Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Jalsa in Sheikhupura Imran Khan run away after jumping from stage

mran Khan's Jalsa in Sheikhupura PTI workers throw turban and Imran run away. Imran Khan jump and run away from the stage after PTI workers take control of the stage. This is another example of PTI's party discipline during Imran Khan Address.

55% Delhi population directly hit by air pollution

Deteriorating air quality in the national capital can translate into 3,000 additional "premature deaths" annually due to air pollution related diseases, the Centre for Science and Environment has said in a report.

The report, submitted to the Delhi government, estimated that about 55 per cent of Delhi's population is directly affected by air pollution as they live in a radius of 500 metre of "urban roads" where pollution level was found to be maximum.

"Those who live close to roads, are at a serious health risk from vehicular air pollution," the report said adding that people living close to such roads are prone to a variety of physical disorders.

The report said around one lakh deaths take place annually in Delhi and the figure can go up by 3,000 additional premature deaths annually due to air pollution related diseases.

The city government has already set up a committee to suggest measures to improve air quality in the city.

Veena Malik as 'supermodel'

After Kareena Kapoor's " Heroine", it's time for 'Super Model'

Veena Malik. Post her much-hyped relationship with Ashmit Patel on reality show "Bigg Boss", Veena is all set to romance Ashmit again, but this time on the silver screen.

And to top it all, the film is titled "Super Model". As the name suggests, the movie will have Veena Malik portraying the main character.

As controversy's favorite child, Veena's life has also gone through many phases and controversies. And that's the reason why director Navin Batra chose Veena for the lead role. "In real life, Veena has been a professional and successful model and actress across the border. She was the apt choice to play the lead in my film," explains Batra.

"Her body language, style and poise are that of a super model. Many from the industry and media have endorsed this view. So, I didn't have to think twice before roping in Veena. Shooting of the film will be done in Fiji, Australia and a few other scenic locations," says Batra, throwing more light on the project.

Asin loses weight for Housefull 2

In Bollywood, weighty issues are never in short supply. Now,

Asin seems to have joined the bandwagon.
The actor lost around 10 kilos after wrapping up the first schedule of Housefull 2 in London around June last year, just in time for the second leg, which kicked off in Mumbai in September.
“We were surprised to see Asin in a lighter avatar. But instead of panicking, everyone — including Sajid (director Sajid Khan) —loved her new look as it was only going to work as a value addition,” says an insider in the unit.
Although makers approved of Asin’s slender figure, they had to make certain adjustments. To start with, the camera was placed a little further from the actor than usual. Plus, some clothes meant for certain photo shoots had to be adjusted.
“Indian dresses such as the ghagra-choli were altered to fit Asin. But they had to replace the dresses with the same designs in smaller sizes from costume designer Aki Narula because the old ones were too big for her and couldn’t be altered,” says the insider, adding that the development cost the production house R2.5 lakh extra.
When contacted, director Sajid Khan says, “I really don’t know if Asin lost weight or not. All I will say is that she was looking terrific during our second schedule. And I don’t think any director can complain if his actor is coming across as being even more beautiful and has shed flab.’” Asin’s team, on their part, denies the weight loss.

Iran looks to boost energy ties to nearby Pakistan

Pakistan is emerging as the latest battleground over Western efforts to squeeze Iran, with Tehran pursuing closer energy ties to its neighbor as its access to other markets tightens.

Iran recently offered to supply Pakistan with tens of thousands barrels of oil per day, a Pakistani official said Thursday. The deal would help ease the country's chronic energy shortages while guaranteeing Tehran a home for some of its crude.

Pakistan is also vowing to press ahead with a proposed natural gas pipeline with Iran despite fresh warnings from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the project could run afoul of American sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to shelve its nuclear ambitions.

"We can't afford to be selective where we receive our energy supplies from," Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said Thursday. "It is in our national interest to get energy from wherever we can."

Pakistan does not rank among Iran's biggest oil importers, which include China, Japan and India. But it is still an energy-hungry market just over the border that offers Iran an important gateway to growing South Asian markets further afield.

"It is only to be expected that Iran would be looking for new buyers for its oil," said Gala Riani, head of Middle East analysis for the consulting firm Control Risks. "Although its relations with Pakistan have traditionally been complex, Iran can't afford to be picky."

Pakistan's role as energy partner to Tehran could grow further as U.S. and European sanctions continue to tighten. American officials have been pushing close Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea to reduce their reliance on Iranian crude, but Washington's influence in Islamabad has weakened as U.S.-Pakistan relations grow more strained.

Iran's latest offer to Pakistan could see it shipping up to 80,000 barrels of crude a day on a deferred payment basis, said Irfan Qazi, a spokesman for Pakistan's Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources. He declined to speculate whether this would go against international sanctions.

"It's an initial offer given by Iran," he said, adding that the details still needed to be worked out.

Pakistan produces both oil and natural gas, but not enough to meet demand.

The country is scrambling to secure supplies of natural gas, in large part to keep its power plants running.

Much of Pakistan is subject to rolling power cuts up to 18 hours a day because of electricity shortages. This winter, gas shortages meant that supplies to houses and factories were also rationed.

The shortfalls have badly affected industrial production, with hundreds of textile manufacturers — a mainstay of the economy — closing down in the last two years, according to industry groups. They also stoke resentment against the Western-leaning government.

Pakistan has been in talks with the tiny Gulf Arab state of Qatar to lock in supplies of 3.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually, Qazi said. Qatar shares control of a massive natural gas field with Iran.

Government-controlled gas supplier Qatargas confirmed the talks but declined to discuss the amounts of gas involved.

"In response to the expressed Pakistani need for long term LNG supplies, Qatargas is exploring the possibility of supplying LNG to Pakistan and is currently monitoring the development of various LNG receiving terminal projects in Pakistan," the company said.

Iran and Pakistan finalized their cross-border pipeline deal last year after years of on-and-off discussions. It calls for Iran to ship 760 million cubic feet of gas per day to Pakistan through the pipeline starting in 2014.

Work has yet to begin on the Pakistani side of the border, but Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari last month vowed to move ahead on the project during discussions with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He brushed off U.S. concerns about the pipeline, saying his country's relations with Iran would not "be undermined by international pressure of any kind."

But the U.S. is warning of consequences if the project gets under way.

Clinton told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday that construction of the pipeline would be seen as a breach of American sanctions on Iran.

"We all know what the consequences of that are. And it would be particularly damaging to Pakistan, because their economy is already quite shaky," she said. "This additional pressure that the United States would be compelled to apply would further undermine their economic status. So we've been very clear in pointing out the consequences of pursuing such a pipeline."

The U.S. is committed to giving Pakistan $7.5 billion over five years to try and stabilize the government and win the support of its virulently anti-American people. Around $1 billion of that is earmarked for projects to boost energy supplies.

