Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fears grow of humanitarian crisis in besieged Libyan city

Aid organizations scrambled Wednesday to prepare for large-scale relief operations in Libya, as fears grew of a potential humanitarian crisis in a key city besieged by government forces.International military forces on Wednesday stepped up attacks on government troops in Misurata, 131 miles east of Tripoli. The airstrikes seemed to bring a temporary respite from the fighting that had raged for six days between forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi and rebels, as pro-government tanks retreated from the city center.

But after nightfall, the tanks returned and resumed their attacks, according to a doctor at the city’s main hospital. “They are shelling everywhere,” he said by telephone.

Patients were being treated on the floor, and medical supplies were falling short. Fuel for the generator was running low, and water had been cut off, said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation by Libyan forces.

Humanitarian agencies and the U.S. government have been stockpiling supplies in eastern Libya and in nearby countries in case of emergency. “I am now worried about a humanitarian crisis in Misurata,” said Mark Ward, a top official with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Wednesday’s military action occurred as the Obama administration tried to shore up domestic backing for its role in the Libya operation and to counter criticisms that the president had been either too cautious or too aggressive.

In a call with reporters, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) predicted strong bipartisan support for the U.S. role when Congress reconvenes next week. Durbin said that President Obama had chosen a “very wise course, reminiscent of President George H. W. Bush . . . who built international cooperation” before initiating military action against Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1991.

But House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a letter to Obama on Wednesday saying that he and other lawmakers were troubled that “U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.”

Complex environment

The allied air attacks since Saturday have only deepened the stalemate in Libya. U.S. and allied warplanes on Wednesday aimed their attacks on Gaddafi’s ground forces in Misurata and other key cities but were constrained by fears that strikes in heavily built-up areas could cause civilian deaths.

“It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the coalition.

U.S. military officials have repeatedly called on Gaddafi’s forces to pull back from populated areas so that food, water and fuel can flow in. “Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya,” Hueber said.

International aid organizations have been unable to deliver relief goods to Misurata and other contested towns. Asked whether the U.S. military might play a role in distributing emergency relief, one American official said, “All options are on the table.” He declined to comment further.

In recent days, the World Food Program and International Committee of the Red Cross have moved nearly 2,000 tons of food and other relief supplies into parts of eastern Libya that are under the control of rebel forces. The U.S. government has paid for some of that food and has provided nongovernmental groups in Libya with medical supplies sufficient to treat 40,000 people, officials said.

Abeer Etefa, a spokeswoman with the World Food Program, said the group was planning emergency operations to feed 600,000 Libyans over the next three months.

She said access to food “is becoming increasingly difficult” because of store closures in contested areas. Her agency said this week that in some areas, the price of flour had doubled, the cost of rice had risen 88 percent and the price of vegetable oil had jumped 58 percent.

“If the situation continues like that, it will be very worrisome, simply because this is a country that depends on food imports,” said Etefa, speaking from the Libyan-Egyptian border.

Aid agencies are able to bring supplies into eastern Libya by truck from Egypt or through the rebel-controlled port of Benghazi. But the Libyan government has not allowed aid workers to move freely in areas it controls, making it difficult to assess the extent of the crisis, officials said.

An Obama administration official said there were unconfirmed reports of about 80,000 people displaced inside Libya by the fighting. “That number is likely higher,” said the official, who was not authorized to comment on the record.

In Brussels, NATO ambassadors continued to discuss a plan for the United States to relinquish command of the Libya mission to a broader coalition. The plan, agreed to by President Obama and his British and French counterparts, would turn military control of the operation over to NATO, with operational headquarters at the Naples-based Allied Joint Forces Command.

Political decision-making and oversight would be supplied by a larger group of partners, most likely made up of NATO’s North Atlantic Council and representatives from non-NATO countries participating in the military mission, including Arab states. U.S. and European officials said they hoped for agreement on the plan by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, Britain said it would host an international conference in London on Tuesday for all countries involved in the Libya situation, including those not contributing military assets. In addition to discussing implementation of United Nations resolutions on Libya, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the gathering would “consider the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people and identify ways to support the people of Libya in their aspirations for a better future.”

One child dies every minute in Pakistan

In Pakistan the situation of child health is pathetic and serious efforts are needed by the government and civil society to save lives of hundreds of thousands of kids, who die every year from preventable diseases.

The grim picture of child health situation could be seen in the annual health report of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) for the year 2011, which says one child died every minute from EPI (expanded program on immunization diseases), diarrhea and acute respiratory infection (ARI). The report also reveals that every year about 400000 infants die in the first year of their life.

Child health in Pakistan is among the most important national issues that need a proper and serious attention. The child mortality in Pakistan is a major cause of concern, with every 1 among 10 children dying before reaching the age of five and 1 among 30, just after they are born. Pakistan is among the developing nations of the world that has yet to do much for the welfare of the general public.

Pneumonia and air pollution seem to be the factors affecting the health of the children in Pakistan. The air pollution is mostly caused by harmful emissions of biogas, which is used in most houses of Pakistan.

The main reason behind growing child mortality in Pakistan is lack of child healthcare facilities in rural areas, where majority of population lives. Low state spending on healthcare, abject poverty, low literacy, lack of skilled birth attendants, widespread communicable diseases, insufficient emergency child health services in government run district and rural hospitals are amongst other major reasons behind growing diseases in children.

Maternal, newborn and child health care statistics in Pakistan are some of the poorest in South Asia. A holistic approach is needed to improve maternal and newborn health, mainly by improving and upgrading facilities at the district hospitals.

Most common and lethal diseases in Pakistan include (ARI) acute respiratory, infection, viral hepatitis, malaria, diarrhea, dysentery, scabies, goiter, hepatitis and tuberculosis.

Among the victims of Acute respiratory infection (ARI) most vulnerable are children whose immune systems have been weakened by malnutrition. Majority of children visiting hospitals and dispensaries suffer from the respiratory ailments and serious attention is needed to provide better medical treatment to children living in rural areas.

Viral hepatitis, particularly that caused by types B and C are major epidemics in Pakistan with nearly 12 million individuals infected with either of the virus. The main cause remains massive overuse of therapeutic injections and reuse of syringes during these injections in the private sector healthcare. Children are also amongst the hepatitis patients and their number is growing sharply.

Malaria is a problem faced by the lower class people in Pakistan. The unsanitary conditions and stagnant water bodies in the rural areas and city slums provide excellent breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Like adults children also suffer from malarial diseases, which needs serious attention of healthcare policymakers.

Diarrhea is rampant in the country due to use of contaminated water. It is estimated that about 20percent of diarrhea patients are children. Similarity, diseases like dysentery, scabies, dengue, goiter are also on the rise.

Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Pakistan provides vaccination against childhood tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type b and measles, besides protecting pregnant ladies with tetanus toxoid and their neonates against neo-natal tetanus. However, there is no success even to control polio.

Most births which take place at home under untrained supervision, which are responsible for alarming mortality of mothers and newborns. Children under the age of five face multiple obstacles, including birth injuries and infectious diseases. Millions of children suffer from short- and long-term adverse consequences of illnesses, malnutrition and injuries that impact their well-being and options in life, including fewer educational opportunities and diminished future economic prospects.

