Friday, January 20, 2012

Senate delays online piracy vote in wake of protests

US Senate leader Harry Reid has postponed next week's vote on a bill to fight online piracy amid fierce resistance by Internet companies including Wikipedia and Google, who fear overregulation and censorship.US Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Friday that he was delaying next week's scheduled vote on a controversial bill aimed at cracking down on online piracy.

"In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday's vote on the Protect IP Act," Reid said in a statement two days after Wikipedia and Google led a wave of online protest against the legislation.

"There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved," Reid said.

"We made good progress through the discussions we've held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks," he said.

US congressional support for the legislation -- the Protect IP Act in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House of Representatives -- has been eroding in the face of the online protests which branded the bills a danger to Internet freedom.

Republican House speaker John Boehner said Wednesday there was a "lack of consensus at this point" on the House version of the bill and it would need further work in committee.

Wikipedia shut down the English-language version of its online encyclopedia for 24 hours on Wednesday to protest the legislation and Google blotted out the logo on its US home page with a black banner.

In his statement, Reid said "counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs.

"We must take action to stop these illegal practices," he said. "We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day's work."

Reid urged a co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Patrick Leahy, to "continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans' intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the Internet."

Another co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act, Senator Marco Rubio, withdrew his support for the bill on Wednesday saying Congress should "avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences" on the Internet.

US actions make China-Russia alliance appealing

As US aircraft carrier groups gather in the Arabian Sea, a showdown between Iran and the West is rumbling on. If a war erupts, this will be another upshot of the US pursuit of absolute national security.

Mainstream forces in Washington are trying to sell a ludicrous standpoint to the American people: that it is worthwhile to bear financial costs and even lose some lives to confront lurking dangers to US security in the Middle East.

This is not a rational analysis, but rather a pious belief in US politics. With an appetite for national security causes, the US becomes increasingly meticulous in eliminating potential challenges.

The US has somewhat defused two powder kegs in the Middle East: Iraq and Afghanistan. It also helped bring the fall of Slobodan Milosevic and Yugoslavia. Now it is preparing for a potential confrontation with Iran, and appears confident of another successful air strike.

Such a demonstration of armed might makes powers like Russia and China increasingly nervous.

By stirring up other powers' sense of insecurity, the US is actually undermining its own interests. Its security paranoia instills many uncertainties into global dynamics and into the US itself.

If the West slides into a war with Iran, the damages will not be any lower than the potential threat of Iran's nuclear power.

Perhaps the US is used to resorting to war to solve geopolitical problems. But many worry that such a mentality will sooner or later lead to a US clash with Russia and China. So far Moscow and Beijing are relatively restrained, though NATO seeks to expand its strategic presence in East Europe and US strengthening its military alliances in Asia. But the two cannot fall back forever.

For Beijing and Moscow alike, ties with the US have been stressful. The two don't want to set off external doubts in their heated relations. But in both countries, an increasing number of people now advocate a Moscow-Beijing "alliance." The two do have countermeasures against the US, and they are capable of deterring US allies. If they are really determined to join hands, the balance of power on many world issues will begin to shift.

Absolute security is a luxury that no country can afford. If the US unscrupulously imposes its own will and even forces Russia and China into taking action, global dynamics may go back to chaos over which the US will have little control. History shows that any power having an inflated ego usually ends badly.

Occupy London protesters defiant after legal defeat

The Occupy London protesters remained defiant on Wednesday evening, in the wake of a court ruling that they should be evicted from the makeshift tented camp which they have been occupying at St Paul's Cathedral since the middle of October.

"This movement is far bigger than any one single location. Hopefully we will find another similarly iconic location, and if we get removed from there then we will move elsewhere," vowed Occupy London Stock Exchange movement (OLSX), spokesman George Barda.

Barda spoke to Xinhua outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London where the City of London Corporation (CLC), the local municipal authority, won its legal battle to get the camp of about 150 tents taken down and the protesters evicted.

Barda, a graduate student at King's College London, which is just across the road from the Royal Courts of Justice and a mere five-minute bus ride from the St Paul's protest camp, said that he did not agree with the court ruling. "In terms of anything like truth, and what would be truly reasonable, I think we have very strong grounds for appeal."

"The arguments we have put forward, backing up academically the substance of why we are here, what we are doing, why things need to change, and how damaging the status quo is to the needs of democracy -- I think that case was very reasonable and it should have been answered by the court but it wasn't," Barda added.

For legal purposes, there were two named defendants from the protest camp in the court case. Barda was one of those named defendants, and he has been involved with the camp since its first day.The OLSX movement is inspired by, and linked by shared interests, with the Occupy Wall Street movement which sprang up in several cities in the United States.

Many of those tented camps were forcefully closed down by the authorities, and the court ruling means that the London camp is likely to face a similar fate.

OLSX must decide if it wants to appeal against the ruling to a higher court, but even if it decides to appeal, the higher court may rule that there are no grounds for it.

"If we thought it would be a productive use of time to try to get another court to undertake that exercise sincerely then maybe we would go ahead and appeal if we can. We may decide that our energies are better spent not engaging with the official system but actually focusing on working with communities. So we need to take it from here and discuss it as a movement," he said.

Barda said that the St Paul's camp was important to the OLSX movement, despite its success at exploiting the opportunities to communicate across the Internet.

