Saturday, January 14, 2012

IGNORANT Taliban militants torch TVs, mobiles in Waziristan

The Pakistani Taliban confiscated computers, television sets and mobile phones from residents of the largest town of the restive South Waziristan tribal region and set them on fire at a market, according to a media report on Saturday.

Taliban militants torch TVs, mobiles in Waziristan
The militants set on fire over a dozen computers, television sets and cellular phones and several cassettes at the bazar in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan Agency, yesterday.

The Taliban militants, who belonged to a faction led by Maulvi Nazeer, said they had already banned the use of TV sets and computers for watching movies and playing music.

They said they had also banned mobile phones with cameras.

The militants, who claimed people were defying their ban, seized over a dozen TV sets, computers and mobile phones and several cassettes, reportedly with music, from local residents, The News daily reported.

Kabul music academy hopes to revive Afghan musical traditions


Children in Kabul are receiving formal training in music at Afghanistan's first National Institute of Music.

Nearly half the students are orphans or street children for whom playing instruments provides a respite from decades of violence and poverty.

The founder of the academy hopes that one day his graduates will form the country's first national symphony orchestra.

Kabul music academy hopes to revive Afghan musical traditions

President Zardari has complete immunity under Constitution: Aitzaz

Business Recorder

Pakistan People's Party senior leader and renowned lawyer Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan on Saturday said that President Asif Ali Zardari had complte immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution and Vienna conventions.

Talking to media persons after inaugurating an exhibition of Bhutto family photographs, organised by Agha Feroz Akhtar at Alhamra Hall here, he said democracy would be under threat if any unconstitutional step was taken against the government.

He dispelled the impression that he was acting as a mediator between the PPP and the PML-N or the government and the judiciary and termed media reports baseless.

Responding to a question regarding a court order on the NRO implementation case, he said the five-member bench of the SC had referred the matter to the larger bench of the apex court.

He said he had submitted an application to the party for a Senate seat and denied any offer for the position of prime minister or Senate chairman.

To another question about the removal of defence secretary, he said it was the right of the prime minister to form his team.

Earlier, he inaugurated the exhibition and said that such exhibitions should be organised in other cities like Islamabad by the government.

He urged the PPP workers to visit the exhibition so that they could know sacrifices of the Bhutto family for the country and democracy. About 2,000 photographs have been displayed in the exhibition.

Balochistan's Traditional Food

Zardari and Kayani meet for first time since memo scandal

Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani today met President Asif Ali Zardari triggering speculation that moves could be made to resolve the tense stand-off between the government and the powerful military.

The meeting that lasted for about an hour is the first between the two since the memo scandal triggered tense confrontation between the two sides. There was no official word on what transpired at the meeting at the Presidency before a crucial meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet to be chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Television channels beamed footage of a smiling President Zardari speaking with Kayani, who was wearing a dark suit instead of his trademark military uniform.

The army chief had last spoken to Zardari on phone when he met Prime Minister Gilani on Dec 16. Zardari was in Dubai at that time to seek treatment for a heart condition. Sources told PTI that leaders in the Pakistan People's Party-led government and foreign diplomats had played a key role in arranging the meeting between Zardari and Kayani.

This comes against the backdrop of an escalating row over the alleged memo that had sought US help to stave off a feared military coup in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May last year.

On Jan 9, a 17-member bench of the Supreme Court will hear the government's response to a six-point "do-or-die" ultimatum given by it to the government to reopen old graft cases against Zardari and others. The government has so far refused to carry out these orders, prompting the apex court to say that it could take action against Zardari as well as Gilani. The Court had described Gilani as "not an honest man."

S&P downgrades nine euro zone countries

Standard & Poor's downgraded the credit ratings of nine euro- zone countries, stripping France and Austria of their coveted triple-A status but not EU paymaster Germany, in a Black Friday the 13th for the troubled single currency area.

"Today's rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the eurozone," the U.S.-based ratings agency said in a statement.

In a potentially more ominous setback, negotiations on a debt swap by private creditors seen as crucial to avert a Greek default that would rock Europe and the world economy broke up without agreement in Athens, although officials said more talks are likely next week.

If Greece cannot persuade banks and insurers to accept voluntary losses on their bond holdings, a second international rescue package for the euro zone's most heavily indebted state will unravel, raising the prospect of bankruptcy in late March, when it has to redeem 14.4 billion euros in maturing debt.

S&P cut the ratings of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus by two notches and the standings of France, Austria, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia by one notch each.

The move puts highly indebted Italy on the same BBB+ level as Kazakhstan and pushes Portugal into junk status.

It put 14 euro-zone states on negative outlook for a possible further downgrade, including France, Austria, and still triple-A-rated Finland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Germany was the only country to emerge totally unscathed with its triple-A rating and a stable outlook.

French Finance Minister Francois Baroin, speaking after an emergency meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy, played down the impact of Europe's second-biggest economy being downgraded to AA+ for the first time since 1975.

"This is not a catastrophe. It's an excellent rating. But it's not good news," Baroin told France 2 television, saying the government would not respond with further austerity measures.

