Thursday, July 28, 2011

Africa in vogue and loving it at Dakar Fashion Week

Fashion has never been as Afrocentric and African designers at the Dakar Fashion Week gave their own spin to prints and fabrics inspiring celebrities and fashion houses.
The event wrapped Sunday with a final show drenched in glamour, showcasing what's hot from Mali to Equatorial Guinea to Ivory Coast this season.
African prints are currently inspiring big names from Beyonce to Burberry, with the iconic British brand's 2012 collection shot through with bright printed batik material. Singer and designer Gwen Stefani also adopted the theme in 2011.
Designers in Dakar, such as US-based Senegalese Yolande Mancini, were on the pulse with her red dress with batik shoulders and gold dress with bright printed cape.
Malian designer Maria Bakhoum's collection was in earthy tones with the traditional Bogolan mudcloth while Equatorial Guinea's Alfredo Monsuy mixed satin and silk with traditional wax prints.
From Morocco's Meryem Boussikouk -- a collection of modern kaftans in "hot African colours" and contemporary cuts.
But, being an African designer isn't all about ethnic prints as Ivorian Patrick Asso showed with his all blue collection.
"There are African designers doing beautiful things which are not African," said Almamy Lo, the artistic director responsible for choosing the designers.
Organiser Adama Paris, a former model and now a designer, began the event nine years ago despite massive challenges and no government support in the west African nation.
"I really think that there is a market, there is an audience. People love fashion in Africa, they buy it. I dont know why it isn't structured. I sell, people sell, but we don't have distribution channels so everybody just sells where we can," she told AFP.
"The most difficult thing is showing your designs."
There is no venue in Dakar for an event like this and organisers are forced to hold shows in restaurants and hotels.
The budget was cut this year as the financial crisis discouraged sponsors and the event got off to a rocky start with a silent opening night as the country's copyright bureau shut off the music claiming their fee had not been paid.
Despite the difficulties Paris presses ahead with her dream.
"We have so much talent. They just need a push," she said, stressing that one should not underestimate the African fashionista.
"Even the girl who lives in a village goes to the hairdresser once a month at least," Paris said.
But like many of the designers, her biggest challenge is getting Africans to buy local, with European designers and brand names still the most coveted.
"Right now it is the time of African fashion and fabric. It is colourful and it's something different. We want to show a different Africa, not just war and death that the west shows, but a bit of glamour."

Wealthy Pakistanis Leaving Taliban Areas

Wealthy Pakistanis from the country’s northwestern region are leaving their hometowns permanently to settle in safer areas far from the war zone. Doctors and other professionals are joining the exodus.

The departure of doctors and other medical personnel could put the fragile health care system in danger but many have found the situation too risky for them and their families.

Dr Zararullah Mahsud had a thriving medical practice in the tribal area of South Waziristan but left his ancestral village for Peshawar in December 2009.

"My decision to leave my hometown permanently is based on the bitter experience of living there," said Mahsud, who runs a clinic near Board Bazaar in Peshawar. "The past five years were like hell. My children stayed at home instead of going to school and there was no chance for them to play."

Mahsud’s brothers and cousins have also moved their families to safer cities to avoid violence. "It is very hard to leave your birthplace permanently but sometimes you have to safeguard yourself and the younger generation."

It is not just the residents of South Waziristan and other districts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) who are leaving, but also wealthier families from Peshawar and other cities in the neighbouring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

"My family is living in Islamabad now. I am staying here to run my private hospital," Dr Muhibur Rehman, who was kidnapped by the Taliban last year, told IPS. He remained in Taliban captivity for a month and reportedly paid a ransom of 25,000 dollars for his freedom.

Another senior surgeon, who asked to be unnamed, said he moved to Lahore to live with his sons after he received threats from Taliban.

"The Taliban warned me to send them 5,000 dollars every month, which was beyond by financial position," the surgeon told IPS. "So, the only option to avoid the Taliban’s wrath was to leave my native city forever…. I have sold all my property and would never come back as I know that the Taliban have now become a permanent feature of life in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa."

Pakistan was peaceful before the Taliban was ousted from power in Afghanistan in late 2001 and took sanctuary in the FATA near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Taliban then spread out from the tribal areas, launching attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of the country.

At the receiving end of those attacks are the six million people living in FATA, which consists of seven tribal agencies now dubbed as the international headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In six of the seven tribal agencies, the army has been engaged in operations against militants since 2005, making life extremely difficult.

Residents seeking peace have incurred the ire of militants, as in the case of 55-year-old Abdullah Khan whose family hails from Orakzai Agency. He said they had formed a peace committee, angering the local chapter of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who warned them to dismantle the committee.

"We didn’t heed the Taliban’s warning. One night they attacked us and killed my two younger brothers," said Khan, whose family has moved to the capital Islamabad. He added they were forced to sell their property in Orakzai, valued at one million dollars, for only a fifth of what it was worth so that they could buy a small house in Islamabad.

"The real estate dealers have been earning exorbitant amounts buying houses for people displaced from the FATA by military operations," said Abid Shah, vice-president of the Real Estate Dealers Association in Peshawar.

Muhammad Omar, an established businessman from Bajaur Agency, still regrets selling his agricultural land for much lower than the market price due to the worsening militancy back home. "I have done a great blunder to sell my shops and property because one day we have to return there. But I sold the property on the insistence of my family," he told IPS.

"Now there is no option of going back there because I have sold everything," he said.

Some one million people who have fled the violence in northwest Pakistan now live in camps or with relatives or in rented houses. "The wealthier ones opt to migrate to other places to be safe," said Mukhtar Khan, a college teacher in Mohmand Agency, who purchased a house in Peshawar last year.

"We have been temporarily migrating from Mohmand to Peshawar and then back to Mohmand from the past five years, which has adversely affected the education of my children," he said. Still, he said his family visit relatives on special occasions but cannot afford to stay there permanently.

The section of the FATA located along the 2,400-km porous Pakistan-Afghan border is the least developed part of the country. Those who opt to stay live under the shadow of militants who often inflict harsh punishment that includes public executions and chopping off hands.

"The people have lost confidence in the military as well as the government and they don’t see any prospects of peace there. Only poor families are staying there," said Hashimullah Afridi, a cloth merchant from Khyber Agency where the military operation has been going on for the past two years.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa forms new body to reform higher education

The government of Pakistan’s north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has established a Project Management Unit (PMU) in the Higher Education Department with the objective of restructuring and reforming the public sector colleges. The national education policies of 1972, 1979, 1998 and 2009 too had stressed such structural reforms in colleges, universities and other higher educational institutions but produced no fruitful results.

Officials said non-implementation of the policies by government colleges caused confusion at administrative and academic levels and resulted in failure of the effort.

“In the light of the past experience, a separate unit has been established this time which will exclusively work to solve the problems faced by the higher educational institutions,” the officials said. The PMU will make efforts to implement the National Education Policy-2009, said the unit’s director Prof. Mohammad Tariq. He said that they would try to achieve the targets set under the Millennium Development Goals to raise the ratio of higher education in the province from the present five percent to 20 percent.

Pakistan's political dynasties look set to continue into the next generation

Four of Pakistan's major political parties have lined up cushy jobs and safe parliamentary seats for the scions of their leaders, a sign that the country's political dynasties remain strong.

The rise of young leaders from old platforms comes ahead of general elections, to be held no later than January 2013.

The parties undergoing dynastic succession are the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The tradition of dynastic succession among prominent political families dates back to British colonial rule up to August 1947, analysts said.

"Like the Bush and Kennedy families, it has been naturally easy for the children of former Pakistani presidents and prime ministers to assume leadership of a ready-made political following," said Suhail Warraich, a Lahore-based political author.

"They have instant access to political grooming and power networks, so politics has become a family trade, much in the way as it is with shopkeepers."

Most prominent among the political heirs apparent is Bilawal Bhutto, the 23-year-old son of Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister, who was assassinated in 2007. He has since co-chaired the PPP, along with his father, Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, and has frequently been tipped as a future prime minister by the incumbent, Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Mr Bhutto had largely maintained a low public profile while studying at Oxford University, his mother's alma mater, but after his recent graduation he is being readied for a political career.

