Thursday, January 26, 2012

Punjab Assembly’s concert ban: Another day, another disappointment

The Express Tribune

The Punjab Assembly’s resolution to ban ‘objectionable’ concerts in educational institutions passed on January 24 was refuted by another resolution submitted by PPP MPA Sajida Meer. The latter resolution called for the promotion of cultural activities in the assembly on January 25 and stated that the former ban did not ‘suit the 21st century. When the opposition leader, Raja Riaz of PPP, was denied permission to speak, the opposition staged a walked out from the Punjab Assembly.

The hype around the resolution has snowballed into wide condemnation from leading musicians of the Pakistani music industry. The move is seen as a major blow for artists, who, in a large part, earn their bread and butter from live shows and concerts.

The resolution was passed three weeks after the stampede at Alhamra led to the death of three young girls during an Atif Aslam concert.

Ahmed Ali Butt (Entity Paradigm)

The government has done their level best to destroy arts and culture in Pakistan. But despite this music survives because the internet has provided another platform for artists to promote their music on. They don’t realise that music has now become a branch of education and by putting a damper on the music industry, they are actually hurting an important channel of education.

Adnan Sarwar (Club Caramel)

The government has all the protocol and security to provide to an organisation like Jamaatud Dawa, that is allowed to hold Difa-i-Pakistan Conference with thousands of people, but they don’t have security to give to 300 students at a concert. In such a situation, India seems like the only option, but then don’t blame us for not being the ‘ideal’ ambassadors of Pakistan.

Ali Noor (Noori)

I am extremely offended by this statement. The reason we entered the music industry was to touch the cultural sensitivities of the people through live music. I have stayed away from politics throughout my music career but this is something totally unacceptable. If the government ends up passing this bill, I am not going stay silent this time around. It’s not about our livelihood; it’s a matter of principle.

Ali Azmat

The government has never really understood the issues of the country and this how they react in ignorance. I have been speaking with PML-N MPA Mohsin Latif and the Punjab chief minister and have been using Twitter to gather support against the resolution. The musicians have done little to protect their rights, which is why we don’t know about our legal rights.

Shallum Xavier (Fuzon)

My heart goes out to those who suffered in the Alhamra tragedy, but this resolution shows the incompetence of the Punjab government. About 15 years ago, there was a ban on wearing jeans and keeping long hair and this just sounds like one of those ridiculous acts. The government has never bothered to arrange funds for the musicians but they seem more than enthusiastic to stop their bread and butter. People fear Talibanisation, they don’t realise that acts like these show that Taliban thinking has already become a part of our mindset.

Faisal Kapadia (Strings)

I know this resolution is a result of the tragedy that took place at Alhamra but this not the way to go about it. Instead of banning concerts you should work on improving the security protocols and event management. Not only are concerts the only way of making a living for the musicians, they also are the only form of live entertainment.We already have Indian content running all over the channels and this is just the nail in the coffin. Punjab is the biggest venue for live performances and such a ban could seriously damage the music industry.

Meekal Hassan

These people have made Pakistan a cultural wasteland. When they closed down public venues, schools and colleges were the only source of revenue for artists. I’m planning to file a civil suit against the government. I will be meeting with my lawyer to stop the resolution before it goes through the legislative process.

Khurram Waqar (Qayaas)

It was a very sad day in the history of Punjab and music industry in general. Pakistanis are frustrated because they don’t have enough cathartic space. Cricket matches are not happening anymore and the only live action left is live music. If they keep on putting bans on leisure activities, people will definitely become suicidal.

Naswar(Snuff) Causes Oral Cancer

'Punjab hospitals give monopolised, untested drugs'

Auditor General of Pakistan has exposed a bigger health scandal involving Punjab's hospital.The inquiry conducted in the context of deaths due to wrong medication given by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. The number of deaths due to PIC medicines has crossed an alarming 102 mark, as two more people lost lives on Thursday.
The AGP report says that Punjab procured medicines worth over Rs 130 million from a single company through a single tender. Not just that, hospitals tested medicines on patients in order to check their efficacy.
According to the report, untested medicines were given to patients in Dental Hospital and Jinnah Hospital Lahore, while Sheikh Zayed Hospital Multan administered untested eye drops and lenses to patients which caused them infection.
Dr Javed Akram, Principal Allama Iqbal Medical College, Lahore, who is heading the inquiry team dealing with the PIC scam, said that certain companies have monopolies while certain medicines are administered in Pakistan because lab tests are not available or conducted.

Dr Javed said he should have been given a copy of the AGP report for him to be able to given a proper judgment.

Obama's 30% millionaire tax

President Obama this week defined what he believes should be the minimum "fair share" for millionaires and billionaires to pay in taxes. His answer: At least 30% of their income."If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30% in taxes," Obama said during his State of the Union address.
The 30% marker is the first real detail Obama has offered since proposing the so-called Buffett Rule last September. That rule is a guideline intended to ensure that the very wealthy don't pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than anyone in the middle class.

It's named, of course, after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has repeatedly asserted that he pays a lower percentage of his income to the IRS than his secretary.
The Congressional Research Service this fall estimated that a quarter of millionaires don't pay enough in federal taxes to satisfy the Buffett Rule. The CRS arrived at the number after considering what filers pay in federal income, payroll and corporate taxes combined.

Billionaires with 1% tax rates

It's not clear, though, whether the president wants the rich to pay a minimum of 30% in federal income taxes alone or on a broader swath of taxes like CRS measured. Nor is it clear how he defines $1 million in income. Is it gross, adjusted gross, modified adjusted gross or taxable income?

Obama also called for an end to tax deductions for millionaires on home, health care, retirement and child care. It's not clear how that might work in conjunction with the 30% rule.

The White House did not respond to requests for more details. Obama is set to submit his 2013 budget proposal to Congress on Feb. 13, when he might flesh out his new millionaire tax proposal.

