Thursday, February 23, 2012

PESHAWAR'S SAD SONG:kala me perzo she pa bamoono pekhawara

World Leaders Focus on Somalia’s Future at London Conference

World leaders are in London for a one-day conference designed to help stabilize Somalia.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the conference is not meant to impose international solutions on Somalia. But he said the world will “pay a price” if it fails to help the Horn of Africa nation recover from violence, famine and poverty.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the 40-nation conference that Somalia is at a “critical” point. She said the world must help Somalia establish a stable government while keeping up the pressure on the al-Qaida-linked insurgent group al-Shabab.

Clinton added the international community would not extend the mandate of Somalia's weak transitional government beyond August, saying it is “past time” for Somalia to have permanent, representative leadership.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that before August, Somalia needs a new constitution, a smaller parliament, and presidential and parliamentary elections.

Somalia has endured two decades of civil war and poverty since the fall of its last stable government in 1991. More recently, it has struggled to deal with a devastating famine, as well as pirates and al-Shabab, which is seen as a threat to regional security.

The militants control large portions of Somalia but have been losing ground to offensives by Ethiopian, Kenyan, and African Union troops.

Clinton said the U.S. supports all Somalis who denounce violence, but said Washington is “adamantly opposed” to negotiating with al-Shabab. She said Washington is working to impose sanctions against all who seek to undermine Somali security or who delay the political transition.

She also announced an additional $64 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Horn of Africa.

Moscow, Beijing reject 'interference' in Syria

Russia's Foreign Ministry says Moscow and Beijing remain opposed to any foreign interference in Syria.

Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution this month condemning the violence in Syria, where thousands of people have been killed since an uprising began in March.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's office said he called his Chinese counterpart Thursday and they "reaffirmed the joint position of Russia and China."

Both countries support "a speedy end to any violence in Syria and the launch of inclusive dialogue between the authorities and the opposition without preconditions for a peaceful settlement that excludes foreign interference in Syrian affairs,"

The U.S., Europe and Arab nations are preparing to demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad agree within days to a cease-fire.

Shahzain offers 8-point Balochistan peace package

Jamhori Watan Party leader Shahzain Bugti has offered 8-point programme for peace in Balochistan.
He met Naeemia University Administrator Dr Raghab Naeemi in Lahore and, while talking to the media, said that there is lack of confidence and coordination between the federal government and Balochistan, adding that undue interruption of secret agencies has put the country in troubled waters.
He said there are no solid proofs of Indian interruption in Balochistan. The arrangement of polls could not be made in the province because secret agencies may change election results under a pre-planned programme.
He also came down hard on the government for accusing India of creating unrest in Balochistan.
He said the government should name the Indians involved if it has any solid proof.
In his statement, Shahzain said if there was no proof, the government should stop “repeating India’s name like a parrot”.
Bugti gave eight-point demands to develop trust between Balochistan and the federal government.
He said without removing the trust deficit, there should be no All Parties Conference or any package for Balochistan. He said the federal government can restore the trust of Balochis within 72 hours.
To achieve this, Bugti said General (r) Pervez Musharraf should be arrested in the Akbar Bugti murder case; military operation should be stopped and all forces should be withdrawn from Balochistan; controversial security posts should be abolished from Balochistan; the killing of innocent people should end; 13,000 missing persons of Balochistan should be traced; the role of intelligence agencies in Balochistan should come to a close; any Baloch being prevented from returning to their homes by intelligence agencies should be allowed to go back, and the responsible officials of intelligence agencies who carried out the attack on Chief of Baloch Republican Party Barahmdagh Bugti’s sister and niece on January 31 in Karachi should be arrested.
Responding to a question, Bugti said his party had already rejected the Balochistan package announced by the federal government. He said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had lied by saying that 80 per cent of work on the package had been completed. He added that he was not astonished at the passage of a resolution by US congress for the separation of Balochistan.

Rise in identity fraud tied to smartphone use

BY:Mitch Lipka Reuters

Nearly 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2011, an increase of 13 percent over 2010, according to a report released on Wednesday by the research firm Javelin Strategy & Research.

The rise in the use of smartphones and social media by incautious consumers fueled the increase in identity fraud, and 2011 was a year of several big data breaches too, Javelin said.

With the rise in credit card monitoring and more sophisticated policing by credit card companies, identity thieves are increasingly targeting users of smartphones and social media, where consumers have a tendency to be less cautious, experts say.

"The message is not that people should let their guard down," Javelin founder and President Jim Van Dyke said. "The challenge that we have is that criminals often change faster than everyday consumers or businesses."

The number of people whose information was accessed in a data breach increased by 67 percent in 2011, largely due to some very high-profile thefts, such as the attacks on Sony Corp's PlayStation network in April.

Someone whose personal information is taken in a data breach is 9.5 times more likely to become a victim of identity fraud, Javelin found.

One heartening finding was that dollar losses by consumers remained stable last year despite the increase in the number of victims. Credit card issuers' policies on fraudulent transactions -- a $50 limit on losses, which is often waived -- and quicker detection has limited out-of-pocket costs to consumers, said Van Dyke.

For the past nine years, Javelin has been analyzing data and survey information about identity fraud, usually defined as the opening of new accounts in the name of a victim.


For every advancement made on the protection side, consumers remain vulnerable due to the resourcefulness of crooks.

"They're doing more and more crime in order to get the same return," said Mike Urban, who analyzes fraud patterns for Fiserv Inc, a consulting company that helps financial institutions defend against crime and other risks. "It's pushing the criminals to work even harder."