Mr Zardari on Monday told party activists that Mr Bhutto would contest the next general election from Lyari, a PPP stronghold in Karachi notorious as a slum lorded over by criminal gangs allied with the party, newspapers reported.Mr Bhutto would have reached the age of 25 at the likely election date and be eligible to contest.

He would use his anticipated first term in parliament to learn politics, rather than immediately being pitched as a prospective prime minister, the newspapers reported.

Mr Bhutto would also take personal charge of the PPP's youth wing upon returning to Pakistan in September, the reports said.

The newspapers noted that the president was overseeing a massive upgrading of Lyari's infrastructure and social services to bolster his son's candidature.

Mr Bhutto could become the fourth member of his family in as many generations to hold the post of prime minister.

It would be a risky job. Besides his mother's assassination, his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister, was executed in 1979.

He was hanged for murder, after a Supreme Court verdict widely recognised as having been manipulated by General Zia-ul-Haq, who had overthrown him two years earlier.

The young Mr Bhutto's great-grandfather, Shahnawaz Bhutto, was prime minister of the Indian princely state of Junagadh, before independence in 1947.

The Bhuttos of the PPP would outdo the Khans of Charsadda, for three generations leaders of the ANP, an ethnic Pashtun nationalist party that has dominated politics in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa since before independence.

The chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Amir Haider Hoti, is a cousin of the ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan.

The biggest rivalry, however, is widely expected to be between Hamza Sharif and Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, respectively the heirs of the Nawaz and Quaid factions of the PML.

Mr Hamza is the nephew of the PML-N chief, Nawaz Sharif, a former two-time prime minister. Mr Elahi is the nephew of the PML-Q chief, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, also a former prime minister.

The PML-N on Wednesday elected Hamza Sharif as general secretary of its Punjab provincial stronghold.

Mr Hamza is the son of Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister, and has long been considered next in line because his uncle's sons are autistic.

He is one step ahead of Mr Elahi, having beaten him for a Punjab provincial assembly seat at the last general election in February 2008.

Mr Elahi is in prison fighting charges of corruption dating back to his uncle's government. But he is using the case to promote his credentials as a potential Punjab chief minister, a post previously held by his father, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who is now a federal minister in the PPP-led coalition government.

Dynastic succession is also evident within many smaller but significant regional and religious parties.

However, many dynastic successions have failed, said Mr Warraich, who has written popular Urdu-language books about the Bhuttos and Sharifs. "Voters have shown that once they have tired of the domination of a particular dynasty, they have dumped them in favour of ordinary party activists," he said.

"Voters dumped the lot in the 1970 elections, and could well do so again in future, although it isn't imminent."

He said voters would eventually be weaned off political dynasties if Pakistan's fledgling democracy were allowed to flourish.

The country has been ruled by the military for half its 63-year history.

House vote on GOP debt plan delayed

House Republicans delayed a vote Thursday on Speaker John Boehner's plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling while enacting sweeping cuts in government spending, indicating a rift within the GOP could undermine the party's latest attempt to avoid an unprecedented national default and stave off potential economic catastrophe.

The delay showed Boehner was unable to muster sufficient support from his own caucus to guarantee his proposal would pass in the face of expected unified Democratic opposition.
It was unclear if the vote would occur on Thursday night. Influential House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said he expected the Boehner plan to eventually pass, but when asked about timing, answered: "I don't know the answer to that question."
"There is a delay. The reason has not been stated," Rep. Nan Hayworth, R-New York, who supports the plan, told CNN. Hayworth acknowledged that some members "have had a lot of deep thinking to do" about their votes, and said the delay might be to confirm "the last few" supporting votes.

Global slump warnings if US triggers 'insane' default
A chorus of global banks has warned that Washington risks triggering a global slump and may suffer permanent loss of credibility by flirting with default on America's $14.3 trillion (£8.8 trillion) federal debt.

The dangers are almost as great if the US fails to lift the debt ceiling and avoids default by enacting the most drastic fiscal squeeze in modern history.
"Default would be an act of collective insanity," said Willem Buiter, Cititgroup's chief economist. "Even if a default were cured promptly, it would severely dent the credibility of the US as a global financial player and the provider of the world's leading reserve currency. There would be an immediate repricing of the dollar and an increase in medium and long-term nominal and real interest rates. Asset, credit, and funding markets in the US and the world as a whole would likely suffer and a global recession would likely result, centred in the US, but not restricted to it."
Mr Buiter said brinkmanship on the US debt ceiling had reached a point where tail risk had "morphed" into a serious possibility, with a 5pc likelihood that Washington will pull the trigger on a technical default.
Stephen Roach, head of Morgan Stanley in Asia, said Chinese officials are disgusted by the "astonishing recklessness" of Washington as default looms. "Coming so shortly on the heels of the sub-prime crisis, the debate over the debt ceiling and the budget deficit and is the last straw," he said.
Andrew Garthwaite from Credit Suisse said a default would be catastrophic, causing 5pc contraction in the US economy and a 30pc drop on Wall Street, with "massive" ramifications for the world."It is almost unthinkable to believe the US would miss a coupon payment [$29bn are due on August 15]. If the US does default, the repo market would probably cease to work. It is hard to imagine money market funds operating under this scenario. The inter-bank market would freeze up. The fallout would be far worse than after Lehman's default," he said. "It would be horrible to think what happens to the dollar if the Fed hints it would offset the growth damage with QE3."
Mr Garthwaite said it might not be that much better if the US fails to lift the debt ceiling and enacts a draconian fiscal squeeze equal to 11pc of GDP (annualised) to stave off default.
Such an outcome would at first lead to a 10pc to 15pc drop in equities and a fall in 10-year Treasury yields to 2.75pc. The dollar would slide. The longer it went on, the worse it would be. Each month would mean fiscal tightening equal to 0.9pc of GDP.
Some experts fear that variants of this scenario would spiral out of control. It would drive a string of US states and municipalities into bankruptcy if it lasted more than a few weeks, while the multiplier effect would tip the economy into a self-defeating downward spiral with echoes of 1931.
The US Treasury will announce its emergency plans if there is no deal on the debt ceiling by Thursday night. The government is already stepping up contingency planning and is working on a scheme for how it will operate without borrowing authority. Some on Wall Street believe that because of better-than-expected tax receipts in July, the Treasury has enough money to meet all its bills for at least a week after Tuesday's deadline.
Fathom Consulting said the twin debt crises in the US and Europe risk feeding on each other in a dangerous synergy unless leaders get a grip quickly. "We are on the brink of a major sovereign debt crisis: the latest European bail-out package has done next to nothing to alter that view," said the group.
Fathom said the Washington stalemate risks pushing up yields on US Treasuries, lifting the global benchmark cost of money known as the "risk-free rate" with knock-on effects in Europe.
Eurozone borrowing would rise in lockstep, playing havoc with debt dynamics. Fathom said failure to reach a US deal could drive up yields on 10-year Treasuries by 300 basis points to 6pc by next year. "Ultimately, this could tip the euro into default."
"Such a rise in the 'risk-free' rate would reverberate across the world and across asset classes. It could push both peripheral and core European bonds into default territory. It would almost certainly lead to a renewed global recession and banking crisis - only this time there would be only one country left to absorb the losses - China," it said.
China is clearly not large enough to carry such a burden and is itself trying to navigate a "soft-landing" from its credit boom. The HSBC manufacturing index for China has tipped below the contraction line of 50.
Citigroup said the most likely outcome (60pc chance) of the Washington drama is a rise in the debt ceiling with a small fiscal package below $2 trillion that makes "no material difference" to the US debt trajectory and fails to satisfy rating agencies. This will lead to a downgrade from AAA to AA "initially".
The damage to confidence would stifle growth for the next two quarters and open the way to fresh Fed stimulus early next year.
Mr Buiter said the chances of a "rosy scenario" where the debt ceiling is lifted, the US implements a credible bipartisan package, and there is no US downgrade, is a miniscule 1pc.
Credit Suisse sees a 50-50 chance of a US downgrade even if the debt ceiling is raised, but doubts that this would have "much effect" since regulators would not force AAA funds to sell their debt holdings.
Credit Suisse said that if the US defaults then the best safe havens are companies such as Pearson, Compass, Centrica, Basf, Siemens and Sanofi, all deemed by markets to be safer than G7 average sovereign debt, based on credit default swap prices. Switzerland's Novartis trades at 34 basis points, below the CDS of the US, Japan, Britain, France or Germany.

