Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Joker Named Shahbaz Sharif

Let Us Build Pakistan

While it is amusing to see the fake revolutionary in Shahbaz Sharif most of the time, but this time he has gone out of his mind. In his desperation and hatred for the PPP and it’s targeted leadership of President Asif Zardari he has gone mad. Previously singing Jalib and also making slogans like an orchestra maestro, Shahbaz Sharif went the extra mile on Friday, March 16, 2012, in Gujranwala when he said:

“Agar hum nay, itikhabat kay baad, iss Zardari ko, Larkana, Karachi, Peshawar aur Lahore kee sarkon par na ghaseeta to mera naam Shahbaz Sharif nahee”.

Let’s hope this joker is able to stay in Pakistan after elections unlike his brother who runs away to London on the pretext of his wife’s health. And what can be Shahbaz Sharif’s name? “Geedar Badmaash” might just be appropriate or “Bhand Gujjar”. By the way, as we mentioned in our post “Mian Sahab, better to stay quiet – It will only get muddier for you“, Nawaz Sharif has conveniently gone to London at a time when his party are facing the biggest allegation of corruption and subversion of constitution through the Mehran Bank Scandal and the reason is his wife’s health. Probably this is the difference between these inqalabis and PPP. When the President fell ill and went to Dubai for his check ups, he ensured his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stayed in Pakistan just to tell the world we haven’t run away. On the other hand, these jokers run away quietly and our media doesn’t even spend time probing the PML-N. Off course, why would they…they are in bed with the Sharifs.

One also has to ask our media, which has been doing discussions on what the President said in his address to the parliament, analyzing and re-analyzing continuously to spend a few minutes and ask these champions of democracy about the language they are using in public.

‘Shahbaz should be put in mental hospital’

The Express Tribune

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif should be put in mental hospital with harnesses and restraints on so he can’t hurt other patients, said Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz on Saturday as he escalated an ugly war of words between the two sides.

Reacting to television footage showing Sharif vowing to drag President Asif Zardari through the streets of Karachi, Lahore and Larkana should the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) win the general elections, Riaz said that he would put Sharif on a leash and drag him by the collar through Lahore’s streets like a pet dog should the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) win the elections, “otherwise my name won’t be Raja Riaz”.

Speaking at a press conference at the assembly cafeteria, Riaz said that chief justice of the Lahore High Court should take notice of the chief minister’s statements about the president.

He said that the president had actually helped Sharif become chief minister, since the PML-N did not have the required strength in the Punjab Assembly.

He said that if the PPP won the next general elections, he would drag Sharif to the house of Ayesha Ahad, who claims to be the former wife of Sharif’s son Hamza Shahbaz, so she could finally get justice. He said he would drag Sharif through the streets and ask the victims of his bad policies to come out of their houses and punish him.

Health woes: Outbreak of measles, the ‘mysterious disease’

The Express Tribune

An outbreak of measles in a remote village of Swat has created panic among locals, who are adamant their children have become victims of a ‘mysterious disease’, despite assurances by doctors.

The outbreak was reported in Sar Sardarey village of Mangalwar union council (UC), from where dozens of children were brought to Saidu Teaching Hospital in neighbouring Mingora.

Durrani,whose five children are being treated for the disease at the teaching hospital, claimed that his children’s condition was critical.

“They keep vomiting and haven’t slept for days. God knows what this disease is and what will become of my children,” he said.

The children’s symptoms include vomiting, high fever, fatigue and red spots and rashes, all of which are symptoms of measles, said Dr Ishaq of Saidu Teaching Hospital.

Rejecting the rumours, he said “The outbreak is of measles and not some mysterious disease”.

In a majority of cases, the children were infected by measles are because immunisation campaigns could not be carried out in the area due to militancy, said Dr Ishaq. The lack of awareness among parents is also causing the disease to spread.

There is no hospital for the entire union council, which has a population of 22,000, the majority of whom live below the poverty line.

Villagers complained that due to lack of medical facilities, they had to walk for over four hours to reach the teaching hospital in Mingora, some 20 kilometres from the union council.

“There is no road and we had to walk for hours in four to five feet of snow to reach the hospital,” said Sabz Ali Khan, who had brought his nephew in for treatment.

Executive District Officer Health Swat rejected the claim that medical facilities were not available in the villages. He said after cases of measles were reported, a number of medical teams equipped with medicines had been sent.

A team of doctors from the World Health Organisation based in Islamabad is going to Swat to collect samples from the infected children to determine the nature of the disease.

ANP, MQM-H to form 'grand alliance' to bring peace to Karachi

To restore peace in Karachi, Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H) and Awami National Party (ANP) has decided to form a grand alliance.

While speaking at a joint press conference in Islamabad on Sunday, MQM-H chief Afaq Ahmed said a delegation of the grand alliance would also meet Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) chief, Altaf Hussain.

Rejecting the notion that Karachi is facing an ethnic conflict, ANP Senator Zahid Khan said different mafias active in the city were behind the deteriorating situation. Adding to the point, ANP leader Shahi Syed said that he has no links with the extortion mafia or the “bori mafia”.

Protest against extortion

On Saturday, traders and transporters in Karachi and other urban centres of Sindh observed a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike in support of the MQM’s protest against ‘rising incidents of extortion in Karachi. Unlike the past, this time around the strike remained largely peaceful.

The business community also warned that extortion cases have once again started spiralling out of control and if the government does not take action, the situation may worsen like last year’s chaos.

India's budget hit by deficit of credibility

India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee pledged to reduce the country's fiscal deficit to 5.1 per cent of gross domestic product in the next fiscal year from 5.9 per cent this year in his budget speech on Friday. Those familiar with India's recent track record on deficits know these are promises often meant to be broken. This year's actual deficit far exceeded the 4.6 per cent the budget targeted a year ago.

These numbers fall short of India's fiscal consolidation targets of 4.2 per cent of GDP in the coming fiscal year and 4.8 per cent of GDP in the current fiscal year. The ratios are also lower than the government's targets in its five-year plan of 4.1 per cent in fiscal 2012-2013 and 4.6 per cent in fiscal 2011-2012.

In the whole exercise of number juggling, it would have been unrealistic to expect the finance minister to set a lower deficit target, given the huge subsidies bill the government shoulders.