In 2011, some of the biggest data thefts ever recorded took place. In the attacks on the PlayStation network, hackers obtained the personal information of tens of millions of users and the credit card numbers of some.

Also last year, hackers stole millions of names and email addresses from Epsilon, the marketing division of Alliance Data Systems Corp. That firm sends email marketing information on behalf of major banks, retailers and hotels, among others. Citigroup Inc also reported a large data theft.

About 7 percent of all smartphone users fell victim to identity fraud in 2011, according to Javelin. Smartphone users were about a third more likely to become victims than non-users. Javelin found 62 percent of smartphone users do not use password protection for their home screens; this allows anyone who finds or takes their phones to have access to the contents.

Fiserv's Urban said downloaded apps are often a problem, too. The lure of a free game, particularly one not vetted through a company-operated site such as Apple Inc's iTunes, can result in users having programs that collect and distribute their personal information.

Javelin also found that many social media users reveal too much personal information, including their birth dates, where they went to high school, their phone number and other information used to verify identity.

"You don't leave your money lying on a table," said Urban. "You don't want to leave your important information out there."


Here are some tips from Javelin to avoid becoming an identity fraud victim and mitigating losses:

- Password protect your home and mobile devices. Avoid exposing personal information that can be used by someone else for identity verification.

- Be careful about the apps you download. Only download through a service that monitors the apps, such as iTunes.

- Share information carefully when you are on a public wifi network.

- Monitor your credit cards by checking their use online or reading the statements carefully. Quickly report to your credit card issuer if you see any suspicious transactions.

- Take data breach notifications seriously. If your data has been accessed, consider subscribing to a credit-monitoring service, which is often is offered for free for a year by the company that had been breached.

(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own. Editing by Linda Stern, Chelsea Emery and John Wallace)

Veena Malik sparks nude trend in Pakistan

Pakistani starlet Veena Malik's nude photoshoot

with ISI tattooed on her arm for the Indian version of FHM magazine seems to have emboldened many in her conservative country.

Following suit this week is a girl called Mathira from Pakistan who has posed topless for a magazine with another fashion model Waqas Pathan. A television star in her own right, Mathira began her career hosting a dating programme called Love Indicator on Pak television and gained infamy from the show as its content and her demeanor were both slammed by critics.

Currently hosting another TV show called Baji Online in her country, the fashionista and television host has gone nude for a Valentines Special photo shoot for a Pakistani fashion magazine. The shadows of Brand Veena Malik not withstanding, Mathira is even being hailed as the ‘Paris Hilton of Pakistan'!

But Bollywood PR guru Dale Bhagwagar does not see this as a trend started by Veena Malik! "Nudity and its exhibition via media forms are not new to this world. They've existed from the medieval age when nudity was not considered a moral issue and will only rise with new media now," he states.

Before her controversial FHM shoot, Veena gained popularity in India when she got invited on the country's biggest reality show Bigg Boss because of a controversy with one of Dale's PR clients, actress Neetu Chandra. She attracted further notoriety when she cootchie-cooed with another of the same publicist's clients Ashmit Patel on the show.

Higher Education in Afghanistan

As a country that has suffered so much destruction, Afghanistan needs to pay great attention to the provision of higher education.While the Afghan government has helped in establishing private higher education centres in the last ten years, many young people still complain about the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education.
This edition of Dawood Sultanzoy focuses on higher education in Afghanistan.

Lahore: Keep smokin’, there’s nobody stopping you

The Punjab government still lacks effective implementation and strict enforcement of Anti-smoking Ordinance 2002 despite the lapse of one decade of its promulgation across the province.

“The present Punjab government envisaged an idea of Smoking-free Lahore three years ago but this idea was dropped by the government itself owing of absence of health minister and lethargic attitude of the officials of the Health Department,” sources told Pakistan Today.
Due to the failure of anti-smoking law sale of cigarettes to underage

