Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Karzai calls Gilani, thanks him for hospitality


Afghan President Hamid Karzai telephoned Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani on Tuesday and thanked him for the hospitality extended during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Karzai informed Gilani about his meetings with the Pakistani political leadership and termed them very encouraging and constructive.

The Afghan president also apprised the Pakistani prime minister about his telephonic conversation with United States (US) President Barack Obama after his return to Kabul.

Karzai underscored Pakistan’s importance for the Afghanistan peace process and reiterated his request for assistance in the reconciliation process.

Gilani assured Karzai that Pakistan would wholeheartedly support an Afghan-owned and an Afghan-led peace process.

Video: Rihanna’s Racy Gown

Rihanna, who turns 24 on Monday, showed off some serious leg over the weekend when she stepped out in a racy floor-length satin gown. Plus, you'll never guess who the "We Found Love" singer has been tweeting! Elsewhere, Taylor Swift and Zac Efron looked ready to star in a remake of "Grease" at the Los Angeles premiere of "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," while Zooey Deschanel was "adorkable" as usual in a plaid vintage gown at the Writers Guild Awards.

Puerto Rico honors Obama, LBJ visits with statues

Puerto Rican officials marked Presidents Day by unveiling bronze statues of U.S. President Barack Obama and former President Lyndon B. Johnson, pointedly noting that people who live on the island can't vote in the U.S. general election and lack other basic rights.

The two life-size statues are the newest additions to the "Avenue of Heroes," outside the capitol building in the U.S. island territory. The statues honor every sitting president who ever visited Puerto Rico, dating back to Theodore Roosevelt.

Obama became the ninth when he visited in June, said Kenneth McClintock, secretary of state for Puerto Rico.

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who represents Puerto Rico in the U.S. Congress but has limited voting powers, said the Obama administration has been helpful to Puerto Rico, including it in economic stimulus funding and health reform, among other initiatives.

But he and other officials who spoke at the ceremony complained about a lack of other basic rights, including representation in the U.S. Senate and the right to vote in the general presidential election.

"The president of the United States is an important figure to Puerto Ricans despite the fact that we aren't able to elect him," said Pierluisi, who favors making the island the 51st U.S. state. "... Puerto Rico and its nearly 4 million American citizens deserve to enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities that our fellow citizens enjoy."

Puerto Ricans can vote in primaries but not the general election though island residents are U.S. citizens.

The new statues of Obama and Johnson are part of a broader $1 million project to improve the Avenue of the Heroes, a broad boulevard along the south side of the neoclassical capitol building.

China's stance on Syria crisis can withstand test of history

People's Daily

China voted against a proposed Syria resolution at the United Nations General Assembly after saying "no" to the same proposal at the UN Security Council previously.

Some noted that if the resolution passed at the Security Council on Feb. 4, Syria would not experience the same conflict escalation as today.

However, such an argument is based on the assumption that as soon as the UN Security Council resolution passed the resolution, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would start power transfer according to the resolution and political talks would be launched immediately. This is what the Assad regime resolutely rejects.

The Assad regime should hand over power within two weeks according to the timetable under the Arab League framework. Assuming that the Security Council resolution was passed, there is a possibility that the Assad regime would move forward at any cost after being pushed to the corner. The conflict in Syria would surely be worse than the present.

The visit of Zhai Jun, China's Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy of Chinese government to Syria, is another diplomatic attempt of China to promote political dialogue on Syria. The messages sent by Zhai during his trip can be summarized by five key words: concern, stopping violence, dialogue, cooperation and Charter.

First, the Chinese government has expressed its serious concern to all parties concerned in Syria. China is deeply worried about the fact that continuous conflict escalation and civilian casualties are undermining regional peace, and believes that such a situation must be changed immediately.

Second, China urges all parties concerned in Syria to stop violent behaviors at once. China has condemned all kinds of violence against civilians on many occasions, including the Syrian government that controls the country's armed forces, and the rebels who seek to overthrow the government through violence, in particular, the political forces that plotted bombings in government agencies. Only when all parties abandon violence, can civilian be actually reduced.

Third, China advocates the immediate launch of "inclusive political dialogue with no preconditions attached," which is the key to ensure the start of Syrian political process. "Political dialogue with no preconditions attached" means that everything is possible as long as all parties concerned reach an agreement.China urges the Assad regime to listen to people's reasonable appeals such as demands for change and development, but China has no position on who comes into power in Syria and will fully respect Syrian people's decision on their own political system. "Inclusiveness" means that all political forces should participate in the dialogue. Only by allowing every political group to participate, can political dialogue truly reflect the political reality in Syria and only by doing this, can an agreement be achievable.

Fourth, China hopes that all parties concerned in Syria to cooperate with Arab countries and the Arab League and to solve problems through political and peaceful approaches within the Arab League framework. Using the veto right at the UN Security Council and voting against the Syria resolution do not indicate that China is denying the Arab League's diplomatic efforts. Instead, China supports the Arab world's proposals such as stopping violence immediately, protecting civilians, providing humanitarian aid and avoiding outside military interference. China only opposes the contents in the Arab League's scheme that may be used by the West as the excuse to start a war.

Finally, China advocates to strictly following principles of the Charter of the United Nations and norms governing international relations. China is against the so-called "regime change" through armed intervention in any country, and believes sanctions do not help proper solutions of related issues. According to the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council does not have the function of discussing internal affairs of its members, and has no right to decide which power force in any country should come into power or step down. Principles in the Charter such as members' sovereignty and noninterference in internal affairs are foundations for small and medium-sized countries to establish themselves in the whole word. If such rules are broken, the international community will have no peace at all.