Russia Elections 2012: Vladimir Putin On Course To Win Presidency

Vladimir Putin

is all but certain to return to Russia's presidency with the same swagger, bravado and fighting talk against the West as when he entered the Kremlin 12 years ago.
But the country he will get the chance to lead for another six years after an election on Sunday has changed, and he is on a collision course with Western powers and a newly confident middle class demanding a freer and fairer Russia.
"The way he is conducting the campaign at the moment sends a signal reading 'I am sure of myself, I am the strongest of them all, I control everything, I am the leader, nothing has changed.' But this is not true," said Maria Lipman, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Centre think tank.
A few months ago, the former KGB spy was a safe bet to win two more terms and rule until 2024, keeping him in power almost as long of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
All that changed when he bungled the announcement of his presidential bid on Sept. 24 and allegations of fraud in a parliamentary poll on Dec. 4 soured the mood, triggering the biggest opposition protests since he rose to power.
He may now struggle to see out even one full term.
Writing off the 59-year-old prime minister before he has even returned to the post he held from 2000 until 2008 would be reckless: Putin is a survivor and a pragmatist.
He still tops opinion polls as Russia's most popular politician, controls most media, has strong ties in business and the security forces, and many Russians credit him with overseeing an economic boom and making the country strong again.
Opinion polls suggest Putin will comfortably pass the 50 percent of votes needed for victory without a runoff. Political experts say he will reclaim the presidency regardless of whether the vote is clean and whatever the turnout.
Even foreign diplomats in Moscow see Putin as a safer option than the other candidates - billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and former upper house speaker Sergei Mironov.
But one senior Western envoy said: "Six months ago diplomats talked about what Putin will do in 12 years' time. Now they talk about whether he will last for six years."

The man once described in U.S. diplomatic cables as Russia's alpha dog looks more out of touch than at any time in his career. Tough-guy antics, such as shooting a tiger with a tranquiliser and horse-riding with a bare torso, are no longer guaranteed to impress voters and are openly mocked by some.
When he said on national television in December that he had mistaken the white ribbons worn by opposition protesters for condoms, a fake picture of him wearing a condom pinned to his chest went viral on the Internet within minutes.
"We will have a weak authoritarian national leader," said opinion pollster Lev Gudkov, describing what he saw as a "crisis of confidence" in the authorities.
When Putin was elected president in 2000, Russians craved a strong leader after the anarchy of Boris Yeltsin's presidency.
Now, he faces ever more frequent protests led by Russia's urban middle class who want to live in a modern country with independent courts and no corruption.
As one source close to the Kremlin put it, Putin has been slow to grasp the seriousness of the situation, certainly slower than his younger ally, Dmitry Medvedev, the iPad-carrying president with whom he is about to swap jobs.
"He is at a fork in the road and this situation is not entirely clear to him," said Igor Mintusov, a political consultant involved in several Russian election campaigns.
"Everything was clear to him at the beginning of the 2000s - to preserve Russia, to raise its ambitions and from this came liberal reforms. Now this clarity does not exist."

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's domination of Russia began on Dec. 31, 1999, when Yeltsin quit and asked him, as prime minister since August, to stand in until an election.
Putin quickly headed to Chechnya to visit federal troops he had sent to fight Islamist separatists in the southern region. The message was clear: Putin was a man of action determined to restore Russia's dignity, stability and global standing.
He wanted a clean break with an era marred by Yeltsin's erratic behaviour, reports of drinking and ill health, as well as endemic corruption and lawlessness.
Russia had defaulted on its debt in 1998 but after Putin came to power, it recorded nine successive years of growth.
His popularity rose as a surge in the price of oil, Russia's main export, fuelled prosperity. Elected president in March 2000, he won a new term in 2004.
"One hundred years ago the sovereign said that Russia had just two allies, the army and the navy," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said, referring to Tsar Alexander III.
"But in the time since, Russia has increased its allies, doubled them in fact. Today Russia has four allies: The army, the navy, the military-industrial complex and Vladimir Putin."
Putin reined in Russia's restive regions and clipped the wings of tycoons known as oligarchs who gained political power and huge fortunes after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Marina Kuzmina, 46, spoke for many when she defended Putin at a rally last week attended by tens of thousands.
"I came here for stability, for there not to be any revolutions in the future. Personally, my quality of life has really improved," she said.

But when Putin addressed the rally, evoking the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812 in an appeal to national pride, some of those present said it sounded like he had said it all before and that he, and his vision of Russia, were stuck in the past.
When he took over, Putin vowed to protect freedoms of speech, conscience and the media as "fundamental elements of a civilised society".
Instead, he cracked down on the media and smothered criticism. Murders of investigative journalists have rarely been solved and political opponents were long silenced.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil tycoon with political ambitions, was arrested in 2003 and then jailed on fraud and tax evasion charges.
The organisers of the anti-Putin rallies attended by tens of thousands of people have lost faith in him ever changing.
"This means the same conflict between him and civil society will continue," said Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader.
Protests are planned in Moscow the day after the election.
"How much can we take?" asked Sergei Shikov, a 40-year-old driving instructor. "We have so much corruption among state employees, police and even plumbers. Putin and his circle sit at the top of it all ... He and his friends are getting richer."

Putin has allowed the peaceful protests so far, but has indicated that his patience may be running out. He warned this week that opposition figures may try to stoke unrest, a refrain taken up by supporters to underline that the protesters are a minority of Russia's 143 million population.
"I don't think there are really many people who want to push Russia into catastrophic chaos," said Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov.
Putin could also face confrontation with the West after whipping up anti-American hysteria during his election campaign, accusing foreign governments of financing the protests.
Moscow has already locked horns with the West over the bloodshed in Syria and with Washington over U.S. plans to site a missile-defence shield in eastern Europe.
Putin may ease this rhetoric once he is back in the Kremlin, but diplomats say he is unlikely to quickly change policies that he has shaped even as prime minister.
Putin hopes his election will end the uncertainty that has put off foreign investors and led to $84 billion in capital flowing out of the country last year.
But investors are seeking a commitment to reforms such as cutting corruption, privatisation, restructuring large state companies and a reduction in dependence on energy exports.
Spending promises by Putin during the campaign could return to haunt him as tax rises may be needed to fill state coffers.

Until September, Putin's grip on Russia seemed firm.
He had risen quickly after working in the city authorities of his home town, St Petersburg, on his return from service with the KGB in then East Germany after the Berlin Wall fell in 1990.
"He had incredible charm which affected men and women, especially women. He could talk a woman into anything," said Lyudmila Fomicheva, press secretary to Putin's former boss, St Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.
Putin held a senior Kremlin post from 1996 before being appointed head of the FSB security service and then premier.
His popularity remained high, even when he stepped aside to become premier in 2008 because of constitutional limits and ushered Medvedev into the Kremlin , but his relations with West have long been prickly.
This is perhaps not surprising, given his own remark: "There is no such thing as a former intelligence officer." Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that when he looked into Putin's eyes, he saw KGB.
But Putin's touch deserted him with the announcement on Sept. 24 that he and Medvedev would swap positions this year.
"There were a lot of nice ways for Putin to return but this arrogant, undemocratic job swap alienated so many people, even their own followers, that his ratings started to fall," said Ilya Ponomaryov, one of the protest organisers.
Putin's standing slid further among urban middle-class voters when allegations of fraud emerged after the Dec. 4 election won by his United Russia party.
Initially Putin sought to mock and insult the protesters who took to the streets. He has since held out an olive branch but has not met the protesters or granted any of their key demands.

