Saturday, July 23, 2011

Russia Reclassifies Beer

Until the moment Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev signed a bill that reclassified beer as an alcoholic beverage, any drink or “foodstuff” in beer’s case under 10% alcohol (beer is around 5% alcohol) was not considered alcoholic.

The World Health Organization along with other health agencies have been scrutinizing Russian consumption of beer which has almost surpassed the consumption of vodka, the Russian staple alcohol.

Most likely because it is being advertised as a more healthy choice than vodka, beer has been selling out rapidly during the past few years as vodka’s popularity slightly waned.

Popularity of beer

is so high that beer is casually drunk almost everywhere in public by almost everyone, including public service workers which presented both a health and working problem.

The huge availability of beer at anytime and anywhere in contrast to other alcoholic beverages also makes beer more popular.

In order to control sales and consumption, the Russian government slapped a 200% tax onto the beer industry just last year.

The bill that President Medvedev signed will now allow Russian officials to control beer to the same degree as other alcohol meaning that like other “adult beverages” (vodka included), the sale of beer will be banned in unlicensed stores, kiosks and train stations.

The entire bill will take effect in the year 2013 which will also restrict the selling of beer between the hours of 11 P.M. and 8 A.M.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa starts Polio campaign from July 25

A 3-day polio campaign would begin from July 25 in four districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in which drops would be administered to the children below 5 years of age.
Deputy Director of EPI Dr Janbaz Afridi told Geo News that a polio campaign would begin in Mardan, Nowshera, Batgram and Tang from July 25 which would continue till July 27.
Polio drops would be administered to more than 0.7 million children during the campaign, he added.

Gandhara art exhibition opens in South Korea

A 10-day exhibition of the Gandhara art and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa photography opened in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, on Friday.

The exhibition sponsored by the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) is being attended by the ambassadors and Buddhist scholars from 32 countries across the world. Artists, archaeologists and historians will deliver lectures on Buddhism and Gandhara art and civilisation.
A press release of the TCKP Media Cell said rare relics, antiques, antiquities and ancient photos of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been put on display in the exhibition for the visitors and researchers of the Gandhara art and civilisation.

The exhibition is aimed at introducing and promoting the Gandhara civilisation in South Korea and other countries of the Buddhists world. Peshawar valley was once the centre of Gandhara art and its several cities and towns including Chota Lahore and Hund in Swabi district, Takhtbhai in Mardan and Taxila in Punjab were the centres of Buddhist civilisation.

Gandhara is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the oldest book of Aryans, which dates back to the second millennium BC engraved on the rock edicts of the Achaemenian emperor of Iran when it was part of that empire.

The Gandhara art has not only influenced the art of India but every part of Buddhist world including Tibet, Sri Lanka, Burma, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan and Central Asian states.

One woman's challenge to Syrian regime

She asks that we call her "Laila" but it is not her real name, as she has to protect her identity for her own safety.

A human rights activist and lawyer, Laila says she has been to at least two dozen anti-government demonstrations in and around Damascus and wanted to observe firsthand violations by the Syrian regime.

"The security forces jumped in front of the protesters and there was less than 10 meters between them and the security forces started shooting," she recalls of one protest.

At least five people next to her were shot and killed, despite that fact the demonstrations were peaceful, she says.Asked how often she witnessed security forces firing on protesters, she replies, "all the time, every time."

But a top adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad maintains that the government is not attacking peaceful protesters and claims "armed gangs" are responsible for the violence.

The unrest in Syria began in March this year after teens were arrested for writing anti-government graffiti in the southern city of Daraa.

As the clashes intensified, demonstrators changed their demands, from calls for freedom and an end to abuses by the security forces to calls for an end to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said security forces have intensified their campaign of mass arrests in cities that have had anti-government protests.

The cities include Hama, Homs, and suburbs around Damascus, the group said.

But Laila insists all of the protests she has seen have been peaceful.
"How do these protests finish every time?" she asks rhetorically. "By the security forces and al-Shabiha (pro-regime gangs) attacking the protesters."

Laila says she also visits wounded demonstrators and catalogues their stories -- though she says she has to hide their identities as it would put their lives in danger.

She herself was detained once, for 48 hours, but released unharmed. She believes her legal knowledge kept her safe.

However, she says it's different for others.

"I see how they treat the prisoners there," she says. "They don't find them like human beings in front of them.

"They make the prisoners being naked and they beat them every step of the way. Like if they want to go to toilet they will beat them all the way. I saw how they force a prisoner to drink from toilet water."

But she remains relentless and undeterred in her mission to tell this story. She is forced to sneak around her own city, constantly looking over her shoulder, risking her life time and time again.

The protesters themselves seem similarly undeterred, posing an unprecedented challenge to the Syrian government.

For the first time in 50 years the old method of the military putting down or buying off opposing voices isn't working, according to Beirut-based political analyst Rami Khoury.