Child health is closely related to maternal health, as nutrition during pregnancy, birth conditions, birth spacing, and health status of the mother impact the health of the child prior to, during and after birth. Largely because of these factors, 3 million infants are stillborn each year.

Recent devastation floods in Pakistan have further increased the disease burden. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says as many as three and a half million children in flood-ravaged Pakistan may be at risk of contracting deadly diseases carried through contaminated water and insects.

UNICEF says the greatest threats to public health in Pakistan at the current time are certainly from waterborne diseases, which can intensify in precarious hygiene conditions, and when people have limited or poor access to safe water and sanitation services.

Diseases like cholera or acute watery diarrhoea, dysentery or bloody diarrhoea, typhoid fever and hepatitis, can all cause excess mortality and morbidity amongst the susceptible populations in the flood-hit areas. There is also an increased risk of malaria and dengue fever, since the stagnant water may provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes - the vector that is responsible for transmission.

To cope with the situation, the government must open more children hospitals in the country. In Sindh province, there is just one big children hospital, National Institute of Child Health (NICH), running in Karachi by the federal government. There is dire need to open more children hospitals in the province and improve children departments in the hospitals of government-run teaching colleges in Karachi, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Nawabshah, Sukkur and Larkana.

In order to save lives of children, pediatric wards should be opened in all district headquarter hospitals, where emergency services along with trained child disease experts should be made available.

Children are precious asset of the country and the government at federal, provincial and local government level should take serious efforts to improve healthcare facilities for them.

Chinese Vice Premier stresses balanced economic development, raising people's living standards

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang called for more efforts to promote coordinated economic development and improve the people's living standards.

Li made the remarks during an inspection tour to north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region from Monday to Tuesday.

"Helping impoverished families to meet their basic housing needs is a major program aimed at improving people's living standards," said Li, adding that this was also a major move to expand domestic demand and stimulate economic growth.

Making large-scale efforts to push forward low-income housing projects is an overriding task for the improvement of the people's livelihoods and the promotion of development, said Li.

"More efforts must be made to implement the policies designed to ensure funding, land and fair distribution for low-income housing projects," said Li.

He called for the establishment of a supervisory system for the rare earth industry, and intensive exploitation and efficient utilization of rare earth, a kind of natural resources that the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is rich in.

Li also urged more efforts to ensure the safety of milk sources and push forward the pilot reforms of county-level hospitals to make healthcare more affordable.

Yemeni protesters call for march on palace

Opposition groups in Yemen have called on protesters to march on president Ali Abdullah Saleh's palace in the capital Sanaa on Friday as th country's parliament approved emergency powers which have been used by security forces to crack down on dissent.

"Friday will be the 'Friday of the March Forward', with hundreds of thousands of people... We will arrive where you are and we will remove you," opposition spokesman Mohamed Qahtan told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

The announcement also comes after thousands of protesters gathered in front of Sanaa University, as parliament approved a request by Saleh to impose emergency law for 30 days.

Nearly 3,000 demonstrators chanted outside the university, and some painted their body in the red, white and black colours of the national flag, as they voiced their opposition to the law.

The adoption of the emergency request was a virtual certainty because Saleh's ruling party dominates the 301-seat legislature. It also follows a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, with security forces killing more than 40 protesters on Friday in Sanaa.


Defections including generals, tribal leaders, diplomats and ministers, have also gained momentum after Saleh sacked his cabinet and requested a state of emergency.

On Wednesday, protesters carried placards saying "No to emergency rule, you butcher!" Some had begun selling T-shirts saying "I am a future martyr".

"As sure as the sun is in the sky, he will go," Suleiman Abdullah, a protester, told Reuters news agency.

Complaining of neglect, Yemeni southerners have said they want to secede from the north and have staged several rebellions against Saleh, now facing the biggest fight of his political life.
Long backed by Arab and Western countries as the strongman holding the fractious tribal country together, Saleh is raising the spectre of civil war and disintegration if he is forced out in what he says would be a coup.

Defections among the ruling elite have reached senior military commanders, including General Ali Mohsen, commander of the northwest military zone and Saleh's kinsman from the powerful al-Ahmar clan.

"They call for the regime going and that means chaos and destruction. Yes, the regime could go, but via democratic means and that involves the ballot box and elections. Coups are rejected," Saleh told a meeting of tribal figures on Wednesday.

Tension among rival military forces has also led to violence.

Presidential guards - a force commanded by Saleh's son Ahmed - surrounded an air force battalion in the coastal city of Hudaida after its commander said he supported the protesters.

A presidential guard and a soldier died in clashes between the two forces in the southern coastal city of Mukalla late on Monday, medical sources said.

But protesters are divided over what they think of Ali Mohsen, who was commonly regarded as the second most powerful man in the country before he decided to defect.

'Corrupting the revolution'

Some protesters have displayed his picture on their tents but the opposition regard his motives with suspicion and would not want him to have a role in any future transitional government.

Followers of the Houthi movement of Zaidi Shias in the north said he was responsible for the army's conduct during rebellions of recent years.

"We see Ali Mohsen's joining us as a corruption of the revolution. The revolution is not against an individual but against a system," said Abdullah Hussein al-Dailami, a protester from Saada in the north. He said Mohsen had been Saleh's accomplice.

The United States, grappling with the diplomatic fallout of uprisings and uncertainty across the Arab world, has voiced rare public alarm about the situation in Yemen and the possible fall of someone seen as an ally in the fight against al-Qaeda.

Opponents also complain that Yemen under Saleh has failed to meet the basic needs of the country's 23 million people.

Unemployment is around 35 percent and 50 percent for young people. Oil wealth is dwindling and water is running out.

Al Jazeera shut down

Authorities in Yemen closed down the offices of Al Jazeera in Sanaa on Wednesday and withdrew the press accreditation of all Al Jazeera staff in the country.

Yemen, which has accused Al Jazeera of bias in favour of the demonstrators, last Saturday ordered two Al Jazeera correspondents to leave the country, saying they were working illegally and had acted unprofessionally.

Source: Al Jazeera

Pakistani actress Veena Malik wipes the floor with a ranting mullah. This is what a feminist hero looks like

BY:Ed West
This has really torn me. On the one hand here’s a brave, intelligent, beautiful strong woman standing up to clerical fascism, intimidation and the threat of violence in the Islamic world. On the other hand, she does so by appearing on Big Brother. Which side to take?
Pakistani actress Veena Malik has been criticised in her home country for appearing in the Indian version of that Godawful television show, called Big Boss over there.
And on Pakistani television she is subjected to a lecture by Mufti Abdul Qavi, who tells her: “No one in Pakistan can look at her pictures in the presence of their daughters”, among other things. Bear in mind that not only has she done nothing morally wrong, unless you include dressing in western clothes, but that this is not the same as being criticised by an Anglican or Catholic bishop; the allegation carries real menace in Pakistan.
Watch as she reduces him to nothing. As she says:

“You are not allowed to set eyes on me in my present condition. You should be punished in public, because charity begins at home. Clerics may look at a woman once, but if they look at her a second time, they must be punished. You deserve to be punished.”
“Also if you want to do something for the glory of Islam…. [there is] bribery, robbery, theft and killing in the name of Islam. There are many things to talk about. Why Veena Malik? Because Veena Malik is a woman. Because I’m a soft target.
“Pakistan is infamous for many reasons other than Veena Malik.”
Incredibly brave, considering the political violence in that country, including the recent murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer. There’s a lot of debate in the west about what feminism means – but I think there’s no doubt that Veena Malik is a feminist hero. If there was an award given for heroic women in repressive societies, she would certainly be a candidate.
And contrary to what the Mufti says, she represents an extremely positive side of Pakistan that we in the West rarely get to see.
Ed West is a journalist and social commentator who specialises in politics, religion and low culture. He is @edwestonline on Twitter.