"We can do huge amounts of things in terms of virtual connections in ways that we could not even imagine before, the way we can coordinate actions across the world. That virtual space is very important, but I think we need to be realistic that it cannot substitute for the physical space. So I think that St Paul's has been very significant, because it is right next door to the Stock Exchange, it's right in the heart of London," said Barda.

The protest camp in St Paul's Cathedral churchyard is on cathedral property and also on CLC property.

Originally, the cathedral had backed legal action to get the protest camp, which began on October 15, moved. But cathedral authorities decided they could not back legal action that would lead to eviction which could be carried out forcefully with the use of bailiffs and the London police.

CLC initially cancelled its legal action, but resumed it in late November, and the hearing took place over five days before Christmas.

Bangladesh coup plot raises fears of army 'Islamisation'

A failed plot to oust the Bangladesh government, by what the army described as "religiously fanatic" officers, has raised questions over the level of Islamist penetration in the military, analysts say.

The army -- Bangladesh's key secular institution -- said the plot was unearthed in December and involved some non-resident Bangladeshis, around 16 serving and retired officers and the outlawed Islamist outfit Hizbut Tahrir.

A major general, who heads one of the country's largest cantonments, was recalled to Dhaka, while two former officers including a colonel were arrested.

"I am worried because radical, extremist views within a disciplined and secular force is unexpected," said Delwar Hossain, a professor of Dhaka University, who teaches security issues and international relations.

"It can have profound implications," Hossain told AFP.

Bangladesh has had a history of political violence, coups and counter-coups since gaining independence in 1971.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's first president and father of the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, was assassinated during his overthrow by the army in 1975.

Bangladesh was run by a military dictator again from 1982 to 1990.

Democracy was restored in 1991, but street battles between supporters of Hasina and her arch political rival, Khaleda Zia, prompted the army to step in again in January 2007.

Although the military regimes appeased Islamic activists by enshrining "absolute faith in Allah" in the constitution and making Islam the state religion, they always took care not to undermine the army's secular status.

Some observers queried how serious the latest coup plot actually was, and suggested the army's focus on it's "religious" nature was meant as a warning to Islamist factions within the military.

"It looks like it may not have been a coup, but rather a dissension or disorder, which the army has been struggling to overcome in its evolution as a disciplined force," said Ataur Rahman, a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore and an expert on the Bangladesh military.

"By talking quite openly about a failed coup... the military wants to send a clear message that it'll not tolerate any drift towards religious extremism," Rahman said.

Hasina's government, which came to power in early 2009, has faced repeated threats from Islamist groups.

Efforts to bolster the secular character of the Bangladesh constitution in June last year triggered angry protests by Islamic activists in the Muslim-majority nation.

Her government has also launched a series of war crimes trials -- related to the country's 1971 liberation struggle -- which have so far mostly targeted the leaders of the country's largest Islamic party.

"Some Islamists are obviously not happy with the trials," said Abdur Rob, a professor of North South University.

After news of the failed coup plot was made public Thursday, Hasina's ruling Awami League party promised that those involved would be "given exemplary punishment".

The Bangladesh Army has become the biggest contributor to United Nations Peacekeeping forces -- a lucrative programme that observers say has reduced the appetite of rank and file army officers for political power.

Egyptians rally ahead of anniversary of uprising

Several thousand Egyptians marched to Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, demanding justice and retribution for those killed in clashes with security forces.

Activists have organized the demonstrations as part of a week of "mourning and anger" around the Jan. 25 anniversary to rally support for their call to end military rule. They say the generals who took power after Mubarak's fall have continued the policies of the toppled regime.

The military has tried to counter what some protesters have dubbed "the second revolution" by using state-run media to accuse protesters of receiving foreign funding to destabilize Egypt and by calling for celebrations on the one-year anniversary of the uprising to boost the military's image as the nation's true patriots.

While many Egyptians support the military and believe it is the only entity able to run the country until presidential elections slated before the end of June, activists say that the ruling generals, led by Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years, have continued the policies of the toppled regime and are trying to derail the democratic process.

On Friday, protesters in Cairo set out from different neighborhoods in the city of some 18 million people and descended on Tahrir Square, which served as the epicenter of the 18-days of protests that pushed Mubarak from power on Feb. 11.

Shaimaa Zein, a 24-year old protester in Tahrir wearing a scarf in the colors of the Egyptian flag, held a sign demanding the military be held accountable for the deaths of 100 people who have been killed in clashes with security forces since the generals took over from Mubarak.

"When we went down on Jan. 25, people were against us at first and then they called us the generation that broke barriers when Mubarak resigned," she said. "But the dictatorship is the same."

Women also marched through central Cairo demanding Egypt's ruling military step down in a continued show of outrage against soldiers who dragged women by the hair and stomped on them during a fierce crackdown on activists last month.

One protester in Tahrir carried a poster depicting the former president with a noose around neck, echoing a demand by some that Mubarak be executed for the deaths of more than 800 protesters killed during the revolt.

Mubarak, his ex-security chief Habib el-Adly and four top security officers are charged with complicity in the killings of the protesters, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Activists say that court officials have generally been lax with police officers accused of shootings during the uprising, allowing many to stay on the job while facing murder charges and setting others free on bail.