China's stance is completely based on the fundamental interests of Arab countries and people. Such a stance is able to withstand the test of history. If Western countries continue to give the same support to Syrian rebels, a large-scale civil war may finally break out, which will likely incur outside military intervention. If this happens, history will give the answer to the question - who should be responsible for the situation?

World observing Mother Language Day

Bangladesh News

Nations across the world are observing the International Mother Language Day on Tuesday.This year the theme of the day is "Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education".
International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of Unesco in 1999 in a bid to recognise Feb 21 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), highlights the importance of mother tongue from the angle of the right to education and encourage each member state to promote instruction and education in mother tongue.
In a statement of the UN cultural wing director-general Irina Bokova quoted Nelson Mandela as saying, "if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart".Irina said, "Languages are who we are; by protecting them, we protect ourselves."
Unesco has dedicated the day to multilingualism for inclusive education."Use of the mother tongue at school is a powerful remedy against illiteracy," Irina said in the statement.
Unesco and the US Department of Public Information are set to present a special screening of "Languages Lost and Found: Speaking & Whistling the Mamma Tongue" at the UN headquarters in New York.
Bangladesh observes the day as Martyrs Day to commemorate the deaths of Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and a few other brave sons of the soil killed in a police firing on this day in 1952 when students moved out in a procession from the Dhaka University campus, breaching Section 144, demanding recognition of Bangla as a state language of the then Pakistan.
The protest sparked on Feb 21, 1952 culminated into the long-drawn struggle that eventually created independent Bangladesh in 1971.
The Pakistan government was untimely compelled to incorporate an article in the constitution on Feb 29 in 1956 that declared "the state language of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali".

Putin campaigns on Russian military buildup


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

inspected one of Russia’s new stealth fighter jets on Monday and said Russia needs a stronger military to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around its borders.

Less than two weeks before a March 4 presidential election in which he hopes for a resounding win, Mr. Putin visited Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a snow-swept city in Russia’s Far East where military and civilian plane maker Sukhoi is a big employer.

He prefaced his trip with a newspaper article intended to burnish his image as a strong leader, saying Russia would spend 23-trillion rubles ($768-billion) over a decade to modernize the former Cold War superpower’s armed forces.

“New regional and local wars are being sparked before our very eyes,” Mr. Putin wrote in the article published on the front page of Russia’s official gazette, Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

“There are attempts to provoke such conflicts in the immediate vicinity of the borders of Russia and our allies,” he added in the article.

Mr. Putin, who is expected to win the election, gave no details of specific threats, but said Russia needed to develop weapons that were better than those of any potential enemy and called for making Russia’s armed forces more professional and versatile.

Russia has criticized the NATO mission in Libya, saying it overstepped the mandate it was given by the United Nations Security Council and helped rebels oust Colonel Moammar Gadhafi last year, and it has stood behind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of Moscow’s few allies in the Middle East.

In the latest of his articles published on the key policies of his presidential campaign, Mr. Putin made no specific mention of Libya or Syria. But he wrote that recent events showed the diminished stature of international law.

Russia, he said, must rely on a powerful military to make sure its position is understood. “Under these conditions Russia cannot depend solely on diplomatic or economic methods of resolving conflict,” he wrote. “Before us stands the mission of developing our military potential in the framework of a strategy of containment and remaining sufficiently armed.”

Russia’s once-mighty armed forces underwent a decade of spending cuts after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, although Mr. Putin tried to slow the decline when he served as president from 2000 to 2008. The military now has about one million personnel.

With his calls to increase Russia’s might and spend state cash to improve military technology, he can count on strong support from the defence industry.

Dressed in a black coat on a visit that mixed elements of governance and campaigning, Mr. Putin looked down into the cockpit of a Sukhoi Su-30 fighter. He also examined a T-50, which Russia designed to rival the U.S. F-22 stealth fighter.

Mr. Putin, 59, has presented himself as the guarantor of stability and accused foreign powers of helping the organizers of the biggest opposition protests of his 12-year rule. But many are concerned with rampant corruption and political stagnation, and he suggested one approach is to bring in the private sector to help boost competition in the defence industry.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, a rare meeting between Russia’s president and opposition leaders produced talk of political reform on Monday, but no sign of concessions strong enough to halt protests posing a challenge to Mr. Putin’s ambition to return to the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev hosted protest organizers and leaders of unregistered parties at his residence outside Moscow in the first known direct high-level contact between the opposition and the Kremlin since the protests began in December.

“Our political system is far from ideal, and the majority of those present here criticize it, sometimes quite harshly,” Mr. Medvedev said in televized comments at the meeting.

“You know that for the last four years I have been changing certain parts of our political system,” he added. “At the moment, in my view, the time has come to do this more actively.”

Mr. Medvedev said he welcomed suggestions on how electoral reform legislation he has submitted to parliament since the protests began, including easier registration for parties and a return to elections of regional leaders, could be improved.

The meeting signalled an awareness of the challenge that Mr. Putin faces from the protests that have erupted three times since a Dec. 4 parliamentary election, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to vent anger over suspected fraud in his party’s favour.

But no concrete plans for that or any other political reform beyond the changes already promised emerged from the meeting. Mr. Putin has ignored most of the protesters’ demands – including a rerun of the parliamentary election – and mocked them by likening the dissenters to apes and comparing the white ribbons worn by them to condoms.