Egypt's ex-president Mubarak to tried in Cairo

The trial of Egyptian former president Hosni Mubarak will be held in Cairo, an Egyptian justice official announced on Thursday.

The trial of Mubarak, his two sons Alaa and Gamal, former interior minister Habib El-Adli, six of his aids and fugitive businessman Hussein Salem, will be held in the building of the General Authority for Investment in the Cairo Expo center, said state news agency MENA, quoting Assistant Justice Minister Mohamed Manei.

The announcement dismissed recent speculation that Mubarak may be tried in Sharm El-Sheikh due to health problems. He has been hospitalized because of heart problems since April.

Mubarak and Habib El-Adli face the charges of ordering to kill peaceful protestors during the massive nationwide demonstrations that toppled the former regime in February.

Gamal and Alaa, Mubarak's two sons who are now detained in Tora Prison in Cairo, face accusations of corruption and squandering public funds.

Preparations including a security plan for the trial are underway, Manei said. A venue for Egyptian and foreign journalists will be chosen, but only the state TV is allowed to shoot the process, he added.

Speedy and public trials of Mubarak and his aides have been one of the top demands of protestors who began their open-ended sit- ins in Cairo and some other major cities since July 8.

But there are concerns that the health condition of the 83-year- old ex-president may prevent him from being moved to Cairo to appear in court.

Deputy Health Minister Abdel-Hamid Abazza said on Tuesday Mubarak suffered from severe depression and refused to eat.

"He completely refuses to eat and just has some juice, so he has lost a lot of weight and becomes weak," he said.

Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, resigned on Feb. 11 after 18 days of mass protests which left some 846 dead and more than 6,000 injured. The formerly ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was also disbanded after his fall.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf instructed his ministers to purge all affiliates of the disbanded NDP from their ministries, another move aimed at appeasing protestors. Several thousand leaders in the country's main institutions affiliated to the NDP will reportedly be sacked in a purification movement next week.

Protestors have continued to pressure the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the cabinet to meet their demands. Bloody clashes erupted on July 23 between protestors and supporters of the army in Cairo, leaving more than 300 injured.

Hussein Tantawi, head of the council, blamed foreign groups for funding some youth groups to create chaos in Egypt. The army had already singled out the April 6 Youth Movement for the recent protest.

But more than 20 Egyptian political movements, parties and coalitions from different Islamic, liberal and left trends agreed on Wednesday to organize a rally under the title "Friday of people 's Will."

Egyptians have blamed a widening gap between the rich and poor and their hard life on the corruption of the former regime led by Mubarak.

By far, several senior ex-officials have been sentenced in different corruption cases. Ex-interior minister Adli had been sentenced five years in jail over a car number plate case in July and 12 years in jail in another corruption case in May.

Former finance minister Youssef Boutros Ghali was sentenced to 30 years in prison in absentia on corruption charges on June 4. In May, former interior minister Habib el-Adli was sentenced to 12 years in jail, while former tourism minister Zuheir Garranah and housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi got five years in prison respectively.

To show transparency of the trial, Egyptian authorities have decided to allow live broadcasting of the trials of top corrupt officials. But it is not known whether the trial of Mubarak will be aired live.

Some Egyptians say since Mubarak gave up power, he should be pardoned given his old age and service for the country for three decades as the president.

Bahrain talks fail to appease opposition

Bahrain's so-called national dialog has failed to appease the country's opposition amid rising concerns over the government's determination to carve out a balanced solution out of the current crisis in the Persian Gulf sheikdom.

The Bahraini opposition voiced frustration at the “National Consensus Dialog” with the government after the country's largest opposition party, al-Wefaq, left the negotiations, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Critics say al-Wefaq's departure has almost drained the talks of their intended weight.

Facing countrywide anti-regime revolution, Manama launched the talks on July 2 with the alleged aim of introducing reforms in governing system of the Persian Gulf sheikdom.

Bahrain's largest party and opposition group al-Wefaq quit the negotiations, complaining that since their onset, the government had been trying to muffle the voice of the opposition.

Al-Wefaq regretted that the opposition has been given too small a fraction of the seats -- 35 out of 300 -- at the talks.

The reform package forwarded by the Manama government has also been attacked for failing to curb the powers of the upper house -- in which ministers are directly appointed by the country's king. It is also blamed for stopping short of giving greater legislative and monitoring powers to the opposition.

Bahrain's National Dialog Committee said the parties at the talks “did not agree on whether the Shura Council (the upper house) should be granted the same powers as the parliament, and whether the responsibility for lawmaking and oversight should be restricted to the elected chamber.”

It also said that “delegates did not reach consensus on a number of further suggestions, such as limiting the term for ministers and head of government or a fixed quota for women in parliament.”

Tens of thousands of Bahraini protesters have been holding peaceful anti-government rallies throughout the country since February, demanding an end to rule of the al-Khalifa family.

Scores of people have been killed and many more arrested and tortured in prisons in a government-sanctioned crackdowns on the peaceful protesters since the beginning of the demonstrations.

The Bahraini government is, meanwhile, being constantly backed by the United States despite its record of human rights abuse and the numerous complaints lodged against it at The Hague.

Pakistan: Security Forces ‘Disappear’ Opponents in Balochistan

Government Fails to Confront Military, Intelligence Agencies on Abuses

Pakistan's government should immediately end widespread disappearances of suspected militants and activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the southwestern province of Balochistan.

(New York) – Pakistan's government should immediately end widespread disappearances of suspected militants and activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the southwestern province of Balochistan, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Several of those “disappeared” were among the dozens of people extrajudicially executed in recent months in the resource-rich and violence-wracked province.

The 132-page report, “‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years’: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan,” documents dozens of enforced disappearances,in which the authorities take people into custody and then deny all responsibility or knowledge of their fate or whereabouts. The report details 45 alleged cases of enforced disappearances, the majority in 2009 and 2010. While hundreds of people have been forcibly disappeared in Balochistan since 2005, dozens of new enforced disappearances have occurred since Pakistan returned to civilian rule in 2008.

“Pakistan’s security forces are engaging in an abusive free-for-all in Balochistan as Baloch nationalists and suspected militants ‘disappear,’ and in many cases are executed,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The national government has done little to end the carnage in Balochistan, calling into question its willingness or ability to control the military and intelligence agencies.”

The report is based on over 100 interviews by Human Rights Watch in Balochistan in 2010 and 2011 with family members of “disappeared” people, former detainees, local human rights activists, lawyers, and witnesses to government abductions.

Human Rights Watch investigated several cases in which uniformed personnel of the Frontier Corps, an Interior Ministry paramilitary force, and the police were involved in abducting Baloch nationalists and suspected militants. In others cases, witnesses typically referred to abductors as being from “the agencies,” a term commonly used to describe the intelligence agencies, including the military Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intellilgence, and the civilian Intelligence Bureau.

In all the cases Human Rights Watch documented, the security forces never identified themselves, nor explained the basis for the arrest or where they were taking the person. In many cases, the person being arrested was beaten and dragged handcuffed and blindfolded into the security forces’ vehicles. Withoutexception in the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, released detainees and relatives able to obtain information reported torture and ill-treatment of detainees. Methods of torture included beatings, often with sticks or leather belts, hanging detainees upside down, and prolonged food and sleep deprivation.

In some cases relatives told Human Rights Watch that senior government officials, including the Balochistan chief minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani, had freely admitted that intelligence personnel were responsible for the disappearance but expressed an inability to hold the abductors accountable.

Those targeted for enforced disappearance were primarily Baloch nationalist activists or suspected Baloch militants.In several cases, people appeared to have been targeted because of their tribal affiliation, especially when a particular tribe, such as the Bugti or Mengal, was involved in fighting Pakistan’s armed forces.