The overall spending will be up 18 per cent next year with most of it going to sectors such as education, health care, housing, agriculture and irrigation. None of the above is undesirable. But in the order of priority deficit reduction should have been given precedence lest growth be the first casualty.The Reserve Bank of India left interest rates unchanged at 8.5 per cent for a third meeting on March 15 clearly indicating its uneasiness with the inflation risks. With a high-deficit target and high probability of the actuals exceeding the target, the scope of monetary stimulus to a slowing economy appears distant.

Mukherjee wants the economy to grow at 7.6 per cent. Deficit is inflationary. RBI can't fuel it with low interest rates. Obviously economic growth will take a hit. The budget appears to be caught up in a maze of conflicting priorities. The way out is not easy, but a ‘credible' fiscal consolidation could help.

Kabul's cash is draining, one suitcase at a time

Kabul Wealthy Afghans are carrying about $8 billion (Dh29.3 billion) — almost double the state budget — in suitcases out of the country each year, an amount likely to rise as the exit of foreign troops nears, threatening to ruin the fragile economy, a senior official said.

In an interview with Reuters, deputy central bank governor Khan Afzal Hadawal said confidence in the economy had eroded to such a degree over more than a decade of war that cash was pouring out of Afghanistan in suitcases and carry-on bags, taken to safe havens elsewhere.

Sitting in his office in the run-down Kabul central bank building, Hadawal put little faith in the government's recently imposed $20,000 limit on cash being taken out.

"The measures will not stop the money from going out," he said. "We definitely prefer them to invest inside the country. Everything depends on security. If it doesn't improve, nobody will invest their money where there is no security," he added. US plans to wind down the war make officials like Hadawal nervous. The Americans want to replace large combat formations with advisers, and perhaps special forces, as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw at the end of 2014.

It will then be up to ill-equipped Afghan forces to take control of security.


If they fail, Afghanistan could again face civil war and prolonged instability, making foreign investors and wealthy Afghans even more reluctant to keep any money in what is already one of the world's most turbulent nations.

Asked if 2014 was too soon for foreign combat troops to head home, Hadawal said: "There are a lot of things that need to be done. We still need foreign assistance."

Hadawal estimated that up to $8 billion in cash leaves Afghanistan's airports every year, half of it from Kabul alone.

"The $8 billion being taken out is double the total assets of the [central] bank," said Hadawal.

It is also nearly double the size of last year's national budget.

A US government audit report last year found it was almost impossible to track where much of the billions of dollars spent on security and development projects in the last decade had gone given the country's dysfunctional financial tracking system and poor bank oversight.

Afghans have for years locked their wealth in overseas banks and property.

Afghanistan's economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid and the proceeds from being the world's largest producer of opium.

Heavy toll

In 2009, ahead of the last Afghan election, millions of dollars — much of it of questionable origin — made its way out of the country in suitcases and even on pallets loaded into aircraft, according to police at Kabul's main airport.

The outflows, and an expected sharp drop in foreign aid, the backbone of Afghanistan's budget, could take a heavy toll on the Afghan economy, said Hadawal.

US economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan fell from $4.1 billion in 2010 to $2.5 billion in 2011. US aid will be even lower this year as Washington shifts to sustainability projects, which they say require lower levels of funding.

The eventual withdrawal of foreign forces, whose hard currency trickles into the economy, could also hurt finances.

"At this stage you see we are dependent on foreign aid. If it stops and security does not improve, the economy will not be sustainable," said Hadawal.

"If security remains the same, we can't even put an ATM out in the provinces because we fear that someone will blow it up and take the money."

George Clooney urges end to ‘war crimes’ in Sudan

In an interview with FRANCE 24, film star George Clooney said the Sudanese government was targeting civilian populations near its southern border in a repeat of tactics used in the war in Darfur. US movie star George Clooney and activist John Prendergast have accused the Sudanese government of committing war crimes on civilian populations in the southern Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions.
Speaking to FRANCE 24 from Washington, DC, on Wednesday, the co-founders of the Satellite Sentinel Project warned that the situation was dangerously similar to the genocide in Darfur.
peaking over video images he recently helped capture in the war-torn area, Clooney insisted the violence was not limited to combat between Sudan’s army and insurgent rebels. “We were there as they were firing rockets into villages. These are not military positions. There was no military there. This is a programme designed to get these populations to leave,” Clooney said.

Sudanese security forces and militias loyal to Khartoum have been battling SPLA-N rebels who previously fought alongside fighters of the SPLM party – the group that since January has ruled over the newly independent South Sudan. Clooney and Prendergast said the situation was fast turning into a new Darfur – a conflict that resulted in mass killings, starvation and the displacement of huge swaths of the population.

“All the same factors that existed in Darfur are unfolding today in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile,” Prendergast said. “It’s just a different region with the same issues with the central government, and the same targeting on the base of people’s identity that we saw in Darfur.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Clooney testified before a US Senate committee on what he had seen in southern Sudan. The activist film star is scheduled to speak to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later this week. Clooney, who has previously called attention to violence in the region, said he would urge the leaders to put pressure on China with the goal of ending the violence.

“China is the one that has the investments in Sudan, with 20 billion dollars in oil infrastructure to produce 6 percent of their oil imports,” Clooney argued. “For once in our lives we can go to China and ask them to do something not for humanitarian purposes but actually for their own economic good, and for ours, quite honestly.”

Russia: Poll Finds 44% View Vote as Credible

Fewer than half of Russians believe that the results of the March 4 presidential election are genuine, according to a new survey put out Thursday by state-run polling organization VTsIOM.

The poll asked respondents to what degree the election results could be trusted, and only 44 percent of respondents said the results were credible and "consistent with the will of voters."

Supporters of President-elect Vladimir Putin made up 66 percent of this group, the poll found.

VTsIOM head Valery Fyodorov told Kommersant that the "poll shows a decrease in trust of one concrete institution — elections."

"But as we see, it is not a radical decrease," he said, adding that "it could have been even worse if not for the countermeasures taken by Putin and his team over the course of three months," referring to web cameras and transparent ballot boxes installed at polling places.

Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed thought that the cameras were effective in preventing fraud, and 61 percent said they placed high trust in the effectiveness of citizen observers and organizations like the League of Voters.

Communist Party official Sergei Obukhov told Kommersant that falling confidence confirms that the election was "unfair, unfree and illegitimate."

When asked whether they were aware of violations and where they had learned of them, 34 percent said they had heard of fraud from television, radio or printed media, while 55 percent had not heard of any.

Only 9 percent said they had heard about violations from the Internet, although social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were among the most actively used platforms for sharing information about violations.

The results of the poll contrast with responses from the 2004 and 2008 elections, after each of which 53 percent of poll respondents said they trusted the election results.

HIV/AIDS Experts Speak about New Plan

China's state council has released a new HIV/AIDS action plan, outlining the government's plans to control the spread of the virus.The plan states that the number of people living with HIV should not exceed 1.2 million, up from 780,000.

China's state council released a new HIV/AIDS action plan last month, outlining the governments plans to control the spread of the virus. The plan states that the number of people living with HIV should be not exceed 1.2 million, up from 780,000, according to the report.

To reach these goals, the action plan calls for condoms to be made more widely available, in 95% of hotels and other unspecified public places, and for the rate of condom usage to reach 90% among those most at risk. While condom availability is important, educating people on why to use them remains the biggest challenge, says, Baochang Gu, professor of demography at renmin university:

"Promotion of condom use of course I think is important. Above all these, I think more important, than the promotion of condom use is education."

The plan does call for better education on HIV/AIDS as well, which has historically been a problem. Lack of education about the ways in which one can and cannot become infected has remained a problem among the general population. Helen Ping of the China HIV/AIDS Information Network says that more needs to be done to educate young people.

"Things to attract the young people to know more about HIV/AIDS - not only talking about HIV/AIDS we need to talking about sex, sex education, sexuality, so I think for this sector, the HIV/AIDS part, we need to have very good linkage between the health system and the education system."

In order to control the disease, organizations need to be able to work freely with those in the most danger, like sex workers. The plan calls for a continuation of the country's "strike-hard" campaign, which aims to clamp down on sex work, which may be counter-productive to the aim of controlling the disease.

"There are some conflicts between AIDS prevention and current law. Reducing these laws has been talked about. Carrying condoms is taken as an evidence as illegal sex. There is a big conflict between the police and the ministry of health . there are conflicts between AIDS prevention and many rules in other government department."

Li Chao Lin, the president of the chinese foundation for prevention of std and aids, has also seen this problem.

"But it is a long process of promoting the condoms. At first , the police didn't agree with this - why do you place condoms in the hotels? You are actually encouraging the illegal sex."

Perhaps the most enduring problem is discrimination and stigmatization against people with the disease. Although the country's top leaders have made efforts to combat this, it remains a problem among the general population.

"You know once I was in Australia with a delegation - we were invited to have lunch with HIV people. So I thought that's good, I can meet these people, see what kind of people they are. Then I enjoyed the lunch with them, then after lunch I walk out, I found my fellows all, they didn't have lunch, they just waited outside! So I feel very disappointed. There is a tendency in the HIV/AIDS program in China, I call the bio-medical approach. Too bio-medical. They only look at the issue as a bio-medical issue, rather than a social issue, rather than an educational issue."

If there's one message to be taken away from these professionals in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention, it seems to be to take note of the importance of education and knowledge.

David Cameron enjoys 'fast and furious' basketball game with Barack Obama

Saudi Arabia arms Syrian rebels via Jordan – report

Saudi Arabia has reportedly sent military equipment to the Free Syrian Army in an attempt “to stop bloodshed by President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime” via Jordan, with the latter officially denying the delivery.­Information that the military aid was sent came from an unnamed high-level Arab diplomat speaking to Agence France-Presse.However, the Jordanian government has rejected Saturday reports that it allowed Saudi weapons for Syria to transit its territory. Government spokesman Rakan al-Majali told United Press International that the reports were baseless, according to the Jordan News Agency. Jordan borders Syria in the north, with over 65 per cent of its trade transits coming across that border. Around 80,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since March 2011, according to estimates by local officials.Earlier this week Adnan Hassan Mahmoud, Syria’s Minister of Information, said that some countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which support Syrian "terrorist" groups and provide them with weapons and money, are accomplices in the "terrorism" targeting the Syrian people, and that it is these countries that are responsible for the shedding of Syrian blood.
“We’ve grown accustomed to the bloody escalation of these terrorist groups in committing massacres, murdering citizens and attacking public and private establishments which proceeds international meetings,” Hassan Mahmoud said.
The accusations were reiterated on Syrian state TV following two powerful bomb blasts that killed at least 27 and wounded dozens more in Damascus. Programs showed the injured being taken to hospital, with one victim asking if this was “the assistance promised by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.” “Saudi Arabia is sending us terrorists,” another resident said on TV.Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal claimed earlier this month that the Syrian opposition has the right to arm itself to protect itself. “Weapons used to target homes are used in wars with enemies,” he noted.A number of Arab countries, Quatar and Kuwait among them, have already put forward the intention to deliver arms to the Syrian rebels, but if the arms deliveries via Jordan are confirmed, Saudi Arabia would be the first to put words into actions.On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia and other members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates – closed its embassy in Damascus and recalled all of its diplomats.

Saudi Arabia's Poor Treatment of Christians

According to several Arabic news sources, last Monday, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region." The Grand Mufti made his assertion in response to a question posed by a delegation from Kuwait: a Kuwaiti parliament member recently called for the "removal" of churches (he later "clarified" by saying he merely meant that no churches should be built in Kuwait), and the delegation wanted to confirm Sharia's position on churches. Accordingly, the Grand Mufti "stressed that Kuwait was a part of the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore it is necessary to destroy all churches in it.This report brought back memories of a trip to Saudi Arabia that I took in January 2001, before joining the Bush Administration. I travelled there as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the delegation (which included Cardinal McCarrick) met with government officials and religious authorities. To several, we made the argument that as Saudis claim to value religious faith and practice so deeply, surely they could understand the terrible hardship they were creating for the many Christians who lived in the Kingdom by forbidding them to worship. They can worship at home, came the reply (somewhat disingenuously, for we knew that the religious police often broke up such private religious services). That isn't enough, we argued, especially for Roman Catholics whose religion includes the sacraments that only a priest can administer. And there are roughly a million and a half Catholics, mostly Filipinos, here in Saudi Arabia, we said. Too bad, came the reply; they knew our rules before they came, and the rule is no religion other than Islam in Arabia. No churches. Period.Well, we noted, there are churches in every other country on the Arabian Peninsula: Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. You are the only exception. Are you suggesting that all those churches should be closed? Yes, came the reply. Every one of them.

