Friday, April 8, 2011

Libyan Rebels Angry With Nato

Pakistan:Raise more tax from the rich

British PM tells Pakistan elite: 'Many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all – and that's not fair'
David Cameron has told the Pakistan elite that they have to start paying more tax and cut out government waste and weakness if the British public are to back his plans to pour £650m in UK aid into Pakistani schools.

Pakistan is now to become the single largest recipient of UK aid, but Cameron issued his warning in a wide-ranging speech in Islamabad, setting out his plans for a fresh start with the Pakistan government after a turbulent year in which he criticised them for "facing both ways" on terrorism.

The prime minister is keen to put the relationship on a more even footing and move away from the previous stance encapsulated in the phrase "Pakistan must do more".

He said the British people would need convincing that every penny of the aid designed to help recruit 90,000 extra teachers and put 4 million children into education was going to the right places.

He added: "My job is made more difficult when people in Britain look at Pakistan, a country that receives millions of pounds of our aid money, and see weaknesses in terms of government capacity and waste."

He pointed out that Pakistan "currently spends only 1.5% of its GDP on education and, what's more, you have one of the lowest tax to GDP ratios in the world".

He said the Pakistan was simply "not raising the resources necessary to pay for things that a modern state and people require".

The Pakistani fiscal position was a serious one because "too few people pay tax. Too many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all – and that's not fair", he said.

He said this tax avoidance was neither fair "on ordinary Pakistanis, who suffer at the sharpest end of this weak governance, or on British taxpayers, who are contributing to Pakistan's future".

Cameron is acutely aware that he is taking a risk in increasing aid to a country that is seen as both corrupt and the source of the biggest terrorist threat to the UK. Pakistan is also buying six submarines from China.

But he claimed the 17 million Pakistanis of school age not in education represented an emergency, adding that it cost the country more per year than a flood such as the one that hit last year. He also said such an education gap represented a breeding ground for extremism.

He also defended the war in Libya, saying it was not an attack on Islam and pointing out that, as in Afghanistan, Britain was there as part of a coalition and under a UN mandate.

Although he praised Pakistan for having fought hard against terrorism, he urged a wider crackdown in North Waziristan, saying: "It's right that neither the Pakistan army nor Nato forces must ever tolerate sanctuaries for people plotting violence."

His remarks masked Pakistan's anger over the use of US drones to bomb terrorist cells in North Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan, and the lack of action by the army to send troops in.

Britain's imperial past

Cameron later sparked controversy about Britain's imperial past by claiming it was responsible for many of the world's problems.

He made his remark as a semi-jocular aside at the end of a question and answer session at a university in Islamabad.

Asked what Britain might be able to do settle the war in Kashmir, he replied: "I don't want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world's problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place."

The left has normally been associated with the cringe about Britain's past, and Cameron wrote two years ago that the last Conservative government "gave the country a new confidence that we weren't the sick man of Europe".

Cameron has been one of many British prime ministers that has felt forced to apologise for historic misdemeanours including Bloody Sunday and, as Conservative opposition leader, for Britain's role in apartheid in South Africa.

Tony Blair, worried by the prospect of compensation claims, apologised for the potato famine and expressed his deep sorrow over slavery.

Revival of Red-pass to cross Pak-Afghan border Asks donor agencies to provide for refugees, compensate locals

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information and Public Relations Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that the people in Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had common culture, therefore, there is need for more simplifying the process of traveling and suggested that if possible the old system of Red -pass should be re-introduced. He urged international donor agencies to consider Afghan refugees as refugees and provide them the facilities of health, education and other basic amenities of life in accordance with international standards so that they did not burden the local economy. He expressed these views on Thursday while presiding over a meeting regarding the management and repatriation strategy of Afghan. He also urged the international donor agencies to mobilize additional support for the local communities in Pakistan, especially in Khyer Pakhtunkhwa, who had been generously hosting millions of Afghan refugees for the last three decades. This would help minimize the problems of illiteracy and militancy in this region. The Provincial Ministers; Arshad Abdullah, Sitara Ayaz, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Country Head, Mengesha Kebede, Joint Secretary SAFRON, Provincial Secretaries Information, Home, FATA and representatives of police, Frontier Corp and FIA were also present on this occasion. The Minister said that restoration of peace and tranquility in Peshawar was linked with peace in Afghanistan and until peace was restored in Afghanistan, the complete repatriation of Afghan refugees was practically impossible. He said that the people in Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had common culture, therefore, there is need for more simplifying the process of traveling and if possible the old system of Red -pass should be re-introduced. Arshad Abdullah while addressing on the occasion said that if the Afghan refugees wanted to live here, we should think about a law to give them legal status and accept them with open heart. Ms. Sitara Ayaz said that the provincial government would extend full cooperation to UNHCR in the process of repatriation and data collection of refuges. Mengesha Kebede thanked Pakistani government for hosting millions of Afghan refugees on their soil and extending all kinds of basic facilities to them. He said that UNHCR has mobilized additional support for local communities in Pakistan that generously host millions of Afghan refugees for the last three decades. He said in this regard, during this year, projects worth nearly 8.5 million USD of infrastructural development, water and sanitation, health and education, had been initiated through the refugee affected and hosting areas. He added the voluntary return operation resumed this March after the winter break. So far, 2,500 individuals have gone back home to Afghanistan. At least 3.7 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR's help since 2002.