Only one policeman has been convicted in more than a dozen court cases over the deaths of at least 846 people killed in the government crackdown on protesters. He was tried in absentia and upon his return to Egypt recently was granted a retrial.

By contrast, human rights activists say that minor offenders and protesters are referred to military tribunals — known for quick and harsh sentences without proper due process.

Activists say they will use the one-year anniversary of the start of the uprising as a day to continue protests to counter attempts by the country's military rulers to mark it a day of celebration.

"It's another pressure point to prove that the street is alive and that the street still has legitimacy, despite parliamentary elections," she said.

The military oversaw Egypt's recent elections, in which Islamist groups won nearly 70 percent of parliament's 498 seats. The vote was deemed the freest and fairest in Egypt's modern history.

Bahraini child killed in crackdown

Press TV

An 11-year-old Bahraini boy has died from asphyxia after regime forces fired toxic tear gas to disperse an anti-government protest.

The violence came after Saudi-backed Bahraini troops attacked anti-government demonstrators, demanding an end to the rule of Al Khalifa dynasty, in several villages across the Persian Gulf kingdom.

Meanwhile, top Bahraini cleric Sheikh Issa Qasem has criticized Manama over its brutal crackdown on the protests, saying that the Bahraini regime suffocates any gathering against the ruling family.

He also said that no solution to the situation in Bahrain is on the horizon.

Despite the crackdown, Bahrainis have been holding anti-regime protests on an almost daily basis.

Dozens of people have been killed by regime forces since the Bahraini revolution began in mid-February 2011, when the people, inspired by the popular uprisings that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, started holding massive popular demonstrations.

Security forces have also arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses accused of treating injured revolutionaries.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report on November 23, 2011, saying that the Manama regime had used “excessive force, including the extraction of forced confessions against detainees.”

Memogate contradictions

The Express Tribune
By Kaiser Bengali

The political crisis rages on, with the Supreme Court leading the charge. The battle lines were sharpened when Asma Jahangir withdrew from the memogate case, citing lack of confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. She was of the view that the Supreme Court placed the concept of national security above that of fundamental rights. These grave developments and Ms Jahangir’s assertions need to be addressed with all the seriousness they deserve.

The so-called memo is a spurious and worthless piece of paper, whose authorship no one is claiming, and which has been tossed in the trash can by the person for whom it was intended, then-US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen, and by the courier, former US National Security Adviser General (retd) James Jones. There are contradictions galore. Mansoor Ijaz has made two statements: one, claiming that the said memo was authored by former ambassador Husain Haqqani and the other that the ISI chief toured Middle Eastern countries to lobby for support to remove the democratically elected government. The Supreme Court has accepted the first Mansoor Ijaz statement as credible enough to place Husain Haqqani on the Exit Control List and launch a full-scale judicial investigation. At the same time, it has ignored the second of Mansoor Ijaz’s statement and instead accepted the ISPR version. How is it that the court has pre-supposed one of Mansoor Ijaz’s statements as weighty enough and found another not worthy of consideration?

The Supreme Court judgment states that a probe is called for in order to ensure enforcement of fundamental rights. The connection is somewhat far-fetched and is reminiscent of the referendum ordered by General Zia, whereby a ‘yes’ vote for Islam was also considered to be an endorsement for the dictator to remain in power for five years!

The loss of East Pakistan apart, there have been many situations and occasions over the last three decades — unlike the frivolous piece of paper that the Supreme Court has placed on a pedestal — whence there have been tangible threats to the security of the state and to the lives of the people and thousands of civilian, police and military lives have been actually lost. It is now 26 years since 1985 that blood is being spilled on Karachi streets. How is it that thousands of sophisticated weaponry continues to be smuggled into the country and distributed freely for use in the country’s prime metropolis? Which agency is responsible for protecting the people from the influx and use of illegal arms? Who will hold these agencies accountable?

How is it that a two-bit mullah ran a clandestine radio station in Swat and aired seditious hate propaganda for years without being apprehended? After all, the technology to track down the origin of radio signals was available even during World War II. Which agency was responsible for controlling such illegal activities that spiraled into an actual threat to the integrity of the state and which required a full-scale military operation to subdue? Who will hold these agencies accountable?

How is it that sophisticated arms were stockpiled in Lal Masjid in the centre of the federal capital, leading to a battle that engaged the Pakistan army for days and actually cost the lives of many soldiers. What guarantee is there that an external enemy force will also not be able to stockpile an arsenal in Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Quetta or Karachi and launch an attack on the country from within?

How is it that a foreign military force succeeded in penetrating to the outskirts of a premier military cantonment in the heart of the country, carried out an operation for almost an hour and escaped? What guarantee is there that a country that harbours enmity against Pakistan — India or Israel — will not be able to carry out a similar operation against our nuclear assets? What greater security threat can the country have actually faced? Who will hold the responsible agencies accountable?

If the Supreme Court considers it within its domain to defend national security above all else, it must also take cognisance of these actual threats to national security and to the actual losses of civilians and military lives. Otherwise, the so-called memogate issue, being billed as a conspiracy against the state’s security organisations, will be perceived as a conspiracy against the Constitution, against democracy and against the democratically-elected parliament.

Pakistan: Scandal theatrics mesmerise but ignore real issues

The Sydney Morning Herald

IN THE end, it was only theatre. Muscled, mustachioed, braggadocio that could have sunk a government and derailed a democracy, but for what?

The Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, imperious in a black suit and matching scarf, stood in the middle of the courtroom, calmly outlining why he ''respected the institution of the Supreme Court'', but that he would not be obeying its direction.

The judges, seven men in robes of black and gold, stared fiercely back and rebuked the country's leader (through his lawyer) for his recalcitrance.Neither side conceded an inch. Neither side attempted to negotiate an outcome, and any sort of resolution was postponed at least a fortnight.

The Prime Minister's contempt of court hearing was a good example of Pakistan creating problems for itself, when it has real problems it should be addressing.

Corruption is rampant. A recent survey found 69 per cent of Pakistanis encountered graft in the legal system (paying off judges is common), and four in 10 had to pay a bribe to have a family member admitted to hospital. Transparency International's latest index lists Pakistan at lowly 134 of 182 countries for corruption.

The economy - beset by low growth, high inflation and unemployment - is in a dire position.

There is a crippling energy crisis across Pakistan. In the cities the power is cut four or five times each day: some rural villages get power only two or three hours out of every 24. And there is, of course, the militant violence that terrorises the country, and killed more than 3000 people last year.

But these issues, ever-present and worsening, are the background noise of Pakistani politics. The two ''scandals'' gripping the country, and paralysing its polity are largely confections, born of bent egos and bruised pride.

The first is the corruption allegation that saw Mr Gilani hauled before the Supreme Court and forced to justify what the court views as the Prime Minister shielding his boss, the President, Asif Ali Zardari.

Two years ago, the court made a ruling abolishing an amnesty for the President. It ordered the government to write to Swiss authorities, authorising them to re-start investigations into corruption allegations against Mr Zardari, specifically how $US60 million, reportedly grafted from cargo companies, ended up in an offshore bank account controlled by Mr Zardari. But the government refused, citing the President's immunity.

Despite Thursday's court appearance by Mr Gilani the situation is unchanged, the court wants the letter written, the government won't do it. Write the letter, don't write the letter. In reality, it probably makes no difference.

Swiss authorities have already said they won't proceed with an investigation while Mr Zardari is head of state. If Mr Gilani writes the letter, he can be seen to be upholding the court's ruling and his boss, dogged by corruption scandals for decades, again escapes.

This was a scandal made by a Supreme Court out to sink a government, and a government too full of its own self-importance to see there was a way out. Neither side could tolerate losing face, relinquishing any suggestion of power, so both have stood firm.

But it is now a serious issue, and there remains a real chance Mr Gilani will be charged with, and convicted of, contempt of court. He could be dismissed and jailed.

The second big scandal has been dubbed, ''memogate''. In the days following Osama bin Laden's assassination on Pakistani soil in May, an anonymous memo was sent to the head of the US military offering to rein in the influence of Pakistan's military and disband brigades known to be co-operating with terrorists, in exchange for US support against a military coup.

The generals, already wary of this government, view the note as a treasonous betrayal of the military, the organisation they see as the only true defender of Pakistan.

Undoubtedly the memo was sent and inside opinion is that Mr Zardari, at the very least, knew about it. But again, this is an issue given more oxygen, more column inches and more opprobrium than it deserved.

The US saw the note for what it was, an unreliable ambit plea, and disregarded it completely. Akram Zaki, a former Pakistan ambassador to the US, said there was nothing unique to Pakistani politicians seeking to influence US policy in their own country.

''All politicians of high ambition have been leaning on the US in one way or another for a long time,'' he said. ''Every issue becomes magnified, these have been blown up beyond all proportion. They have wider repercussions, because many people are now involved. … When an issue becomes dangerous, you don't know who it is going to hurt.''

None of the Pakistani actors - political, military, judicial - have emerged from the recent scandals with honour intact.

France suspending Afghan military operations after death of four soldiers

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday he was suspending military operations in Afghanistan and mulling an early withdrawal of troops there, after confirming that four soldiers killed there were French.

An Afghan intelligence security source said earlier that four soldiers were killed and 17 wounded by an Afghan soldier in the Taghab valley of eastern Kapisa province.

“The French army is alongside its allies but we cannot accept that a single one of our soldiers be wounded or killed by our allies, it's unacceptable,” Sarkozy said, dispatching Defence Minister Gerard Longuet to Afghanistan.

The shootings were the latest of several in which western soldiers have been killed by members of the
Afghan security forces, undermining trust between Afghan and western troops in the run-up to the withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014.

Dozens of foreign soldiers have been killed in recent years by what NATO dubs the insider threat, complicating coalition efforts to train Afghanistan's army and police force before foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

Two French Foreign Legion soldiers and one American were killed in separate episodes of so-called “green-on-blue” shootings last month, which refer to the colors of the Afghan army and the symbol of NATO, although the coalition no longer releases the number of its troops killed by Afghan soldiers.

In November, an Afghan soldier shot and wounded three Australian and two Afghan soldiers in the south, less than two weeks after an Afghan soldier shot and killed three Australian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter.

And in September last year, an Afghan guard employed by the U.S. embassy opened fire inside a CIA office in Kabul, killing an American contractor.

Friday's deaths bring the total number of French soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 82 since France joined the international military operation in Afghanistan in 2001.

Separately, six foreign soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, with NATO denying the craft was brought down by insurgents, the coalition's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

The Taliban, which often makes exaggerated claims of military successes, claimed to have shot down the helicopter, but an ISAF spokesman said their were no militants in the area when the crash occurred.