So the reported statement by the Grand Mufti came as no surprise to me. Nor is it a surprise, considering his interpretation of Islam, that the religious police make it so difficult for Christians even to worship privately, in their homes. In a better world, the UN Human Rights Council would be denouncing these violations of freedom of religion, as would the whole Organization of Islamic Cooperation--given that Saudi Arabia is the only one of its 57 member countries that absolutely bars churches. In the world in which we actually live, denunciations of the Saudis for this are almost non-existent.

To give credit where it is due, the U.S. Government, in the latest International Religious Freedom report issued by the State Department, honestly states that "Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice....The government officially does not permit non-Muslim clergy to enter the country to conduct religious services, although some do so under other auspices and are able to hold services. These entry restrictions make it difficult for non-Muslims to maintain regular contact with clergy. This is particularly problematic for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, whose faiths require that they receive sacraments from a priest on a regular basis."

This is not as frank as some of the earlier Bush Administration human rights reports, which until 2005 stated flatly that "Freedom of religion did not exist" in Saudi Arabia. The Grand Mufti's statement ought to be widely denounced around the world, and won't be--a scandal and a shame.

Syrians condemn Saturday’s terrorist attacks in Damascus

Hundreds of Syrians have gathered in the nation's capital city of Damascus to condemn Saturday’s bomb explosions that killed at least 27 people.

Protesters once again waged a major rally on Sunday to express support for the Syrian government and denounce any foreign intervention in their country.

Two car bombing attacks killed at least 27 people and injured almost 100 others in al-Qasaa and Duwar al-Jamarek areas of Damascus.

The government has blamed the attacks on foreign-backed terrorists.

Government supporters said the bombings were aimed at sabotaging efforts by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been widely blamed for supporting those behind the deadly terrorist attacks. The two US-backed Persian Gulf Arab kingdoms have openly called for supplying Syrian armed groups with weapons.

An unnamed high ranking Arab diplomat said on Saturday that a Syria-bound Saudi Arabian shipment of military equipment is on its way to Jordan.

The diplomat said that Saudi Arabia’s new military shipment is intended for a terrorist group calling itself Free Syrian Army.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011.

Damascus blames "outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups" for the unrest, insisting that it has been orchestrated from abroad.

Obama marks St. Patrick’s Day with pint in a pub

His jacket was only moss green but his pint was true Guinness.

President Barack Obama tilted back a glass of the dark Irish brew Saturday, observing St. Patrick’s Day at a boisterous Irish pub with his ancestral cousin from Moneygall, Ireland, at his side.

At the White House, the main South Lawn Fountain burbled green water. Nearby, workers prepared for a visit Tuesday by the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.The first family was putting on its Irish, a blood line that runs through Obama’s veins.

Obama took his motorcade to the Dubliner Restaurant and Pub on a dazzling Saturday afternoon. He wore no Kelly green but his jacket was pierced with a button that read, “VIP GUEST — Tell `em Danny sent you.’’ The president waded into a crowd — some in leprechaun hats and others in dyed green hair — at the entrance of the tavern near Washington’s landmark Union Station.

He wished one reveler, Adam Joseph, a happy 29th birthday.

Reporters were ushered into the pub briefly, long enough to catch the president taking two sips of his beer. The thick foam stuck to his upper lip in a thin mustache. And he held Dubliner owner Danny Coleman’s 21-month-old grandson, Danny, in his arms.

“Hey, Danny, who’s this?’’ Obama asked, holding out his VIP GUEST button, which bore the child’s image.

One of Obama’s great-great-great grandfathers on his Kansas mother’s side was Falmouth Kearney, a shoemaker who emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1850. Last year, Obama visited his ancestral home of Moneygall, a small hamlet in Ireland, and was a hit when he drank a Guinness at the local pub.

On Saturday, the owner of that pub, Ollie Hayes, and Henry Healy, an eighth cousin to Obama and the closest relative still living in Moneygall, joined him barside at the Dubliner as his guests.

Some in the bar crowd chanted “Four more years!’’

Coleman said the president finished his beer, and predicted that, at least on this day, Obama could count on the support of the millions of Americans who claim Irish ancestry.

On Tuesday, Obama and Vice President Biden will meet Kenny and attend a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the Capitol. Then the president and first lady Michelle Obama will host an evening reception at the White House.

As Obama left the Dubliner amid more shouts and calls of “Go Bulls!’’, the president offered lively patrons a bit of advice often unheeded on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I expect you guys,’’ he said, “to behave yourselves.’’

Obama: Election 'make-or-break moment' for America

Kicking off a five-stop fundraising blitz in his hometown of Chicago on Friday, President Barack Obama contrasted his policies with those of the Republican presidential candidates, declaring to a ballroom of supporters that November's election will mark a "make-or-break moment" for America.

"They have a simple philosophy: We are better off when everybody is left on their own, when everybody writes their own rules," the president said of his GOP opponents without identifying them by name. "They are wrong."

The midday event drew approximately 600 supporters to an upscale Chicago hotel, each of whom paid at least $2,500 to attend. It comes as the president's re-election effort appears to be ramping up its public face amid a Republican nominating contest with no clear end in sight.n Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden was dispatched to Ohio to rally supporters there while the president's campaign released a Hollywood-polished, 17-minute campaign video touting Obama's first three years in office.

The president himself has largely kept his campaign machinations behind closed doors, delivering few overtly re-election-focused speeches while raising most of his campaign cash at private high-dollar events where television cameras are not allowed.

But the Chicago event is one of two large-scale fundraisers open to cameras Friday, the other coming several hours later in Atlanta. Three other events Friday, one in Chicago and two in Atlanta, are closed to the media. In all, the president is expected to raise well north of $5 million before he returns to the White House on Friday night.