Obama's 30% "fair share" rule raises many other questions as well.
The lessons of Romney's taxes

Among them, would it operate as a kind of alternative Alternative Minimum Tax? If so, a wealthy taxpayer might need to calculate his tax liability three times instead of just two and pay the highest tax bill of the three.

Then again, the president often talks about the Buffett rule in conjunction with tax reform. But a full-blown overhaul of the tax code is often proposed as a way to make it simpler and more efficient.

In that context, the Buffett Rule would fail the simplicity test."We're not simplifying the tax code here," said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. "Anytime you say, 'I'll follow the rules except when the rules aren't good enough,' it complicates things."

Of course, many see tax reform as an opportunity to make the tax code fairer, however they define it.

In that sense, Obama might get some support for a 30% rule, although not necessarily enough in Congress to pass it anytime soon.

At least one billionaire who could be hit hard by the 30% rule came out in support of the idea this week.

"I think it's fair," hedge fund manager George Soros told CNNMoney's Poppy Harlow at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "There are a lot of people like me ... in the 1% who feel this is appropriate."

As for the charge that Obama is pursuing class warfare? "Well, that's what my fellow hedge fund managers are saying," Soros said. "But I think it's because they don't like to pay taxes." To top of page

Obama takes message of tax reform to swing-states

Jan Brewer and President Obama

Suspected 'honor killings' shock Canada

Prosecutors are trying what they say is a chilling honor killing that led to the massacre of half of the Shafia family.

In Bahrain, Worries Grow of Violent Shiite-Sunni Confrontation


Mohammed Ibrahim, 19, a Shiite student at the University of Bahrain, says he has gotten used to the tear gas the police use to disperse protests, which he and his friends attend every Friday.

Suspended for several months after the violent suppression of last year’s pro-democracy movement, he recently was allowed back on campus.

“They had suspended me because I participated in demonstrations on the campus and there had been fights with some Sunni students,” Mr. Ibrahim said in an interview last week.

Now he is back in school, but the situation between Shiite students like him and Sunni students is very “tense,” he said.

“I don’t think any longer that peaceful demonstrations are enough,” he said. “I think we should fight the police back, when they attack us.”

Mr. Ibrahim belongs to the 14th of February movement, a group that started with peaceful protests but that in recent weeks has seen some members calling on the Internet for violent protests to overthrow the government — and especially the ruling family.

He said he and other student activists were ready to fight with stones and Molotov cocktails.

“We have to become strong, like some groups in Iraq who are defending the rights of Shiites,” said his friend Salah, 22, who would only give his first name.

People like Mr. Ibrahim and his friends are a worry to Western and Arab security officials who say that the passions unleashed by last year’s democracy campaign are evolving into another violent Shiite-Sunni confrontation, like the one that plagues Iraq.

Ever since gaining independence from Britain in 1971, the island’s Sunni rulers have had uneasy relations with some of the Shiite population, leading to periodic civil unrest. But now, according to a British security official speaking on condition of anonymity, “We see an increase of attacks against policemen and a change in the language on the Internet from Shia and Sunni young people.”

Bahrain has become the turf for a bigger regional conflict as well.

“The situation in Bahrain started as a nonsectarian movement for freedom and turned into the hottest battlefield in the Iranian-Saudi regional war,” said Omid Nouripour, a member of the German Parliament and an expert on Iran and security issues. “As the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is supporting the state-repression inside Bahrain, Iran acts as the protector of the Shia.”

Each Friday, before heading to protests, Mr. Ibrahim, like many other young Shiites, drives to Diraz, a village on the northwest coast, to listen to the kingdom’s most influential Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Issa Qassim.

On a Friday this month, the mosque was packed to overflowing with worshipers. Nearby hung a large banner portraying Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Until recently, Ayatollah Qassim preached peaceful protest, but last Friday his language changed. Criticizing police violence against female protesters, he said the police who attacked women could be attacked in return.

“This is a really dangerous message to the government,” said Habib al-Marzouk, who was present in the congregation. “He said, ‘It is enough, we cannot sit silent and see how they are attacking our women.”’

Mr. Marzouk said some Shiite youth would take that as broad approval for violence against security forces. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that since the speech some police officers had been heavily beaten.

After the brutal repression last year of the democracy protests, in which many people were injured and arrested and some, mainly protesters, were killed, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ordered an inquiry by an independent commission led by Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian lawyer.

According to its final report, released in November, 35 people died in the protests, including five security personnel. Hundreds were wounded, mainly by the police. Human rights groups say that the death toll has now risen above 50 in renewed violence.

But the report also said that protesters had attacked members of the Asian expatriate community and it criticized opposition leaders for rejecting reform proposals offered by the crown prince, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, in March 2011. Concessions offered by the prince “could have paved the way for significant constitutional, political and socioeconomic reforms and precluded the ensuing negative consequences,” it said.

“The Bassiouni Commission provides a pathway forward, but implementation will be a long and difficult process,” said Jon Alterman, Middle East director at the Center for Strategic and International studies in Washington. “There is political will in some corners of Bahrain to resolve this, but I also hear voices on all sides of this issue who argue that genuine compromise now is a mistake, because it will only lead to greater weakness and greater compromise in the future.”

For now, the opposition and government are not even on talking terms.

“We have invited the opposition several times to take part in the national dialogue and negotiations, but they always refused,” said Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, International Counselor at the Information Affairs Authority. “Our doors are wide open and they can come anytime and start the dialogue.”

Mutual distrust runs deep, people on both sides acknowledged in interviews. Ali Salman, the president of Al Wefaq, the main legal opposition group, said people would stop protesting only if they saw real changes. “We don’t want the ruling family to step down,” Mr. Salman said. “We want them to reign but to hand the power over to the people.”