The euro fell by more than a cent to $1.2650 on the news. European stocks, which had been up for the day, turned negative, but reaction to the widely anticipated news was moderate. Safe-haven German 10-year bond futures rose to a new record high while the risk premium that investors charge on French, Spanish, Italian and Belgian debt widened.

Euro-zone finance ministers responded jointly by saying in a statement they had taken "far-reaching measures" in response to the sovereign debt crisis and were accelerating reforms toward stronger economic union.

Greek negotiators, who have repeatedly voiced confidence in a deal in which private creditors would accept writedowns of 50 percent of the face value of their bond holdings, said they were now less hopeful, warning of "catastrophic consequences" for Greece and Europe if they failed.

"Yesterday we were cautious and confident. Today we are less optimistic," a source close to the Greek task force in charge of the negotiations said.

The Institute for International Finance, negotiating on behalf of banks, said: "Under the circumstances, discussions with Greece and the official sector are paused for reflection on the benefits of a voluntary approach.

The two sides are divided principally over the interest rate that Greece will end up paying, which determines how much of a hit banks take. While both appear to be engaged in brinkmanship, there are also doubts about the take-up rate of any voluntary deal, since some hedge funds have bought up Greek debt and want to be paid out in full or trigger default insurance.

The double blow of the S&P news and the stalling of the Greek debt talks came after a brighter start to the year with Spain and Italy beginning their marathon debt rollover at lower borrowing costs this week.

The European Central Bank's move last month to flood banks with cheap three-year liquidity helped ease a worsening credit crunch and provided funds that governments hope some will use to buy sovereign bonds.


S&P said the euro zone faced stresses, including tightening credit conditions, rising risk premiums for a growing number of sovereigns, simultaneous deleveraging by governments and households, and weakening economic growth prospects.

It also cited political obstacles to a solution to the crisis due to "an open and prolonged dispute among European policymakers over the proper approach to address challenges."

Austerity and budget discipline alone were not sufficient to fight the debt crisis and risked becoming self-defeating, the ratings agency said.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble played down the news, saying: "In the past months, we've come to agree that the ratings agencies' judgments should not be overvalued."

France and Austria were at risk because of their banks' exposure to the debt of peripheral euro-zone countries and Hungary respectively, as well as the weakening economic outlook for Europe. Italy and Spain face historically high borrowing costs.

The cut in France's rating is a serious setback for the center-right Sarkozy's chances of re-election in May and could weaken the euro zone's rescue fund, reducing its ability to help countries in difficulty.

France is the second-largest guarantor of the European Financial Stability Facility, which has a AAA rating.

John Chambers, chairman of S&P's sovereign rating committee, said preserving that status would require the four remaining AAA-rated guarantors to increase their commitments.

That could prove politically unpopular. Voters in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands have resisted lending more support to what they consider less prudent euro-zone countries.

Preserving that status would require members to increase their guarantees, which could prove politically unpopular.

In their statement, the euro-zone finance ministers said they would do all they could to ensure the rescue fund keeps its top rating.

After vowing for months to do everything to preserve Paris' top-notch standing, Sarkozy appeared to prepare voters last month for the loss of the prized status before the election.

His political opponents pounced on the S&P decision as a verdict on the failure of his policies.

"This is in reality a double downgrade. It is a downgrade of our sovereign rating that will affect the country's reputation, with heavy consequences, and it is also a downgrade compared to our main neighbor, Germany, with which we had equal status up to now," centrist candidate Francois Bayrou said.

Socialist party leader Martine Aubry said: "Mr Sarkozy will be remembered as the president who downgraded France."

It is not clear how far the downgrade will increase France's borrowing costs, since markets have already anticipated the prospect by raising the French risk premium over German Bunds.

"One notch is priced in, but not more. The Franco-German spread can widen. It is about 130 basis points for the 10-year bond. The maximum level reached was 180 to 190 basis points and it can go back to this level," said Alessandro Giansanti, senior rates strategist at ING in Amsterdam.

Revolution Through Arab Eyes - Tunisia: The Revolt Continues

Mass protests may have toppled the Tunisian regime but the fight for freedom and dignity is ongoing.

"If people want life, destiny will obey. The night will become clear, chains will be broken. Oh protectors of this homeland you make a glorious history."
A slogan of the Tunisian uprising

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian fruit seller set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid. This act of self-immolation triggered what has become known as the Arab Awakening.

It was the continuation of a battle that, according to blogger Mohamed Boukram, had begun long before:

"Our battle against the government started in 2008 following the incident in al-Haoud al-Menjami. We lost that battle. After the incident with Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid we came up with a new strategy. We learned the lessons from 2008. This time, bloggers published videos. We assumed the role of the media. People became totally dedicated to this. We formed several groups of bloggers who were in constant contact with each other via Skype."Mass protests broke out across Tunisia and a state of panic and fear gripped much of the country.

A month later, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country.