During his 25-minute remarks, Obama ticked through the accomplishments his campaign intends to emphasize throughout the coming months, including the bailout of the auto industry, equal pay for women, the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and drawing down the war in Iraq. The president also praised perhaps his most controversial action, the institution of universal health care.

Still, the president appeared to acknowledge that much of the energy that fueled his resounding 2008 victory has not returned at the same level this year.

"Some of you rolled up those Hope posters, and they are in the closet somewhere," he told the polite though not overly energetic crowd. "But I am more determined and more confident that what drove us in 2008 is the right thing for America."

Meanwhile, the president largely steered clear of referencing his GOP opponents directly, save for an offhand mention of the primary to be held in this state Tuesday.

"Apparently, things haven't wrapped up on the other side," Obama said to laughter. "My message to all the candidates is, 'Welcome to the Land of Lincoln.' Because maybe some Lincoln will rub off of them while they are here."

Romney, Santorum divide time in Puerto Rico, Illinois

Obama also appeared to poke fun at the negativity that has characterized the Republican nominating battle of late.

"You might be watching some of the avalanche of attack ads and be thinking this is not appealing to the better angels of our nature, but hope springs eternal," he said.

Gulf Widens Between U.S. and a More Volatile Karzai

The Americans in Afghanistan are “demons.”

They claim they burned Korans by mistake, but really those were “Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies.”

The massacre of 16 Afghan children, women and men by an American soldier “was not the first incident, indeed it was the 100th, the 200th and 500th incident.”

Such harsh talk may sound as if it comes from the Taliban, but those are all remarks either made personally by the United States’ increasingly hostile ally here, President Hamid Karzai, or issued by his office in recent days and weeks.

The strongest such outburst came Friday. “Let’s pray for God to rescue us from these two demons,” Mr. Karzai said, apparently holding back tears at a meeting with relatives of the massacre victims, and clearly referring to the United States and the Taliban in the same breath. “There are two demons in our country now.”

Ever since the Koran-burning episode on Feb. 20 and its violent aftermath, the relationship between the two governments has lurched from one crisis to another. American officials have scrambled to run damage control, with President Obama expressing a personal apology for the Koran burning, as well as regrets about the massacre, while calling Mr. Karzai twice in the past week.

The White House went to lengths last week to depict Mr. Karzai’s call for Americans to hand over control a year earlier, by 2013, as no change in policy — only to have Mr. Karzai pointedly insist the next day that it was. The Americans fret that Mr. Karzai is making a difficult job almost impossible, with demands they often see as unreasonable; Mr. Karzai worries that the Americans seek to undermine him, and may yet abandon his country and him, once again, to their fate.

The Koran burnings brought these differences into sharp relief, and led to a rupture in trust some view as irreparable. After an American unit at Bagram Air Base inadvertently burned Korans, embassy officials were deeply worried about an investigation conducted by the country’s Ulema Council, its highest religious body.

The council’s pronouncements, however, are closely controlled by Mr. Karzai’s office — they are even issued by the presidential palace — and American officials were assured by senior members on the president’s staff that the council’s report would be tough but not incendiary.

“We were ready to get knocked a bit,” said an American official who asked not to be identified to preserve his relationship with Afghan officials. “We messed up pretty badly.”

The original draft, in fact, was relatively moderate, American and Afghan officials said. But at the last minute more hard-line elements of Mr. Karzai’s staff weighed in, and the joint statement finally issued by the Ulema Council and the palace used language like “Satanic act” and “unforgivable, wild and inhuman” about the book burnings, and “justifiable emotion” in regard to the violent reaction, which claimed the lives of at least 29 Afghans and 6 Americans.

Western diplomats have often viewed Mr. Karzai’s outbursts as playing to the galleries, meant for consumption by his own people only, not as serious statements of policy. But the galleries also include the public in the United States and its NATO allies, where majorities in nearly every country oppose remaining in Afghanistan, and every new contretemps risks further eroding an already tenuous support.

“I think this is very serious because Mr. Karzai has always had a very ambivalent attitude toward the West and toward the war — he has never really believed violence is the answer,” said Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador to Afghanistan from 2007 through 2009. “He is also very conscious and very resentful that his political survival and even perhaps his personal safety depend on the Americans.”

The current American ambassador, the veteran diplomat Ryan C. Crocker, was brought out of semiretirement by President Obama last July at least in part because he had known Mr. Karzai since the beginning: Mr. Crocker was the first envoy to Afghanistan after the invasion that defeated the Taliban, when Mr. Karzai was appointed interim leader here.

Like many of his predecessors, Mr. Crocker began his latest tour on an optimistic note. “President Karzai has the toughest job in the world, and he has been doing it for the last 10 years,” Mr. Crocker said early on, and has repeated often since. “You have to give him credit.”

While the two men still have a working relationship and meet often, according to aides to both, there are many signs that the warmth has gone out of that relationship once again.

Mr. Crocker insisted in an interview with PBS on Friday that this was not the case.

“I think he is a committed Afghan nationalist, that at the end of the day he seeks the same goals we do,” the ambassador said. “And sometimes the rhetoric gets a little heated. Sometimes my rhetoric has been known to get a little bit heated in a few of these meetings, and then I go sit under a tree and think about the larger equities at stake, and we move on.”

From Mr. Karzai’s point of view, the Americans have repeatedly defied his demands to end commando night raids, and one civilian casualty after another has put him in the position of either criticizing the Americans and angering them, or not criticizing them and angering Afghans.

“In any relationship there are things that one party does that the other party doesn’t particularly care for, and that goes both ways,” said James Cunningham, the deputy ambassador to Afghanistan. “The question is not just whether President Karzai is a partner; we’re discussing and putting into place a partnership that is going to look forward a decade or so, and that’s a partnership with Afghanistan and its leaders, whoever they are.”

The relationship is so frayed, however, that Mr. Karzai often is quick to view everything through the prism of presumed American perfidy.

When American diplomats meet with his political opponents, he sees it as a sign that they are out to topple him from power — something that has reportedly obsessed him ever since the presidential election in 2009, which the international community saw as widely fraudulent. American officials pressured him into agreeing to a runoff, which in the end his opponents refused.