Pakistan Rebuilds - Slowly - Months After Historic Floods

In Pakistan, rebuilding efforts are still underway from last year's devastating floods that submerged one-fifth of the country and displaced some 20 million people.

Mujeeb Ur Rehman, reporter for VOA's Pashto-language Deewa radio service, recently traveled to northwest Pakistan to check on the status of those efforts. Rehman spoke with VOA's Barry Newhouse about what he saw in Swat Valley and how flood relief may have helped changed local opinions about the Taliban.When you are traveling through these areas that have been hit by the floods, can you still see a lot of destruction? Or, have roads and bridges been rebuilt?
"Most of the important bridges which connect one area to another, they were rebuilt. But the work is ongoing, it has not been finished yet. Some places are still blocked by rubble and in other places the roads are blocked by new construction materials where people are rebuilding their houses. People are rebuilding, but they are still struggling hard."This is an area of Pakistan that has seen a fair amount of fighting in recent years. The Taliban took over Swat in 2008, and a year later the government sent troops in to push them out. What impact did the floods have on the government’s struggle with the Taliban.
"Well, when I was in Pakistan, I saw the local population they used to hate the NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. They did not accept the role of NGOs. They were pushed by the Taliban not to accept the NGOs. This was before the floods. In Swat, people were brainwashed by the Taliban and the local mullahs that the NGOs would come and they would liberate your lives and get your women out of your houses and they will work and this and that. But after [the floods] the NGOs played a very important role in helping them in their [relief] camps, giving them water and food and shelter, everything they needed.So, I saw that most of the people now in Swat and also in Charsaddda and Nowshera and other suburban parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, they are now trusting the NGOs. The NGOs are helping more than the government. In Swat, I saw that there is no more control of Taliban because I could see the Pakistani army men roaming around the markets of Swat freely. It was a bit surprising for me because when I was here before, I thought it would not be that easy to roam around. But locals say that it’s typical to see soldiers in the marketplace. The Taliban still are there, but they only carry out guerilla tactics now. They come and hit and then they go."

Are those kinds of attacks are still happening?
"Yes, it’s still happening in Swat, in the suburban areas of Peshawar. They occasionally still hit big targets, but overall, the government is in better control because most of the attacks have been in the outskirts of the cities."

Saudi activists call for 'real' reforms

Saudi Arabian activists says the government's announcement of holding the delayed municipal elections and economic aid package do not meet popular demands for political reforms.

"If the municipal polls are going to be held in the same way like seven years ago, then it will be of very little significance," AFP quoted Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, head of the country's Human Rights First Society, as saying on Wednesday.

"At least all members must be elected, women should be allowed to take part as well as men, and the voting age should be lowered to 18 from 21," Mugaiteeb said.

The oil-rich state announced on Tuesday that the second municipal elections, delayed for two years, will be held next month. In the 2005 polls, half the members of municipal councils were elected by people.

King Abdullah has recently allotted $136 billion to plans to tackle unemployment and housing problems. He has also ordered the establishment of an anti-corruption body.

However, activists say the state should take up real political reforms including an elected parliament with legislative powers, public freedoms and true independence for the judiciary.

"Excluding the corruption combating body, I really don't see any signal for political reform yet... Peoples do not live with food only," Mugaiteeb said.

Anwar al-Rasheed, another Saudi activist, says the recently-approved budget is mostly spent on bonus to employees and new security jobs and cannot cause economic reforms.

Instead of carrying out the reforms, the government has stepped up security to suppress demonstrations, the activists said.

On Wednesday, Saudi authorities arrested 100 Shia protesters following a series of anti-government demonstrations in the east of the country last week, a Saudi human rights group said.

Saudi Arabia arrests 100 Shia protesters

Saudi authorities arrested 100 Shia protesters following a series of anti-government demonstrations in the east of the country last week, a Saudi human rights group says.
Human Rights First Society (HRFS) announced on Wednesday that the protesters were arrested for taking part or organizing anti-government demonstrations demanding political reforms and the immediate release of political prisoners.

Protesters say the prisoners, mostly Shias, are being held unjustly and without trial, some for as long as 16 years.The protesters also condemned Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Bahrain and called for the withdrawal of Saudi forces from the country.
Scores of protesters were injured when Saudi security forces fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. "During the peaceful protests last week in the Eastern Province, in the Shia populated areas of Safwa, Qatif and its villages and Alhassa, 100 protesters were arrested," Reuters quoted HRFS as saying in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
According to HRFS, some of the Shia detainees were subject to both physical and mental torture.
"Human Rights First Society is appalled by the reports that some of these 100 detainees were subjected to physical and psychological torture particularly in Alhassa," the statement added.
Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki refused to comment on the report.
"Anybody who committed a violent act that is criminalized by law in Saudi Arabia will be arrested and anybody proved to be involved in calling for demonstrations will be arrested and sent to the court of law," Turki told Reuters.
In Saudi Arabia, protest rallies or any public display of dissent are forbidden and considered illegal. Senior Wahhabi clerics in the kingdom have also censured opposition demonstrations as "un-Islamic."

Syrian president fires Daraa governor after violence at mosque

The head of Syria's Daraa governate was removed from his position Wednesday as violence flared in the city of Daraa, Syrian state television reported.

Earlier Wednesday, Syrian security forces opened fire into a crowd of demonstrators in front of a mosque in Daraa, witnesses said.

Reports from human rights and advocacy groups said up to six people were killed and a number of others wounded in the incident.

An eyewitness who did not want his named used out of concern for his safety said security forces shot into the crowd in front of the Al Omari mosque before daybreak. He also said he heard an explosion.

