Monday, April 30, 2012

U.S. Racial tensions go beyond black and white issues

By Rong Xiaoqing
A 17-year-old boy was shot dead by a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, when the boy was walking back to his father's fiancée's house. The boy was unarmed, and carried only a bag of candy and a can of iced tea. The shooter, who thought the boy looked suspicious, claimed self defense and was initially let go by the police after the incident. The boy, Trayvon Martin, was black. The skin of the shooter, George Zimmerman, is much lighter. And it happened in Florida, a state that carries a heavy baggage of racial tensions from the past and has kept causing controversy in modern times through its "stand-your-ground" law, which allows someone to fire a gun at another party in a public area if he or she feels their life is threatened. It is no surprise that this has ignited a national outcry and more division. After national media outlets picked up the story, which happened in February, thousands of people protested. More than two million people signed an online petition calling for Zimmerman's arrest, which finally happened six weeks after the incident. The local police chief stepped down. A special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI was brought in. US President Barack Obama demanded a thorough investigation and said "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." The death of Martin has thus become a new milestone for the civil rights movement. Many journalists, bloggers, activists and politicians asked one question to highlight the racial inequality in this country: "What would happen if Martin were white and Zimmerman were black?" It's a legitimate question given that statistically, black perpetrators receive harsher sentences than whites for the same offences and black victims are more likely to be ignored than white ones. However, the only problem is Zimmerman is not white. With a white father and Peruvian mother, and looking darker than the average Caucasian, Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic on his voter registration card. Of course, this doesn't change the fact that he shot an unarmed boy and many people just can't understand why he wasn't arrested straight away. But the efforts to portray this as a conflict between black and white are notable. A survey by Newsweek, which found 80 percent of blacks thought the case was racially motivated while only 35 percent of whites agreed, vividly displayed the division. The questions missing here, though, are what if Zimmerman were Hispanic? What if he and Martin were both black? What if one of them were Hispanic, and the other were Asian, or even one were white, and the other were Asian or Hispanic? The gun control and the "stand-your-ground" issues would still be the talking points. But would the case still become a national sensation as it did? And would anyone outside the immediate community still care at all? It is true that a lot of US racial baggage in black-white relations still remains. But people from other ethnic communities also often become victims in racial conflicts with whites, with much less spotlight shed on them. What's more, when less than half of the babies under 3 years old are white in the US now and whites are predicted by some demographers to become a minority by 2050, more racial conflicts are destined to be between people from the black, Hispanic and Asian communities. What makes things more complicated is that many times, what look like racial conflicts may not be as clear-cut beneath the surface. Take the 2009 case in which two Chinese restaurants in Manhattan were accused of refusing to deliver food to East Harlem, a largely black neighborhood. The restaurants were dubbed "racist" by black politicians and it triggered an investigation by the city's Human Rights Commission. But with stories of deliverymen being repeatedly assaulted in some neighborhoods, the workers may be forced to choose between political correctness and their own safety. It would be much easier for everyone if life was like scenes from Hollywood movies where good guys and bad guys are so clearly labeled. But in the real world it isn't a question of black and white, but of shades of grey. The author is a New York-based journalist.

In Fight Over Obama Health Law, a Front in Minnesota

With zeal, excitement and a meticulous attention to detail, the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to expand health insurance coverage and remake Minnesota’s insurance market along the lines envisioned by President Obama. In setting up a marketplace where people can shop for insurance, the state has sought advice from consumer groups, labor unions, doctors and hospitals, employers, insurance companies, agents and brokers, and American Indian tribes. But one notable group has been missing from the process: Republicans, who control both houses of the State Legislature. Mr. Dayton, a Democrat, and the Republicans find themselves in an icy standoff. The situation is a case study of the politics found in state capitols around the country as officials grapple with a crucial element of the new federal health care law. A similar confrontation has stalled action in New Hampshire. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, recently established an insurance exchange by executive order after Republicans in the State Senate blocked legislation. In Minnesota, many Republicans want nothing to do with what they call Obamacare, even though the federal government will operate an insurance exchange here if the state fails to create one. “There is a very toxic atmosphere between Republican legislators and the Dayton administration on this issue,” said Kate Johansen, manager of health policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which wants the state to establish its own exchange. In an interview, Mr. Dayton said that while some moderate Republicans would like to work with him, the Republican caucus in the Legislature had balked because it was dominated by “extreme right-wingers.” “For reasons of ideology and politics, they want to bash our effort to establish an exchange, rather than join it,” Mr. Dayton said, lamenting the power of “vitriolic antigovernment, anti-Obama” forces. State Representative Mary D. Franson, a conservative freshman Republican, said: “We have an ultraliberal governor who thinks he can do things by executive order like President Obama.” Ms. Franson said that if Mr. Dayton tried to establish an exchange without legislative approval, “he will have a fight on his hands because I’m like a mama bear; I’ll protect our citizens from the overreach of government.” The federal divide over health care is reflected at the state level, even in Minnesota, which has a progressive tradition and a long history of innovation and bipartisan cooperation on health policy. The exchange is the centerpiece of the new health care system envisioned by Mr. Obama. In the exchange, people who do not have insurance from employers will be able to get comparative information on health plans, insurers will compete on price and benefits, and the federal government will offer subsidies to lower- and middle-income people buying insurance. Mr. Dayton and his team are trying to carry out the new federal law over objections from Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 38 years. “Health care reform is going ahead full speed in this state,” said Lawrence R. Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Jacobs said the governor was relying on an expansive concept of executive power to circumvent Republican opposition and apparently saw no need to compromise because he was confident that the Democrats would regain control of the Legislature in the November elections. Minnesota starts from an enviable position, with 91 percent of its population having health insurance — more than all but three or four states. For decades, Minnesota has been a health care innovator. The nonprofit Mayo Clinic, which traces its roots to 1864, pioneered the team-based approach to medical care now espoused by many health policy experts. A Minnesota doctor, Paul M. Ellwood Jr., was an early proponent of managed care and coined the term “health maintenance organization.” Minnesota expanded Medicaid eligibility and was already covering most low-income children before Congress created the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997. The state’s top insurance regulator, Commerce Commissioner Michael Rothman, said the exchange would simplify the purchase of insurance for consumers and pool their purchasing power so they could get better prices. Minnesota has spent $1.4 million in federal money planning an exchange through which one-fifth of state residents — more than one million people — are expected to obtain coverage. That includes 450,000 people who will get subsidized private insurance and 600,000 who will enroll in Medicaid or other public insurance programs. State officials who speak fluently about arcane technical details of the insurance exchange — like risk adjustment, adverse selection and actuarial value — seem nonplused but undeterred by the Republicans’ resistance. When asked what was lost as a result of the Republicans’ absence, Mr. Rothman fell silent for a minute, then said, “We would like to keep an open dialogue with Republicans and all stakeholders.” Republicans object to both what is being done and how the governor is doing it. State Senator David W. Hann, a Republican who is chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said the exchange would “absolutely not create a true insurance marketplace” because it would control what products could be offered and might have a say over prices. “The exchange centralizes power in the hands of bureaucrats and is a step to single-payer health care that has been the dream of the political left for decades,” Mr. Hann said. Moreover, Mr. Hann said, Republicans are irked because “the governor has shown a propensity to act by executive order, as if he could establish an exchange by some kind of fiat or diktat.” Officials in the Dayton administration decline to say how far they can go in setting up an exchange without authority from the Legislature. Time is running out. Legislative leaders hope to adjourn the 2012 session this week. Federal officials must decide by Jan. 1 whether the state is able to run its own exchange. Republican legislators declined an invitation to participate in a Dayton administration task force guiding the development of the exchange. Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, a free-market group mobilizing opposition to the exchange in Minnesota, sees little difference between one established by the state and one run by the federal government. “All exchanges must follow the Obamacare law and the Obamacare regulations,” Ms. Brase said. In his first official act after taking office in January 2011, Mr. Dayton issued an executive order expanding Medicaid to cover 95,000 low-income adults who would not otherwise have qualified until 2014. The reaction was a portent of things to come. Supporters cheered the governor’s action, while protesters packed the signing ceremony to denounce the new federal health care law as costly and unconstitutional. Minnesota takes pride in its culture of collaboration, fostered by civic-minded employers like General Mills and Target, which have worked together for more than two decades to improve health care and limit its cost. When Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, was governor, he liked the idea of an exchange. “We will reduce costs by creating the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange, to allow uninsured individuals access to health insurance that will lower premium costs by roughly 30 percent,” Mr. Pawlenty said in his State of the State address in 2007. But State Representative Douglas G. Wardlow, a freshman Republican, said the creation of an exchange “in the context of Obamacare is an entirely different question.” The new law, he said, imposes so many requirements that it “turns the state into an instrumentality of the federal government and limits our ability to innovate.”