To hold on to power, Putin will need to keep the support of the influential political, security and business elites.
There have been no overt signs that he has been abandoned by any of those constituencies although conflicting signals towards the media - glimpses of a more liberal approach accompanied by a backlash against outlets that criticise him - could point to differences of opinion behind the scenes.
Some political analysts say he will have to make concessions to the protesters - perhaps allowing Medvedev only a short time as prime minister before replacing him with a liberal such as Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister respected by the West.
Another possible concession would be to call an early parliamentary election. This could pave the way for a parliament that offers real opposition for the first time in years as United Russia recedes or becomes defunct.
If he goes too far, too quickly, Putin risks alienating conservatives happy with the status quo.
"He's going to move very gradually towards a more liberalised society but he has to watch his back because some of his people want a crackdown," said Vladimir Pozner, a veteran television journalist and commentator.
"I am not forseeing 12 more years of Putin anyway. I am seeing a maximum six, but perhaps not even that."
If that happens, Putin may want to groom a successor to grant him immunity from prosecution, just as he did for Yeltsin in one of the first moves of his acting presidency 12 years ago. (Additional reporting by Jennifer Rankin and Maria Stromova; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

Iran pipeline to be completed irrespective of external pressure: Khar

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar

said on Thursday that the projects with Iran are in the national interest of Pakistan and will be completed irrespective of any external pressures.

Speaking at a briefing in Islamabad, Khar said that it was decided during the trilateral summit in Islamabad between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran that all the three neighbours will engage in a process of developing a roadmap of cooperation and collaboration to define the way forward in the domains of energy, connectivity and trade.

She said that there were ample win-win opportunities among the three countries.

“The projects which were decided with Iran include the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, transmission of electricity and upgrading the connectivity and trade between the two countries.”

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said that America has made it clear to Pakistan that if it goes ahead with the proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline, it could face consequences as underlined in the Iran Sanctions Act.

Clinton had said that they supported the alternative of a pipeline via Turkmenistan.

Aim of Pakistan to work regional geo-economics in its advantage

Khar said that yesterday’s cabinet unanimous decision to move towards trade liberalisation with India illustrates the priority Pakistan attaches to its economic development.

She said, “The aim of Pakistan is to work the geo-economics of this region in our advantage rather than our disadvantage because Pakistan has always been a supporter of regional connectivity and enhancement.”

The foreign minister said that Pakistan continues to seek a peaceful resolution of all disputes with India and will continue to insist on a meaningful dialogue process.

‘Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran first ones to suffer at the hands of instability’

Khar said that the trilateral summit will help bring stability and peace to the region.

She said that Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan were the first ones to suffer from instability or the lack of peace in the region. The talks during the trilateral summit were, “constructive, cordial and forward looking.”

‘Pakistan wants to pursue peace track which is in the interest of Afghans’

The foreign minister said that during her bilateral trip to Kabul, Pakistan made serious efforts to reach out to all the Afghan nationals and clarified that Pakistan wants to pursue a peace track which is in the interest of the Afghans.

“I had a meeting with each of the opposition leaders,” said Khar.

Hillary Clinton warns Islamabad on Iranian gas
Pakistan is reminded there will be consequences if it moves forward with a natural gas pipeline from Iran, the U.S. secretary of state said.

Pakistan is coping with a natural gas shortage by pursuing two pipeline options. The United States supports an option from Turkmenistan that would travel through Afghanistan, while Iran has pressed for its version since its inception in the 1990s.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee there would be consequences if Pakistan went ahead with the Iranian option.

"We have been very clear in pointing out the consequences of building this pipeline," she said at the hearing.

Pakistan has moved closer to the Iranian project despite U.S. objections. Pakistani authorities suggested land surveys were under way for their part of the pipeline.

The Turkmenistan pipeline has the support of the Asian Development Bank though security and pricing issues continue to overshadow developments.

U.S. State Department officials had said the Iranian natural gas pipeline was "a bad idea."

A budget request from the State Department included funds to help Pakistan cope with its energy crisis.

Obama Campaign, Billionaire Koch Brothers Spar Publicly

President Obama's re-election team is engaging conservative oil magnates Charles and David Koch in a public spat they hope will rouse the Democratic base and draw donations to their campaign.

The back-and-forth began Friday when, in a fund-raising email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina accused the billionaire brothers of "jacking up prices at the pump" and bankrolling "Tea Party extremism."

Messina also said the Kochs have reportedly pledged $200 million, through the outside nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity, to help defeat Obama in November.

"Let's see how many of us can chip in $2 or more to the Two-Term Fund," he wrote.

The message drew a sharp response from Koch Companies spokesman Philip Ellender. In a public letter to Messina he denied the Kochs were trying to manipulate gas prices, and he said there was no hundred-million dollar pledge from them to target Obama.

"Americans for Prosperity is not simply 'funded by the Koch brothers,' as you state - rather it has tens of thousands of members and contributors from across the country and from all walks of life," Ellender wrote.

"It is an abuse of the President's position and does a disservice to our nation for the President and his campaign to criticize private citizens simply for the act of engaging in their constitutional right of free speech about important matters of public policy," Ellender said.

The group, which promotes lower taxes and fewer regulations for business, is registered as a nonprofit with the IRS to engage in issue advocacy. It does not have to disclose the identities or amounts of its donors, who can give unlimited sums.

But while Americans for Prosperity cannot engage in overt electioneering, it has unleashed a torrent of attacks on Obama over the past six months. The group ran a $6 million ad campaign against the president leading up to the State of the Union, following a $2.4 million campaign last fall that focused on the Solyndra solar-power controversy.

Messina today challenged Ellender's defense of Americans for Prosperity, calling it a "cynical stretch" given its undisclosed sources of funding and negative ads.

"There is no campaign in the country that believes more in the active participation of Americans in the electoral process than this one," Messina wrote in a letter to Koch, first obtained by the Washington Post.

"When you attempt to drown out their voices through unlimited, secret contributions to pursue a special interest agenda that conflicts with what's best for our nation, you must expect some scrutiny of your actions."

The Obama campaign has raised more than $118 million for the 2012 election, with nearly half coming from individuals giving in aggregate $200 or less, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

Post-revolution Egypt chooses its president on May 23

Al Arabiya News

Egypt’s presidential election will be held over two days starting May 23, the state election committee said on Wednesday, as the country’s military rulers prepare to hand power to civilians after last year’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

A run-off vote will take place on June 16 and 17 and final results will be released on June 21, the committee’s head Farouk Sultan told reporters.

The military has faced street protests and widespread demands that it hand power to civilians sooner than the end-June deadline that it had set itself.