"So there is a kind of slight schizophrenic response which I think is a function of the regime not knowing how to deal with this mass political change," he says.

"They never faced anything like this before, they don't have the tools to deal with this kind of approach, and that's why you see these apparently contradictory political and military responses that don't seem to make any sense."

On the one hand, he says, the government has realized there has to be a political solution -- hence the national dialogue conference and talk of significant reforms.

But at the same time the regime continues down the military route, refusing to let up, targeting what it says are "armed gangs" fueled by foreign powers, intent on bringing down Assad's government.

"This nature of challenge has never been experienced by these regimes and we can see that they don't quite know what to do," Khoury says.

In Homs, activists fear the government is deliberately stoking sectarian tensions in its desperate bid to cling to power.

The feeling among many is that the demonstrations and resulting bloodshed will continue for months.

According to Khoury, this will happen until the Syrian economy starts to buckle.

"So the combination of internal economic stress and external political pressure I think will force everybody to finally look for a political way out of this," he says.

"It's hard to see a political reform process that will actually satisfy either side completely. It's very difficult, what you have is an existential challenge to the nature of this government and regime, done by people who are prepared to risk their lives."

People like Laila.

"You asked me why I am going out? Because it's our country ... and it's our responsibility to make it better."

Local journalist battles plight of Afghan women

In some countries, the written word brings more than just readers to those bold enough to publish.

Local journalists who attach their names to scrutinizing articles in Afghanistan are often subject to threats of kidnapping, acid attacks and death -- especially if the writer is a woman.

That's the daily reality for Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad, who says she's been threatened by extremist groups warning her against publishing articles that cast a critical lens on local customs and national politics.

"You have to fight everyday," said the former managing editor of the Pajhwok News Agency, the country's largest local provider of independent news.

"You have to accept the risk, and that's why we face such challenges."

The once fledgling news agency began as a small project in 2003, and later flourished into a nation-wide network of correspondents with eight bureaus and an average output of three dozen stories per day, according to its website.

Nekzad began as a journalist there, also having worked as a radio reporter.
Earning her stripes covering the local effects of the U.S.-led war and her country in transition, she took over as managing editor and began training a corps of budding young journalists.

Many of them were women.

"Everyone needs information, particularly women need to know and have information for their awareness," she told CNN. "I think one of the ways we can do something is by starting with this profession."

But after years of receiving threatening e-mails and phone calls, the prospect of violence became reality when a bomb detonated on the driveway of her home.

"I was displaced from my home for nine to about 10 months," forced to leave because her neighbors complained.

They said "you have to leave your building," according to Nekzad.

Leaving Pajhwok in 2009 in an effort to lower her profile, the longtime journalist says she sought to avoid the limelight that had brought extremists to her door.

"The threats and warnings scared me," said Nekzad, who at the time was pregnant with her daughter, Muska.

But she had also laid the ground-work for what would become her next venture, working alongside her husband to set up a separate news agency called "Wakht," meaning "Time."

Today, Nekzad is the agency's director, overseeing a staff of more than two dozen journalists who cover Afghanistan's forbidding terrain in an effort to root out stories in all of its 34 provinces.

And again, many of her reporters are women."She typifies the double jeopardy under which women journalists in Afghanistan are forced to operate," said Bob Dietz, Committee to Protect Journalists Asia Program Coordinator. "Reporting and editing and running a news operation is tough enough there, but doing it as a woman makes it much more of a challenge."

Even after the ouster of the Taliban from Kabul in 2001, social and cultural restrictions against women in Afghanistan have remained heavy-handed.

Despite the adoption of a constitution that greatly expands women's legal rights, most women are never taught to read.

About 14% of Afghan women are currently literate, according to a statement from the Ministry of Education.

They "are uneducated and away from education," said Nekzad. "Women need for women to share their experiences, share their problems and share their challenges of how they suffer."

But with Internet access restricted and its penetration especially low in rural areas, online news agencies -- like Wakht -- struggle to deliver information beyond the country's few metropolitan areas.

Still, there are signs afoot of a quietly developing women's rights movement.

Last week, a handful of women -- mostly Kabul residents -- marched in the capital streets, carrying placards in protest of male harassment.

And yet with NATO in the process of a drawn-down, handing over the first seven designated areas to Afghan Security Forces, many fear the effects of a resurgent Taliban or a negotiated settlement that allows militants to come back.

"This is really a very critical question," said Nekzad. "The biggest problem is that there is no guarantee (for women's safety)."

The veteran journalist said that while she supports negotiations that could lead to peace, she questioned "who will guarantee that the Taliban...will agree that women should be a part of the activity and a part of the society to work?"

Although the troubles of Afghan women were there prior to the Taliban's arrival in the mid-90s, the hard-line group has traditionally taken a tough stance against them.

"When the Taliban first entered Kabul, the religious police beat men and women in public for not having long enough beards or not wearing the burka properly," wrote Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid in his widely-acclaimed book "Taliban."