Amid the insecurity and lawlessness that accompanied and followed the revolution, citizens formed vigilante groups to protect their property and neighbourhoods from looting, unrest and a possible fightback by Ben Ali loyalists. As police stations were burned down, one Tunisian explains, the people became the guardians of their own neighbourhoods.

"This is what Ben Ali did to us. He divided us. He made us quarrel with each other. But it reached its limits and so we exploded and the revolution was born," another says.

What started spontaneously, gradually became a well-organised practice with groups forming to protect local shops and businesses as well as homes.

This film follows those citizens who came together to offer a sense of security to their families and neighbours as well as those who participated in the protests and reveals the emergence of a sense of unity among Tunisians.

As one protester says: "Thank God the day has come when we are all united. Everyone now knows how to think for themselves and we are no longer just distracted by football games. No one expected this to happen in Tunisia. It all started spontaneously - from what Mohamed Bouazizi did up until this day when we all came together. No one knew of Bouazizi before. God's mercy be upon him. He has brought all Tunisians together. He made us support and care for each other."

Tunisia celebrates one year since Ben Ali fell

The hypocrisy of Cameron's Saudi trip

A year ago, Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia, thus ushering in the Salafi Spring. No doubt now bored out of his mind, this once stubbornly secular leader is said to have caught religion of the deranged Wahhabi variety propagated by his oil-rich hosts.

In turn, the Saudis are preparing to welcome Rachid Ghannouchi – the notoriously humble leader of the even more notoriously moderate Ennahda that now controls Tunisia’s parliament – on a state visit. This week Ghannouchi has been heaping praise on the Persian Gulf monarchies, doing us all the favour of revealing where his true sympathies lie when it comes to issues like religious moderation and its love affair with democracy.

Tomorrow in Tunisia, where I happen to be, celebrations for the Jasmine Revolution’s anniversary include an invitation list of what can only be described as a Rogues’ Gallery of Arab despots, including Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

Al-Thani, like Ben Ali, seems to have come over all Wahhabi, having renamed his tiny island’s main mosque after none other than Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the eighteenth-century ‘reformist’ bigot who perhaps did more than anyone else in Islamic history to ensure the Enlightenment never made it to large swathes of the Arab world.

If all this were not depressing enough, David Cameron is choosing to spend the anniversary of the Salafi Spring not in Tunisia but Saudi Arabia, taking time from his own busy schedule of promoting democracy throughout the Middle East by meeting with Prince Naif. Cameron’s goal: to strengthen Britain’s ties with its main trading partner. In a sideshow to the official welcoming party, Naif’s security forces gunned down peaceful Shia protestors in the Eastern Province, killing at least one.

It was the British, we should recall, who funded Ibn Saud, the founder of the Wahhabi kingdom – even sending the RAF to bomb his enemies. The idea, of course, was to make Saudi Arabia dependent on his British paymasters. That worked for a while. But the stinking hypocrisy engulfing Cameron’s trip shows that it's now the Saudis who have the bankrupt British firmly over a barrel.

Consider William Hague’s announcement in today’s Times that the UK will support the Islamic governments elected in the wake of the Arab Spring on account of them representing the will of the people. ‘It is true that parties drawing their inspiration from Islam have done better at the polls than secular parties and there are legitimate concerns about what this will mean,’ he explained. Leaving aside his lack of concern at the barbaric nature of the House of Saud’s rule, the irony is that the Islamists triumphed in elections in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt for a reason that Cameron can be sure to avoid discussing as purposefully as he will the shooting incident in the Eastern Province: the Islamist parties, like Britain's economy, are bankrolled by the Wahhabis.

China's Wen to depart for oil-rich Mideast states

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao leaves for the Middle East Saturday on a trip to key oil-producing nations, as rising tensions over Iran's nuclear programme spark fears of major oil supply disruptions.

Wen will first travel to Saudi Arabia -- the largest provider of oil to energy-hungry China -- over the weekend, before going to the United Arab Emirates on Monday and then on to Qatar on January 19.

His trip comes as tensions rise over the assassination of a nuclear scientist in oil-rich Iran and new US sanctions on Tehran that have triggered warnings of potential military escalation in the region.

"Every country, including the Chinese -- given the ratcheting up of pressure in the Persian Gulf and uncertainty over Iran - are looking at contingency plans," said Patrick Chovanec, associate professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

"They're looking at lining up alternative sources (of oil) in case there are disruptions."

Wen will hold talks with leaders of the three Arab nations and attend the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

China -- under pressure to secure the energy supplies it needs to keep its economy going -- imported 232 million tonnes of crude oil in the first 11 months of last year, a 6.1 percent rise from the same period in 2010, according to customs data.

Saudi Arabia is its largest provider of oil and Iran the third. Qatar and the UAE, although both major oil-producing states, do not yet figure among the top 10 oil exporters to China.

The visit comes days after Wen met with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was in Beijing to drum up support for the new US sanctions that aim to squeeze Iran's crucial oil revenues.

The measures bar any foreign banks that do business with Iran's central bank -- responsible for processing most oil purchases in the Islamic republic -- from US financial markets.