Sultan told a media conference that Egyptians abroad will be allowed to cast their absentee ballots from May 11 to May 17.

Run-offs will be held on June 16 and 17 and the winner will be announced on June 21, he said, in keeping with a timetable set by the military rulers to hand power to an elected president before the end of June.

Sultan added that there would be no international monitoring of the presidential election, the first since an uprising in February 2011 ousted Mubarak, the country’s dictator of 30 years, and left power in the hands of the military.

Earlier this month, the judicial committee had postponed a date for the vote.

The Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) which took over from Mubarak in February last year has faced street protests and widespread demands they hand power to civilians sooner than the end-June deadline they had set themselves. Judges committed to meet the army’s deadline.

Several hopefuls have already announced they plan to run for office, including former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and ex-Muslim Brotherhood member, Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh. The current Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi was mooted as a consensus candidate, but he has said he has no such plans.

Last month, a panel charged with advising the military council had proposed to hold the landmark elections on May 16, a month earlier than the June deadline set by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, according to AFP.

Attempts at bringing forward the date come amid a series of nationwide rallies demanding the ouster of the SCAF. Activists accuse the junta of mismanagement of the transition, of human rights violations and of stifling freedoms.

There is a widespread belief that the SCAF will attempt to retain some sort of power after the transition.

Many analysts see Moussa as the front-runner but say much will depend on what kind of backing he can secure from the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged as the biggest bloc after a parliamentary vote. Some politicians say they want a candidate who will also have the army’s nod of approval.

Western ways woo Saudi women

When 26-year-old Sabah arrived at the University of Newcastle in northeast England in the fall of 2009 for her postgraduate studies, she did what many of her Saudi girlfriends had decided. She sent her legal guardian home and lived an independent life.

Sabah, who spoke on the condition that her real name not be revealed because she is not following the guidelines of the Saudi cultural attache, which supervises her scholarship, said neither her father nor mother feel the need to keep her on a short leash.“I have my own flat, I take the train to the university and I study late into the night at the library,” Saba told The Media Line. “It’s a life I thought I never would have experience. I owe everything to my parents, who trust me to make the right decisions. Now I must make a decision of whether I even want to go back to Saudi Arabia. My heart tells me to stay here, but my head says I have no choice but to return home.”

Sabah is one of more than 800 Saudi men and women studying at Newcastle. An estimated 110,000 Saudis studying worldwide and are part of King Abdullah’s Foreign Scholarship program. They are studying abroad with about 30% attending US universities, 15% in the United Kingdom, 11% in Canada and 8% studying in Australia. The rest are scattered in other, mostly Muslim, countries. The program was initiated in 2005 and the first wave of students with graduate and postgraduate degrees has already returned to Saudi Arabia.

However, many Saudi women like Sabah are facing a personal crisis as they ponder their future once they earn their degrees. It’s an issue so sensitive that few students were willing to discuss their lives in the West using their real names, fearing they would lose their scholarships and sent home.

Some women say they see efforts to tighten restrictions on their personal freedoms since the beginning of the Arab Spring. The heady feeling Saudi women felt following the June 2011 driving demonstrations to demand their right to drive has dissipated and replaced with heightened rhetoric among conservatives to stay at home.

A Saudi Ministry of Higher Education official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because sensitivity of the issue, says education and cultural attaché officials, who supervise the scholarship program, are aware of the discontent among some Saudi students.

“We understand our sisters’ concerns about job prospects when they return and some of the other obstacles they face, but they must fulfill the terms of their scholarship and any employment obligations they have,” the official told The Media Line. “They must come home after completion of their studies.”

Maha, who turned 31 recently and is preparing to graduate with an education degree from the University of California Berkeley, has a teaching job waiting for her in Taif that pays 3,000 Saudi riyals ($1,066) a month. “I can’t think of anything more boring,” Maha told The Media Line. “I have lived in California for four years. Jobs in my field pay about $2,700 a month and I would have none of the problems that I would face if I returned home.”

By problems, Maha points to the inevitable laundry list of expectations Saudi society places on her, including the type of job she can have. Like many young Saudi women on scholarships to Western universities, Maha accepted in advance a teaching job in a rural area after completing her studies.

“I’ll be teaching village kids and my colleagues will be village women who have never left the province. And the only jobs available are teaching. I don’t necessarily want to be a teacher, but that is all that is available,” Maha says. “My father is dead, so my brother will be my guardian. I will answer to him for everything and he’s already hinted he expects some of my salary and he will find me a husband.”

Maha and Sabah often grumble about the restrictions imposed on them on choosing their employment, their husband and travel, all of which require permission from a male guardian. It’s the unintended consequence of the king’s scholarship program. For some Saudi women students, they came, they saw and they want to stay in the West.

While some Saudi university students are flirting with the idea of remaining in Britain or the US, they acknowledge the enormous pressure of adapting to Western culture. “England, as much as I like it here, has a deep drinking culture and everybody’s sex life is an open book,” Maha says. “These are things I feel very uncomfortable about. Can I live in a culture with different moral values? I wonder.”

The idea of not returning home is also a single woman’s prerogative. Married Saudi women students have their husbands and children with them. Returning home, where their lives are comfortable, is not open to debate. “My married friends have everything they need in Saudi Arabia,” Maha says. “There’s no point in living here when they have everything they need at home.”

Yet the urge to remain in Britain or the US often has less to do newfound freedoms and more with the impact the Arab Spring has had Saudi Arabia. One student characterized the kingdom as closing in on itself. “It’s a battle of wills between the conservatives and the liberals, and the conservatives are winning,” says a Saudi male student attending Newcastle and asked not to be identified.

Sabah complains that women have been the most affected by a push among conservatives to stem the tide of reform championed by King Abdullah. The campaign for the right to drive a car has faltered. Equally strong efforts by women activists to ease guardianship laws to provide easier access to jobs also have led nowhere. Promises to codify laws that give women more rights in divorce and child custody cases in Saudi courts also failed to materialize.

Sabah points to the disturbing trend among religious conservatives to attack men promoting women’s rights. In December, conservatives alleged that Saudi men were contributing to the corruption of women and behaving “shamefully” by socializing with them during session breaks at the Saudi Intellectual Forum in Riyadh. Sabah says that attacking the moral character of a Saudi can be devastating, and serves as an effective tool to silence allies of women’s rights activists.

“I can face this kind of thing. It’s my country,” Sabah says. “But do I want my daughters to grow up in this environment? There’s the old joke that Saudi Arabia takes one step forward for progress and two steps backward. Well, it’s many steps backward now. We’re regressing.”

A 28-year-old doctoral student studying at the University of Birmingham in England, who asked to be called Khadija, says she is hopeful for women’s rights. She points to the fact that women won the right to vote and run for elected office. The university scholarship program is evidence of the government’s desire to provide better educational and employment opportunities for women. A progressive administrator, Sheikh Abdullatif Aal Al-Sheikh, was recently appointed to run the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. His first promise was to disband the volunteer vigilante force that strikes fear in many Saudis.