It is the worst crash since August last year when 30 soldiers, mostly elite U.S. navy SEAL commandos, died when their helicopter came down in eastern Afghanistan.

US election 2012: Barack Obama serenades supporters at New York fundraiser

President Barack Obama burst into song to woo supporters at a fundraising event in New York before calling on them to boost his re-election bid.

US President Barack Obama capped off an evening of back-to-back fundraising events in New York, with a stop at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where he reiterated his pitch for re-election in 2012.

During the evening, the president wooed the audience with his singing skills, at one moment launching into Al Green's hit song "Lets Stay Together".

"I'm ..... so in love with you," Obama crooned in homage to the soul legend who was in the audience.

"Those guys didn't think I would do it," he told the crowd after his impromptu serenade, apparently referring to aides offstage.

Later, Obama touted his administration's record on an array of issues, including healthcare, job creation and the end of the Iraq war. He thanked campaign donors for their support, but warned them against complacency in this election year. "It shouldn't make you satisfied, because everything we did over the last three years is now at stake in this election," Obama said.

"America is not going to win if we do the same things, if we respond to our economic challenges with the same old, tired "cut taxes for wealthy people; let companies do whatever they want even if it's harming other folks, and somehow prosperity is going to trickle down to everybody else," he warned.

Bitter memories of 1997 contempt case. Nawaz Sharif attack on Supreme Court

The scheduled appearance of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani before the Supreme Court has revived the memories of November 28, 1997 when an unruly mob of the PML-N workers and leaders stormed the court building in Islamabad and forced then Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah to adjourn the contempt of court case against the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

During his second stint in power as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif wished to rid himself of an awkward Chief Justice, Syed Sajjad Ali Shah who was not ready to toe his line. Therefore, Sharif started consulting his confidantes as to how to get rid of the defiant chief justice. In his book, Glimpses into the Corridors of Power (OUP 2007), which was published 10 years after the apex court’s storming, a former foreign minister of Sharif cabinet, Gohar Ayub Khan, writes that Nawaz Sharif also wanted to summon the chief justice (Sajjad Shah) before the privilege committee of National Assembly (for having committed contempt of the parliament).

Giving details about the Sharif plan, Gohar Ayub Khan writes that he was first asked to provide guidance as to how Sajjad Ali Shah could be summoned before the privilege committee and later for sending him to jail. “The tussle between the premier and chief justice was reaching its peak. I got a call from the prime minister on November 5, 1997 asking me to come and see him in his chamber in the National Assembly,” Gohar Ayub writes in his memoirs. “When I arrived, I found members of the privilege committee (Nawabzada Iqbal Mehdi and several others) present in the cabinet room. The prime minister asked the chairman of the privilege committee to explain the situation to me. The chairman said that they wanted to summon the chief justice before the privilege committee and all those present (including the PM) concurred.”

Gohar Ayub Khan further writes: “I told them that the rules did not provide for such a drastic step. I have prepared the rules as speaker. No, you cannot summon him and if you make the mistake of doing so, he will disregard your summons. The privilege committee and the PM will be insulted. With that, the discussion came to an end. The PM asked me to accompany him to the PM House. In the car, the PM put his hands on my knee, and said: ‘Gohar Sahib, show me the way to arrest the chief justice and keep him in jail for a night’.” Gohar, despite being the son of Pakistan’s first military dictator Field Marshal President General Ayub Khan, was shocked and advised Sharif against even thinking about it.

But deep-thinking Sharif kept thinking till the unthinkable happened on November 27, 1997 when hundreds of the Pakistan Muslim League and Muslim Students Federation workers and leaders breached the security cordon around the Supreme Court building shortly after Nawaz Sharif had appeared before the chief justice and defence lawyer SM Zafar was arguing his case. A journalist rushed into the courtroom and warned the apex court bench of an imminent attack by an uncontrollable mob. The chief justice got up quickly, thanked SM Zafar and adjourned the hearing of the contempt case against Sharif. Led by none other than Sharif’s political secretary Colonel (R) Mushtaq Tahirkheli, the rowdy mob chanted slogans against the chief justice and damaged furniture. Famous anchor Tariq Aziz, who was a member of the National Assembly on a PML ticket at that time, threw and broke the portrait of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The police managed to restore normalcy after baton charging and tear gassing the mob, both inside and outside the courthouse.

To recall, Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was the lone dissenter in the 11-member bench of the apex court, whose decision had restored Nawaz Sharif to power in May 1993 as prime minister after he had been booted out by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Justice Shah had also ordered the release of some civil servants who had been arrested on the orders of Nawaz Sharif. These events became the starting point of a long tussle between the two. The first confrontation by Nawaz Sharif was the establishment of special trial courts which were established in contravention of the advice of the chief justice. However, Sharif finally succeeded in dividing the superior court judges into two camps. The infamous Article 58(2)-b, Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan (which empowered the President of Pakistan to dismiss the National Assembly) was restored and suspended within minutes by two separate benches of the apex court assembled against each other.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah suspended the operation of the 13th Amendment to restore the powers of the president to dissolve the National Assembly, a verdict that was set aside within minutes by another 10-member bench of the apex court. The 10-member bench led by Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui granted stay against the CJ Sajjad Shah’s order minutes after it was passed, without receiving any formal petition, a formal complaint was issued by an advocate on which notice was taken and the decision of the chief justice was set aside. All efforts to resolve the judicial crisis failed as both the groups of the superior court judges stuck to their stance and issued separate cause lists.

