Saturday, February 25, 2012

Olympic outrage at Saudi ban on women athletes

Saudi Arabia has been accused of breaching the spirit of the Olympic movement by discriminating against women in sport and failing to bring a female team to the 2012 London Games.

Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary and Olympics minister – who is now a member of the Olympic Board – said the Saudis were "clearly breaking the spirit of the Olympic Charter's pledge to equality" with their attitude to women in sport and the Games.

The Saudi government, which closed private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010 and severely limits their ability to undertake physical activity, is under mounting international pressure to adopt a more liberal approach.

Jowell spoke out after a report by Human Rights Watch highlighted the way in which Saudi Arabian women and girls are denied the right to sport.

The report found that, despite pledges to open up more sporting opportunity to women, "the Saudi government continues to flagrantly deny women and girls their right to practise physical education in schools and to practise recreational and competitive sport more generally".

Based on telephone interviews with Saudi women, the report says that, having introduced schooling for girls in the early 1960s, the country "never added physical education classes to the girls' curriculum".

Those fighting for change have faced opposition at every turn. "Opponents of sports for women and girls put forward the 'slippery slope' argument that, once women start to exercise, they will shed modest clothing, spend 'unnecessary' time out of the house and have increased possibilities for mingling with men," the report says.

"Others propose endless conditions for women and girls practising sport (for example that they must wear modest clothing and engage in sports away from the prying eyes of men)."

Because women are banned from driving in Saudia Arabia, their ability to get to gyms or sports events is further limited. "Saudi Arabia's strict clothing requirements for women are a further impediment," it adds. "Outdoors, a woman must wear a black cloak called an abaya, covering her from head to toe." One woman told Human Rights Watch that a marathon was held a few years ago in which women could participate only if they wore the abaya.

The International Olympic Committee reserves a limited number of places for male and female athletes who are not required to meet the qualifying standards in swimming and athletics events. However, despite this concession, Saudi Arabia has never sponsored a female team and its national Olympic committee does not have a women's section.

Jowell stopped short of saying the Saudis should be excluded from this year's or future Games if they did not improve their record. But she called on them to demonstrate a commitment to change, noting that Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics over its attitude to women under Taliban rule.

"The London Games would be the perfect opportunity for the Saudis to spell out a way forward," she said. "I would like to see them set out a clear plan for equal inclusion of women in time for the 2016 games in Rio de Janiero. This has to be a substantive commitment."

Barbara Keeley, a Labour MP who works extensively to promote women's sport, said female athletes had fought for more than a hundred years to take part in the Olympics on an equal basis with men. "It is time to call a halt to discrimination against women in Olympic events. It seems totally unacceptable for any country competing in the Olympics to be allowed to have a team that is entirely male."

A spokesman for the IOC said some progress was being made. "The IOC strives to ensure the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement are universal and non-discriminatory, in line with the Olympic Charter and our values of respect, friendship and excellence. National Olympic committees are encouraged to uphold that spirit in their delegations. The IOC does not give ultimatums or deadlines, but believes a lot can be achieved through dialogue.

"We have been in regular contact with the three national Olympic committees that have yet to send women to the Olympics, ie Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia. As a result of fruitful discussions, the three NOCs included women in their delegations competing at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore last summer. Dalma Rushdi Malas was one of them. She was the first female Saudi athlete to compete in an Olympic competition and claimed a bronze medal in the equestrian jumping event."

Take Balochistan issue seriously

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister for Local Government and ANP leader Bashir Ahmed Bilour on Saturday advised the federal government to take practical steps rather than making announcements to resolve the problems facing Balochistan.

Interacting with mediapersons at the Karachi Press Club, the minister also floated a call for taking “angry” Nawabs on board for the redressal of grievances of the Balochs. Deploring that the issues confronting Balochistan continued for the past 40 years, the minister suggested to the ruling PPP to take the Balochistan issues seriously.

Bilour, who was accompanied by ANP Sindh Chief Shahi Syed and General Secretary Bashir Jan, recalled that Nawab Akhtar Mengal of the BNP and other Baloch nationalists had been a part of the successive elected governments, and hence the incumbent government should initiate serious efforts to have them in the democratic process.

“Had the government included the said Baloch leaders in the democratic process, the Balochistan problems would not have compounded,” he held.

To a question about the rift between the Balochs and Pakhtuns, the KP minister said his party would continue its efforts to ensure a complete harmony in Balochistan. He also asked the federal govt to take political forces in confidence and start meaningful dialogue to end the sense of deprivation of the Baloch people. Bilour observed that countries never broke because of guns or struggle but economy’s deterioration. He emphasised upon the government and political parties to sink their differences and unite to resolve the economic and political challenges to the country. The ANP leader also said that harmony in the Tribal Areas and KP province was linked to peace in the neighbouring Afghanistan. “The issues are interconnected. (And) if peace is not restored in FATA and KP, law and order problems may also hit other parts of the country,” he warned. Bilour, while briefing the media on the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa govt’s efforts against terrorism, said that the ANP, which came into govt four years ago, had succeeded in containing terrorist activities.

