Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Are we sure our drugs are safe?

When Americans pick up their prescriptions from the pharmacy or reach for a prescription bottle from their medicine cabinet, they probably don't think much about where the drugs were made or whether they are safe.

What most Americans don't realize is the staggering fact that the number of drug products manufactured outside the United States has doubled between 2001 and 2008. Nearly 40% of all drugs taken by Americans come from overseas, and nearly 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients used to make these drugs also come from foreign countries -- mainly China and India.

I support the global marketplace, but we must be aware that without the proper enforcement of quality standards, the trust we put in the safety of the prescriptions we take can be broken at any time by a supplier in China, a counterfeiter in India or an importer from Thailand.

Too many people believe incorrectly that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to properly monitor our drug supply system for safety. Under current law, the FDA does not have the authority to require a manufacturer to notify the agency if a drug has been corrupted, to recall pharmaceuticals that the FDA believes are unsafe, to refuse imported pharmaceuticals that are counterfeited at the border or to ensure that drug manufacturers are responsible for quality controls throughout their supply chain. These are authorities we must give to FDA if we are to truly oversee the safety of our drug supply.

Even more worrisome is the inability of the FDA to conduct comparable inspections of domestic and foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers. It lacks the necessary funding and personnel.

Domestic pharmaceutical facilities are inspected, on average, every two years by the FDA, whereas foreign drug facilities are inspected only every nine years. According to the Government Accountability Office, some of the 3,765 foreign drug establishments in the FDA's database may never have been inspected. An increasing demand, coupled with an expanding globalized drug market, blatantly calls for a more globalized and fully equipped FDA.

A globalized FDA not only would ensure safety; it would also level the playing field for our manufacturers.

FDA approval is the gold standard in the world marketplace: domestic pharmaceutical and ingredient manufacturers in the United States are held to that high standard. Their foreign counterparts should be, too. These competitors are from countries like India and China, nations that are home to 70% of the world's drug manufacturing sites, up from just 49% in 2004.

Now, more than ever, U.S. manufacturing facilities should be rewarded, not penalized, for retaining jobs in the United States. It is not only fair and the right thing to do to protect American competitiveness, it's critically important for the health of American consumers.

Although improved drug safety authorities for the FDA are important, they will be ineffective without a reliable funding stream, free from political whims, to implement them. A chronically underfunded agency, like the FDA, cannot successfully oversee our drug supply's safety without a stable funding source that will allow the agency to hire the staff it needs to conduct inspections overseas or to monitor pharmaceuticals that are entering our country. The re-authorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, which expires in October, offers an opportunity to remedy these problems.

As we begin debate and negotiations around the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are equipping the FDA with the resources, personnel and authorities to assure the pharmaceuticals Americans take every day are neither contaminated, counterfeited, corrupted nor mislabeled.

It is hard to believe that it already has been three years since the contaminated blood thinner heparin, which authorities believe originated in China, killed several people and caused multiple cases of serious illness. Although fears generated by this crisis may have subsided, the reality that it can happen again should be fresh in the minds of those of us on the Hill as we reauthorize the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, and give the FDA more authority in the process.

This is not and should not be a partisan issue. We must focus not only on making, and ensuring timely access to, the latest innovative drug treatments, but on establishing one quality standard for every drug sold in the United States. American consumers, and their families, deserve no less.

Pakistan finally secures preferential trade deal with EU

The Council for Trade in Goods of the World Trade Organisation at its meeting in Geneva on Wednesday unanimously approved a Pakistan-specific EU trade package (Autonomous Trade Preferences) which would allow tariff-free export of 75 Pakistani products to European Union markets over the next two years. The long awaited trade deal between Pakistan and the European Union has faced delays over objections raised by India and Bangladesh among other countries.

A foreign office statement said the package will enter into force after it is formally approved by the WTO General Council in March this year.

In recognition of Pakistan’s sacrifices against extremism and Al-Qaeda, taking into account the economic losses suffered due to terrorism and devastating floods in 2010 the EU leadership decided to give Pakistan specific tariff concessions in the form of autonomous trade preferences under which 75 Pakistani products would benefit from duty free access to the European Markets. These Trade Concessions however required a WTO waiver. The EU applied for the WTO waiver in January 2011. The waiver request enjoyed the support of 150 of the 152 members of WTO. India out rightly opposed it and Bangladesh expressed certain reservations demanding compensation.

This trade deal would help boost exports to the EU that are currently worth almost $300 million. The foreign office and the government had been working towards creasing out differences to secure the EU preferential trade deal. In an earlier exclusive report by Pakistan Today, sources pointed out that “the issue of the removal of Indian objection from the EU unilateral trade concession was first taken up by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at Mohali, in his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the ICC World Cup Semi Final.”

In the last meeting of the WTO committee for trade in goods, Bangladesh had objected to the deal however upon investigation in an exclusive report filed earlier, sources pointed out that it was a ‘miscommunication’ and the trade package would certainly go through in February.

While talking to Pakistan’s ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union, Jalil Abbas Jillani he explained that the European Union member states following an internal debate gave their collective approval for this trade package last year. It was only after the approval that a European commission was authorised to apply to the WTO for a waiver. In the WTO, all 27 EU member states speak with one voice represented by a single EU ambassador he said. In reply to whether these concessions were being sought in a permanent capacity or if there was a timeline for these concessions, Ambassador Jillani said that these concessions would only be temporary and are intended for a 2-3 year period as a bridging mechanism till 2014. This is due to the fact that in 2014 a new GSP scheme would come into effect where Pakistan would be well placed to benefit from duty free treatment under GSP Plus for a much larger number of products.

While talking about how the recession in Europe would affect Pakistan’s exports to Europe after the duty free access for 75 products, Ambassador Jilani said there is little likelihood of such an impact. This is because the maximum impact of European austerity would naturally be on the consumption and import of luxury and higher end products. Since the imports from Pakistan do not fall in this category therefore Pakistan’s exports to the EU are not expected to be adversely affected.

“Pakistan is thankful to all WTO member countries for their support. The government of Pakistan particularly appreciates the European Union and its member states for their commitment to help Pakistan revive and stabilize its economy through trade,” the foreign office said.

Hinna Rabbani's Exclusive Interview with tolo news

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hinna Rabbani Khar speaks to TOLOnews exclusively, discussing Afghanistan-Pakistan ties and the relationship between Pakistan and the United States

President Zardari stresses more collaboration with China

President Zardari feels there is room for more interaction with China.
Presnt Asif Ali Zardari has stressed the need for Pakistan and China to deal with the world economy together and act in accordance with the new global demands.
In an interview with China’s Peoples Daily Online, the President said as the world is settling in new situation, Pakistan and China need to find new comfort zone for further collaboration in all dimensions.
President Zardari termed growth of China as emergence of a new Japan, the largest economy in the world and added that all friends of China would be part of that rise.
Zardari said Pakistan established diplomatic relations with China at a time when the latter was not open in relations with the outside world.
Referring to the Karakorum Highway damaged by the floods, President Zardari said Pakistan and China were working on enhancing the road and railway connectivity.
He said the governments of both countries had the determination of increasing their bilateral trade by more than 10 billion US dollars.
President Zardari also extended new year greetings to China on start of its lunar year of Dragon.

Don't blame Centre, Firdous tells Shahbaz

Firdous Ashiq Awan suggested CM Punjab to extend his duties instead of becoming a political actor.
In a media briefing after a federal cabinet meeting, the Information Minister said that it is responsibility of the provincial government to stop preparation and supply of fake medicines.
She also extended cooperation of federal government on the issue of medicine reaction issue in Punjab. She blamed that FIA had arrested the responsible of drug scam but they were released the next day.
"Shahbaz Sharif is also provincial health minister, his allegations of conspiracy on federal government are an attempt to escape from his duties", she said.
The Information Minister said that the Finance Minister has said that tax revenue collected under the head of petroleum development levies has been lowered to Rs 40 billion during the last six months due to which it is impossible to stabalise petroleum prices.

Pakistan FM meets Karzai

Jennifer Lopez unsure on marrying again

Lopez split with Anthony in July after seven years marriage and two children.
Three-times married Jennifer Lopez said on Monday she doesn t know if she ll wed again after splitting up with her Latin pop singer husband Marc Anthony last year.
"Let s see, I don t know. It s not time to think about that yet, do you know what I mean? Like, it s still fresh," the singer and "American Idol" judge told Matt Lauer on TV talk show "Today."
Lopez, 42, who split with Anthony in July after seven years marriage and two children, also fielded questions regarding comments she made about her divorce in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine last August, when she said "I love myself enough to walk away" from her marriage with Anthony.