U.S.A.: Immigration and the Campaign


The Republican presidential candidates have not made immigration a focus of their campaigns. But, as they head toward a debate on Wednesday in Arizona, ground zero for anti-immigrant hostility, it is a good time to ask them hard questions about immigration. The odds are bad that they will have sensible answers.

These candidates have abandoned decades of Republican moderation on immigration, disowning views once held by Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush and Congressional Republicans — like Mel Martinez, Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham and John McCain — who once led a sizable coalition for bipartisan reform but have since either left the Senate or their principles behind.

Mitt Romney has moved farthest to the fringe. His scheme for fixing immigration is mass expulsion: a fantasy of ridding the country of 11 million unauthorized immigrants by making their lives unbearable. The key to his harsh vision is “self-deportation,” the deceptively bland-sounding policy that he introduced at a debate. It accepts that arresting and expelling so many millions would be impossible — like deporting the State of Ohio. But it replaces that delusion with another: That people can be made miserable enough to leave on their own.

Mr. Romney lifted this scheme from a campaign adviser, Kris Kobach, the mastermind of a host of crackdowns that seek to leave unauthorized immigrants not just unable to work, but unable to drive, rent or heat a home, afraid to take children to school or the doctor. In states where “self-deportation” is official policy, the results have been deplorable. In Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County sweeps neighborhoods making mass arrests, and people are afraid to leave home. In Alabama, farm and construction workers have fled by the thousands; tornado victims are afraid to go to a shelter.

These laws hijack the federal government’s responsibility for immigration and have caused a civil-rights emergency. But Mr. Romney’s response has been to condemn the Obama Justice Department for fighting them in court.

Newt Gingrich is slightly less extreme than Mr. Romney. He rightly scoffs that “self-deportation” is a pandering fantasy, and he supports legalizing a few grandmothers and students who join the military, though, like Mr. Romney, he would deny them any chance to become Americans. He, too, staunchly defends rogue states against federal civil-rights enforcement. And, speaking of fantasies, Mr. Gingrich has pledged to complete a double-wall border fence by the end of next year.

Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have been less explicit in their immigration prescriptions, though Mr. Paul has voiced a libertarian’s doubts about a border fence and acknowledged that Hispanics are being made “scapegoats.” He and Mr. Santorum, like the others, support an immediate border lockdown, oppose the Dream Act and want the government to enforce English as an official language.

Poll after poll has shown that the American public supports moderate reform. Many conservatives do, too. In Utah, the Mormon Church has joined a broad coalition of business, civic and religious organizations in endorsing humane immigration measures, free of shrill hostility. In Kansas, Mr. Kobach’s home state, businesses are trying to draft a plan to be more welcoming to immigrant workers. But the Republican presidential hopefuls are busy pandering to the far-right voters that dominate the primaries.

President Obama has hardly been inspiring on this issue. He has pushed deportations to record levels while failing to reform immigration more humanely. But he, at least, understands that the right immigration solution is one that doesn’t reward illegality but channels immigrant energy and aspirations to fruitful ends. It is the hard-won compromise that combines tougher border and workplace controls with a legalization path and a well-designed future flow of workers to meet our economy’s needs.

That’s a plan that Mitt Romney, a few Mitt Romneys ago, once admired. It’s the one he deplores now.

A look at Bill Clinton's presidency

A new PBS documentary takes a look at Bill Clinton and his presidential legacy, including the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Charlie Rose and Erica Hill speak with the director of the documentary, Barak Goodman, about what he decided to include.

Obama takes tougher stance on higher education


Access to college has been the driving force in federal higher education policy for decades. But the Obama administration is pushing a fundamental agenda shift that aggressively brings a new question into the debate: What are people getting for their money?

Students with loans are graduating on average with more than $25,000 in debt. The federal government pours $140 billion annually into federal grants and loans. Unemployment remains high, yet there are projected shortages in many industries with some high-tech companies already complaining about a lack of highly trained workers.

Meanwhile, literacy among college students has declined in the last decade, according to a commission convened during the George W. Bush administration that said American higher education has become "increasingly risk-averse, at times self-satisfied, and unduly expensive." About 40 percent of college students at four-year schools aren't graduating, and in two-year programs, only about 40 percent of students graduate or transfer, according to the policy and analysis group College Measures.

College drop-outs are expensive, and not just for the individual. About a fifth of full-time students who enroll at a community college do not return for a second year, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to an analysis released last fall by the American Institutes for Research.

There's been a growing debate over whether post-secondary schools should be more transparent about the cost of an education and the success of graduates. President Barack Obama has weighed in with a strong "yes."

During his State of the Union address, Obama put the higher education on notice: "If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down," he said. "Higher education can't be a luxury— it's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."

He wants to slightly reduce federal aid for schools that don't control tuition costs and shift it to those that do. He also has proposed an $8 billion program to train community college students for high-growth industries that would provide financial incentives to programs that ensured their trainees find work. Both proposals need congressional approval.

At the same time, the administration is developing both a "scorecard" for use in comparing school statistics such as graduation rates as well as a "shopping sheet" students would receive from schools they applied to with estimates of how much debt they might graduate with and estimated future payments on student loans.

American's higher education system has long been the backbone of much of the nation's success, and there's no doubt that a college degree is valuable. It's now projected that students with a bachelor's degree will earn a million more dollars over their lifetime than students with only a high school diploma, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says.