The new Pakistani nationalism

BY Mosharraf Zaidi:
Shahbaz Bhatti
was murdered less than three weeks ago. He was as proud and patriotic a Pakistani as there was, and his commitment to the Constitution, to the rule of law, and to the way Pakistan should be was palpable. I had several chance encounters with Bhatti, and one reasonably long sitting over dinner. He was the furthest thing possible from an irresponsible, fiery blowhard. His passion, and his religious conviction ran deep, but it was measured and packaged in the most elegant way. Bhatti may have been a vocal advocate for the Christian community, but he was much more than that. He was a good, proud and brave Pakistani. A nationalist, if there ever was one.
The new Pakistani nationalist is an ever increasingly more complex and sophisticated creature. The sacrifices of brave Pakistanis like Bhatti are helping transform what it means to be a good, proud and patriotic Pakistani. The pile of bodies that is accumulating owing to lawlessness and hatred in Pakistan is rightly a source of anger and bitterness among Pakistanis who are tired of this parade of violence. Yet, because of the pressures that greater transparency, a wider dissemination of information and a smaller, more intimate world impose, that pile of bodies is changing Pakistan. Slowly, but surely, it is shifting power away from dark and invisible sources of defining what makes a good Pakistani. Instead, the power to define things is changing, opening up, and democratising. The days of a free ride for self-appointed guardians of the national interest being the sole definers of nationalist virtue are over.
No better case can be made for this slow but unstoppable glacier of transparency and accountability than the Raymond Davis case. Davis was among hundreds of American soldiers and mercenaries deployed to Pakistan to conduct a covert war against violent extremists. These covert warriors are not in Pakistan without the consent of the highest powers in the country (primarily military, but also civilian). Not everybody in the ISI is necessarily proud of having to facilitate this covert war, but working with the US intel community is the official Pakistani policy.
Generals and politicians in Pakistan have developed the bad habit of what Altaf Hussain once referred poetically to as, “meetha-meetha hupp-hupp, karwaa-karwaa thoo-thoo.” This is the Urdu equivalent of having one’s cake and eating it too. In the age of Al-Jazeera, Geo, Twitter and multiple tracks of public diplomacy, this habit is becoming a bit like smoking – a habit that eventually catches up with you and gives you asthma, emphysema, and cancer of the mouth, throat and lungs. Simply put, you cannot have your cake and eat it too.
Pakistan’s military leadership wants a budget that is never touched or scrutinised. It wants infinite jobs, with extensions that choke up the entire meritocracy of the military and diminish officer morale and motivation. It wants to make deals with the United States and other powers that allow cadres of officers to have the benefits of being trained at Ft. Leavenworth and Sandhurst. And to top it all off, it wants an Islamo-centric nationalist pride to be the sole domain of military-led Pakistaniat.
When Raymond Davis killed two men at Mozang Chowk in Lahore he may have exposed the fragility and moral emptiness of Obama’s war in Pakistan. When the ISI and CIA agreed on how to spring that killer from jail, however, they exposed the self-effacing calculus of the Pakistani military elite. While so much of the national conversation invests itself in issues like honour and aid, the real impact of Davis is that it exposes and loosens the military’s grip on the definition of Pakistani nationalism.
The GHQ no longer gets to define itself as an infallible institution. Not after Gen Musharraf faced zero resistance from the corps commanders as he tried to bulldoze the superior judiciary. The military no longer gets to define who loves Pakistan and who doesn’t. Not after it aches for Coalition Support Funds with the right hand and stirs up controversy over the Kerry-Lugar Bill with the left. The ISI no longer gets to choose what kind of Pakistan it wants to project. Not after it helps leak Raymond Davis data to the press one day, and help negotiate his escape from Pakistan the next.
Meanwhile, somehow this coalition government still stands, three years after taking office. Just consider what the current democratic dispensation has endured. The country’s worst ever flood, an NRO crisis, a hyperactive Supreme Court, a fake-degrees scandal, Pakistan’s biggest internal displacement crisis, the rank and utter incompetence of key cabinet members, a vocal and outsized influence-enjoying MQM, the takeover of Swat, an unpopular war-cum-alliance with America and the regular terrorist bombings of shrines and mosques. Still, democracy stands – blood, incompetent, corrupt and woozy. It is a credit to the PPP and PML-N that this edifice still stands.
What at least three generations of military planners and guardians of the national interest have never quite appreciated is that Pakistan’s enormous diversity is a great asset. Democracy helps amplify this diversity. It is cantankerous and noisy, and it will not always produce the technically correct outcomes, but the Pakistani national project-a modern and powerful South Asian Muslim majority state can only be achieved through making sense of the noise. Thanks to Raymond Davis, thanks to technology, media and globalization, thanks to the lawyers’ movement, and thanks to a set of incomprehensible service extensions for the COAS and DG ISI, the noise gets louder and louder.
From Shahbaz Bhatti, to the soldiers on the frontline in FATA, to the innocent victims of drone strikes by the US, to the martyrs at shrines and mosques that have been attacked by suicide bombers, to Pakistani victims of lynchings in Bahrain Pakistanis are witnessing an era in which nationalism is not restricted to the strict definitions of the term in Rawalpindi cantonment.
It is nationalism that fuels those that protest against the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. It is nationalism that drives criticism of Pakistani military acquiescence in US drone attacks. It is nationalism that seeks transparency in Pakistani military operations in FATA and Swat. It is nationalism that values the white in the Pakistani flag as much as it values the green. It is nationalism that seeks justice for Dr. Afiya and nationalism that seeks justice for Aasiya Bibi. This diverse and cantankerous new Pakistani nationalism is an enduring strength for the country. It may be exploited by some, but it cannot be debased.
The zipper on the straight-jacket of nationalism defined by a khaki ascendancy in Pakistan has come undone. It cannot be zipped back. If Pakistan contradicts itself, very well then, it contradicts itself. Like Walt Whitman, Pakistan is large. It contains multitudes.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.

President Zardari confers civil, military awards

President Asif Ali Zardari Wednesday conferred civil and military awards on outstanding individuals at an investiture ceremony here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr.

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, Federal Ministers, Parliamentarians, Services Chiefs, Islamabad-based diplomats and prominent citizens attended the ceremony.

President Zardari decorated both civil and military personnel, including the foreign nationals for their services to Pakistan.

Over 217 individuals were conferred awards on Pakistan Day, out of which the President gave away around 120 civil and 10 military awards in different categories, at the special ceremony.

The rest of awards were given at separate ceremonies held at provincial headquarters. The provincial Governors decorated 48 individuals at Lahore, 22 at Karachi, 8 at Peshawar, 4 at Quetta and one at Gilgit.

The Pakistan Civil Awards are given in recognition to the contribution of men and women who rendered meritorious service to the country in their respective fields of activity or performed exemplary acts of gallantry.

The Pakistan Civil Awards were established on March 19, 1957. The announcement of civil awards is generally made on the Independence Day August 14, and the investiture on the following Pakistan Day.

The President every year confers civil awards on Pakistani citizens in recognition of gallantry, or distinction in academics, sports etc.

The awards are conferred for gallantry - act of bravery, heroism, courage and rendering of dedicated services with selfless devotion in human rights and public service.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani later joined the guests at a reception.