Putin's Russia

As Vladimir Putin begins his third term as president, we ask if Russia can become a superpower once again.
Russia is the largest country on the planet. It straddles nine time zones, is the largest energy producer and possesses half the world's nuclear warheads. But Russia is not the former Soviet Union. Since the Cold War ended two decades ago, the new emerging Russia has been largely defined by two men, Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. Yeltsin presided over the dismemberment of the old Soviet Union and the reckless privatisation of state assets. Washington saw this chaotic free-for-all as a new wild west and assisted the plunder. When Putin took over the presidency in 2000, he was determined to rid Russia of Yeltsin's embarrassing legacy and to stop the rot. As Putin begins his third term as president, flexing his muscles at home and abroad, we ask: Can Russia be a superpower once again?

Pakistan: After Hindus, Christians forced into conversion
Victims of forced conversions are often girls from poor backgrounds who are unable to defend themselves against extremists because their community is deprived, defenceless and marginalised, reports Amir Mir While Pakistan's Hindu minority community is already disturbed over the rising incidents of kidnapping of young Hindu girls and their forced conversion to Islam, the conditions for the country's Christian minority are equally antagonising. They too are being forced by fanatic Muslims to convert to Islam, making them wonder if they still have a place in Pakistan. "There is no compulsion in religion," is a well-known saying that most Pakistanis who live in the land of the pure often tend to forget. While religion encourages conversions, it in no way tolerates coercion. But that is what the Christian community in Pakistan says is happening. With 1.6 per cent of the population and some three million believers, the Christian minority in Pakistan is the second largest religious minority after Hindus. Available figures show that on average, eight to ten Christians are being forced every month by fanatic Muslims to convert to Islam, mostly in Sindh and Punjab provinces. Victims are often poor girls The victims of forced conversions are often girls from poor backgrounds who are then subjected to harrowing and extremely traumatic ordeals. Most of them are extremely vulnerable and are unable to defend themselves against extremists because their community is deprived, defenceless and marginalised. Christians, who constitute just about two percent of the Pakistani population, are paying a high price for being a part of the minority community. This is despite the fact that at the time of independence, the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had pledged to create a secular and liberal environment in the country where all religions could thrive. But a gradual Islamisation of the Pakistani state and the society in the 1970s by the martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq led to the enforcement of controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan to force more and more Hindu and Christian minority members to abandon their religions and convert to Islam. Allegations of forced conversion of Hindu women, which were endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), have already brought to light the dilemma faced by the minority Hindu community. However, many recent examples of forced conversion of Christian girls in Sindh and Punjab have come to light recently. In the first instance, Sidra Bibi, 14, was abducted and raped by a Muslim in her village in the Sheikhupura district of the Pakistani Punjab. Her abductor instantly converted her to Islam by threatening to kill her. Although Sidra became pregnant as a result of the abuse, she was lucky enough to have managed to escape from her abductor and find her way back to her family. Sidra and her family members tried to lodge a complaint with the police in a bid to get justice, but they were refused the chance due to the fact that the abductors were influential people of the area.

Inquiry launched into Sarkozy Gaddafi finance claim

Prosecutors on Monday opened an enquiry after President Nicolas Sarkozy sued a website that claimed Moamer Kadhafi financed his 2007 presidential election, in the crucial final week before France returns to the polls. Sarkozy’s complaint, submitted late Monday afternoon, targets the left-wing investigative website Mediapart, its publishing director Edwy Plenel and journalists Fabrice Arfi and Karl Laske, judicial officials said. Arfi and Laske on Saturday co-signed an article that alleged the former Libyan dictator agreed to give 50 million euros ($66 million) to Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. The enquiry is to determine whether there is a case of “forgery and use of forged material”, and whether “false news has been spread”. Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog was not immediately available for comment. Sarkozy has dismissed the document as a “crude forgery” and believes that he is relentlessly targeted by “biased” left-wing media. “There’s a section of the press, of the media, and notably the site in question whose name I refuse to mention, that is prepared to fake documents, shame on those who have exploited them,” Sarkozy said. Claims that Kadhafi financed Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign are not new, but Mediapart’s document bearing the signature of Libya’s former foreign intelligence chief Moussa Koussa is. Koussa, who lives in Qatar, has said the "allegations are false".

New World Trade Center tower

Pakistanis dead; got 'blood money' in CIA killing

The widow and mother-in-law of a Pakistani man killed by a CIA contractor last year were murdered Monday, allegedly by the widow's father who may have feared she would remarry and take the "blood money" she received with her, police said. The families of the two men killed by Raymond Davis last January received hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for pardoning the killer, a common legal practice in Pakistan. The money normally goes to the wife if her husband was killed. The widow who was murdered Monday in the eastern city of Lahore, Zohra Haider, wanted to remarry and was supported by her mother, Nabeela Bibi, said police officer Athar Waheed. But her father, Shahzad Butt, opposed the move, possibly because she would take her fortune with her when she remarried, Waheed said. "We will investigate that aspect as a possible motive," said Waheed. Butt allegedly shot and killed his wife after having an argument about the issue in their house in a middle class neighborhood in Lahore that they bought with the blood money, said Waheed. He chased his daughter as she tried to escape and allegedly shot and killed her in the street, said Waheed. The shooter escaped. Davis said he shot Haider's husband, Faizan, and another Pakistani man last year because they tried to rob him as he was driving his car through Lahore. The U.S. and Pakistan argued for nearly seven weeks over whether Davis had diplomatic immunity before the blood money was paid, and he was freed. The U.S. denied paying the compensation to the families, but many believe it was simply routed through Pakistani officials. Reports of the total payout varied from $1 million to over $2 million. A third Pakistani man was killed by a U.S. vehicle rushing to the scene of the shootings, but the driver was never taken into custody. The incident seriously damaged the already troubled relationship between Pakistan and the U.S., one that got worse only months later when American commandos killed Osama bin Laden in a covert raid in a Pakistani garrison town last May.

UAE urged to release political prisoners

Rights groups have urged the United Arab Emirates to immediately end crackdowns on perceived political opponents and release nine activists in custody. On Monday, two international rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on authorities to stop threatening to revoke the citizenship of some of the detainees because of their political activities. The appeal follows the detention of Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qasimi, who is a reformist relative of the ruler of the Ras al-Khaimah Emirate and one of the elders of the UAE sheikhs. Al-Qasimi was arrested without a warrant. The rights organizations say UAE officials are holding at least nine activists, with seven of them connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been critical of some policies of the country's Western-allied leaders. Rights groups said some of the men are among 130 people who signed a petition in March 2011 seeking political reforms in the UAE. The UAE has arrested pro-reform activists and charged them with serious crimes to prevent the Arab Spring, a popular uprisings that swept some Arab countries last year, from reaching its territory. Formation of political parties is banned in the small Persian Gulf state.

Bahrain: Family of activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja 'sad' at retrial

The family of leading Bahraini opposition activist
Abdulhadi al-khawaja has denounced the decision to retry him and 20 other activists. Khawaja's daughter Maryam said the retrial is "sad news not good news". The ruling will not stop her father's hunger strike as he wants "freedom or death" not a retrial, she said. The retrial will take place in a civil court. A military court sentenced Khawaja to life in prison last June for plotting against the state. 'Not fair, nor just' Khawaja began a hunger strike some three months ago. His case has become a rallying point for other activists. "The court is [ordering] that the trial take place again and that testimony from prosecution and defence witnesses be heard once more as if it is a new trial," the official news agency BNA said. Technically, however, the cases are simply being reviewed by the civil court, says the BBC's Frank Gardner who was in the courtroom to hear the appeal outcome. "We are talking about a court which is not fair nor just and it's not independent either," Maryam al-Khawaja told the BBC. "This is the courtroom that is used by the regime as a tool against people," she added.A crowd of opposition supporters chanted outside the court after the ruling was announced, disappointed that Khawaja will stay in custody until the retrial. Twenty other activists sentenced alongside Khawaja in 2011 also won retrials - seven in absentia because they remain at large. Seven are fighting life terms. 'Ridiculous' This is only a limited victory for Khawaja and his team, our correspondent says, because although the verdict reached by a military tribunal has been thrown out, he will remain in custody while his case is reviewed. One lawyer for the convicts said he had hoped the initial verdicts would be annulled. Khawaja has dual nationality with Denmark, and the Danish ambassador renewed his call for him to be transferred to Denmark on humanitarian grounds. "I think it is ridiculous, what sort of legal process is this?" Khawaja's wife Khadija al-Moussawi told the BBC. "They are playing for time, and should have transferred his case to a civilian court at the first hearing not the third." She said they were the same judges in military and civilian courts, "but with different clothes". "Just let them [the activists] go. The government commissioned the Bassiouni report and that declared that they were prisoners of conscience," she said - referring to an independent inquiry into events in 2011 that delivered a searing indictment of the government, including its treatment of Khawaja. She said her husband was prepared to lose his life over the issue. Khawaja remains in hospital in a serious condition, having lost 25% of his bodyweight during an 82-day campaign during which he has usually refused food. "I saw him on Sunday," Khadija al-Moussawi said. "He is very weak. He had been restrained and force-fed through a tube for five days, but agreed to be fed by IV [intravenous drip]. He will decide today [Monday], what course to take." Torture claims The hospital denies Khawaja has been force-fed, saying he gave written permission to be fed via a nasogastric tube. At least 60 people are reported to have been killed in Bahrain since protests erupted last year demanding more democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family. Khawaja was arrested in April after King Hamad declared a state of emergency and brought in troops from neighbouring states to crush dissent. He claims he was tortured, sexually assaulted and regularly beaten in detention. Manama is usually calm these days, but regular protests continue in villages outside the capital. "They must be freed."