A two-member Quetta bench of the rebel judges of the apex court who had refused to recognise Sajjad Shah as their chief justice (headed by Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui) took up petitions questioning the validity of Shah’s appointment as chief justice and finally held his appointment in abeyance till further orders besides restraining him from performing judicial and administrative functions. Sajjad Shah declared the order of the two-member bench at Quetta without lawful authority. But in a strange move, the circuit bench of the apex court at Peshawar endorsed the verdict of Quetta bench on a petition challenging the appointment of Shah as chief justice. But Sajjad Ali Shah persevered and continued hearing the contempt case against Nawaz Sharif, eventually leading to the November 28, 1997 attack on the apex court. Sajjad Shah then requested President Farooq Leghari to take the necessary steps for action against Justice Siddiqui by the Supreme Judicial Council. Leghari subsequently wrote a letter to Nawaz Sharif, enclosing a copy of the CJ’s letter and called upon him to act under Article 190 of the Constitution and order the army to provide security cover to the court and to also initiate proceedings for misconduct against Justice Siddiqui.

The prime minister responded the same day with a long rambling letter declining both requests. Sufficient security had already been provided, he stated, and thus calling in the army was not necessary. Nawaz Sharif maintained that there was no justification in taking any action against Justice Siddiqui who later became the chief justice. Sajjad Ali Shah was finally removed as the Chief Justice of Pakistan by none other than his fellow judges on December 2, 1997. It was in March 1999 that a full bench of the apex court indicted six legislators of the PML by framing contempt of court charges against two members of parliament and four members of Punjab Assembly in the 1997 Supreme Court storming case.

Gingrich Lacks Moral Character to Be President, Ex-Wife Says


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Newt Gingrich lacks the moral character to serve as President, his second ex-wife Marianne told ABC News, saying his campaign positions on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values do not square with what she saw during their 18 years of marriage.

In her first television interview since the 1999 divorce, to be broadcast tonight on Nightline, Marianne Gingrich, a self-described conservative Republican, said she is coming forward now so voters can know what she knows about Gingrich.In her most provocative comments, the ex-Mrs. Gingrich said Newt sought an "open marriage" arrangement so he could have a mistress and a wife.

She said when Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

"And I just stared at him and he said, 'Callista doesn't care what I do,'" Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. "He wanted an open marriage and I refused."

Marianne described her "shock" at Gingrich's behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista "in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington."

"He always called me at night," she recalled, "and always ended with 'I love you.' Well, she was listening." All this happened, she said, during the same time Gingrich condemned President Bill Clinton for his lack of moral leadership. She said Newt moved for the divorce just months after she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, with her then-husband present.

"He also was advised by the doctor when I was sitting there that I was not to be under stress. He knew," she said.

Gingrich divorced his first wife, Jackie, as she was being treated for cancer. His relationship with Marianne began while he was still married to Jackie but in divorce proceedings, Marianne said.

There was no immediate comment from Gingrich on his ex-wife's allegations. Gingrich has said during the campaign he has "no relationship" with Marianne.

While she had been quoted earlier as saying she could end his career, Marianne Gingrich defended Newt's ethics while he served in Congress and came under several ethics investigations.

"At the time, I believed him to be ethical," she said in the interview.

The former Mrs. Gingrich says Newt began to plan a run for President at the time of the divorce and told her that Callista "was going to help him become President."

In a statement to ABC News provided by the campaign, Gingrich's two daughters from his first marriage said, "The failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everyone involved."

The daughters, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman said they would not say anything negative about Marianne and said their father "regrets any pain he may have caused in the past to people he loves."

Marianne Gingrich said Newt has never expressed any such regrets or apologized to her.

Karzai Aide Says U.S. Isn’t Providing Enough Details About Taliban Talks


President Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff expressed concern on Thursday about the American role in starting talks with the Taliban, complaining that Afghan officials were not being kept well informed and worrying about the possibility that the Taliban might make “a secret deal” with the United States.

The chief of staff, Abdul Karim Khurram, expressed his views in a rare interview a day after Pakistan canceled a visit by a top American envoy, Marc Grossman, throwing into disarray his efforts to hold talks on peace efforts with regional leaders.

“We have been briefed regularly by the Americans, but we don’t know all the details,” Mr. Khurram said. “We demand more clarity.”

Afghan officials have been smarting over the American effort to allow the Taliban to open an office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, as a place where talks could begin. At first, the Afghans rejected the idea, but last month they agreed; the Taliban also accepted the initiative.

“We wanted the office to be in Afghanistan, or if not, in Saudi Arabia or Turkey,” Mr. Khurram said Thursday. “But if the Taliban and America are happy about it, and if it puts an end to the war, and if it puts an end to the killing of Afghans, then we have agreed with Qatar as well.”

Five times during the 45-minute interview in the presidential palace, Mr. Khurram expressed concern about the possibility of “une affaire cachée,” as he put it in French at one point, or some sort of secret or separate deal between the Americans and the Taliban.