Drawdown in Afghanistan

The Frontier Post
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai’ identification of his country’s seven parts for first transition, the process of drawdown on foreign occupation forces and transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan army and police has been set in motion to start by mid-this year and complete by 2014. Nonetheless, this isn’t much of a big deal, as most of these areas have largely been at peace; whatever foreign forces were there, they were there not for need but for their unwillingness to fight in actual war theatres. Two of them, Bamiyan and Panjshir provinces, have been Tajik strongmen’s bastions; Mazer-e-Sharif in the north is ruthless Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum’s lair, Herat in the west has been regional warlord Ismail Khan’s principality, more under his local adversaries’ than Taliban’s assailments; and Mehterlam has been an island of peace in the deeply-disturbed east. Kabul certainly has been in the eye of storm from day one, bearing a lot of deadly terrorist violence and daring Taliban assaults over this past decade. Its naming for transition does mean something, although the question which Karzai himself too has all through shied off asking or answering remains still unanswered as to why this province fell so easily to Taliban’s insurgency when the troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stayed put unshakably for almost six years in Kabul, the province’s principal city and the country’s capital. Equally quizzical it is that even now from the transition has been kept out its Surobi district despite the region is swarming not only with coalition forces but the Afghan soldiers and police as well. That certainly doesn’t sit well on the mind in the face of claims of both the Afghan officialdom and the coalition military command of scoring successes in curbing and crushing the militancy and insurgency all over the country ever since the occupiers’ military and civilian surge strategy. In fact, one wouldn’t read much even in the inclusion of Lashkar Gah, Taliban-infested Helmand province’s capital city, in this first transition phase. This could only be a psychological device to impress as much the Afghan insurgents as the troops-contributing countries’ publics getting increasingly edgy and sceptical about this Afghan war, given the reports in wide circulation about the occupiers buying safety from local warlords and militants. In any case, this safety buying is not something new. It has been very common with the occupiers all through. Much evidence to this effect has already come to the public light. And much more surely will come out once the whistleblowers get into the act and start spilling the beans on the shenanigans of occupiers’ militaries and agencies. Already, the British are out scrounging the bookshops’ shelves off a devastatingly revealing work of an insider on their poorly-equipped army in Afghanistan and its civilian killings. The others too will be prowling in their own bookshops in time to snatch damning accounts of their armies’ exploits in Afghanistan. But, for once, Karzai should get out of his own prank and come to terms with the harsh realities in his land. His tirade of Afghan Taliban’s sanctuaries in Pakistan has become too trite, too obsolete and too puerile an idiom to stand, so deceptive has it been from the word go. If there is no indigenous militancy and insurgency problem, who then the occupiers and his own forces are fighting in villages and even in cities of Afghanistan, not just in the south or east but also in far-flung north and west? Had indeed he been real and truthful to himself, and not a mere Americans’ particularly their CIA’s, lackey, he would have raised the right demands to coalition authorities and his country’s condition would have been consequently gratifying a lot alleviating by now. More foreign forces at the outset, a robust earliest recruitment, training and arming of a national Afghan army and police, a decisive government voice on utilization of international economic aid, and, above all, a fuller representation of the country’s Pakhtun majority, traditionally a kingmaker, would have helped him bring his war-torn nation to peace, security and stability. He indeed had a chance to be Afghanistan’s de Gaulle. He frittered that away by playing occupiers’ and their allies’ pawn. Does he imagine what an Afghan army packed up with Tajiks and Hazaras would mean after transition in Pakhtun regions, given the chronic ethnic Pakhtun-Tajik antipathy and Pakhtun-Hazara confessional loathing? Instead of chasing red herrings, he must now face up the ground realities. That would serve his nation’s interests best.

Tuberculosis Day,41000 people were suffering from Tuberculosis every year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

World Tuberculosis Day will be observed all over the world today (Thursday). World Tuberculosis Day, falling on March 24 each year, is designed to build public awareness about the global epidemic of tuberculosis and efforts to eliminate the disease. Tuberculosis causes the deaths of about 1.6 million people each year, mostly in the Third World. Pakistan ranks 6th globally among the 22 high tuberculosis burden countries, and contributes 43% of the disease burden towards the Eastern-Mediterranean region of World Health Organization (WHO). More than 41000 people were suffering from Tuberculosis every year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and there were 218 diagnosed and 814 treatment centers that were functioning to eliminate the disease out of the province. According to sources provincial government had given treatment and free medication to 2900 in 2007, 3000 in 2008, 34548 in 2009 and 35415 in 2010 patients so far and intended to provide all basic facilities like diagnose, treatment and free medicine to TB patients in order to reduce the number by 50% till 2015.

Bahrain: powder keg of the Gulf?

Gates hints at open-ended war in Libya

The US defense secretary says there is no timeline for the end of the US-led assault on Libya as international opposition to the invasion continues to grow.

During a visit to Cairo, Robert Gates said no one was in a position to predict what would happen in Libya.

Gates also rejected criticism with regards to the air strikes in Libya which have resulted in civilian causalities over the past five days.

However, he predicted that the aerial attacks would be scaled back within days.

Gates also failed to suggest a political solution to the unfolding crisis in the North African country.

"It seems to me that if there is a mediation to be done, if there is a role to be played, it is among the Libyans themselves. This matter at the end of the day is going to have to be settled by Libyans. It's their country," he said.

Five days ago, coalition forces led by the US, France and Britain launched attacks on Libya from air and sea.

A British commander now claims that the air force of embattled Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi has been totally disabled.

Gaddafi has vowed to defeat both the opposition and the foreign forces.

Reports say forces loyal to the Libyan ruler have killed at least 17 civilians, including five children, in Misratah over the past 24 hours.

Residents in Misratah say Western forces have also hit the city's air bases where Gaddafi's brigades are based. Water and electricity has been cut off to the city.

Medical personnel say at least 90 people have died in Misratah in the past five days.

Meanwhile, in a hospital in the city of Benghazi, bodies are piling up in the morgue.

This comes as US-led military operations in Libya have received negative responses from different countries and also parties within the US.

Some US senators have severely slammed President Barack Obama for his decision to attack Libya, saying it is outside the US constitution and that Obama must be impeached for the move.

Russia, China and India as well as several other countries have also opposed the military campaign in Libya.

Germany has already announced that it has pulled out of NATO operations in the Mediterranean.

Italy says it will review the use of its bases for attacks on Libyan regime forces unless NATO leads the operations.

Education a far cry for Thari children

At a time, when the ratio of girls acquiring education is more or less equal to boys, there still are a few underdeveloped areas where schools exist but students are not enrolled for want of secured learning environment and basic facilities, especially in case of girls.

Educational process of children in rural areas starts a bit late and thus girl students reach puberty when they are still in primary grades forcing parents to withdraw them from schools.

Parents are apprehensive in sending their daughters to school where there is no boundary wall, electricity, water, and toilet facility.

In many areas of Umerkot district children travel up to eight kilometres, carrying heavy school bags stuffed with books, lunch boxes and water bottles. They trample fast to reach their school on time. Few fill their bottles from hand pumps on way.

There are total 2,316 schools in Umerkot district where 82,750 boys and 47,000 girls are enrolled, revealed a census 2009-10 undertaken by the Sindh Education Management Information System in collaboration with the Reform Unit of Education Department.There is one elementary, 463 primary, 14 middle, 14 secondary and four higher secondary schools for boys as against one elementary, 427 primary, 12 middle, 11 secondary and two higher secondary schools for girls.