But China, which relies on Iran for 11 percent of its oil imports, opposes the sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which Washington and other nations accuse of developing nuclear weapons -- a claim denied by Tehran.

Shi Yinhong, a political expert at Beijing's Renmin University, said the tense situation over Iran poses a "potential threat" for China's energy supply from the Middle East.

"During the visit, China wants to ask the three countries to do more to increase opportunities of peacefully resolving the Iran... issue," he said.

Zhai Jun, vice foreign minister, said earlier this week that oil and energy cooperation was not the only topic that would be discussed on Wen's trip, adding recent upheaval in the Middle East would also be on the agenda.

"The Arab Spring (unrest) has unsettled the Chinese leadership, and they don't quite know what to make of it or how to react to it, and the Saudis are in the same situation," Chovanec said.

Saudi Arabia:Uprising seeps

Saudi Arabia had been immune to the Arab Spring until late last year, but since then it has seemed the people of Saudi Arabia are also becoming active. In the last two or three months, Saudis, especially Saudi women, have protested against the regime for some obnoxious restrictions.

Women of the country have protested for the driving ban. The regime, on the other hand, vowed to deal with an iron hand with violators of rules and regulations of the country. Though slowly, people have gradually started protesting against the regime, demanding political reforms and an end to discrimination with the Shiite minority in the country. The Saudi government has tried to play down the protests saying “a foreign” force was behind fuelling the protests against the regime.

This time, Saudi security forces killed a person during clashes in the country’s Eastern Province, while three others sustained critical bullet injuries. The province is home to a large Shiite minority and security forces are often found patrolling the area to keep a vigilant eye on the community. The government believes that the community is funded and supported by Iran to create unrest in the country. Iran is considered to be one of the arch-rivals of the country.

A large number of the members of the Shiite minority were holding protest demonstrations in four Qatif region villages against the regime, demanding release of political prisoners, an end to discrimination with the community and political reforms in the country. Saudi Arab is a Sunni-dominated country, where Shiites make 10 to 15 percent of the country’s total population.

Earlier this month, the regime ordered arrest of 23 members of the Shiite community for creating unrest in the country. The protesters were also demanding release of these detainees when the security forces allegedly opened fire on them. The security forces tried to disperse the protesters peacefully, but started firing after the mob refused to end the protest demonstration against the regime. The charged protesters were demanding immediate release of the detained members of their community.

The monarch announced a number of concessions and privileges to the people after the Arab uprising entered Libya, Jordan, Syria and Bahrain. The regime tried to prevent the uprising in the country by offering incentives to the people, but it now seems that it is just a matter of time for the uprising to hit the country. People are getting fed up with the oppressive attitude of the government and have started demanding political reforms in the country.

The United States and the international community should also cease their double role in pushing for democracy in the Arab world. Pressure should be piled up on the Saudi monarch as well to bring political reforms in the country and a democratic government should be established in the country.

Pakistan's prosperity lies in following constitution

The prosperity of Pakistan lies in following the constitution, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani emphasised on Saturday, days after he accused army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the country's spy chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha of violating it.

"What I have learnt from my experience as a politician, mayor, speaker of the National Assembly, acting president and as the prime minister of Pakistan is that prosperity of Pakistan lies in following the Constitution," said Gilani in Lahore.

Gilani on Wednesday asserted his authority by dismissing defence secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi, sparking a stand-off with the powerful military.

Gilani had also accused the army chief and Gen Shuja Pasha of violating the constitution by submitting their replies to the Supreme Court without government approval in the case of a memo sent to Washington that said President Zardari feared a military take-over following last year's killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Inter-Services Public Relations, the military's media arm, took a serious view of Gilani's statement and warned "This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country."

Gilani on Friday said that compliance of the constitution was the only way forward for development, prosperity and integrity of the country while speaking at National Management College, reported Associated Press of Pakistan.

He said: "Our constitution envisages a federal republic within principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam."

"The government has achieved such uphill tasks as dealing with internal political instability, restoring the judiciary, (and) rebuilding foreign exchange reserves..."

The prime minister added: "We are determined to strengthen democratic values and institutions. There is freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of association in the country..."

He went on to say that a lot of political activity was going on in the country and the people had now learned a lesson from history that democracy was not easy but it was the only viable option.

"Democracies are noisy, reflect power tussles and highlight internal conflicts, but it is only through democracy that we can work together to forge national unity," he observed.

Shujat accuses PML-N of ‘embroiling govt in unnecessary crisis’

PML-Q head, Chaudhry Shujat Hussain has accused PML-N of ‘embroiling government in unnecessary crisis’, (!) thus ‘hindering any effective progress’ (!) of Nation.

Talking to a private TV channel, he scoffed at political parties’ demands for early elections, as these cannot be held without consensus between government and opposition.

He invited Mian Nawaz Sharif to talk to ruling coalition regarding early February elections, which would only be held if Nawaz Sharif personally requested for them; assuring that if Nawaz did request , he(Shujat) could make a willing Zardari agree to the early elections.