“Look at the Moroccan king — he did not ignore the voices of his people and has done the right steps,” Mr. Salman said. “The problem is, we don’t see such steps in Bahrain.”

Still, Guido Steinberg, a specialist in Middle East and Gulf affairs at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, warned that opposition intransigence might be self-defeating.

“I understand that the opposition doesn’t trust the government after all the years of promises,” Mr. Steinberg said. “But I think it is making a mistake by not starting a dialogue, because they are losing more and more young people to radical Shiite movements.”

Western intelligence officials said they were also concerned that parts of the opposition were building links to questionable groups in Iraq, Lebanon and Europe. “When we hear that some members of the opposition are in touch with Hezbollah or with shady figures like the Iraqi Ahmed Chalabi, of whom we think he is acting on behalf of Iran, then this worries us,” said a French intelligence official.

Jawad Fairooz, secretary general of Wefaq and a former member of Parliament in Bahrain, acknowledged that there had been contacts with Mr. Chalabi. “Mr Chalabi has helped us with contacts in Washington like other people have done and we thank them,” Mr. Fairooz said. “But we are not allowing any person or party from outside to dictate us what to do in Bahrain.”

Wefaq’s leaders say they are aware of the risk of growing radicalization among young Shiites after nearly a year of political stalemate.

“We had incidents where some youths threw Molotov cocktails,” Mr. Salam said. “We are trying to stop it, but there are some people who would not listen anymore.”

Without concessions by the government, he said, “neither me nor Sheik Issa Qassim will be able to stop them.”

At Jaw prison, an hour by car from Manama, political detainees include 32 people under 18 years old, arrested during last year’s uprising. In interviews in a room without guards, several said they would continue to support the 14th of February movement. “We will not stop until all Khalifas will leave the country,” said Ali Sayid Hussain, 17.

Yet European intelligence officials and security experts warn that, with tensions between the West and Iran rising, the window of opportunity for the opposition to win concessions may be closing.

“The Bahraini government is getting more pressure from the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Steinberg said. “This is weakening the people within the government who want reforms and strengthens hard-liners whom the opposition is fighting.”

The unresolved conflict, meanwhile, has also increased frustration among Sunnis in Bahrain, especially the young. In Muharraq, a mainly Sunni area, the police recently had to intervene to prevent young Sunnis from disrupting a Shiite religious procession.

“There is a growing anger and fear amongst Sunni youth, especially after we see what is happening in Iraq,” said Hassan, 22, a Muharraq resident who asked not to be fully identified. “As soon as the Americans officially left, the Shiite-led government went after Sunnis.”

On Feb 14, the anniversary of the first democracy protest at the Pearl roundabout, opposition groups plan a demonstration at the place where Bahrain’s iconic Pearl monument stood, until the government bulldozed it last March.

“We thing there will be clashes,” said Mr. al-Marzouk, whose brother is a Wefaq spokesman. “Actually, we are sure about it.”

Press freedom index: big falls for Arab trio in year of protest

Syria, Bahrain and Yemen fall backwards as uprisings fail to secure democracy

Three Arab countries where popular risings have been quashed have achieved their worst-ever rankings in the annual press freedom index.

But the falls by Syria, Bahrain and Yemen are among many changes that reflect a year of unrest and protest.

The United States, for example, has dropped markedly due to the targeting of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It slipped 27 places, down to 47th place out of a total of 179 countries in the survey. Britain fell from 19th to 28th (though the reason for that remains unclear).

"Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011," said Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the international press freedom watchdog, when releasing its 10th annual index.

"Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much.

Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom.

Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them."

The statement continued: "It is no surprise that the same trio of countries, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, absolute dictatorships that permit no civil liberties, again occupy the last three places in the index."

Just above them are Syria, Iran and China. Also in the bottom 10 are Bahrain, Vietnam and Yemen.

The two countries at the top - Finland and Norway - repeated last year's performance. They were joined by Estonia and the Netherlands.

RWB comments that these countries "respect basic freedoms" and serve "as a reminder that media independence can only be maintained in strong democracies and that democracy needs media freedom."

Attempts to secure democracy in the Arab world have had contrasting political outcomes. So Tunisia (134th) rose 30 places while Bahrain (173rd) fell 29 places because of its relentless crackdown on pro-democracy movements.

While Libya (154th) turned the page on the Gaddafi era, Egypt (166th) fell 39 places because the military leadership which replaced the Mubarak regime in February has dashed the hopes of democrats. There were three periods of exceptional violence for journalists - in February, November and December.
Latin America and Africa

Many South American countries have been marked by a culture of violence towards the media and impunity for killers.

Mexico (149th), Colombia (143rd) and Honduras (135th) are the worst examples. But the biggest fall in Latin America was by Brazil, which plunged 41 places to 99th where the high level of violence resulted in the deaths of three journalists and bloggers.

Chile (80th) fell 47 places because of its many freedom of information violations, committed very often by the security forces during student protests.

Africa saw some of the biggest falls in the index. Djibouti, a discreet little dictatorship in the Horn of Africa, fell 49 places to 159th. Malawi (146th) fell 67 places because of the totalitarian tendencies of its president.

Uganda (139th) fell 43 places after becoming much more repressive. President Yoweri Museveni launched an unprecedented crackdown on opposition movements and independent media after the elections in February.

And Côte d'Ivoire fell 41 places to 159th because the media were badly hit by the fighting between the supporters of rival presidents.

South Sudan, a new nation facing many challenges, managed to enter the index in a respectable position (111th) for what is a breakaway from one of the worst ranked countries, Sudan (170th).

By contrast, Niger (29th) achieved the biggest rise in a single year, 75 places, thanks to a successful political transition.
Europe and Asia

Several European countries fall far behind rest of continent, none more than Turkey (148th), which has failed to introduce reforms and carried out a wave of arrests of journalists.