"Everything I wanted to say about the divorce I said in that article, and Marc and I agreed that we weren t going to talk about it publicly again," said Lopez.
"We re human and it s not the easiest thing in the world but I think we handled it with a lot of grace and a lot of caring and a lot of love," she added
The "On The Floor" singer teamed up with her ex-husband on their "passion project," new talent show "Q Viva! The Chosen," to find the best artists from Latin America for a stage show in Las Vegas. "Q Viva" debuted on Saturday on Univision and on 20 other TV networks in Central and South America.

Study: Musical training has biological impact on aging

Good news for music lovers: A Northwestern study has found age-related delays in automatic brain responses can be avoided or offset with musical training.

Researchers in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory discovered older musicians had a distinct neural timing advantage over non-musicians, according a release from Northwestern.

“The older musicians not only outperformed their older non-musician counterparts, they encoded the sound stimuli as quickly and accurately as the younger non-musicians,” Northwestern neuroscientist Nina Kraus said in the release. “This reinforces the idea that how we actively experience sound over the course of our lives has a profound effect on how our nervous system functions.”

A researcher for the study said the results supported the idea that the brain can be trained to overcome, in part, some age-related hearing loss.

Previous studies conducted by the lab suggested musical training also offsets losses in memory and difficulties hearing speech in noise — two common complaints of older adults, the release said.

However, Kraus warned the current study’s findings were not pervasive and do not demonstrate that musicians have a neural timing advantage in every neural response to sounds. Instead, she said, the study showed the musical experience selectively affected the timing of sound elements that are important in distinguishing one consonant from another.

The study involved 87 normal-hearing, native English-speaking adults being measured as they watched a captioned video.

Paula Abdul confirms she won't return for next season of 'The X Factor'

Reality TV World‎

Paula Abdul has confirmed reports that she will not be returning to next fall's second edition of the Fox reality singing competition, joining fellow The X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger and host Steve Jones.

While Abdul didn't come out and say it directly, her statement appears to support reports that, like Scherzinger and Jones, she isn't leaving the show by choice. "Yes, it's true; I won't be returning to The X Factor next season. I've learned through my longevity in this industry that business decisions often times override personal considerations. Simon [Cowell] and I, along with Fox and [producers] Fremantle, have been communicating about this for a while now, and I have absolute understanding of the situation," The X Factor and former American Idol judge said in a statement.

"Simon is, and will remain a dear friend of mine and I've treasured my experience working this past season with my extended family at Fox and Fremantle. I want nothing more than for The X Factor to exceed ALL of their wildest dreams. This truly has been a blessing and I am most grateful."

The X Factor shake-up leaves only two on-camera faces returning for the show's second season -- creator and lead judge Simon Cowell and fellow judge L.A. Reid. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cowell has decided The X Factor "needs a bigger celebrity" on its judging panel.

Fox confirmed Scherzinger and Jones' exits on Monday evening shortly after Jones announced his departure via Twitter but did not confirm reports of Abdul's exit prior to the release of her statement.

However, shortly after Abdul's statement was released, both Fox and Cowell released their own statements confirming her departure and thanking her for her contributions to The X Factor.

"I want to say a massive thank you to Paula, Nicole and Steve for being part of The X Factor last year. We had a lot of fun making the show together and importantly, we found some real talent and stars," Cowell explained.

"You do develop friendships with the people you work with and Paula, in particular, is a very close friend and I expect to be working with her on another project in the near future. I'm sure all three are going to have massive success in what they do next, but now is the time to thank them all for everything they did last year."

"We love Paula. She is a remarkable talent and we appreciate all of her contributions. We're lucky that she is a part of the Fox family, and we look forward to working with her again soon," Fox reality chief Mike Darnell said in an additional statement.

Rights Group Urges Pakistan to Find Journalist's Killers

A top human rights group is urging Pakistan's government to do more to find the killers of a Pakistani journalist who was investigating alleged links between the military and extremists.

A Pakistani commission investigating the murder of Saleem Shahzad said in a recent report that it lacked enough evidence to name those behind his killing. Shahzad had alleged that Pakistani intelligence agents were after him, an allegation dismissed by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's main spy agency.

Brad Adams, an official with the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, says the commission's inability to name those responsible for Shahzad's murder speaks to how the ISI remains beyond the reach of the country's criminal justice system.

Shahzad, who worked for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, disappeared last May from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. His body was found in a canal bearing signs of torture.

Shahzad had been looking into possible ties between Pakistan's military and Islamist militant groups.

Shahzad once reported that al-Qaida militants had attacked a Pakistani naval base after talks failed to secure the release of two naval officials arrested on suspicion of links to the global terror network.

Michelle Obama makes Jay Leno eat his greens

First Lady Michelle Obama cajoled TV talk show host Jay Leno into nibbling on apples, sweet potato fries and a pizza made with eggplant, green peppers and zucchini on the "Tonight Show," breaking his long-held aversion for all-things-healthy in his diet.

Leno once told a magazine he hadn't eaten a vegetable since 1969, and he insisted he tasted his last apple in 1984. That didn't dissuade the First Lady, who's promoting her "Let's Move!" campaign to get kids excited about fitness and healthy eating habits.

Earlier, Mrs Obama poked fun at him in a Twitter post, hinting she would "get Jay to eat some veggies" on the NBC show.

He did.

"That does smell very good. I assume this is sausage-pepperoni," the comedian quipped as he eyed the pizza made with a whole-wheat crust.

She convinced Leno to dip an apple in honey made from beehives in the White House garden: "It will help it go down easier," she assured him.

"White House honey? That sounds bad," Leno told her. "You know, with a different president that could mean a whole different thing, 'a little White House honey.'"

The First Lady is on a two-day trip through California where she is promoting her initiative while attending two events to help Democrats raise money for the forthcoming elections.

She told Leno she's not doing anything special to prepare for what's expected to be a tough re-election campaign for her husband, President Barack Obama.

"You know, there's really no way to mentally prepare for it. You take each day as it comes," she said.

Republican Mitt Romney has been ridiculing the White House and might face the president in November, but the First Lady graded the former Massachusetts governor's singing voice with something like a sly endorsement. Mr Romney surprised supporters in Florida with an on-pitch version of "America the Beautiful" on Monday, and Leno asked the first lady for her opinion.

"It's beautiful," she said after a pregnant pause, with a laugh and raised eyebrows. "And it is America's song, and it's a song that's meant to be sung by every American," the First Lady said in a taped appearance for the NBC show.

Leno told her, "That is right, regardless of political affiliation."

But she swooned over her husband's singing – Mr Obama took a brief turn as a soul singer earlier this month at a New York fund-raiser, crooning a bar from an Al Green classic. She says he does a little Marvin Gaye, too.

"He does have a beautiful voice, and he sings to me all the time," she told Leno.

Michelle Obama describes life in the White House

Speaking on Jay Leno's The Tonight Show, First Lady Michelle Obama talks about life in the White House as the US general election approaches saying they "take each day as it comes."

As part of a charm offensive for her husband's election campaign, Michelle Obama is hitting the American talk show circuit kicking off with an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in Los Angeles.

America's First Lady talked about several issues including what life was like in the White House as the presidential race gained momentum ahead of November's election.

"There is no way you can prepare for it. You just take each day as it comes," she said.

"I think Barack and I, our motto is that we try to do the best job that we can do every single day. Our hope is that will speak for itself. We wake up every day and think what this country needs," she added.

When asked what she thought about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney leading an impromptu chorus of America The Beautiful in Florida on Tuesday she sheepishly described it as, "beautiful." Mrs Obama went on to talk about her project work with childhood obesity and military families.

She also touched on what life was like in the White House for her two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

"You know they are doing really well, the girls are good and they are normal, we always check in and they have a regular life, they have friends and sleepovers."

"To them it is home. It's been a blessing for us," she added.

The First Lady is scheduled to appear at several fund raising events while in Los Angeles and has also booked an appearance on the The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Romney claims victory in Florida

Mitt Romney heads west to campaign today after winning all 50 Florida delegates and cementing his status as the GOP front-runner.

NATO Plays Down Report of Collaboration Between Taliban and Pakistan

A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition on Wednesday confirmed the existence of a report that summarizes the views of Taliban detainees who said that they are winning the war thanks to cooperation from some Afghan government officials and soldiers with active support from Pakistan’s intelligence service.

But the official, Lt. Col Jimmie E. Cummings of the International Security Assistance Force, disputed accounts of the NATO report that suggested the alliance’s analysts accepted the Taliban views as valid.

“This document aggregates the comments of Taliban detainees in a captive environment, without considering the validity of or motivation behind their reflections. Any conclusions drawn from this would be questionable at best.”

