Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene tightens aim on East Coast

A monstrous Hurricane Irene tightened its aim on the Eastern Seaboard on Thursday, threatening 65 million people along a shore-hugging path from North Carolina to New England. One of the nation's top experts called it his "nightmare" scenario.
The Category 3 storm with winds of 115 mph — the threshold for a major hurricane — would be the strongest to strike the East Coast in seven years, and people were already getting out of the way.
Tens of thousands fled North Carolina beach towns, farmers pulled up their crops, and the Navy ordered ships to sea so they could endure the punishing wind and waves in open water.
All eyes were on Irene's projected path, which showed it bringing misery to every city along the I-95 corridor, including Washington, New York and Boston. The former chief of the National Hurricane Center called it one of his three worst possible situations.
"One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast Coast," Max Mayfield, the center's retired director, told The Associated Press.
He said the damage will probably climb into billions of dollars: "This is going to have an impact on the United States economy."
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said damages could exceed most previous storms because so many people live along the East Coast and property values are high.
"We've got a lot more people that are potentially in the path of this storm," FEMA Director Craig Fugate said in an interview with The Associated Press. "This is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time."
The storm would "have a lot of impact well away from the coastline," he added. "A little bit of damage over big areas with large populations can add up fast."
Irene was massive, with tropical-force winds extending almost twice as far as normal, about the same size as Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.
"It's not going to be a Katrina, but it's serious," said MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel. "People have to take it seriously."
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York and New Jersey declared emergencies to free up resources, and authorities all the way to New England urged residents in low-lying areas to gather supplies and learn the way to a safe location.
Irene was expected to come ashore Saturday in North Carolina with 115 mph winds and a storm surge of 5 to 10 feet. It could dump a foot of rain, with as much as 15 inches falling in some places along the coast and around Chesapeake Bay.
With heavy rain and storm surge predicted for the nation's capital, organizers postponed Sunday's dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
Already in South Florida near West Palm Beach, authorities blame the rough ocean churned up by the outer bands of Irene caused eight people to be injured when a wave knocked them off a jetty. Also, a man swimming off Jupiter was swept away by a large wave, but later ended up ashore.
Scientists predict Irene will then chug up the coast. Some forecasts showed it taking dead aim at New York City, with its eye passing over Brooklyn and Manhattan before weakening and trudging through New England.
If the storm strikes New York, it will probably be a Category 1 or 2, depending on its exact track, hurricane specialist John Cangialosi said.
Hurricanes are rare in the Northeast because the region's cooler seas tend to weaken storms as they approach, and they have to take a narrow track to strike New York without first hitting other parts of the coast and weakening there.
Still, strong storms have been known to unleash serious damage in an urban environment already surrounded by water.
A September 1821 hurricane raised tides by 13 feet in an hour and flooded all of Manhattan south of Canal Street — an area that now includes the nation's financial capital. An infamous 1938 storm dubbed the Long Island Express came ashore about 75 miles east of the city and then hit New England, killing 700 people and leaving 63,000 homeless.
On Thursday, Ocean City, Md., officials ordered thousands of residents and tourists to abandon the beach community. Earlier in North Carolina, three coastal counties issued evacuation orders covering more than 200,000 people, including tourists and full-time residents. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for the state, allowing for federal help.
Dania Armstrong of New York sat outside a motel smoking a cigarette while she waited for her family to get ready. Armstrong, her daughter and grandchildren had already been ordered off the island of Ocracoke and planned to leave the town of Buxton soon.
"I've been coming down here for 50 years," she said. "I know what's coming. It's time to leave. You don't want to be here when it hits."
John Robeson, an accountant from New Jersey, brought his wife and two children down for a week, but they were cutting the trip short after three days.
"I'm disappointed," he said as he loaded his car. "You wait all year. Talk about it. Make plans for your vacation. And now this. It's a bad break."
Other year-round residents planned to ride it out, despite warnings from authorities that they will be on their own immediately after the storm.
"If you leave, you can't get back for days because of the roads, and you don't know what's going on with your property," said Kathy MacKenzie, who works at Dillon's Corner, a general store in Buxton.
Ollie Jarvis, the store's owner, said he's staying and preparing for the worst. During Hurricane Emily in 1993, his store was flooded with 18 inches of water and sand from a storm surge. Like a spear, the water pushed a T-shirt rack filled with clothes through the ceiling. They still have the high-water mark on a wall near the cash register.
"I can't leave. You have to worry about the stuff you have. You have to save what you can," he said.
Bobby Overbey of Virginia Beach, Va., pulled into a gas station in his Jeep with two surfboards hanging on the back. He planned to stay, despite the evacuation orders.
Usually the waves top out at 2 to 3 feet. On Thursday, he was riding 4- and 5-foot waves.
"You live for this," he said.
Farmers grimly accepted the fate of their crops. Strong winds and widespread flooding could mean billions of dollars in losses for corn, cotton, soybean, tobacco and timber growers. While most farmers have disaster insurance, policies often pay only about 70 percent of actual losses.
Wilson Daughtry owns Alligator River Growers near Engelhard, near Pamlico Sound. Though he is under a mandatory evacuation order, Daughtry and his workers planned to stay to salvage what corn and squash they can.
He said he's lost count of how many times his crops have been wiped out by storms.
"Hurricanes are just part of doing business down here," he said.
In Virginia, officials recalled Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which came ashore as a Category 1, killed more than 30 people and caused more than $1 billion in property damage. The low-lying Hampton Roads region is at high risk of flooding from storm surge and heavy rains. Widespread power outages are likely.
The Navy ordered many of its ships at Norfolk Naval Station out to sea to wait out the storm, including the aircraft carrier USS Dwight Eisenhower, as well as destroyers and submarines.
Gearing up for approaching hurricanes is an almost annual occurrence in coastal North Carolina and Virginia, so planning is extensive and almost second-nature.
Building codes along the Outer Banks require structures to be reinforced to withstand sustained winds of up to 110 mph and gusts up to 130 mph. Houses close to the water must be elevated on pilings to keep them above storm surges, and required setbacks preserve sand dunes to provide additional protection.
It could be a different story as the storm moves up the coast.
In Washington, where residents were rattled by a rare earthquake Tuesday, officials warned people to be prepared for stormy conditions regardless of Irene's exact path and to stay away from the beaches in the region.
The Philadelphia area could get more than a half-foot of rain, accompanied by sustained winds up to 50 mph. Mayor Michael Nutter said it could be the worst storm in at least 50 years. August has already been one of the rainiest months in city history.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked all visitors to the shore to get out by midday Friday. He said Irene was poised to be a "serious, significant event," with flooding a threat across the entire state. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for Cape May County.
In a normal hurricane, tropical storm-force winds extend about 150 miles from the eye. Irene's winds extend nearly 250 miles.
Another worry is that the ground is already saturated in the Northeast after a wet spring and summer. That means trees and power lines will be more vulnerable to winds, like during Hurricane Isabel, Mayfield said.
New York is especially susceptible with its large subway network and the waterways around the city, Mayfield said.
"In many ways, a Category 2 or stronger storm hitting New York is a lot of people's nightmare," said Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.
High water in the harbor and rivers, along with a high tide at the end of the month because of the new moon, could cause serious flooding. New York's three airports are close to the water, putting them at risk, too, Cutter said.
And if the storm shifts further to the west, placing New York City on the stronger right-hand quadrant of the storm, "that is what's going to push this wall of water into the bays and the Hudson River."