Peshawar blast: One policeman killed, another injured in roadside blast

The Express Tribune
A community police personnel was killed and a policeman sustained serious injuries after a bomb exploded on Charsadda Road near Garhi Sobat Khan in Peshawar on Monday evening. Police officials talking to The Expess Tribune said that a police party, mix of regular police and community police personnel, were on a routine patrol within the remits of Khazana Police Station when they came under a bomb attack which injured two police men. One of the injured was identified as Javed. They were rushed to the hospital where Javed succumbed to his injuries. DSP Riazul Islam told The Express Tribune that it was a powerful bomb attack which targeted a police patrol. “Gulzar and Javed are among the injured men. Javed is a community police personnel, who was hired on a two year contract,” he explained. Islam said that the entire area has been cordoned off and a search operation is underway in the area. “Javed expired in the hospital while the other injured is out of danger now,” said the DSP. Earlier on April 16, a six year old student was killed, while another one was injured when unidentified miscreants threw a hand grenade into a school in the Chargo Kalay area of Peshawar. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Peshawar has been regularly targeted by militants, attacking schools and tribal leaders for supporting the government in quashing militancy in the province.

Prime Minister Gilani: I am only guilty of protecting constitution

In response to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif’s call for a ‘protest movement’ against the government, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday said that he was only guilty of protecting the constitution, DawnNews reported. Speaking at a Senate session, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader said that he was unanimously elected as prime minister by all parties including the PML-N. Earlier, the PML-N chief had urged the premier to comply with the Supreme Court’s orders and resign from the prime minister’s office. Moreover, Sharif warned that the government would have to face a protest movement if the prime minister does not resign. In Senate today, the prime minister said that his only fault was to protect the constitution. “I am ready to face any sentence for the act,” he added. He said that he did not take advantage of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). “Cases are registered all over the world…even former US president Bill Clinton faced the case registered against him,” said the premier. The prime minster said that he was not only facing the Supreme Court but the ‘Sharif courts’ as well. “I will never bow down to decisions of Sharifs’ court,” he added. Gilani further said that Nawaz Sharif was given the opportunity of ruling the country twice but he could not handle it and fell down by his own credence. Despite of having a two-third majority, the PML-N failed to amend the constitution, said the premier. “Clause for becoming the PM for the third time was only removed for Nawaz Sharif,” he said. Meanwhile, the National Assembly session was adjourned to May 2 amid verbal assault of each other by the lawmakers of both treasury and opposition benches.

Sharifs are ‘robbers’

Interior Minister Rehman Malik took on the Sharif brothers again on Sunday when he accused them of ‘robbing’ the country’s banks of billions of rupees. Continuing his tirade for the second consecutive day, Malik, at a news conference, said he would present all documentary evidence against Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif in court to help unearth their corruption. He claimed that he had evidence that the PML-N leaders had embezzled public funds worth $32 million. Referring to the long march threats by the PML-N, Malik said the PPP’s reconciliation policy should not be taken as its weakness, adding it is being pursued for consolidation of democracy and in the best national interest. He threatened that hardcore PPP workers would march against the PML-N if they continued confronting the ruling party. “We are not wearing bangles. PPP jiyalas from all over Pakistan will march to Raiwind against Sharif brothers,” he added. The minister announced to present evidence of the Sharifs’ alleged corruption before the Supreme Court within a week, adding that if Nawaz and Shahbaz had the “courage” they could challenge his claims. He said people wanted to know about the money they allegedly embezzled, their empire at Raiwand and other places in and outside the country. “If PML-N leadership, including Pervaiz Rashid, thinks that the allegations levelled against the Sharif brothers are false, why don’t they file a libel case against the interior minister? They should approach the courts and get a verdict against the interior minister. He would welcome any defamation suit against him,” said a note distributed on the occasion.

Shock at brutal killing of Red Cross worker Khalil Rasjed Dale
HORRIFIED agencies yesterday condemned the murder of a Red Cross worker taken hostage in Pakistan whose bullet-riddled body was found in an orchard yesterday, decapitated, with a note attached to his body saying he had been killed because no ransom was paid. Khalil Rasjed Dale, 60, a Scot who was engaged to be married to a nurse in Australia, was seized by armed men in January in Quetta, in southwestern Pakistan. "This was a shocking and merciless act by people with no respect for human life and the rule of law. Khalil Dale has dedicated many years of his life to helping some of the most vulnerable people in the world," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. The director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Yves Daccord, condemned the "barbaric act". "It's unbelievable what they've done to Ken," a friend and former colleague, Sheila Howat, said. "It's soul-destroying. For someone who has ... devoted their life to caring for others - it's just so wrong. Ken was an absolutely lovely person who saw good in everybody. He wanted to make the world a better place for people who had nothing."Ms Howat said Mr Dale's fiancee, Anne, lived in Australia. "I was so happy that he had finally found happiness. I think their engagement happened quite recently." Mr Dale, 60, had been awarded the MBE for his humanitarian work overseas. He changed his name from Ken when he became a Muslim. Quetta police chief Ahsan Mahboob said the note attached to it read: "This is the body of Khalil who we have slaughtered for not paying a ransom." Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, lies close to the Afghan border and for decades has hosted thousands of refugees from that country. The Red Cross operates clinics in the city. A Pakistani foreign office statement condemned the crime, promising to bring its perpetrators to justice. However, arrests for this type of crime are rare. Much of Baluchistan and the tribal regions close to Afghanistan are out of Pakistani government control, and make good places to keep hostages. Large ransoms are often paid to secure their release, but such payments are rarely confirmed. Last August, a 70-year-old American humanitarian aid worker was kidnapped from his house in the Punjabi city of Lahore. Al-Qa'ida claimed to be holding the man, Warren Weinstein, and said in a video he would be released if the US stopped airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Sharifs poised to derail democracy

Reiterating to protect the Constitution and uphold democratic norms, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani Monday said Sharifs were poised to derail democracy and he would not listen to their dictation. “I am being penalized to protect the Constitution. I am not a beneficiary of the NRO. Then why I am being targeted? Only because I am protecting the Constitution,” he said addressing the Senate. “It is not the case of financial corruption or moral turpitude. I am being blamed to protect the Constitution. But, it was my right being a Prime Minister.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saudi Girls Are Doing Something Radical: Playing Sports