He also scoffed at the notion that merely media pressure through print, could usher in new elections, as the government had been mandated for five years, tenure it would complete at all costs.

He said that politics never closed its door for dialogue, and give-and-take was a political staple.

Referring to his recent meeting with the Army chief, he termed it as a routine matter, and was totally non-political in nature. Strongly ruling out any Army coup, he said that Army chief met him frequently on various occasions.

Replying to a question, he informed that during talks with MQM, it was conveyed that the party wanted to maintain its own system, while still corroborating with government; saying that MQM did not have any principled opposition against the resolution

He also expressed his support for the resolution, saying that there was nothing wrong about it.

Replying to a question, he strongly downplayed memogate as having no substance, and stressed on resolving the pertinent issues / crisis , instead of wasting time and energy over such frivolity.

Imran rules out dialogue with PML-N, Fazl

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has ruled out any dialogue with the PML-N or JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.Slamming the PML-N for its double standards, Imran said it should stop fooling the nation and should have resigned if it did not support a corrupt government. To a question about dialogue with PML-N to evolve a joint strategy against the govt, Imran said Nawaz Sharif had deceived his likeminded politicians at the time when they had gathered on the platform of the APDM.
Imran said the politics of Lahore had changed and Lahorites were now part of the tsunami and no one could stop them from bringing about change.

Saudi Arabia: Shiites Protest Killing of Protester by Security Forces


Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in a tense eastern region on Friday after the killing of a Shiite youth in clashes with security forces. Videos posted on Facebook by activists showed hundreds of young men, their faces covered with scarves and T-shirts, chanting, “We will not forget you, O martyrs.” Shiites, a minority in Saudi Arabia but the majority in the oil-rich Qatif region, had been protesting what they said was discrimination by the country’s Sunni rulers. The Saudi Shiite news Web site Rasid said that Issam Muhammad, 22, was shot and killed Thursday after a security vehicle was pelted with rocks in al-Awamiya. An Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed the death, but said the security forces were fired on first.

PAKISTAN: Early election calls

Editorial Frontier Post

Crying calls from various political quarters have lately begun gaining in stridency. Sections of commentariat and intelligentsia too have joined the cacophony. The callers argue that the incumbent PPP-led government has failed to deliver for its ineptitude, incompetence and corruption and early elections have thus become imperative to seek the people’s fresh mandate to administer the state. Yes, not even the staunchest party loyalists will be able to defend this government, such an utter failure has it been in serving the masses and delivering their needs. And no street will shed even a tear if it departs.
But what is the alternative? What have its opponents in their plans to succeed where it has failed so abysmally? On that count, they all come across as totally blank and empty. None has enunciated what could safely be called a policy. It is all populist slogans and superficial rhetorical assertions you get from them on this score. Surely, vowing to bring back the stashed slush money of some grandees from abroad by no stretch can be construed as economic policy. In itself, it is a very dubious proposition, when one cannot even know for sure who is keeping what and where overseas and then if at all the laws of the land where that hoard is stashed would allow its repatriation.
Nor vowing to end corruption within 90 days could be called an economic policy. Not even could it be viewed as a rational and practicable anti-corruption strategy when what to talk of 90 days not even in as many months can this curse be wiped out, so deeply and extensively has it afflicted the polity. It is not only the high places where corruption has embedded. It has spread out its tentacles to every segment of the society. Even the private sector has got infected. And it would require a well-thought-out policy and a meticulously-planned strategy to purge the polity of the scourge, which if it happens in years we would be quite lucky.
Let it be clear. The bane of our politics is that it is personality not issue based. It is not the issues that distinguish parties from one another. It is the personality that is their distinctive mark. The parties are known by the dynasts that hold them under their thumbs, not for their ideological leanings or political philosophies. The British electorate knows what the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democratic parties stand for, and knows that within the framework of those well-defined ideological and political configurations each will formulate its policies and programmes. But ours have no such delineations for the voter to guide.
There, the parties in their general meetings debate the issues and thrash out their party lines. Here, it really is so shocking hearing a party apparatchik saying the party had spent three hours in discussing the issue and left the final decision to party head honcho to make. That privilege neither the Conservatives nor the Labourites or the Liberal Democrats would give to their party chiefs. It is the party that there decides. It is the party chief here who decides. His word is the party policy, party line and party stance.
So let there be an early election, and we will simply be travelling down from one darkness into another. Since the voter doesn’t at all what is the economic, defence or foreign policy of any of the parties in the ring, he would just be betting blindly. In any case, the early election is going to be no big deal. The same pedigrees, dynasties and patriarchies, more or less, will return to legislatures and governments. The same landed aristocracies, feudalities and robber baronages will stage a comeback. It is the fat bellies that clash. And they will clash again with their steel of clout acquired by their hold on their captive electorates, right connections in right places and money power accumulated by means foul.
The political tribe has coined the terminology of “electable”, which is as deceptive as its coinage of “reconciliation”. If reconciliation is simply its cloak for the most unseemly deal-makings for staying on in power, electable is simply another deception for the election of the otherwise unfit. The term gives the deceitful impression of the electable being the right choice on the basis of merit, public-spiritedness and public service. But in reality it means the person has the inherited dynastic awesome clout or irresistible money power to get elected.
The cliché-savvy commentariat has added up to this deceit its own coinages of dharabandi and baradari for electable. But dissect these coinages to the bones and it comes to the same that it is the unchallengeable by dint of clout or money who romps home. A Jat would not necessarily vote for a Jat for being from the Jat baradari. But he would haplessly when a powerful Jat dynast would twist his arms. And it is not unknown when two Jat dynasts are in the fray, the poor Jat elder divides up evenly his family members, with one half voting for one Jat contestant and the other for the other.
So what difference would early election would make? There will be no change from the past. Even the rising star vowing a change is falling for the trite. He is taking under his wings the garbage of old stock, deserting from other parties. The early elections will at best satiate the hunger for power of those presently sulking in the wilderness of opposition.