Moscow and Beijing boycott UN Security Council meeting on Syria
Moscow and Beijing boycotted a closed-door meeting for the Security Council on Thursday that was supposed to discuss a draft resolution on Syria, Al Arabiya reported.

The envoys of Russia and China to the United Nations boycotted the meeting, which aimed at discussing a draft resolution that would impose further sanctions and travel bans against 22 Syrian officials as well as freezing the assets of 23 other top regime figures, including President Bashar al-Assad himself, Al Arabiya correspondent said.

The sanctions were supposed to hit four Syrian companies as well, according to Al Arabiya correspondent.

Western delegations hope to put the draft resolution to a vote in the 15-nation Security Council as soon as possible. The sanctions are the Western nations' response to Damascus' five-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, which the United Nations says has left 2,200 civilians dead.

The draft resolution “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, also of children, and expresses profound regret at the deaths of thousands of people including children.”

The resolution “demands an immediate end to the violence” and “recalls that those responsible for violence should be held accountable.”

Assad leads a list of 23 individuals and four entities named in the draft document who would be subject to an asset freeze. The president is not on the 22-name list for a proposed travel ban however.

Others targeted for sanctions include Assad's brother Maher, commander of the army's 4th armored division, which is said to have played a key role in suppressing protests, Vice President Farouq al-Shara, and Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf, a tycoon who controls Syria's biggest cellphone firm Syriatel.