But Obama's statement to Congress jolted the higher education establishment, which believes that college isn't just to create foot soldiers for industry and that the use of measured outcomes would hurt the humanities, meaning fewer students will turn to Shakespeare and instead study engineering, said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. The community has already been reeling over an earlier administration decision to require career college programs — many of which are at for-profit institutions — to better prepare students for "gainful employment" or risk losing federal aid.

"It's the notion that the ...federal government will begin to say we want to know what we're paying for and we want to make sure that people don't pay for education programs that take them nowhere, especially if the program is supposed to get them a job, we want it to get them a job, Carnevale said.

Some fear that Obama might want to apply the "gainful employment" standards to traditional four-year degree programs. Robert Moran, director of federal relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said reporting requires time and resources, and it's even more difficult to gauge the success of a graduate with an English degree than someone with a very specific career certificate.

Duncan said in an interview he doesn't see a big need to go in that direction now, although he does think it's important to track factors such as graduation rates and tuition costs. He said he tracked his graduates while serving as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools and noticed that some universities were graduating them at rates of 75 percent or more, while others were graduating them at a small fraction of that.

"Colleges aren't too dissimilar to high schools. Some have done a great job building cultures around completion and obtainment and some haven't," Duncan said.

Historically, policy conversations have centered on getting students into college. Duncan said graduating is just as important.

"To be real clear, I think that's been the problem with federal policy in the past is 100 percent has been focused on the front end on inputs, that's clearly important, but that's the starting point. That gets you in the game. The goal isn't to get to the game, the goal is to get to the finish line," Duncan said.

Obama isn't the first president to encourage dialogue on making higher education more affordable and accountable. In addition to convening a commission to study higher education in America, Bush's administration issued grants to states to link transcript data with other records to better track the success of graduates from public institutions. The Obama administration has continued the program.

But Obama is taking the conversation to another level. That doesn't mean, however, he's abandoning the issue of accessibility. His administration has expanded the availability of Pell grants, supported a tax credit for tuition costs and is attempting to make it easier for some graduates to pay back loans.

Experts say some of the challenges in higher education result from too many students entering the doors without basic math and English skills. There's also the question of how to measure how effective colleges are and whether tuition increases are appropriate — especially for public institutions facing dramatic budget cuts.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the former president of Mayland Community College, said the issues raised by Obama are being addressed at the state and local level, where she said they should be handled, and that many schools are coming up with innovative ways to cut costs and to find ways to work with local industry. As an example, she recalled developing, while a community college president, a course in supervisory training after local industry sought it.

"All of these things the president talks about can be done at the local and state level, and are being done at the local and state level," Foxx said. "It isn't the role of government to guarantee somebody a good job after they graduate from college or community college."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., takes a different view.

"Right now, the information about the potential of various careers, the track records of colleges and the like is essentially strewn all over the countryside," said Wyden, who authored a bill on making college costs more transparent.

He added, "I think students and their parents are now saying in addition to accessibility, we want to wring the maximum value out of every dollar we're spending on education."
College Measures: http://collegemeasures.org/

American Institutes for Research: http://www.air.org/

Education Department: http://www.ed.gov/

American Association of State Colleges and Universities: http://www.aascu.org/

Rep. Virginia Foxx: http://foxx.house.gov/

Sen. Ron Wyden: http://wyden.senate.gov/

U.S. presidents tend to be leftys

Oil prices spike on Iran export halt. Is $4 gas next?

Oil prices rose Monday after Iran cut exports to Britain and France, raising worries that higher gas prices may follow suit.
Iran's oil ministry said Sunday that it would stop exporting oil to French and British companies. The announcement came just days after Iran threatened to cut supplies to some European Union countries in retaliation for sanctions put in place by the EU and United States.
U.S. crude for April delivery jumped nearly 2% to $105.08 per barrel. Brent crude, Europe's benchmark, rose about 0.5% to $120.18 per barrel.
Prices for Brent haven't been above $120 for more than a year, and that could prove worrisome for U.S. drivers since many U.S. refineries use imported oil to produce gas, especially on the East Coast.
Prices are already up nearly 9% from the start of the year. According to motorist group AAA, the national average price of $3.56 a gallon marks the 13th consecutive increase.

Gas prices may hit $5

The price of unleaded gasoline in the U.S. will likely hit a nationwide average of $4 by this summer, said Dan Dicker, oil trader and author of "Oil's Endless Bid." The last time prices topped $4 was 2008 and Dicker said there's a one in three chance that gas could reach $5 a gallon.

If gas prices do head to those lofty levels, that could put a crimp in the economic recovery as consumers will likely cut down on spending if they have to pay more to fill up their cars.Just last month, higher gas prices were to blame for an uptick in inflation. And it's not just consumers who will suffer. Companies facing higher shipping costs may reel in their hiring plans, slowing job growth and putting a crimp into the overall economic recovery.

"This price juggernaut has taken on a life of its own since the Iran/Israeli threat flinging began and [the] boycott/sanctions war continues to ratchet upwards, and it's been made worse by the big run in stocks since the start of the year," said Dicker.

Capital Economics analyst Julian Jessop said the stock market rebound has contributed at least $5 worth of gains to the price of oil.

Israel has contributed to the market mayhem by openly considering an attack on Tehran's nuclear infrastructure.

Iran exports 2.2 million barrels of oil per day, a sliver of the 89 million barrels that is consumed worldwide on a daily basis. Less than one-fifth of Iran's exports are sent to Europe.