Bulgaria (80th), Greece (70th) and Italy (61st) have not addressed media freedom violations. And there was little progress from France (down to 38th), Spain (39th) and Romania (47th).

The European record remains much better than the Asian. For example, Pakistan (151st) was the world's deadliest country for journalists for the second year running.

Somalia (164th), which has been at war for 20 years, shows no sign of finding a way out of the chaos in which journalists are paying a heavy price.

In Iran (175th), the hounding and humiliating of journalists has been part of its political culture for years. The regime feeds on persecution of the media.

Iraq (152nd) fell back 22 places and is now worryingly approaching its 2008 position (158th). Burma (169th) has a slightly better position than in previous years as a result of political changes in recent months that have raised hopes but need to be confirmed.

Many arrests were made in Vietnam (172nd). In China (174th), the government responded to protests about scandals and acts of injustice by reinforcing its system of controlling news and information. There were extrajudicial arrests and internet censorship was stepped up.

There was a dramatic rise in the number of arrests in Azerbaijan (162nd) under Ilham Aliyev's autocratic government. Opposition journalists were abducted and foreign reporters were barred in order to impose a news blackout on unrest.

Bahrain protester dies in hospital after arrest during clashes between demonstrators, police


Bahrain authorities say a detainee has died after being taken into custody during clashes between security forces and Shiite-led protesters.

Thursday’s statement by the Interior Ministry says public prosecutors are investigating the death. About 40 people have died in nearly a year of nonstop unrest between Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy and the island kingdom’s majority Shiites seeking a greater voice in government and security affairs.The brief statement gave no further details on the death, but said the detainee was hospitalized and accused of “vandalism” during widespread demonstrations on Wednesday.

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Pakistan below Afghanistan in Press Freedom Index

Press freedom situation went from bad to worse in Pakistan as the country was ranked 151 in a global media organisation’s World Press Freedom Index for 2011-12 – a point below Afghanistan (150th) – as violence remained the main concern for journalists, under constant threat from Taliban, religious extremists, separatist movements and political groups.

With 10 deaths in 2011, Pakistan was the world’s deadliest country for journalists for the second year in a row, Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), said on Wednesday in a press statement after releasing the index.

“This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world,” RSF said as it released the 10th annual Press Freedom Index.

“Many media paid dearly for their coverage of democratic aspirations or opposition movements. Control of news and information continued to tempt governments and to be a question of survival for totalitarian and repressive regimes.” It added, “Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011. Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous.” “The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.”

It said it is no surprise that the same trio of countries, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, “absolute dictatorships” that permit no civil liberties, again occupy the last three places in the index. “This year, they are immediately preceded at the bottom by Syria, Iran and China, three countries that seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror, and by Bahrain and Vietnam, quintessential oppressive regimes. Other countries such as Uganda and Belarus have also become much more repressive.”

Situation for Asia-Pacific was not good, according to the RSF Press Freedom Index.

“Those who are traditionally good performers did not shine in 2011. With New Zealand’s fall to 13th position, no country in the Asia-Pacific region figured among the top 10 in the index,” it alarmed.

“This year’s index finds the same group of countries at its head, countries such as Finland, Norway and Netherlands that respect basic freedoms. This serves as a reminder that media independence can only be maintained in strong democracies and that democracy needs media freedom.”

World’s biggest democracy also witnessed attacks on media. “In India (131st), journalists were exposed to violence stemming from the persistent conflicts in the states of Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir. The threat from mafia groups operating in the main cities of the country also contributed to self-censorship,” the index said.

However, the Indian authorities were “no better”. In May, they unveiled the ‘Information Technology Rules 2011’, which have dangerous implications for online freedom of expression.

Congresswomen find no ''No Women's Restroom'' at Saudi Defense Ministry


Four congresswomen got an up-close look at gender segregation in Saudi Arabia during a trip to the Middle East earlier this month.The congresswomen — Republican Reps. Diane Black of Tennessee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Kay Granger of Texas and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — traveled there with five congressmen to talk with government officials about how the region assesses the threat of a nuclear Iran.

When the lawmakers asked to use the bathroom after a lengthy visit to the Saudi Defense Ministry, they ran into an unexpected challenge: no women's restroom.

"It was kind of like, hmm, OK, I've heard about oppression, but really there are just some things that are natural and biological," Black, a former nurse, said with a laugh.

The male lawmakers on the trip, who learned about the problem only after they had used the facilities, offered to stand outside the men's restroom while the women used it. But the Saudis seemed to frown on that option, so the women had to "wait and endure it," said Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, the lone Democrat on the trip.

Welch and Black said Saudi officials didn't seem bothered by the lawmakers' predicament.

"'Why would you need it?' That was sort of their attitude," Welch said. "No Saudi women work there but you would think that they were accustomed to having delegations from Western countries that included women."

The experience was "astonishing," Welch said, but the lawmakers didn't complain because they understood they were in another country with different rules.

"These are strong independent women and they're used to being treated equally and treating others equally, and you're in a society where there's strict segregation and it's pretty stunning," he said.

The World Economic Forum 2011 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 131th out of 135 countries for gender parity, ahead of only Mali, Pakistan, Chad and Yemen. It was one of four countries, including Belize, Brunei Darussalam and Qatar, to score a zero for political empowerment of women.

Saudi women cannot drive a car or leave home without a male family member's permission, and many struggle to find jobs in sex-segregated workplaces.

Women also must adhere to a strict dress code, although Western officials aren't subject to those rules while traveling in the country. Most Saudi women wear a headscarf, veil and abaya, a floor-length cloak.

Nadya Khalife, a Middle East and North Africa researcher in the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch with offices in Washington and around the world, said she's "not at all surprised" that the Saudi Defense Ministry lacks a women's restroom.

"This just goes to show the extent to which the Saudi government doesn't have women in mind," she wrote in an email. "Not only are women invisible in their architectural plans, but also as full members in society."

