Monday, April 11, 2011

Bahrain questions 3 reporters, may charge activist

Bahrain's public prosecutor on Monday questioned three senior journalists sacked from the Gulf kingdom's only opposition newspaper over accusations of falsifying news about the government's crackdown on protesters.

Separately, the Gulf Arab state said it had released 86 people held under martial law regulations, and accused a prominent rights activist of fabricating images of a corpse on the Internet and summoned him for questioning.

Bahrain has seen some of the worst unrest in its history since mostly Shi'ite Muslim protesters took to the streets in February, inspired by uprisings that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, to demand a bigger say in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

The king invited in Saudi troops, imposed martial law and launched a crackdown on March 16 in which over 300 people have been detained. At least 13 civilians and four police have died.

The Al Wasat newspaper was suspended on April 2 over charges that it had falsified news, but resumed publishing the next day after its editor-in-chief Mansoor al-Jamri, its British managing editor Walid Noueihed and head of local news Aqeel Mirza agreed to resign.

On April 4, two Iraqi journalists working for Al Wasat, Raheem al-Kaabi and Ali al-Sherify, were deported without trial.

Bahrain's attorney-general, Ali Bin Fadhl al-Bouainain, said Jamri, Noueihed and Mirza had been released pending trial in the criminal court once investigations were completed.

"The defendants were ... accused of publishing false news ... to disturb public peace and harm the general interests of the state and they were presented with the evidence," Bouainain said in a statement carried by the official news agency BNA.

It was not clear what sentence might be imposed under martial law. The defendants said they had access to lawyers.

Jamri, who was questioned first, said six false news articles that appeared in Al Wasat had been emailed to the newspaper complete with fake phone numbers from the same IP address as part of an apparent campaign to plant disinformation.

He said these statements had slipped past editing checks because Al Wasat had been operating with a skeleton staff. Its printing press was attacked by thugs on March 14 and its offices were inside the curfew zone imposed the same week.

"I rejected all accusations that we knowingly published any false news destabilizing the country," Jamri told Reuters.

"They were asking how we did our work and who was responsible but I said I was, because we had reduced our staff. We were working under exceptional circumstances," he said after his hearing, which lasted more than two hours.

"The mistake was not done on purpose. Someone trapped us."

It was not clear when a trial would begin. Human Rights Watch said the cases should be dropped.

The agency BNA said "legal measures" were taken under martial law rules against the 86 detainees who were released, without clarifying whether they had been freed on bail and still faced charges or not.

Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said photos of one of two men who died at a detention center on Saturday showed he had been tortured.

The state news agency BNA said the pictures were doctored.

"The deputy adviser for legal affairs at the interior ministry announced that Nabeel Rajab published false images on social media site Twitter of Ahmed Isa Sager," BNA said.

Opposition groups have said they suspect both prisoners died from torture in detention. Bahrain denies any torture but says all accusations will be investigated.

"The adviser said that the images published were different to those taken of the deceased with the knowledge of the coroner after death," BNA said, adding Rajab's case would be transferred to military prosecutors.

It did not say how the pictures, the links to which Rajab posted on Twitter, had been doctored.

Rajab, who has not been questioned yet, said on Twitter the summons was aimed at hurting his credibility.

"The pictures are not fabricated," he said. "It is the government that wasn't showing or was hiding the marks on the body where it looks like it was tortured."

The Geneva-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders denounced the questioning of Rajab.


Al Wasat began publication in 2002, after King Hamad released political prisoners, allowed exiles to return to Bahrain and promised to launch a program of political reforms including wide-ranging constitutional changes.

Jamri, a prominent Bahraini commentator and driving force behind Al Wasat, returned from exile to found the newspaper.

A British-educated engineer, he was a leading moderate voice in Bahrain during weeks of protests.

In the days before the crackdown, when the main Shi'ite opposition party Wefaq had set out a long list of conditions for dialogue with the royal family, Jamri -- son of a respected Shi'ite cleric who led Bahrain's opposition movement in the 1990s -- called in his daily column for talks.

Al Wasat did not back calls for the overthrow of the royal family, calling instead for political reforms.

The arrival of Al Wasat almost a decade ago transformed the media landscape in Bahrain, broaching topics that had previously been taboo and making life uncomfortable for several ministers. It is owned by a consortium of leading Bahraini businessmen.

The legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

By—Anwar Syed
Daily Times

Bhutto coveted power to remake society in his own image, not to enrich himself. Zardari does not believe in visions and he does not have any. He wants power to make money for himself and his friends and associates. Unlike Mr Bhutto, he is ready and willing to submit to American pressures.
President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, and the PPP Secretary General Jehangir Badr and other party elders do not tire of claiming that they are the true bearers and preservers of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s legacy. They imply that his legacy includes all that is good and desirable in politics and governance. This calculation on their part is erroneous. Mr Bhutto was right and praiseworthy in some of the positions and actions he took and wrong in others. His legacy bears scrutiny.
As a politician he was one of a kind. He worked hard to mobilise the people. He went to villages, sat down with the peasants, listened to their grievances, told them they were the source of all power and gave them a sense of political efficacy. He addressed huge crowds in towns and cities and told them that they were entitled to a comfortable living, and that they could be the masters of their destiny. He assured them that they were the real owners of the country’s resources and they had the right to determine the uses to which these resources would be put. Needless to say, the poor and deprived were pleased to hear these assurances and got behind the man who offered them.

Mr Bhutto was a charismatic leader and a great orator. The spoken word is a part of his legacy that anyone wishing to be a successful politician should study and try to follow. His legacy as a ruler is something else. It is a mixed bag. During the first few months after his assumption of office, he nationalised major industries, banks and educational institutions, including those that were funded and managed by foreign Christian missions (such as Forman Christian College in Lahore, Murray College in Sialkot, Gordon College in Rawalpindi and Edwards College in Peshawar). The economy and the system of higher education both degenerated as a result.

Mr Bhutto was not a liberal democrat believing in the presence of an organised opposition as an essential component of the system. His government placed virtually every known politician belonging to parties other than the PPP, and even some PPP dissidents, in prison for varying periods of time. Indiscriminate nationalisation of private corporations and persecution of opponents and dissidents are a part of his legacy, which deserve to be rejected.

On the positive side is first the fact that he supervised the framing of the 1973 constitution for which he obtained the approval of all political forces in the country. The National Assembly adopted it unanimously with only a few abstentions. In spite of a number of subsequent amendments, this constitution is held in high public esteem to the point of being considered sacrosanct.

In 1974 India tested a couple of nuclear ‘devices’, which showed that it had acquired the capability of building nuclear weapons. Mr Bhutto responded to this event by initiating Pakistan’s own nuclear development programme, much to the chagrin of the US and other western powers. Henry Kissinger, the American secretary of state at the time urged him to step away from this programme. Prime Minister Bhutto rejected this advice, upon hearing which Mr Kissinger warned, “We will make an example of you.” But Mr Bhutto remained undaunted. He knew that it was going to be a very expensive venture but money must be found for it “even if we have to eat grass”. The programme went ahead. It is probable that by the early or mid-1990s Pakistan had accumulated a stockpile of nuclear weapons. In 1999, Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government tested nuclear devices in response to India’s tests a week or so earlier. Pakistan was recognised as a nuclear weapons state and became a member, even if unwelcome, of an exclusive nuclear powers’ club. The great majority of the people are probably pleased with their country’s status as a nuclear power. But a minority view regards it as having been a needless waste of money and a move that endangers peace in the region. I do not share this view. In my reckoning, it is weakness that invites aggression and the possession of nuclear weapons deters it. In sum, fearless assertion of the national interest and rejection of external pressures is also a part of Mr Bhutto’s legacy that does him honour and which the nation can cherish and keep.

Towards the end of December 1971, Mr Bhutto became president of a country that was emerging from a humiliating defeat in a war with India. India had taken not only territory in West Pakistan but also more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers and civilians as prisoners of war. Peace had to be made to get these men and territory back. Exercising marvellous perseverance and diplomatic skill in meetings with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Simla, he paved the way for achieving both of these objectives.

Having set forth some important aspects of Mr Bhutto’s legacy, we may now ask to what extent Zardari and company are its bearers and preservers. He coveted power to remake society in his own image, not to enrich himself. Zardari does not believe in visions and he does not have any. He wants power to make money for himself and his friends and associates. Unlike Mr Bhutto, he is ready and willing to submit to American pressures.

Mr Bhutto was intellectually a socialist and initially some of his policies had that kind of a bias. Mr Zardari and Mr Gilani may not even know the meaning and import of socialism. They have denationalised state owned public corporations and handed them over to their favourites among private parties.