The report apparently was leaked a day before a visit here by Hina Rabbani Khar, the Pakistani foreign minister, the first after months of strained relations.

On Wednesday, she dismissed initial news reports about the document, saying the interpretations could be “disregarded,” Reuters reported.

”We can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak,” Reuters quoted her as saying. This is old wine in an even older bottle.”

The report, called the State of the Taliban, was apparently obtained by the BBC and The Times of London, which published accounts late Tuesday. The BBC said it was based on 27,000 interrogations of 4,000 Taliban prisoners.

NATO at first refused to comment on the report, saying it never responded to leaks of classified information. Later, however, Colonel Cummings issued a detailed rebuttal.

The revelations about support for the Taliban from the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, Pakistan’s spy agency, are not new, although the BBC said the insurgents’ leaders meet regularly with Pakistani agents to map strategy.

NATO’s response indicated it was more concerned at suggestions that Afghan officials and soldiers were demoralized and expected a Taliban victory once I.S.A.F. troops pull out.

“It is important not to draw conclusions based on Taliban comments or musings. These detainees include some of the most motivated and ruthless of the insurgents who are inspired to play up their success,” Colonel Cummings said. “It is what they want us to believe they think.”

“We also dispute the idea that somehow the Afghan national security forces might be working with the Taliban. Many dedicated patriotic Afghan security force members have lost their lives defending Afghanistan from insurgents.”

NATO leak overshadows Pak-Afghan talks

A leaked NATO report accusing Pakistan of secretly aiding Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan overshadowed a fence-mending visit by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Kabul on Wednesday.
The leak came as spectacularly bad timing for the one-day visit, which was aimed at thawing frosty ties between the two neighbours, blighted by mutual accusations over the violence in both countries.
The report -- seen by The Times newspaper and the BBC -- was compiled from information gleaned from insurgent detainees and was given to NATO commanders in Afghanistan last month, the media reports said.
The "State of the Taliban" document claims that Islamabad, via Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency, is "intimately involved" with the insurgency and that the Taliban assume victory is inevitable once Western troops leave in 2014.
A spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan warned that the document was not an analysis of the progress of the military campaign.
The document "may provide some level of representative sampling of Taliban opinions and ideals but clearly should not be used as any interpretation of campaign progress," Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings told AFP.
"The classified document is a compilation of Taliban detainees' opinions and ideals based on their comments while in detention.
"It's important that this context be understood and extremely important not to draw conclusions based on the Taliban comments."
The BBC said the report was based on material from 27,000 interrogations of more than 4,000 captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives.
"Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly," the report was quoted as saying.
Kabul government officials declined immediate comment on the report, but Pakistan hit out angrily, saying it was not worth commenting on.
"This is frivolous, to put it mildly. We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan and expect all other states to strictly adhere to this principle," foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP.
"Pakistan has suffered enormously because of the long conflict in Afghanistan. A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in our own interest and we are very much cognisant of this," Basit said.
Khar, on her first visit to the Afghan capital, was to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai and her Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rasoul just hours after news of the report broke.
Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai had told reporters ahead of Khar's visit that it was aimed at opening a "new phase" in cooperation between the two countries.
Kabul, which has long accused Islamabad of supporting the 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan, put relations on ice after the September murder of its peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani, which one Afghan minister blamed on Pakistani spies.
Kabul said the bomber who killed Rabbani was a Pakistani and accused the Pakistani government of hindering the investigation.
"This visit is aimed at improving our relations as well as at resuming those meetings," a senior official in Karzai's office told AFP.
In December, Pakistan boycotted the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan to protest against US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the porous Afghan border on November 26.
Khar's visit comes amid tentative moves towards negotiations in Qatar between Washington and the Taliban, who were ousted from power by the 2001 US-led invasion.
Karzai has given his blessing to the Taliban opening a political office in the Gulf state, but is wary of being sidelined and has insisted that his government has a central role in any peace talks.
Pakistani analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai said both governments "feel a bit left out" of the Qatar negotiations and "would be trying at least to find out what is happening and maybe try to coordinate their own policies accordingly".

Hina Rabbani Khar, Karzai discuss bilateral issues

FM Hina Rabbani Khar and Afghan President discussed bilateral issues in a meeting in Kabul.Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Wednesday. Both the leaders discussed bilateral ties and matter regarding peace in the region.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his country wants better relations with Pakistan and expansion of cooperation in different fields.
Hina Rabbani Khar in her remarks said a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan and it will continue to extend every possible assistance for the development of Afghanistan. She said Pakistan respects Afghanistan as an independent and sovereign country.
Earlier‚ the Foreign Minister held separate meetings with Chief of Hizb-e-Wahdat Ustaad Haji Mohaqiq‚ Jumbish-i-Milli Leader Faizullah Zaki and Opposition Alliance s Tajik Leader Younis Qanooni in Kabul.
They discussed Afghan reconciliation and emphasized the need for enhanced contacts between Pakistan and Afghansitan.

305 women fell prey to violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

A total of 305 women were subjected to violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the second half of last year due to flawed laws.

This is stated in a report on the situation of violence against women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from July to December 2011.

Addressing the report launching ceremony at Peshawar Press Club on Tuesday, Dr Salahuddin of Aurat Foundation said of these victims of violence against women, 195 were married and 18 unmarried, while information about 51 was unavailable.

He said 162 of these cases pertained to murder, 19 kidnapping, 23 domestic violence, 42 suicide, 16 honour killing, four rape/gang rape and 39 miscellaneous nature.

Dr Salahuddin said 236 FIRs had been registered about violence against women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while 18 cases remained unregistered and that details about 51 were unavailable.

He said 47 women subjected to violence in the province were aged below 18 years, 22 below 19 to 36 years and four 37 years and above age. He further said 87 cases were reported in rural areas and 218 in urban areas.

The Aurat Foundation representatives said 85 cases of violence against women were reported in Peshawar district, 38 Mardan, 32 Nowshera, 20 Charsadda, 21 Swat, 14 DI Khan, nine Bannu and Kohat, seven Chitral, Lakki Marwat, Swabi, Malakand and Haripur, six Karak, five Hangu, four Upper Dir, Buner and Mansehra, three Battagram, Lower Dir and Bajaur, two Kohistan, Tank, Khyber Agency and one each in Torghar, Shangla, Abbottabad and South Waziristan Agency.

He said the family, property, suspicion of illicit relationship, refusal of marriage proposal, forced marriage, old enmity and petty issues were major causes of growing violence against women. He further said mostly violence was committed against woman by her husband, father, son, brother-in-law, father-in-law, nephew, cousin, uncle and mother-in-law.

Dr Salahuddin said pistols, axe, knife, poisonous medicine, kerosene oil, strangulation, suffocation, beating, stick and beating were used against women.

Other Aurat Foundation representatives Shabeena Ayaz and Sherin Javaid, who were also in attendance, called for amendments to existing laws on women’s rights and said flaws in women’s right laws was the major hindrance to their enforcement.

Ms Shabeena said there existed weaknesses in laws for women’s rights and that by and large, police and other law-enforcement agencies were unaware of such laws.

Ms Shireen said the project was launched in 2007 to collect statistics of violence against women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. She further said the restive South Waziristan Agency reported only one such case between July and December last year.

Dr Salahuddin said strict enforcement of laws for women’s rights would prevent growing violence against womenfolk in the society.

Punjab Institute of Cardiology's Drug deaths


As the days pass and more patients die dreadful deaths as a result of faulty drugs, the layers of the onion are being peeled away revealing what looks like institutionalised incompetence at every level. There are now at least 114 dead and about 400 who are in various stages of illness from ‘recovering’ to ‘terminal’. Quite apart from the original event that has seen the largest mass-poisoning in the history of the country, it is now learned that there enormous stocks of imported medicines donated by the World Health Organisation and other international donors are sitting unregistered and unapproved by the Drug Testing Laboratory in, of all places, the Allama Iqbal Medical College and the Jinnah Hospital, Lahore. Hospitals are something of a law unto themselves when it comes to drugs purchasing; but in the absence of a uniform regulatory system applicable to all drugs approvals and purchases it is not difficult to see how the current crisis has come about.