Principle of democracy

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Friday urged the political class to stand united, “protect yourself...protect parliament”, because otherwise there will either be “democracy or there will be dictatorship in the country”. Mr Gilani made this appeal on the floor of the National Assembly, giving a clear signal to the anti-democratic forces that the government will leave no stone unturned to unite the parliamentarians in the face of adversity. A resolution to this effect was tabled by ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan. The resolution reiterated that “the future of Pakistan and wellbeing of its people lies in the continuation and strengthening of democratic institutions and constitutionalism...all state institutions must strictly function within the limits imposed on them by the constitution...sovereignty lies with the people of Pakistan and parliament is the repository of the collective wisdom of the people.” The wording of the resolution is interesting. It seems that due to the mild tone of the resolution, there are more chances of a consensus across the board. There is not even an implicit mention of the judiciary or the army. If the government had attempted to get a vote of confidence, apart from the opposition, some of its allies might have proved to be ‘slippery’. Thus, to garner support for the democratic system, the government is trying to forge a collective parliamentary show of strength. No parliamentarian in his/her right mind would think of opposing this resolution as it is talking about the basic principles of democracy.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), on the other hand, is flexing its muscles to oust the government. It is considering three options. One, resignations from the National Assembly — this option is a nonstarter because unless en masse sufficient resignations take place to render parliament non-credible, the government can always hold by-elections on the seats vacated by the PML-N parliamentarians. Can the PML-N afford this? And if it does not participate in the by-elections, it will be out in the cold. The second option is that of a no-confidence motion. This again is a nonstarter given that the PML-N does not have the desired number of votes to make this bid successful. The third option is that of a long march. The PML-N’s earlier tries of starting a countrywide agitation on issues such as gas and electricity load shedding bore no results. The public is annoyed with the government but perhaps not yet to the point of a mobiliseable critical mass. For a long march to be successful, either there has to be a groundswell of opposition to the sitting government and/or the backing of the establishment. The PML-N should assess its chances. Extra-constitutional steps are problematic for all democratic forces while the prospects of bringing about a change through democratic steps look dim till the next general elections. Any unconstitutional step to oust this government will make the PPP go back to the people as ‘victims’, which is certainly not what the opposition forces want.

It is important for the entire political class to actually believe in the democratic process instead of only paying lip service to the principle of democracy. In the past, whenever some politicians felt that actually existing democracy does not suit them, they went running to the military establishment to oust a democratically elected government, which kept bringing us back to square one. Political ad hocism is not a viable option. Unity amongst the ranks of the political class on the irreducible foundations of democracy is what is needed to bring stability in Pakistan.

Saleem Shahzad report

FRIDAY marked the death anniversary of a Pakistani journalist and the failure to find the culprits behind the murder of another. Even as Wali Khan Babar`s case awaits trial one year on, the judicial commission tasked with examining Saleem Shahzad`s murder and with identifying the culprits has said it does not have the evidence required to fix responsibility. It does, however, spend considerable space arriving at some damning conclusions about the workings of Pakistan`s intelligence agencies. The Pakistani state is listed as one of `various belligerents` including the Taliban, Al Qaeda and `foreign actors` who could have had a motive to `commit the crime`. This then is the state of press freedom in Pakistan.

According to a commission that includes senior judges and police officials, the state is listed alongside militants as a force that may have murdered a Pakistani journalist.

There is more than one way to interpret this issue.

A judicial commission is reliant, to some extent, on police investigation. Did the report reflect police incompetence that resulted in insufficient evidence being available, or was it intimidation by intelligence agencies rather than ineffectiveness that resulted in poor police investigation? Alternatively, given that the investigation took nearly six months and included extensive examination of the testimonies of witness-es, Mr Shahzad`s writing and his phone and email records, was the commission trying to avoid ruffling feathers? Or was it only indirectly implicating the state by discussing the need to bring major intelligence agencies under greater administrative, parliamentary and judicial control? It is true that, due to his focus on militancy, Mr Shahzad may have had a number of different enemies. But given the culture of the harassment of Pakistani journalists at the hands of intelligence agencies and Mr Shahzad`s own warnings that he was under threat from them, public perception will continue to suspect the state.