Mr Bhutto was a very hard-working man. I once had the occasion to read his files of memoranda addressed to ministers, high-ranking officials, and party functionaries. These documents showed that he had kept himself well informed about happenings in his government, various political parties, and society at large. One should not be surprised if it transpires that Mr Gilani, by contrast, does not know the happenings in the office next to his own. It is possible that he has ways of occupying himself but these may not have any bearing on his work as the country’s prime minister.

It may be said in conclusion that the present PPP elders’ claim that they are the bearers of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s legacy is for the most part unfounded.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics

Pakistan Tells U.S. It Must Sharply Cut C.I.A. Activities


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan has demanded that the United States steeply reduce the number of Central Intelligence Agency operatives and Special Operations forces working in Pakistan, and that it put on hold C.I.A. drone strikes aimed at militants in northwest Pakistan. The request was a sign of the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies.

Pakistani and American officials said in interviews that the demand that the United States scale back its presence was the immediate fallout from the arrest in Pakistan of Raymond A. Davis, a C.I.A. security officer who killed two men in January during what he said was an attempt to rob him.

In all, about 335 American personnel — C.I.A. officers and contractors and Special Operations forces — were being asked to leave the country, said a Pakistani official closely involved in the decision.

It was not clear how many C.I.A. personnel that would leave behind; the total number in Pakistan has not been disclosed. But the cuts demanded by the Pakistanis amounted to 25 to 40 percent of United States Special Operations forces in the country, the officials said. The number also included the removal of all the American contractors used by the C.I.A. in Pakistan.

The demands appeared severe enough to badly hamper American efforts — either through drone strikes or Pakistani military training — to combat militants who use Pakistan as a base to fight American forces in Afghanistan and plot terrorist attacks abroad.

The reductions were personally demanded by the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Pakistani and American officials, who requested anonymity while discussing the delicate issue.

The scale of the Pakistani demands emerged as Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or the ISI, arrived in Washington on Monday for nearly four hours of meetings with the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Two senior American officials said afterward that General Pasha did not make any specific requests for reductions of C.I.A. officers, contractors or American military personnel in Pakistan at the meetings.

“There were no ultimatums, no demands to withdraw tens or hundreds of Americans from Pakistan,” said one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the tensions between the two spy services.

A C.I.A. spokesman, George Little, called the meetings “productive” and said the relationship between the two services “remains on solid footing.”

The meetings were part of an effort to repair the already tentative and distrustful relations between the spy agencies. Those ties plunged to a new low as a result of the Davis episode, which has further exposed the divergence in Pakistani and American interests as the endgame in Afghanistan draws closer.

The Pakistani Army firmly believes that Washington’s real aim in Pakistan is to strip the nation of its prized nuclear arsenal, which is now on a path to becoming the world’s fifth largest, said the Pakistani official closely involved in the decision on reducing the American presence.

On the American side, frustration has built over the Pakistani Army’s seeming inability to defeat a host of militant groups, including the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which have thrived in Pakistan’s tribal areas despite more than $1 billion in American assistance a year to the Pakistani military.

In a rare public rebuke, a White House report to Congress last week described the Pakistani efforts against the militants as disappointing.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Davis was involved in a covert C.I.A. effort to penetrate one militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment, has made deepening inroads in Afghanistan, and is perceived as a global threat.

The C.I.A. had demanded that Mr. Davis be freed immediately, on the grounds that he had diplomatic immunity. Instead, he was held for 47 days of detention and, the officials said, questioned for 14 days by ISI agents during his imprisonment in Lahore, infuriating American officials. He was finally freed after his victims’ families agreed to take some $2.3 million in compensation.

Another price, however, apparently is the list of reductions in American personnel demanded by General Kayani, according to the Pakistani and American officials. American officials said last year that the Pakistanis had allowed a maximum of 120 Special Operations troops in the country, most of them involved in training the paramilitary Frontier Corps in northwest Pakistan. The Americans had reached that quota, the Pakistani official said.

In addition to the withdrawal of all C.I.A. contractors, Pakistan is demanding the removal of C.I.A. operatives involved in “unilateral” assignments like Mr. Davis’s that the Pakistani intelligence agency did not know about, the Pakistani official said.