The move by Iran is "essentially an empty gesture, as the UK and France buy hardly any oil," said Jessop in a client note.But it doesn't take much to trigger a fluctuation in prices, and even a bit player like Iran can wreck havoc on international markets.

"The supply is tethered so tightly to demand, that if you do lose even a small percentage of supply, it could have a big effect on the price," said Dicker.

Bahraini Children Reportedly Stabbed & Gassed

By:Tighe Barry
As part of an observer delegation in Bahrain with the peace group Code Pink, I visited the village of Bani Jamrah with local Bahraini human rights activists.

In one of the many horrific cases we heard, a 17-year-old boy Hasan, his friend and his 8-year-old brother left their home to go to the grocery store. As they were entering the store they noticed some other youngsters running. Fearing the police would be following them, they decided to wait in the store. The 8 year old hid behind a refrigerator. The police entered the store with face masks on. They grabbed the older boys, pulling them out of the store and into the street.

Once outside the shop the police began to beat them with their sticks and hit them on the head, shouting obscenities and accusations. The police were accusing them of having been involved with throwing Molotov cocktails, asking over and over “Where are the Molotov cocktails?”

The four policemen, all masked and wearing regulation police uniforms, took turns beating the boys while one was instructed to keep watch to make sure no one was video taping. They seemed to be very concerned that there be no witnesses. Quickly, they forced the boys into the waiting police car. Inside the police vehicle was another youth about 18 who appeared to be “Muhabharat,” or plain-clothes police thugs associated with many dictatorships in the Middle East.

As the car sped off, the boys were told to keep their heads down “or we will kill you.” Soon they arrived at an open lot away from possible onlookers. As the two boys were being pulled from the car, the policeman who seemed to be in the charge shouted, “Make them lie down.” Once they were face down on the ground, the policemen took out their knives and stabbed both boys in the left buttock, leaving a gaping wound. The police thugs continued their “questioning”, using profanity to scare their victims. They threatened the boys that they would go to jail for 45 days for “investigation” and that they would never go back to school or get work.

When the thugs realized that they had no choice but to leave these victims, since they had no knowledge of the Molotovs, they searched them to see what they could steal. They took the boys’ mobile phones and asked them to hand over whatever money they had. When they discovered that the boys only had 500fils (about $1.50US), they kicked one of them in the raw wound, laughing as they left them bleeding.

“Who are these masked police and why would they do such things to children?”, you might ask. The boys said they were Syrian immigrants, part of a mostly foreign police force imported by the government and paid to inflict pain on the local people to dissuade them from protesting for their rights.

I asked if the police checked their hands, or smelled their clothes to detect the presence of petrol, since they were accusing the boys of carrying Molotov cocktails. Hussan, laying uncomfortably on his stomach, still in his bloody pants, answered, “No, they made no investigation. These police don’t investigate, they only accuse and punish. We had no contact with petrol, we are students.”

In the corner of the room was Husan’s aunt, holding a little baby that looked very sickly, the red hue of its skin almost burnt looking and its tiny eyes sore and red. I was straining now in my inquiry, like having to push words out my throat. “How old is your child?”, I asked. “Eight months old”, she replied. I knew about the nightly raids in this community, as I happen to be staying less than 200 meters from there and can see the light show each night as hundreds of teargas canisters are shot into this tight grip of middle class houses.

“How do you stop the teargas from getting in the house and affecting your baby?”, I inquired in a pained voice. I, myself, although not in village, feel the effects of the massive clouds of poison that pour over the entire area at night.

“Well, sir, wet towels, we place them each night under the doors,” she answers, as she lights down on the couch near a large flat screen television. “But, sadly, sir, this does not stop the gas. The baby suffers. I try to cover her face with a cloth but she does not like it and cries at the gas and the cloth at the same.”

“One way to stop the gas is to put plastic over the air conditioning unit,” she continued, “but the policemen always cut off the plastic and the gas seeps back inside quickly.”

They showed me a homemade video of those white-helmeted terrorists, using the very same issued knife that they used to cripple the boys, systematically, methodically removing the plastic that was placed to prevent the venomous gas from entering the house. Once removed, they can now shoot the gas, knowing that it will enter the house and poison all inside, especially the kids.

And so it goes in the Kingdom of Bahrain. So it goes in a world so addicted to oil, money and power that children can be stabbed, kidnapped, tortured, terrorized and gassed with nary a word from the outside world.

Are we, in America, so addicted to oil and beholden to powerful Saudis that we will block our ears to the cries of these Bahraini children? Or will we help them grow up in a world where they can know the joy and security that we all want for ourselves? The choice is ours.

It's time to bar Saudi Arabia from Olympic competition


At the Olympics, race or religion is irrelevant. We’re all just here to do sport.” ­– Ruqaya Al-Ghasara, devout Muslim and the first female Olympian to compete veiled from head to toe. (2004)

Dick Pound, Canada’s representative on the International Olympic Committee, is absolutely correct when he says that group has made great strides in the equality of women in the games.

Consider the organizers of the ancient Olympics put unmarried women to death for simply attending the event, and when the modern games were founded in 1896 women were barred from competing as it was thought their inclusion would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.”

So yeah — we’ve come a long way, baby.

With every single Olympic sport now open to female competitors — boxing was the lone holdout and it will be included in the 2012 games — this marathon is practically on its last leg.

So it’s time to disqualify Saudi Arabia from the race.

Last week, an international human-rights group called for the IOC to consider barring Saudi Arabia from the games unless that country opens its team to women, and moves to improve physical education and opportunities for Saudi girls.