“We don’t have to be here running Afghanistan, and that is what people are afraid of,” Mr. Cunningham said. “We are not running Afghanistan, we are easing our way out, and I think that’s what feeds this whole dynamic. The notion that somehow we hold the upper hand, that’s not the right way to look at what we are trying to arrange. We are really, actually trying to arrange a partnership in which Afghans run their affairs,” he said.

The Taliban routinely deride Mr. Karzai as nothing more than an American puppet, but that is certainly not the view of his purported puppet masters. “Never in history has any superpower spent so much money, sent so many troops to a country, and had so little influence over what its president says and does,” one European diplomat marveled.

Americans have, however, wielded influence on many occasions, and President Karzai is still smarting from many of them. When an aide to Mr. Karzai was arrested by an American-backed corruption task force, the president intervened to secure his release, and then eviscerated the anticorruption body, the Major Crimes Task Force. But from Mr. Karzai’s point of view, the Americans never gave him the courtesy of warning that they planned to arrest a top official.

Bette Dam, a Dutch author who interviewed Mr. Karzai extensively for her book, “Expedition Uruzgan: Hamid Karzai’s Journey Into the Palace,” says that what the Americans saw as corruption, Mr. Karzai and his family saw as simply patronage. Because the government was weak, with the Americans providing all the muscle, patronage was the only thing Mr. Karzai had to maintain his power base.

“Then you have President Obama, who says we have to do it differently. But the only thing that changed was Obama criticizing Karzai, making his government transparent, setting up task forces openly attacking his corruption,” she said. “It was not likely something would change; Karzai’s patronage system that was built up was too strong, and he himself too proud.”

The inquiry over the apparent embezzlement of nearly a billion dollars from Kabul Bank, which implicated Mr. Karzai’s brother and the brother of his first vice president, was deeply embarrassing, and he blamed American officials for leaking it to the press — and then using the threat of aid cuts to force him to dismember the bank.

From the point of view of the United States and its Western allies, they have only been trying to push Mr. Karzai to do the right thing. The Kabul Bank swindle was so notorious that it risked chasing away foreign aid donors.

From either perspective, it is a less-than-ideal situation — but the Americans have no alternative to Mr. Karzai, and Mr. Karzai has no alternative to the American-led coalition supporting him.

“The Americans are prepared to walk away,” said a senior Western official in Kabul. “And you’ve got an Afghan political establishment that is heavily dependent on the international presence. It’s a dynamic that is very unfortunate.”

“Karzai wants revenge on the U.S. because of the systematic insults he has suffered, that he feels his family suffered, because of Kabul Bank,” said a former Afghan government official. “The culture in the U.S. is about policy, it is about mutually rational interests. Revenge is at times more important in this part of the world, more important than any political or economic interest.”

Dozens arrested at Occupy's 6-month anniversary rally

Police arrested dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters on Saturday night during a protest marking the movement's six-month anniversary at its birthplace in New York's Zuccotti Park.

The sweep of the park by police just before midnight capped a day of demonstrations and marching in lower Manhattan. There was no official word on the number of arrests but dozens of people were handcuffed and led out of the park.

Earlier in the day, 15 people were arrested and three officers suffered injuries, police said.

Protesters reconvened at the park following afternoon marches through New York's financial district. By 11 p.m. roughly 300 had gathered there.

"This is our spring offensive," said Michael Premo, 30, of New York, who identified himself as a spokesman for the movement. "People think the Occupy movement has gone away. It's important for people to see we're back."

Inspired by the pro-democracy Arab Spring, the Wall Street protesters targeted U.S. financial policies they blamed for the yawning income gap between rich and poor in the country, between what they called the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The demonstrators set up camp in Zuccotti Park on September 17 and sparked a wave of protests across the United States.

On Saturday evening, several dozen police ringed the park and watched the crowd. Detective Brian Sessa said no action would be taken as long as the activists made no move to establish a camp.

Shortly after 11:30 p.m., some protesters began to erect tents near the center of the park and police began to move in, according to protester Cari Machet.

"They came in to shut it down," Machet said. "They told us we had to leave because the park was closed."

When about 100 officers entered the park, dozens of protesters sat on the ground and refused orders to leave. They were then carried out in plastic handcuffs and put in police buses and vans.

The park was cleared within 20 minutes, and by midnight no protesters remained in its boundaries.


Events got under way near midday on Saturday, with street theater troupes performing and guitar players leading sing-alongs. Some boisterous protesters marched through the streets of the financial district, chanting "bankers are gangsters" and cursing at police.

As they have in past marches, protesters led police on a series of cat-and-mouse chases. Marchers at the front of the crowd would suddenly turn down narrow side streets, startling tourists and forcing police to send officers on motor scooters to contain the crowd.

The movement has made headlines for its clashes with police after campsites were set up for months in cities from New York to California. The camps were eventually shut down by authorities citing zoning regulations and public health concerns.

In New York, the Occupy movement lost significant momentum in November when a pre-dawn sweep broke up the encampment at Zuccotti, although Occupy protests in Oakland, California, in January led to police firing tear gas into crowds of protesters and more than 200 were arrested.

Protester Paul Sylvester, 24, of Massachusetts said he was "thrilled" to be back at the park but said he hoped the movement would begin to crystallize around specific goals.

"We need to be more concrete and specific," he said. Critics say the Occupy movement lacks direction and clear demands.

It continues to draw celebrities, however. On Saturday night, independent filmmaker Michael Moore strode through the park before the police incursion.

"I think it's great that this movement continues to grow," Moore said. "I think the goals are clear. People are concerned that they have no control over their own democracy. They have no control over their own lives.

"This is the beginning. This park is sacred ground for millions across the country."