Almost inevitably the Supreme Court has now stepped in, and on Monday took suo motu notice of the deaths of more than 90 patients who were being treated by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC). It has issued notices to the attorney general, the Punjab advocate general, the federal and provincial secretaries, the DG FIA and the IG Punjab – all of whom are to appear before the bench and file a reply by Feb 5. There has been a cull of the senior management of health services in Punjab and there are going to be cases pending in connection with this wholly avoidable disaster for years to come. Hundreds of lives have been blighted, many of those affected, although recovered sufficiently to be discharged from hospital, may never be wholly well again. At the core of the disaster there is a failure of checks and balances, a failure that may well have been known to those that manufactured the faulty medicines. Where was their own quality control and why were these drugs ever allowed out of the manufacturer’s own front gate? The plethora of legal cases, commissions and enquiries may or may not provide us with answers, but as a matter of the utmost urgency the Punjab provincial government and the federal government need to resolve their differences about who ‘owns’ the drug regulatory bodies. Lives are being lost; politics should be put aside for their sake.

Pakistan's Basic Health Units without maternal health services

Daily Statesman

A Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) report says some maternity services were found lacking in Basic Health Units (BHUs) observed in December 2011.

FAFEN Governance Monitors visited 133 BHUs in 87 districts nationwide- 65 in 34 districts in Punjab, 28 in 21 districts in KP, 24 in 16 districts in Sindh, 13 in as many districts in Balochistan and three in as many agencies in FATA.

The report said more than two-fifths (42%) BHUs lacked maternity beds, a third didn't have labour rooms, and 25% were without delivery kits. However, at least 80% of the BHUs had women staff to treat female patients and had advisory services for nursing mothers.

In addition, at least 60% of the health units in each region did not have wheel chairs while at least a third lacked stretchers and 26% were without sterilizers. Twenty five BHUs nationwide, of which 15 were in KP, did not have syringe cutters. Similarly, 44 percent of the facilities lacked working oxygen tents and90% lacked generators for power backup.

The report said 71% percent of the observed BHUs did not have mini laboratories for conducting medical tests - half of them in Sindh and at least 70% in all other regions. With regard to physical infrastructure, at least 80% of these health units had boundary walls, were accessible by a proper road, housed in good buildings and 95% of the facilities were found to be clean. On the other hand, 81 out of the total 133 BHUs monitored did not have telephone landline connections - at least 50% in each region. Moreover, Sui gas connections were also lacking in all three BHUs observed in FATA and at least 90% in each region.

A third of the monitored BHUs did not have arrangements for clean drinking water for patients, 28% lacked washrooms with running water for patients and a fifth did not have proper shaded waiting areas for patients.

Forty-three BHUs did not have residential quarters for doctors on the premises while 44 were without any such facility for other staff.

Ten patients - nine in FATA and one in Punjab reported demands for illegal money at the monitored BHUs while 25 felt they were overcharged.

Thirty-nine patients complained they did not get medicines as per doctor's prescription free of cost from the in-house pharmacy.

Awami National Party set to become third largest political party in Senate

The Awami National Party (ANP) is set to emerge as third largest political party if it wins five more seats in the ensuing Senate elections.

After the elections the total senators of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) will be 42, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), 13, Awami National Party (ANP) 10, Pakistan Muslim League Quaid i Azam (PML-Q) 08, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) 06, Independents 13, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazal) (JUI-F) 07, Balochistan National Party Awami (BNP-A), 03, Pakistan Muslim League Functional (PML-F),01 and National Party (NP) 01.

The elections are being held on 54 seats including 11 from each province, four Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and two sets from federal capital while four minority members (one from each province) would also be elected for the first time.

A total of 50 senators are retiring in March after completing their respective terms including 11 from each province, four Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and two from federal capital.

According to Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) out of 64 general seats, seven members would be elected from Punjab on general seats, two on women seats and one on technocrat seat.

A candidate would require at least 53 votes to get elected from Punjab assembly as it has the total strength of 371 seats. Having the support of 186 members, the ruling PML-N is likely to win four general seats.

The PPP has strength of 107 members. The PML-Q has the support of around 54 members and the remaining 30 members have either been re-elected on PML-N ticket or formed a forward bloc, so both parties can get one seat each by supporting each other.

Of the two women seats, one would be easily grabbed by the PML-N while the other would be won by a PPP and PML-Q joint candidate. So the PPP would have to either adjust a PML-Q member on the technocrat or women's seat.

One technocrat seat would go to the PML-N, while the other would go to the PPP-PML-Q alliance. So, out of total 11 seats, the PML-N would win seven seats, three would go to the PPP and one might be bagged by the PML-Q.

In Sindh Assembly, elections would be held for seven general, two women and two technocrat seats. Since the Sindh Assembly has the strength of 168 seats, 24 members have to vote to elect a member. Since the PPP has strength of 93 members, the ruling party may win four general seats out of total seven.

The MQM would regain their two seats while one seat may be won either by the PML-Q or the PML-F if they join hands to win a seat.

While two women and two technocrats seats would also be shared by both the parties by winning one each on technocrat and women seats. So the final result may be that the PPP bags six, four seats would go to the MQM, while one seat may either go to the PML-Q or the PML-F, as both have eleven and eight members each.

The PPP and coalition partners would have seven seats won from Sindh, while four would go to the MQM.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly, a candidate with at least 18 votes can win a general seat. Awami National Party (ANP) with 49 members will win three seats with PPP's support, while the PPP, having the strength of 30 MPAs, may win one or two seats if the PML-Q's six MPAs decide to support coalition partners.

MMA having the support of 14 members if able to get the support from either the six PPP-Sherpao MPAs, can win a seat, while one seat may go to those supported by 10 independent candidates.

The ANP and the PPP may win two seats each on technocrat and women seats with the support of independent MPAs and their coalition partners.

So the ANP may win six seats, the PPP may get four seats, while the MMA may win one seat.

In Balochistan, any candidate would need the support of nine members to get elected as a senator. In a House of 65 members, the PML-Q is majority party with 18 members. The PPP is the second largest party with strength of 13 MPAs.

Both parties would bag the lion's share of the seven general seats. The PML-Q may win five seats, three general seats and one each on women and technocrats seats, while the PPP may also get four seats, two general and one seat each on technocrat and women seats.

The MMA, mostly comprising of the JUI-F, would bag one general seat with nine MPAs, while Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A) may also get one general seat.

One general and one technocrat seat of federal capital would be won by the PPP with the support of its allies.

Four people would be elected from FATA as four senators are retiring. Of the four seats, each party would field candidates as the Political Parties Act has been extended to FATA.

Of the four seats reserved for minorities, elections would be held on two seats and the coalition government, the PPP, may win both slots of minority seats.

Pakistan: What a democracy!

Editorial: The Frontier Post

We must be a democracy of a peculiar kind where even the commentariat and civil society gang up spiritedly with self-serving politicos to drown out the most biting miseries of the masses in the shrill of high-profile dramas with strong political undertones. Which country is there where they do not have a big scam like Memogate off and on and where the state institutions too do not get into a squabble for one reason or the other? Not long ago, the superior judiciary and the parliament were noisily cross swords over an issue of jurisdiction in India where at present the army chief is embroiled in a bitter tiff with the government over the question of his age. But the official life there didn’t hit a paralysis neither then not now, as has it here in our country because of this Memogate. For a coup that was not there and for a change of the country’s military top brass that too was imaginary, this scam has thrown this unfortunate nation into the lap of a charlatan keeping it endlessly in a tailspin with his one antic or the other. And the worst blighted are, as is usual, the masses. Never ever engagingly in the sights of the nation’s self-styled democratic leaders, these poor souls have just been consigned to oblivion forgetfully in these times. As the thugs are butchering them in their terrorist blasts and suicide bombing attacks, as the dacoits and thieves are robbing them of their lifelong savings, as the substandard medication is losing them their near and dear ones in a government healthcare facility in Lahore, and as ravaging joblessness, skyrocketing price hikes and rampaging poverty are making their abysmally miserable lives all the more unlivable, making the headlines in the media are not their travails but lifting of travel restrictions on our former envoy to the United States and the two-month extension given to the judicial commission probing the Memogate. And yet they, both the politicos and the commentariat and civil society, say we have become a democracy. Can you beat it? In a democracy, the masses come first and foremost, unarguably. That indeed makes what in reality is a democracy. But in what we are now, the masses come as just dirt, verifiably. Indeed, when those grandees posing as democratic leaders and their colluding commentariat and civil society yap ‘democracy’, be assured they decidedly know not what it really means. Had we been a democracy, it is the people’s woes, inexhaustibly endless as are those in these times, that would have hogged all the attention of the politicos, commentariat and civil society alike and made for exhaustive in-depth discussions and debates of talk shows, views columns and public forums. And it is those public woes that would have made the headlines, not any extensions or travel restrictions withdrawals. But they do not. Of course, the politicos do allude to the people’s problems but unmistakably only customarily, just for form’s sake. When someone merely says that the people’s grievances are going unattended to, you instantly know the grandee is just feigning for some point-scoring, not feeling feelingly the pangs of the commoners and have-nots. The genuineness you feel only when the speaker speaks out in greater detail about a public distress, analyses it and spells out how he thinks it could be tackled. That shows he has felt the people’s distress, fretted about it, and thought about its solution. One may agree or disagree with his analysis and solution. But one does get the feel that he cares for the people, worries about their miseries, shakes up his mind to think out solutions. This is what you feel when you listen to the leaders across the board in the world’s established democratic orders. And this is what you feel not at all when you listen to your own grandees across the spectrum.Can anyone recall how many times has one heard from the media predicting an ensuing stormy parliamentary session on one particular boiling public grievance or the other? And can anyone recall how each time has the prediction turned out a big disappointment, as instead of analysing the public grievance and suggesting solutions to it, the parliamentarians fall for point-scoring, rhetorical assertions and sloganeering? And, introspectively, can the media grandees tell how often they dismiss summarily the sporadic few who speak out sense with the erasing brush of “also spoke” while dwelling at length on the ones who speak all nonsense replete with rank demagoguery effusively with such epithets as ‘fiery speech’? But the media too is full of its own conceits. With its youngsters hosting talk shows, whose intellectual immaturity oozes out of the studio pores in as much floods as their guest panelists’, also go after high-profile dramas, not for incisive and threadbare discussions of the people’s woes. Have you heard any informed discussion on the Lahore catastrophe of killer substandard medication on any talk show? If at all, it is more about politics than about the malady and its victims’ travails?Yet they say we have become a democracy. What a democracy, where politicos and the commentariat and civil society talk of the bane of power and gas shortages, of which the people know all for their own sizzling first-hand experiences of it, but talk not how to tackle this problem! But then we are no democracy. We are not a people’s but the elites’ rule in reality.