by:Bob Cook,
In my area of the United States, Muslim girls play sports, with or without wearing a hijab. The only contentious issue regarding Muslim girls on my 6-year-old daughter’s T-ball team last year was whether the post-game snack was halal. My 12-year-old daughter’s junior high basketball team had Muslim players, part of a team that collectively spoke five languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, Polish, and text. But in Saudi Arabia, the idea of Muslim girls playing sports is a radical concept in Saudi Arabia, where a conservative interpretation of Islam means women should not exercise, lest they, as one cleric put it in 2009, risk losing their virginity by tearing their hymens. Really. In a reverse of how it goes in the United States, private schools, more free from religious requirements, have let girls play sports, but state-run schools, which are under religious requirements, officially ban them. But one state-run school is flouting that ban. From Reuters: A girls’ school in Saudi Arabia has defied a religious ban on female sports by erecting basketball hoops and letting pupils play at break-time, the daily al-Watan reported … . The school in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has now become the first state-run girls school openly to encourage sports, Watan reported, quoting a supervisor as saying it would expend pupils’ energy “in a positive way.” … “The school administration is hoping to instill the importance of sports among the students and introduce them to its benefits, as well as allowing them to spend their spare time doing something beneficial,” Amina Bu Bsheit, a school supervisor, was quoted as saying by Watan. She added that the school, which was not named in Watan’s report, still does not provide a physical education class but that the students play during weekly “activities classes.” How did the school get so brave to defy convention? In part, because world pressure on Saudi Arabia’s retrograde attitude on women — include Human Rights Watch’s call Saudi Arabia be banned from the 2012 Olympics for having no women athletes — is causing King Abdullah to, slowly and slightly, loosen restrictions on Saudi women. King Abdullah in 2011 allowed women to vote and run for office in municipal elections, and he has called for more education and employment opportunities for them. Despite the apparent risk of inadvertently losing their virginity, women are getting involved in sports clubs in Saudi Arabia, to the point that al-Watan — which is owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, by the way — also has reported that the country is considering forming a ministerial committee to consider the possibility of making those clubs legal. Again, from Reuters: Abdullah al-Zamil, a senior official from the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the top Saudi sporting body, said the committee was being formed to end the “chaos” surrounding women’s sports clubs, which are effectively unregulated, Watan reported. The General Presidency of Youth Welfare only regulates male clubs and its head was recently quoted saying he would not endorse Saudi women athletes at the 2012 Olympics. Before we in the modern Western world get too smug about how Saudi Arabia treats its women — which is deplorable — we should realize that women were denied athletic opportunities in the United States not all that long ago, that it took federal law to get schools and organizations committed to girls’ athletics in any wide-ranging way, and that there are still Christians in this country that believe it is an affront to God for girls to play sports.

Sharifs’ Swiss accounts?

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has accused PML-N President Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, of money laundering of $32 million, and default of Rs 6 billion, and promised to raise the matter in Parliament as well as move a reference to the National Accountability Bureau. He said this at a press conference in Islamabad on Saturday. This evoked a fierce reaction from PML-N spokesman Senator Mushahidullah Khan and Punjab CM’s Adviser Senator Pervez Rashid, who both said that Mr Malik should produce his evidence. The two party spokesmen also assailed Mr Malik’s credibility, and related his accusations to the contempt conviction of Prime Minister Gilani for not writing letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to restart the case against President Zardari over the Swiss accounts. Mr Malik’s accusations do not relate to a recent occurrence, but to the Sharifs’ exile in Saudi Arabia, which began over a decade ago, and which Mr Malik claimed was financed by these accounts. It also shows that, rather than write to the Swiss authorities, as the Supreme Court has asked it to do in the NRO case, the government sleuths have preferred to investigate the Sharifs. However, the Sharifs and the PML-N must not treat these accusations lightly and should not expect their political charisma to overcome everything. They should be ready to disprove these allegations because if they do not, they could gain currency, and like many rumours, could attain the status of truth by virtue of going unchallenged. Therefore, these accusations must be contradicted vigorously, and Mr Malik must be made to produce whatever proof he has. As Mr Malik said, if this money indeed exists, then it must be the ‘looted money of the poor’. So far, there have been accusations aplenty against the PML-N leadership, but none of the charges have stuck. The Sharif brothers should not think that just because of this, no accusations will ever stick. Though accusing Mr Malik of being a liar might be satisfying, it will not make the charges go away, and it must be remembered that he has been in charge of the government’s investigative machinery for long enough to have dredged up the evidence that would allow him to make the kind of accusations that he is. Instead of encouraging Mr Malik in this adventure, the government must focus on the matter of the money lying in the Swiss accounts, which will only be brought back if the case is pursued vigorously, beginning with the writing of the letter, not writing which has led to the Prime Minister’s conviction for contempt.


New Pashto Song 2012

Threat from mounting public job losses tested Obama’s economic strategy

As the economic recovery has struggled to pick up speed, one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been job losses in state and local governments, which have been on the rise for much of President Obama’s term. Early on, Obama fought for aid that saved hundreds of thousands of these jobs, economists say. Yet a year later, when his economic advisers said another large round of aid was critical for the health of the economy, Obama declined to make it a key part of his agenda. His political advisers said such an effort would be fruitless. Republican opponents on Capitol Hill, including some who were glad to see the public sector shrink, were arguing that these jobs were not vital for the economy. Today, as Obama seeks another term, the heavy job losses at the state and local level remain a significant economic concern. His response at different moments underscores how the president has sometimes fought hard against the political odds for policies he thinks crucial and at other times relented when the chances of success seemed so low. Since the beginning of his term, state and local governments have shed 611,000 employees — including 196,000 educators — according to government statistics. Unlike the recovery in private-sector employment that Obama and his reelection campaign often cite — with businesses adding 4 million jobs since hiring hit its low point in 2010 — the jobs crisis at the state and local level has continued throughout his term. On Friday, new government data showed that economic growth slowed in the first three months of the year, in part because government at the local, state and federal level has been spending less money — money that could have fueled economic activity. The state and local job losses are significant for several reasons, economists say. For one, these losses have a broad social impact. Laying off teachers means larger class sizes and fewer after-school programs, for example. What’s more, federal aid can go directly to state and local governments to prevent job losses, a relatively effective way to sustain economic growth. (Tax cuts, by contrast, can lead indirectly to job growth if they increase the amount of money consumers spend.) “The job losses at state and local governments is the most serious weight on the job market,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who has advised both parties. But others have viewed the job losses differently, saying they help shrink excessive public payrolls. “We’re not going to get this economy going by growing the government,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last year. “It’s the private sector that’s ultimately going to drive the recovery.” Andrew Biggs, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that nobody wants people to lose their jobs unnecessarily but that it was right for the federal government not to do more to save these positions, because state and local governments had become bloated. “It strikes an emotional chord with people if we have teacher layoffs, but we have hired a great many teachers in the past several decades,” Biggs said. He added that the layoffs “ultimately get you closer to where you should be in terms of the size of the public-sector workforce.” Top Obama administration officials say that they fought hard for additional aid to state and local governments and are proud of what they accomplished. “We helped stave off a disaster, but do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Former congressman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who pushed for additional spending on states and localities as the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the effort ran into wide resistance across Washington. “It was Republicans but also some conservative Democrats, and the administration was skeptical that we could get enough support to make the fight worthwhile,” he said. A wall in Congress By the end of Obama’s first year in office, businesses were beginning to hire again. The unemployment rate had started to come down. But White House economists were worried. State and local tax revenue had collapsed during the recession and was not recovering. Obama had tried to address the problem in the 2009 stimulus bill by including more than $150 billion in aid to state and local governments to fill budget gaps. But as his second year began, economic advisers told the president that state and local governments were still poised to lay off huge numbers of workers, posing one of the biggest threats to the burgeoning economic recovery. Independent analyses by an organization consulted by administration officials suggested that states and localities together still faced at least a $180 billion shortfall. Up to 900,000 jobs would be at risk. Obama asked his legislative advisers if there was any chance Congress would step in if he made an all-out effort. None, they responded. The politics were terrible. Republicans had blasted the original stimulus program for failing to lower unemployment as much as the administration had predicted. Many Democrats, like Republicans, were worried about ways to limit government spending and slow borrowing, given rising voter concern about the debt. Other Democrats told the White House they had no interest in bailing out Republican governors who boasted of shrinking government and had criticized stimulus spending in the first place. “In late ’09-’10, there was widespread agreement among the economic team that state fiscal relief . . . was pretty much at the top of the list in terms of effective stimulus,” said Peter Orszag, Obama’s budget director at the time. “From a political and legislative perspective, it was unfortunately at the bottom of the list.” As the White House crafted its plan to boost the economy in the president's second year, Obama did not make additional aid a central element. Instead, he pressed for other proposals to drive growth, including some deemed gimmicky by some of his economic advisers — for instance, a small-business lending fund. (Others, such as a hiring tax credit, had more support.) Lawmakers say the administration realized that more aid for states and localities was necessary — deep within the president’s budget was a proposal for $25 billion in more help — but was worried about pushing for it when Congress was demanding action to tame the debt. “They were nervous,” said Rep. George Miller (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “As much as they knew you had to engage in this kind of spending, as much as they knew you knew you had to not let the economy ruin the education system, it’s a tough one when all the attention is on deficit.” The tide started to shift in the spring of 2010, when it became clear that without additional federal action, hundreds of thousands of teachers could lose their jobs. Obama publicly called for $50 billion in more aid. Republicans balked, but Obama ultimately succeeded at getting a little more than half that amount. ‘Long-term effects’ But the aid was insufficient to meet the needs of states and localities. In 2010 and 2011, they cut 457,000 jobs. “Federal aid mitigated the harmful effects of the spending cuts in the early years of the budget crunch, but its expiration last year had a catastrophic effect,” said a report released this month by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The impact of the cuts was most visible in education, where states and localities cut 178,000 jobs. As a result, according to the American Association of School Administrators, many schools increased class size, eliminated summer programs, shortened the school week to four days or shut down altogether. Some states have cut funding for higher education in half. Beyond education, dozens of states have cut funding for services for the elderly and disabled and for emergency service providers such as police and firefighters. Experts worry that the cuts will have lasting effects. “There’s a big body of research showing that a lot of the things that state and local governments spend their money on have long-term effects on the economy and society as a whole,” said Nicholas Johnson, vice president for state fiscal policy at CBPP. “Cutting school funding now can hurt the education of a future workforce.” Moreover, job losses in state and local government hit a workforce that is disproportionately composed of women and minorities. With the economy stagnant, Obama asked his advisers in August to assemble another plan to boost the economy. Independent economists and officials at the Federal Reserve agreed that local and state job cuts were holding back the recovery. But Obama’s team did not plan to include a proposal to address the problem. When Obama asked why not, his advisers answered that Congress would never agree to more aid. But Obama instructed them to insert a $35 billion aid plan into the proposal anyway. In the fall he made a speech to a joint session of Congress saying the layoffs of teachers were “unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours.” Then he went on a bus tour to promote the plan. It went nowhere in Congress. In the past few months, as the overall economic recovery has tried to pick up steam, states have stopped losing jobs and added a small number of positions. But economists say losses are likely to continue at the local level. Jason Furman, a top White House economic adviser, said the administration is continuing to push for action — even if Congress will not go along. “We’ve signed two rounds, and we’re pushing for a third round,” he said. The aid has been “substantial,” he added, “but still less than we wanted.”