Some 2,304 schools out of total 2,316 have no science laboratory, 2,301 are without any library, 2,111 sans power supply, 2,014 lack playground, 1,193 without boundary walls and 990 bereft of any toilets.

A social worker Manzoor Hassan Bhatti attributes these factors to low literacy rate in the district. He questions as how can parents send their wards, particularly girls to schools where the concept of security and hygiene are almost non-existent.

He reminded the incident of last year when a student Haq Nawaz Rahimoon of the Government High School, Eidani village, Chhachhro village died of thirst while returning home from school.

There are many schools with a tank facility but either connection is not available or saline water, he says adding: What to say of quality when its availability has been compromised. If a toilet is accessible then water is not.

Enrolment of girls in Hajam Mohalla Primary School Bahrai has dropped from 66 to 44 as parents feel inhibited in sending them to a school which has no boundary wall, drinking water facility or power supply, says a primary teacher Allauddun Hajam. The higher authorities when approached promised of a resolution which still has not been materialised, he says.Funds released by the School Management Committee are not given on the basis of need but schools with both high and low enrolments are provided equal amounts as previously some teachers provided fake numbers to draw extra money when these were disbursed on the need base.

EDO Education, Ghulam Mustafa Soomro says the Education Department established criteria for provision of facilities which says the school should`ve been established three years back and it must be a main and not a branch school with more than 75 students enrolled.

Some schools provide these facilities with the help of MNAs and MPAs funds while the Education Department tries to make up for others.

Pakistan food prices too high: UN

Pakistan’s government has pushed food prices too high for its impoverished population and malnutrition is rising despite crop recovery after dire floods, a UN relief official said Wednesday.

Food crops especially wheat in the southern plains hit by last year’s floods were recovering fast with the prospect of decent yields in coming weeks, said World Food Programme (WFP) director in Pakistan, Wolfgang Herbinger.

“The crop outlook is not bad but the food security situation remains difficult because prices remain so high,” he told journalists on the sidelines of humanitarian meetings in Geneva.

“The government is the biggest buyer of wheat in Pakistan they are setting the farm gate price and they dominate market,” Herbinger said.

“That’s why the wheat price in Pakistan didn’t adjust when, for example, in 2009 and early 2010 the wheat price had gone back a lot, it stayed high to the detriment of local consumers.”

People paid double the price for wheat compared to three years ago and the food security situation has “changed dramatically,” the WFP official added.

Malnutrition levels in the southern province of Sindh had reached 21 to 23 per cent, according to the agency.

“That is well above African standards. The emergency standard is 15 per cent,” the WFP official said.

A recent survey found that in some flood-hit areas 70 per cent of people were taking out loans to pay for food.

“You may have the country full with food but people are too poor to buy it,” he said.

The WFP was “struggling a bit” to get the message across, he said.

“We are working a lot with the ministry of agriculture to explain to the minister that it is not enough to have enough production in the country if people can’t afford it.”

“Maybe for political reasons he doesn’t always understand it, that it’s one thing to be nice to the farmers but if your consumers can’t afford it then it’s… So there’s something wrong with agricultural policy,” Herbinger added.

Massive floods caused by monsoon rains in July and August 2010 killed thousands, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land, experts have said.

Time is now for talks to end Afghan war

The war in Afghanistan has reached a stalemate and the best time to jump-start a political settlement with the Taliban is now, according to a report released Wednesday by a U.S. think tank.

The report, issued by the Century Foundation, said the U.S. and Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan, must play key roles in any negotiations. Demands that the Taliban sever ties with al-Qaida or that foreign troops exit the nation, for example, should be considered goals, not preconditions of talks, the 126-page report said. The group also proposed that a neutral party, perhaps the United Nations, be named to facilitate the process.
The report was released as President Hamid Karzai, for the second day in a row, called on the Taliban to lay down their weapons. At a high school in Kabul, Karzai pleaded with the Taliban to stop burning schools and reconcile with the government.
"Once again I'm calling to the Taliban: Make friendship with education and come and make peace," Karzai said. "Let the Afghan children stand on their feet and then the foreigners will voluntarily leave. They will not come back and we won't need them. ... If you're going to burn the schools, it means you are the friend of the foreigners."
Karzai has had informal contacts with Taliban figures, but no formal peace talks are under way. Publicly, the Taliban say they won't negotiate as long as foreign forces are in Afghanistan. The Afghan government and the U.S. have said they will reconcile only with members of the Taliban who renounce violence, cut ties with al-Qaida and embrace the Afghan constitution.
"Both sides have set preconditions for talking to their foes that may reflect the concerns of highest priority to them, but which should no longer prevent their talking to each other," the report said. "Fulfillment of each specific point should be their goals in a political settlement."
The study was written by a task force set up by the Century Foundation, a nonprofit public policy research institution based in New York and Washington. The task force, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, former U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, and Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador and U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, met with senior policymakers and analysts in a dozen countries.
"Bringing peace to Afghanistan after more than 30 years of war is a daunting task," the report concludes. "But no side can now be confident of securing a military victory; none in the past 30 years has proved durable. As the country's contending sides slip into uneasy stalemate, the time to open negotiations to end the war is upon us."
In London, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said there were some signs of progress on reconciliation.
"There have been contacts, but I don't want to overstate them, and I obviously couldn't say how many there have been in recent months," Petraeus said in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, a military think tank.
Petraeus said countries engaged in military combat in Afghanistan must play only a limited role in helping to craft a political solution to the conflict.
"We should absolutely seek reconciliation, (but) it has to be Afghan-led," Petraeus said. "This can't be something that NATO countries can do for Afghanistan."
On Tuesday, Karzai announced the first seven areas of the country where Afghan policemen and soldiers will start taking charge of security from the U.S.-led NATO coalition in July. That coincides with President Barack Obama's goal of withdrawing some U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July if conditions allow. Karzai wants Afghan forces to be in the lead across the entire nation by the end of 2014.
Lawrence Korb, a member of the task force and a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that withdrawing some U.S. troops in July will give the Taliban a "face-saving" opportunity to engage in talks and it will send a signal that Americans are not "occupiers."
"I think we have reversed the momentum of the Taliban but it's important to begin the negotiations now," he said.
The task force said the U.S. will be a — if not the — most essential party in any peace negotiations with the Taliban.
"The process cannot prosper without full American support and leadership," the report said.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was launching a "diplomatic surge to move this conflict toward a political outcome that shatters the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaida, ends the insurgency, and helps to produce not only a more stable Afghanistan but a more stable region."
The alternative to a political resolution is a protracted conflict that neither the war-weary Afghans, Americans or Europeans want or can afford, the task force said. The report said any final peace accord would have to include the Taliban's promise to sever ties with al-Qaida, measures to curb narcotics production and trafficking and a withdrawal of foreign forces.
NATO officials say as many as 900 Taliban foot soldiers have been lured off the battlefield to join the government, but the report said reintegrating Taliban fighters into Afghan society will not be enough to yield peace without an overarching political agreement embraced by all parties.