Isotab banned globally

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued global instructions to stop the use of Isotab tablets manufactured in a Karachi based company, Geo News reported.

A laboratory in London Tuesday declared one of the cardiac drugs as contaminated with an antimalarial, which caused the deaths of more than hundred patients in Lahore.

According to details, the samples of Isotab (tablet), which were dispatched to a state-of-the-art lab in London, were tested as substandard and injurious to health.

The lab report revealed Isotab samples to be heavily contaminated with Pyrimethamine, a commonly used antimalarial.

Experts are attributing Pyrimethamine to those deadly reactions, which continue to kill cardiac patients using the tainted life-saving drugs.

Traces of antimalarial in the samples of "Isotab" were dangerously high, it added.

The Punjab Government Health Department said an antidote has been produced about which guidelines have been issued to all hospitals.

Shahbaz Sharif should be disqualified’

Pakistan Today

A petition has been filed in the Lahore High Court to declare Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz Sharif disqualified from their public offices A local lawyer, Fakhar Razaq filed the quo-warranto petition through his counsel Khurram Khosa, son of Punjab governor Latif Khosa, alleging that the CM and his son were responsible for the deaths of over 100 cardiac patients. The petition submitted that the Chief Minister held the health ministry portfolio unlawfully while his son Hamza was still supervising the Al-Falah Pharma that supplied the substandard medicines to the Pakistan Institute of Cardiology.
Justice Umar Ata Bandial will resume the hearing of the petition on 1 February. The petitioner pleaded that the chief minister had not proven to be the trust worthy. Khosa stated that the chief minister had appointed himself the health minister despite not having basic knowledge of the sector.
The counsel alleged that the CM was playing with the lives of the masses resulting in the huge numbers of deaths. He alleged that the CM subverted the constitution so that he and his son could not be held guilty of high treason as defined by the Article 6 of the Constitution. He stated that according to the national drug testing laboratory, the Alfagril had been declared defective due to a black spot on the coating of the tablets which caused the deaths of a large number of cardiac patients’ in Punjab. The petitioner requested that the CM and his son be barred from being elected or chosen as Parliament members and restrained from holding the CM’s post.
He further prayed that all the respondents be declared guilty of ‘clinical murder’ of all the patients who lost their lives and of high treason according to the Article 6 of the constitution by placing their names in the exit control list (ECL).
Petition submitted against CM for holding 18 portfolios: An amended writ petition was filed in the Lahore High Court on Tuesday indicating Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif a party by name against holding 18 Punjab ministry portfolios in violation of the constitution of Pakistan.
The amended application was filed by Noshab Khan, after Justice Umar Ata Bandial raised an objection on Monday on his main petition observing that he had not made the Chief Minister party to the case.
The petitioner had been under the impression that the CM enjoyed immunity but the court had allowed him to amend his petition observing that “immunity is a mere question of theory”.
In the fresh application Shahbaz Sahrif, Punjab principal secretary to chief minister and chief secretary have been indicated as respondents.
The petitioner said CM Shahbaz has kept the portfolios of the ministries of Health, Communication and works, S&GAD, Tourism, Local Government, Community Development, Environment, Home, Special Education, Energy, Food, Information, Culture and Youth Affairs, Sports, Population, Social Welfare and Housing in violation of the Punjab Government Rules of Business 1974.
The petitioner pleaded that under the rules of business the chief minister is head of the provincial cabinet and all ministers are supposed to work under his supervision. The petitioner requested the court to ask the CM to relinquish all the portfolios and appoint a health minister in the wake of the recent health crisis in the province. The petitioner pleaded that the CM, as head of the cabinet, could not work in lieu of the ministers. He said the CM was responsible for coordinating the policy matters and chairing the cabinet meetings. The petitioner held the CM responsible for the failure of the health ministry in tackling the problems caused by the spurious medicines’ reaction.
MNA’s petition turned dismissed for a second time: A division bench of the Lahore High Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by MNA Tariq Anees challenging an accountability court judgment that turned down his petition for acquittal in an illegal assets case.
The bench, comprising of Chief Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Nasir Saeed Sheikh heard Anees’ petition against the accountability court. He submitted that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman moved a reference of illegal assets against him in 2002 before the Accountability Court-1, Lahore.
He said that an acquittal application was moved by him in the accountability court contending that the reference and proceedings were illegal as the investigation against the petitioner was not authorised by the NAB. However, the court dismissed the acquittal application on July 9, 2003. The petitioner said that the LHC stayed the matter after he approached it and later closed it after the promulgation of the NRO. However, it was re-opened after the NRO was repealed.
The petitioner prayed the bench to declare the reference against him illegal as the investigation was not authorised by the NAB.
The LHC bench dismissed the petition in favour of the accountability court’s decision.
Sacked pharmacists to be regularised: Lahore High Court Justice Umer Ata Bandial directed the Punjab government on Tuesday to regularise adhoc pharmacists into service. A Punjab government law officer, while submitting the record of the regularised and adhoc pharmacists informed the court that except for 31 pharmacists, the rest had been regularised. The court ordered the Punjab government to regularise the rest of the pharmacists as the law did not allow discrimination among employees.
The counsel for the sacked pharmacists argued in the court that the Chief Minister terminated the petitioners on political grounds. They alleged that the CM had exercised his discretionary powers by regularising hundreds of other health department employees.
He prayed the court to set aside the petitioners’ termination as it was illegal.
The court was told by the government law officer that during the last three years, 11058 contractual employees of the department, ranging from grade 16 to 18 had been regularised on the recommendations of the recruitment committees. Earlier, the court had summoned the records of the terminated ad-hoc pharmacists’ examinations and interviews from the Punjab Public Service Commission as well.

SC seeks FIA report on drug deaths at PIC

The Supreme Court (SC) sought on Tuesday a detailed report from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on the 120 deaths caused by spurious drugs in Punjab and directed the Tribunal of Enquiry, appointed by the Lahore High Court (LHC) chief justice to ascertain the causes of death or ailment, determine who was responsible for lapses and make recommendations to avert such catastrophes in future, to proceed with its investigation.
A three-member bench headed by Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani was hearing a suo motu case on the deaths of more than 120 heart patients under treatment in the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) allegedly because of spurious drugs or wrong prescription of blood thinning and lipid lowering medicines. Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq, Punjab Advocate General Ashtar Ausaf Ali, Additional Punjab Advocate General Jawad Hassan, Punjab Health Secretary Nadeem Hasan Arif, Punjab Police Inspector General Javed Iqbal and FIA Director (Legal) Azam Khan appeared in court on notice.
The Punjab advocate general submitted a report on the deaths and their causes, telling the bench that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had constituted an enquiry committee after taking notice of the causalities of patients who were under treatment at the PIC. He said the committee included seven professors of various medical colleges, and was head by Najam Saeed, who was the chairman of the CM’s Inspection Team. He said certain consignments of drugs were received by PIC at certain stages which were returned and never consumed. The court observed that the committee’s report, insofar as cause of deaths was concerned, was inconclusive. The court also observed that after the submission of report, the committee was no longer functioning and instead on the request of the provincial government, the LHC chief justice had appointed a Tribunal of Enquiry to ascertain the causes of deaths/ailments as well as determine who was responsible. The attorney general told the court that no doctor or owner of any pharmaceutical company was arrested on the directions of the provincial government. Azam Khan submitted that three cases were registered with regards to the deaths at PIC, adding that three owners of pharmaceutical companies, Chaudhry Muhammad Waseem, Chaudhry Nadir Khan and Dr M Tahir Azam, were arrested. He said although the cause of death of the patients in question was still not known, these cases were registered on the complaint of the federal drug inspector under Sections 23/27 of the Drugs Act of 1976.
He told the court that the FIA was not aware of the context of the SC order on January 30 under which the agency was told to release arrested people on personal bonds. He nevertheless undertook to release all arrested people subject to their furnishing personal bonds to the satisfaction of the deputy registrar of the LHC, except Chaudhry Muhammad Waseem, the owner of a pharmaceutical company manufacturing drugs without a valid licence. The attorney general submitted that although under the terms of Article 270-AA(6) of the constitution, the subject of health had been devolved to the provinces, yet the enforcement of the Drugs Act of 1976 partly continued to be within the ambit of the FIA and therefore, the cases were registered.