Security dilemma in Asia needs fresh input

The Pakistani military announced Wednesday the successful test of a mid-range nuclear capable missile. The global media in general perceived it as a reaction to India's launch of the Agni-V
on April 19. At the same time, speculation about North Korea's third nuclear test has been swirling. Asian countries are obviously addicted to pursuing a strategic strike capability. There is no convincing global standard for whether a country should have a long-range nuclear strike ability. The world has long had an oversupply of weapons. Weapons of mass destruction are proliferating, making their management more difficult. Countries developing strategic strike weapons should be persuaded to give up this desire, but their aim does have its own logic. The long-term reduction of regional tensions will not be possible unless persuasion is coupled with efforts to alleviate countries' sense of insecurity. Pakistan's retaliatory tests of mid and long-range missiles were expected before New Delhi's Agni-V missile launch. Both India and Pakistan have a nuclear deterrent or neither side has one, it is difficult to tell which scenario is more positive for the stability of South Asia. China firmly opposes new nuclear tests by Pyongyang. If North Korea insists on doing so, China is unlikely to help Pyongyang shield itself from diplomatic consequences. But Washington, Seoul and Tokyo should seriously consider granting more strategic space to the North. Pressing Pyongyang too tightly often leads to these tense moments. Standpoints and principles decide what is right and wrong. Countries' clout and the fragile order of Asia today are also factors in making the right judgment. Weak countries, if challenging this grain, are going against the interests of regional stability as well as their own. But the security pursuit of weaker countries should not be simply dismissed. Major powers should take more initiative in facilitating the communication. The understanding of the US, South Korea and Japan toward North Korea, and India's understanding toward Pakistan are minimal compared to the hostility between them. As the country with the largest comprehensive strength in Asia, China is trapped in a combination of regional complex issues. It is making efforts to help reach more agreements within Asia, including curbing its reaction to disputes at times to create possibilities for consultation. The US, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are trapped in a security dilemma. Among them, China is the most moderate. Strategic mistrust is toxic to Asia. At this time, it is important the stronger sides avoid being overly assertive. It has been rare for small countries to be brought to their knees by deterrence. Washington and its Asian allies should try more conciliatory approaches. We hope South Asia is not heading toward a vicious arms race, and that a new nuclear test will not happen in North Korea. To avoid these requires much more actions than just chanting slogans. Washington needs to understand the mentality of Asian countries, and make some real contributions to the region.

Russia Calls on Syria to Firmly Confront the Terrorists

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia and China have adopted 'unified stance' towards the crisis in Syria based on the need for consolidating the bases of the international relations in line wiht the principles of the UN charter and international law. In an interview with the "Russia 24" TV channel aired on Friday, Lavrov added "It is impossible to find a compromise for the crisis in Syria without taking into account the stances of Russia and China in this regard." Russian Foreign Ministry Condemns Terrorist Acts in Syria, Calls for Confronting Terrorists Russian Foreign Ministry condemned in a statement the series of terrorist acts in Syria and held the extremist Syrian opposition responsible for escalating violence in the country to thwart the implementation of the peace plan of UN special envoy, Kofi Annan. "The attempts of the extremist Syrian opposition to inflame the situation in the country and fuel violence even at the expense of the lives of innocent people raise serious concerns," said the statement . It added that "the provocative goal behind these attempts is clear, which is to foil Annan's plan-based peaceful settlement in Syria that is being implemented and was unanimously approved by the Security Council and supported by the entire international community." The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed the necessity of firmly confronting the terrorists operating in Syria, calling on all internal and external sides to stop providing any kind of support to the terrorists as provided by the Security Council's anti-terrorism resolutions. "Moscow firmly condemns these brutal acts that have claimed many victims as a result of the bombings which took place in Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, Banias and Jableh and in three neighborhoods in Hama," said the statement. It expressed Russia's deepest condolences to the victims' families and relatives and wishes for speedy recovery to the injured, stressing the necessity of finding the plotters and perpetrators of these crimes and holding them to account. Russia and Iran renews rejection of any foreign intervention in Syria Russia and Iran today renewed rejection of any foreign intervention in Syria's domestic affairs, stressing the need for settling the crisis in Syria through a comprehensive national dialogue. Russian foreign Ministry announced that the Russian President's special representative to the Middle East, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, stressed during a meeting with the Iranian Ambassador in Moscow Mahmoud Riza Sajidi the need for supporting the efforts of the UN envoy Annan and the work of international monitors in the country.

Bahrain hunger striker force-fed, drugged

The wife of a jailed Bahraini activist and hunger striker said on Sunday he was being drugged and force-fed, but authorities denied the accusations saying the man had agreed to receive medical treatment. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of 14 men imprisoned on charges of leading an uprising in the island kingdom last year, has been fasting for more than two months. "I went to see my husband today and he told me that he was drugged last Monday," Khadija al-Mousawi told Reuters by phone after what she said was her first visit to her husband in two weeks. "After he woke up he found two IV (intravenous) injections in his arms and a feeding-tube down his nose. It was done against his will," she added. Bahrain's Defense Forces Hospital, where Khawaja is being kept, dismissed the accusations in an emailed statement. "We want to be clear that the patient has not been force-fed or treated against his will," said the statement quoting a spokesperson. "He has been taking limited nutrition supplements voluntarily, but when his blood sugar dropped significantly today, his doctors asked for and received his consent to insert a naso-gastric tube for nutrition. At no time was he drugged or restrained." Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's wife said a doctor had told her husband it was his duty to start the force-feeding to keep the activist alive, however her husband saw the act as a violation of his rights. The activist had decided he had no choice but to accept the feeding through a nose tube and intravenous injections, she added. "My husband told them he will only accept (the intravenous feeding) until his trial on Monday and depending on the outcome will decide what to do next." Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was given a life sentence for calling for the creation of a republic. An appeal hearing is to be held this week in the case of Khawaja and 13 others jailed for leading last year's protests. Bahrain, where the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family rules over a majority Shi'ite Muslim population, has been in turmoil since an uprising erupted last year demanding reforms after successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. The protests escalated ahead of last week's Formula One Grand Prix, drawing criticism of Bahrain from some governments, rights groups and media watchdogs who say police use excessive force and the government should find a political solution. Western allies such as Britain and the United States, whose Fifth Fleet is moored in Manama, have offered only muted criticism of Bahrain.