“Earlier, a bombing took place every 24 hours in KP. With the help of law-enforcement agencies, we have pushed terrorists to the caves in FATA.”

Bilour believed that attacks by US drones were the cause of the spread in “terrorist mindset”, and said the Nato forces should immediately halt such attacks that claimed lives of many innocent people.

According to the KP minister, at least 400 workers and two MPAs from his party were killed in terrorist attacks in Balochistan. He claimed that the ANP leadership was under continuous threats from terrorists. But, he added, it would never succumb to any such pressure. “The people of Pakistan should unite to fight them.”

Coming down hard on the JUI-F leadership, Bilour said that under the banner of MMA, the party remained an ally of the government during the dictatorial rule of Pervez Musharraf. “The MMA had made an agreement with the Musharraf government under which a sum of Rs110 billion had been accepted on the account of ‘Net Hydel Profit’ instead of the total Rs595billion outstanding against the Centre, he alleged.

Responding to a question, he maintained that the ANP government was getting Rs2 billion every month to fight terrorists.

The ANP leader, to another query, claimed that there were no differences between Asfandyar Wali and his mother, Begum Nasim Wali Khan. “The ANP has great honour for Begum Nasim, but seeing her deteriorating health, it would not allow her to go for the upcoming Senate elections as it required her mobility.”

Bilour rejected that arms and ammunitions were being smuggled to Karachi from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “It is being done through sea port,” he suspected, and said other provinces should keep a check on movement along the provincial boundaries.

In reply to a question, Bilour defended his elder brother, Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, saying that finances were not being provided for repair of non-functional bogeys and locomotives.

Nelson Mandela in hospital but 'not in danger'

Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela has undergone a "diagnostic procedure" in hospital, but his life is not in danger, officials say.

Mr Mandela was treated for a long-standing abdominal complaint and is expected to be released from hospital by Monday, a government statement said.

The anti-apartheid icon, 93, is comfortable and "fully conscious", the statement said.

His health has declined in recent years and he rarely appears in public.

As the country's first black president after a history of white minority rule, the BBC's Andrew Harding in Johannesburg says Mr Mandela occupies a special place in the hearts of South Africans.

The statement from President Jacob Zuma's office said: "The doctors are satisfied with his [Mr Mandela's] condition, which they say is consistent with his age.

"He was in good health before admission in hospital but doctors felt the complaint needed a thorough investigation."The presidency asked for his family to be given privacy.The statement did not say which hospital he had been admitted to but there are suggestions it was a military hospital in the capital, Pretoria.

Journalists waiting outside one hospital were earlier told to move away or face arrest.
'Epitome of health'

Mr Mandela had returned to Johannesburg last month from his rural home in the Eastern Cape and in January last year, he received treatment in the city's Milpark hospital for a serious chest infection.

"I can assure you that the former president is in good spirits and well," said Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for Mr Zuma.

"This was a long-standing complaint - nothing that cropped up suddenly and needed emergency attention," said Mr Maharaj, who was in prison in Robben Island with Mr Mandela.

"But it is an issue that the doctors treating him felt needed specialist attention, and so arrangements were made accordingly."

He would not confirm reports that Mr Mandela had undergone overnight surgery for a hernia, and appealed for "co-operation from the public and the media so we manage this thing properly".

The statesman's eldest granddaughter said she was not immediately concerned about his health.

"I don't see it as a big thing. When I saw him on Wednesday, he was in good spirits, in perfect health, and the epitome of health really for a man of his age," Ndileka Mandela told the AFP news agency.

"Grandad rebounded from his illness last year. I don't see any reason why this should be any different."