Yet the progress has had little effect on the day-to-day lives of Saudi women.

“We as Saudi women are getting impatient,” Khadija told The Media Line. “I want to be there for my country. They are giving me an education. But there are too many forces against me. Too many people want me to stay at home and waste my education, waste my brain. If I have to stay in the West to use my brain, I will.”

Yet Khadija says the reality is that the decision to remain in the West entails too high a price for most Saudi women. “I am looking for a job here in England and I’m hoping to find a way to stay here and live without restrictions. But am I ready to lose my family over it? No, not really.”

Saudi women push for the right to play sports

The image of 24-year-old Nour Fitiany resting courtside as the pounding of basketballs and thumping of feet reverberated around her wouldn't merit a second glance in most countries.

But in Saudi Arabia, where girls are banned from sports in state schools, powerful clerics castigate women for exercising and female gyms must adhere to strict regulations, Fitiany's ambition to play basketball - let alone represent her country in international tournaments - is a bold political statement.

"I hope that when they see that there are girls who really want to play, and who do play regardless of the obstacles that lie in their path, they realize that they have to do something," she said, dressed in a baby blue t-shirt and grey jogging pants, spinning a basketball on her index finger.

Female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue in the conservative Islamic kingdom, which on February 15 was lambasted by Human Rights Watch for never having sent a woman athlete to the Olympics.

The stance of the official Supreme Council of Religious Scholars is represented by Sheikh Abdullah al-Maneea, who said in 2009 that the excessive "movement and jumping" needed in football and basketball might cause girls to tear their hymens and lose their virginity.

After King Abdullah moved last year to bring women into the country's political process, however, there have been some signs authorities may allow sportswomen to compete internationally and make it easier for girls to exercise.

The HRW report said the National Olympic committee had "indicated" it would not stop women athletes taking part in the Games if they were invited, and speculation has been rife that the government will send equestrian Dalma Malhas to compete in this years Olympics in London.

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority told Reuters earlier this year there are plans to introduce after-hours physical education classes for both girls and boys.

The kingdom's official sporting body, the Saudi General Presidency of Youth Welfare, did not respond to Reuters questions on the issue.


Sports in the patriarchal society of Saudi Arabia has long been reserved as an activity for men. Even stadiums for watching sports prohibit females to be present.

Women are able to play in the privacy of their homes or in private schools but as soon as they step beyond that to play professionally or in organized teams in public competitions they are publicly slammed for going against their natural role.

Newspaper articles that refer to such women as "shameless" when they play sports are a cause of great embarrassment for the women and their families. Some have even received text messages advising them to stay at home and tend to their household duties as mothers and wives.

"If there is no support from the family we can not get into these types of activities ... some people are extremist or extra conservative," said Hadeer Sadagah, 17, who plays with Fitiany on their basketball team, Jeddah United.

Jeddah United was set up in 2003 to promote women's fitness; Malhas, who specializes in show jumping, trained privately and has competed in international tournaments since she was young.

A group of Saudi women is also planning a hiking expedition to Everest base camp this summer as part of a charity fundraising exercise to promote a healthy lifestyle for breast cancer patients.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of the king who is known to be a supporter of women's rights, has included women in his Kingdom Equestrian Team, part of his company Kingdom Holding, which has allowed Saudi women to compete in international competitions since 2007.

Liberal Saudis consider women who participate in sports to be pioneers and encourage the women to play regardless of the obstacles.

"We have a very famous Arabic saying that goes, 'a healthy brain needs a healthy body' so from that I believe that people who are against women's sports are actually against women," Jeddah resident Hashim Larry, 27, told Reuters.

"They come from the same group of 'don't allow women to work and drive'."


The pressure against women in sports is intense and comes from senior figures in a clerical establishment that is closely allied to the ruling al-Saud family.

In 2010 Sheikh Abdulkareem al-Khudair, who also sits on the Supreme Council for Religious Scholars, renewed a religious edict banning sports for women, which he said "will lead to following in the footsteps of the devil."

He said it is not permitted to request that the government introduce sports in schools for girls because such activity is forbidden in Islam. Such comments from a high ranking cleric have immense influence in the monarchy, which rules in alliance with the conservative clerics.

When Jeddah United returned from a tournament in which they played the Jordanian national team, in 2009, a local newspaper published their photograph under the headline: "Shameless girls."

The religious pressure is so great that even female gyms have to wear a non-sporting fig leaf, masquerading as "health centers" that are regulated not by a national sports body but by the Health Ministry.

Fees are so high, at a minimum of 1,000 riyals ($266) a month, that only the affluent can afford membership.

In 2009 a clampdown on unlicensed female gyms gave rise to a women's rights campaign in newspapers and blogs, with the sarcastic slogan "Let her get fat!"

"As a nation we need to focus on preventative measures that include healthy lifestyle, specifically nutrition and fitness and early detection (of women's illnesses)," said Princess Reema al-Saud, who is leading the climb to Everest base camp.

"The inspiration to climb Everest base camp came from the basic idea that a healthy lifestyle and healthy body can fight illness better," she added.


The lack of facilities for women is a significant barrier in a country where gender segregation is strictly enforced.

While girls' state schools are barred from teaching physical education and consequently have no sports facilities, some private schools and private universities are very well equipped.

Jeddah United practices in one of the few courts available for women, surrounded by 5-meter (16-foot) concrete walls, which it rents for 7,000 to 10,000 riyals a month. Members get training and the opportunity to play three times a week for a monthly fee of 600 riyals.

"We believe that (Jeddah United) is a pressure group to promote a healthy lifestyle on a local level and on an international level," said the team's founder, Lina al-Maeena.

"We play a role of sport diplomacy by building bridges and breaking stereotypes of Saudi women. I hope that we are paving the way."

Malhas, the equestrian who might yet be selected to represent the kingdom in London, trained in exclusively private facilities in Saudi Arabia.

She has already competed in international tournaments, which she travelled to by herself, financed not by the state but by her own family.

In the Singapore Youth Olympics in 2010 she stood on the podium to receive a bronze medal, although she was not officially delegated to represent the kingdom.

"I think women playing sports should ignore the criticisms they get from society," Fitiany said.

"That is a kind of struggle, standing strong and not caring what people say."

Massive storm system weakens after 12 deaths


Weary residents may get some good news Thursday as the monster storm system that already battered many Midwestern states and caused a dozen deaths is expected to weaken.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center downgraded its outlook for severe weather from moderate to slight over the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. It said there was only a 5% probability of tornadoes through Thursday morning.

The death toll from the enormous storm system that plowed through the Midwest and spawned more tornadoes as it moved east was at 12 late Wednesday, authorities said.

Hardest hit was Harrisburg, Illinois, a town that was thrashed by a pre-dawn EF4 killer tornado that packed 170 mph winds. Six people were killed in the southern Illinois city, many were injured or left with harrowing stories like Justin Hicks.

Tensions Raise Specter of Gas at $5 a Gallon


Gasoline for $5 a gallon? The possibility is hardly far-fetched.