Little information is available about what happens to people who are forcibly disappeared. Some have been held in unacknowledged detention in facilities run by the Frontier Corps and the intelligence agencies, such as at the Kuli camp, a military base in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

“Pakistani security services are brazenly disappearing, torturing, and often killing people because of suspected ties to the Baloch nationalist movement,” Adams said. “This is not counterinsurgency – it is barbarism and it needs to end now.”

The number of enforced disappearances by Pakistan’s security forces in recent years remains unknown, Human Rights Watch said. Figures provided by senior officials are grossly inconsistent, and these officials have provided no explanation about how they were reached. In 2008, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said there had been at least 1,100 victims of these disappearances in Balochistan.In January 2011, Balochistan’s home minister, Mir Zafrullah Zehri, told provincial legislators that only 55 people were considered missing.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that many of the “disappeared” have been extrajudicially executed while in government custody. Human Rights Watch has recently reported on the killing of at least 150 people across Balochistan since January in acts widely referred to as “kill and dump” operations for which Pakistani security forces may be responsible. Assailants have also carried out targeted killings of opposition leaders and activists. Human Rights Watch reiterated its call [2] to the Pakistan government to end these abuses immediately.

Armed militant groups in Balochistan are responsible for killing many civilians and destroying private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non-Baloch civilians and their businesses, police stations, and major gas installations and infrastructure. They have also attacked security forces and military bases throughout the province. Human Rights Watch documents abuses by Balochistan militants in a December 2010 report, “Their Future is at Stake [3].”

Under international law, enforced disappearances are considered a continuing offense, one that is ongoing so long as the state conceals the fate or the whereabouts of the victim.

“President Asif Ali Zardari should realize that the disturbing reality of wanton and widespread abuse in Balochistan cannot be wished away,” Adams said. “All Pakistanis will pay the price if the government fails to protect Balochistan’s population from heinous abuses at the hands of the Pakistani military.”

Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with Pakistan's government, in large part due to issues of provincial autonomy, control of mineral resources and exploration, and a consequent sense of deprivation. During the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, from 1999 to 2008, the situation deteriorated markedly. Two assassination attempts on Musharraf, in 2005 and 2006 during visits to Balochistan, resulted in a crackdown on Baloch nationalists by the armed forces and Military Intelligence, the military’s lead intelligence agency in the province. The recent surge in killings and ongoing enforced disappearances can be traced to the 2006 assassination of the prominent Baloch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and 35 of his close followers, and the murders of three well known Baloch politicians in April 2009 by assailants believed to be linked to the Pakistan military.

Since 2005, Pakistani and international human rights organizations have recorded numerous serious human rights violations by security forces, including extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, and excessive use of force against protesters.

Cases From “‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years’”: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan:

Account of “Rahim” (not his real name), who was held in acknowledged custody until his release:
First, they bound my arms behind my back, and then they threw me on the ground face down and someone sat on my back. Whenever they asked me a question, the interrogators pulled my head back by grabbing my hair and kept asking, “Who are you? Why have you come here to Quetta?”

I explained that I was a farmer in Awaran [district of Balochistan], and they also asked about my family, and about Dr. Naseem and Ilyas [Baloch nationalist activists]. When I told them that they were my friends, they screamed, “You are lying to us! Dr. Naseem is a separatist. Tell us what Naseem is doing. Why is he involved in separatism?”

They beat me all over my body and on the soles of my feet with their fists and feet. They hit me for around one to two hours continuously in the morning, then again in the evening. At night they would not let me sleep or lie down, I was forced to stand. If I started to fall asleep they would hit me on the back and shoulders to keep me awake.

Enforced Disappearance of Din Mohammad Baloch
On June 29, 2009, Din Mohammad Baloch, age 40, a physician, was on a night shift at a small medical clinic in the Ornach area of Khuzdar district.

A staff member, “Bukhtiar” (not his real name), was also in the clinic. He told Baloch’s family that at around 2:30 a.m. seven men entered the clinic. A few of them tied Bukhtiar up and locked him in a room, while the others went into Baloch’s office. It was dark, Bukhtiar said, and he could not see the men clearly or determine whether they were wearing uniforms. Bukhtiar said he could hear loud noises that sounded like a scuffle between Baloch and the men, and then he heard the men dragging Baloch out.

When Bukhtiar finally freed himself around 30 minutes later, he informed Baloch’s family. The family went to the local police station, but the police refused to lodge a criminal complaint, known as a First Information Report (FIR), offering no explanation. Two days later the police lodged the report, based on an interview with Bukhtiar. It said Baloch was taken by unknown men.

Several months later, local newspapers reported that the Frontier Corps had arrested Baloch and two others in connection with an armed attack on the Frontier Corps on August 14, 2009, nearly two months after Baloch was abducted. Baloch’s brother spoke to the author of the article, who told him that the information came from the Special Branch of the Police, the intelligence arm of the Balochistan Police Service. However, government authorities have not officially confirmed that Baloch is in Frontiers Corps custody or specified the charges against him.

Baloch’s family told Human Rights Watch they believed Baloch had been abducted by intelligence agencies because he was a senior member of the Baloch National Movement. Baloch’s brother said that he had met with the chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, on July 15 and in August 2009. On the latter occasion the chief minister told him that Baloch was in the custody of the intelligence agencies, but did not specify which one. Human Rights Watch wrote to Chief Minister Raisani seeking confirmation that he had made these allegations, but received no response.

A lawyer acting on behalf of Baloch’s family filed a petition regarding Baloch’s “disappearance” with the Balochistan High Court on July 4, 2009. On May 27, 2010, the court ordered police to locate him, with the presiding judge saying that they should “do everything” needed to find him. But the court has had no further hearings in the case.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, a local Baloch nongovernmental organization, filed a separate petition on Baloch’s disappearance with the Pakistan Supreme Court. In June 2010, the Supreme Court told Baloch’s lawyers that the ISI had reported to the court that Baloch was not in their custody but was being held by the chief of the Mangal tribe. However, the ISI did not provide any further details about these claims to the court, and the court did not share their submissions with Baloch’s lawyers.

The family has not been able to obtain any further information about Baloch’s fate or whereabouts.

Enforced Disappearance of Mir Abdul Waheed Resani Baloch
Over the last 15 years, Pakistani security forces have detained Mir Abdul Waheed Resani Baloch, 45, a senior member of the Balochistan Republican Party (BRP) central committee, numerous times. He was held in Frontier Corps jails in Mastung and in Quetta.

On January 2, 2010, a court in Khozdar ordered Baloch released after a 10-month detention in Khozdar central jail. However, within minutes of his release, the police picked him up again in the street in front of multiple witnesses. The police took him to Mastung police station, where he tried to speak to the news media.

A relative of Baloch told Human Rights Watch that a senior police officer interrupted Baloch, announced that he would like to “talk to Baloch in private,” and took him to another room. The relative told Human Rights Watch:

We waited for about 10 minutes and then asked about him. The officer came back and said, “Sorry, we had to transfer him somewhere and we cannot tell you where, so you should all leave.” We waited for about six hours, and then left. The same day, officers from the [police] anti-terrorist unit came to our house, claiming they were looking for him. They pretended he had escaped from custody. Of course, they knew he was not there, and instead of looking for him they just looted our house, taking away money, jewelry, mobile phones, and expensive clothes.

On January 4, Baloch’s relatives went to the police, who denied having any knowledge of his whereabouts. They accepted an FIR, which simply said that Baloch was “missing.” Three days later the family filed a petition with the Balochistan High Court. The court sent inquiries to the chief minister, home minister, and inspector-general of the police. Their representatives, who appeared in court, denied having any knowledge of Baloch’s whereabouts and claimed they were looking for him.

Baloch’s relatives said that after his forced disappearance, Chief Minister Aslam Raisani temporarily suspended the district police officers (DPOs) for Mastung and Much because the Mastung DPO allegedly had handed Baloch over to the Much DPO. A month later, however, both officers were reinstated.

Baloch’s fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

Enforced Disappearances of Mazhar Khan and Abdul Rasool
At around 10 p.m. on December 19, 2009, a group of armed men abducted Mazar Khan, 21, and Abdul Rasool, 26, from Khan’s house near Kili Station in Noshki district.