Among the other individuals on the sanctions list are the defense minister and several senior intelligence officials.

The resolution would impose sanctions on Syria's General Intelligence Directorate and three companies that it says provide funding for the government. One of the firms, the Military Housing Establishment, is partly controlled by the Syrian defense ministry, the resolution says.

Russia, which has veto-power, had earlier said it does not think sanctioning Damascus is the right approach at the moment.

China said that it believed there should be more dialogue.

Security Council resolutions need nine backers and no veto to be passed. The United States, France and Britain are also permanent members with veto power.

Bomb blast at hotel kills 11 in Nowshera

A bomb blast at a hotel in Nowshera claimed at least 11 lives and injured 13 people on Thursday. According to a private television channel, the blast occurred in a hotel situated at Nowshera's Risalpur Chowk. The channel reported that the blast killed 11 and injured 13 people. It reported further that the security forces circled the area soon after the blast and blocked Nowshera Road for traffic. Police sources said that the blast took place soon after the Aftaar and added that the bomb was attached to a cycle.

Libya and its oil-rich history

Reuters breaks down the history of Gaddafi’s oil-fueled regime and explains how a ruthless dictator was able to stay in power for over 40 years.

US has a role to play in Libya, but it will be behind the scenes

The US was keen to stay out of the spotlight in Libya and away from a leading role in the conflict; however, the world power was not absent during the deliberations involved in the formation of the interim council. In addition, it has been heavily involved in NATO operations in the conflict.

It is now clear that the US president, Barack Obama, wants to repair the world’s image of America as a state interfering in other countries' affairs and seeks to stress that Washington considers other countries and regional forces as partners in foreign affairs.

The American president wants to affirm to US citizens, who have been hard hit by the economic crisis, that he cares about them and about the domestic affairs of the country. When it comes to foreign affairs, the US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, receives most of the spotlight.

This system highlights the fact that the US considers Libya an important country, and does not want to repeat the experience it has had in Iraq.

The problem in Libya that should be urgently addressed is the proliferation of weapons in the hands of the rebels and Qaddafi supporters.

National reconciliation is the best way to maintain security and prevent Libya from becoming a security issue. When a regime like Qaddafi’s is toppled, it is necessary to embrace old regime members so that they don’t become angry and seek revenge.

The Obama administration is trying to convince the interim council that taking revenge on Qaddafi’s supporters would be unproductive. It is also stressing the importance of putting Qaddafi and his close associates on trial for the crimes they committed.

Interestingly enough, many American experts, including Colette Roush from the United States Institute of Peace, believe that it is inevitable that a strong Libyan leader will emerge, one who will lead his country through the transitional phase.

Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggests that Obama’s administration should adopt the necessary measures to make sure that future steps in Libya are safe and to safeguard the “national American security”.

Cordesman proposes to expand the US embassy in Libya and send hundreds of diplomats and experts in to provide support and advice. He also says the US should help Libyans form political parties and a credible electoral system.

Finally, he stresses that it is highly important for America to stay out of the spotlight in Libya while collaborating with European and neighboring countries. He notes that the European model is the best for Libyans, since “a European policeman is closer to the hearts of Libyans than an American cop.”

(Pierre Ghanem is a correspondent for Al Arabiya based in Washington, D.C.)

The fugitive Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi and several of his sons have been holed up inside a building in Tripoli

Rebel fighters believe that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is holed up in a cluster of buildings near his compound and have dispatched more troops to the scene, a rebel commander said Thursday.
Rebel commanders have routinely checked out tips about the whereabouts of Gadhafi, who hasn't been seen since the opposition advanced into the Libyan capital.
Libya's cash-strapped rebel leadership worked to consolidate power Thursday, hustled to secure money to govern, battled tenacious pro-Gadhafi fighters in Tripoli, and started moving ministries from the rebel base in Benghazi to the capital.
The opposition posted a $1.4 million bounty for Gadhafi's capture or death.