With no clear end to tensions with Iran and Syria and rising demand from countries like China, gas prices are already at record highs for the winter months — averaging $4.32 in California and $3.73 a gallon nationally on Wednesday, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. As summer approaches, demand for gasoline rises, typically pushing prices up around 20 cents a gallon.

And gas prices could rise another 50 cents a gallon or more, analysts say, if the diplomatic and economic standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions escalates into military conflict or there is some other major supply disruption.

“If we get some kind of explosion — like an Israeli attack or some local Iranian revolutionary guard decides to take matters in his own hands and attacks a tanker — than we’d see oil prices push up 20 to 25 percent higher and another 50 cents a gallon at the pump,” said Michael C. Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research.

For the typical driver who pumps 60 gallons a month of regular unleaded gasoline, a 50-cent increase in price means an extra expense of $30 a month.

The prospect of such a price increase underscores the political and economic risks that Western political leaders must contend with as they decide how to address the Iran situation. A sharp rise in the prices of oil and gas would crimp the nation’s budding economic recovery. It would also cause big political problems at home for President Obama, who is already being attacked by Republican presidential candidates over gas prices and his overall energy policies, and for European nations struggling to deal with the Continent’s debt crisis.

The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, told a House committee on Wednesday that rising global oil prices were “likely to push up inflation temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He maintained the Fed’s forecast that the nation’s economy would grow 2.2 to 2.7 percent this year.

The Iran situation has already raised the price of crude oil as much as 20 percent, according to oil experts. On Wednesday, the price of the benchmark American crude settled at $107.07 a barrel. That is about four dollars higher than on the same day in 2008. Later that year, oil and gasoline prices surged to new records, including a record nominal high of $145.29 a barrel for oil and $4.11 a gallon for gasoline in July. (In today’s dollars, that would be $150.87 for oil and $4.27 for gasoline.)

Although prices plunged late in 2008 as the financial crisis took its toll and the recession deepened, that kind of sharp increase could happen again as summer approaches.

“That’s what frightens people,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

That fear is tempered by optimism — if tensions ease in the Middle East, experts predict that energy prices will fall, with gasoline at the pump potentially dropping 50 cents a gallon or more because supplies are relatively strong in many parts of the country. Some analysts say the world price of oil could fall to $80 a barrel if tensions eased.

And there have been signs in recent days that Iran is feeling the pain of sanctions on its critical oil exports, perhaps increasing its willingness to negotiate with the West.

On Wednesday, Tehran offered Pakistan, which has been suffering power shortages, 80,000 barrels of oil a day on an easy payment plan. It also offered to accept gold rather than dollars for payment from any dealers hoping to get around the Western restrictions on the usual financial channels for buying oil.

And this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Congressional committee that the administration was working hard to persuade India, China and Turkey, which represent more than a third of Iran’s oil export market, to reduce their purchases.

While all three countries have said publicly that they will continue to buy from Iran, Mrs. Clinton said, “in a number of cases, both on their government side and on their business side, they are taking actions that go further and deeper than perhaps their public statements might lead you to believe.”

Neal Soss, chief economist of Credit Suisse, said sustained high gasoline prices would definitely have an impact on the American economy. “As a rule of thumb, a penny a gallon is worth a bit over $1 billion in consumer purchasing power if it is maintained a whole year. A dollar more would be something in excess of $100 billion, which is about the size of the Social Security tax cut.”

Despite a fall in gasoline demand in the United States and Europe, global oil markets are tightening because demand for energy from Asian countries, particularly China and India, is rising at surprisingly strong rates even as output is declining from several important producing countries.

Gasoline futures are surging, spurred in part by recent refinery closings that may produce a shortage of motor fuel in the Northeast states by summer.

Oil prices have surged about 8 percent since Iran threatened to cut off oil imports to France, Spain, Italy and other European countries three weeks ago as a pre-emptive move against Western moves to tighten sanctions. The European Union has decided to place an embargo on Iranian oil and ban shipping and insurance on its cargoes. Washington has decided on banking sanctions to curtail Iran’s ability to earn money from its oil exports.

Middle East experts express doubts that Iran will follow through on its threats to stop supplying European customers or close the vital oil sea lanes of the Strait of Hormuz. But the saber-rattling from both sides is encouraging investors to buy oil futures contracts at higher and higher prices. Rising conjecture that Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities has heightened market jitters.

“The bankers are speculating, protecting themselves from higher prices by committing obligations to buy now, and that starts the ball rolling toward higher prices,” said Sadad Ibrahim al-Husseini, former head of exploration and production at Saudi Aramco, the state oil company.

He added that the escalating civil turmoil in Syria, a crucial ally of Iran, “is bound to increase price volatility and that will drive future speculation.”

The Japanese Foreign Ministry signaled on Wednesday that it was close to an agreement with Washington to further reduce shipments of oil from Iran, which have already declined about 20 percent since the beginning of the year.

But any success in tightening sanctions on Iran could squeeze global oil supplies, pushing up prices and causing serious economic repercussions at home and abroad.

“It’s a bind for Obama,” said Mr. Kloza at the Oil Price Information Service. “How do you get tough on Iran without getting tough on American wallets?”

Romney Wins, the Middle Class Loses



Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum fought each other to nearly a draw in the Michigan primary and may actually have to split its delegates, but together they may have lost Michigan for their party by running campaigns that were completely disconnected from the lives of middle-class voters and pushed ever farther to the right margins of American politics.

A month ago, the state was rated a tossup in this November’s general election. But after voters got a taste of the Republican field, Michigan seems to be on President Obama’s side of the ledger, along with Wisconsin. Both elected Republican governors in 2010, but large numbers of blue-collar voters have turned away from the party after realizing how little regard it has for their interests.

Mr. Romney was unable to generate any enthusiasm in the state where he was born and where his family is well known. In fact, polls around the country have suggested that Republican primary voters are not thrilled with any of their choices so far. He won largely because of Mr. Santorum’s blunders, including his inexplicable decision to denigrate the value of college and to declare his contempt for John F. Kennedy and the Constitution’s mandate for an absolute separation of church and state.

Mr. Romney’s victory speech Tuesday night was unlikely to do much about the Republican electorate’s disappointment. Like his lightweight stump speeches around Michigan, he rattled off a long list of things he opposes: taxes (mostly on the rich), government spending (mostly on the poor), health care reform (for everyone). There was next to nothing about what he supports, with the exception of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. A blue-collar family that has suffered a job loss (or fears one) heard nothing that offered the promise of a more stable, hopeful future.

“We will abolish, finally, the death tax,” he announced. That’s great news to those with estates of $5 million or more. It was a slap in the face to those whose unemployment insurance is about to run out because his party has insisted on getting tough with jobless government freeloaders.