Gwadar: Pakistan's new Great Game

Rina Saeed Khan

Miles away from the war on terror being fought in Pakistan's north on the border with Afghanistan is another insurgency whose hub is the port city of Gwadar,

located near Iran on the Makran coast. Unlike the battle against the Taliban, this uprising receives little international attention, although it is set against the backdrop of competing superpower interests, reminiscent of the Great Game when Russia and the British empire fought for control over this region.

Eight years ago, the dream was for the small fishing port of Gwadar in Pakistan's Balochistan province to be transformed into a duty-free port and a free economic zone. The hope was that Gwadar would become a regional hub of shipping, commercial and industrial activities, providing a link between Pakistan and the vast oil and gas reserves of central Asia.

A real estate frenzy followed as land was bought from locals at exorbitant prices. Billboards proclaiming future housing estates and resorts were put up overnight and work began on the port with Chinese help. A two-lane highway linking Gwadar with Karachi was completed in record time. Today, the port has been finished and is ready for ships but Gwadar looks more like a ghost town than a gold-rush town. Empty plots of land still await the buildings that were promised but never built. Oddly enough, instead of handing the port over to the Chinese government, it was leased out to the Singapore government three years ago. It is only used at half its capacity and the cranes are already getting rusty from lack of use.

Located near an important shipping lane, the deep seaport was built by the China Harbour Engineering Company Group. The Chinese government invested heavily in this project, up to $200m some say, so that landlocked western China could benefit from access to the sea. As an emerging superpower hungry for energy, China needs access to the oil and gas rich Central Asian states. The Chinese have also been keen to assist Pakistan in building other roads to acquire a 3,500km link between Kashgar (near the border with Pakistan) and Gwadar.

They are currently helping the Pakistan government to widen the Karakoram highway that connects Islamabad to China through Pakistan's high mountain ranges. It appears that there is a long-term plan to eventually connect the Karakoram highway with Gwadar. This is upsetting the other emerging superpower of the region, India, who does not want China's security establishment to have safe passage to the Arabian Sea. The fear they have been articulating is that Gwadar might become a naval outpost for the Chinese.

The local people, who hoped to benefit from the construction of the port, are crushed by the disappointing turn of events. "We were expecting change to come," says Asghar Shah, a local resident who works for an NGO. "But it was a big let down – we are victims of the new Great Game." The government of Pakistan was allegedly pressured not to hand the port over to the Chinese. In fact, the Americans eye Gwadar as a potential military base, given the proximity of Iran. The locals are reluctant to criticise their government's handling of Gwadar, though. "People disappear in Gwadar – their bodies are found dumped in a remote area a few days or weeks later. No one knows who is behind it," says Asghar Shah, refusing to speculate further.

There is a more immediate problem at present. The Baloch nationalists are opposed to any development in Gwadar because they say these mega projects will marginalise the local Baloch population. Balochistan's development record is dismal. Covering nearly 350,000 square kilometres, it is by far the largest province in the country but houses less than 7% of Pakistan's population. The basic quality of life indicators are abysmal. On-tap drinking water is available to less than 5% of the population. The female literacy rate is under 15%.

The Baloch people are demanding more autonomy for the province. For decades, Pakistan's Balochistan province has been the scene of sporadic clashes between government troops and guerrillas who are fighting for autonomy. In the past few years, the rebels have again stepped up their attacks. Government troops and installations across the province have come under rocket attack and bombings, especially Gwadar town. Last month, seven army personnel and three labourers building a road near the Iranian border were killed by unidentified gunmen. The Baloch nationalists fear that if Gwadar grows into a modern city, the Baloch people will become a minority in their own province. No one is quite sure who is funding them, but there are rumours that they get support from India.

Gwadar is today a deserted town where outsiders are looked upon with suspicion. Most of the educated young people have moved out to look for jobs in the other big towns and cities of Pakistan. The new and luxurious Pearl Continental Hotel built on a cliff overlooking the port and the town below is empty – it has been closed down for "renovations". The road leading to the small airport outside the town is heavily guarded by security forces. There are no tourists now – most have been scared off by the attacks. Foreigners do not dare to venture here either.