smokers is also on the rise in the city while smokers can be seen everywhere puffing cigarettes in government and private offices, parks, public places including train and bus terminals with impunity. The situation is getting worse in educational institutions where the ratio of smoking cigarettes and sheesha is increasing among the students. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has expressed its serious concerns over the failure of anti-smoking laws in educational premises.
“While on the other hand the Health Department is in dilemma on how to execute the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non Smokers Health Ordinance 2002 as the department could not develop effective coordination with other provincial departments including environment, food, education and police ,” the sources privy to Health Department claims.
The sources further said in order to make anti-smoking law effective, the District Committees for Tobacco Control (DCTC) were established in all districts of the province under the head of District Coordination Officer (DCO) but despite the establishment of DCTCs no violator of the anti-smoking law has been arrested so far. “In February 2011, first time 37 people were fined in Lahore since implementation of Anti-Smoking Ordinance 2002 and still the concerned departments’ heads are not in favour of imposing fine or arresting violators as they are focusing on creating awareness about the hazards of smoking among the masses,” he said adding that in a recent meeting held in February 16, it was also decided that an awareness drive be launched in educational and government institutions. “Again DCTC Head and Lahore DCO Ahad Cheema was absent from this meeting with the excuse that he was busy and the meeting ended with a plan of launching awareness campaign,” he added.
The sources also pointed out non-seriousness of the Punjab government with regards to anti-smoking drive that the Punjab Health Ministry representatives put a plan of ‘Smoke-free Lahore’ in a conference held in Cairo three years ago organised by World Health Organization (WHO). Bloomberg funds were approved for this plan but the provincial Health Ministry did not bother to pursue this financial assistance and ultimately it was dropped. The sources further said it was decided in 2008 that the Health Department, WHO and HED would conduct lecturers on hazards of smoking in educational institutions as it was found that a large number of students were indulging in smoking cigarettes and sheesha. “The results were pathetic as public especially students are well aware of dangerous of smoking and smoking could be controlled only when violators will be either fined or arrested on the spot,” he said according to the data available with the department, the ratio of smoking is also increasing in medical colleges and it showed that educating students who were already aware of the hazards of smoking was nothing but a waste of time.
An official in HEC, asking not to be named, told Pakistan Today that the failure in implementing the anti-smoking law badly hit the educational institutions in Lahore. He said the HEC had highlighted private elite colleges and universities where male and female students smoked cigarette and sheesha. He said HEC wrote a lot of times to the heads of these institutions but practice of addiction could not be decreased as smoking addiction was considered to be a fashion. He said HEC was conducting lectures along with WHO and Health Ministry on hazards of smoking at the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS),
Fast-National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences (Fast-NUCES), Beacon house National University (BNU), Government College University (GCU), Kinnaird College (KC), Forman Christian College University (FCCU), Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) and the Punjab University (PU).
NOBODY TO SHOULDER RESPONSIBILITY: Talking to Pakistan Today, Health Executive District Officer (EDO) Dr Capt (r) Inamul Haq said DCTC had finalised a comprehensive strategy to ensure smoking free health centres, government offices and public places across the provincial capital through implementation of anti-smoking laws. He said the Health Department could only issue circulars to different departments for implementing of anti-smoking laws and it was the responsibility of the Environment Department to arrest or impose fine on violators with the support of police. He said it was also decided to bring NGOs, transport and cinemas organisations and civil society to table against hazards of smoking in Lahore. Environment Protection Department (EPD) Punjab focal person Naseemur Rehman said the Environment Department had nothing to do with the implementation of Anti-Smoking Ordinance 2002 as this law came under the domain of the Health Department. He said it was not the EPD’s duty to arrest or to impose fine on violators since they were not authorised.
“The Environment Department can help the Health Department in awareness campaign only,” he added. WHO focal person Shahzad Alam talking to Pakistan Today said an awareness campaign was being launched in Lahore about the hazards of smoking among the masses and lack of funds was a major reason of slow drive in the country. He said WHO was providing technical assistance to Health Department and they were also managing lectures in educational institutions to educate students.
“Seminars are also being organised at different level to create awareness among the people with NGOs and other stakeholders,” he added.
RISKS: Dr Afzal Cheema told Pakistan Today said tobacco use was not only capable of damaging nearly every organ of the human body but also caused at least 15 different cancers and is single-handedly responsible for 30 percent of all cancer related deaths. He said the number of cases of lung cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and myocardial infarction were increasing since the raise of cigarettes in the city.
PROPOSED PUNISHMENTS: According to different clauses of Anti-Smoking Law, the government can impose fine up to Rs 1,000 for smoking at public place, transport vehicles and failure of the owner or manager of a premise to display a ‘No Smoking’ sign at a prominent place. Second, third and subsequent violation could cause imposition of fine up to Rs 100,000. Sale of cigarettes to minors, sale and storage in the immediate vicinity of educational institutions and advertisement of tobacco products in violation of guidelines could cause imposition of fine up to Rs 5,000.
Second, third or subsequent violation could cause imposition of fine up to Rs 100,000 or three month imprisonment or both.

Baloch agriculture graduates demand jobs

Chairman Balochistan Jobless Agriculture Graduates Union Rasool Bakhsh Raiki on Friday said that there was not any job announced for the agri-graduates since 2006.

The increasing joblessness would further add to the miseries of the agri graduates living in the province.

In a statement, Raiki alleged that agri-graduates after completion of their studies are left with no option as provincial government has not crated a single job for them for the last 6 years.

He demanded of the provincial government to take note of the miseries and hardships of the agri-graduates and announce jobs for them.

Pakistan Govt to quash cases against exiled Baloch leaders

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has announced that cases against all exiled Baloch leaders including Harbiyar Marri, Brahamdagh Bugti will be withdrawn if they returned to Pakistan. Speaking after a meeting on Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan on Thursday, Malik said he would welcome the Baloch leaders back to Pakistan personally. The government has been endeavouring to making the All Parties Conference (APC) on the Balochistan issue broadly represented by all Baloch leaders, he added. Malik also called on the Baloch and national leadership to attend the government's All Parties Conference on Balochistan. Regarding FC, he said that now onward the paramilitary force will follow provincial government’s order. He said that he had met Herbyar Mari in London.

Hina, Clinton discuss Pak-US ties in London

Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani

met US Secretary of State Clinton in London.
Pakistan s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday on the sidelines of the London meeting on Somalia. Both discussed the strained ties between Washington and Islamabad.Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, also attend the meeting.
According to sources, resumption of NATO supplies, US drone strikes and Balochistan resolution in US Congress came under discussion during talks.

More U.S. kids living in high-poverty areas


Years of economic setbacks have taken their toll on the nation's youngest residents, with another 1.6 million children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to one study that shows nearly 8 million children residing in poor areas in 2010.

In 2000, 6.3 million children lived in high poverty in the United States, a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found.

The growth - a 25 percent increase - reverses the trend just a decade ago that saw fewer children living in communities with high poverty rates, according to the nonprofit group.

And three-quarters of those children live in such areas despite having at least one parent working, the study showed.