Middle-class voters did learn that Mr. Romney still opposes the auto-industry bailout that has saved the jobs of more than a million workers in Michigan and the region. (He called it a giveaway to unions, ignoring worker sacrifices that are well-known in the upper Midwest.) They learned how the 14 percent of Michigan residents who have no health insurance would be left on their own once the candidates get a chance to repeal health care reform. And they learned that Mr. Santorum is far more concerned about the menace of birth control and liberal college professors than he is about their struggles.

If they listened to Mr. Obama’s fiery speech to the United Auto Workers on Tuesday, however, they heard a very different set of priorities: using government action to bring an entire industry back to life, raising taxes on the rich to avoid cutting programs for the poor, keeping insurance companies from cutting off the sick.

“Since when are hard-working men and women who are putting in a hard day’s work every day — since when are they special interests?” the president asked, addressing the contempt for labor demonstrated by the candidates and several Republican governors in the Midwest. The answer explains why Mr. Obama was up by 18 points over Mr. Romney in a recent Michigan poll, and why Republican leaders are worried about their presidential field.

Tobacco health labels unconstitutional: judge

A U.S. judge sided with tobacco companies on Wednesday, ruling that regulations requiring large graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertising violate free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Cigarette makers challenged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's rule requiring companies to label tobacco products with images of rotting teeth, diseased lungs and other images intended to illustrate the dangers of smoking.

"The government has failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech," U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said in the ruling.

The judge granted a preliminary injunction last year blocking the new label requirement from taking effect in 2012, a decision the Obama administration has already taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The government is also likely to appeal the new ruling.

While educating the public about the dangers of smoking "might be compelling, an interest in simply advocating that the public not purchase a legal product is not," Leon wrote in a 19-page ruling.

Further, Leon said the warning labels were too big to pass constitutional muster and that the government has numerous other tools at its disposal to deter smoking such as raising cigarette taxes or including simple factual information on the labels rather than gruesome images.

Congress passed a law in 2009 ordering the FDA to adopt the label regulation, which requires color warning labels big enough to cover the top 50 percent of a cigarette pack's front and back panels, and the top 20 percent of print advertisements.

The FDA released nine new warnings in June to go into effect in September 2012, the first change in U.S. cigarette warning labels in 25 years. Cigarette packs already carry text warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General.

Reynolds American Inc's R.J. Reynolds unit, Lorillard Inc, Liggett Group LLC, Commonwealth Brands Inc, which is owned by Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group Plc, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co Inc challenged the rule, arguing it would force them to engage in anti-smoking advocacy against their own legal products.

"Unfortunately, because Congress did not consider the First Amendment implications of this legislation, it did not concern itself with how the regulations could be narrowly tailored to avoid unintentionally compelling commercial speech," Leon wrote.

"We believe governments, public health officials, tobacco manufacturers and others share a responsibility to provide tobacco consumers with accurate information about the various health risks associated with smoking," said Martin Holton, general counsel for R.J. Reynolds.

"However, the goal of informing the public about the risks of tobacco use can and should be accomplished consistent with the U.S. Constitution," Holton added in a company statement.

Representatives for the other tobacco companies involved in the litigation were not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, which represented the FDA in the case, had no comment.

Tobacco companies have said it would cost them millions of dollars to comply and also argued the graphics offer no information that could not be accomplished through messages similar to warnings already on cigarette packages and ads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates some 45 million adults smoke cigarettes, which are the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States.

The ruling "ignores decades of First Amendment precedent that support the right of the government to require strong warning labels to protect the public health," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.

The case is R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co et al v. FDA, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 11-1482.

Obama 'confident' of keeping to Afghan pullout plan

President Barack Obama

said he was "confident" the United States could stick to its Afghan drawdown timetable despite a week of deadly unrest over the burning of the Koran at a US base.

"I feel confident that we can stay on a path that by the end of 2014, our troops will be out and will not be in a combat role and Afghans will have capacity, just as Iraqis, to secure their own country," Obama told ABC News on Wednesday.

Obama, criticized by Republican opponents for apologizing to Afghan people after US troops sent copies of the Koran to an incinerator at Bagram airbase, defended his decision, saying it was necessary to try to quell the violence.

"The reason that it was important is the same reason that the commander on the ground, General (John) Allen, apologized. And that is to save lives. And to make sure our troops who are there right now are not placed in further danger," the president said.

"It calmed things down. We're not out of the woods yet," he added.

"But my criteria in any decision I make, getting recommendations from folks who are actually on the ground, is what is going to best protect our folks and make sure that they can accomplish their mission," Obama said.

"Everything else -- the politics or second guessing of these various decisions -- I'm not worried about."

The incident set off seven successive days of protest and violence, with the death toll estimated at about 40.

Two US military advisers were gunned down in the interior ministry in Kabul on Saturday, days after two US troops were killed by an Afghan soldier in the east, prompting NATO to pull its advisors out of Afghan government ministries.

"The overwhelming majority of Afghan troops have welcomed and benefited from the training and partnering that we're doing," Obama said.

"That doesn't mean there aren't going to be some tragic incidents. That doesn't mean there aren't going to be bumps in the road."

NATO has a 130,000-strong US-led military force fighting the Taliban, which has led an insurgency against the Western-backed Kabul government since being toppled from power in 2001.

The United States plans to gradually draw down combat troops from mid next year before handing over control to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 as agreed by the NATO alliance.

Some Republican critics of Obama said the turmoil showed the need to slow the pace of the US drawdown, while opponents of the war saw it as more evidence of a doomed endeavor.

Shia Massacre:


TUESDAY’S brutal sectarian massacre on the Karakoram Highway in a remote part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohistan district bore a chilling resemblance to the butchery witnessed last year in Mastung, Balochistan. As in the Mastung attack, passengers travelling in a convoy of buses, and comprising mostly Shia pilgrims returning from Iran to Gilgit via Rawalpindi, were pulled out and killed on the basis of their belief by men apparently in army uniform. Kohistan has not witnessed the sectarian bloodletting other parts of Pakistan have, yet it is possible the atrocity was carried out as communal tensions in neighbouring Gilgit-Baltistan spilled over. A few Sunnis were killed in Gilgit recently, and the targeting of passengers may have been a reprisal, with indications that the killers came from Chilas. Though Jandullah has claimed responsibility, it is unclear if it is the same group involved in past sectarian attacks in Karachi or a new one. Certain names have developed into ‘brands’, and it is likely that the absence of a central organisational structure has propelled other militant actors to carry out acts of terrorism using the name of more recognisable groups.

Unfortunately, no part of Pakistan is free from the scourge of sectarian terror. While Hazara Shias are routinely murdered in Balochistan, tribal-cum-sectarian violence has become a part of life in Kurram Agency; Karachi has witnessed several sectarian attacks; bombings and cycles of sectarian violence also occur in Dera Ismail Khan as well as south and central Punjab. Though the denominational schism has always existed, it took on a very bloody character during the Ziaul Haq regime, especially with the rise of sectarian death squads. Today, sectarian outfits in Pakistan have found common cause with pan-Islamic jihadis, fusing their anti-Shia worldview with a jihad-centric, anti-West outlook, which perhaps explains the heavy sectarian undercurrent in the overall rise of militancy in Pakistan. It is also troubling that overtly sectarian and jihadi concerns are now appearing on the same stage as ‘mainstream’ religious and right-wing parties, indicating the full acceptance of the former by the latter.

