Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pakistan hardly to see any change in gov't soon

Despite the political mercury shooting up in Pakistan after the country's biggest opposition party, Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz (PML-N), launched a campaign to unite other opposition parties against the current government, the country will hardly see any big political move or change in the government soon, analysts said.

The political circles got active when PML-N chief and two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced on June 30 to unite all opposition parties on a "minimum agenda" to overthrow the current government of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Sharif took this decision soon after his two-decade rival party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), or United National Movement, quit the coalition government over some differences with the President Zardari.

Some key leaders of the PML-N were assigned tasks to make contacts with all opposition parties to oust the Zardari-led regime.

Two PML-N leaders, Ishaq Dar and party president Shahbaz Sharif, met MQM central leader Farooq Sattar in Dubai and London respectively and discussed political situation including the options to form the grand opposition alliance.

As a result of these political connections, MQM and PML-N on Wednesday agreed to work together as a joint opposition in both upper and lower houses, and in provincial assemblies to solve the key national issues.

Afghan civilians killed in NATO strike

Eight children among 14 killed in air raid in eastern Khost province In Afghanistan.

A NATO air strike has killed at least 14 civilians, including eight children, in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, local police say.

But Nato said four Taliban members had been killed in the strike and that it was investigating reports of civilian casualties.

The deadly air raid came a day after two children were reportedly killed in a separate air strike in southwest Ghazni province.

The killing of civilians by foreign troops is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has soured the feelings of many ordinary Afghans towards foreign forces.

Earlier this year, two NATO helicopters gunned down nine Afghan boys as they collected firewood in a volatile province in northeastern Afghanistan.

The incident prompted a sharp rebuke from Karzai and a rare apology by David Petraeus, the commander of US and NATO forces. US President Barack Obama also expressed "deep regret" over the killings.

As violence has spread across the country, casualties have risen, and the United Nations said May was the deadliest month for civilians since they began keeping records four years earlier.

Life after terror monster Laden in Pakistan

A lasting solution for Balochistan

By Malik Siraj Akbar | DAWN.COM
The Balochistan solution has to be a political one rather than a ‘white-wash’ of replacing the military with a paramilitary force.

While the Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani’s announcement to replace PA soldiers with the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) in Balochistan’s gas-rich town of Sui indicates a significant policy change on part of the military, it would be unwise to say that this is without precedent.

In the last eight years, the federal government has taken such steps to appease the Baloch but despite their goodwill, they did not translate into practical changes on the ground.

For instance, in 2004, then caretaker Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain made the first comprehensive effort to address Balochistan’s issues peacefully and constituted two parliamentary committees.

The committee headed by Senator Wasim Sajjad was tasked with compiling Balochistan’s concerns on constitutional issues such as provincial autonomy and decided on how much control the province should exercise on its natural resources. The second committee headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed was responsible for addressing the Baloch’s reservations on military cantonment and mega projects such as the Gwadar Port. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the parliamentary committees were never implemented.

The Pakistan Peoples Party made a similar comprehensive move in November 2009 with the unveiling of the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package in a joint session of the parliament. Two years on, no progress has been made in calming the Baloch sentiments of deprivation. The reasons are obvious by analysing the semantics only.

Firstly, there is a grand communication gap between the Baloch, the army and the federal government. All the parties involved in the conflict do not properly understand terms used from each other’s lexicons. The ambiguity of terminology has added to the issue at hand. For example, the army and the Baloch differently interpret the term “military operation”.

From Pakistan Army’s point of view, a “military operation” takes places when tanks and helicopters as well as weaponry are employed to accomplish a goal.

On the other hand, the Baloch equate extra-judicial killings, disappearances, and even the checking at check-posts with “operation”. So every time the army chief or the federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik decline any “ongoing operations” in Balochistan, the Baloch instantly cite the killing or “disappearance” of some young political workers and activists. The knee-jerk reaction by the Baloch to every government statement is: “So many Baloch were killed and many are missing, how can they deny that there is a military operation?”

