said that in the recent past, Pakistan in general and KP in particular was hit by major calamities such as the earthquake, the displacement crisis and the floods.

Owing to the repeated disasters, he said the children here required more attention, care and assistance to safeguard their rights for a bright future of the country.

Unicef’s Ms Pirkoh Heinonen said it was our duty to protect the rights of the street children who were unaccompanied and exposed to abuse. She added that the Unicef was providing all-out support to the provincial government to protect vulnerable children in Peshawar and areas that suffered during the conflict or recent natural disasters.

Earlier, Minister Sitara Ayaz inaugurated the Child Protection Bureau on Eidgah Road. Aneesur Rehman was appointed as coordinator of the bureau.

International Women's Day centenary

What frustrates Arab women most?

By Yahoo! Maktoob
DUBAI (Yahoo!) - Being overlooked for job promotion is the biggest frustration for women in the Arab world while housework and the pressure to look pretty figure among their top five peeves, a Yahoo! Maktoob Research survey showed.
One-fourth of 915 respondents in the regional survey considered the denial of job promotion as most frustrating, followed by 17% of those who find house chores as the biggest annoyance.

"Women in the Arab world are increasingly filling jobs, so it is interesting to read that some of their biggest frustrations are related to work, such as the denied opportunity for promotion in the workplace and inequality in pay," said Tamara Deprez, head of Yahoo! Maktoob Research in Dubai.

"This should help in correcting some Western misconceptions about women in the Arab world and their role as workers."

The social expectation to look good at all times was found to be most annoying by 8% of respondents, closely followed by the frustrations about inequality in pay and the husband's behaviour.

Arab women think 25 years is the ideal age to get married, according to the survey, which also found that longer the marriage, the more frustrating it gets. More women above the age of 46 said they were unhappy with their husbands.

Interestingly, a quarter of women in Qatar ranked the husband as their biggest peeve rather than not receiving a job promotion.

Top peeves of Arab women

1. Denial of promotion (25%)

2. Household work (17%)

3. Looking good at all times (8%)

4. Inequality in pay (7%)

5. My husband (7%)

6. Having parents-in-law in the house (6%)

7. Providing care to older family members (3%)

8. Children (2%)

Speak out on other issues on Arab Eye, the Yahoo! Maktoob Research community.