Pres. Obama on bike trail and at Farm Neck Golf Club

AP-GfK poll: Views on economy, Obama role sour

Americans' views on the economy have dimmed this summer. But so far, the growing pessimism doesn't seem to be taking a toll on President Barack Obama's re-election prospects.
More people now believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows, and confidence in Obama's handling of the economy has slipped from just a few months ago, notably among fellow Democrats.
The survey found that 86 percent of adults see the economy as "poor," up from 80 percent in June. About half — 49 percent — said it worsened just in the past month. Only 27 percent responded that way in the June survey.
That can't be good news for a president revving up his re-election campaign. Yet there are several hopeful signs for

Despite the perception of a weakening recovery, there has been no significant change in the number of people who say he deserves re-election: 47 percent as opposed to 48 percent two months ago. That's a statistical dead heat with those who favor a change in the White House.
And more Americans still blame former President George W. Bush rather than Obama for the economic distress. Some 31 percent put the bulk of the blame on Obama, while 51 percent point to his Republican predecessor.
"I think Bush had a hand in it, too. Obama's not totally responsible," said Mary Parish, 68, of Troy, Tenn. An independent who voted for Republican John McCain in 2008, she said she doesn't believe Obama has what it takes to heal the economy. "He's a smooth-talking man. But he does not know what he's doing."
Obama also fares better than Congress in the blame department. Some 44 percent put "a lot" or "most" of the blame on Republicans while 36 percent point to congressional Democrats.
The gloomy economic outlook reflected in the poll, which was taken Aug. 18-22, follows a round of bleak government economic reports — on unemployment, the housing market and economic growth that fell below 1 percent for the first six months of the year. It was taken amid heightened worries of a new U.S. recession, fallout from a downgrade of the country's credit rating and a spreading European debt crisis.
As the public's outlook on the economy dips, so has approval for the president's economic stewardship.
More than 6 in 10 — 63 percent — disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy. Nearly half, or 48 percent, "strongly" disapproved. Approval of his economic performance now stands at just 36 percent, his worst approval rating on the issue in AP-GfK polling.
Among Democrats, 58 percent approve of the president's handling of the economy, down from 65 percent in June. Among Republicans, approval dipped to 9 percent from 15 percent.
Just 51 percent consider Obama a strong leader, down from 60 percent in June and 65 percent following the capture and death of Osama bin Laden in May. In June, 85 percent of Democrats in the poll called him a strong leader. Now, the number is down to 76 percent.
Of course, there are limits to what a president can do.
"I think he can nudge it along, but really, it boils down to the private sector," said Dan Elliott, 42, of Hillsboro, Ill., an independent who voted for Obama in 2008 and says he'll probably vote for him again.
Judith Lee, 63, a retired teacher from Great Diamond Island, Maine, said she's a Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 but has been disappointed by his leadership style.
"I don't think he is a very forceful leader," Lee said. "His style of leadership seems to be to look for consensus and ideas from other people, and it seems to have been ineffective. And Congress seems to be deadlocked on problems."
Some 75 percent in the poll said the country is heading in the wrong direction, up from 63 percent in June. Among Democrats, 61 percent chose "wrong direction" — up from 46 percent in June.
And for the first time for Obama in the poll, a majority of all adults said they disapprove of his overall performance — 52 percent, up from 47 percent in June. Among Democrats, approval fell 8 points, to 74 percent from 82 percent in June. Among Republicans, it fell to 11 percent from 22 percent.
Politically, the poll underscores the difficult time ahead for Obama as he seeks re-election in a shaky economy.
Unemployment increased to 9.2 percent in July, up from 9.1 percent in June. And most economists don't expect it to decline much below 8.5 percent by the November 2012 presidential election. No president has won re-election with a jobless rate that high since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.
So why hasn't the rise in pessimism taken more of a toll?
Despite the general rise in gloom, it seems unlikely that liberal Democrats will flock away from Obama even if they have rising doubts about his agenda or economic leadership, analysts suggest. And independents, who helped elect Obama in 2008 and are now being actively wooed by both parties, did not exhibit significant changes in their approval levels.
It was at 44 percent, statistically no different from the 43 percent approval rating among independents in June.
"A lot is out of his hands," said Penny Johansen, 65, a retired legal secretary from Tempe, Ariz. "There is only so much one person can do, and one person cannot be blamed for the acts of others." Politically unaligned, she voted for Obama in 2008 and says she'll probably do so again.
On related economic issues, 59 percent said they disapproved of Obama's handling of tax issues, up from 53 percent in June. And 64 percent said they disapproved of his handling of the annual budget deficit, compared with 63 percent in June.
Sixty percent described the financial situation in their own households as "good," about even with the level in June. Asked if they expected their financial situation to change over the next 12 months, 31 percent said they expected it to get better, 12 percent expected it to get worse and a majority — 56 percent — said they expected it to "stay about the same."
As to creating jobs, some 44 percent said they would trust Democrats to do a better job, while 42 percent said Republicans would.
The AP-GfK poll was conducted Aug. 18-22 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points

New flag hoisted on Libyan embassy Islamabad

The Libyan flag from the Kadhafi era has been removed from the Libyan embassy in the federal capital, Geo News reported.