In a similar vein, there is a difference in the interpretation of the term “development”. For the government, development projects means the work at Chamalong Coal mines or the establishment of cadet colleges and cantonments. On the other hand, the Baloch are sceptical of these measures and consider it a “usurpation” of Baloch resources under the umbrella of “development.”

The skepticism is not limited to semantics either. The Baloch see the army’s decision to recruit youth from Balochistan to stem the protest against “disappearances.”

The political establishment would be well advised to not rely on rhetoric and realise that a change in Balochistan can only come with a holistic approach, which means a lasting and sensible political solution.

General Kayani’s fresh announcement about pulling out the army in Sui is either because of his ignorance about the Baloch point of view or a deliberate attempt to block the way for a political settlement to the conflict. In fact, to them, the term “poj” (similar to Fauj in Urdu) includes both the army and the federal paramilitary force, the FC.

Today, the Baloch have more complaints against the FC than the army itself or the federal government. People see the FC, whose composition includes barely 10 per cent of local Baloch, as a troublemaker rather than a solution to the ragging conflict. Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani blames the FC for allegedly running a “parallel government” within the province. Ministers in his cabinet accuse the FC of sabotaging every attempt to politically reconcile with the enraged Baloch leaders. The nationalists accuse it of whisking away political activists during broad daylight from public places like universities and markets. In one such incident, hundreds of people saw the FC personnel whisking away three Baloch nationalist leaders from Turbat district two years ago. Within a couple of days, all three leaders were killed and their bodies were thrown in an abandoned area.

Thus, when General Kayani says he is going to deploy FC in Sui, it means he, in the Baloch interpretation, approves of FC’s extra-constitutional actions such as the killing of political workers, arrests and enforced disappearances.

That said, General Kayani should realise that FC is no longer the only issue in Balochistan. As the head of the country’s armed forces, he can take some of the following proposed measures as confidence building measures (CBMs), among several others, to prevent Balochistan from falling apart. First, military and paramilitary presence has to be reduced in the province. FC-controlled check posts should be removed from the heart of the district headquarters as well as the alleged underground torture cells be disbanded.

Second, only the Supreme Court should have authority to decide the fate of the missing persons. Intelligence agencies must cooperate with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and an independent investigation be conducted by the concerned parties.

Moreover, the two newly formed groups, the Baloch Musla Defai Tanzeem and Sipa-e-Shudha-e-Balochistan, which have publicly accepted responsibility for the killing of around 120 missing Baloch persons, should be exposed and brought to justice. Allegations by the Baloch of these having links with the country’s security establishment should be investigated.

It must be underscored that the army at the federal level and the Frontier Corps (FC) at the provincial level should demonstrate respect and have faith in the policies of the elected governments. They should be offered an unconditional assurance of a non-interference policy for a peaceful and political settlement of the Balochistan imbroglio.

A lasting solution for Balochistan

Jolie, Parker Hollywood's highest paid actresses

Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker , with estimated annual earnings of $30 million each, are the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, according to the annual list.
Jolie topped the list thanks to the worldwide success of her action film "Salt," which brought in $300 million, and "The Tourist," which also featured Johnny Depp and earned $280 million at the worldwide box office.

Much of Parker's hefty earnings comes from reruns of the hit television show "Sex and the City", which she starred in and produced, and earnings from the second movie which generated $290 million at the global box office.

"People may be surprised to see Sarah Jessica Parker up there but they may not realize that in addition to acting, she earns big from her perfumes and endorsement deals," said writer Dorothy Pomerantz of "Also she's coming off of 'Sex and the City 2' which turned a healthy profit."

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon were not far behind in the rankings with each actress bringing home $28 million.

Aniston's film "Just Go With It" is her fourth highest earning film in the U.S.

The top 10 earning actress made a total of $218 million between May 2010 and May 2011, according to, which compiled the list by talking to producers, lawyers, agents and Hollywood insiders to estimate what each actress earned.