A witness to the abduction told Human Rights Watch that seven men in civilian clothes, their faces covered with scarves, broke down the gate to Khan’s house and burst in, firing their pistols in the air. The witness said Rasool resisted and one of the men hit him on the temple with his pistol butt, but Khan did not resist. The assailants tied the men’s wrists and ankles and blindfolded them. Then they dragged the victims outside, put them into one of their three pickup trucks, and drove away.

The next day, relatives of Khan and Rasool reported the abductions to police at Kili Station.

“The police said they cannot do anything about kidnappings,” one of Khan’s relatives told Human Rights Watch.

In mid-February 2010, Rasool was released by his captors. He told Human Rights Watch about his ordeal:
On the day of the abduction, after travelling for 15 to 20 minutes by car, it stopped and I was dragged outside and into a room. I don’t remember anything about the building I was in because I was still blindfolded. But after whoever brought me in had left, I removed my blindfold and saw that I was alone in a small, dark room. I had no idea where Mazhar was.
Rasool said that soon after he had been brought in, some men entered the room and asked him if he was involved in Baloch political activities. They kept him in this room for a month and 25 days, and then moved him to another location, a three-hour drive away. They kept him there for another five days. Then at night the captors put Rasool into a vehicle, blindfolded and handcuffed. They drove for a few hours. His captors stopped the car, removed Rasool, still blindfolded and handcuffed, and told him he was being released on Chaman Road on the outskirts of Quetta and then drove off.

Fearful of being abducted again, Rasool did not approach government authorities about his disappearance. But Khan’s family filed an application for a first report with police in Noshki on February 17, 2010. Although the police registered the FIR, it only stated that Khan was a missing person and made no mention of the circumstances of his abduction. On February 21, relatives of both men filed a statement about the abductions with the Balochistan High Court. The next day, relatives of Khan and Rasool met representatives of the Balochistan Home and Tribal Affairs Ministry, who said they would record Khan’s abduction but could do nothing to investigate it.

In March 2010, the Balochistan High Court accepted a habeas corpus petition asking the federal Ministries of Defense and Interior, the Balochistan provincial government, Military Intelligence, the ISI, and the Kili police station to provide information on charges brought against Khan and Rasool. The high court has since held five hearings but only police representatives have ever appeared before it. They have denied having any knowledge of the abductions.

Khan’s whereabouts remain unknown.

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Britain bans airbrushed Julia Roberts make-up ad

Make-up advertisements featuring actor Julia Roberts and supermodel Christy Turlington have been banned in the UK because of their controversial use of 'airbrushing'.

Britain's Advertising Standards Agency issued the ban after politician Jo Swinson complained about the two ads, for foundation products made by L'Oreal's Maybelline and Lancôme brands.
L'Oreal admitted the photographs it used had been digitally manipulated and retouched.
But the cosmetics giant claimed they "accurately illustrated" the effects their make-up -- Maybelline's The Eraser anti-ageing foundation and Lancôme's Teint Miracle --could achieve.
The company described the Roberts image -- taken by celebrity photographer Mario Testino -- as an "aspirational picture."However, the watchdog ruled that the magazine ads were misleading, and exaggerated the ability of the products they were promoting to cover lines, wrinkles and blemishes.
"On the basis of the evidence we had received we could not conclude that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques," the ASA said.
Swinson, who has waged a long-running campaign against the use of "unrealistic" images in fashion and advertising, said it was "shocking" that the ASA had not been allowed to see the original version of the Roberts photograph.
"It shows just how ridiculous things have become when there is such fear over an un-airbrushed photo that even the advertising regulator isn't permitted to see it."
The Scottish MP welcomed the ban, and said it should act as a wake-up call to advertisers, urging them to "get back to reality."
"Pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don't reflect reality," she said. "With one in four people feeling depressed about their body, it's time to consider how these idealised images are distorting our idea of beauty.
"Excessive airbrushing and digital manipulation techniques have become the norm, but both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts are naturally beautiful women who don't need retouching to look great."
Both Maybelline and Lancôme said they were "disappointed" at the ASA's ruling, insisting that The Eraser and Teint Miracle were scientifically proven, and pointing to consumer tests which showed users were satisfied with their results.
It is not the first time their parent company L'Oreal has fallen foul of Britain's advertising authorities. In 2007, a TV advertisement for its Telescopic mascara -- featuring actor Penelope Cruz -- was criticized for failing to make clear she had been wearing false eyelashes.

PML-N elections

The Express Tribune
That Nawaz Sharif has been elected to continue as leader of the PML-N hardly qualifies as news. The party that he founded and which bears his name is hardly likely to throw up a leadership challenge. No ballot papers were printed for the meeting of the party’s senior leadership since the candidates for all party offices were elected unopposed. Whatever machinations might have taken place to fill these slots, like the last-minute decision not to appoint Sartaj Aziz, secretary-general of the party, happened behind the scenes, away from the public’s prying eye. Needless to say, parties that constantly preach democracy for the country should practise it themselves.
Let’s be honest and admit that even if the PML-N had inter-party elections, there is no way anyone would stand in an election against Nawaz Sharif. For the sake of appearances, it would have been preferable had someone else stood for the leadership, but the outcome would have been the same. The real problem comes in the selection of other leadership posts. Here, competition could be healthy for the party, allowing those who dissent from the leader to have their say in the running and policy of the party. Instead, the leadership is stacked with loyalists. Apart from being undemocratic, the closed selection process can be the undoing of a leader, as he is surrounded only by sycophants.
To be fair, political parties have become slightly more transparent. The PML-Q holds regular elections for party office as does the Jamaat-e-Islami, the later do not allow women to vote in intra-party elections. But the two largest political parties in the country, the PPP and PML-N, are run as personal fiefdoms that exist primarily to perpetuate political dynasties. When one’s bloodline is the primary qualification to be the leader of a party, it is bound to create friction with loyal party members who know they can no longer rise within the party. Were the Sharifs and Bhutto-Zardaris of the world willing to give up their dynasties for the sake of their party, perhaps we wouldn’t have an alphabet soup of political parties created by those who can only start a new party to fulfil their leadership ambitions.

Celebrate health with tomatoes

The Times of India

Tomatoes are now hot-favourites thanks to the much-talked about Tomato Festival in Spain as shown in the movie Zindagi Milegi Na Dobaara. But take a break from your favorite actors soaking in the 'tomato fun.' It's time to know the health benefits of this rich easily available vegetable.

Anti-oxidant: Tomatoes contain a lot of vitamins A and C, mostly because of beta-carotene, and these vitamins act as an anti-oxidant, working to neutralize dangerous free radicals in the blood stream. Free radicals in the body can be flushed out with high levels of Lycopene, and the tomato is so amply loaded with this vital anti-oxidant that it actually derives its rich redness from the nutrient. These dangerous free radicals can cause cell damage. Also, remember that cooking destroys much of vitamin C, so stick to raw tomatoes for these benefits. So, do remember to carry a tomato-cucumber sandwich in your tiffin box.

Vision: Because of all that vitamin A, tomatoes are also an excellent food to help improve your vision. This also means tomatoes can help your eyes be better about night blindness.

Cancer: Various studies have shown that because of all that lycopene in tomatoes, the red fruit helps to lessen the chances of prostate cancer in men, and also reduces the chance of stomach cancer and colorectal cancer. Lycopene is considered somewhat of a natural miracle anti-oxidant that may help to stop the growth of cancer cells. And, interestingly enough, cooked tomatoes produce more lycopene than do raw tomatoes, so enjoy that tomato soup!

Heart troubles: Due to potassium and vitamin B, tomatoes help to lower blood pressure and to lower high cholesterol levels. This, in turn, could help prevent strokes, heart attack and other potentially life-threatening heart problems.

Skin care: Because of high amounts of lycopene, tomatoes are excellent for skin care. Make sure the inside of the tomato skins are against your skin, and let this be there for at least 10 minutes. Then wash off. You face will be cleaner and give a shiny look.

Hair: Remember all that vitamin A in tomatoes? Well, it's good for keeping your hair strong and shiny, and its also good for your eyes, teeth, skin and bones.