But the upshot is, as it is in almost all other cases of journalists` murders in Pakistan, except that of foreign reporter Daniel Pearl, the truth will likely never come to light.

Various press-freedom groups around the world come up with different figures each year for the number of media personnel killed in the line of duty but their conclusion is the same: Pakistani journalists operate in one of the most dangerous and least accountable theatres anywhere. The threats they face range from militants to their own state.

Despite all the uncertainties surrounding Mr Shahzad`s case, one thing is clear. Like all those that have gone before it, one of the most alarming murders of a journalist in Pakistan`s history is likely to remain unresolved.

Afghan boy suicide bombers tell how they are brainwashed into believing they will survive


Child suicide bombers say they were told by their handlers that the "bombs would not kill us, only the Americans would die".

The mission was as simple as touching two wires together, the little boy was promised. The resulting blast would obliterate the American infidels – but God would spare him from the flame and shrapnel. Abdul Samat would be unharmed and free to run back to the men who had fitted his bomb vest.

Blindfolded and rigged with his explosive payload, the boy, who was about 13, was driven to his target in the Afghan city of Kandahar, after being plucked from the streets of Quetta in neighbouring Pakistan. Minutes before he was due to execute the attack, however, Abdul realised the lies of his recruiters seeking to turn him into a human bomb.

"When I opened my eyes, I saw it was a very black thing they wanted me to do," he later recalled.

"I began to cry and shout. People came out of their houses and asked what was wrong. I showed them I had something in my vest. Then they were scared too and called the police who took the bombs off me."

Afghan security officials say that Abdul's story is not unusual. In the past year, insurgents have used a wave of child suicide bombers, some as young as 10, on the ruthless assumption that small boys can pass through checkpoints and security cordons more easily than men. A senior Afghan intelligence official estimated that more than 100 had been intercepted in the past 12 months, including 20 from the Kandahar area in the south. The insurgents seek to exploit the innocence of their recruits and turn it into a weapon.

The largely illiterate boys are fed a diet of anti-Western and anti-Afghan government propaganda until they are prepared to kill, he said. But the boys are also assured that they will miraculously survive the devastation they cause.

"The worst part is that these children don't think that they are killing themselves," said the official. "They are often given an amulet containing Koranic verses. Mullahs tell them, 'When this explodes you will survive and God will help you survive the fire. Only the infidels will be killed, you will be saved and your parents will go to paradise'."

Throughout the war against the Soviet invaders in the 1980s, and the civil strife that followed, Afghan fighters of all factions rejected suicide attacks as cowardly and unIslamic.

The tactic was adopted only after 2001, learned from Arab jihadists who had used it to devastating effect in Iraq.

The first Afghan suicide bomber is believed to have been a man called Hafez Abdallah, who in 2004 threw himself on a military Jeep and detonated mortar bombs strapped to his body. Suicide bombs hidden in vehicles or sewn into vests have since been widely employed.

The Taliban denies using children as bombers, pointing out that its battlefield code forbids any military use of pre-pubescent boys. One Taliban facilitator from northern Afghanistan told The Daily Telegraph: "All our bombers are men and they are all volunteers. We never use boys."

But Nato and Afghan security officials said the tactic has been widely adopted. Child bombers had been used by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group aligned to the Taliban.

Boys are frequently chosen from the madrassas, or Islamic colleges, in Pakistan's tribal areas, where poor Pashtun families in southern Afghanistan send their sons for a free education.

"They send them because they can't feed them sometimes. They have 10 sons, they can't feed them," said the Afghan official.

Gul Khan, who looks no older than 10, said his father had insisted he go to a madrassa in Pakistan run by a man called Maulawi Sher Jan.

"Each day they were preaching that we would tie bombs on to our bodies and attack foreigners in Afghanistan," he said after escaping and being arrested on the border.

"They told us the bombs would not kill us, only the Americans would die and you can come back to us."

Many of the captured boys have been pardoned, but others remain in Afghanistan's child jails. Once in custody, they often retract their televised confessions, justice officials in Kandahar said.

Three convicted child suicide bombers, seen by The Daily Telegraph, all said their confessions had been false and they were wrongly convicted. Haji Abdul Haq, the juvenile prosecutor for Kandahar, denied pressure had been placed on them and said they were often caught wearing bomb vests. "They confess at first, but when their families reach them, they change their minds," he said.

Michelle Obama: A new woman in the White House
By Bonnie Greer

First Lady. The clue is in the title: the wife of the President of the United States is expected, above all, to be a “lady”, a term that for many Americans is rooted in a vision of the 1950s where mom stayed home and cooked, and dad brought home the bacon.

Like others before her, Michelle Obama

– who I am sure is a fine homemaker in her own way and perhaps a good cook, too – has fallen victim to First Lady Syndrome. A new, unauthorised biography of the Obamas by a New York Times reporter describes her as an “unrecognised force” in the White House, who has interfered in her husband’s administration as a way of venting her frustration at the passive role she is expected to perform.