4 killed in rocket attack in Pakistan’s southwest

Three rocket attacks and a bomb struck parts of western Pakistan on Wednesday, killing five people, including a child, police said.
The rockets hit several busy roads in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, police chief Daood Junejo said.
The province has been a scene of low-level insurgency for years by nationalist groups who want a greater share of revenue from resources in the oil- and gas-rich region. A police officer and a child were among those killed by rockets and 15 people were injured.
Two hours earlier, five gunmen riding motorcycles intercepted three NATO supply oil tankers and torched them in Bolan district, 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Quetta, said a paramilitary official, Aziz Ahmad. He said the assailants let the drivers go and nobody was injured.
The tankers were carrying oil from the port city of Karachi to Afghanistan.
Earlier, a roadside bomb struck a donkey cart near northwestern city of Peshawar, killing the driver, said police official Ghaffar Khan.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Taliban militants have regularly carried out attacks in northwest Pakistan in recent years.

Elizabeth Taylor championed AIDS charity passionately

In the early 1980s, Elizabeth Taylor stepped up when others were afraid.
A mysterious disease was taking the lives of many gay men, and there was fear and uncertainty about how it was being transmitted. But the movie star refused to treat HIV/AIDS sufferers like lepers.

"Everyone was talking about AIDS, but talking behind their hands," Taylor said in a BBC Omnibus Special profile that aired in 2000. "But nobody was doing anything about it, including myself. And then I got really angry."
Taylor's activism made her an international spokeswoman for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Now, the iconic star is as revered for her charity work in that battle as she is for her shining moments on the screen.
"Dame Elizabeth was without doubt one of the most inspirational figures in the fight against AIDS," said a statement released Wednesday by the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). "She was among the first to speak out on behalf of people living with HIV when others reacted with fear and often outright hostility."More than a quarter of a century ago, Taylor became one of the first high-profile celebrities to become involved with AIDS Project Los Angeles, which in the early 1980s began holding an annual dinner to raise money for those with the disease.
"People were telling me not to get involved, I got death threats, I got angrier and angrier," Taylor said in 2000. "So I put myself out there."
Taylor's commitment to HIV/AIDS activism further took root after her close friend, actor Rock Hudson, died of the disease in 1985. The pair had starred together in the iconic 1956 film "Giant.

"This is something that is a catastrophe that belongs to all of us," Taylor said at the time of the fight against HIV/AIDS. "It isn't a thing that belongs to a minority group any longer."
The year Hudson died, Taylor joined with Dr. Mathilde Krim as well as a group of physicians and scientists to form amfAR. At the time of her death, she was the organization's founding international chairman, according to the group's Web site.
In 1991, she established The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which focused on providing direct services for people living with AIDS and funding to AIDS service organizations.
Over the years, Taylor raised millions of dollars through her activism and attracted many of her celebrity friends to also become involved. She supported several major events, including Cinema Against AIDS, which takes place annually at the Cannes International Film Festival; and Unforgettable: Fashion of the Oscars, a benefit auction to which she donated the gown she wore to present the Oscar for best picture in 1969.
Taylor often shared a message of love and acceptance for the gay community, which had been so harshly affected by the disease.
"Why shouldn't gay people be able to live as open and freely as everybody else?" Taylor said in 2000 during her acceptance speech at the 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards. "What it comes down to, ultimately, is love. How can anything bad come out of love? The bad stuff comes out of mistrust, misunderstanding and, God knows, from hate and from ignorance."
With the announcement of her death Wednesday, accolades flowed for her tireless charity work.
"Today, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lost an extraordinary ally in the movement for full equality," said Jarrett Barrios, president of The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). "At a time when so many living with HIV/AIDS were invisible, Dame Taylor fearlessly raised her voice to speak out against injustice. Dame Taylor was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve."
"For 25 years, Dame Elizabeth has been a passionate advocate of AIDS research, treatment and care," said the statement from amfAR. "She has testified eloquently on Capitol Hill, while raising millions of dollars for amfAR. Dame Elizabeth's compassion, radiance, and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by us all. She leaves a monumental legacy that has improved and extended millions of lives and will enrich countless more for generations to come."
"Elizabeth, thank you for all your help in the battle against HIV and AIDS," basketball legend Magic Johnson tweeted. "You will be missed by the world."
In February, amfAR honored Taylor with the Award of Courage at the group's 25th annual black-tie benefit. The actress was unable to attend, but singer-songwriter Elton John accepted the award on Taylor's behalf. Sir Elton also sent Taylor's regards and congratulations to two fellow awards recipients: former President Bill Clinton and designer Diane von Furstenberg.
"I am there in spirit and I join you in saluting my fellow honorees and all these extraordinary leaders," Taylor's message read. "I am inspired by their example, exhilarated by their vision, and encouraged by their compassion and love. And I love them in return."

Arab Revolts Force Diplomats to Remake Lives and Careers

The maids who once swept the white marble floors at the Libyan ambassador’s residence here have gone home to the Philippines, their visas expired now that their boss, Ali Suleiman Aujali, has quit his job. The driver is gone, too. Pretty soon, Mr. Aujali figures, the State Department will repossess the official license plates on the shiny black Mercedes and Audi parked in his garage.But Mr. Aujali is hanging on, trapped in a diplomatic no man’s land.

The embassy he ran for more than two years — a seventh-floor suite in the Watergate, overlooking the Potomac — was shut down by the State Department last week.

So Mr. Aujali, who resigned as Libya’s ambassador in Washington when he broke with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in late February, has set up shop at home. From a bank of computers in his basement dining room, he is trying to reinvent himself as Washington’s official representative of a new Libyan government — one that does not yet exist.

“I’m not representing the regime anymore — I’m representing the people,” Mr. Aujali declared, dandling his 15-month-old grandson on his knee. Or, as Aly R. Abuzaakoouk, a Libyan human rights advocate and a friend of Mr. Aujali, put it, “Now, he’s an ambassador of an uprising.”

Mr. Aujali, who has served Libya for 40 years, is part of an extraordinary wave of sudden ex-diplomats who, depending on one’s point of view, are exhibiting uncommon courage or a savvy instinct for self-preservation. Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations and other officials there have also thrown their lot in with revolutionaries, as have senior Libyan diplomats in France, India and China. Three Yemeni ambassadors — to the United Nations, Syria and Lebanon — resigned to protest a government crackdown on protesters there.

Such breaks are not new. During the Reagan administration, Panama’s ambassador in Washington declared his independence from Gen. Manuel Noriega, who had just staged a coup. In July 2001, two Iraqi diplomats defected and sought asylum in New York. (Mr. Aujali said he was not seeking asylum.) What makes the current crop unusual, said David Mack, a retired American ambassador who has served in Libya, is the sheer size of it.

“There have been celebrated cases,” Mr. Mack said. “But I don’t recall so many at once breaking with a regime.”

In Washington, where diplomats are often faceless, the democratic fervor sweeping the Arab world has forced many to adjust. Ambassadors from Tunisia and Egypt, where revolutions were largely peaceful, have remained in their posts. But for those from countries where protests have turned bloody, like Bahrain, Yemen and especially Libya, the choices seem more complex.

