Monday, January 30, 2012

Pentagon Budget


The $259 billion in budget cuts over the next five years announced by the Pentagon may sound like a lot. But they are mainly a scaling back of previously projected spending — the delights of the Washington budget games.

This year, Pentagon spending will total $531 billion. In 2017, it will rise to $567 billion. Factoring in inflation, that amounts to only a minuscule 1.6 percent real cut. (Both numbers exclude war spending — $115 billion this year.)

After a decade of unrestrained Pentagon spending increases, President Obama deserves credit for putting on the brakes. The cuts are a credible down payment on his pledge to reduce projected defense spending by $487 billion in the next decade. They are not going to be enough. In the likely absence of a bipartisan budget pact, a further automatic across-the-board 10-year cut of nearly $500 billion is to take effect starting next January.

Even if a last-minute deal heads that off, the country needs to find more savings. And there is still plenty of room to cut deeper without jeopardizing national security.

Early in January, President Obama outlined a new, more pragmatic defense strategy. Republicans predictably claimed he was hollowing out the force — but a smarter, more restrained use of force is just what the country needs to secure its vital interests.

Much of the savings will come from cutting the size of the Army and Marine Corps by almost 13 percent and stretching out purchases of planes and ships. At the same time, the military will buy more unpiloted drones, add special operations units, equip submarines to carry more cruise missiles and expand its cyberwarfare capacities.

That makes sense in a world where terrorism and unconventional attacks are a primary threat. Any plan to downsize ground forces must be matched by a credible plan to quickly build them up, if necessary.

The Pentagon also proposes a new round of domestic base closings, a less generous formula for military pay raises after 2015 and higher health insurance premiums for military retirees (families of working-age retirees now pay $500 annually), all of which we strongly support.

Unfortunately, that new thinking has been dragged down by some old-style budgetary inertia. Mr. Obama needs to push the Pentagon to do better. Here are some additional cuts that make sense:

SHRINK THE F-35 PROGRAM The total order of stealth fighters should be reduced to 1,000, from 2,440, saving more than $150 billion. The F-35 was designed as a low-cost, supercapable aircraft. It has become the costliest Pentagon procurement project ever and its performance has been disappointing. The Air Force, Navy and Marines need to cut their losses. Most of the savings would not come until the 2020s. Over $20 billion could be saved this decade by canceling the troubled Marine Corps variant.

CUT THE NUCLEAR BUDGET Mr. Obama has declared his commitment to arms control, but there is no reflection of that in the budget plan. He needs to back it up with significant cuts in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons, ballistic missile submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican, offers a sensible plan to do that, and estimates that it could save $79 billion over the next decade.

GO TO 10 AIRCRAFT CARRIER GROUPS The Pentagon could save $4 billion to $8 billion over a decade by revisiting the president’s unwise decision not to eliminate one of the 11 aircraft carriers with associated ships and aircraft. Ten would provide more than enough surge capacity to support naval air operations anywhere in the world.

We know that it is politically easier to continue programs that outlive their usefulness or outrun their cost estimates — especially when Republican politicians are so eager to promise the Pentagon a blank check. And especially when the defense industry and its lobbyists are spreading so much cash around on Capitol Hill. But the country cannot afford to continue on this way. And there is no strategic argument for doing so. The era of hard choices at the Pentagon has barely begun.

LHC may ask Shahbaz Sharif to explain holding 18 ministries

he Express Tribune‎

The Lahore High Court on Monday directed a petitioner to include Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif among the respondents in a petition against the chief minister for holding portfolios of at least 18 ministries.

As the court heard the case on Monday, Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked the petitioner, represented through his lawyer, why he had not arrayed the CM as party in the case. Advocate Noshab A Khan replied that he had not made CM as party since he enjoyed constitutional immunity. Justice Bandial said that the court would decide whether or not the chief minister enjoyed immunity.

The court adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period with directions to the petitioner to amend the petition and make CM as a respondent.

The petitioner has challenged impugned act of the Chief Minister in wake of loss of human lives due to use of unchecked substandard medicines in spite of having around 500 drug inspectors.

The lawyer, while contending his case, referred to Punjab Government Rules of Business 1974 and pointed out that it was beyond comprehension as to why the chief minister had concentrated all powers under him, maintaining portfolios of approximately 18 ministries. He said the tragedies like the one in Punjab Institute of Cardiology, would continue to occur if a full time minister was not appointed for health.

The petitioner further said that according to the rules, the relevant minister is responsible to conduct the business relating to his department in the assembly, whereas the chief minister did not even find time to attend the assembly sessions. He urged the court to declare the impugned act of the chief minister unconstitutional.