The findings reflect the hit the U.S. economy took during and after the 2007-2009 recession even as signs now point to steady recovery. The nation's jobs market has improved, the number of home sales has grown and recent gains on Wall Street have prompted optimism among investors.

"The recession has really set back much of the progress that was made in the 1990s when poverty went down," Robert Sampson, a professor of social sciences at Harvard University and head of the Social Sciences Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the foundation, said the data is a key indicator because the poverty children face growing up can have a direct impact on their success as adults.

"Their families have a harder time providing for basic necessities like good housing, being able to access health insurance and good quality health care," Speer said. "Kids who attend schools that are in low-income communities ... tend to struggle in school in lots of different ways."

The foundation, which focuses on children and family issues, gathered the data looking at U.S. Census data from 2010, the latest year available.

The study defined high-poverty communities as those areas where 30 percent or more are in poverty, defined by the federal government in 2010 as annual income of less than $22,314 for a family of four.


Still, while many experts say the effects on children and families who themselves are poor is clear, the impact of poor neighborhoods is still an area of debate.

"I think the geographic dimension is less understood or well known," said Harvard's Sampson, author of "Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect," a book based on 10 years of research.

The recession has exacerbated children's exposure to poverty, and his research shows it can set back their learning the equivalent of a year, he said. That can be difficult to change, Sampson said, and policies need to target both individuals and communities.

"Neighborhoods get locked into the poverty," he said.

Greg Duncan, an education professor at the University of California, Irvine, said when it comes to "the double whammy of both family poverty and neighborhood poverty" the data is far less clear on the impact of where people live.

"How much that really effects how kids turn out when they are adults - that is still somewhat contentious," he said.

But, he added, "we worry about both what it means for kids, what it means for the next generation of workers, what it means for the nation's future prosperity."

Lawrence Mead, a professor of politics and public policy at New York University, said the rise in children living in poverty is dramatic, but that their environment is less a factor than whether their parents work and whether both parents are at home.

"The environment outside the home doesn't add a whole," said Mead, who is also a visiting scholar at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute.

The foundation's Speer said the effect of living in a poor community varies depending on whether it is in a more isolated rural one or an urban area. Overall, the report found children living in rural areas and large cities were considerably more likely than youth in the suburbs to live in concentrated poverty.

States with the highest rates of children living in poor areas are Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona.

Detroit, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Fresno and Atlanta showed the highest rates of children living in areas of concentrated poverty among the 50 largest U.S. cities.

Obama goes on offense over high gasoline prices

As Republican presidential candidates toss barbs at Barack Obama over expensive gasoline, the U.S. president and his team are going on the offensive with a strategy to divert blame and prepare voters for higher costs.

In subtle and not so subtle ways, Obama, a Democrat, is raising the issue of high prices to promote his own policy priorities and blunt criticism from the men vying to unseat him in the November 6 election.

His strategy is both politically- and policy-oriented. The president wants to advance his plans to increase renewable energy sources and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

But he also needs to win the war of words to gain an upper hand over Republicans in Western battleground states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, where people drive a lot and feel the sting of rising prices acutely.

Republicans see many weaknesses to exploit. They blame Obama for not doing enough to increase domestic production of fossil fuels and cite his decision to block a new oil pipeline from Canada as evidence that he is beholden to environmentalists.

Rising gasoline costs have brought the issue to the forefront of the presidential campaign. So Obama has started to pepper his speeches with references to prices at the pump.

On Tuesday he cited the extension of the payroll tax cut as a welcome buffer for workers coping with the cost of gas. On Wednesday he proposed -- not for the first time -- getting rid of tax loopholes that benefit oil and gas companies.

On Thursday he'll go a step further, using a speech in Florida to outline his own accomplishments in the energy arena along with a long-term strategy to keep fuel prices down.

"This is a recurrent problem and it's a problem that reinforces the need that (Obama) identified back when he was a candidate for a comprehensive energy strategy," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Obama advisers have pointed to growing demand in China and unrest in the Middle East as factors out of their control that are affecting the price of oil.

Average gasoline prices have climbed to their highest February levels on record, hitting $3.53 per gallon last week, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse data.

Gasoline prices have tracked crude oil prices, which have been bolstered by the threat of supply disruptions from the West's standoff with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

Some analysts say U.S. prices could hit $4 a gallon or more ahead of the summer when driving demand peaks.


Those prices hurt Obama politically as much as they hurt the country economically, and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum seized on them criticize the president for his environmental record.

"Folks are just starting to be able to breathe a little as the economy starts to come back a little bit, unemployment starts to go down," Santorum said at a campaign event last week.

"All of a sudden they are going to be hit with the same force of wind that hit us in 2008 in the summer that caused us to go into a recession. All because of the radical environmentalist policies of this president," Santorum said.

Carney dismissed Santorum's comments as "random statements by politicians seeking office." Obama is the first president to preside over growth in domestic oil production since President Jimmy Carter, also a Democrat.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, promised at a debate with rivals on Wednesday night that the country would enjoy gasoline prices at $2.50 a gallon if he won the White House.

Analysts and strategists said Obama has few options to bring down gasoline prices in the short term and said his energy policies had evolved from focusing on renewable fuels to promoting nuclear energy and natural gas.

"Basically he's come a long way from the campaign of '08. I think that reflects pragmatism on his part," said Guy Caruso, a senior adviser on energy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Progress or not, Obama has vulnerabilities when it comes to energy. Earlier this year he nixed TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline under severe pressure from environmentalists.

The president blamed Republicans for forcing him to take a decision under a tighter timeframe than the State Department said it needed to study the project.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and off-and-on frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, said that decision was a sign that Obama wanted to please his political base more than he wanted to improve the economy.