Militants' quick training in Pakistan poses problem to intelligence agencies

'Fast turnaround' militants are able to stay below radar before returning home to launch attacks, analysts say
Western security officials are worried about a wave of so-called "fast turnaround" volunteers who travel to Pakistan and obtain training from militant groups so quickly that they escape detection before returning to their home countries to launch attacks. Analysts say the unprecedented speed with which new militants are being accepted for training by groups such as al-Qaida poses major problems for intelligence services as such individuals are likely to stay "below the radar". The fears have been reinforced by one recent episode when, security sources say, British volunteers arrived in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, found their way to a religious school that has a reputation as a gateway to militant groups and, though they appear to have had no references, were within days participating in a training course run by al-Qaida or a linked extremist organisation in the rugged tribal zone along the frontier with Afghanistan. After only a short stay in Pakistan, the volunteers had returned to the UK. Previously volunteers would have had to travel with reliable references from individuals known and trusted by extremist groups in Pakistan and would spend weeks "in quarantine" before being accepted. Frequently they would be tested in combat or in other ways to ensure they were not spies. Richard Barrett, head of the expert committee established by the UN security council to oversee sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaida, said: "People are going in for a shorter time and so are much harder to spot. They are not seeing senior people, just lower-level trainers and maybe a middle-ranking leader, so security issues [for the extremist group] are less." Barrett said some intelligence indicated that Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old gunman who killed seven people in France in March, had spent possibly less than a day with a group known as Jund al-Khalifa in Pakistan. One earlier plot cited by security officials as indicating the new "fast turnaround" trend is an al-Qaida bomb plot against the New York subway in 2009. A US court has heard how three volunteers travelled to Pakistan from the US in August 2008, hoping to enter Afghanistan and join the Taliban. Turned back at the border, they were invited by al-Qaida operatives to a compound in Waziristan, where they spent about a week listening to lectures and watching videos of al-Qaida attacks. A second week was spent at another compound learning bomb-making techniques. They then were sent home. European officials have also circulated a document found on two militants – an Austrian and a German of Turkish origin – detained in Germany last year on their return from the zones along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and tried earlier this year. The document is thought to have been authored by a senior figure within al-Qaida and recommends that westerners who seek out the group should be trained quickly and sent back to their home countries as soon as possible. Almost all the most serious plots in the UK have all involved the training of volunteers in Pakistan by al-Qaida. However, the flow of extremist volunteers from the UK to Pakistan has reduced substantially in recent years. Other high-profile successful attacks in Europe, such as the Madrid bombing of 2004, have been by self-forming networks following the ideology of the group but not formally linked to it. Though the White House has said it has no "credible information" of a threat before the first anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden in a US special forces raid, high-profile events such as the London Olympics this summer remain a target, experts say. A recent Home Office report spoke of "a high-level threat of AQ-inspired extremism from males aged between 20 and 38" to the Olympics. "The individuals of interest to the police are predominantly British-born second and third-generation migrants from south-east Asia. There is also interest from a number of Middle Eastern political movements and AQ-affiliated groups from north Africa," the report said.

U.S. Drone Strike Underlines Clash of Interests in Pakistan

An American drone strike killed three suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt on Sunday, an official said, in the first such attack since the country’s Parliament demanded an end to those missions just over two weeks ago. The remotely piloted aircraft struck an abandoned school building in the densely populated central bazaar of Miram Shah, the capital of the North Waziristan tribal agency, killing three people and wounding two, a government official and a local resident said. The militants were believed to be Punjabi Taliban fighters with the Haqqani network, which carried out a series of attacks in Kabul and two other Afghan cities on April 15. The school building that was struck on Sunday was thought to be a base of operations for militants, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. In Washington, a senior official confirmed the strike, describing the compound as a “staging and planning area for Al Qaeda, the Haqqanis and other terrorists.” He said the militants based there “were preparing explosives for use in attacks inside Afghanistan,” similar to the April 15 attacks. The C.I.A. strike underlined the tensions between American diplomatic and security priorities in Pakistan. Officials from the two countries are trying to reset relations that stalled badly after American warplanes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghanistan border in November. Last week, President Obama sent his regional representative, Marc Grossman, to Islamabad for two days of high-level talks that aimed to reach agreement on a variety of contentious issues, including drone strikes, the reopening of NATO supply lines and the clearing of at least $1 billion in American military aid that is overdue. The agenda for the talks was framed by a strongly worded resolution passed by Pakistan’s Parliament on April 12 that contained a list of demands, including an end to drone attacks and an unconditional apology for the killings in November. Yet while Obama administration officials say they are ready to negotiate on many issues, they are unwilling to stop the drones and are angered by the continued use of Pakistani territory by Taliban insurgents and their allies. Administration officials were particularly riled by intelligence reports indicating that the April 15 attacks were coordinated by Haqqani leaders in North Waziristan — a fact that swung the internal argument against fully apologizing to the Pakistanis for the November killings, senior officials say. Last week in Islamabad, American negotiators told their Pakistani counterparts they had located Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, in Miram Shah during the assault, a senior Pakistani official said. Pakistan’s military vigorously denies it is soft-pedaling the fight against the Haqqanis. Generals say their forces, now thought to involve about 150,000 regular and paramilitary troops in the northwest region, are stretched by combat in other parts of the tribal belt. “We have already shifted huge numbers of troops off the eastern border. We can’t do any more,” a senior Pakistani security official said. Diplomats from both countries insist that their talks are starting to make progress in some areas, like the reopening of NATO supply lines, the dispute about overdue military aid — variously estimated between $1.18 billion and $3 billion — and the nudging of the Afghan Taliban toward peace talks. Yet the drone strike on Sunday in Miram Shah indicated that the C.I.A. would press ahead with its operations. The drone fired two missiles at the abandoned girls’ school, which had been occupied by militants since they bombed it four years ago, said a local resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. North Waziristan is also a hub for the Pakistani Taliban, a force that is related to but separate from the Afghan Taliban. That group’s reputation for ruthlessness was underscored on Sunday when the body of a beheaded British aid worker was found in an orchard in the western city of Quetta. The worker, Khalil Dale, 60, a manager for the International Committee of the Red Cross who had worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, was kidnapped close to his office in Quetta last January. A note accompanying the body, signed by the Taliban, said he had been killed because the Red Cross refused to pay ransom for his release.

Shabnam given lifetime achievement awards

Government of Pakistan has honoured the undisputed queen of the golden era (1960-80) of Pakistani cinema and her musician husband Robin Ghosh with Lifetime Achievement Award. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani conferred the award in a ceremony organized by Pakistan Television (PTV) in Lahore on Saturday night.The Bangladesh-born actress and her husband are visiting Paksitan after over a decade to attend the PTV event held to pay tribute to the couple for their contribution to Pakistan’s silver screen. PM Gilani while addressing the ceremony glorified the services rendered by the duo."Their departure to Bangladesh had caused great loss to the Pakistani filmdom", the prime minister said. While terming both the artists as ambassadors of both Bangladesh and Pakistan, he stressed the need to strengthen ties between the two countries in all sectors.

Some hard lessons about college costs

In the political battle over college student loans, where will the SMART MONEY go? Democrats and Republicans both say they want to keep the interest rate on subsidized loans at 3.4 percent, but remain at odds over where the money should come from. Of course, what makes the issue so volatile in the first place is that college costs have been skyrocketing, but why?

Gaddafi donation reports dash Sarkozy hopes of reelection

Recent media claims that former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi sought to fund the French President Nicolas Sarkozy campaign in 2007 have hampered his hopes of re-election.
Sarkozy on Sunday rejected the accusations as a “diversion” plotted by his Socialist opponents. On Saturday, leftist French news website Mediapar released a 2006 document in Arabic that was signed by Gaddafi's foreign intelligence Chief Mussa Kussa, offering 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign. Mediapar said the agreement followed a meeting on October 6, 2006, attended by Gaddafi's spy Chief Abdullah Senussi, the head of Tripoli's African investment fund Bashir Saleh, close Sarkozy associate Brice Hortefeux and arms dealer Ziad Takieddine. Last year, Muammar Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam also claimed Libya financed Sarkozy’s campaign. The revelation comes as opinion polls predict Sarkozy would lose the May 6 runoff to Socialist Francois Hollande, who promises government-funded jobs programs and higher taxes on the rich. Sarkozy was the French interior minister before the presidential election in 2007. Upon winning the election, he invited Gaddafi to France and let him set up his Bedouin tent close to the Elysée Palace in Paris. The French president also reportedly referred to Gaddafi as the “Brother Leader” at the time.