An official at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia's 87-year-old King Abdullah has promised some reforms, such as allowing women to vote in municipal elections in 2015. The country also has built its first all-women's university, sponsored efforts to reduce domestic abuse and opened some retail jobs to women — such as working in lingerie shops, which had been staffed mostly by men.

Black said the Saudi government is making progress, especially in women's education.

"They are aware that they have to look at women's rights more seriously," she said.

Saudi Arabia “in violation of all core labor standards”

Saudi Arabia has an alarming level of child labor, discrimination and forced labor, a new report released by the International Trade Union Confederation revealed.

The revelations are staggering and the confederation said that Saudi Arabia “is in violation of all core labor standards.”

The report was to be delivered to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) review of the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom on Wednesday.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC, said in a statement that there is not a single trade union in Saudi Arabia, as “the law does not allow them to exist.

“Employees are only allowed to organise so-called “workers’ committees” which must include the participation of the government and the employer. Unions, collective bargaining, strikes, even public demonstrations are banned.

“Despite the strike ban, some unauthorized strikes do take place, In October last year, 16 Chinese workers were arrested for participating in a strike involving at least 100 Chinese workers in a rail construction project. The strikers demanded a salary increase and improved working and living conditions,” said Burrow.

Workers advocate for the Gulf region and blogger/activist Mohamed Abdulaziz told via telephone in Beirut that “this is not surprising to those of us who have followed labor in Saudi Arabia. Maybe the international community will step up.”

The report continues to condemn the open discrimination of women in the workforce. It said that women often need permission from their male “guardian” just to take a job.

“Women who do work, earn 84 percent less than men in similar roles,” the report stated.

The report said that the 8.3 migrant workers in the country, and even more so the 1.5 female domestic workers, “bear the brunt of abuse, with many working in slavery like conditions.”

“Thousands of migrant workers are the victims of torture, work long hours, live in confined conditions and, in general, are deprived of their basic freedoms. The Saudi authorities have repeatedly failed to address the issue and redress extreme abuses which remain unpunished,” continued Burrow.

“Saudi Arabia’s wealth and status is built on the backs of workers who face ritual beatings, torture and are denied their basic freedoms. It’s time to clean up the Saudi economy and give all workers the right to organise, collectively bargain and strike,” she added.

PIC medical tragedy: Incompetent CM Shahbaz Sharif must resign
by:Dr.Saif Ur Rehman

Around 100 tragic deaths of heart patients have occured due to fake medicines provided by the Punjab Governments’ PIC (Punjab Institute of Cardiolology).

This is yet another blunder by chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif. Since three weeks, he was waiting for more death toll just like a monster, not much different from his slow-motion response to the dengue epidemic.

In March 2011, National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad and federal government had requested the Punjab government to take necessary steps against impending dengue outbreak. National insititute of health (NIH) is Pakistan’s leading scientific research institute, it plays important role in diseases, the biological effects of environmental contamination and provision of vaccine.

It also has an early warning disease system. NIH had warned Punjab government about possible consequences but they paid no heed and as dengue outbroke, Shahbaz’s reponse was too poor; late in fumigations and lack of public awareness campaign led to edpidemic in Punjab.

Moreover, most effective way to control dengue virus transmission is biological method. No appropriate and prompt measures were taken. Dengue fever took 1000 lives in the Punjab.

Shahbaz Sharif must resign over increasing deaths due to substandard life saving drugs and poor health services in the Punjab.

It is a fact that the PIC is the largest cardiac center in Pakistan. It is the first ISO certified hospital in the government sector. But during Shahbaz Sharif’s four years administration, PIC has been put to dubious deals with unauthorized local pharmaceuticals like Alfalah Pharma, Mega Pharmaceuticals and Pharmawise laboratories. Many of these laboratories are known to provide kickbacks to Punjab government in order to earn expensive contracts and supply fake medicines in return.

According to the Drug Act 1976, The Quality Control system at the federal and provincial level is supported by the professionally
competent drug inspectorates and laboratory services.

This is absolutely criminal negligence on the part of the Punjab government, another faux pas within ten months. It is incredible that instead of tendering his resignation, CM Shahbaz Sharif is still trying to fool the nation that substandard life saving drugs are of imported brand.

Such incompetent Chief Minister must be removed by no-confidence movement in the Punjab assembly without any delay, so that peoples’ lives in the Punjab could be saved, and such tragic incidents are averted in the future.

Balochistan journalists lament lack of security

The Express Tribune

Balochistan is the second most dangerous place after Afghanistan for journalists as they are under serious threats to their lives. These views were expressed by senior journalists during a conference held at the Quetta press club on Wednesday to pay tribute to senior journalist, Akhtar Mirza, who died of cardiac arrest two months ago.

According to journalists, Mirza, 42, Resident Editor of an Urdu daily in Quetta, was working under immense pressure that led to his deteriorating health. President of Quetta press club Saleem Shahid, senior journalists Anwar Sajidi, Raza-ur-Rehman, Essa Tareen and others also spoke on the occasion.

“Balochistan is a conflict zone and journalists are most vulnerable here. Intolerance prevails among political parties, armed groups and government institutions, as everyone wants extensive and exclusive coverage. They pressurise reporters and editors and sometimes send threats,” opined one of the speakers.

The participants agreed that it was the responsibility of journalists to be careful while reporting sensitive issues since there are no security arrangements for journalists. Considering the present circumstances it would be useless to demand protection from the government, they added.

Over 14 journalists have been killed so far over the past couple of years in Balochistan.

Awami National Party to militants: 'Accept govt's writ if not surrendering arms'

Even if the militants do not lay their weapons, they should accept the writ of the government, said Awami National Party (ANP) president Asfandyar Wali Khan

during a party address on Thursday.