LAHORE: PIC drugs continue to take lives, toll touches 122

Three more patients have died due to reaction of PIC medicines and death toll has reached 122.
Resident of Texali, Lahore, Anwar Bibi, 70, in Mayo Hospital, 55-year-old Pervez in Services Hospital and 55-year-old Razia Bibi were died due to PIC medicines reaction. With three more deaths, the toll has reached 122.
More that 350 patients are under treatment in different hospitals of Lahore affected by reaction of medicine provided by Punjab Institute of Cardiology. Out of the total 350, condition of 40 patients is critical who have been put into ICU or CCU.

Syria is used to the slings and arrows of friends and enemies

By:Robert Fisk

Bashar al-Assad is clinging to power despite the slow growth of a civil war. But if the regime should survive, what sort of country will it rule?
The violence grows worse. The Arab League throws up its hands in despair. Madame Clinton may huff and puff at the United Nations. But the Syrian regime and the stalwarts of the old Baath party don't budge. Only the Arabs are unsurprised. For Syria – the "Um al-Arabia wahida", the Mother of One Arab People, as the Baathists would have it – is a tough creature, its rulers among the most tenacious in the Middle East, used to the slings and arrows of their friends as well as their enemies. Syria's "No" to anything but total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in return for peace is almost as famous as De Gaulle's "No" to British entry to the European Union.

True, the Syrian regime has never confronted opposition on such a scale. If the fatalities do not yet come close to the 10 or 20 thousand dead of the 1982 Hama uprising, which old Hafez al-Assad crushed with his customary ruthlessness, the widespread nature of today's rebellion, the defections from the Syrian army, the loss of all but one Arab ally – little Lebanon, of course – and the slow growth of a civil war make this the most dangerous moment in Syria's post-independence history. How can Bashar al-Assad hang on?

Well, there's Russia, of course, and the Putin-Medvedev determination not to be caught out by the West at the United Nations as they were when they failed to oppose the no-fly zones over Libya that led directly to Gaddafi's collapse. And there's Iran, for which Syria remains the Arab bridgehead. And Iranian suspicion that Syria is under international attack principally because of this alliance may well be correct. Strike down Baathist Syria and its Alawi-Shia President, and you cut deep into the soul of Iran itself. And there's Israel, which utters scarcely a word about Syria because it fears that a far more intransigent regime might take its place.

But Syria is also a symbol. In Arab eyes, it alone defied the West in refusing an unjust peace in the Middle East. Alone, it refused Anwar Sadat's peace with Israel. Alone, it turned its back on Yasser Arafat after his doomed agreement for "peace" with Israel. And historically, Syria alone defied its French occupiers in 1920 and then again in 1946 until its Damascus parliament was burned down over the heads of its defenders. And while many Lebanese choose to forget their own history, it remains a fact that after the First World War, most Lebanese wished their land to remain part of Syria – see the results of the King-Crane commission – rather than live in a separate nation under French patronage.

And far from being a state based on expansion, as America likes to claim, Syria has steadily lost territory. It lost Lebanon to French machinations. It lost Alexandretta in 1939 when the French handed it over to Turkey after a fraudulent referendum in the vain hope that the Turks would join the Allied alliance against Hitler. And it lost Golan to Israel in 1967. For Syria as a nation – rather than a regime – there is much sympathy as well as respect in the Arab world. Bashar al-Assad – neither a toady like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak nor mad like Libya's Gaddafi – knows all this.

But Baathism is not "Arabism", however much its supporters may claim the opposite. Decades of stability did not rid Syria of corruption. It fostered dictatorship along the same, dull rules which the Arabs tolerated for so many years: better autocracy than anarchy, better peace than freedom, albeit controlled by a Shia minority, better secular than sectarian. Why, if any Syrian wanted to see the results of a confessional state, they had only to look at the civil war in Lebanon.

With embarrassment, I look back now to that terrible conflict and the cruel words I wrote so many years ago; that one day, after years of Syrian military "peacekeepers" in Lebanon, the Lebanese army may be asked to fulfil the role of "peacekeepers" in Syria. At the time, it was a wicked joke. Not now, perhaps. Indeed, a Lebanese peace force in Syria – where all of Lebanon's communities (Sunni, Shia, Christian Maronite, Orthodox, Druze, Armenian) are represented – might just be one way of damping down the civil conflict there. A supreme irony, perhaps, after the 1976-2005 Syrian army's presence in Lebanon. An impossibility, of course. But it shows the nature of political change in the Middle East.

In reality, the Syrian government is likely to fight on alone. It always has. The Assad father-and-son doctrine has always been one of patience. Hold on tight – however great the condemnation by the rest of the world, however terrible the threats from Israel or America – and eventually the wheel of fortune will turn once more in your favour.

The awful carnage in Homs and the rest of Syria, the beheadings and the torture, however, suggest that Assad rule really is running out of time. Syria's people are dying just as the people of Egypt and Libya and Yemen have died, because they want the dignity of governing themselves. Their own battle is already infecting the sectarian divisions in northern Lebanon and they exist inside the Lebanese parliament, although this will not be the Syrian government's primary concern.

The battle for survival is a terrible thing and Bashar al-Assad still appears to believe that he can squeeze through his mass of proposed reforms before the disintegration of Syria. No one outside Syria appears to believe he will be successful. But there is one unasked question. Just suppose the regime did survive. Over what kind of Syria would it rule?

Bahrain police fire tear gas on hunger strikers

Bahraini police fired tear gas on hunger strikers protesting against their detention over last year's Shiite-led pro-democracy protests, an activist said, adding that one of them was admitted to hospital Tuesday.

Riot police "fired tear gas Monday on detainees on hunger strike in one of the cells," the head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), Mohammed al-Maskati told AFP.

Maskati said the incident caused no injuries but that one of the hunger strikers, opposition activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was "hospitalised Tuesday as he suffered from hypotension and low blood sugar levels."

The interior ministry insisted that the hunger strikers were being well looked after.

"All prisoners are receiving full medical care and a team of medics is present 24 hours to provide treatment when needed," the ministry said in a statement carried by the official BNA news agency.

"No cases of illness have been registered due to the hunger strike," it added.

Maskati said that around 150 prisoners had joined the hunger strike launched by 14 activists on Sunday evening.

He said he and five other BYSHR activists not in custody had also gone on hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners.

Month-long protests led by the Sunni-ruled Gulf state's Shiite majority community were put down with the help of Saudi-led troops in March last year.

The crackdown led to the deaths of 35 people, including five security personnel and five detainees who were tortured to death, an independent commission of inquiry appointed by King Hamad found.

The commission accused police of using torture and excessive force.

Ethiopian Christians arrested in Saudi, women strip searched

Some 35 Ethiopian Christians have been arrested and are awaiting deportation from Saudi Arabia after participating in “illicit mingling,” police in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom said of the group, arrested in December.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that 29 of those arrested are women and were subjected to “arbitrary body cavity searches” while in custody.

The Christians had gathered together to pray on December 15 at a private home of one of the Ethiopians, but police responded by raiding the house and arresting the group of Ethiopians, three of those jailed told HRW.

“While King Abdullah sets up an international interfaith dialogue center, his police are trampling on the rights of believers of others faiths,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government needs to change its own intolerant ways before it can promote religious dialogue abroad.”

In October, Saudi Arabia, together with Austria and Spain, founded the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, located in Vienna, and funded by Saudi Arabia.