The flag associated with the Libyan uprising is now being hoisted at the embassy. The Libyan ambassador while speaking to Geo News said that the decision to change the national flag was made five days ago with the approval of the embassy staff.

Peshawar: explosion collapses wall of session court

A wall of session court in Peshawar collapsed as the explosive material went off in on early Thursday, however no casualty was reported.

According to the police, unidentified men planted explosive material along with the wall which exploded in early morning. Bomb disposal squad reached the site and launched their activities.

General Kayani reaches Karachi

Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani landed in Karachi on Thursday morning, DawnNews reported.

The army chief would be given a detailed briefing on the situation of the city, sources said.

General Kayani had hinted that the army could provide its services to the government in restoring peace in the port city.

Analysts were giving importance to General Kayani’s visit amidst continuing violence in the city.

President Zardari, CJP receive life threats

Unidentified miscreants threw pamphlets in red zone of the capital in which they threatened to kill the President and the Chief Justice.

Authorities found a letter in the parking area of the Supreme Court in which a man who mentioned himself as Sumandar Khan threaten to kill the Chief Justice and the President.
He also threatened to blow up the building of Supreme Court on August 26 and claimed that bombs have been planted in the premises.
The Chief Justice has taken notice of the letter and ordered the authorities to tighten the security of the Supreme Court.
The security of the president has also been increased while intelligence agencies are investigating the threat.

All girls want to buy bangles, to paint heena on their hands for Eid

LAHORE: Girls selecting hand bags during shopping for upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr

Great rush of girls buyers have been witnessed on bangles

and henna stalls ahead of Eid on Wednesday as shopkeepers have beautifully decorated their shops with buntings and clourful lights to attract customers.After Iftari, the Peshawari girls’ accompanied with parents and guardians came out in large number for shopping and were seen busy in buying bangles and applying henna on hands in artistically decorated stalls setup at different areas of cantonment and city as eid celebrations have reached to its peak in Peshawar.The buying shiny bangles, jewellery, bright clothes and perfume with matching footwear were real fun for young girls during these days. The Eid flavour is moving to its peak as many shoppers are expected to came out for shopping on Chand Raat.On Wednesday, Jinnah Market in the cantt area are turned into sea of women and girls as new shops of henna and bangles decorated with clourful buntings were opened to attract shoppers.Sidara, 18, who came along with his father for shopping at Jinnah market told APP that shopping of

bangles and henna always doubles the joy on Eid. She said that she has bought bangles and cloths and will come on Chand Raat to decorate her hands with henna. “Like every year, I spend whole night with my friends on Chand Raat, visiting markets and buying bangles and other accessories. And the last essential thing for me is decorating hands with beautiful designs of henna on Chand Raat,” said Sidra.She said the henna tattoos are also available in markets and are easy to paste on hands and feet and can be removed easily. The young girls admired henna tattoos associated with celebrations of Eid specifically.

Bangles and henna stalls were set up in every small and big markets in the city were full of a large variety of steel and glass bangles in different colours.Eid-ul-Fitr shopping activities are reaching to its peak in the KPK capital as bulk of the shopping centers and fashionable markets have been flooded with many foreign goods and items which were not available in the Peshawar markets in the past.The City markets and shopping stores are stuffed with internationally famous brands of cosmetics like Wella, lakme and jardana and men women wear like Bazoo, Lee and Wangler and are being popular here.Some fashionable shopping markets like Hayatabad shopping malls, Tipu Sultan Road markets, Peshawar Trade Centre, Shaheen and Meena bazzars and Qassa Khwani area are stuffed with variety of foreign goods for eid shoppers. However, people have complained about high prices of goods and termed it behind purchasing power of low income and salaried class.