Bones: Tomatoes have a fair amount of vitamin K and calcium, both of which help to strengthen bones.

Govt needs to redouble efforts to overcome Hepatitis: Prof Dr Gill

All over the world, 28 July is World Hepatitis Day. This is to promote awareness among the people about hepatitis, its spread, prevention and treatment.

Prof. Dr. Muzzaffar Lateef Gill, eminent Consultant Hepatologist says every twelfth person in Pakistan is suffering from Hepatitis B or C. Pakistan is among a few countries of the world where Hepatitis B and C is prevalent on a very large scale.

In an interview with Pakistan Observer, he mentioned three main reasons for high incidence of Hepatitis B and C. They are poor sterilization in hospitals or clinics, transfusion of unscreened blood and unhygienic practices of barbers.

He pointed out that five hundred million people in the world population have exposure to hepatitis. Pakistan is no exception. In our country there are two types of viral hepatitis, one is short lived and self-limited, it is because of hepatitis A & E, which spreads through feco-oral-route. Summer season epidemic of this type of acute hepatitis is very common throughout the developing world. It is because of poor hygienic standards. Hepatitis C and B is a blood borne disease usually chronic and has long term consequences. Prof. Dr. Gill said, we as a nation need two-prong approach, one is to prevent the spread of the disease and the second approach is to have foolproof treatment for everybody, who is suffering from hepatitis B& C. “For prevention purposes, there should be universal vaccination for hepatitis B, which is almost in progress everywhere in Pakistan. The most important aspect of prevention is screening of blood products, sterilized equipments, and better hygienic standards in barbershops. It is an easily controllable disease, but mild lapse in precautions can lead to very disastrous consequences”. He said, “treatment of hepatitis B & C in the last decade has been revolutionized. Hepatitis C sub-type, which exists in Pakistan, is close to 90%, curable if appropriate combination at appropriate time is used. Worldwide weekly injection along with ribavirin is the gold standard treatment and duration is 24 weeks. New challenge we are facing now is the relapse/recurrence of hepatitis C after the completion of Pegylated interferon .This is very alarming situation and the incidence of this problem is 10 to 15%. To deal with this problem we have a hope with consensus interferon (Infergen) .In this particular population group the response rate with this particular injection is close to 90% Regarding Hepatitis B treatment Pegylated interferon injection or tablet Tenofovir Entacavir is the current gold standard and very effective”. He said, Prime minister program for hepatitis C is a tremendous progress in the country and it is good start, but it needs certain refinements, availability of quality drugs is an issue. Every patient, should be given once weekly injection (Pegylated Interferon).Quality of injection treatment which was supplied periodically by the prime minister programme was questionable. If first time treatment in this population is not done rightly. It becomes very difficult to treat them subsequently. In our country because of poor treatment policy we are dealing with huge patient population who are so to speak “non responders” and “relapsres”. The consequences of treatment failure are huge.

The patient develops advanced stage disease, i.e. cirrhosis then patient starts bleeding and belly swells up, then the only option is liver transplant. Whole Pakistani budget is insufficient to take care of these endstage liver disease patients and there are no existing transplant facilities in Pakistan. A young promising research associate of Prof. Dr. Gill, Dr. Uzma said, we have a mixed message on World Hepatitis Day, from our country standpoint.

“ I think there is a reasonable awareness among doctors and public regarding the cause, spread of disease. Both private and public partnerships in true spirits and sincerity need to get rid of this disease and hopefully we will have hepatitis free Pakistan in near future.”

Hepatitis rates soar among IV drug users, study finds

About 10 million injection drug users worldwide have hepatitis C, and 1.3 million have hepatitis B, a new study reports.Hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
Researchers analyzed international data and found that rates of hepatitis C infection among injection drug users (IDUs) were 60 to 80 percent in 25 countries and greater than 80 percent in 12 other countries.
These countries included Spain (80 percent), Norway (76 percent), Germany (75 percent), France (74 percent), United States (73 percent), China (67 percent), Canada (64 percent), Italy (81 percent), Portugal (83 percent), Pakistan (84 percent), the Netherlands (86 percent), Thailand (90 percent) and Mexico (97 percent).
Lower rates were seen in New Zealand (52 percent), Australia (55 percent) and the United Kingdom (50 percent), the researchers noted.
The countries believed to have the largest number of IDUs infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are China (1.6 million), the United States (1.5 million) and Russia (1.3 million), the investigators found.
Rates of hepatitis B infection were 5 to 10 percent in 21 countries and more than 10 percent in 10 countries. The highest rates were in Vietnam (20 percent), Estonia (19 percent), Saudi Arabia (18 percent) and Taiwan (17 percent). The United Kingdom had the highest rate in Western Europe at 9 percent. The rate in the United States was 12 percent.
The study, released to coincide with World Hepatitis Day, is published online July 28 in The Lancet.
"The public-health response to blood-borne virus transmission in IDUs has mainly centered on HIV. Maintenance and strengthening of the response to HIV in IDUs remains crucial, but the significance of viral hepatitis needs to receive greater attention than it does at present," Paul Nelson, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and colleagues wrote.
"Efforts to prevent, treat, and reduce harms related to liver disease in IDUs are essential -- especially in situations in which HIV has successfully been prevented or managed -- because the large numbers of IDUs infected with HCV and significant morbidity resulting from this infection mean that the health and economic costs of HCV transmitted by injected drug use might be as high as (or higher than) those of HIV," the authors added.
"Nonetheless, HCV treatment is underused. Part of the reason for this neglect is the high cost, which will remain a substantial barrier to increasing of treatment coverage in low-resource settings until costs are reduced," the researchers concluded

Emirates completes 13 year of Peshawar operations

Emirates Airline has completed 13 years of successful operations in Peshawar during the month of July. Emirates commenced its first flight to Peshawar on July 14, 1988 marking the 48th destination of the airline.

This operational milestone is a significant benchmark and signifies the airline’s long lasting commitment to the city of Peshawar. To mark the occasion, the Emirates airport and local office staff along with the local airport authorities greeted the flight upon arrival and held a celebratory cake cutting ceremony.

Over the course of its operations to Peshawar, Emirates has displayed utmost dedication and commitment through significant investments in the infrastructure of the station. Since the commencement of Emirates flights to Peshawar, the airline has improved the aviation network by strengthening the airport runway, developing a new taxi-way as well as the apron for aircraft parking. This gradual growth has enabled Emirates to operate bigger aircraft such as A330-200 in 2004 and B777-200 in 2009 to cater to the growing passenger demand. The increase in the aircraft sizes has resulted in subsequent increases of 40% and 24% respectively in the carrying capacity of the aircrafts operating to and from Peshawar.

Commenting on the occasion, Badr Abbas – Vice President Pakistan & Afghanistan Emirates Airline said: “Peshawar remains an important hub for our operations in Pakistan and our continued service to this challenging market is testament to our positive long term outlook on the country. Our investments in the aviation infrastructure of Peshawar have allowed us to respond to the increasing demand through operation of bigger aircrafts and also created job opportunities for the locals.” Emirates Airline currently operates two weekly flights to Peshawar with strong load factors and passenger numbers.