The Ethiopian men spent two days at al-Nuzha police station in Jeddah, after which the police transferred them to Buraiman prison. The women had already been transferred to Buraiman prison. Two of the women said that officials there forced the women to strip, and then an officer inserted her finger into each of the women’s genitals, under the pretext of searching for illegal substances hidden inside their bodies. She wore a plastic glove that she did not change, the women told the New York-based human rights organization.

Officers also kicked and beat the men in Buraiman prison, and insulted them as “unbelievers,” the jailed Ethiopian man said.

Both men and women complained of inadequate medical care and unsanitary conditions at Buraiman prison. There were too few toilets, they said. In the men’s wing, 6 of 12 toilets were reserved for Saudi inmates, while hundreds of foreign inmates were forced to share the remaining 6 toilets. One female detainee said she suffers from diabetes and was given an injection in the prison clinic that caused swelling, and has received no further medical attention.

The Ethiopians, speaking via telephone from prison, said that about 10 days after being arrested, some in the group were taken to court, where they were forced to affix their fingerprints to a document without being allowed to read it. Officials told the group that they were being charged with “illicit mingling” of unmarried persons of the opposite sex.

Some of the Ethiopians have been living in the kingdom for 16 years, while others are newer arrivals. Some of the women and men did not have valid residency papers, but all faced deportation, including those with valid papers, the jailed Ethiopian man said.

In July 2006, the Saudi government promised that it would stop interfering with private worship by non-Muslims. In a “Confirmation of Policies,” a written document the Saudi government sent to the US government, Saudi Arabia said it would “guarantee and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice,” and “ensure that members of the [religious police] do not detain or conduct investigations of suspects, implement punishment, [or] violate the sanctity of private homes.”

In this document, the government also said it would investigate any infringements of these policies. Public worship of any religion other than Islam remains prohibited in the kingdom.

“Saudi authorities have broken their promises to respect other faiths,” Wilcke said. “Men and women of other faiths have nowhere to worship in Saudi Arabia if even their private homes are no longer safe.”

The Arab Charter of Human Rights, to which Saudi Arabia is a state party, guarantees “[t]he freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs or to perform religious observances, either alone or in community with others,” and prohibits “arbitrary arrest.”

Saudi Arabia has no codified criminal law or other law that defines “illicit mingling.” In 2006, Shaikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, the president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police, told Human Rights Watch in an interview in Riyadh, “Mingling of the sexes is prohibited in public, and permitted in private unless it is for the purpose of corruption.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi authorities to release the 35 Ethiopian men and women immediately if there is no evidence to charge them with offenses that are recognizably criminal under international norms. Saudi authorities should also investigate their allegations of physical and sexual abuse and, if warranted, compensate them for arbitrary arrest and any mistreatment they endured, and to hold accountable any officials found to be responsible for these acts.

India opposes use of force in Syria

Voicing its opposition to the use of force to resolve the crisis in Syria, India today asked all sides to cooperate with the Arab League and start all political process that should respect Damascus' sovereignty.

"We are firmly of the view that all sides need to cooperate with the League of Arab States. A political process must begin without any further delay," Indian Ambassador to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri said in his remarks during a special session of Security Council at the UN headquarters here.

"The process should be led by the Syrians and should respect Syria's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity," Puri said at the meeting that was attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Morocco.

The problem in Syria is not merely security-related, it is primarily political and economic and emanates from the Syrian people's desire to play a greater role in shaping their destiny, he observed.

Resolution of this problem cannot be found in violence or armed struggle and its violent suppression, Puri said, adding that nor can a solution be reached through prescriptions from outside.

"The Syrian people demand and deserve empowerment so that a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political solution can be found in an atmosphere free of violence and bloodshed," he said.

Unequivocally and strongly condemning all violence in Syria, Puri said India sees the efforts of the League of Arab States in Syria in light of its support for a political resolution of the crisis. We had noted that the deployment of the League's Observer Mission across several areas in the country had had a calming effect and are disappointed that the Mission was suspended on January 28 on account of a serious deterioration in the form of continuing violence," he said.

Puri said the League of Arab States, as an important regional organisation, should play its required and historic role in promoting political dialogue among the Syrian parties.

"This dialogue can build upon the package of political reforms already announced by the Syrian leadership and also bring about necessary changes to the package of political reforms so that it finds acceptance among all sections of the Syrian society," he said asserting that the outcome of this dialogue cannot be prejudged.

"The outcome should also be acceptable to the widest segment of Syrian society for it to resolve the present crisis and be enduring," he argued.

Arab and Western states urged the UN Security Council at act swiftly on a resolution calling for Assad to step aside.

However, China, along with Russia, has resisted a Western push for a Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government's 10-month crackdown on pro-reform protests.

Both China and Russia have reiterated their opposition to the use of force to resolve the crisis in Syria.

U.N. Council urged to act; Syria forces retake Damascus suburbs

Arab and Western states urged the U.N. Security Council to act swiftly on a resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside as his government's forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs on Tuesday after beating back rebels at the gates of the capital.

The comments were apparently designed to confront Russia over its reluctance to support the resolution and condemn Assad's government for its violent suppression of the protests.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called for the council to take "rapid and decisive action," on a resolution that would endorse the league's demand that Assad delegate powers to his deputy and defuse the 10-month uprising against his family's dynastic rule.

"Do not let the Syrian people down in its plight," Elaraby said.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim warned the 15-nation body that Syria's "killing machine is still at work."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly backed the Arab League's call for rapid Security Council action and warned that the violence was pushing Syria to the brink of civil war.

"The evidence is clear that Assad's forces are initiating nearly all the attacks that kill civilians, but as more citizens take up arms to resist the regime's brutality, violence is increasingly likely to spiral out of control," Clinton told the Security Council.

"We all have a choice: stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there."

At the same time, Arab and Western nations made clear they were trying to avoid a Libyan-style foreign military intervention in the Syrian crisis, which they fear could prompt Russia to veto the resolution.

"We are not calling for a military intervention," Sheikh Hamad said. "We are advocating the exertion of concrete economic pressure so that the Syrian regime might realize that it is imperative to meet the demands of its people."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the council the resolution "does not call for military action and could not be used to authorize it." French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described the idea of such intervention as a myth.

The fate of the resolution depends on whether Russia, one of Assad's few remaining allies, can be persuaded not to veto the resolution.

Russian U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said agreement among council members was still possible and the inclusion of some of Russia's ideas in the draft resolution was a positive sign.

"We found some of the elements of our text in it, and this gives rise for hope," Churkin said, referring to an earlier Russian draft resolution on Syria that had been rejected by Western powers and the Arab League as too weak.

"We hope that the council will come to consensus on the Syrian issue, as is not only possible but also necessary."

Diplomats have been haggling for days to find a text Moscow will not block, with a main sticking point being the degree to which it expresses support for the Arab plan for Assad to give up powers, U.N. diplomats said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament: "What ... the foreign secretary is doing today with colleagues at the U.N. Security Council is trying to build the strongest possible resolution and say to the Russians: 'Really, if you go on vetoing or preventing these motions, you are going to be completely outside, not just world public opinion, but the very, very clear, expressed opinion of the Arab League themselves.'"


On the battlefront, activists in eastern districts of Damascus said troops fired in the air as they advanced beyond areas from which the defector Free Syrian Army withdrew, capping three days of fighting activists said killed at least 100 people. Tanks also swarmed into the area.

"The suburbs are under an unannounced curfew. A small grocery shop opened this morning and soldiers came and beat the owner and forced him to shut down," said an activist in the Ain Tarma neighborhood on Tuesday.

Others said residents of some eastern districts were allowed to flee their neighborhoods in vehicles by advancing troops, but that security forces in the district of Irbin had rounded up young men at gunpoint and detained them.

Events on the ground are difficult to confirm as the Syrian government restricts most access by journalists.

Activist groups said 25 people were killed on Monday in Damascus suburbs and dozens more died in other parts of the country, mostly in raids in and around the central city of Homs, which has seen some of the heaviest attacks by Assad's forces.


The uprising against Assad - one of the most violent revolts of the "Arab Spring" - has entered a new phase in recent weeks, with an insurgency whose leadership is based in Turkey daring to show its face at the outskirts of the capital.

A last-ditch bid by Moscow to broker talks between Assad's government and rebels foundered when the opposition refused to attend, citing the continued killing, torture and imprisonment of the president's opponents.

Washington says countries need to accept that Assad's rule is doomed and stop shielding him in the Security Council.

"I do not see how he can sustain his rule of Syria," U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Tuesday.

A draft of the U.N. Security Council resolution obtained by Reuters emphasizes "the need to resolve the current crisis in Syria peacefully" and neither authorizes the use of force against Assad nor explicitly bars it.