An American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said without elaborating that the Pakistanis had asked “for more visibility into some things” — presumably the nature of C.I.A. covert operations in the country — “and that request is being talked about.”

General Kayani has also told the Obama administration that its expanded drone campaign has gotten out of control, a Pakistani official said. Given the reluctance or inability of the Pakistani military to root out Qaeda and Taliban militants from the tribal areas, American officials have turned more and more to drone strikes, drastically increasing the number of attacks last year.

The drone campaign, which is immensely unpopular among the Pakistani public, had morphed into the sole preserve of the United States, the Pakistani official said, since the Americans were no longer sharing intelligence on how they were choosing targets. The Americans have also extended the strikes to new parts of the tribal region, like the Khyber area near the city of Peshawar.

“Kayani would like the drones stopped,” said another Pakistani official who met with the military chief recently. “He believes they are used too frequently as a weapon of choice, rather than as a strategic weapon.” Short of that, General Kayani was demanding that the campaign return to its original, more limited, scope and remain focused narrowly on North Waziristan, the prime militant stronghold.

A drone attack last month, one day after Mr. Davis was released, hit Taliban fighters in North Waziristan, but also killed tribal leaders allied with the Pakistani military, infuriating General Kayani, who issued an unusually strong statement of condemnation afterward.

American officials defended the drone attack, saying it had achieved its goal of killing militants. But there have been no drone attacks since then.

General Kayani’s request to reduce the number of Special Operations troops by up to 40 percent would result in the closing of the training program begun last year at Warsak, close to Peshawar, an American official said.

Informed by American officials that the Special Operations training would end even with the partial reduction of 40 percent, General Kayani remained unmoved, the American official said.

American officials believed the training program was essential to improve the capacity of the nearly 150,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed to fight the Taliban in the tribal region.

The C.I.A. quietly withdrew all contractors after Mr. Davis’s arrest, the Pakistani official said.

Another category of American intelligence agents, declared operatives whose purpose was not clear, were also being asked to leave, the Pakistani official said.

In a sign of the severity of the breach between the C.I.A. and the ISI, the official said: “We’re telling the Americans: ‘You have to trust the ISI or you don’t. There is nothing in between.’ ”

Michelle Obama asks Jessica Simpson to sing for troops

Jessica Simpson has been handpicked by Michelle Obama

to sing for the families of U.S. troops.

The singer-and-actress was asked by the U.S. First Lady -- the wife of U.S. President Barack Obama -- to perform on Wednesday at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, and admits it's a "huge honour."

She told "The First Lady asked me to sing for the troops. That's a huge honour for me. Just to be there and show my support and say thank you."

Jessica's performance is just one of event taking place as part of Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden's initiative to honour America's service members.

During the national two-day tour, the women will travel to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, San Antonio, Texas, Denver and Columbus, Ohio, to "highlight the work of Americans who have answered the call to serve our military families to showcase ways all Americans can serve them, from teachers and business leaders, to neighbours and volunteers".

This is not the first time Jessica has shown her support for the troops.

Last year, she performed for sailors on board the USS Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf.

China's Vice President calls for stability in West Asia, North Africa

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Monday appealed for early stability in West Asia and North Africa.

"We believe the affairs of West Asian and North African nations should be left to decide on their own. We expect the regions to resume stability as early as possible," Xi told the visiting Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Taieb Fassi Fihri on Monday afternoon.

China was very concerned about recent unrest in some countries in the region, Xi said, proposing dialogue and negotiation as the way to resolve disputes and differences.

Xi said China-Morocco relations enjoy a solid political foundation and broad public basis.

He proposed stronger political trust, deeper pragmatic cooperation, more people-to-people exchanges and closer coordination in international and regional issues.

Fihri, who was on a three-day visit to China, praised the robust development of bilateral relations and reaffirmed the commitment of the Moroccan government to its ties with China.

Fihri said Morocco would like to work more closely with China to expand investment and promote the all-around growth of bilateral ties.

Earlier on Monday, Fihri held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, on issues of common concern.

Hamid Karzai warns of penalties for Kabul Bank troubles

Action will be taken against those responsible for the troubles at Kabul Bank, which caused a financial crisis in Afghanistan last year, President Hamid Karzai says.

Shareholders who fail to repay loans and bank managers responsible for negligence will be prosecuted, he said.

But Mr Karzai also blamed poor advice from foreigners for the crisis.