Analysts say even if Keystone were approved, the increase in oil supplies would not affect gasoline prices for years, but the decision is nevertheless a key flashpoint in the election.

"The juxtaposition of the high gas prices and Keystone has (the White House) understandably nervous, and even though those two ... have almost nothing to do with each other substantively, they create a political narrative that Republicans could be successful in using to paint Obama as anti-energy and pro-high gas prices," a Democratic strategist said.

Politically, Obama's vulnerability over gasoline prices could be especially deadly in Western states that he needs to win to remain in the White House.

Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said Republican candidates could gain traction with voters in that region by emphasizing fuel costs, though they -- like Obama -- had few options to suggest to bring prices down in the short term.

"Out there (a candidate) can get some resonance against the president by talking about high gasoline prices," he said.

"If someone comes back at him and says, 'What's your policy Mr. Santorum, Mr. Gingrich, or whomever, to lower gasoline prices today,' I don't think they'll have a good answer."

Pro-Putin rally draws tens of thousands

Tens of thousands of people have packed into a football stadium for a campaign rally in support of Vladimir Putin, 10 days ahead of a presidential election in which Russia's prime minister is aiming to return to the country's top job.

Putin, who served two terms as president between 2000 and 2008 before being appointed prime minister during Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, is expected to win the March 4 election.

But he has faced outbursts of public discontent for the first time since his emergence as the country's dominant political figure 12 years ago, with an anti-Putin protest movement drawing tens of thousands to its rallies.

Putin told supporters on Thursday that he would not allow foreign powers to interfere in Russia's internal affairs and predicted victory in an ongoing battle over the country's future.

"We will not allow anyone interfere in our internal affairs," said Putin.

"We will not allow anyone to impose their will on us. We have our own will and this has always helped us be victorious. We are a victorious nation. This is in our genes. This is in our genetic code."

In a fiery, nationalist-tinged speech that had not been announced in advance, Putin thanked voters who would support him in the elections and repeatedly invoked past battles for Russia.

"We will be victorious," claimed Putin. He then turned to the crowd and asked: "And I want to ask you. Will we be victorious?" The tens of thousands in the crowd roared back "Yes!"

"The battle for Russia continues. Victory will be ours," he said.

Police said 130,000 gathered at the 78,000-capacity stadium prior to Putin’s arrival, according to Russia's RIA Novosti new agency.

The pro-Putin rally, held in the Luzhniki stadium, was a response to the opposition protests, which have been embraced by Russia's middle class and young urban professionals.

"I love Putin and Putin loves me," said Vladimir Gryzlov, a 68-year-old musician who brought his accordion to the stadium.

With him was 70-year-old Tatyana Goytseva, who said it was "too late for us to change our leaders."

"We are happy with them, but of course the young people don't think the same," said Goytseva, a social worker who helps the elderly. She said her three grandchildren were not voting for Putin.

Putin has four challengers, including three veteran party leaders who long ago reached an accommodation with the Kremlin and pose little challenge to Putin's authority.

The only newcomer is Mikhail Prokhorov, a 46-year-old billionaire businessman who owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

Prokhorov's candidacy has been viewed as a Kremlin-approved effort to add legitimacy to the election and channel the discontent of the protesters.

Grigory Yavlinsky, the veteran leader of the liberal opposition party Yabloko, was denied the right to run.

Thousands Back Putin's Presidential Bid in Moscow

BY:Timothy Heritage/REUTERS

Thousands of people marched in Moscow under Russian flags, balloons and banners on Thursday to back Vladimir Putin's bid to return to the presidency and counter opposition protests that have challenged his authority.

People wrapped themselves in warm hats, scarves and coats on a chilly national holiday and started marching along the banks of the Moscow River behind a long blue banner declaring: "Our vote for Putin."

Organizers said tens of thousands were likely to take part in the march and a rally in a sports stadium which the prime minister was widely expected to address.

The former KGB officer is on course to win the election on March 4, extending his 12-year rule for another six years, although tens of thousands have shown their concern over his return to the Kremlin by protesting in the past two months.

The atmosphere was festive on Defender of the Fatherland Day, a holiday which honors the armed forces.

"I support Putin. He's an FSB (security service) guy and my father is too so I like him," said Rostislav Galeyev, 20.

Police were out in force because the opposition communists and nationalists planned rallies in other parts of the capital.

The communists and nationalists also staged small rallies in several other cities across the vast country of more than 140 million people but there were no immediate reports of clashes.

Putin's campaign team, which portrays him as a strong leader and guarantor of stability, has failed to quell reports that many of the people at pro-Putin rallies are paid or coerced into attending by employers and trade unions.

"I came here with friends. They said they would pay each of us 2,000 roubles ($67)," said a 21-year-old man who gave his name only as Alexander after he and his friends were brought into Moscow by bus from just outside the city.

"If I had a choice I would vote for (nationalist Vladimir) Zhirinovsky, but our voices don't count."

Putin says that even if some are obliged to attend, there are many more who want him to return to the post he held for eight years until 2008, a period in which Russians enjoyed an economic boom on the back of a surge in the price of oil, Russia's main export commodity.


The latest opinion poll this week showed he would win more than 50 percent of the votes on March 4, enough to avoid a second-round runoff. His rivals include Zhirinovsky, communist Gennady Zyuganov and businessman Mikhail Prokhorov.