“It is considered humiliating in the Pashtun culture to ask someone to surrender their arms,” Asfandyar added while speaking on the occasion of the death anniversary of his father Wali Khan and grandfather Bacha Khan.

Asfandyar also remarked that the people of FATA will choose out of their own will whether they want to join Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or form a separate province.

He added: “We want peace in Afghanistan and both the countries [Pakistan and Afghanistan] should sit down for talks to ensure that the end of violence in the Pashtun belt… The ANP has won the battle for the rights of Pashtuns and is now fighting for their survival.”

No institution should be allowed to supersede the limits set by the Constitution, only the parliament is supreme and no undemocratic step will be endorsed by the ANP, the party chief added.

ANP Provincial President Afrasiyab Khattak, addressing the rally, said that the ANP is the biggest party in the province as more than 2.3 million people joined the party recently. He added that almost 500 ANP workers have been killed in violence in the province.

KP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti added that the provincial government has increased the development in the province and took to record heights. “ADP (Annual Development Program) increased to 80%, which is the highest in any government’s record.”

Shahbaz Sharif responsible for drug-caused deaths

Punjab Governor Sardar Muhammed Latif Khosa on Thursday said Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif is responsible for the deaths caused by the massive reaction of heart medicines which hitherto claimed over hundred lives in Punjab.
Talking to media after addressing a ceremony at University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, he said even the ablest and most competent person cannot run 18 ministries single-handedly, adding that Punjab is being ruled over in the fashion of Mughal emperors.

nawaz sharif & shabaz sharif: ''The conceit of Sharifs''


One knows not if to laugh or to weep, so coarse and outrageous is the hypocrisy, hyperbole and conceit of the Sharifs. Over these days, they squeak like a bird that the rulers have failed, as if they are no part of the ruling tribe, whereas they are very much of it, holding the reins of power of the country’s most populous and quite decisive province of Punjab. Of course, it is an unpardonable wastage of precious breath to dwell on the act of the Zardari & Co; such an utter failure has it demonstrably been in administering the country. But no better is the Sharifs Inc. Its hoax of good governance is receiving a cruel burial nowadays in the government hospitals of the province’s capital city of Lahore, where patients in scores are dying after taking the government-procured substandard medicines on the beds, horror of horrors, occupied by not one but two patients each simultaneously.

And yet the Sharifs have the gall of holding on unabashedly to their obscene pretence of running a competent, efficient, people-friendly and corruption-free administration in Punjab, even as this churlish posturing of theirs had been busted earlier revealingly by their confusion, paralysis and collapse when a fatal dengue fever struck the province and felled its residents in hundreds like a wind would the tree leaves in autumn. Indeed, if the Zardari & Co. is setting ever-new record in mismanagement, misuse of office and sleaze and corruption, the Sharifs Inc. is not lagging any notch behind. It too has set an unbeatable record of not even a single secondary education board of Punjab having produced an accurate examination result this year on its watch.

Surely, the Khaddam-e-Punjab will go down in history with the distinction of running a government primary school, of all the places, in a graveyard in Rawalpindi where its only two teachers were captured on camera by a contemporary teaching their pupils amidst the graves of their ancestors. While a gaudy costly media campaign, unquestioningly mounted for the personal projection of the Khaddam and his elder sibling at the poor taxpayer’s expense, tells effusively of the Sharif Inc. having launched on a daanish schools project for the talented poor students’ exclusive benefit, there are hundreds of thousands poor students studying in the province’s unkempt government-run schools that look more like animal pens than nurseries of schooling.

The pathetic condition of these schools in rural areas is though just unspeakable, so neglected and ignored are they. But no lesser gloomy is these schools’ plight in urban areas, particularly the downtowns. Schools are aplenty having no building worth the name and holding classes on roadsides and streets. And teacher absenteeism abounds as much in rural as in urban schools. Yet the Sharifs Inc. has not deemed them fit for their benevolent care, plainly because refurbishing them is hugely painstaking laborious job which is the two siblings’ no cup of tea. It is populism and pork barrel that comes natural to them. For, it is the vote bank, not the public interest that compellingly appeals to them.
Never ever the two Sharif Brothers have been found wanting in galling the people’s ears with their nauseating brags that thousands of laptops, albeit state-funded, they have distributed among “deserving” students and many more would they so distribute in months ahead. Of course, one cannot grudge the luck of the fortunate receivers of this gift. But couldn’t the two brothers conserve this state moolah for spending on giving, if not buildings and furniture which many a Punjab government-run school have not the good luck to have, at least science laboratories to some of them. Had indeed they been really public-spirited and people-friendly, they would have fretted hard for providing adequate facilities for science teaching in these schools. But a lot of them do not have even a science teacher.
But this spirit the siblings lack acutely, manifestly. Punjab is certainly the nation’s one huge food granary. But can you imagine even in this food-growing land its residents buying even vegetables at the gold price? There indeed is no control on price in the Punjab bazaar as well. It is as bad, if not worse, as the bazaars of Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, or for that matter, Islamabad’s. So where is the difference? It is all the same. No incumbent ruler carries any distinction. The only difference in them is in the skill of media management, in which the Sharifs Inc. definitely has a huge edge over the Zardari & Co.
Just imagine. Punjab by every account is in the lap of waltzing lawlessness and criminality. Street crimes, car-lifting, motor-bike snatching, thefts and dacoities are in a dizzy binge. Highway robberies are galore. The countryside is being robbed wholesale by thieves, dacoits, robbers and cattle-rustlers. The people of the province have indeed lost all their sense of safety and security. Yet the Sharifs Inc.’s conch, one Rana Sanaullah, a Punjab minister, has the audacity to brag that security of Mansoor Ijaz, an operator of the Memogate scam, can be entrusted to the Punjab government. Can anyone match this joke of the century?
But brag as they may. The people at large take the Sharifs Inc. as much part of the same league as the Zardari & Co: kleptocracy. Both the clans come to them people as kleptocrats, nothing less and nothing more. That is the bland truth.