Fraud, bad loans and mismanagement brought the bank close to collapse as Afghans rushed to withdraw savings.

The bank has almost $1bn (£600m) in outstanding loans.

Afghanistan's international allies have warned that billions of dollars in aid are at risk if reforms are not undertaken.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that it could also pull its support from Afghanistan. A recent IMF report said the bank should be placed in receivership.

Britain has already suspended a $140m (£85.6m) payment in aid to the country following the crisis.

'Wild' lending
The BBC's Quentin Somerville in Kabul says that the bank lent freely and wildly to leading figures in Afghanistan - including the relatives of the president and a vice-president.

President Karzai said that Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, lacked the necessary banking experience to oversee the institution. He also criticised foreign advisers to the bank.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid to these [foreign] individuals and organisations to help the banking system of the country and they failed in their task," Mr Karzai is quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

But Mr Karzai said he was determined to ensure that those responsible are subject to criminal investigations.

"They ['rogue' shareholders] will not have shares in the bank and the loans they have taken they must pay back within one month," Mr Karzai said.

"If they are paid back within one month, excellent. If not, they'll be legally pursued by the government of Afghanistan."

Kabul Bank, Afghanistan's largest private bank, handles most of the government payroll, including salaries for policemen and teachers.

The central bank sacked Kabul Bank's top executives and took control of its finances in September.

Among three senior Kabul bank executives and shareholders under investigation is the brother of Afghanistan's First Vice-President, Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

Another major shareholder is Mahmoud Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, but Mahmoud Karzai is not being investigated.

'Bahrain Shia face sectarian cleansing'

With the help of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is carrying out “sectarian cleansing” against the Shia population in the Persian Gulf country, a national human rights activist says.

“Today we are witnessing a sectarian cleansing targeting the Shia. People are being sacked from their work based on sectarian reasons. Athletes are being sacked from the clubs they play for based on their sectarian background. Students who study abroad are being brought back based on sectarian backgrounds,” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, in an interview with Press TV.

“We are not talking about a Shia-Sunni dispute. There is a dispute between the Bahraini opposition -- majority of them Shia -- and the ruling elite, the ruling family, and not the Sunni people,” he added.

Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over what it says are growing abuses by the Bahraini regime against its citizens.

“Most of the people who did documentaries or interviews or spoke to TV channels like Press TV are arrested as of this moment. People are even afraid to talk to journalists or to the media, because it is very frightening,” Rajab pointed out.

“I myself have been beaten and arrested. My house has been attacked for a second time. The CNN interviewers at my house were arrested, and they were released later because they were Americans. The situation is very dangerous,” he noted.

The peaceful popular movement in Bahrain, that demands the ruling Al-Khalifa family to step down, has been violently cracked down on since mid-February.

Maryam al-Khawaja, another Bahraini activist, has said that nearly 800 protesters, including at least 25 women have been so far detained in crisis-hit Bahrain.

Bahrain sacks doctors, health workers

The Bahraini government has dismissed 30 doctors and 150 health ministry workers for supporting anti-government protests.

The doctors and employees, who have been accused of backing the anti-regime protesters, are under arrest.

Police also stormed schools on Monday and arrested teachers ahead of a planned strike, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Earlier, Bahraini authorities expelled 16 Lebanese nationals from the country. The move came after the leader of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, voiced support for the Bahraini protesters.

Bahraini people have been demanding an end to the two-century-long rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty since February 14.

Scores of protesters have been killed and many others gone missing since the beginning of the revolution.

Bahraini forces have reinforced a massive armed crackdown on the uprising with the help of Saudi, the UAE and Kuwaiti troops.

Extremism forces singer Nazia Iqbal to leave Peshawar

Extremists’ fear compelled famous singer of Pushto Nazia Iqbal to leave Peshawar. Several singers of KPK had left the province due to the same impending fears earlier.

Nazia Iqbal, a famous Pushto singer, shifted to Islamabad from Peshawar due to the fear of extremism. At least fifteen singers and artists of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa had already left for Punjab, Sindh and even for abroad whereas several including Alam Zeb Mujahid left showbiz even.

Earlier, Nazia Iqbal was intimidated and threatened through letters. She was living near Ishrat Cinema Chowk in Gul Bahar-4. Nazia Iqbal has purchased her own house herein E-Sector of Bahria Town, Islamabad. Sources said that she would visit Peshawar for programs.