Pervaiz holds Shahbaz responsible for PIC deaths

Senior Federal Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has held Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif responsible for the deaths caused by reaction of medicines.

According to a press release, he was talking to a group of party members at his residence here on Sunday. Pervaiz stated that that he was unable to understand that why Shahbaz was still continuing to hold the office and not accepting his fault in the deaths caused by substandard medicines.

He expressed his grave concern over the deaths of cardiac patients and said that real culprits were still at large because the government was backing and providing them a safe passage to get away from the issue.

The PML-Q leader demanded the Punjab government immediately pay compensation to the families who lost their loved ones and also best treatment to those who were affected by the spurious medicines.

Shahbaz responsible for PIC drug deaths

Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz Ahmad has held Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif responsible for the deaths of heart patients through PIC drugs.
In a statement here on Sunday, he said the chief minister should accept the responsibility as he himself was looking into affairs of the health ministry. He asked the CM to resign from his office. Raja Riaz expressed concern over substandard medicines being distributed in government hospitals across the province.

LAHORE : Two more die of PIC drugs, death toll reaches 114

Dunya tv reporting:

Two more patients died due to PIC medicines in Services Hospital while YDA has called off strike.
In Services Hospital 60-year old Rahat Jahan and, 75-year-old Haji Yaseen have lost their live today after using spurious medicines of PIC. Death toll of PIC free drugs has reached 114 now.According to additional secretary health Punjab 779 patients are under treatment in different hospitals affected from reaction of medicines.

Hints of nexus between Mansoor Ijaz, PML-N


The offer of security by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to the solitary witness in the memo case, Mansoor Ijaz, is a double-edged sword at the best. On the one hand, the younger Sharif is trying to keep the memo issue alive at a time when it appears to be fizzling out, and on the other, he is strengthening the impression that Mansoor Ijaz is somehow connected to the PML-N leadership.

The younger Sharif’s offer of security is only symbolic because the inquiry commission on the memo issue has so far vested the federal government with responsibility for protecting Ijaz during his visit to Pakistan to testify before the commission. Moreover, the Punjab government would not have jurisdiction over the federally controlled airport upon arrival in Lahore. Even if the Supreme Court allows the Punjab Police to provide security inside the airport as a one-off arrangement, Ijaz and his family and business partners would have to examine the Punjab Police’s poor record in providing security.

It was a Punjab Police guard with fanatical ideological leanings who turned his gun on former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer only last year. There have been several instances where complaints have been voiced of the Punjab Police having sympathisers of extremist groups such as the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba, the anti-Ahmadi Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, and Jaish-e-Muhammad. The Punjab Police also failed to prevent attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

Ijaz’s writings, critical of jihadi groups and extremist ideology, are definitely on the radar screen of various violent groups. He was named and criticised in several rallies and demonstrations of religious groups recently, including at the Difa-e-Pakistan rally in Rawalpindi organised by pro-jihad groups.

Apart from security considerations, Ijaz might also not want to accept Shahbaz Sharif’s offer for political reasons. Already there are many factors that seem to indicate a nexus between the Sharifs and Mansoor Ijaz. It may not be in his interest to appear too closely tied to one political faction in the country even if there have been close political ties in the past or behind the scenes.

When the memo story first broke out, PML-N leader Sartaj Aziz defended Ijaz for playing a positive role during the last PML-N government. Then, it was revealed by the prime minister in a session of parliament that Senator Tariq Azeem, a Musharraf-era minister who is now close to the PML-N, had maintained telephone contact with Ijaz. Senator Azeem acknowledged that he knew Ijaz and that the two had spoken as Ijaz sought his help in hiring a lawyer in Pakistan.

The petitions on the memo issue before the Supreme Court were filed by PML-N supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif and several other party leaders. The Punjab government headed by Mian Shahbaz Sharif was not a party to the case in the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court obliged the petitioners by creating a judicial commission to hold inquiry into the memo matter, none of them brought any evidence before the commission and did not even record statements before it. Once again, the only evidence the PML-N leaders relied upon was that offered by Ijaz, making him the sole witness in the case.

Ironically, research into Ijaz’s past articles reveals that he has generally been more positively disposed towards Nawaz Sharif and his party than towards the PPP. In an article published on October 5, 1999 in the Christian Science Monitor titled ‘Toward a more constructive US role in South Asia’, he described Nawaz Sharif as the man holding the key to stability in the region.