Ban on musical concerts in Punjab

EDITORIAL:DAILY TIMES ''Land of the absurd''

On Tuesday, the Punjab Assembly ‘unanimously’ passed a resolution seeking a ban on ‘objectionable’ musical concerts in public and private educational institutions. The original resolution, moved by PML-Q’s Seemal Kamran, was against all concerts, as they were somehow considered ‘unethical’ and ‘immoral’. At first the treasury opposed a blanket ban but later acquiesced after the insertion of the word ‘objectionable’ instead of all musical concerts on the insistence of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. The redoubtable minister then tried to justify the ban in the light of the stampede that took place at a concert recently without explaining how that concert was ‘objectionable’. Once the resolution came under fire from the media and civil society, the Punjab government distanced itself from it as an afterthought. PPP parliamentarians claimed that only a handful of parliamentarians were present in the assembly, thus the passage of such a resolution should not be a blot on the entire Punjab Assembly. PPP MPA Sajida Mir tabled another resolution yesterday against Tuesday’s resolution.

The new resolution notwithstanding, it is abominable that the assembly of the largest province of the country actually thought it fit to ban ‘objectionable’ concerts without even defining the word. If the assembly cannot even use its collective brains to come up with a proper definition of the word ‘objectionable’, people can only shake their heads at the intellectual and mental incapacity of arguably the most backward province of the country. As it is, the space for cultural events and entertainment activities has shrunk due to the threat of terrorism. Youth have no healthy activities to look forward to, which might lead them to indulge in unhealthy activities in frustration instead. Concerts are public events and to date we have not heard of a concert where anything ‘objectionable’ — whatever that means — has ever taken place. In trying to take this supposedly moral high ground and becoming a moral police, the Punjab Assembly is proving its lack of vision, narrowness and stupidity. They must hang their head in shame for coming up with a despicable resolution in the first place.

Let it be noted that intolerance and extremism based on misplaced religious zealotry is not just confined to Punjab but has taken over our whole society. Recently a morning show host on a private TV channel donned the mantle of the moral police seeking out couples enjoying a relaxing time in parks. Not only did she accost them, she also accused them of doing something their parents would not approve of. The scenes from that particular programme could only horrify those who stand for freedoms and advocate good sense. The said host did apologise to her viewers even though it was anything but a proper apology. As for the new resolution in the Punjab Assembly, it is a silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud.

Shahbaz Sharif: Responsible for deadly drugs


Imagine the potential for more tragedies this man-made epidemic has unleashed upon us as about 46,000 cardiac patients have taken the contaminated drugs across Punjab province. At least 76 people have already died due to the fatal reaction of these drugs while many are dying either lying on hospital beds or in their homes in remote areas where health facilities are even worse than the provincial capital. The Punjab health department’s incompetence has doubtlessly cost them their lives through the free medicines they obtained from the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), Lahore. Now the provincial government is using more financial resources out of its already depleted kitty to recall such medicines from the surviving patients through a door-to-door campaign. But is that enough to remedy this criminal neglect? Can the Punjab government justify its existence any more after unleashing death on its citizens last year through the dengue outbreak and now with the supply of these deadly drugs? Why should the Punjab chief minister (CM) not be questioned and held responsible for a fiasco of such tragic nature? After all, out of 31, he sports 22 ministerial portfolios and the health ministry is one of them.

Talking to the media outside a hospital, CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has pledged to take stern action against those found guilty in the inquiry report ordered by him. Mr Sharif seems to have ignored that being head of the health ministry, the buck stops with him. Had he ever given a single thought to the critical nature of this department directly related to the life and death of citizens and given it in command of a professional instead of imposing himself as its head, matters at the provincial health department would not have been degraded to this extent where scandals erupt one after another and people suffer the loss of their loved ones. The Punjab government is virtually a one-man show where the highhanded ‘Khadim-e-Aala’ has kept almost all important ministerial portfolios under his nose, brushing aside the fact that it is humanly impossible for one to run so many departments and deliver on any front. This also raises questions about the competence of other members in the provincial assembly from his political party, the PML-N. It seems that there is no one capable of or trustworthy enough to be entrusted with the responsibility of leading any government department. Mr Sharif has thus taken this responsibility upon his own shoulders and despite failing on different fronts and facing criticism for his attitude even from within his party, he does not agree to tread the democratic path and share his powers with other eligible members.

This drug-reaction fatal tragedy has exacerbated the concerns about the CM’s approach to governance in dealing with the challenges of the public health regime. Although the accused drug makers are under arrest, the CM cannot simply save his skin by shifting the responsibility or blame onto others for the existing irregularities and flaws in the provincial health sector. He has to explain his position satisfactorily in front of the Punjab Assembly immediately.

Unfortunately, even after so many deaths no one has shown the moral courage and sense of responsibility to resign, or showed the least regret for the negligence and loss of precious lives. The Lahore High Court is going to hear a drug-reaction petition filed by the Judicial Activism Panel on January 26. It is hoped that justice will be served against those who played mercilessly with the lives of people in this case. *

Border closure deals a blow to Chitral trade


The August 2011 sealing of Chitral’s border with Kunar province of Afghanistan after the Taliban attack on security checkposts has curtailed commercial activities and increased unemployment in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s northern district.

Local traders say Afghan areas of Kunar and Nooristan, which heavily depend on Chitral for goods of daily use and medicines, are troubled by the border closure.

Haji Mohammad Shifa, of Drosh town, told Dawn that Nooristan and Kunar people used to turn up in large numbers for pulses, ghee, rice, sugar and other food items but their visit had been blocked by the border sealing prompted by a Taliban attack on security forces’ checkposts in August last year. He said sales of local traders had considerably dropped over the last six months.