Saudi Arabia is one of three countries that fields men, but never women, in the Olympics, and the only country that is prohibited by national law from selecting women for its team.

The call for exclusion is not without precedent or law. In 2000, Afghanistan was barred from the Sydney Olympics, in part because of its treatment of women. Apartheid kept South Africa from the games and the Olympic Charter precludes discrimination.

At first blush, it might seem the fielding of a Saudi women’s beach-volleyball squad would mark only a symbolic victory. However, it would necessarily require funding for a women’s Olympic program, investment in sport for Saudi women and eventually a reversal of the law that forbids sports for girls in Saudi state schools.

At the Olympics, race or religion is irrelevant. We’re all just here to do sport.
Sport is a human right.

Any nation that does not recognize this basic fact does not deserve a spot on an international stage of excellence.

Russia not to attend ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting; Iranian navy ships return from Syria


Russia on Tuesday said it will not attend an international conference in Tunis this week aimed at seeking political change in Syria because the meeting only supported the opposition’s cause, as two Iranian naval ships returned from Syria through the Suez Canal.

The meeting was called “for the purpose of supporting one side against another in an internal conflict,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, according to AFP. “We cannot accept the offer to attend this meeting.”

The “Friends of Syria group” will meet for the first time on Friday after being created in a response to a joint veto by Russia and China of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad for the violence.

The group is backed by members of the European Union as well as some Arab nations and the United States.

Russia’s statement said the meeting would be unable to improve dialogue between Assad’s government and the opposition on ways of ending 11 months of violence that opposition sources say have killed more than 6,000 people.

“The invitations to attend the Tunis meeting were issued to some parts of the opposition, but representatives of the Syrian government were not invited,” the statement said.

“This means that the interests of the majority of the Syrian population, which supports the authorities, will not be represented.”

Meanwhile, Russia said the United Nations should send a special envoy to Syria to help coordinate security issues and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter Tuesday that it’s proposing that the U.N. Security Council ask the U.N. Secretary General to send the envoy, according to The Associated Press.

On Monday Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the world body should help solve humanitarian issues in Syria, after Damascus allowed the Red Cross to bring humanitarian aid to some regions.

Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protests that killed 5,400 in 2011 alone, according to the U.N. Hundreds more have been killed since, activist groups say.

Meanwhile, two Iranian naval ships returned from Syria through the Suez Canal on Tuesday, a Suez Canal source said.

The ships entered the canal from the Mediterranean Sea early in the morning, heading south towards the Red Sea, and were expected to leave the canal on Tuesday afternoon, the source said.

The ships had docked at the Syrian port of Tartous, in a show of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a regional ally of Iran.

Bahrain opposition politician acquitted

A Bahraini court has acquitted a prominent opposition leader who was accused of taking part in "unlawful" anti-government protests that rocked the Gulf state for the last year.

The last of three charges against Matar Matar, a former MP and leading member of Al-Wefaq party, a mainly Shia opposition party, were dropped on Monday by a court in Manama, the capital.

Matar had been charged with "undermining public security by assembling with a group of more than five people".

"The last charge against me has been dropped," he said on Monday,Bahrain ordered the release in August of Matar and another Al-Wefaq member, Jawad Fayruz, who were both arrested last May after a crackdown on Shia-led protests in the Sunni-ruled country.

The court had already dropped two of the three charges Matar was being tried for: calling for regime change and spreading rumours linked to pro-democracy protests.

Matar and Fayruz were among 18 Shia MPs who resigned in protest at the government's crackdown on the demonstrations that erupted on February 14, 2011. Fayruz's trial is still continuing.

At least 35 people have been killed in the government's crackdown on protests, according to an independent commission of inquiry into the violence.

15,000 die each year crossing India's rail tracks

Almost 15,000 people are killed every year crossing India's rail tracks in what a government report has described as an annual "massacre" due to poor safety standards.

Pedestrians guilty of "unlawful trespassing" walk across the tracks at many unofficial crossing points, the report said, adding that about 6,000 of the deaths occur in the congested and frenetic city of Mumbai alone.

"No civilized society can accept such massacre on their railway system", the report said, adding that efforts to improve safety needed to be put on a "war footing" to tackle the death toll.

The fatalities equate to 41 people a day across India on the rail network, which carries 18 million people daily and is still the main form of long-distance travel despite fierce competition from private airlines.

In addition to accidents when crossing the tracks, other causes of deaths include train collisions, falling from open doors and being hit by trackside poles.

Most stretches of rail track in India are unfenced, allowing people to attempt crossings at any point.

The High-Level Safety Review Committee report, released last week, criticised the "reluctance" of Indian railway authorities to accept responsibility for the deaths.

Glowing tributes paid to Khushal Khan Khattak

The News

Glowing tributes were paid to great Pashto poet Khushal Khan Khattak at a function to mark his 323rd death anniversary.

The Poha Khparonki Jirga, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Culture Department and Khushal Adabi Jirga had arranged the gathering at the Khushal Hall instead of his mausoleum due to heavy rain. A delegation from Afghanistan, including Habibullah Rafi, Alam Gul Sahar, Perveen Malala and Sadiq Zharak, Naeem Azad and Mumtaz Dilsoz from Balochistan and intellectuals and poets from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa participated in the event. Quran Khwani was also held. The poets and scholars threw light on Khushal Khattak’s life and literary services.