Creating job opportunities in Balochistan


Six universities and hundreds of colleges all over Balochistan are producing tens of thousands of graduates and post graduates annually with the hope to get suitable job on merit. But the Government is yet to come to the right expectations of the job seekers in general. On the contrary, the Government had failed to announce the second phase of recruitment after recruiting 5000 school teachers a few years ago. The Federal Government pledged to provide tens of thousands of jobs to the jobless Baloch youth and it failed to fulfil the promise to this date. However, there are few vacancies announced by different Federal Government Department for Balochistan. similarly, the Provincial Government has also plan to recruit thousands of young men in the Balochistan Constabulary and Balochistan Levies to make up the shortfall in the law enforcing agencies.
Balochistan received huge funds under the NFC Award and all the money are going waste as it were placed at the disposal of Ministers and without planning. The money is being spent on building small gutters and nullahs or erecting gates in different localities of Quetta and there is no massive plan to exploit the available resources to boost the baloch economy in a big way. Similarly, the Government had not prepared a systematic plan to construct a decent infrastructure for future development. Again, the funds is being placed at the disposal of the Balochistan Development Authority which is again going waste as no Government Department is ready to take over the schemes completed by the BDA for the reasons that official specifrications are not strictly followed. Thus all the schemes BDA completed in the recent past had gone waste and the Ministers and officials should be held responsible and accountable for wasting national wealth.
There are very few sectors on which the indigenous population strictly depends for economic returns. They are Livestock, Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests, Mineral Wealth and Irrigation. It is an irony that these sectors are completely ignored by the Ministers and officials for obvious reasons that there are less chances to get kick backs and commission. Livestock is the backbnone of the Baloch rural economy and it had never received priority for the past six decades, particularly after the Government introduced yearly planning. More than 70 per cent rural population partially depend on the Livestock and particularly Dairy products for supplement to their food. In fact, for the past 25 years, Livestock Department had been reduced to a mere salary distributing Department to its employees. Same is the case with the Fisheries on the 1200 kilometers long coastline where a few million spent on salaries. All the development programmes are financed by the donors. However, the money allocated for building jetties and fish harbours had been embezzled massively and less than five per cent spent by the Ministers in the past. Fisheries got the potentials to meet the protein requirements of the entire nation and also earn a couple of billions of dollars from export by developing the Seafood industry. Agriculture has the potentials for massive development as Balochistan has 20 million acres of cultivable land which is highly fertile. By bringing the land under cultivation, Balochistan can become the food and fruit basket of the whole region, to say the least. At the same time, there are 50 major and medium size seasonal rivers carrying floos and rainwaters to the Arabian Sea or to the Hamuns in Kharan, Chagai and Pamjgur. The massive flood can be stored by building dams and water storage facilities in all the five ecological zone of Balochistan.
All these massive development projects will ensure job for every one making the Province prosperous and develop comparing with other provinces. The Government should stop wasting money or additional funds from NFC and use it for building the baloch economy on more solid grounds ensuring prosperity and progress in all the regions on Balochistan.

Women not allowed to cast votes in Mianwali constituency

Women were restricted to cast their votes in Mianwali constituency for by-elections on Saturday.
By-elections on six National Assembly (NA) seats and four seats of the provincial assemblies were held amid strict security measures to avoid any unpleasant incident.
According to details, some elders held a Jirga for banning women votes cast and decided that women would not be allowed to cast their votes in Mianwali constituency.

Mansoor Ijaz hatching conspiracy against govt

Former President of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Asma Jahangir on Saturday said that Mansoor Ijaz, a US citizen and central character of the mamogate scandal, was hatching conspiracy against the government on direction of someone else.
Talking to media persons in the Lahore High Court (LHC) premises after casting her vote she said that no one could repose trust in Mansoor Ijaz because some people were using him against the government for achieving
their motives and everybody knows his past character against Pakistan.
She said that the institutions of the country should work within its limits for strengthening the country and conflict between the government and judiciary should be avoided.
To a question, she said that according to expectations of masses the government did not still fulfil its promises made with the people.
She said that annual polls being conducted in bar associations across the country was strengthening democracy in the bars and lawyers community get opportunity for election of their leaders.

Zardari vows to visit troubled Balochistan to help brothers in difficult times

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his willingness to visit Balochistan to hold dialogue with Baloch leaders, saying issues of the troubled province were the top most priority of his government.
"I am willing to talk to my disgruntled Baloch brothers myself," the president said, adding that he would make sure that the people of Balochistan became part of Pakistan's society, the Daily Times reports.
Insisting that he was aware of the injustices done to the Baloch people, Zardari said he would not abandon his brothers in such difficult times.
He further promised to take appropriate measures to bring them in the national mainstream.
Zardari said that steps were being taken to arrange an All-Parties Conference (APC) to improve the situation in Balochistan, besides coming up with a comprehensive strategy to uplift the province and end the sense of deprivation among people there.

Film Festival Illuminates Women's Struggles around the Globe

As Egyptians revolted against their president in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last spring, Peggy Goldwyn knew she had to find some Arabic films for her annual Family of Women Film Festival.

“Everybody was so interested in what was happening and wondering how women were affected; I knew we had to have films from that area,” she said.

Goldwyn went to work and learned that Cairo was the equivalent of India’s Bollywood, serving as the hub of Arabic filmmaking. And she was able to come up with a few Arabic films for the festival, which will be held March 2-4 at the Sun Valley Opera House.

Among them: “Cairo 6.7.8,” a film about three women who take charge of their lives in the face of sexual harassment prevalent in Egypt.

“One of the episodes takes place in Tahrir Square. And it’s very funny at times, particularly when the men of Cairo become panicked at the thought that women vigilantes are taking revenge on the gropers on buses,” Goldwyn said.

She said it was her son Peter, a motion picture producer and distributor, who found her a much-copied DVD of the film at the Cannes Film Festival and Market. Getting a clean copy of the film was another matter, however, since it is against the law to send a DVD out of Egypt. Goldwyn was finally able to obtain from a distribution company in Amsterdam a copy which, she said, may have been smuggled in someone’s luggage.