Bahrain police 'continue to torture detainees'

Human Rights Watch has accused Bahrain's police of continuing to beat and torture detainees, including minors. The report comes nearly six months after an independent inquiry prompted the government to pledge reforms. The country insists it is committed to putting the recommendations of its own report into the handling of protests in 2011 into practice. More than 40 people died in last year's unrest and 1,600 were arrested.According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report policemen regularly take young men to secluded places and beat them for up to two hours before transferring them to a police station. Boy 'beaten' Some said they had been threatened with rape if they did not reveal where activists were hiding the petrol bombs that are regularly hurled at police. The report said treatment inside police stations had improved significantly in the last six months, but it also warned that unlawful police behaviour on the streets may well make young protesters even more desperate and determined to confront their government. The campaigning group said it had interviewed 14 young males, including seven children. It said five of the beatings had happened in April alone. "Bahrain has displaced the problem of torture and police brutality from inside police stations to the point of arrest and transfer to police stations," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW. On Sunday, there were reports that a 13-year-old was being held in custody for assaulting a police officer and taking part in a street gathering in a village south of the capital, Manama. According to his lawyers, quoted by AFP news agency, the boy was "beaten and tortured" at a police station where he was still being held. The HRW report comes a few weeks after Amnesty International also warned that the country's reforms had only scratched the surface. In November, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report acknowledged numerous human rights abuses and systematic torture of detainees as security forces put down anti-government protests. In response, King Hamad promised lessons would be learned and laws would be reformed to protect freedom of speech and other basic rights.

Hollande promises new era for France as Sarkozy hopes to close gap

French presidential frontrunner Hollande promises a new era for France as Sarkozy hopes to close gap ahead of May 6 election.

Mehran Bank: Funds For Nawaz Sharifs

Karachi: Lyari battle leaves 24 killed in 3 days

Two policemen including a CID officer, a citizen and two miscreants were killed while 20 others sustained injuries in a gun-battle in Lyari on Sunday, as the armed operation against gangsters continued for the third consecutive day. The death toll in three days of fierce battle between law enforcers and criminals has climbed to 24. Those injured in rocket and hand grenade attacks also included police personnel and media men. The situation remains volatile in Lyari as criminals are putting up tough resistance by using hand grenades, rockets and sophisticated weapons against law enforcement agencies. Several residents have fled from their homes due to the ongoing wave of violence. However, police and FC personnel have captured some parts of the area and taken positions on rooftops of tall buildings, as crack down on gangsters continues in the troublesome area. At Juman Shah plot, an Armored Personnel Carrier's (APC) tyres were destroyed when it came under rocket and grenade attack. However, the policemen inside the carrier remained unhurt. A CID official, Fayaz Ahmed lost his life in a rocket and fire attack in Cheel Chowk area. Rockets fired from unknown direction on police personnel and representatives of media near Cheel Chowk, injuring over a dozen people including 2 media persons and 2 DSPs. SSP CID, Chaudhry Aslam talking to Geo News termed as 'negative propaganda' the reports of help provided to police by Lyari gang war's ring leader Arshad Pappu, Ghafar Zikri and Akram Baloch to enter Lyari area. At least 24 people including a SHO have been killed since the start of the operation. The armed operation launched by police in coordination with FC against criminal elements on Friday still continues in Lyari where law enforcement agencies have been facing resistance and retaliation from miscreants in the area. The terrified residents of Lyari claimed that due to the operation, they had been confined to their homes and in the exchange of fire between the police and gangsters, bullets had entered their homes, creating fear and panic among the residents.

Allegation against Sharifs

Interior Minister Rahman Malik has definitely added to an already hot political temperature that rose after the Supreme Court verdict in a contempt of court case against Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on April 27 and the PML-N, seeking the premier to step down, threatening a long march to force the prime minister to resign. The interior minister threw the bombshell when he accused the Sharif family on Saturday of 'robbing' 31 banks, development finance institutions and non-bank financial institutions of over Rs6 billion to build "their industrial empire". The allegations came a day after Nawaz Sharif asked prime minister to relinquish his office after the SC verdict. He threatened to use all options to send the government packing if the demand was not met. Rahman Malik hurriedly called a news conference at his office to level the allegation that the Sharif family had used coercive tactics against banks and other financial institutions to arrange the "staggering sum for their 19 industrial units". With a pile of files lying in front of him, the minister claimed he was dishing out the "first installment of the corruption of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif and more evidence in other fraud cases will soon be made public". He said that he had in his possession all documentary evidence and threatened to file a reference with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) next week. He suggested the NAB as well as the Supreme Court to take notice of what he called fraudulent extraction of money by the Sharifs. He alleged that the Rs6 billion default had forced Nawaz Sharif to join hands with former president Farooq Ahmed Leghari to dislodge the Benazir government. The deal had been finalised between the two during investigations into the Mehran Bank scam as both were beneficiaries, the interior minister claimed. He alleged that Mr Leghari had sold his "barren land in Dera Ghazi Khan for billions of rupees". The minister accused the Sharif family of defaulting on payment of $32 million for paper manufacturing machinery leased from a British-based firm, Altowfeek Company, in Feb 1995. The amount was paid after the High Court of Justice, Queen's bench division, ordered the British authorities to charge four properties owned by the Sharif family in Britain. He alleged that the Sharif family was involved in money laundering and had deposits in 10 banks in Switzerland. The PML-N hit back to repudiate Rahman Malik's allegations saying they were a bunch of lies. In a statement to media, Senator Pervaiz Rashid leveled the counter allegation that the rule of People's Party was a story of loot and plunder, bringing forth a fresh scam every other day. The PML-N lawmaker, however, did not present any evidence that his leaders were not involved in the money laundering scandal; he rather confined his statement to tit for tat rhetoric that charged the PPP leadership in the same coin. The interior minister's allegations are not new but date back to the period when Nawaz Sharif took over as prime minister for the second time. Mr Sharif also surrendered four of his family industries, including the Ittefaq Foundry, and the matter went to the Lahore High Court to recover his bank loans amounting to more than Rs6 billion. The LHC appointed a commission to evaluate the worth of the industries and it reported that all the machinery was removed from the industries soon after the offer was made. The commission valued the value of the land and said it was not more than Rs2 billion in worth. Later, more shareholders of the Ittefaq Group of Industries approached the LHC that Sharifs were not entitled to offer their share in the group and that they were not responsible for loan obtained by Mr Nawaz Sharif. The issue saw a lengthy litigation which has not yet ended decades after the Sharifs offered the property to adjust bank loans against the outstanding bank loans. Even otherwise, the PML-N chief has not so far clarified his position and given no evidence to repudiate allegations. The very fact that Nawaz Sharif surrendered four units of his family's industries and the LHC underwent a lengthy process of litigation which is yet to see the final disposal of the case, is a major evidence that he faltered in repayment of loans. The issue needs an in-depth as it would be in the interest of the Sharifs themselves to offer them for a probe to vindicate themselves.

Arab-Israeli actress for Cannes jury
Arab-Israeli film star Hiam Abbass
has been named to the jury of next month’s Cannes Film Festival. The selection, announced Wednesday, is the latest international honor for Abbass, who won a 2008 Ophir, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscar, for playing a Palestinian woman in the Hebrew/Arabic drama “Lemon Tree.” The 51-year-old Abbass will join A-list jury members including Ewan McGregor (“Trainspotting,” “Beginners”), Diane Kruger (“Inglourious Basterds”) and director Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”). Much of the press coverage about her selection has described her as Palestinian, although the Nazareth-born performer holds Israeli citizenship. A three-time nominee for the Ophir, Abbass is one of Israel’s highest-profile actors, Jewish or Arab. Twice nominated for a European Film Award, she has starred opposite Natalie Portman and Juliette Binoche (in Israeli director Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone” and “Disengagement,” respectively). Her forays into American filmmaking include a role in 2007 indie favorite “The Visitor,” and a part in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 drama “Munich.” As a member of the Cannes jury, Abbass will help decide the winner of prizes including the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top honor. With the exception of Abbass and a short film by a student at Tel Aviv University, Israel will sit out this year’s Cannes festivities. The 2011 event saw an Israeli film, Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” win the festival’s prize for best screenplay.

A ‘summer cloud’ over Egypt-Saudi ties
Crisis in relations sees lawyer arrested, embassy held; ex-security chief also makes headlines he detention of Egyptian lawyer Ahmad Gizawi in Saudi Arabia, and his subsequent sentencing to 20 lashes and one year in prison, has sparked a wave of controversy that mixes religion, politics, and national pride. The issue is part of the broader issue of Saudi-Egyptian ties, which is headline news in nearly every Arab daily Sunday. Egypt’s most widely circulated paper, Al Ahram, reports that the Saudi ambassador to Egypt was recalled following “unwarranted demonstrations and protests” outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Giza, Cairo. The article emphasizes the importance of keeping the relationship between the two countries intact. The bond between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is referred to as “the thermometer of inter-Arab relations,” but one that for now is suffering from a “summer cloud.” Various columnists in the Egyptian press are also choosing to highlight the importance of this connection by referring to historical precedents. An editorial in the Egyptian daily Youm7 discusses Camp David, saying that this is “the worst rift since 1979… when diplomatic ties were severed with Egypt for signing a peace agreement with Israel.” Another columnist for Al Ahram focuses on the Yemeni civil war in the 1960s, and speaks optimistically about a quick resolution. While Egyptian papers point to Gizawi’s human rights lawsuit against Saudi Arabia as the motive behind his arrest, the Saudi Arabian press focuses its explanation elsewhere. Reformist Saudi Arabian paper Al Watan quotes a Saudi official saying that the story suffers from “misinformation,” and was “made up from the outset.” Saudi-owned Al Arabiya claims Gizawi is being held on drug smuggling charges including “21,389 Xanex pills…hidden in cartons of baby milk.” The website also features a video of the contraband allegedly seized and claims to have a “video recording [of him] verbally acknowledging it.”