The speakers said Khushal Khan had laid stress on human dignity, valour and Pakhtun nationalism. They asked the government to declare the mystic poet Abdur Rahman Baba and Khushal Khan Khattak as national poets. Minister for Information and Culture Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that Allama Iqbal had drawn inspiration from the poetry of Khushal Khan Khattak. He said the Khushal Khan Khattak Cell, Khushal Chair at the University of Peshawar and scholarships would be revived.

Balochistan resolution could dent Pakistan-US ties

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar

Monday said Balochistan was Pakistan’s internal matter and the province’s elected representatives would act to resolve its issues and not US congressmen, Geo News reported.

The Foreign Minister was talking to scholars and senior analysts at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) here.

The IISS is a prestigious think tank.

Condemning US resolution on Balochistan, she said such acts of “foolhardy-global-vigilanteism” could only aggravate Pakistan’s already estranged ties with US.

“It would distance the two allies even further”, said Khar.

Regarding ties with India she said keeping the dialogue alive on top of exhibiting mature-sightedness would be the right thing to do for both neighbours.

Going ahead, Khar tied Pakistan’s future with Afghanistan’s vowing unwavering support for peace process in the war-torn country.

Balochistan violence: 621 deaths in 2011

The Express Tribune

A total of 231 bullet-riddled bodies were found by roadsides in Balochistan in 2011, said a report launched here on Sunday.

Of these, according to Balochistan government’s Home Department estimation, the bodies of 196 missing persons were recovered mostly from Baloch-dominated districts of the province including Quetta, Sibi, Kalat, Mekran, Nasirabad and Zhob, said the report.

Titled “Balochistan’s Maze of Violence” and compiled by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), the report states that 621 people died during the course of the year in a show of staggering violence in the province.

According to the report, 281 people were shot in different incidents of target killings and firings, 68 fell prey to two deadly suicide attacks while bomb blasts and landmine explosions obliterated 120 others.

The military, in a statement, said that foreign hands were involved in the volatile region’s brewing violence.

“But we do not have evidence to support this claim. In light of the history of insurgency exploitation in the region, it is quite possible but is still just an assumption,” said CRSS Chief Executive Imtiaz Gul. He added that the security situation in Balochistan continues to aggravate with the passage of time, despite the government’s efforts to curtail the spiral.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that 6,000 people are still missing. The Balochistan government estimates that 117 people lost their lives in 20 incidents of sectarian violence, 92 of them Shias from Hazara community, who mostly live in and around Quetta city, according to the report.

During 2011, the militants’ relentless skirmishes with security forces resulted in the killing of 218 men belonging to the Frontier Corps, police and Levies. The Baloch Republican Army and Balochistan Liberation front claimed responsibility for most attacks.

The violence continued into 2012 too, with 60 people losing their lives in different incidents of violence in January, said the report.

Baloch's rights : Sheer hypocrisy

EDITORIAL:Frontier Post
Sheer hypocrisy

This is sheer hypocrisy and perfidy, plain and simple. MQM supremo Altaf Hussain says give the Balochs their rights. But they have all the rights, constitutionally. But those stay usurped by their tribal sardars and chieftains, to which no lesser complicit have been the federal ruling clans over the time that have all along pampered religiously these unvarnished oppressors, suppressors and exploiters at the cost of their exploited. The Baloch commoner is indeed the most wronged person on this land. This is well within the domain of public knowledge, though known passionately in the province but not unknown either all over the country. The political leaderships across the spectrum know of this as intimately as the backs of their hands. Who amongst them doesn’t know that sardars and chieftains harbour fearsome private armies in their stables to do their bidding and keep their enslaved tribal people under their thumbs? Who doesn’t know they keep private jails where they incarcerate the recalcitrant amongst their tribes? Who doesn’t know while these exploiters flourish phenomenally even in winter and rain, the tribal people held in their serfdom’s bondage only become abysmally more impoverished even in summer and sunshine? Who indeed doesn’t know these oppressive lords resist and allow not development in their fiefdoms lest their enslaved commoners become prosperous and raise their heads against the suppressive domination they have foisted on them with a daunting muscle power? Who doesn’t know these blood-sucking lords push in their own lackeys in any enterprise they allow reluctantly in their sultanates, crushing in the process the meritorious, the deserving and the rightfully entitled? Who doesn’t know they infest the Levies with their own henchmen to serve their interests, not the state’s or the citizenry’s? And who doesn’t know they protect their domains of exploitation, suppression and oppression like serpents?And yet the political clans across the spectrum lie and lie blatantly, despite knowing all this, as has Altaf just to be in step with the fashionable prattle in vogue. What could be a more atrocious travesty of truth that they glorify these oppressive exploiters as political leaders of the very people they oppress? What indeed have they done for their people to be so branded? The Bugtis, the Mengals, the Marris, the Jamalis, the Jams, et al have been in the legislatures and in the governments at the centre or in the province at one time or the other? What did they do for the Baloch commoners’ uplift? Nowadays, there is feverish talk about the Baloch people’s ownership of the province’s fabulous mineral resources? But what kind of ownership is being asked for when the Sui gas royalties travel down direct into a Bugti scion’s pocket to fatten his own treasures and beef up his arsenals? Not a dime is going to the Bugti tribe’s betterment. No school, no clinic, no public service has it got from this fabulous dough. Is this the ownership the self-styled Baloch leaders and their cheerleaders in the nation’s political class are calling for? Even now the sardari clan is holding the reins of power in Balochistan. What has it done even to set up a mineralogy institute to produce trained local manpower for enterprises in the minerals field so that the province’s populace benefits and maximally? And now that the provincial government has taken over the control of the Gwadar port authority, what steps has it taken to make something good of this port, once touted to be the jewel of a transnational transportation network but now turned virtually into a white elephant. And has it taken any measure for establishing an institute to produce trained manpower locally to man the port operations?But for how long is his perfidy to go on like this? How long are the oppressors to be pampered and eulogised and their oppressed ignored, neglected and brushed aside as nonentities? How long will the political class, all flush with affectations, keep on the suppressors’ side and shun the oppressed like plague? Will it ever side with the truth and abjure the falsehood? When indeed will it come to realise that the oppressed Baloch youth is now rising up to get what is his due and inalienable right? When will it understand that a change is on where the Baloch commoner and the Baloch youth are shedding the past to embrace the present as an emancipated and empowered citizen? Just recently, sardar Attaullah Mengal said that the Baloch youth had spun out of his control. But he was being short with the fuller truth. The Baloch youth in reality is getting out of the sardari stranglehold’s captivity to cease to be the sardars’ foot soldier and their feuds’ gun fodder. The times have changed. The conditions are changing. And the Baloch youth too is changing. It is this youth that the political class must court, not the outmoding sardars. It is this youth that should get all the state patronage. The rights it has remained denied of must come to it in full measures, not to sardars who had had too much of them hitherto. And people like Altaf, too, must stop posturing. Their antics strike too funny, and loathsomely.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa prepares strategy for revival of tourism

Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) has prepared an aggressive tourism policy for attracting tourists and reviving the tourism sector in the terrorism-hit province.

"The department of tourism after hectic efforts and consultations of one and a half years with stakeholders had prepared a detailed strategy for the revival of tourism in the province, said Mohammad Ali Syed, General Manager, Tourists Information Centres (TICs) and Events, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Monday.
He said that the tourism sector of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is different from other provinces as it offers rich historical background, scenic beauty, diverse culture, archaeological sites, traditional games, high mountains, lakes, traditional hospitality and variety of handicrafts.

For the domestic and foreign tourists it provided opportunities in recreational, adventure, culture, religious and educational tourism.

According to a data collected in 2008-09 tourism sector contributed $134 million (Rs 11.6 billion) to national economy, which speaks of its economic potentials.

Swat with 405 hotels earned a foreign exchange of $51 million followed by 93 hotels with 2, 851 rooms earned $40.4 million.

He said that the aims and objectives of the KP tourism vision is to develop an internationally competitive tourism for domestic and foreign tourists to fully realise its diverse potential and make tourism a leading economic sector for the province through public-private partnership.

He said that the mission of the KP tourism is the repositioning of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as prime destination for both domestic and foreign tourists by following a sustainable tourism development strategy with institutional and regulatory reforms, infrastructure development, service quality assurance, human resource development, aggressive marking, investment promotion and environmental conservation as its key pillars.

The strategy also calls for close co-ordination with security agencies to improve security situation, establish public-private partnership and strengthen tourism department and TCKP in post 18th Amendment period.

The implementation plan of the strategy called for preparation of tourism policy to facilitate local and foreign investment in tourism sector with particular emphasis on the facilitation of public private partnership.

The strategy also recommended the capacity building of TCKP and its conversion into an effective tourism management and regulatory body, improvement in tourism laws and imparting of quality training in tourism and hospitality sectors.

Similarly, the strategy also called for formulation of a short to medium term tourism marketing plan with focus on domestic tourism market.

NAB may open cases against Sharifs

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is preparing to take up cases against PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

According to sources, the cases relate to default of Rs4.9 billion loans obtained from nine banks in 1994-95.

“Cases against Sharif brothers were to be approved in a recent NAB board meeting but were deferred on the directives of the Chairman, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari,” an official of the bureau said on Monday.

The chairman is reported to have said that all pending cases about politicians would be taken up soon.

The NAB spokesman was not available for comment.

The bureau had earlier frozen some assets of the Sharif family against which the loans had been taken.

The Supreme Court upheld in January a judgment of the Lahore High Court asking NAB to release the assets of the Sharif family. It dismissed an appeal by NAB Prosecutor General K.K. Agha against LHC’s Oct 4, 2011, directive to the bureau to return Rs115 million and property of Hudabiya Paper Mills lying with the National Bank, Islamabad.

The sources said the assets had not been released so far.

The prosecutor general had told the Supreme Court that before heading to Saudi Arabia in December 2002, Nawaz Sharif had consented to return money to NAB under an agreement.

When contacted, PML-N spokesman Mushahidullah said the party’s chief and his family were not defaulters of any bank loan. “That was the reason Nawaz Sharif demanded of the government to make public details of all bank loans not repaid by politicians,” he said.

Replying to a question, he said the value of the frozen assets was far higher than the amount of loans obtained. “Once their assets are released, they will pay the loans,” he said.

The loans were taken from the NBP, Habib Bank, United Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank, Punjab Mudaraba, Bank of Punjab, Agriculture Development Bank, Pakistan Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation and ICP Bank.

During the proceedings in the Supreme Court, the NAB prosecutor general submitted an agreement signed by Nawaz Sharif and the Musharraf government.

The LHC had declared the taking over of property of the petitioners as unconstitutional, ultra vires under NAO, 1999, and without lawful authority. It had also ordered payment of compensatory cost of Rs150,000 per petition to Hudabiya mills, Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and Mian Mohammad Abbas Sharif.