After initially insulting the protesters who have taken part in opposition rallies sparked by allegations of fraud in a parliamentary election won by Putin's party on December 4, the 59-year-old leader has allowed their main rallies to go ahead.

But he has accused foreign governments of backing the opposition protesters and has met none of their main demands, including a rerun of December's election, the release of people the opposition call political prisoners and far-reaching political reforms.

He has announced token electoral reforms but opposition leaders who met President Dmitry Medvedev this week say they do not go far enough and will not be implemented quickly. The next opposition protest in Moscow is planned for Sunday.

Putin was president from 2000 until 2008, when he was barred by the constitution from running for a third successive term, but has remained dominant as prime minister.

If he wins two more terms, he could stay in power until 2024. The opposition protesters say a growing number of Russians feel they have no say in the way Russia is run and that it is bad for any country to be led by one person for so long.

Benazir Bhutto's murder: still unsolved


On Tuesday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik briefed the Sindh Assembly in detail on the murder of Benazir Bhutto, twice elected prime minister of Pakistan. Ms Bhutto was killed on December 27, 2007. A Sindh Assembly resolution had asked that the findings of the murder investigation be made public. Mr Malik did not reveal anything new as such. He said that the government would approach Interpol for the arrest of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf as he had not provided adequate security to Ms Bhutto. Mr Musharraf on the other hand has denied his involvement in Ms Bhutto’s murder, saying that her security was mainly the responsibility of the provincial government and matters relating to her primary security were handled by her party workers. Mr Malik said that a joint investigation team (JIT) has come to the conclusion that both the October 18 and December 27 attacks on Ms Bhutto were planned and executed by al Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “Both Pervez Musharraf and militants based in FATA considered Benazir Bhutto a threat for themselves as she was a strong proponent of democracy and democratic values,” said Mr Malik. In an interview with this paper published on October 5, 2007, one of Baitullah Mehsud’s close friends had quoted Mehsud as saying, “My men will welcome Bhutto on her return.” The men accused of Ms Bhutto’s murder — Baitullah Mehsud, Ilyas Kashmiri and Abu Ubaidullah Misri — are all dead. Thus, it would be difficult to establish their role. Rehman Malik said that the plan to assassinate her was formulated in Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak but the madrassa spokesman has rejected this accusation. Mr Malik did clarify a few things. Initially it was said that Ms Bhutto’s post-mortem was not conducted at the behest of her family but now it has been revealed that the police officer on duty did not allow the doctor to go ahead with an autopsy. Mr Malik said that they are now prosecuting the officers responsible for this negligence.

Some people have observed that the Sindh Assembly resolution and Mr Malik’s briefing was an attempt at political point scoring in order to gain political capital. Given that the next general elections may be held in a few months time, this cannot be ruled out. But whatever the motives behind this public hearing, these claims, counter-claims and accusations are not very helpful and Ms Bhutto’s murder still remains unresolved. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The basic question is: did al Qaeda and the TTP act on their own or was there anyone else masterminding the whole plot? Before her death, Ms Bhutto wrote that she would hold General Musharraf responsible if anything happens to her, apart from the names she sent in a letter to Musharraf (former IB chief Brigadier (retd) Ijaz Shah, PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Arbab Ghulam Rahim and former ISI chief General Hamid Gul). Why has nobody deemed it fit to question the role of former IB chief Ijaz Shah and ISI chief Hamid Gul apart from the politicians named in her letter? Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi is now part of the ruling coalition of Ms Bhutto’s own party. The actual tools may have been provided by al Qaeda and the TTP but the PPP is not grasping the real nettle, perhaps for fear the military establishment would be annoyed if they do so. The nation deserves answers.

Freed by Pakistani Judge: Shahbaz Bhatti murder suspect cleared of charge

Another suspect arrested for an alleged role in the murder of former Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti has been released by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) here on Wednesday.

Special Judge ATC-II Rana Massod Akhtar released Abid Malik after testimony by a close relative of the deceased minister. According to investigators, the minister’s family had alleged that Malik along with another man had been involved in the murder, and cited property issues as a reason behind it.

However Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, the relative in question, informed the court that the family had neither suspected Malik’s involvement in the murder nor had nominated his name in the case. Chaudhry claimed that the police themselves had implicated Malik in the case.

Allegations against Malik had already been in doubt after SHO Industrial Area Police Rukhsar Mehdi had on Tuesday submitted a report before the court stating that the police, after seven days of interrogation had found no link between Malik and any militant organisation. Police added that they had checked relevant records and discovered that the suspect was present in Singapore on the day of the murder.

Malik had been arrested on February 14 from the Lahore Airport after his return from Dubai. The investigators had previously declared him an absconder of law along with another suspect, Ziaur Rehman, after warrants for their arrest were obtained from the ATC on August 29 last year.

Pakistan’s polio predicament

The Express Tribune

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has said in a report that there are six sanctuaries for polio virus: four in Pakistan — Quetta, the districts of Qila Abdullah and Pishin and Karachi — and two in Nigeria. And if not tackled, these safe havens of the disease can imperil the world with a pandemic that once threatened humanity. Optimists, who did not imagine the speed at which Pakistan seems to be sliding into chaos, thought the year 2012 would be the year when the world could announce the end of this horrible disease that cripples children and disables people for life.

The success story is India — the country the Difa-e-Pakistan Council doesn’t want Islamabad to trade with — where (as mentioned in the GPEI report) “unswerving political commitment, outstanding public health leadership, clear lines of accountability, intolerance of weak performance and systematic enforcement of best practices” has saved a billion-strong population, most of it poor, from being kicked out of life’s good prospects. Pakistan, on the other hand, had 198 polio cases last year, followed by Afghanistan with 80, Nigeria, 60, and India, one.