Saudis isolated as Qatar announces it’s to send female athletes to Olympics
Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), President, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal said that they would again not any female competitors to London 2012 Qatar’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) has announced that it will send at least three female athletes to the London 2012 Olympic Games, and Brunei has indicated that 400-metre-runner Maziah Mahusin could be selected for their team, the first time either country has sent female athletes to the Olympics. Qatar’s announcement has intensified calls for Saudi Arabia to be kicked out of this summer’s games after its officials announced they will not prevent female citizens from competing in the Olympics but it will not officially endorse them either. Qatar’s NOC revealed on April 8 that swimmers Wafa Arakji and Noor Al-Malki as well as air rifle shooter Bahia Al-Hamad, 19, will be sent to the games. Al-Hamad won a silver medal at the Arab Championships last month to add to the three gold medals and two silver she won at the 2011 Arab Games in Doha. All three have been granted quota places rather than qualifying automatically, arranged by the world governing bodies and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The decision to send Qatari female athletes to the Olympics for the first time since they made their debut at Los Angeles in 1984 will help Doha’s campaign to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, where they are facing rivals Baku, Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo. “We are absolutely delighted that we have been able to secure another place for one of our young female athletes at London 2012,” Qatar Olympic Committee General Secretary, Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, said in a statement. “We are grateful to the IOC for their support in helping make this happen.” “Athletes like Bahia, Nada and Noor will also provide inspiration to the next generation of female Qatari sports,” he added. The announcement came just four days after Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) President, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, said that they would again not send any female competitors to London 2012. Speaking at a press conference in Jeddah, the Prince said, “Female sports activity has not existed [in the kingdom] and there is no move thereto in this regard. At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other international championships.” The Prince also said recently that Saudi women living and training abroad may represent the kingdom and could participate but only if they are accompanied by a male guardian and are modestly dressed. Prince Nawaf acknowledged there was a growing demand for sport among Saudi women. “There are now hundreds or thousands who practice sports but in a private way and without any relationship to the General Presidency of Youth Welfare,” he said. A spokesperson for the IOC told The Muslim News they are “still in discussion and working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the Games in London.” Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East and North Africa Division, Christoph Wilcke, told The Muslim News the issue is “more complicated than just the participation or non-participation” of Saudi women at the games. In a February report titled Steps of the Devil’: Denial of Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia HRW documented the systematic discrimination against women in sport in Saudi Arabia, including their exclusion from the 153 sports clubs regulated by Nawaf’s ministry, the SAOC and the 29 national sporting federations, which are also overseen by Nawaf in his capacity as head of the NOC. Wilcke called on the IOC to abandon its “minimalist approach that is not going to help bring real change…if the IOC keeps talking forever it’s saying we have no serious interest in protecting the Olympic Charter based on fairness and justice.” “The IOC can say lets see what we can do to help” adding that there is existing working models of other conservative Muslim countries where men and women are segregated but both are provided access with facilities. He added that HRW would like to see more than “a symbolic gesture or just a token” of allowing women living and training outside of the kingdom to participate in the games “if Huda [Abdullmoheen] or Manaal [Sari], (expats) won a medal and the women in Saudi Arabia felt inspired they could not do the same; they can not train in Saudi Arabia.”

Jordan at critical juncture

Jordan’s Prime Minister-designate Fayez Tarawneh says the country is facing a critical situation amid popular demonstrations demanding reform and an end to corruption.Tarawneh said the transitional government is trying to pave the way for political reforms at a time when Jordan is in a “critical situation.” Tarawneh made the comments during a parliament meeting in the capital, Amman, on Sunday. The Jordanian prime minister-designate served as the premier and head of Jordan’s royal court under the rule of King Hussein, father of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. King Abdullah II ordered Tarawneh to form a new government following the resignation of former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh on April 26. Khasawneh resigned six months after forming a government he had promised would implement reforms in Jordan. Thousands of Jordanians, however, took to the streets in Amman on April 27 to protest the appointment of Tarawneh to form a new government. The latest development comes at a time when Jordanians have been holding demonstrations since January 2011 to demand political and economic reforms and an end to corruption.

Obama, Clintons deepen political and policy ties

Once a tense rivalry, the relationship between President Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton
has evolved into a genuine political and policy partnership. Both sides have a strong incentive in making the alliance work, especially in an election year. For Obama, Bill Clinton is a fundraising juggernaut, a powerful reminder to voters that a Democrat ran the White House the last time the economy was thriving. For the spotlight-loving former president, stronger ties with the White House and campaign headquarters mean he gets a hand in shaping the future of the party he led for nearly a decade. Obama's re-election campaign has put Bill Clinton on notice that he will be used as a top surrogate, further evidence of how far the two camps have come since the bitter days of the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton, now his secretary of state. On Sunday evening in northern Virginia, the current and former president planned to make the first of three joint appearances at fundraisers for Obama's campaign. The host? Terry McAuliffe, a close adviser to both Clintons and one of the most ardent protectors of their political brand. "It makes absolutely clear that, to the extent that there were different wings of the Democratic party, there is now one wing of the Democratic party," said Chris Lehane, a Clinton backer. "And it's the president's party." Clinton's willingness to be a good soldier for the Obama campaign could end up paying political dividends for his wife, who is frequently talked about in party circles as a potential presidential candidate in 2016 despite her repeated denials. Hillary Clinton has benefited enormously from her partnership with Obama, with her popularity skyrocketing during her time in his Cabinet. Democrats say the overt signs of unity between the Clintons and Obama put the president at a distinct advantage over likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor must soothe the wounds from his GOP primary fight and figure out whether the last Republican president, George W. Bush, will have a role in the 2012 race. Discussions are under way at Romney's Boston headquarters about the degree to which Bush will participate, if at all, in the general election. Many Republicans are reluctant to publicly associate with Bush, who left office deeply unpopular, especially as the Obama campaign seeks to tie Romney to Bush's economic and foreign policy positions. While Obama and the Clintons are rarely described as friends, people close to them say the relationship has warmed significantly since the 2008 nomination contest. In that race, the former president slammed Obama's candidacy as a "fairy tale" while Obama sarcastically told Hillary Clinton that she was "likable enough." The thaw started as a matter of political necessity: Their party was desperate to retake the White House after eight years of Republican rule. Hillary Clinton offered Obama a gracious endorsement, both Clintons campaigned for Obama, and the newly elected president picked his former rival to be America's chief diplomat. It took longer for Obama's relationship with Bill Clinton to soften as the two men found common ground in the pressures of the presidency. "There are not very many people who understand what it's like to live in the White House and bear those burdens," said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House. "Bill and Hillary Clinton are two of those people." When Obama's health care bill was in trouble, he and his staff, which included several veterans of the Clinton White House, called on the former president for help. In late 2009 and early 2010, Bill Clinton went to Capitol Hill to rally support and worked the phones with wary Democratic lawmakers. After the Democratic party was battered in the 2010 elections, Obama called in Clinton for an Oval Office meeting. Afterward, the two made an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room to talk to reporters. When Obama had to leave for a holiday party, Clinton stuck around, relishing in the attention and the give-and-take with the press. That day in the briefing room underscored what some Democrats see as their one major worry in pairing Obama with Clinton too often. The ease with which Clinton connects with a range of audiences can call attention to the challenge Obama sometimes faces in doing the same thing. But that certainly hasn't stopped the Obama campaign from seeking Clinton's help in winning a second term, and Clinton has made it clear he is ready and willing. Obama's campaign advisers have sat down with Clinton for strategy and advice-seeking sessions, and the former president had a prominent role in movie produced by the campaign in which he promoted, among other things, Obama's decision to order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. "There is no better Democratic ally than President Clinton," said Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager. The next stop on the Obama-Clinton fundraising tour comes later this spring in New York City. Democrats say they expect to see the former president on the campaign trail, probably holding rallies in pivotal battleground states. The size of his role, they say, depends on how close the race becomes.