For centuries, Gwadar has also been a smuggler's paradise – it was once infamous for its human trafficking in slaves and it is still a place where illegal immigrants are smuggled into the Middle East and beyond. The idea had been to capitalise on its location, but the dream of Gwadar remains just that. Pakistan's strategic location as a gateway to the oil and gas riches of central Asia means that it will remain a battleground for competing interests for the foreseeable future. The Great Game continues well into the 21st century.

Jimmy Carter on Women's Rights

Jimmy Carter discusses the unrest in Ivory Coast and the impact of the Arab Spring on women's rights.

Will Indian protests end corruption?

It is being called India's version of Tahrir Square after Egypt's protests that toppled the president. Jantar mantar, the country's historic stretch, is flooded with thousands of Indians. They're singing, chanting, dancing, painting, holding up placards in 45 degrees heat - all for one cause: corruption.

"Politicians are getting richer and we're paying the price for it. We don't have jobs and while we're suffering they're living it up," says 22-year-old Swati, a university graduate. She's supposed to be the face of 'shining India', where opportunities are available in plenty, but her presence in these protests is defying that image.

In the last few months, ordinary Indians have had enough. A barrage of corruption scandals revealed how billions, not millions, of dollars were pocketed by politicians in collusion with businessmen and beauracrats. From favouring contractors in the Commonwealth games to selling under-priced telecommunication licences to favoured companies - Indians have seen it all. Until now, people had no outlet to vent their anger or frustration.

Then came Anna Hazare, a 72-year-old former army soldier. He turned to social activism after seeing firsthand how corrupt officials exploited people in his village in the 1960s. Since then he's been seen as one of those activists who actually walk the talk. Now he's become the face of this rising anger.

He's pledged to 'fast until death' (this is the land of Gandhi, after all) until the government accepts a new anti-graft piece of legislation. And his resolve seems to be working. An entire nation's collective conscience seems to have been pricked with this man's actions.

"Anna is an inspiration for all of us. We need less talk and more action before our country is completely ruined. This is not the freedom we fought for," 52-year-old Raj Shekhar tells me.

He's travelled all the way from Lucknow in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh to join Anna's growing caravan of soldiers. And he says he's not going to give up.

Others are joining as well. From Mumbai to Chennai, from New Delhi to Ahemdabad thousands are finally speaking out.

The root of this issue remains corruption. It's endemic in every indian institution. From the police to the state hospitals people need to pay up or remain deprived.

So while people clearly have had enough of this and much of India seems to have woken up, the question remains whether it's enough to bring about a real revolution. And whether the establishment is really listening. Else, Anna's resolve may just go to a waste.

U.S. report slams Bahrain for repressing Shi'ites

Sunni-ruled Bahrain was guilty of human rights abuses including arbitrary detentions, censorship and discrimation against majority Shi'ites before its violent crackdown on street protests, the United States said on Friday.Bahrain last month saw the worst sectarian clashes since the 1990s after protesters, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets, prompting the government to impose martial law and invite in troops from Sunni-ruled neighbors.
"Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect, especially against the Shia (Shi'ite) majority population, persisted," the U.S. State Department said in its Human Rights Report for 2010.
"Authorities arbitrarily arrested activists, journalists, and other citizens and detained some individuals incommunicado... The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices," it said.
The report cited allegations of mistreatment and torture, especially of activists and said Shi'ites were under-represented in the civil service, police and security forces.
The government censored stories especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary, it said.
"According to some members of the media, government officials contacted editors directly and asked them to stop writing about certain subjects or asked them not to publish a press release or a story," the U.S. report said.
Shi'ites, who make up at least 60 percent of the population, have long complained of discrimination when competing for jobs and services. They are demanding better representation and a constitutional monarchy, but radicals calling for an overthrow of the monarchy alarmed the Sunni minority.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch denounced what it called arbitrary detentions and said freed detainees interviewed reported incidents of beatings and abuse. The U.S.-based rights group called on Bahrain to give a reason for all detentions.

Afghan refugees suffer, thanks to world apathy

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain on Thursday said that sufferings of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan had increased for the last many years owing to apathy of the international community, which would have a negative impact on social, economic and law and order situation in the province.

Speaking at a roundtable conference held at a hotel on the ‘Management and Repatriation Strategy of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan (AMRS)’, the minister said the government wanted repatriation of Afghan refugees in a honourable way but at the same time there should also be a proper mechanism under which the peoples of Pakistan and Afghanistan should continue their trade and business.