Partly, Talibanisation is to blame for what is happening because of the rapidly-spreading violence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Balochistan. Nigeria has its own Talibanisation called Boko Haram, whose followers seem to burn English-language schools and anything which looks modern. The killers are from Nigeria’s northern provinces, killing non-Muslims and also people of their own creed, if found moderate in their thinking. The only difference is that Pakistan is poor in natural resources and Nigeria has an abundance of crude oil.

Pakistan sank when the Taliban announced that they were opposed to polio vaccine as an article of faith. In Afghanistan, the Karzai government, backed by armies of the world’s most advanced countries, has lagged behind even Pakistan in remedial campaigns because of the ‘Taliban by night’ phenomenon in almost all the provinces. The GPEI says that Pakistan’s polio programme progressed strongly over its first 12 years; in 2005, it reported just 28 cases against 20,000 cases per year in the early 1990s. In recent year, however, Pakistan decided to part ways with the rest of the world in its fight against polio.

The Taliban first started threatening people in the Bajaur-Malakand region if they allowed their children to drink polio drops. The news that spread after that was based on some Talibanised clerics saying that the drops robbed the children of their virility. Needless to say, the thought was based on the most primitive thinking that the Taliban have consistently given evidence of. But the people obeyed not because they were as illiterate as the Taliban but because they were scared. The dispensing staff, too, did not want to get killed. Yet, the campaign against the anti-polio campaign had its so-called scientific origin in the UK where expat Muslim doctors first announced their opposition to vaccines. A spokesman for the Islamic Medical Association (UK) said in January 2011: “We are giving our innocent children haram (forbidden) substances and harmful chemicals that destroy their natural immune systems, causing disease, suffering and death. All Muslim doctors and parents should be aware of vaccine ingredients and of the failed efficacy of vaccines. The harm is clearly greater than the benefit. Time has come to take a stand for truth.” He referred to the polio drops together with other vaccines thus: “This reflects a grave medical assault inflicted on the small, weak, defenceless bodies of our innocent children.”

Everyone knows that polio vaccines were extracted from cows to create antibodies. Talibanised scholars waking up to the fact without presenting an alternative is simply not acceptable. The evidence is clear: the vaccine has saved the children of the world. And the good news is that Pakistan is winning back the areas lost to the terrorists: the girls’ schools are being rebuilt and the polio teams are out again saving our children from being crippled for life.

Afghan peace to minimise spill over of instability

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar

has said that Pakistan wants peace and stability in Afghanistan and is making efforts to minimise the spill over of instability in that country.
The Foreign Minister was talking to Baroness Syeda Warsi and selected members of the Conservative Party here at the Parliament House.
In the context of conflict resolution, the Minister emphasised that, the international principles as prescribed in the UN Charter should be respected at all times while dealing with crisis. She also stressed upon positive messaging to create better understanding among coalition partners and stakeholders of any problem to ensure peace and stability.
On Pakistan-UK bilateral relations, she said that the relationship was consistent and based on mutual respect. “There are institutional linkages between the two countries which have greatly facilitated in understanding each others’ point of view on various matters”.
She specifically quoted the statement given by the British Prime Minister during his visit to Pakistan which gave a great boost to the bilateral ties. Prime Minister Cameroon had described the Pakistan-UK relations as an unbreakable friendship.
The Minister described her visit to UK and interaction with the British Officials as very constructive and fruitful. She mentioned that talks on trade and investment prospects were quite encouraging.
The Minister also briefed the delegation about the internal political and socio-economic conditions in Pakistan. The positive aspect of the developments in Pakistan, she said, was that Democracy has taken roots. She however mentioned that Pakistan presently is confronted with two main challenges and these are energy crisis and the image abroad. These challenges were also impacting the Pakistani Diaspora in different parts of the world.
Baroness Warsi and the delegation thanked the Minister for explaining the perspective of Pakistan on various national, regional and international issues. They proposed that the positives about Pakistan should be highlighted like the contribution of Pakistanis in various fields in different part of the world. They also asked for promotion of Pakistani culture and handicrafts.
The meeting was attended by the High Commissioner of Pakistan in UK Mr Wajid Shamsul Hassan and senior officials of the government of Pakistan.

Every day, 400 more Afghans join ranks of nation’s 500,000 displaced persons

The Washington Post
Every day, 400 people join the ranks of half a million displaced by fighting and natural disaster in Afghanistan and the country’s government has been hampering international efforts to help them, Amnesty International said Thursday.

A new, disturbing report by Amnesty said more people have fled their homes as fighting has spread to areas of the country that had been relatively peaceful. According to the report, Afghan government has little political will or resources to help them find adequate shelter, food and water.

Many are left to starve and die, even in the capital Kabul.

“If you go to these informal settlements, the images will haunt you,” said Michael Bochenek, legal and policy director for Amnesty, describing a shelter near a mosque in Herat province where latrines were leaking into the ground so that “people were walking and living on top of raw sewage.”

Up to 35,000 of the internally displaced are living in temporary camps in the Afghan capital, according to the more than 100-page report. Their plight has been aggravated by the worst cold snap and heaviest snowfall Kabul has experienced in 15 years.

“Thousands of people are finding themselves living in freezing, cramped conditions and on the brink of starvation,” said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty’s researcher in Afghanistan.

Displacements are on the rise, the report said, with an estimated 91,000 Afghans having fled their homes because of the conflict in the first six months of 2011 — up 46 percent from the 42,000 displaced in the first half of 2010.