“We think if it’s not Afghan-led, the peace process will not be fruitful,” he said. “In case there were a secret deal, we would be concerned about it. If it’s about the peace process, then we are not worried.”

Mr. Khurram said he and Mr. Karzai would express these concerns to Mr. Grossman during his visit to Afghanistan next week.

His comments came on the second of two days of insurgent attacks that killed more than two dozen people in southern Afghanistan. At least seven civilians were killed, including two children who died when a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives on Thursday morning outside a gate at Kandahar air base, one of the largest coalition bases in Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials said. Eight more Afghan civilians were wounded, and the death toll could rise, said Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, said the insurgents were behind the attack.

Taliban fighters also attacked a police checkpoint in Now Zad district, in Helmand Province, on Thursday afternoon. At least 2 police officers and 12 Taliban fighters, including a local commander identified as Mullah Abdul Baqi, were killed in the ensuing gun battle, said Dawoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Mr. Grossman, the United States special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was denied a visa to visit Pakistan and canceled his trip there on Wednesday and went to India instead, a stop that was not previously on his two-week itinerary in the region, according to State Department officials.

He will also visit Qatar next week, according to the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland. “All of these meetings are focused on the support these countries give to Afghanistan and talking through the process of Afghan-led reconciliation and how we can support the aspirations of Afghans,” Ms. Nuland said at her daily news briefing on Wednesday.

Mr. Khurram said Pakistan’s refusal to receive Mr. Grossman raised questions about how the process could move forward. “Pakistan’s role is important in the peace process and in particular about this Qatar office issue; I don’t know, when he can’t go there, how it will affect the process.”

Because the Taliban’s top leaders live in Pakistan, their travel to Qatar would have to be facilitated by Pakistani officials.

“We asked the Americans whether Pakistan will share in this process,” Mr. Khurram said. “They didn’t give us a meaningful answer.”

Despite those concerns, Mr. Khurram said he was hopeful that the peace process could eventually show results. After the assassination in September of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president who led Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban representative, talks came to a halt. The agreement for the Taliban to open an office in Qatar, meant to serve as an “address” where they could reliably be contacted for talks, was the first sign of any progress.

American officials, too, have insisted that any peace process would have to be Afghan-led, but Taliban intermediaries are known to be insisting on talks with the Americans rather than with the Afghan government, which they have rejected as a “puppet regime.”

The Qatar deal was brokered last year in direct and indirect American talks with Tayeb Agha, a former secretary to the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. When the Taliban announced their acceptance of opening an office, they insisted that a precondition would be the release of Taliban prisoners from the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Khurram said he had information that the Taliban’s Qatar office had already started functioning with Taliban officials present, even though it had not been formally inaugurated. The next step, he said, would be the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, which Afghan officials have long favored, although he said he did not know when that step might take place.

Peshawar: No check on growing encroachments in city

The growing encroachments in different bazaars, footpaths and roads of the provincial capital are hindering the mobility of the people.

The district administration is paying no heed to the problem, that has encouraged shopkeepers, car bargainers and others to encroach roads and footpaths in front of their shops.

Talking to APP on Thursday, the residents of the city complained that the pedestrain are even unable to walk freely through these encroachments in their daily business. Most of the people park their vehicles at wrong places, further aggravating the situation. Wrong parking by the traders of their vehicles and motorbikes is also a cause of traffic jam. Illegal motor workshops at University Road were adding to the agony of people.

The traders have also occupied footpaths, with vendors setting up carts and stalls on roads, turning the bazaars into a mess for public.

The people demanded of the Peshawar Development Authority to take strict action against the encroachers.

Meanwhile, the DIG Inquiry and Investigations said that action against encroachers at Saddar and University Road would be taken very soon.

He said people could drop their complaints and suggestions in the boxes placed in different parts of the city regarding traffic police department and officials, he added.

Pakistan-U.S. ties on hold for "re-evaluation"

Pakistan's ties with the United States remain on hold following a NATO cross-border air attack, its foreign minister said on Thursday, and Washington should not push Islamabad to go after militant groups or bring them to the Afghan peace process.

"Now that the re-evaluation process is under way as we speak, so till the time that that re-evaluation process is not complete, we cannot start the re-engagement," Hina Rabbani Khar

said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

The November 26 NATO attack on the border with Afghanistan, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, plunged relations between Washington and Islamabad to their chilliest levels in years.

Yet Khar struck a positive note, stressing the long alliance was vital for the two countries.

"I think this will also give us the ability, if we play it right, to strengthen the partnership and to make it much, much more effective," she said.

"Let me categorically say that we consider our relations and our relationship with the U.S. to be an extremely important one."

Khar said proposals for the tenor and rules for relations with the United States could be out within days.

"We are trying to push for it as we speak," Khar said. "I know that they have completed their recommendations and we will look for an appropriate day to hold the joint session of parliament. The recommendations could come out in days."

The United States sees Pakistan as critical to its efforts to wind down the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, where U.S.-led NATO forces are battling a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

But the NATO border incident exacerbated a crisis in relations which erupted after U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in a unilateral raid on Pakistani soil in May last year. It embarrassed Pakistan's powerful military.

Ties between Washington and Islamabad were also severely hurt a year ago by the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor: "I would say they are conveniently on hold until we start re-engaging," said Khar.


The foreign minister rejected some media reports that Islamabad had snubbed a request by U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman to visit, saying it was a matter of choosing a more beneficial time.