Emperor Kanishka’s era stupa rediscovered in Peshawar Building was said to be 13-storey tall

A joint initiative of Directorate of Museums & Archaeology Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Tourism Corporation of the province (TCKP) met with success here when a team comprising members of both departments and a revenue official managed to identify and re-ascertain near exact location of the famous Shahji-ki-Dheri Gandharan Buddhist site which had passed into oblivion after it was discovered and excavated by archaeologists more than a century agoLocated a few furlongs outside the Gunj Gate of the old Walled City of Peshawar is a site of extraordinary archaeological importance where an imposing stupa had once stood, said a press release issued here on Wednesday.It was built during the reign of Kushan Emperor Kanishka in the 1st century AD. It was described in detail by Chinese pilgrims in their memoirs. Hiuen Tsang (Xuan Zang) in particular visited it during his travels in 629AD-645AD and called it the “tallest architectural building” in this part of Asia. It is estimated that the stupa was equivalent to a present day 13 storey tall building. The adjoining monastery was associated with Buddhist divines of Vasubandhu and Parva. With the decline of Buddhism in the region the traces of the stupa and monastery faded away.A French archaeologist Alfred Foucher who was a professor at University of Paris, visited Peshawar towards the end of 19th century, and noticed two mounds south east of Peshawar outside the walled city. He attempted to relate them to Hiuen Tsang’s description of the place.In 1908, D. Brainerd Spooner, an American archaeologist working for the British Archaeological Survey of India and the first curator of Peshawar Museum undertook excavation work at a site then known as Shahji-ki-Dheri (Shahji’s Mound, since it was privately owned by a Syed family). Finding ruins of a stupa and monastery he was able to confirm Foucher’s hypothesis in the light of Chinese pilgrims’ accounts.In March 1909, when digging had reached the centre of the base of stupa, Spooner made a sensational discovery that stirred the archaeological world. A relic casket in guilt-bronze was recovered containing Buddha’s bone fragments and ashes. The casket was inscribed with Emperor Kanishka’s name and figure. The British Government later gifted the Buddha’s relics to Burma where they are enshrined in the main pagoda at Mandalay. The bronze casket is on display in Peshawar Museum, while its replica is kept in the British Museum.Subsequent excavation work yielded priceless Gandharan statues and other objects which are on display in museums around the world. When excavation work stopped the significance of the area was forgotten. Starting out with a brick factory, the locality was gradually built up after creation of Pakistan. Nowadays the locality goes by the name of Akhunabad (Ward 4) which is a maze of unplanned and densely populated urban settlements sprung up over the mounds in recent years. The area presents a sorry picture of a once renowned historic site which was one of its kind in Asia and mentioned in countless books and journals.In order to ascertain and pin-point the exact location of the Shahji-ki-Dheri site of yore, a team comprising Director Museums and Archaeology/Curator Peshawar Museum Nidaullah Sehrai, Zahoor Durrani of Sehrai Tours, Ali Jan of TCKP and Muhammad Humayun Akhund of Revenue Department visited Akhunabad.Employing satellite imagery and using old revenue land maps and archival records the team was able to survey the locality and narrow it down to a 24 Kanal stretch of land (Khasra No 853) where the stupa and monastery once stood.Archaeologist Nidaullah Sehrai who has recently assumed charge as Director Museums said that in a province boasting thousands of historic sites, the department had so far notified only 5 in the entire Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which was a pity.His department, he said was working on a comprehensive plan to grant legal protection to several cultural and heritage sites under the Antiquity Act. Zahoor Durrani who assisted British historian/presenter Michael Wood on a recently concluded documentary project that featured Shahji-ki-Dheri site said he was delighted that TCKP and Directorate of Museums and Archaeology had joined hands in preservation and promotion of province’s historical sites.He lauded upcoming initiatives by TCKP which include launching of awareness programs with community participation and installation of standardised signboards and plaques in the vicinity of historical and tourist spots to convince public to look after their priceless national assets.”By adopting these measures we can instill a sense of pride and identity in our people who have remained ignorant about these matters so far”, said the TCKP official.

Saudi Arabia Forging a New Sunni State?

Atlantic Sentinel

Is Saudi Arabia conniving with the United States to unseat the Assad regime in Syria? The possible smuggling of satellite phones into the country suggests so but the kingdom’s ultimate aim may not necessarily align with American policy in the region—the creation of a new Sunni state between Syria and Iraq.

Iranian intelligence experts in Damascus attempted to disrupt the Syrian opposition’s telephone and Internet connections in recent weeks, making it all the more difficult for news of the uprising to reach the outside world. To help the rebels, Saudi Arabia and the United States reportedly smuggled thousands of satellite phones into Syria. Other than that, there’s little the Americans can do short of military intervention. President Bashar al-Assad may have lost the “legitimacy to lead” but he doesn’t need Washington for anything, rendering sanctions virtually useless.