In response to the book, Mrs Obama has given a television interview to CBS News in which she dismissed the allegations, insisted she loved the job and said she was being caricatured as “some kind of angry black woman”. So it’s not just First Lady Syndrome that’s a problem for her but that other old scourge, too: Fear of Black Women. Afflicted by both, what in the world is the poor woman to do but defend herself?

The earliest First Lady I can remember was Mamie Eisenhower, but all I recall of her is a fringe, some pearls around her throat, a ballgown and a big smile. Then came Jackie Kennedy, a silent witness until her televised tour of the White House, when she revealed a Marilyn Monroe purr and a formidable eye for design.

Successive First Ladies did good works, in the manner of women who marry into the Royal family. Pat Nixon was silent; Rosalynn Carter spoke a little; Nancy Reagan was the glamorous prototype for Tom Wolfe’s “social X-ray”; Mrs Bush the First was direct and forceful. Strong women all of them, but not really mould-breakers. It was Hillary Clinton, the first “baby boomer” to become First Lady and an ambitious product of Yale Law School, who set the alarm bells ringing. The culture warriors declared war and battle was engaged. Laura Bush briefly rekindled the old, gentle tradition; and now we have Michelle Obama.

She, like me, hails from the South Side of Chicago, a part of town where the talk is blunt and forthright. If you come from there, you tell it like it is. In addition, Michelle is a Harvard Law School graduate who made more money as a lawyer, at one time, than her husband; she is also a dark-skinned, big-boned lady with opinions.

I have not read the new book, but it seems to be the kind of “insider” tome, culled from personal observation, anecdote and hearsay, that Americans love to read about their celebrities, particularly the First Family. In the gossip-hungry Beltway culture of Washington DC, any information about a deeply private couple like the Obamas is news. They are, notoriously, not social, in the sense that there was some complaining in the early days that they did not do the Washington circuit, preferring to spend time with their friends from Chicago and making the occasional visit to New York.

I wrote a book about Obama three years ago and found then that the President is private and a loner, while the First Lady is ferociously focused, a loving “tiger mother”, and a fierce promoter of those she loves and believes in. To read others speculating about her inner life and the relationship she has with her husband must be deeply frustrating to her.

In becoming First Lady, she has had to quash some of her personality: the go-getting, driven lawyer/administrator has had to fit a template that would keep Middle American conservatives off her back. This has to be a daily struggle for her. Her devotion to service families, to getting young people to eat properly, her exhortation to young girls in Britain on her visit in 2009 that their destiny did not depend on whether they were born on a country estate or an inner-city estate – all of this can be wiped away by one slip of the tongue, one look, one couture dress too many.

She will have felt she had to do the CBS interview – with a black female journalist – to set the record straight, not only for her daughters’ sake, but for all of those girls and women who look up to her.

Back in 2008, before her husband was elected, she was quoted as saying that “America is a down-right mean country”, a remark that, taken out of context, allowed some commentators to build on the narrative of “the angry black woman”. Profiled in the New Yorker, she was depicted on the cover as a black panther. It was meant to illustrate a serious point about fears of a black president, but instead some people took it literally, and she had no choice but to retreat to tending the organic cabbage patch and looking good in ball gowns.

Michelle has worn the American fashion expected of her. She has appeared on women’s programmes like The View; she has hosted cultural evenings at the White House, even donated her favourite recipes to magazines. She no longer makes public pronouncements outside of her chosen causes.

All of that is gold-plate First Lady stuff. But she also has to run her office in the manner of the executive that she was – sharp, precise and no-nonsense. She has stated that her job is to enhance the Obama presidency and its legacy. She knows that he is part of history for ever. If it is true, as the new biography suggests, that she found her “voice” in London in a school filled with little girls like the child she once was, it is understandable. She is them. There has been no First Lady quite like her before.

Americans are the most divided generationally that they’ve been since the 1960s. If you are under 65, you live in another America, one more diverse, one more accepting of non-traditional roles, more relaxed about non-traditional stances. The three Gs that animate an older America, God, guns and gays, are not the issues that affect those in Michelle Obama’s generation. Born in 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act and the Great Society launch – the most important year for African Americans since 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation – Mrs Obama is part of the new day. She knows that Fear of Black Women stalks her. But she will not be deterred.

Those women, across the political spectrum, who worry now about whether there will ever be a woman president can take heart in having Michelle Obama in the East Wing. The heat that she is taking is a kind of clarification, a rectification. Through her, America is asking itself what the role of the spouse of the president – male or female – should be in the 21st century, when the nation’s influence will be more first among equals than chief executive to the world.

In the meantime, like all good Southsiders, Michelle Obama is simply setting the record straight. That’s what we Southsiders do. We really don’t care a fig about the opinions of those we do not personally know. “Tell it like it is” is a Southside expression , and she will be doing more of this, now that she can see that the lid has been taken off, the game is afoot.

In the President’s second term, she will set her own pace in her own way, and lay a marker for anyone who follows her. She is a game-changer and she knows it. Get ready for the “get down”. Another Southside expression.