Goldwyn started the festival five years ago to bring attention to the lives of women in the countries where the United Nations Population Fund works. UNFPA provides women’s health care, AIDS prevention and treatment and promotes the rights of women in more than 150 countries.

Some of the films have been depressing as they’ve dealt with subjects such as sex trafficking. But others are triumphant.

“Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” for instance, followed women of Liberia who united to overturn a dictator. And “Salaam Dunk,” which will be shown this year, follows a group of Iraqi girls who show up to their first basketball practice at an American university in northern Iraq in high heels. By the second year they haven’t won a single game. But they’re determined to win a game for their coach before he must return to the U.S.

Stephanie Freid-Perenchio, who displays humanitarian photographs she’s shot around the world in her SFP gallery in Ketchum, says the visual impact of photographs and films can spur change.

“Raising awareness through film and photography of what is truly happening on the ground in these countries will encourage small steps and individual success stories,” she said.

Ketchum resident Gemma Daggatt said she values the film festival because she believes it’s important for her 8- and 10-year-old daughters to understand what it’s like for women in the rest of the world.

“Even as tough as things are these days, we have an opportunity for education and many other wonderful things,” she said. “I love how this festival brings in directors and producers, as well — we’re so lucky in the Wood River Valley to be exposed to these amazing people. And I love the fact that the people who come to the festival have such a curiosity.”

Republican hearing on contraceptives was dumb politics

By:David Horsey
February 20,2012

Congressional Republicans held a hearing about birth control and religion last Thursday, and the take-away image from the gathering is a shot of the key witnesses: five middle-aged men representing various religious organizations.

Fairly or not, the spin coming out of the hearing was not about how religious institutions might be threatened by a federal requirement that employees be provided insurance coverage for contraceptives, which is what the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, intended. Instead, the story became how women were left out of a discussion about birth control.

Republicans are trying hard to play this dispute to their advantage and win over religious voters, but they are not playing it smart. President Obama has already blunted most of the impact this issue might have among Catholic voters by compromising on the coverage requirement. As a result, Republicans do not seem to be gaining much traction with their accusations of an attack on religion, except among voters who are already on their side. But they are succeeding in scaring off independent females who are beginning to believe the real Republican agenda is to turn back the clock and limit access to contraceptives.

Rick Santorum’s various comments about the evils of contraception are doing nothing to dispel that suspicion. Nor is his recent statement that prenatal testing should not be paid for by health insurance plans. And it hardly helped when Santorum’s campaign sugar daddy, evangelical multimillionaire Foster Friess, joked that women could prevent pregnancies by holding a couple of aspirin pills between their knees.

Maybe among the rhetorical "American people" for whom conservative congressmen always claim to speak, birth control is a wicked thing that leads to promiscuity and wanton pleasure, but among the actual human beings who live in this country, contraceptives are more popular than apple pie.

Republicans should check their calendars and take note that the year is 2012, not 1912.

Bill Maher gives $1 million to pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA

The Washington Post

Comedian Bill Maher has pledged $1 million to a super PAC supporting President Obama's reelection bid, some welcome news for a group that has struggled to raise money compared with its conservative rivals.The gift to Priorities USA Action comes after the PAC’s dismal fundraising month in January. It managed to bring in only $58,800 while conservative super PACs are bringing in millions.

The group has raised about $4.4 million since last year, $2 million of which came from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Obama shifted course earlier this month by announcing that he would support Priorities USA Action and would allow aides and Cabinet members to help raise money for it.

Super PACs have come to dominate spending in the GOP primaries because they are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.

The host of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" announced his donation Thursday during a webcast for a Yahoo! standup comedy series.

"Most important advice I ever got in show business, as true today as then: Always bring your wallet onstage," Maher said in a Twitter post.

Priorities USA Action sent its own tweet, thanking Maher for his “generous donation.”

Syria introducing reforms even the most diehard opposition should support

BY:Prensa Latina

Some 14,600,000 Syrians are able to participate in Sunday's referendum on the 26th in which a new draft constitution will be submitted for the approval of the population, said the Deputy Minister of the Interior for Civil Affairs, General Hassan Jalali.

The highlight of Jalali's press statements was that 13,000 schools and 835 classrooms will have voting stations installed, including at border crossings and airports, to facilitate that everyone can exercise their right to vote.

He explained that the election will be overseen by a central committee to be chaired by Interior Minister and his two vice-ministers.

A new Constitution is the cornerstone of a comprehensive reform package that President Bashar al-Assad offers since it will legitimize the creation of other new parties - seven have already been authorized, as well as the separation of state powers, the conduct of elections and decentralization of local governments, among others.

The draft constitution envisages that the state system is based on political pluralism and that power is exercised through the democratic vote, and defines the functions and independence in their activities in the government: executive, judicial and legislative.
Among other proposals, the bill stipulates that the President henceforth be elected by universal and secret elections every seven years and can only aspire to one second term, as candidates above 40 years have to register with the Supreme Court and have the written support of at least 35 National Assembly deputies.