Last year's top earner, Sandra Bullock, took a 12-month break from making movies and dropped to No.9 with earning of $15 million. (Reuters)

'Al Khalifa, free prisoners then talk'

All political prisoners must be released for a national dialogue to occur between the Western-backed Bahraini regime and the opposition, an analyst says.

“If you want a dialogue, you need to start from the basis that all political prisoners need to be freed,” Raza Kazim, from the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, said in an interview with Press TV.

The ruling regime in Bahrain has called for a fresh round of talks with the opposition after months of brutal crackdown on protesters, demanding an end to Al Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled the country for over 40 years.

Kazim believes the United States, a major influence on the government, is also persisting to push for the talks between the two sides.

However, he mocked the gesture stating that the US could have “exerted pressure” before the advancement of the popular uprising, which has now led to the regime willing to engage in dialogue.

In March, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates deployed military forces to Bahrain to help the regime crush nationwide protests that had broke out in mid-February.

US's reason behind sending intervening forces into Bahrain was to prevent the overthrow of the Bahraini regime, which would cost the US interest dearly, he added.

HRW blasts US over Bahrain crackdown

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has lashed out at the US and its allies for ignoring violent oppression against peaceful anti-regime protesters in Bahrain.

"Bahrain has brutally punished those protesting peacefully for greater freedom and accountability while the US and other allies looked the other way," HRW's deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said.

The rights group, in a statement on Wednesday, also criticized the Bahrain government for carrying out a "campaign of violent oppression" against its citizens.

Anti-government protesters took to the streets of Bahrain on February 14, but the country's Saudi-backed forces crushed the demonstrations in a bloody crackdown in March.

"The Bahrain government, since March 2011, has been carrying out a punitive and vindictive campaign of violent repression against its own citizens," the statement said.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, said there are currently over 1,000 political detainees, including medical staff, inside the country.

HRW called on Bahrain "to end unlawful and incommunicado detention, to free protesters unless legitimate criminal charges can be brought against them, and to allow monitoring by independent human rights organizations."

It also said it has been prevented from working in Bahrain since April.

Memories of Taliban still haunt Pakistanis in Swat

Daily Times
It is more than two years since the Taliban roamed Pakistan’s Swat Valley with impunity and threatened to kill him, but Muhammad Karim is still scared when he remembers how they paralysed life.

“The bad days are over... they (the Taliban) are in the past now and I don’t think they will ever come back,” he said as he prepared to close up his music and video shop and rejoin his family for the evening.

It was his merchandise of popular songs and films that saw the Taliban effectively shut down his shop two and a half years ago, after the picturesque mountain valley first started to slip out of government control in July 2007. Radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah led hundreds of Taliban in sowing terror in an area once loved by holidaymakers for its balmy summers and snowy winters.

His supporters beheaded opponents, burning schools and fighting to implant a harsh brand of Islamic law.

But in April 2009, Pakistan launched a major offensive to reclaim Swat from the Taliban, along with the neighbouring districts of Buner and Lower Dir.

Heavy fighting displaced an estimated two million people, but the military declared the region back under control in summer 2009 and tentative efforts began to kick start development and revive the economy. Two years later, the army still has a heavy presence in Mingora, the main town of Swat, and commanders confirm they are preparing to create a military-run cantonment area in a bid to protect long-term stability.

“They (the Taliban) ruined my business,” Karim said. He grew so frightened of their threats for running an “un-Islamic” shop that, after watching helplessly as his sales fell by 70 percent, he closed down for several months.

“Let me tell you very frankly, I got scared after they warned me of serious consequences.”

Standing behind big wooden shelves displaying CDs and DVDs of popular Urdu, Pashto and Indian songs and movies, Karim said it had been difficult to survive. “We’re in safe hands now but one thing I’m at a loss to understand is where did the Taliban come from and where did they disappear to so quickly?”

Nowadays shops, small restaurants and cafes are open in Mingora until late at night, with little outward sign of fear.