‘Waseele-e-Taleem to be launched by April’

Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) Chairperson Farzana Raja said that BISP will launch Waseele-e-Taleem programme by April.
Talking to PTV, she said that Waseela-e-Taleem progamme will enroll one million children in schools of under privileged families to eradicate poverty from the country.
She said around one million children would be registered in the schools for free education in the first phase. However, the programme has planned to enroll 10 million children. Farzana said that six million beneficiary families had been included in the programme, however, the number will reach up to seven million after completion of survey in Fata.
To a question, she said that BISP had provided the facility of life insurance to its 2.5 million beneficiary families.
The BISP chairperson said the pilot project under health insurance scheme being launched in district Faisalabad would benefit 75,000 beneficiary families. She said BISP had also started vocational and technical training to female beneficiary under Waseela-e-Rozgar programme and as many as 150,000 beneficiaries will be given technical training to produce skilled manpower for the country every year which will enable these families to become self-reliant. She maintained that the vocational courses of one month, six months and one-year duration had been announced both for men and women, however, each trainee be given a stipend of Rs 6,000 every month.
She said that the steps were taken to ensure more efficient and accurate beneficiaries’ targeting system so that the most deserving can be benefited from the programme.
Commuters facing transport shortage on Sihala-Raja Bazar route: Commuters are facing acute shortage of public transport service on Sihala-Raja Bazar route as they have no option to travel other than the Suzuki van.
Thousands of people daily travel on this route which starts from Raja Bazar, Rawalpindi and culminate at Sihala Bazar – a rural area of the federal capital. People especially students, government employees and factory workers talking to APP said that Suzuki van service is extremely insufficient to cater to the needs of the area.
They have demanded of the concerned authorities for plying of Toyota Hiace van and bus service between Sihala and Raja Bazar route to create an atmosphere of healthy competition among transporters and provide a respectable journey to commuters.
“Women are among the worst sufferers as there is no proper seating arrangements for them in Suzuki vans, which has the sitting capacity of 12 persons,” said Rehmat Ali - a resident of the area. Another resident, Muhammad Sultan said earlier the Varan bus service was launched at the route but it was not allowed to operate by owners of Suzuki vans. “They (owners) have made their monopoly and do not allow any other service to operate at this route by force,” he added.
He recalled that when the bus service was initiated, Suzuki owners had blocked the Grand Trunk road near Swan bridge besides damaging three buses of the Varan company.

Faith & fear silence Pakistan's singers

Until a few months ago, Pakistani singer and composer Shiraz Uppal's caller tune was the song "Rabba" from the Pooja Bhatt film Dhokha (2007). Now, one hears a prayer. Earlier this month, the Lahore-based musician announced that he would not be making music anymore as his religion forbids music.

After over a decade in the industry, Uppal has cut himself off entirely, even giving away all his instruments and recording equipment, save a guitar which was a gift from his late father. "He gave it to me in 1995. I've kept it as a memory of him," says Uppal.

Uppal's decision seems to fall into a pattern in Pakistan. In recent years, various singers and musicians have renounced their careers, either for personal reasons or in the face of threats from militant groups. UAE-based Pashtun singer Nazia Iqbal announced her retirement from music at a concert this January, reportedly to live as a "devoted Muslim woman". She also announced her plans to open madrassas in Pakistan.

Ali Haider of "Purani Jeans" fame made the transition from pop to devotional songs and qawwalis in 2009. In fact, as early as 2001, Junaid Jamshed, a sensation in Pakistan in the late 80s and early 90s and known to his fans as JJ, too gave up his musical career for religious reasons. Now, he only sings religious naats and has taken to preaching.

There are other artistes who have been killed. A significant Taliban presence in north-west Pakistan has ensured a strong clampdown on music and musicians. Guns have been in constant battle with guitars. Singer and dancer Shabana from Swat was killed in January 2009, followed by Peshawar-based Ayman Udas who was murdered the same year, in what was said to be an honour killing. Pakistani newspapers suggest that singers Gulzar Alam and Gulrez Tabassum, known for their Pashto songs, too quit after threats from militants.

Uppal, however, clarifies his musical exile isn't forced. "I am only doing this to make my Creator happy. For the past seven years, I had been having dreams about our Prophet. I took up reading the Quran Sharif and the Hadith seriously. It says that music is forbidden. So I decided to give it up. Music is not my destiny," says Uppal, who considers A R Rahman his guru in music.

He has worked with Rahman for a song in an upcoming film, Boys. His opinion of Rahman and others in the music fraternity, he says, remains unchanged. "As far as music is concerned Rahman has been and always will be an inspiration. But in matters of religion, the only person to look up to is the Prophet," he says. For now, he plans to put his MBA degree to use and possibly take up trading as a profession.

Many others don't have a choice, though. Besides threats to singers, other artistes and those in the music business have suffered too. More than 20 stores selling music CDs were attacked by militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and North Waziristan in November last year. In November 2008, The Lahore International Arts Festival was bombed. In 2007, Shoaib Mansoor's critically acclaimed film Khuda Kay Liye was issued a fatwa. The film, among other things, features a young musician giving up his career after coming in contact with a radical cleric.

Singer Zeek Afridi, who lives in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, has in the past received phone calls asking him to stop music production. Though he has continued, several others haven't. "Haroon Bacha who sang Pashto songs left for the US after he was threatened. The overall atmosphere for business in general has suffered. If the government makes a platform for these artistes, things can get better," says Afridi, who recently visited India to shoot a music video.

Singer Ali Hamza of the band Noori, is careful when he broaches the subject. He says that retirement decisions of singers like Uppal are not in the least discouraging. "It only motivates us to work harder. Pakistan has had a tradition of sufi singers and ghazal singers. There was serious censorship on music during the Zia era. But in the urban areas the mindset is changing. The music scene is growing. There is a promotion of underground artists with shows like Youth Records, and they are getting better by the day," he says.

Salman Rushdie compares Imran Khan to Qaddafi

Two months after he was forced to skip a literary fest in Jaipur, controversial writer Salman Rushdie

tonight attended a function here amid tight security. The controversial author of 'The Satanic Verses', which was banned in India owing to protest from a section of Muslims, attended the 'India Today Conclave' at Taj Palace attended by a select group of invitees. The author at the Conclave, slammed Pakistan's cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, who skipped the function because of Mr Rushdie's participation.

This is what Mr Rushdie said:

* Imran was told well in advance I was coming. Imran is a man of the old school. Maybe he doesn't know how email works. This man wants to be the ruler of Pakistan.

* If you want to placate mullahs, don't leave a paper trail. Imran said I caused immeasurable hurt to Muslims. In real world, immeasurable hurt is caused by terrorists based in Pakistan who attack countries like India. Imran wants us to talk to lashkar.