“The Afghans living under proper legal documents pose no threats to our economy and the security,” he said, adding that the under-privileged and illegal Afghan national could become a threat to the law and order. He said that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas, bordering Afghanistan, had been adversely affected during the Afghan war due to the influx of refugees.

In his speech, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Barrister Arshad Abdullah said that there should be a proper law for providing permanent settlement to those Afghans who had been living in Pakistan for decades. He said the volunteer repatriation processes till near past had proved to be a futile exercise as the Afghan families were either reluctant to go back to their homeland or manage to come back to Pakistan soon after entertaining the UNHCR-sponsored repatriation.

Provincial Minister for Social Welfare and Women Development Sitara Ayaz also addressed the conference. The conference was told that about 40 to 50 per cent Afghans living in Pakistan did not want to go back for unstable security situation, etc.

About 70 per cent of the Afghans living in Pakistan belonged to five bordering provinces of Afghanistan including Nangarhar, Kunar, Khost, Paktia and Paktika. As AMRS initiative, the UNHCR has mobilised additional support for local communities in Pakistan that generously host millions of Afghan refugees for the last three decades.

In this regard, during this year, projects worth nearly $8.5 million of infrastructure development, water and sanitation, health and education, have been initiated through the Refugee-Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA).

The voluntary return operation resumed this March after the winter break. So far, 2,500 individuals have gone back home to Afghanistan. At least 3.7 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan with the help of the UNHCR since 2002.

Over 300 suicide bombers being trained in Waziristan

The arrested bomber of the Sakhi Sarwar shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan, apologised to the Pakistani nation on Friday and said that he had been told to bomb the areas of non-Muslims.

During investigations, Omar told officials that there were 350 people receiving suicide bombing training in the militant hideouts of Waziristan. He said that these included Uzbeks, Tajiks, Arabs and Punjabis.

Omar said that he used to be blindfolded and taken for training. He said that the in-charge of the camp was Sangeen Khan who used to constantly be away on travel.

He also disclosed that the second bombing was supposed to take place between the rescue and media teams.

Protesters shot dead in southern Yemen

Two people have been killed after Yemeni security forces fired at protesters in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz, leaving more than two dozen others wounded.

Hospital sources said about 200 people were hurt after inhaling tear gas during Friday's protests..

Witnesses reported gunshots near the site of an anti-government sit-in in the flashpoint city to the south of Sanaa, while dozens of others suffered from bullet wounds or tear gas inhalation.

The protesters had been carrying the bodies of five people killed earlier in the week to their gravesites when they ran into security forces.

The fresh clashes on Friday between anti-government protesters and the police came as Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, rejected a new deal for him to leave after 32 years in power.

Some 21 people have died in clashes this week in Taiz and the Red Sea port of Hudaida.

In the port city of Aden, once the capital of an independent south, thousands of anti-government protesters gathered peacefully and in Hudaida, some 15,000 gathered to mourn protester deaths and demand Saleh step down.

Al Jazeera's special correspondent in Sanaa who is not being named for security reasons said scenes of Friday's pro-Saleh demonstrations in front of the presidential palace was very similar to those seen in recent weeks.

"It is very difficult for Al Jazeera to go anywhere near those protests, we have to rely on what we're seeing on Yemen state television … we can see the mass crowds turning out week after week.

"But according to some people in Change Square, where the rival protests are, those people are not there because they genuinely support Saleh but because they are either government forces dressed in civilian clothes or are being paid by the ruling party."

Our special correspondent says such accusations have been going around for weeks, with pro-democracy protesters saying that the more Saleh loses control the more he is seen firing on anti-government protesters to make sure his own supporters continue to attract a large crowds.

Protesters have been calling since January for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.

Offer rejected

Saleh initially accepted an offer by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states trying to broker an end to bloody protests and hold talks with the opposition.

But he later rejected the plan for his exit in a speech broadcast on state television on Friday.

"We were born free, and we have free will, and they have to respect our wishes. We reject any coup against democracy, the constitution and our freedom," he told supporters in the capital.Saleh said: "Our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else. This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs."

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister, said on Thursday that members of the Gulf Co-operation Council "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down."

However, Abu Bakr al-Kurbi, Yemen's foreign minister, said Yemen's government is studying an initiative by Gulf Arab states to end a months-long confrontation with anti-regime protesters, in a statement published on Friday.

Opposition groups had welcomed the Gulf countries' mediation offer.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Yemenis have converged in the capital for rival demonstrations - with some demanding the president's ouster and others showing their support.

Police and army units were deployed to prevent any friction between the two sides.

More than 120 people have been killed since Yemen's protests calling for an end to Saleh's rule began on February 11, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council has invited Saleh and the opposition to a mediation session in Saudi Arabia. But Saleh's government described the proposal as unconstitutional.