It may look like any normal Pakistani city, with people going about their routine business and markets crowded, but heavily armed police and soldiers are still deployed in large numbers, searching vehicles and even pedestrians. “This is one big problem that we’re facing. An over presence of military and civilian police on all roads and areas has been causing lots of problems for people,” a local grocer, Zahid Iqbal, said. He wants things to be more relaxed and for the army to hand over power to a civilian administration since Mingora and other areas of Swat are now peaceful.

“Gone are the days when we used to receive threats and collect dead bodies from different areas of the city,” he said. But Major General Javed Iqbal, commander of Swat, said it would take time before the situation fully returns to normal – a mantra that army leaders have been repeating for almost two years.

“As soon as the government and the general headquarters (of the army) determine that the job is done, the army will go out of Swat and hand over administrative control to civilians,” Iqbal said. He told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar on de-radicalisation in Swat that the area was experiencing a “victory of peace. A military solution was the temporary phase of a permanent solution.” The army has endorsed or organised a series of public events in Swat this year to revive tourist interest, such as a skiing competition in March and a public festival in June to showcase what is on offer.

But the rumble of violence is never far away in northwest Pakistan. On June 1 and June 3, hundreds of terrorists besieged an area in Upper Dir on the Afghan border, around 70 kilometres northeast of Swat, sparking prolonged fighting that killed at least 34 people.

Sporadic outbreaks of violence in Swat have led to fears that the Taliban who held it are regrouping elsewhere in the northwest. “Larger efforts are needed to sustain whatever we have achieved in Swat,” said Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, supervising all military operations in the northwest. afp

Saudi Women Taken Into Custody For Driving

Five Saudi women have been taken into custody because they defied the men-only driving rule.

In the campaign to overthrow this law in the ultraconservative Arab kingdom, these arrests mark the first ramifications to the activists. It started about two weeks ago and has brought out dozens of women drivers.

According to Saudi-based rights activist Eman al-Nafjan, police took one woman into custody while driving in Jiddah on the Red Sea coast, and another four women accused of driving were later detained in the city. Unfortunately, there’s been no new information about these women.

“This is the first big pushback from authorities, it seems,” al-Nafjan said. “We aren’t sure what it means at this point and whether this is the start of a harder line by the government against the campaign.”

The Saudi Women for Driving, as the group is called, is out to lift the restrictions, where women can only appear in public when escorted by a male relative. It’s interesting to note that Saudi Arabia has no written law that bans women from driving. What’s keeping them off the road are fatwas (religious edicts) that are put into place by senior clerics that follow a strict brand of Islam called Wahabism.

8,000 incidents of violence against women

The year 2010 saw 8,000 incidents of violence against women in the country indicating a decrease of 6.85 per cent compared to the preceding year.

This was stated by the Aurat Foundation Resident Director Shabina Ayaz while releasing the annual report on the violence against women at a press conference here on Tuesday.

Accompanied by Deputy Resident Director Shireen Javed, she said the report was compiled under the Policy and Data Monitoring on Violence against Women Project from January-December 2010.

Unveiling the report titled ìViolence against Women in Pakistan; A qualitative review of statistics 2010,î she said incidents of violence gathered by the Aurat Foundation during this period were based on the cases reported in newspapers as mostly no first information reports (FIRs) were registered in a large number of incidents that reflected the citizen’s lack of confidence in the police.

Shabina Ayaz said violence against women may take the form of beating, torture, rape, burning, confinement, honour killings, acid-throwing crimes and women trafficking which were condemnable in any civilised society.

She said the total number of reported cases of violence against women in Pakistan were 8000 from January 1 to December 31, 2010. These were lower than the 8,548 cases reported in 2009.

“Out of the 8,000 incidents, 5,492 cases of violence were reported from Punjab, 1,652 from Sindh, 650 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 79 from Balochistan and 127 from Islamabad. The figure in Islamabad is alarming given the smaller population and high security maintained in the capital,” she pointed out.

Of the nature of the violence, she said 2,236 women were abducted, 1,436 were murdered, 557 were killed in the name of honour, 928 were raped, 633 committed suicide, 32 women were attacked with acid and 38 were victims of stove burning.