Legislators also will be elected in national elections for four year terms.

It also provides that the society will be based on solidarity and respect for the principles of social justice, freedom, equality and preservation of the human dignity of each individual, and that citizens have equal rights and duties without discrimination on the grounds of sex, origin, language, religion or creed.

The State will also ensure the freedom of the press, printing and publications, as well as the independence of the media in accordance with the law governing this sector.

Similarly, the State must provide women all the opportunities that enable them to contribute fully and effectively in political, economic, social and cultural life, and work to eliminate the restrictions that prevent their participation in building the community.

Idiotic lockstep ziofascist media is calling these measures both a mockery or laughable. I think anyone seeing the exact provisions detailed here can determine for themselves that the ones who are laughable and making a mokery of themselves are the ziofasct media and the fascist imperialists they blindly serve, regurgitating such utter stupidity and lies. But they will go ahead, ship in more terrorists to kill people, drain their entire economies to do so, stomp their feet that Assad must go, and above all call the other side unreasonable while it is they who are being entirely unreasonable.

Mavis Leno, wife of Jay Leno, on the situation for women in Afghanistan.

Mavis Leno, wife of Jay Leno and chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls, talks about what's needed for that segment of the population as U.S. forces transition out of the country.

Stability takes root in Kandahar province

Sgt. Robert LaPointe shakes his head as he recalls the dangers he and his fellow soldiers faced during the first month of their deployment to Kandahar province, a particularly hostile region of southern Afghanistan.Day and night, they patrolled rows of grape vines and poppy fields on foot and slept in the open where Taliban gunmen lurked. Firefights and buried bombs killed seven of LaPointe's fellow soldiers and injured dozens more.

"I don't think we accomplished anything the first month here," he says.

Pvt. 1st Class Kerry Pinkstaff agrees.

"When you went out there, you would get shot at and blown up," Pinkstaff says. "You couldn't find them. They'd pop up, then be gone, like ghosts."

U.S. military leaders in the Zharai district responded with a new strategy. They ended the foot patrols on the roads and narrow paths where vast farmlands are flanked by steep, jagged mountains. They established small "strong points," heavily fortified guard posts made of earth and sandbags. They called in airstrikes and helicopter gun runs on Taliban positions.

"It was a rough summer," Lt. David Tuttle says. "We took the gloves off … and that allowed us to build the community back."

Today, the villagers in the region are able to go about their lives without fear of the Taliban, the harsh Islamist regime ousted by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Though the Taliban is weakened as a military force and must subsist in remote areas, tribal leaders and U.S. troops agree it hasn't gone and the members who remain want their onetime realm back.

"The level of commitment by the insurgency is surprising," says Lt. Col. Kenneth Mintz, battalion commander.

Self-sufficiency goals

The mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the coalition of U.S. and foreign forces fighting in Afghanistan, is to neutralize the Taliban and turn over the security of the country to the Afghans themselves. Just when the Afghans can handle their own security has been the question.

The Pentagon says much of the south is largely under coalition control and forces will have to be shifted to the border with Pakistan, where Taliban forces and the Haqqani netwok of jihadists are a major threat.

NATO agreed in 2010 that the transition from foreign forces to Afghan forces should take place by the end of 2014, provided conditions on the ground warranted the move. Last month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested the transition may arrive earlier, in late 2013.

"If the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan while the Haqqanis still have such safe havens, the mission President Obama set himself of disrupting and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and creating conditions that will prevent it from returning will have failed," says Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who advised the Bush administration on the successful troop surge in Iraq.

Capt. Widmar Roman and the soldiers of the 10th Mountain, 3rd Brigade, 32nd Infantry Regiment are among those who have forced the Taliban out of Kandahar population centers. With its fortified positions and razor wire lining the road, the area little resembles its previous incarnation, and it's more secure.

The area was home to Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, who may be in Pakistan.

"The amount of security down here is unparalleled compared to what people have seen in the past," Roman says.

Roman says the change in strategy allowed troops enough breathing room to interact with local leaders in ways previously impossible.

Among the interactions is the shoring up of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), an initiative pushed by Gen. David Petraeus, former ISAF commander, to train and arm Afghan men willing to keep the Taliban out of their villages.

Mintz acknowledges that the Taliban is still bringing insurgents to the area to replace those killed or captured over the last year, but he says the seeds of stability and security have taken root among the locals.

Several village elders helped U.S. forces root out the Taliban and recruit men into the ranks of the police who work with the Afghan National Army here to maintain security.

"It used to be that we couldn't travel from one village to the other because of the Taliban," says Shah Wali Khan, who lost his left leg to an insurgent mine a few months ago.

"Now we can travel all the way to Kandahar (city). God willing, we will be able to maintain security when the Americans leave," says Khan, stroking his thick beard as his followers nod in agreement and children play near a store once used as Taliban headquarters.