Sayedullah, a 30-year-old man living in a makeshift settlement in Kabul, told reporters he fled his village in Surobi district of Kabul province because of fighting between insurgents and NATO troops.

“This year, one of my children died because of the cold weather,” the man said “We have been told that we can stay in this camp until spring and then we have to leave. Where can we go?”

Another displaced man — 38-year-old Mir Alam who fled fighting in southern Afghanistan — described his dire living conditions in the capital.

“I don’t think that any animal will be able to live where we live in Kabul,” he said.

Throughout Afghanistan, humanitarian organizations cannot deliver effective aid to temporary camps because they are prohibited from assisting in ways that make the settlements more permanent, Mosadiq said. So instead of digging permanent wells, for instance, water must be delivered to the camps.

“This is a largely hidden, but horrific, humanitarian and human rights crisis,” she said.

Afghans who have fled to the cities because of fighting in more remote areas face scarce food and expensive housing, the report said. They live on land they don’t own in dwellings made from mud, poles, plastic, plywood and cardboard under an ever-present threat of eviction.

Crowded camps with poor sanitation and little access to health care promote the spread of disease and women often give birth in unsanitary conditions without skilled assistance, which only raises the risk of maternal and infant death in an already impoverished country, Amnesty said.

Children in these camps also have little access to education and some are not allowed to go to school if they cannot produce national identification cards, which authorities say can only be secured in their home province.

But Mosadiq urged authorities to use the international aid available and remove conditions placed on humanitarian assistance.

“Even with its limited resources, the Afghan government can aid its displaced citizens,” she said.

Bochenek said some government officials Amnesty spoke with denied that displacement is a problem and described these people as “economic migrants,” no different than other low-income people in the impoverished country.

Some local officials told aid workers they could not help the displaced.

“We saw letters issued by the provincial government of Herat that said, effectively, don’t direct any assistance specifically to displaced people,” Bochenek said.

“The theory is that since they don’t want to either encourage them to stay or even acknowledge that displacement is a problem they’re going to pretend that it doesn’t exist,” he said. “This is make-believe as public policy.”

Amnesty’s report on the plight of the internally displaced in Afghanistan was based on three years of research by the London-based group, which interviewed more than 100 internally displaced persons and returning refugees in 12 slum communities in and around Kabul, Herat in western Afghanistan and Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.

The organization also met with government officials and international agencies.

Govt taking steps for bringing FATA masses into mainstream

Islamabad—Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on Wednesday said that the government is taking practical steps for bringing people of Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) into mainstream.

Talking to Governor Khyber Pakhtoonkhaw Barrister Masood Kasuar who met with her, the minister said the government is taking all possible measures for the development of FATA.

Ministry of Information will play its due role in highlighting and projecting the real image of people living in FATA, she added. The minister said that democratic government has given due rights to Gilgit-Baltistan people and identity to the people of Khyber Pakhtoonkhaw.

Following the vision of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the government has also abolished black laws in FATA, the minister added.

She said, Pakistan Peoples Party is a symbol of federation and its government has not only empowered provinces but also provided them resources. “Being symbol of federation, PPP also has ability to strengthen the federation.” She said, President Asif Ali Zardari, like other parts of the country, has laid special emphasis to protect the rights and development of FATA and added, media can play key role to project real image of FATA.

On the occasion, Barrister Masood Kasuar said passage of 20th amendment is an another victory of democratic government.

Empowerment and giving resources to provinces are historical steps of the PPP led government. He felicitated President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and political parties for adoption of 20th Amendment. The Governor also appreciated Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan’s efforts for providing conducive environment to media in performing their professional duties.

President Zardari strongly condemns Peshawar bomb blast
President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday strongly condemned the bomb blast at a bus stand in Peshawar that killed several people and injured many others.The President in a message said the government was determined to eradicate extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and would not be deterred by such attacks on innocent civilians.President Zardari said the terrorists have no religion and their barbaric acts have no sympathizers. He expressed the resolve to take all measures to counter the terrorists.He also directed the provincial authorities to take all measures to provide best possible medical treatment to the injured.He also prayed to Allah Almighty to shower his blessings on the deceased.

Car bomb at minibus terminal in Pakistan kills 12

A powerful car bomb ripped through an outdoor minibus terminal in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 12 people, including four children, officials said.

The blast tore through a dozen vehicles waiting to transport passengers from the city of Peshawar to other areas of the country. Some of the minibuses were blackened and completely destroyed. There were 32 wounded, including women and children,

Peshawar is located near the border with Pakistan's tribal region, the main sanctuary for Pakistani Taliban fighters at war with the government, and has been a frequent target of the militants.

Violence has dropped off significantly in the city and other areas of Pakistan over the past year following army offensives against the Pakistani Taliban in the northwest.

But attacks still occur almost daily.

Dilawar Khan was sitting at his shop at the terminal when the bomb went off. The blast killed two of his sons, one 12 years old and the other 13, who had stopped by on their way home for lunch from school.

"What have my sons done wrong," the 45-year-old Khan wailed, beating his face with his hands. "God should destroy these terrorists."

Rescue workers transported the wounded to a local hospital, as well as the bodies of at least 12 people killed, said Jameel Shah, a hospital official in Peshawar.

The dead included four children, said Zahir Shah, another health official in the city.

The wounded included women and children, said police officer Afzal Khan.

The car bomb was loaded with nearly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of explosives, said city police chief Siraj Ahmed.

It's unclear why the bus terminal was targeted.