Protests erupted in Syria in March after the “Arab spring” deposed veteran dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. In Bahrain, Shī’ah Muslims also took to the streets to pressure their largely Sunni government into enacting reforms but Saudi troops quelled the uprising before it could pose a serious threat to the small Arab Gulf state’s monarchy.

The oil kingdom is now rooting for the protesters in Syria, or at least some of them. Besides supposedly supplying the anti-government forces with satellite phones in conjunctions with the Americans, Saudi Arabia privately and clandestinely poured money and arms into the country in the hopes of stiffening the resistance and buying the loyalty of desert tribes.

The ultimate aim could be the erection of a new state encompassing not only the Euphrates’ river valley in Syria roughly corresponding with the southeastern Deir ez-Zor Governorate but Iraq’s central Al Anbar province as well. Both are overwhelmingly Sunni and home to more than a couple of million people. Such a country would put a natural geostrategic ally of Saudi Arabia’s in the heart of the Arab world—a “forward operating base” for Riyadh from where to watch Syria, Turkey and Iraq, three Middle Eastern states that are increasingly assertive, and from where to counter Iranian influence.

Riyadh blamed Tehran for stirring the uprising in Bahrain even if there was little evidence of Iranian involvement. The accusation and Saudi led military action nevertheless demonstrated just how worried the Saudis were about Iran extending its influence in the region.

They have ample reason to be concerned. The Saudi backed government in Lebanon was undermined by Iranian ally Hezbollah earlier this year while two of the kingdom’s allies in containing the Islamic Republic, Egypt and Iraq, have been rocked by internal unrest. With Iraq now a democracy—ruled by a Shiite prime minister—and Hosni Mubarak out of office and facing trial, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the only two powers still standing in the Middle East.

A political disintegration of Iraq and Syria, prompted by the creation of another Saudi client state, would weaken both a friend of Iran’s and one of its traditional foes. The United States, after spending considerable blood and treasure stabilizing Iraq, might rather not see its experiment in multiethnic Arab democracy fall apart. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen to Syria after Assad moreover. But the development could bolster the club of pro-Western regimes in the region.

Neighboring Jordan conveniently joined the Gulf Cooperation Council two months ago which formally sanctioned March’s intervention in Bahrain. Whether Morocco also joins the organization or not, it is a moderate Islamist bulwark against Iranian encroachment in West Asia, providing Saudi foreign policy with extra legitimacy and sometimes an alternative to dollar diplomacy. Whatever the emirates contribute in funding, the Saudis are obviously in the lead. And they’re disappointed about their American ally’s reluctance to support them.

The Saudis didn’t particularly care for President Barack Obama’s championing of human rights and reform in the face of the Arab spring and blamed him for forcing Mubarak out of power.

From Washington’s perspective, the alliance with the Wahhabi kingdom is one of convenience. It regards its religious intolerance and backwardness as an embarrassment even if the two countries share interests in the region. Both want to keep the oil flowing, the Gulf free of Iranian influence and neither wants the ayatollahs to go nuclear and embolden their terrorist proxies in the Levant. The clear strategic rationale of the relationship tends to be overshadowed by moral objections on America’s part however. Saudi nation building abroad is likely to raise more than a few eyebrows in the State Department therefore.

Actually, sponsoring the foundation of a brand new republic (presumably) in the Middle East wouldn’t be such a stretch for the United States ideologically. It’s not as though today’s national boundaries in the Middle East necessarily reflect cultural and religious divides—let alone encompass specific peoples or nations. Rather, a Sunni polity separate of multicultural Syria and Shī’ah majority Iraq conforms much better to notions of sovereignty and self determination than the status quo.

It’s not often that American interests and ideology coincide in the Middle East. The risks of too overtly endorsing the Saudi effort—if it is a serious effort to begin with—are clear. America could be perceived as once again meddling in the internal affairs of Arab states. Success, on the other hand, could leave Iraq, then virtually a Shiite homeland, much stabler and Saudi Arabia, a pivotal Western ally, in an enhanced position to balance against Iranian intrigue. Now Washington has only to recognize the opportunity.
Nick Ottens is an historian from the Netherlands who researched Muslim revivalist movements and terrorism in nineteenth century Arabia, British India and the Sudan for his Master's thesis. He also studied the history of transatlantic relations and is currently a contributing analyst with Wikistrat. Nick blogs about politics and economics at Free Market Fundamentalist.