In a meeting called by Roman, two dozen Afghan men and members of the ALP raised concerns about the compensation they were promised by American forces for cutting a road through several fields, the destruction of homes during firefights and raids and buildings taken over for strong points.

"Condolence payments" amount to about $2,500, Roman says. He told the men they would get their money after they appointed someone from their ranks to represent Nalgham at the district government level.

Fears remain that any appointed leader would be murdered by Taliban fighters based a few miles to the west who regularly engage U.S. and Afghan forces on patrols.

"We don't want to put anyone else in danger," yelled Gul Mohammed, one of the men at the meeting, which ended with neither Afghans receiving compensation for their losses nor Roman getting a representative for Nalgham.

The captain says the discussion was a normal part of the negotiating process, and he is optimistic that both sides will reach a compromise.

Afghan Brig. Gen. Guhlam Murtaza Sarwary says his soldiers and U.S. troops have convinced Nalgham they will remain in the area for the long haul, even after U.S. forces leave.

"Nalgham was one of those damaged and dangerous places last year," Murtaza says. "Now, the people no longer fear the enemy like they once had."

This time of year is ideal for talk, Roman says. The cold winter months are when many Taliban fighters return to Pakistan and attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces decrease. In a few weeks, it will be time for action when the warm weather approaches, signaling the start to the fighting season.

Then the Americans may be able to tell how close the Afghans are to being able to defend themselves. "We'll really be able to see the difference once it starts warming up again next summer," Roman says.

Putin set to win Kremlin race: poll

Global Times

Vladimir Putin will reclaim the Kremlin's top job by winning two-thirds of the vote in a March presidential election, the last major poll before the vote showed on Friday.

Prime Minister Putin's aides hope a big win in the March 4 presidential election will take the sting out of an urban protest movement which casts him as an authoritarian leader.

Putin will easily avoid a humiliating second round runoff but on the eve of six more years in the Kremlin, Russia's 59-year-old leader faces a crisis of confidence in his rule, Russia's biggest independent pollster said.

Putin will win 63-66 percent of the vote, far ahead of his closest rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who will win 15 percent of the vote, said Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center pollster.

"We shall have a weak authoritarian national leader," Gudkov said. "Even Putin's victory in the first round will not change the situation."

Art in the streets of Kabul

Inside the blackened ruin of Kabul's cultural centre, a spray-painting of a woman in a burqa sits at the foot of a staircase to nowhere, beside a line of poetry mourning everything that has been lost to Afghanistan in three decades of violence.

The painting is the work of Shamsia Hassani, 24, probably her country's first serious graffiti artist.

"The water can come back to a dried-up river, but what about the fish that died?" is her translation of the line, written under gaping holes gouged through the concrete walls by shells when battles raged through the area.

"When I heard this poem, I thought how it was about the situation in Afghanistan. A lot of people died in the war; now the situation is better, but those people cannot come back," said Hassani.

An associate professor of sculpture at Kabul University, she draws, paints in oil, and is a founding member of a contemporary art collective, Rosht, or "growth". She was introduced to graffiti when a British artist, Chu, flew out in late 2010 to hold a week-long course in street art.

She has embraced the discipline. Spray cans and stencils have more impact than traditional art, she says, because the latter is a luxury.

"If you have an exhibition, most uneducated people won't even know about it."

" But if you have art like graffiti in the street, everyone can see that … If we can do graffiti all over the city, there will be nobody who doesn't know about art."

The obstacles in a city at war, policed by jittery security forces, discouraged most other students on Chu's course, even though the high walls and giant concrete blast barriers are a tempting blank canvas.

For women, there is also street harassment; even those who go out wearing the all-enveloping burqa can meet leering compliments on their hands and ankles.

So Hassani works in industrial yards and abandoned buildings, such as the cultural centre.

Or she does fantasy graffiti. "If you stand in the street, you face problems; because of this I started a new style of graffiti. I take pictures of places I like in the city, open them in a programme like Photoshop, and do digital designs. Or I print out a picture of the street and then do graffiti with a paintbrush. If you scan it back, it looks like real graffiti, but of course it isn't."

A lot of her work features women in burqas, but with a modern silhouette, with hips and sharp shoulders; or fish, trapped and silent in their watery universe.

Hassani's family are originally from Kandahar, Taliban's heartland, but she was born in Iran where her parents were refugees.

"I started art like everyone, when I was a child, but most people give it up. I had no teacher, but I continued."

When she reached ninth grade, when art classes begin in Iran, she was told they were not open to Afghans, so she studied accountancy instead.

When the family returned to Kabul, she made up for lost time at the University art department, but chaffed at the traditional bias, and started exploring contemporary art. Now as a professor she hopes to start a graffiti class and bring art to the city.

"If just 20% of students were interested, if every year we graffiti twenty walls around Kabul, in two or three years we will have lots of art on walls around the city."

"Art can bring change, I am sure. If people see an artwork, it will perhaps only cause a small shock to their mind, but that can grow and grow."