A major sticking point is language in the draft that "fully supports" the Arab plan, U.N. diplomats said. European delegations were prepared to dilute that language to win over Moscow, while Arab and U.S. delegates were less inclined to compromise, the diplomats said.

One of Russia's leading defense and security think-tanks, CAST, said Moscow could lose billions of dollars in military contracts with Assad if he is pushed aside.

China is expected to join Russia in either vetoing the draft or abstaining to let it pass. So far Moscow has shown little sign of agreeing to allow the resolution, but some Western diplomats say they still hope Moscow will not block it.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for consensus among the Council to stop the bloodshed, saying: "Every day tens of people are killed ... It is crucially important for the Security Council to act on this."

Syria is the main Arab ally of non-Arab Iran, which has often put Assad at odds with other Arab leaders.

"America's plan for Syria is evident and unfortunately some foreign and regional countries take part in America's plans," Iran's IRNA news agency quoted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying on Tuesday.

Assad's forces appear to have decisively beaten back an attempt by the opposition to assert themselves near Damascus.

An activist said armed defectors mounted scattered attacks on government troops who advanced through the district of Saqba, held by rebels just days earlier.

Rebel forays near the capital follow a negotiated victory in Zabadani - a town of 40,000 in mountains near the border with Lebanon - where government forces pulled back under a ceasefire.

Some rebel commanders have spoken of creating "liberated" territories to force diplomatic action.

Amour-backed troops entered al-Adawiya district in Homs, driving out Free Syrian Army rebels. Residents said tank bombardment and gunfire could be heard across the city in one of the heaviest barrages in weeks, and activists reporting dozens of casualties and field hospitals full of wounded.

Arabs' Insistence on Internationalizing the Crisis Stresses their Role in Conspiring against Syria

The involvement of some Arabs in the conspiracy against Syria is no longer a secret after their concerted efforts to refer the Syrian file to the Security Council despite the Syrian government's cooperation with the Arab Initiative.

The Israeli Haaretz newspaper exposed a new episode of the Arabs' engagement as it brought forward information about efforts exerted by an Arab King to urge US President Barack Obama to take the initiative to confront Syria but the US response came short that "We will not interfere in Syria without international support and this will only happen through the Arab League."

The American indication to the Arab League (AL) role in internationalizing the Syrian crisis was revealed on the ground through the AL ignorance of Syria's calls to continue the AL monitoring mission and Syria expressing readiness to cooperate with all initiatives that preserve the national sovereignty.

The AL, moreover, denied the report submitted by the Arab monitoring mission and suspended the work of the monitors without any excuses.

The statements of the Arab monitoring mission's members stressed the doubts about the seriousness of the AL in dealing with the mission's work since the beginning and proved its intentions to use the mission as a means to internationalize the Syrian crisis.

The Emirati member of the AL monitoring mission, Mohammed Salim Al Ka'abi, said that all people in Syria want a solution and those who have good intentions should take the initiative to find it because international interference will drive Syria into serious directions, adding that all people will lose if Syria destroyed.

Al-Ka'abi statements and the content of the mission's report on the reality of what is taking place in Syria help reach the conclusion that the solution for the Syrian crisis will never be the international interference which the West has always used to strengthen internal fighting in the countries, destroy the infrastructures and instigate sectarianism to tighten its control over these countries. The only solution in Syria will remain the dialogue as announced by the Syrian government.

Russia slams UN draft on Syria

Syrian government forces reasserted control of Damascus suburbs Tuesday after beating back rebels at the capital's gates as diplomatic pressure mounted on President Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations.

Western and Arab diplomats pushed for a UN Security Council resolution, which would call for Assad to step down to defuse a 10-month-old uprising against his rule.

They will make the case for a resolution adopting a plan by the Arab League for Assad to quit, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Britain's William Hague presenting a united Western front.

The resolution's fate depends on whether the Arabs and their Western backers can persuade Russia not to veto it.

However, a senior Russian diplomat said in Moscow the move would only set the stage for civil war, Interfax News Agency reported.

"The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria will not lead to a search for compromise," it quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying. "Pushing it is a path to civil war."

On the battlefront, activists in eastern districts of Damascus said troops fired in the air as they advanced beyond areas from which the defector Free Syrian Army withdrew, capping three days of fighting activists said killed at least 100 people.

Government troops were on the move as Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and the prime minister of Qatar readied the appeal to the Security Council to back their call for Assad to quit power and prepare for elections.

Washington said countries needed to accept that Assad's rule was doomed and stop shielding him in the Security Council.

"It is important to calculate into your considerations the fact that he will go," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Syria dismissed the US remarks.

"We are not surprised at the lack of wisdom or rationality of these statements and regret that they are still issued by countries that are used to making the Middle East an arena for their follies and failures," the state news agency quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

A draft of the UN Security Council resolution, obtained by Reuters, calls for a "political transition" in Syria, and says the Security Council could adopt unspecified further measures if Syria does not comply with its terms.

It endorses the Arab League power transfer plan. So far Moscow has shown little sign of being persuaded to let it pass.

Russia Backs Syria, Last Friend in Arab World

Russia's defiance of international efforts to end Syrian President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protests is rooted in a calculation that it can keep a Mideast presence by propping up its last remaining ally in the region — and has nothing to lose if it fails.

The Kremlin has put itself in conflict with the West as it shields Assad's regime from United Nations sanctions and continues to provide it with weapons.

But Moscow's relations with Washington are already strained. And Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seems eager to defy the United States as he campaigns to reclaim the presidency.

"It would make no sense for Russia to drop its support for Assad," said Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. "He is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East, allowing it to preserve some influence in the region."

And observers note that even as it has nothing to lose from backing Assad, it has nothing to gain from switching course and supporting the opposition.

"Russia has crossed the Rubicon," said Igor Korotchenko, head of the Center for Analysis of Global Weapons Trade.

The UN estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed since the uprising began in March.

"Russia will be seen as the dictator's ally. If Assad's regime is driven from power, it will mean an end to Russia's presence," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs.

Syria has been Moscow's top ally in the Middle East since Soviet times, when it was led by the incumbent's father, Hafez Assad.

Ties with Damascus helped Russia retain its clout as a member of the Quartet of international mediators trying to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

After Bashar Assad succeeded his father in 2000, Russia sought to boost ties by agreeing to annul 73 percent of Syria's Soviet-era debt.

Syria's port of Tartus is now the only naval base Russia has outside the former Soviet Union. A Russian Navy squadron made a call there this month in what was seen by many as a show of support for Assad.

For decades, Syria has been a major customer for the Russian arms industries, buying billions of dollars' worth of combat jets, missiles, tanks and other heavy weapons. And Assad's regime paid cash.

Kommersant reported this week that Syria has ordered 36 Yak-130 combat jets worth $550 million. Korotchenko said Syria needs the jets to train its pilots to fly the advanced MiG-29M or MiG-35 fighter jets it wants to purchase.

He said Syria's importance as a leading importer of Russian weapons in the region grew after the loss of the lucrative Iraqi and Libyan markets.

Russia, whose abstention in a UN vote cleared the way for military intervention in Libya, later voiced frustration with what it described as a disproportionate use of force by NATO.

The Kremlin has vowed not to allow a replay in Syria, warning that it would block any UN resolution on Syria lacking a clear ban on any foreign military interference.

Moscow accuses the West of turning a blind eye to shipments of weapons to the Syrian opposition and says it won't be bound by Western sanctions.

Earlier this month, a Syria-bound Russian ship allegedly carrying tons of munitions was stopped by officials in Cyprus, an EU member, who said it was violating an EU arms embargo.

The ship's captain promised to head to Turkey but then dashed to Syria. Asked about the ship, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded that Moscow owes neither an explanation nor an apology because it has broken no international rules.

Nonetheless, Moscow has shown restraint in its arms trade with Damascus, avoiding the sales of weapons that could significantly tilt the military balance in the region.

"Russia has taken a very careful and cautious stance on contracts with Syria," Korotchenko said.

The most powerful Russian weapon reportedly delivered to Syria is the Bastion anti-ship missile complex intended to protect its coast.

Observers in Moscow said Russia can do little else to help Assad. The chief of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov, openly acknowledged that last week, saying Russia has "exhausted its arsenal" of means to support Syria by protecting it from the UN sanctions. Lukyanov said Russia would block any attempts to give UN cover to any foreign military intervention in Syria but couldn't prevent Syria's neighbors from mounting such action.

Pukhov also predicted that Russia wouldn't take any stronger moves in support of Damascus.

"Going further would mean an open confrontation with the West, and Russia doesn't need that," he said.