There needs to be greater vigilance where misuse of police and army uniforms is concerned. Also, buses and other vehicles must only be stopped at designated and clearly marked checkpoints and escorted by security forces when transiting ‘sensitive’ regions. Overall, while communities need to ensure such provocations don’t result in escalation and reprisals, it is the state that must do the most by identifying, capturing, prosecuting and punishing those involved in sectarian terrorism. If it fails to do so, the current situation may well give way to wider communal conflict.

17 terror incidents recorded in Peshawar in 2 months

As many as 17 terror incidents occurred in various areas of Peshawar in the last two months, while the officials investigating the cases have not concluded any of the cases yet.
According to police report in the first two months of the year 2012, at least 40 people including eight security personnel were killed and at least 105 people including 28 security men sustained injuries in the terror incidents in the city.
The report said that only four terrorists have been arrested.
Police officers investigating the cases say the culprits involved in the cases are hiding in tribal areas and action could not be taken against them.

Adiala missing inmates: ISI, MI not superior to civilians,

The Express Tribune

The displeased Supreme Court gave out a stern message to Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence on Thursday: “You need to take this out of your mind that you [ISI and MI] are superior and others [civilians] are inferior.”

Counsel of ISI and MI Raja Irshad was reprimanded as the Supreme Court remained unsatisfied with the replies submitted to the court today by the agencies in the Adiala missing prisoners’ case.

Headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the three-member bench said that the replies submitted to the court do not justify under which law the civilians were picked up by agencies. “Who gave you the right to hound people?” questioned the chief justice.

“You are so insensitive to the human loss that the families of the missing persons have suffered lately because of you. This is a big allegation against you [ISI and MI] – you abduct people and after some days, their abandoned bodies surface,” said Chief Justice Chaudhry.

“You’re an arsonist. You have set Balochistan on fire,” said Chaudhry while referring to the agencies and the situation in Balochistan. “We ask you time and again and you always tell us stories. Are we here to listen to your stories?”

The chief justice said that the agencies have become “insensitive” to the issues and referred them as the “biggest violators” of the country’s law and order.

Irshad, in the agencies’ defense said that the authorities in the ISI and MI are considering this issue seriously as this is a burning issue of this country.

He said that the “foreign elements” involved in instilling terrorism in Balochistan are active and the agencies cannot work with their “eyes closed” to the issue. The chief justice remarked saying that whatever the agencies do should be done within the limits of law as the agencies are not “above the law”.

Irshad said that current parliament “does not represent the will of the people,” on which the Chief Justice Chaudhry differed and said, “It does represent the will of the people and has also brought the 20th amendment for solving issues. If you take them in confidence, they will facilitate you as well.”

The court, however, expressed satisfaction over the report submitted by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary about the health condition of the prisoners.

The report had a detailed summary about the prisoners’ health, improvement in their condition and how they are accommodated. The court said that its message should be conveyed to the chief secretary that the court was happy to see that all the questions sought in the previous hearing were answered in the report.

The court also said that the report gives hope that the remaining prisoners will brave their illnesses.

Clinton warns Pakistan against Iran overtures

Daily Times

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Pakistan on Thursday that it would face serious consequences if it continues to deal with Iran.
A private TV channel quoted Clinton as telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration is moving swiftly to impose new sanctions on Iran amid concerns in Congress that the White House will not be aggressive enough in cracking down on financial institutions that do business with Tehran’s Central Bank. ”What we are intending to do is to ratchet up these sanctions as hard and fast as we can,” Clinton said. She said Pakistan was going to reach an agreement with Iran while the US has planned to impose sanction on Tehran. She added that if Pakistan deals with Iran “it would be very destructive for Pakistan”. Clinton said the US administration and Congress were on the same page regarding Iran and sanctions against it.

Pakistani Politicians who sold their souls to ISI in the 1990 polls’


Nawaz Sharif got Rs 3.5 million, Mir Afzal Khan Rs 10 million, Lt Gen Rafaqat got Rs 5.6 million for distribution among journalists, Abida Hussain Rs 1 million, Jamaat-e-Islami Rs 5 million, Altaf Hussain Qureshi Rs 500,000, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi Rs 5 million (Sindh), Jam Sadiq Rs 5 million (Sindh), Muhammad Khan Junejo Rs 250,000 (Sindh), Pir Pagara Rs 2 million (Sindh), Maulana Salahuddin Rs 300,000 (Sindh), various small groups in Sindh Rs 5.4 million and Humayun Marri Rs 1.5 million (Balochistan).

According to an affidavit submitted with the Supreme Court by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) former director general Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani in 1996, he had distributed Rs 140 million among anti-PPP politicians on the directives of then army chief General (r) Mirza Aslam Beg, who had received orders from the then chief executive to manoeuvre the 1990 election.
The case against distribution of this money was filed with the Supreme Court by Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan in 1996 following a statement of former interior minister Naseerullah Babar in parliament, in which he alleged that in 1990, Rs 140 million had been dished out with the help of ISI among PPP’s political opponents.
The proceedings on Asghar Khan’s petition were started in 1996 when Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was the chief justice of Pakistan. Then army chief General (r) Aslam Beg, in a reply submitted with the Supreme Court, had stated that: “President Ghulam Ishaq Khan had set up an election cell in the presidency under the supervision of noted bureaucrat Roedad Khan and Ajlal Haider during the 1990 general elections.”
ISI had on the instructions of the election cell gave away Rs 140 million to the opponents of the PPP.
It was a usual thing for the ISI to extend help to their favourite politicians in elections and its approval was granted by the chief executive of the government.
Asad Durrani in his affidavit stated that: “The money was distributed among politicians on the directive of General (r) Aslam Beg (then Chief of Army Staff).”
According to Asad Durrani, the money was distributed as below:
Nawaz Sharif got Rs 3.5 million, Mir Afzal Khan Rs 10 million, Lt Gen Rafaqat got Rs 5.6 million for distribution among journalists, Abida Hussain Rs 1 million, Jamaat-e-Islami Rs 5 million, Altaf Hussain Qureshi Rs 500,000, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi Rs 5 million (Sindh), Jam Sadiq Rs 5 million (Sindh), Muhammad Khan Junejo Rs 250,000 (Sindh), Pir Pagara Rs 2 million (Sindh), Maulana Salahuddin Rs 300,000 (Sindh), various small groups in Sindh Rs 5.4 million and Humayun Marri Rs 1.5 million (Balochistan).
The court is likely to ask for proof/evidence against those who received money from the ISI, and the lawful orders by the competent authority shall be a core issue in the court, asking directly, who ordered the amount to be distributed and with what purpose.
The court may order the ISI to trace back the record and put up evidence beyond reasonable doubt that political leaders/political parties nominated in the case had received money.