Indian 'should pay £1m for mistreating servant'

An Indian diplomat should pay just under £1 million to a young female servant she and her husband kept in 'slave' conditions, according to an American judge.

The girl was brought to the United States to work as an underage servant for India’s cultural and press counselor in New York for around £60 per month.

But when she arrived at the Manhattan apartment of Neena Malhotra and her husband, her passport was confiscated, and she was warned she would be beaten, raped and sent home to India as ‘cargo’ if she left the home without their permission.

According to her lawyer, Shanti Gurung was induced by the Malhotras to pretend she was older than 17 to American immigration authorities and then forced to work without pay.

Her case is the latest in a series of embarrassing claims of abuse and indecent conduct by Indian diplomats working abroad in the last year. One official at India’s High Commission in London was recalled following allegations that he had punched his wife in the face in a row over a Christmas and another at its UN mission in New York was accused of being drug and sexually harassing women on an airliner.

The country’s then foreign secretary Nirupama Rao warned her officials there would be ‘zero tolerance’ for any future incidents.

This latest case dates back to 2006 when Ms Gurung first arrived in New York to work for Mrs Malhotra. The Malhotra’s later returned to India, where Neena Malhotra continues to work for its Ministry of External Affairs where the allegations are considered a “private matter.” The case is now being considered by Judge Victor Marrero of New York’s southern district who will decide whether to accept magistrate judge Frank Maas’ recommendation that Ms Gurung be awarded just under $1.5 million in compensation.

According to Judge Maas Ms Gurung had been forced to work long hours without pay for three years and described her treatment as “barbaric.” She had been denied food and lost more than 60 pounds in weight as a result.

“Gurung should be awarded judgment against the Malhotras in the amount of $1,458,335 because of their barbaric treatment of her,” he said.

Pakistan:Respiratory infections: In Mansehra, 25 children dead this year

The Express Tribune

The cold wave gripping the country has severely impacted poor children in upper Mansehra, where every second day it has taken a minor’s life.

Chilly winds, snowfall and plummeting temperatures have claimed the lives of 25 children who contracted Lower Respiratory Tract Infection (LRTI) this year, which has been confirmed by Medical Superintendent King Abdullah Teaching Hospital Dr Muhammad Niaz.

“I lost my only son here in this hospital. I brought him for treatment but I will be taking his body back home,” said Sidra Bibi from Kaghan valley.

She had brought her first-born, two-year-old Talawat Khan, to the hospital with severe cough and fever.

Sources at the hospital said the OPD has registered 8,000 cases of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) and LRTI in the last 50 days. Of the 328 children suffering from LRTI, those suffering from killer diseases like pneumonia and bronchitis, are admitted in the paediatric ward of the hospital.

Sources said that all the children who died were between the ages of one to five years and that most children with LRTI belong to Kaghan and Siran valleys of district Mansehra.

While talking to The Express Tribune, Dr Niaz said due to heavy snowfall and rainfall in upper Mansehra, the weather has become unbearable for malnourished children from poor families. He said that although all children below five years of age are vulnerable to LRTI, children from poor families are the first to fall prey.

In reply to a question, Dr Niaz said at least 20 to 40 children die every year in Mansehra due to LRTI. He advised people to keep their children warm to ward off disease. He warned people against visiting quacks who could cause medical complications.

“They do not know how to treat minors and carry out experiments on the children which turn out to be harmful for them, he said.

“Parents must take their children to a hospital where the chances of survival are higher because there are qualified doctors and the required facilities for treating children.

When contacted, Executive District Officer Health Mansehra Dr Siddique Rehman said that the World Health Organisation has established two Respiratory Tract Infection Centres in the district, where three doctors and three nurses examine patients from December to February 29 every year.

“Controlling LRTI among children is only possible if people protect their children from the cold and keep them warm,” he added.

Replying to a question, he said there is no vaccine for bacterial or viral pneumonia. The only thing parents can do to save their children’s lives is take them to the hospital before complications develop. LRTI is common in Mansehra, he added.

Vaccines for some forms of bacterial pneumonia are available, however. The federal government has decided to include vaccine for protection against pneumonia in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) because it is difficult for parents to distinguish between chest infection and pneumonia.

But in remote and hilly areas, access to healthcare is limited and parents are often unaware that inoculation can protect their children against the most common forms of bacterial pneumonia. The Pakistan Paediatrics’

Association, had been campaigning for the inclusion of pneumonia vaccines in the EPI.

Dir hospital lacks facilities,People suffer

The News

The District Headquarters Hospital Upper Dir has a three-storey building and caters to more than 700,000 people but the lack of facilities and doctors has drawn the ire of local people.

Those visiting the hospital said like the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government, the incumbent ANP-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has also failed to improve its condition despite making promises.

“We are faced with a host of problems and the shortage of doctors is the biggest one. There are 57 sanctioned posts for doctors but 41 have been vacant since long, hindering the treatment of an enormous number of patients who visit the hospital,” said Medical Superintendent Dr Ghani Rahman.