Suicide attackers kill 19 in southern Afghanistan

Suicide attackers killed at least 19 people, 12 of them young children, when they targeted government buildings in southern Afghanistan Thursday, the latest blow to a fragile region that has been destabilized by a string of assassinations.
The assault in Uruzgan province also wounded 35 civilians, provincial officials said, and was the deadliest in the south in nearly six months.
It began with two remote-controlled car bombs, one in front of the provincial governor's compound and the other near the offices for regional state television channel, Uruzgan TV, said the governor's spokesman, Ahmad Milad Modaser.
Up to six suicide bombers then stormed the governor's compound and the police chief's compound in Tirin Kot, capital of Uruzgan, said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Three bombers detonated their explosives shortly after the attacks began while the remaining attackers were locked in a hours-long gunfight with police inside the compounds, he added.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said six militants were involved.
Uruzgan is a largely rural and mountainous province north of Kandahar, to which it has many cultural and tribal links, and the Taliban have long had a presence there.
The complex assault comes the day after the killing of the mayor of Kandahar, and the same month as the assassinations of President Hamid Karzai's younger half-brother, widely considered the most powerful man in the south, the most senior cleric in Kandahar province, and a former governor of Uruzgan.
Most of the dead were civilians, among them 12 children between the ages of 5 and 13 and two women, Modaser said. Three adult male civilians and two policemen were also killed.
The high toll of young children may have been from families trying to get national identity numbers for their children, which are required to enroll in government schools and only available at the provincial governor's office.
The governor was in the compound during the attacks but was unhurt, Modaser said, adding the gun battles, which had lasted for some six hours, were now over.
A reporter who worked for Pajhwok, an Afghan news agency, and for the BBC was also killed in the attacks.
"Unfortunately one hour ago we got the news that our reporter in Uruzgan, Omid Khpalwak, 25, was killed. He was in Uruzgan TV station to arrange an interview," said Danish Karokhil, chief editor for Pajhwok News Agency.
"He was trapped there for three hours and couldn't escape from the battle."
Karzai condemned the assault, but blamed it on outside interference.
"Enemies of Afghanistan who can do nothing but harm the innocent people of Afghanistan want to do these activities for their foreign masters," he said in a statement.
It was the deadliest attack in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's heartland, since a February assault on the provincial police headquarters in the city of Kandahar, that killed 19.
The region has been the focus of intense NATO fighting in recent months, which has squeezed insurgents in their rural heartlands and brought some improvements in security.
But the more recent high-profile killings have had an equally chilling effect on both ordinary and elite Afghans as the larger-scale attacks, kindling fears of increase instability across an already volatile region.
On July 17, gunmen killed a former governor of Uruzgan and close adviser of Karzai in his home in the Afghan capital, Kabul. A lawmaker from the same province who was visiting Jan Mohammad Khan, was also killed in the attack.
That attack came only days after the killing of Ahmad Wali Karzai, a half-brother of the president and one of the most powerful and controversial men in southern Afghanistan.
Insurgents have stepped up an effective assassination campaign targeting Afghan government officials. More than half of all targeted killings in Afghanistan between April and June were also carried out in Kandahar, according to a U.N. report.
The assassinations have left a power vacuum in the south of the country that could weaken the president's hold on a critical area that has long been a Taliban stronghold.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, with high foreign troop deaths and record civilian casualties.

Israel protesters occupy roof of Tel Aviv exchange

Dozens of demonstrators occupied the roof of the Tel Aviv stock exchange on Thursday morning, Israeli military radio reported, as protests over the high cost of living spread throughout Israel.
Protesters scaled the building a day after the powerful Histadrut labour union threw its support behind the demonstrators, who have set up tent cities across Israel to protest the high cost of housing.
The move puts growing pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already been forced to cancel a trip to Poland to address the demonstrators, offering them reforms that they rejected as insufficient.
Histadrut said it was issuing Netanyahu with an ultimatum.
"If by Saturday evening, the prime minister has failed to meet with our secretary general Ofer Eini to discuss solutions to lift this social crisis, Histadrut will use all means at our disposal to support the demands of the protesters," a spokeswoman for the union told AFP.
She declined to say whether Histadrut would call on its members to join a general strike announced by Israel's Union of Local Authorities on Wednesday.
The August 1 one-day strike will see local authority offices shut down and rubbish collections halted.
One of the protesters involved in occupying the roof of the Tel Aviv stock exchange told military radio it was a symbolic gesture intended to draw attention to inequalities in Israeli society.
"Ten big companies control 80 percent of the stock market and take all the fruits of the growth in the national economy," he said.
Since 2004, Israel's economic growth rate has averaged 4.5 percent, while unemployment has fallen to around six percent from close to 11 percent over the same period.
But the gaps between Israel's rich and poor are among the widest in the Western world. In 2011, Israel ranked fifth for unequal income distribution among the 34 member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
This summer, Israelis have been showing their anger over the situation, beginning with a boycott of their much-loved cottage cheese in a successful bid to bring down the rising cost of the food item.
Then, in mid-July, students and other young protesters began pitching tents in the middle of Tel Aviv to protest the high cost of housing, quickly winning supporters and sparking similar tent protests in other Israeli cities.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people rallied in support of the protest in Tel Aviv, and several thousand also protested in Jerusalem.
Such widespread social upheaval has not been seen in Israel since the early 1970s when thousands of people, led by a group called the Black Panthers, took to the streets to protest against racial discrimination suffered by Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern descent.
Alongside the housing protest, Israel's doctors are stepping up a long-running strike over pay and conditions, with medics announcing plans for a series of wildcat strikes in public hospitals.
Senior members of the Israel Medical Association are marching from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in protest, and plan to arrive on Friday to present Netanyahu with a petition signed by tens of thousands of people.

Gun battle rages in Afghan town of Tarin Kowt

Security forces are battling insurgents who have launched a gun and bomb attack on a southern Afghan town.

At least two loud explosions have been heard in Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province - one was near the governors' office.

Suicide bombers were among the insurgents who also attacked the town's bazaar and several government offices, local security sources told the BBC.

Reports say at least two people have been killed and Nato helicopters have fired at the militants from the air.

Eyewitness Mohammad Dadu, a butcher, told the BBC: ''I didn't have time to close my shop. I saw two dead bodies and four injured people with blood on their clothes."

Afghan militants have stepped up their attacks as Nato troops begin the handover of security to local forces in parts of the country.

On Wednesday the mayor of the volatile city of Kandahar was killed in a suicide attack.

Two weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai's influential half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was killed in the same city.

Insecurity in Khyber Agency

In a surprising move to counter the frequent destruction of government-run schools in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, the political administration and agency education department on Wednesday asked the landowners to protect these institutions against the militants or else their houses and hujras, or male guest houses, would be turned into educational institutions.

“The landowners of government-run schools were responsible to safeguard the institutions and in case they were taken over or destroyed by militants or any other group or individual, the owners shall be bound to pay for the losses and damages,” said a notification.

It stated that owners of the schools would be forced to repair and reconstruct the damaged and destroyed institutions from their own resources. “On the part of the owners no excuses for the lack of the protection of the schools would be accepted by the authorities,” the letter added.

According to official estimates, out of 60 destroyed government-run schools across the Khyber Agency, the majority have been blown up by the militants in Bara tehsil where military operation and curfew has been in place for the last 23 months.

The official sources said that class-IV employees recruited in government schools throughout Fata belonged to those families who had provided land for the schools’ buildings. They said that hundreds of class-IV employees had been terminated or suspended for their failure to protect their schools against the violent and well-trained militants in Fata.

Hamza Shinwari’s poetry

By:Dr Mohammad Taqi
Daily Times

Hamza Baba’s verse is free of Marxist or other European influences. It is perhaps this originality of thought and language that puts him in the league of Hafiz, Saadi, Rumi and Jami

“Insaan yem, da fitrat pa taqazo ke na raazam,

Shaheen yem, da karghano pa panjo ke na raazam,

Yaw sind yem da sehba, da perzonay waham josh,

Laikin za da kam-zarfo pa kaaso ke na raazam” — Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari.

(I am a human whom even the nature cannot restrain,

Like a falcon I am; the paws of crows cannot reach me,

I am an ocean of wine (of love and knowledge), in high tide of passion,

Of which, a drop cannot the goblets of these upstarts hold.)

Though in vain this time, the crows did try to desecrate the mausoleum of one of the finest Pashtuns that ever lived. Last week, terrorists carried out an attack — fourth in two years — on the final resting place of the greatest Pashto ghazal poet, Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari — known affectionately as Hamza Baba — in Landi Kotal, Khyber Agency. Hats off to the shrine’s caretaker Muhammad Ikram and the khasadar militiamen who refused to vacate the shrine and put up resistance, forcing the militants to flee.

Adherents of the ideology of pure hate have attacked an apostle of pure love yet again, as they have done at the shrines of Sufis like Haji Sahib Turangzai, Rehman Baba, Pir Baba, Baba Farid Ganj-e-Shakar, Abdullah Shah Ghazi and Data Ganj Bakhsh, all over Pakistan. However, there are many who still insist on a dialogue with the peddlers of absolute poison that al Qaeda and its local affiliates are. There is a lot to be said about this dialogue. But today I only wish to remember Hamza Baba for the poised, peaceful, passionate, Pashtun Sufi that he was.