The Karachi inferno; worse in Baluchistan

The utter mess in Pakistan, exemplified for the time being by the raging violence in that country's commercial hub, Karachi, is at root the result of the endless squabbling amongst its venal political class. The abysmal cycle — of a feudal/political elite bitterly fighting for spoils, which further fans entrenched ethnic tensions , raging fundamentalisms amidst deep socio-economic inequalities, and the army either controlling things directly or from the back-seat — has become such an intricate, involved loop that one no longer knows which particular ill sparks a period of instability and violence.

On the surface, the tragic, and intense, violence in Karachi, which has claimed hundreds of lives in weeks, has to do with the MQM leaving the PPP-led government . Though talks are on about a patch-up , what makes for an explosive situation is that Karachi is also witnessing an ethnic turf-war over lucrative businesses, like the transport business now taken over by Pashtuns, between Mohajirs and the former.Mix in other sectarianisms and plain gang-wars , and the situation seems uncontrollable. Already, calls have emanated to let loose the army, still seen as the only working institution, to stem the violence. Which only affirms the debilitating role the army has played vis-a-vis the larger issue of democracy and civilian control in the troubled country. Meanwhile, the situation in Baluchistan is steadily worsening, with assassinations and abductions a common occurrence.

And the Taliban are also continuing with their attacks against civilian and military targets. A long-term solution to this relentless collapse of the state would be sweeping reform of Pakistan's politics. Measures like a de-radicalisation plan, mulled over by the government at a high-level meeting last week, cannot work given that extremism got a fillip from both the state funding it and extremists walking in where the state retreated — madrasas proliferate, for example, because the poor willingly send their children in. To mend Pakistan, it is not enough for the establishment to abandon support for extremism. A huge political churn is needed.

Pakistan to send more troops to Bahrain

Pakistan has agreed to dispatch more mercenaries to Bahrain to help Al Khalifa regime’s crackdown on anti-government protesters in the Persian Gulf state.
Manama has been recruiting former soldiers and policemen from Pakistan at a steady rate to strengthen the government’s forces. In many demonstrations, Bahraini protesters shouted slogans against Pakistani security forces in Urdu. Pakistani and Saudi forces have played a major rule in suppressing anti-government protests in Bahrain since the beginning of unrest in the Persian Gulf country.
Tens of thousands of Bahraini protesters have been holding peaceful anti-government rallies throughout the Middle Eastern country since February, demanding an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa family.
Scores of people have been killed and many more arrested and tortured in prisons in a government-sanctioned crackdown on protests since the beginning of the demonstrations.
According to a Bahraini human rights group, there are currently over 1,000 political detainees inside the country.

UN warning over 12 million stateless people

Some 12 million people around the world do not have citizenship of any country, and are being denied basic human rights as a result, the UN has warned.
The organisation is calling for more countries to sign up to two conventions on statelessness.
It says the issue is becoming worse as stateless children are born to stateless parents.
The problem is most widespread in South East Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
"These people are in desperate need of help because they live in a nightmarish legal limbo," said Antonio Guterres of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"Apart from the misery caused to the people themselves, the effect of marginalising whole groups of people across generations creates great stress in the societies they live in and is sometimes a source of conflict."
Due to their lack of nationality, stateless people can face a whole range of problems including issues owning property, opening a bank account, getting married legally or registering the birth of a child.
Some even face long periods of detention, because they cannot prove who they are or where they are from.
Only 66 states are signed up to the 1954 Convention entitling stateless people to minimum standards of treatment while a mere 38 are party to the 1961 Convention which provides a legal framework to help states reduce statelessness.
"After 50 years, these conventions have attracted only a small number of states,'' Mr Guterres added.
"It's shameful that millions of people are living without nationality - a fundamental human right."
However, in recent months Croatia, Panama, the Philippines and Turkmenistan have all signed up to one or both of the international conventions, the UNHCR said.
People can become stateless for a variety of reasons, including the break-up of nations such as the Soviet Union and the Yugoslavia, or the creation of new countries after colonial powers leave, such as in parts of Africa and Asia.
Stateless people include the Rohingya in Burma, some hill tribes in Thailand, some Roma groups in Europe and the Bidoon people of the Gulf States.