The United States has long sought Pakistani cooperation in tackling the Haqqani network, the Afghan insurgent group now seen as the gravest threat to NATO and Afghan troops.

In October, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Islamabad with top U.S. military and intelligence officials and urged the Pakistanis to persuade militant groups to pursue peace in Afghanistan, and to tackle them if they don't cooperate.

Earlier, the then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, blamed a deadly bombing at the U.S. embassy in Kabul on the Haqqani network, which has long ties to al Qaeda. He said it acted as a "veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence.

Pakistan argues that the United States needs to be patient and gain a greater understanding of the region's complexities before acting, and that pressure would only hurt efforts to pacify Afghanistan.

"'Push' is never wise. I think that every country must be allowed to develop their own strategy and their own timing," said a confident-sounding Khar, stressing that another incursion by NATO or the United States would be harmful.

"What is unacceptable to Pakistan is to have any troops on the ground. What is unacceptable to Pakistan is not to respect the inviolability of our borders," she said. "All of these things make it more difficult for us to be an effective partner."

While the United States is expected to keep a modest military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, all of President Barack Obama's 'surge' troops will be home by fall and the administration - looking to refocus on domestic priorities in a presidential election year - is exploring further reductions.

Khar said the United States should take a closer look at realities on the ground in Afghanistan, where the Kabul government is hoping to make security forces more effective before Western combat troops are due home by the end of 2014.

She said: "They need to ensure that they are bound by ground realities and not artificial lines of any type, timelines or anything else."

PPP has the right to take pride

Daily Times
BY: Raja Riaz

The legislatures are meant for debating the issues confronting the nations, men at streets, government policies, and opposition notices besides legislations. It is the forum where ‘unheard’ are heard through their elected representatives who are supposed to cry out for the welfare of their constituents.

It is established fact that every parliamentarian can speak his mind in any tone, words and phrase. The parliamentarians are free to express their views without any fear as the word spoken at this platform cannot be questioned at any forum except that barred by the constitution, law or parliamentary traditions. It is a fact that the legislators, despite having this liberty, refrain from speaking against some institutions just because out of respect. Normally, parliaments do not debate the conduct of higher judiciary though having difference of opinion.

The first day of the 33rd session of the Punjab legislature was a normal — same agenda items — question hour, call attention notices, privilege and adjournment motions, same point of orders, same lack of quorum in the House, speaker’s order of adjourning the proceedings to next day as the required number of members could not be gathered in the House by the treasury when the opposition pointed out the quorum. All was the same but one point perhaps was different — the legislators wanted to discuss the prime minister’s appearance in the Supreme Court. The opposition members, especially from the PPP, wanted to speak on the issue and narrate the elegance of their leader, Yousaf Raza Gilani’s. The PML-N was reluctant to listen to them having a fear that the move will ultimately lead to a comparison with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s appearance in Supreme Court on contempt of court charge in 1997.

“The matter is sub judice and cannot be discussed here. I will never allow you to speak on this floor of House on a matter being heard in the apex court of the country,” was the reply to many folks who tried to catch the eye of the man sitting on the woolsack.

The ‘issue’ could not be taken in the House but who could stop the PPP men delivering their deliberations in the lobbying, cafeteria and corridors of the legislatures. Perhaps they wanted to take pride in their leader’s elegance or curse a former prime minister’s followers’ attitude, but were very enthusiastic to narrate the tale of moment their party leaders spent in the courtroom the Supreme Court.

What happened there on Thursday is history and would be written in golden words. Have you ever seen a prime minister so willingly appearing in court to face the charges levelled against him, was a question put up by another PPP MPA.

What happened in the Supreme Court and with whom were they comparing it? Let’s have a look – A contempt notice was served on the PPP leader and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the charges of not implementing the court order in NRO case. The gentleman appeared in the court on a fixed hour, saying “I spent six years in prison and was never reluctant to appear before the court which shows that I always respected the court. All the allies are also here in the honour of the court.”

Look who else was with him bowing head before a bench of the Supreme Court - PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Senior Federal Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, MQM Parliamentary Leader Dr Farooq Sattar, FATA Parliamentary Leader Munir Khan Orakzai, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Barrister Masood Kosar, several cabinet members and senior PPP leaders.

In concluding remarks of his seven-minute argument, the prime minister said that he would appear in the court whenever summoned. Whatever he said or answered to the allegation is another story but the fact is that not a single flower was plucked from the Supreme Court corridors, nor a single leaf was turned. It happened very smoothly.

He impressed a lot to the bench, as after his arguments, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said: “Today is the great day in the history of the country as the chief executive is appearing before the bench.” The bench also exempted the premier from appearing for the upcoming hearing of the case.

The people across the country who had glued themselves to their TV sets, waiting restlessly for high drama to unfold, relaxed their nerves when the hearing were adjourned until February 1.

The legislators were comparing his appearance in the court with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s attendance in the court in 1997. An episode of political history which is still fresh in the minds of the people when chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah and his court was ridiculed by hundreds of political workers on the very premises of the honourable court.

It was November 29, 1997, a day fixed for the hearing of a contempt notice against Nawaz Sharif but what happened - thousands of ‘political workers’ attacked the Supreme Court building. The mob also beat up Pakistan People’s Party’s senator Iqbal Haider.