The Bahraini ambassador, Houda Ezra Nonoo, is keeping a low profile. So is the Yemeni ambassador, Abdulwahab Abdulla al-Hajjri, dubbed “D.C.’s Dean of Diplomacy” by Time magazine, in part for his nightly dinners and parties, “some of which,” Time reported, “end with dancing in the wee hours of the morning.”

Mr. Hajjri, a brother-in-law of the Yemeni president, seems to be staying put. But Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Alsaidi, quit Friday.

“To have sharpshooters in balconies in houses shooting people in the head and neck — for me, I can no longer in good conscience articulate the position of the government to the U.N. authorities,” Mr. Alsaidi said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

Now, he is looking for a place to live. The Yemeni government has appointed his replacement and he must give up his government-owned apartment at Park Avenue and 71st Street in Manhattan. His three children were educated in the United States, and he earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Columbia University. But now, stripped of his diplomatic credentials, he is not certain he can stay. He has saved some money, and intends to take some time “to read and reflect.”

Mr. Aujali, the former Libyan ambassador, is taking a more aggressive tack.

At 66, the son of a farmer and a housewife from an oasis near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Mr. Aujali served in Malaysia, Argentina, Brazil and Canada before arriving in Washington in 2004 to open the “interest section” here. Colonel Qaddafi had just renounced nuclear weapons, prompting President George W. Bush to re-establish ties.

In 2009, Mr. Aujali — who says he does not know Colonel Qaddafi well — became Libya’s first ambassador to the United States in 35 years. He set about renovating the ambassador’s mansion near Embassy Row, which reeked of mildew after having been closed for decades.

“I came,” he said, “with the great hope that we will be able to establish better relations.”

His relationship with Colonel Qaddafi seems to have involved the kind of complicated compromises ambitious people in public life sometimes make. He helped arrange for Libya to make reparations for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, yet took the Qaddafi line in defending the transfer of the bomber back to Libya in 2009.Still, he drew plaudits for meeting with Qaddafi critics and working to open the United States to Libyan students, entrepreneurs and tourists. “He was a pro, and a reasonable man,” said Elliot Abrams, who advised Mr. Bush on democracy and human rights. “I was not shocked to hear when the wave of defections began that he was in it.”Since he announced that he was quitting the Qaddafi government, Mr. Aujali has been making the case to anyone who will listen — reporters, senators and even Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — that the White House should recognize the rebels’ shadow government council. He insists that Colonel Qaddafi must be ousted. “With Qaddafi, you never trust him,” he said.

But what he wants immediately is for the Treasury Department to free up the $30 billion it has frozen in Libyan assets. “Then we can run our office, then we can rent a place, then we can buy humanitarian aid for our people.”

Not so fast, said an administration official, who spoke anonymously to discuss Mr. Aujali’s situation. The State Department accepts Mr. Aujali as a representative of the council, the official said, but “we consider him a private citizen now” and he must “adjust his visa accordingly.” The meeting with Mrs. Clinton, he said, was part of an effort to “get a sense of who these people are and where they’re coming from.”

While friends of Mr. Aujali’s view his break as an act of courage, some Libya experts see political expediency. After all, if the rebels prevail, he could get his job back — maids, driver and all.

“I think all of these resignations came at a particular time when it looked like the opposition may have had a very good chance,” said Diederick J. Vandewalle, a political scientist at Dartmouth College who has traveled extensively in Libya. “I think they were just trying to hedge their bets.”

Mr. Aujali insists that he is just trying to do what is best for the Libyan people. At home on a recent day, his extended family — including a son who attends George Mason University, two grandchildren, a daughter and son-in-law who resigned from Libya’s mission at the United Nations in New York — puttered in the kitchen. He waved off questions about how long they can remain, saying his own situation is the least of his concerns.

“I’m busy, very very busy,” the former ambassador said. “There are a lot of things we have to do.”

Elizabeth Taylor has died at the age of 79.

Afghan new year offers new hope in Paktika

Afghanistan – Members of Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team got a second shot at their New Year’s resolutions March 21 as they rang in the year 1390 at a celebration for Nawroz, the Afghan New Year.

The governor of Paktika Province, Moheebullah Samim, invited members of Paktika PRT to celebrate the holiday with government officials at Sharan District compound.

The celebration began with a welcome from the governor, and the ceremonial planting of a tree as an example for others to help make Afghanistan a greener country.

“I hope the war will stop in our country and especially in Paktika province,” Samim said, addressing the crowd as they gathered around the newly-planted tree. “I hope it will be a great year with lots of hope.”

Moments later, Afghan men rode into the compound on horses decorated in colorful ribbons and bells fit for the Nawroz festivities. A PRT interpreter who grew up in Afghanistan said riding horses is a Nawroz tradition in Paktika, both for show and for playing games.

As the crowd made its way to the guest house for lunch, Dr. Bibi Hawa, Paktika director of Women’s Affairs, shared her thoughts about Nawroz and what it means to her.

“We want peace in the country,” she said. “We want, with the help of the PRT and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, to hopefully reach my goals: for women to be educated, and if they have any problem, to know that I’m here to help.”

The crowd, a mix of coalition force and provincial government leaders, shared a lunch of traditional Afghan dishes and specialty dishes especially for Nawroz.

Female attendees gathered in a separate room to eat, but Samim visited with them over the first course of the meal. He shared his thoughts about Nawroz and what it symbolizes for the new year in Paktika.

“I have hope,” Samim said. “We want to work very hard for Paktika province, having good security so the people can live their lives. Under good security, anywhere in the world, a government can do a better job.”

After spending five months working alongside Samim, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Donny Cox, Paktika PRT commander from Fort Worth, Texas, also expressed his wishes for the future of Paktika.

“Nawroz represents a new beginning and a new hope as we continue to strengthen our partnership and work together to improve the lives of the Afghan people,” Cox said. “I hope that 1390 brings increased prosperity to the people of Paktika province.”

Six Dead in Clashes in Southern Syrian City

More Explosions Heard in Libyan Capital as Gadhafi Remains Defiant

Explosions and anti-aircraft fire sounded in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, early Wednesday, hours after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed to emerge victorious in the fight against rebels and international forces.

Elizabeth Taylor dead at 79

Elizabeth Taylor, the legendary actress famed for her beauty, her jet-set lifestyle, her charitable endeavors and her many marriages, has died, her publicist told CNN Wednesday. She was 79.
Taylor died "peacefully today in Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles," said a statement from her publicist. She was hospitalized six weeks ago with congestive heart failure, "a condition with which she had struggled for many years. Though she had recently suffered a number of complications, her condition had stabilized and it was hoped that she would be able to return home. Sadly, this was not to be."
Though a two-time Oscar winner -- for "Butterfield 8" (1960) and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966) -- Taylor was more celebrated for simply being Elizabeth Taylor: sexy, glamorous, tempestuous, fragile, always trailing courtiers, media and fans. She wasn't above playing to that image -- she had a fragrance called "White Diamonds" -- or mocking it.
"I am a very committed wife," she once said. "And I should be committed too -- for being married so many times."