I wondered how the Persians would respond if Hafiz Shirazi’s tomb was vandalised or how the Turks would react to sacrilege of Jalaluddin Rumi’s grave, while reading Hamza Baba’s verses — a work at par with the greats of Persian Sufi poetry. The Persian language, especially its ghazal (love sonnet) form and Sufism have a unique kinship but conceptualising the mystical worldview from a native perspective and formulating it in chaste Pashto had perhaps not been attempted before Hamza Baba.

Sufi orders and indeed Sufi poets like Mirza Khan Ansari of the Roshaniyya order, Kazim Khan Shaida and, of course, Rahman Baba had existed in Pashtun society long before Hamza Baba. In fact, Hamza Baba recognised Ansari and Rahman Baba as his poetic antecedents. However, as Professor Yar Muhammad Maghmoom, has noted in his monograph ‘Hamza’s ghazal and Pashtun mysticism’, Ansari and Shaida had heavy Persian influence on their work. Contrarily, Hamza Baba’s mystic motifs as well as his poetic devices and tools are rooted deeply, yet effortlessly, in the Pashtun lands and Pashtunwali (the Pashtun culture and code of conduct).

Hamza Baba had not made a conscious effort to de-Persianise his work but his thought and creative output are so indigenous that even the use of short poetic meter prevalent in Persian and an occasional Arabic or Persian phrase does not appear to be a transplant. Hamza Baba’s metaphor, allegory and diction are nuanced pointers towards his Pashtun nationalism. Just like his mysticism was not imported, his nationalism too has arisen from the mountains of Khyber and the plains of Peshawar. Unlike the progressive poetry of Pashtun nationalists like Ghani Khan and Ajmal Khattak, and even Allama Iqbal and Faiz, Hamza Baba’s verse is free of Marxist or other European influences. It is perhaps this originality of thought and language that puts him in the league of Hafiz, Saadi, Rumi and Jami.

Three intertwined key currents — or ‘Baheer’, as he has titled one of his books — stand out in Hamza Baba’s poetry, i.e. devotion to ghazal, Pashtunwali and mysticism. He developed his dialectic around the romanticism, figures, forms and norms of Pashtun society, which he deploys to resolve the dichotomy faced by a mystic in pursuit of wahdat-al-wajud (Unity of Being). He says:

“Ta ka kha Pashtun shuay no insan ba shay,

Biya ka kha insaan shuay, Musalman ba shay.”

(First be a good Pashtun and you shall become a good human being,

And only when you become a good human being, will you become a good Muslim.)

Interestingly, these currents flow from and merge back into the person of his Chishti Sufi master, Syed Sattar Shah, known in Peshawar as Badshah Jan. Syed Sattar Shah was the son of Syed Burhan Shah and had moved to Peshawar from Hazara and lived inside the Dabgari Gate of the old walled-city. Hamza Baba was born and raised in Lawargi (Landi Kotal) but his family owned a house in Mohallah Sakhi Shah-e-Mardan (named after a shrine dedicated to Hazrat Ali Murtaza RA) inside Barizqan (popularly but inaccurately called Bayriskay) Gate, a short walk away from Badshah Jan’s residence.

Hamza Baba used to write poetry in Urdu but Badshah Jan, who himself composed poetry under pen-name ‘bay-nawa’ (voiceless), instructed him to write his verse in Pashto and ordered another of his disciples, Rafiq Shinwari — a musician — to compose and sing this verse. Hamza Baba was not really happy with the marching orders but complied and there was no looking back for him. He came to be known as the father of the Pashto ghazal (baba-e-ghazal) a title in which he took great pride and his verses to this effect are well known. Perhaps less known is his humility as a Chishti who was devoted to his Sheikh and attributed this success to Badshah Jan. In a ghazal written at the shrine of his master, he says:

“Pardah-pokh wo cheh “Sattar” wo da aiboono,

Cheh da zarroono Badshah Jan wo, haghah da wo,

Da Hamza da gado-wado wainagano

Pa rishtia cheh qadardan wo, hagha da wo.”

(Sattar — he who covers up one’s lapses — was he,

If there was a Badshah (king) of hearts — it was he,

Who could understand my gibberish?

But one who appreciated it, was he.)

Hamza Baba was a polymath: a poet, writer, dramatist, humorist, lyricist, musician, film-writer, broadcaster, translator but above all a humanist. If Khushal Khan Khattak was the warrior poet (sahib-e-saif-o-qalam), Hamza Baba carried pen in one hand and the candle of love in the other, and that too in a manner befitting of an unassuming Chishti saint with prowess over both knowledge and modesty (sahib-e-ilm-o-hilm).

A column cannot begin to define even one facet of this multidimensional Pashtun prodigy and in Hamza Baba’s words:

“Maa Hamza neemah ke khabarah prekhwa,

Neema ba biya sta pa ratlah wayamah.”

(I will leave my talk unfinished; we shall conclude upon your return.)

The writer can be reached at He tweets at

Afghan army fights for respect, equipment in south

Afghan commander Maqim Sediqi has spent more than half of his life on battlefields but says that these days he is more preoccupied fighting for respect than firing his gun.
The army captain leads some 100 men battling alongside American forces to keep control of the critical Arghandab Valley in southern Kandahar province, where a surge of US troops last year has seen some successes against a trenchant insurgency.
But this year's traditional summer fighting season comes as thousands of US troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, putting the fledgling force under pressure to show what they can do for themselves.
And while commanders cite gains in the outlying areas of the province, the birthplace of the Taliban, a string of political assassinations in Kandahar city a few kilometres (miles) south has brought fresh fears of an insurgent comeback.
Sediqi said his men were ready to fight: "But we need good equipment, logistics. We have no good weapons and we lack ammunition."
Sediqi, who like many of his men gained his battlefield experience fighting with the US-backed mujahedeen against the Soviet invaders in the 1980s, blamed infighting in the political corridors of Kabul for the lack of support.
"I want them to have pride in their army," he said.

While the US soldiers patrol in regulation desert boots, some of their Afghan counterparts wear sandals out in the streets, and while the US force drives around in heavily-armoured vehicles, the local force has pick-up trucks.
Not all are equipped with the modern American-made M16 rifles, with many still carrying old Russian issue AK-47s.
Sediqi's equipment concerns are echoed by commanders across the country and officials have expressed fears over how the Afghan army and police will be funded after a withdrawal of all foreign combat troops in three years' time.
Still, 50-year-old Sediqi says the greatest threat to his men comes from homemade Taliban bombs, which litter the surrounding fields.
"There has been no face-to-face fighting," he said.
A Pentagon war report in April said that across Afghanistan, three-quarters of army units were judged "effective" when backed by an adviser or assistance from coalition troops, but no single army unit could yet operate independently.
Sediqi's men are under the tight lead of their American comrades and he says he hopes their military trainers stay on longer to help them. But there are some successes -- the Afghan National Army and police set up check points along a highway alone, and on one recent mission they recovered a heavy weapon buried by insurgents.
"My men are willing. They are being trained by the Americans. With the Americans we believe we can defeat them," said Sediqi, although he later added: "I really can't say whether they can be defeated or not."
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Simmering, commander of the 1st Battalion, 67 Armored Regiment leading coalition efforts in the area, teaches his men to praise the Afghan soldiers for any small accomplishments to build their morale.
"What we're trying to do is create a force that is capable of standing on its own," Simmering told his men after awarding certificates of recognition to Afghan troops who recovered the arms cache. "Right now, they're not."
But although talk of the transition from foreign to Afghan forces is high, after seven parts of the country were transferred in ceremonies last week, no such handover is likely in Kandahar soon.
The murder of the mayor of Kandahar on Wednesday, two weeks after the president's half-brother -- the province's key powerbroker -- was killed, underscores the ongoing volatility of the region, and some are pessimistic.
"The bottom line is, once we're out of here, this whole place is going to be taken over again by the Taliban," said a military defence contractor and ex-army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, who had done three previous tours here.
"You just can't teach people to take care of their own country if they are less willing to do so."