Still, the costs of the near decade-long conflict seems to appeal less and less to the war-weary public of Europe and the United States, whose electorates are still reeling from the aftermath of recession.

Last month, nearly three-quarters of Americans polled said they support the United States pulling out some or all of its forces out of the country.

How those factors will affect international resolve to promote local institutions and bring about lasting security in Afghanistan is still unclear.

Pakistan:Crimes against women

Daily Times
Aurat Foundation has presented its first bi-annual report covering cases of violence against women in the country from January to June 2011. According to the report, crimes against women constituted three percent of total crimes, and on average, 28 crimes against women took place each day in the reporting districts. Regions of Punjab and Sindh reported more crimes against women compared to those of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. The most frequently reported crime against women was abduction in addition to early/forced marriages, rape, honour killings, acid attacks, burning, domestic violence, trafficking, harassment, sexual assault, torture and injury.

Not a day goes by without reports of criminal activities against women, which seem to be steadily increasing in volume. Perhaps the increase in volume is because more crimes are reported now compared to previous years. In a patriarchal society like ours, women have historically been subjected to sexual harassment, domestic violence, inhumane treatment and brutalities like acid attacks and honour killing due to the deep-seated bias against them. Even today, the situation of women in Pakistan has not improved much. Women belonging to the lower and middle classes are subjected to ill treatment at the hands of their employers, husbands, in-laws, brothers, and sometimes even their parents. They have to suffer harassment and discrimination whenever they step outside their homes, which leaves them highly vulnerable to being harmed physically, sexually or psychologically by the men in their communities.

Although the present government has passed a law against harassment of women at the workplace, there is still a long way to go. Regrettably, the government did not pass bills on acid attacks and domestic violence and a bill proposing amendments in the criminal law to protect women. Unjust traditional practices like vani, sawara (marriage of women to settle disputes) and karo kari (honour killing) are being handed out and implemented by illegal panchayats (informal courts). There is a need to improve women’s status by upholding their rights. Their engagement in mainstream politics by allocating them 17 percent seats in the national and provincial assemblies and Senate and 33 percent in local bodies and their appointment on a few important assignments is laudable, but we still lag far behind in improving the status of women in our society. Our women constitute more than half of the country’s population. We cannot progress meaningfully until they are provided due respect and rights.

Balochistan and the army’s ‘concerns’

Daily Times
The Commander of the army’s Southern Command, Lieutenant General Javed Zia, has said the army “considers the killing of missing people an abhorrent act” but tried to take away the blame from the army high command by adding, “Certain ‘elements’ who do not believe in the courts are involved in killing and throwing the dead bodies of missing persons...however, there is no such policy by army chief General Kayani.” Lieutenant General Javed Zia expressed his concern that the way things were going, it might result in Balochistan breaking away from the country. On the one hand it is a good thing that the army has finally realised what the consequences of the kill and dump policy could be but on the other it is quite audacious of the army to sweep everything under the carpet and blame ‘certain elements’, unnamed. The people of Balochistan have long been saying that the Frontier Corps (FC) is running a parallel government in the province. The intelligence agencies and the FC are accused of the abductions of thousands of Baloch people and hundreds of deaths of Baloch nationalists. This is not without reason.

On Friday, unidentified gunmen killed Jumma Khan Raisani, senior leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), along with three other people in Khuzdar. In the past, the military used to target dissident separatists but for some time now it has been targeting moderate nationalists. Despite several military operations in Balochistan over the past decades, the state of Pakistan has not been able to achieve what it wanted: to make the Baloch subservient to the establishment’s highhandedness. The Baloch are a proud people with an iron will. They do not succumb lightly to oppression. After a forceful accession, the Pakistani establishment has tried to oppress the Baloch for over six decades now. The demands of the Baloch are legitimate. Provincial autonomy was finally given to all provinces this year under the 18th Amendment but the way successive governments, both military and civilian, have tried to undermine the Baloch struggle for rights has alienated the people of Balochistan. Military might cannot and will not ‘tame’ the Baloch if that is what the military establishment has in mind. The only solution is political. For this to happen, the government needs to first stop the ongoing military operation and then talk to the Baloch leadership, especially those leaders who are living in exile.

General Zia may have tried to ‘dispel’ the notion that the army wanted to capture the resources of Balochistan by saying the army would not get anything from these profit-making projects but the truth is that these projects are not benefitting the Baloch either. Settler colonialism is the actual beneficiary of these projects and the army has high stakes in such ventures. Inspector General (IG) FC Major General Obaidullah Khan was also present when General Zia expressed his ‘concern’. Instead of pretending to be a silent Buddha, Major General Obaidullah Khan should have been ashamed of what the FC is doing under his command in Balochistan. How many more deaths would it take for the army and the FC to own up to their mistakes? Showing ‘concern’ is not enough. What is needed is an end of the oppressive military regime in the province. The Baloch genocide must stop. The army cost us half our country back in 1971. It must retreat now before history is tragically repeated. *