“We used to employ many salesmen to cope with the influx of Afghans but majority of them have been laid off in light of a drop in arrivals of foreign visitors,” he said.

Before the border was sealed, a large number of Afghan nationals used to benefit from health facilities of Chitral resulting in high sales of local drugstores. However, the situation is no more the same.

Fakhre Alam, a local distributor of different national and multinational pharmaceutical companies, said his sales had dropped more than 40 per cent after the border was sealed.

A doctor said 40 to 50 people used to visit his clinic before the border sealing but the number had reduced to 20 on average over the last six month. He also said the district headquarters hospital had reported a decline in the arrival of outdoor patients, mostly Afghans.

Abdul Haq, the administrator of a private diagnostic centre, said the number of patients visiting his facility for X-ray and diagnostic tests had reduced by 30 per cent due to border closure. Chitral-Drosh and Chitral-Arandu transporters have also reported low business since August last year

ANP marks death anniversaries of Bacha, Wali Khan today

The Awami National Party (ANP) is fully geared up to observe the death anniversaries of its revered leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan, and his son Khan Abdul Wali Khan today (Thursday).

The largest gathering in this connection is being held in Peshawar at the Tehmas Khan Football Stadium, which has been decorated with the party flags. Banners and pictures of ANP leaders have also been installed at the roundabouts in the city.

ANP Central President Asfandyar Wali Khan, Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti and a number of senior party leaders would address the gathering. It will be the first public gathering of the party in Peshawar since it coming into power after the 2008 general election. The party avoided holding public gatherings in the city as its leadership was on the hit list of the militants. ANP leaders and workers were targeted by militants and over 500 were killed for launching military operations against them.

For the last few weeks, the provincial leadership worked hard to make the Peshawar show a success. A number of party leaders, some of them aspirants for forthcoming Senate elections, published advertisements in newspapers to urge party workers to attend the gathering. Short Messaging Service (SMS) were also circulated to attract people to public meeting. Also, the ANP-led government has announced public holiday on the occasion.

Bacha Khan and Wali Khan played a pivotal role in guiding Pakhtuns to fight for independence from the British Raj. They also struggled for democracy in Pakistan and suffered due to their beliefs.

Both the leaders, having identical beliefs and visions but with slightly different leadership style, stood firm for the rights of all nationalities in the country. Wali Khan was a strong voice against militancy, religious extremism and an articulate spokesman for the people’s right and progressive ideals.

ANP openly defied militancy and religious extremism and the only political force in the country with a clear and brave stance against terrorism.

The ANP supporters argue that renaming the province, passage of 18th Amendment, National Finance Commission Award, paying the net hydel profits to the province, scrapping the Kalabagh Dam project, bringing normalcy to Swat and handling of Malakand IDPs are major achievements of ANP in a short span of time.

Establishment of a number of colleges, universities and medical colleges, successful restoration of relative peace and standing firm for the cause of democracy in the challenging circumstances are some of its other achievements. However, the depressed economic situation, insecurity, inflation, energy crisis, etc have caused frustration among the people and damaged the ANP-led government’s image.

Balochistan Students body threatens to block TV channels

A students organisation in Balochistan Wednesday threatens to block all the channels, which, according to them, were showing partiality in their telecast.

Central Committee of the Baloch Students Organisation (Muhiyuddin) met here under the chair of Muhiyuddin Baloch. The meeting said the channels are making electricity loadshedding and CNG closer in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi as breaking news but completely ignore situation in Balochistan. They said being afraid of blockage of advertisements, these channels don’t highlight Balochistan issues in their transmission.

They said the channels would be blocked in Balochistan province and Baloch areas of Karachi. They said they would also talk to representatives of journalist community and cable operators’ association to lodge a protest in this regard.

Pakistan's premier eases criticism

Pakistan's prime minister toned down his criticism of the country's powerful generals Wednesday, a sign of lessening tension between the civilian government and the army that some predicted could topple the nation's leaders.

The two sides have long been in conflict, but tempers flared in recent months over a secret memo allegedly sent by the government to Washington last year asking for help in stopping a supposed army coup after the U.S. operation to kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. The government has denied any connection to the letter.

The political crisis has come as the government is facing an array of challenges, including a struggling economy, rampant militant violence and troubled relations with its most important ally, the United States.

Denying it ever planned to carry out a coup, the army was outraged by the memo and pushed the Supreme Court to investigate, against the government's wishes. The probe prompted a war of words between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the army. He tried to calm that on Wednesday.

"I want to dispel the impression that the military leadership acted unconstitutionally or violated rules," Pakistani state television reported Gilani as saying. "We have to be seen as being on the same page."

His comments followed a meeting Tuesday with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the head of the army's powerful intelligence agency, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha. The talk was another sign that tempers had cooled.

Gilani previously criticized the army for cooperating with the Supreme Court investigation and said the standoff was nothing less than a choice between "democracy and dictatorship."

The army had warned of possible "grievous consequences" if the government did not tone down criticism.

The conflict raised fears of a military coup, something that has happened three times since Pakistan was founded in 1947. Many analysts doubted a coup was imminent, but some speculated that the army was working with the Supreme Court to oust the government through constitutional means.

The court has clashed with the government on a separate case involving old corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari and even threatened to hold the prime minister in contempt over the matter.

In apparent sectarian violence Wednesday, gunmen on motorcycles killed six Shiite Muslims in two attacks in different parts of Pakistan.

Three Shiite lawyers were killed and one wounded in the southern city of Karachi, said local police officer Naeem Shaikh. The dead included a father, son and nephew, he said.

Three Shiites riding in a car were killed in the southeastern city of Quetta, said police officer Shaukat Khan. The dead included a member of the Federal Investigation Agency, he said.

Sunni Muslim militants have carried out scores of attacks against minority Shiites in Pakistan.