He said only one doctor in Grade 18 was working out of 19 sanctioned posts. “Ten posts of Grade 17 doctors are lying vacant. In fact, the hospital is being run by six medical officers, four specialist doctors and two lady doctors,” he said.

Dr Ghani Rahman said children, medical, surgical and ENT specialists were available but the posts of gynaecologist, cardiologist, orthopaedic and others had been lying vacant for years.

Even minor complications prompt patients to go to hospitals in Peshawar and other cities. On February 16, a suicide bomb attack fractured bones of two victims, but due to absence of orthopaedic facility they were flown to Peshawar.

Women with pregnancy related complications are also compelled to visit other cities and some even die in the process. Hopes of the local people are dashing as they are confronting problems on a daily basis due to shortage of doctors.

Dr Laiqzada, a former medical superintendent of the hospital, suggested that legislation should be introduced in the provincial assembly making it mandatory for trainee medical officers in the three teaching hospitals of the province to perform duty in districts for at least four months. “It will put an end to shortage of doctors in the districts,” he said.

People have criticised MNA from Upper Dir Najmuddin Khan, who also served as a federal minister in the current PPP-led government, for failing to fill the huge number of openings for doctors.

The residents say the provincial health minister belongs to the Pakistan People’s Party but Najmuddin Khan and PPP MPA Muhammad Anwar Khan from the district had failed to provide any relief to the locals. “Those who were taunting the MMA government for the bad condition of the hospital are now acting as spectators despite being in the government. The hospital has been in a pathetic condition for years but the elected representatives of the district are least bothered about improving its condition,” said Ihsanullah, a resident of Dir.

The chief minister had also promised to fill all the vacant posts of doctors and nurses but he could not keep his word so far, he added.

Peshawar attacks

Editorial:The News

Two days and three bombs have once again left Peshawaris dead and injured. On Thursday a car bomb exploded at a bus stand in the north of the city on Kohat Road, killing 13 including two children and injuring at least 35. There does not appear to have been a specific target for the attack. All of the dead and injured were civilians. On Friday in an attack on the Kotwali police station in the heart of the city three suicide bombers killed four policemen and injured six. They threw grenades as they tried to storm the police station, and a firefight with police ensued. In another incident on Friday in Peshawar a small bomb exploded near a police picket on Ring Road near Afridi Garh; injuring one person.

The “Abdullah Azzam Brigade” has claimed responsibility for the attack on the police station, saying it was in retaliation for ongoing operations in various parts of the Tribal Agencies; and specifically a response to the killing of a senior militant commander Badar Mansoor in a drone strike in Waziristan. The militants are clearly able to mount sophisticated operations against the forces of law and order. They are utterly ruthless, caring not for the lives of women and children, the elderly or the infirm, and appear to have the capacity in the long term to recruit and train young men willing to blow themselves up in the name of their ‘ideals’. This is perhaps the most worrying aspect of such attacks. Multiple bombers, young men in almost all such cases, were brainwashed into believing that what they were doing was right and proper. In all likelihood they were little educated and came from poor or deprived backgrounds, and are easy pickings for the militant recruiters who lure them with tales of eternal salvation and heavenly rewards. As long as a the state fails to educate its children and free them from the clutches of deprivation, it merely provides fertile ground for the growth of extremism and militancy. Education and prosperity are the key to our future, murder-by-militant the future if we fail to deliver it.

US envoy complains of Haqqani havens

Agence France-Presse

The US ambassador to Afghanistan sent a top-secret cable to Washington last month warning that the existence of enemy havens in Pakistan was placing the US strategy in Afghanistan in jeopardy, The Washington Post reported late Friday.Citing unnamed US officials,
the newspaper said that the cable, written by Ambassador Ryan Crocker, amounted to an admission that US efforts to curtail activities in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, a key Taliban ally, were failing.

Pakistan's relationship with the United States drastically deteriorated last year over the covert American raid that killed Osama bin Laden and US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border.

The administration of President Barack Obama plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014.

In past years, US military officials have argued that the best defense against Pakistan insurgent sanctuaries was a stronger Afghan army and government, the newspaper report said. But with the US drawdown looming, the need to directly address the sanctuaries seems more urgent.

"The sanctuaries are a deal-killer for the strategy," The Post quoted a senior defense official as saying.

The Haqqani network is responsible for some of the larger and more dramatic attacks on Kabul, including one on the US Embassy last year, the paper said.

The group's patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a major mujaheddin fighter in the CIA-backed effort to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

He has relinquished control to his son, Sirajuddin, who carries a $5 million US bounty on his head and runs day-to-day operations from the network's Pakistani base in Miran Shah, the paper said.

The location has given the Haqqani leadership a measure of protection, according to The Post. The CIA has refrained from launching missiles at known Haqqani targets, out of concern for civilian casualties and the backlash that could ensue.