“Ultimately, however, the key to untangling South Asia’s morass is in Sharif’s hands,” Ijaz wrote in his article, adding, “The only South Asian leader ever to have such a solid parliamentary majority at home, he should leverage it to face down restive Islamists by offering the world Pakistan’s unilateral signature on the CTBT.” In the same 1999 article, Mansoor Ijaz also complained of creeping Islamisation of the Pakistan Army. He wrote, “Pakistan’s Army officer corps, once among the most professional and secular in the world, is now suffering from the creep of impoverished, less-educated Islamists into its senior ranks.”

Although Mansoor Ijaz wrote of Nawaz Sharif’s strength on October 5, only a week later the PML-N leader’s government was toppled in the coup d’etat led by General (r) Musharraf on October 12, raising serious questions about Ijaz’s knowledge and understanding of Pakistan’s politics. Contrary to Ijaz’s assertion, the Pakistan Army that took power under General (r) Pervez Musharraf fought rather than siding with religious extremists.

Two more hospitals in Peshawar on cards

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is considering establishing two more hospitals in Peshawar to reducing massive patient influx into Lady Reading Hospital, said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health minister Zahir Shah on Saturday.

Of them, one will be established on Ring Road and second on Kohat Road, the health minister told members of the Chemists and Druggists Association of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and chief executives of Peshawar-based pharmaceutical companies at Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The minister said around 8,000 patients visited Lady Reading Hospital’s outdoor patient department daily and therefore, the
proposal of the establishment of two more hospitals in the provincial capital for easing patient burden was under consideration.

He said hospitals would also be established at divisional headquarters level to reduce patient influx into Peshawar’s hospitals.

Mr Zahir said the government had resolved the issue of shortage of trained medical staff in provincial health facilities by employing 530 doctors on ad hoc basis and induction of 300 medical specialists.

He said an official committee would be set up for resolving the chemists and druggists association’s grievances about establishment of pharmacies/drugstores in the government-owned hospitals in the province. He said the issue would be resolved through dialogue.

The minister also said the companies producing substandard medicines in the province would be dealt with strictly to prevent a Lahore-like situation in which spurious drugs killed more than 100 heart patients. He said pharmaceutical units producing substandard drugs should be identified for action.

“The key to all problems is in an end to corruption,” he said, seeking the businessmen’s cooperation to the government to block Lahore-like tragedies.

Earlier, SCCI president Afan Aziz drew the minister’s attention towards Lahore deaths and demanded a countrywide crackdown on units manufacturing drugs of poor quality.

“Action against such companies is indispensable,” he said, adding that a comprehensive strategy should be put in place to transfer the drug regulatory role to the provinces and that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should be given representation in the drug
quality control board.

PPP offers funeral prayers for victims of drug fiasco

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) members offered special funeral prayers on Sunday for the 108 victims of contaminated drugs provided by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), while also demanding resignation from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif over criminal negligence in the matter.

The Punjab and Lahore chapters of the party offered joint funeral prayers in front of the Lahore Press Club, however, none of the prominent office-bearers, including the party presidents Chaudhry Imtiaz Safdar Warraich and Samina Khalid Ghurki were present on the occasion.

The PPP has disseminated the city into four districts and 25 zones, appointing presidents for all these areas so as to strengthen the party at grass root level. However, presidents of only two districts and four zones along with hardly 50 workers participated in the prayers.

Allama Muhammad Babar Kazmi led the funeral prayers offered for the victims of the drug fiasco in the province.

Later, the party workers chanted slogans against the provincial rulers and demanded the CM’s resignation, condemning him for holding the portfolio of health minister along with 15 other ministries.

PPP Lahore General Secretary Akbar Khan along with other party leaders and office bearers, including Mian Ayub, Usman Saleem Malik, Dr Hasnat Shah, Altaf Qureshi, Shahida Jabeen, Azizur Rehman Chann, Khurram Khosa, Afnan Butt, Ayub Naqvi and Mani Pehalwan participated in the funerals and the protest that was held later.

Talking to Daily Times, the party workers strongly criticised the absence of the party’s heads and expressed concerns about the party’s declining popularity among the masses.

They said that party leaders, especially the zonal presidents, did not seem interested in working for the party or attending its events, rather concentrated on getting personal interests and incentives.

According to party sources, PPP Punjab President Imtiaz Safdar Warraich and General Secretary Samiullah Khan, both were present in the city but did not bother to participate in the prayers.

Separately, Warraich, in a statement, said that the Punjab CM was not paying attention towards the problems of the masses and spent most of his time abroad.

He said that the Punjab government should inform the nation about those responsible for the deaths from spurious drugs, adding that Shahbaz Sharif should also tell the people as to why he was not appointing anyone on the post of health minister in the province.