* Imran is now scared of facing my bouncers.

* Two months ago on Indian TV I promised I would be here. I have to thank Imran Khan. I was going to speak at a less important session. I thank him for this promotion and for vacating this spot.

* Here he is trying to placate mullah and placate Army while presenting himself as the acceptable face of Pakistan.

* We don't need to give Imran Khan more publicity, which he needs.

* Have you noticed the physical resemblance between Imran and Gaddafi? Could cast Imran as a slightly better-looking Gaddafi.

* On whether he feels threatened by Imran Khan: More scared of the ex-girlfriends I've had than Imran Khan.

* In our time, essential freedoms are in danger of society. In India also, not just egalitarian states. Public apathy is also damaging. Ideally, a writer should not be the subject. Should be the observer, not observed.

* I would place a substantial bet that he has not read it (Satanic Verses). When Imran was a playboy in London, he was called Im the dim.

* Imran may have been born again. He will have to be judged by this (the new Imran). Those of us who knew the young Imran don't remember him like this.

* On the Congress- Years and years of kneeling down before every mullah did not work. It must feel sick.

* I am not very fond of..let me not mention Chetan Bhagat..and yet I believe he has the right to publish..and live (Mr Bhagat is in the audience).

* On Uttar Pradesh: Votebank politics going on again. Congress did this to no avail. Indian electorate is smarter than politicians and can see through them. 95 percent of the Muslims in India are not interested in the violence being done in their name.

* On politicians like Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Pranab Mukherjee boycotting the Conclave (as mentioned by Aatish Taseer, who is moderating the Conclave): I am impressed with my effect. Really, they're that scared of me?

* In the old days, we called this cowardice.

* On Omar and Akhilesh: Sad that leaders supposed to be the next generation are behaving in old-fashioned way. I hope they will grow up.

* I am not saying that I should be the only one to speak...only that I should also have the right to speak.

Read more at:

Obama, Karzai Discuss Withdrawal of Nato From Villages

US President Barack Obama telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday after Karzai demanded foreign forces leave remote military outposts to the Afghan forces.

While there was no official word as to whether the request would be met, a White House statement after the phonecall said the two leaders were in agreement that Afghanistan needed to take responsibility for its own security.

"The President's plan envisions an end to this war, and not just the hope for an end but the concrete measures that need to be taken to withdraw US forces, to transfer security lead over to Afghan forces, to give control of the country to Afghan forces so that our men and women can come home," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday after Obama's phonecall with Karzai.

"The two men very much share the goal of Afghanistan being able to be responsible for its own security, for Afghan forces to be able to do that and have the capacity to do that, and for mission to be successful, which is to further erode and ultimately defeat al-Qaeda and allow Afghanistan to be stable enough so that it will not become a haven for al-Qaeda in the future," Carney said.

Karzai said Thursday that the Nato-led mission needed to pull back its troops to the larger bases and leave the village areas, an apparent reaction to Sunday's shooting of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier in the remote district of Kandahar's Panjwai district.

"We emphasise we are ready to take over all security responsibilities for the country," Karzai said Thursday in a meeting with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

Obama had made a statement after his meeting with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday that the transition timetable for Afghan forces to take security responsibility would be brought forward to 2013 and the Nato-led mission would move into a mentor role, as opposed to a combat role.

Carney said the pace and scope of this transition would be determined based on ground realities.

"That's part of an overall strategy. But those kinds of on-the-ground decisions will be made within the framework of the overall strategy, but more at a ground level," he said.

Multi-ethnic Afghan govt stressed

Former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand on Saturday said that the positive role of regional countries and a multi-ethnic democratic government was the key to ending conflict and bringing about peace in Afghanistan.Addressing a workshop titled “Peace and conflict resolution in the 21st century” held under the aegis of the Staff Training Institute of the University of Peshawar, he said the presence of the coalition forces was the biggest cause of conflict in Afghanistan and until their withdrawal peace would remain an elusive dream.
The chief guest at the closing ceremony was Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Dr Naeemur Rehman Khattak while Registrar, University of Peshawar, Dr Syed Fazl Hadi, Director Staff Training Institute Dr Johar Ali and others were present on the occasion.“The US and its allies have spent 57 billion dollars on the socioeconomic development in Afghanistan but little can be seen on the ground,” he said.
He said the unemployment stood at 35 per cent while intense insurgency prevailed in 24 provinces affecting almost 70 per cent of the population in Afghanistan.
The former ambassador said the US arrogance and hegemonic policies had made life miserable for ordinary Afghans. “America lost 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam and 1,900 in Afghanistan, but it has not learnt from its past experience. It seems unlikely that the US will withdraw from Afghanistan even in the coming 10 years,” Rustam Shah Mohmand said.

Pashto is a language as well as culture


The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Culture and Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain has said that the culture department in collaboration with Pashto Adabi Chaman Thall was arranging a 2-day 2nd World Pashto Literary Convention on 6th and 7th April, 2012 in Nishtar Hall Peshawar which would be largely participated by the Pashto scholars and intellectuals from the entire world.
He said this while chairing a meeting regarding the 2nd World Pashto Literary Convention at Peshawar the other day. The meeting besides Secretary Culture, Azmat Hanif Orakzai and Director Culture Pervez Khan Sabat Khel was also attended by the renowned Pashto scholars Dr. Raj Wali Khan Khattak, Prof. Abasin Yousafzai and Prof. Naseer Mangal. Mian Iftikhar has said that Pashto was an ancient language having a history of more than five thousand years. He added that Pashto was not only a language but a civilization as well as ethical philosophy.
He said that as Pakhtuns, we were proud of our language and culture because it was our identity and power.
The Culture Minister continued that presently Pakhtuns were passing through a critical situation, adding that they were in the grip of international terrorism for the last 30 years in which up till now millions of Pakhtuns became its prey. He furthered, despite great sacrifices, the Pakhtuns were still fighting the war of their survival.
The Minister maintained, no doubt during the last three decades, the Pakhtuns had suffered irreparable losses in the war on terror but the Pashto language made a remarkable progress. Due to the importance of this region, Pashto language become need of the world and now various Pashto TV and Radio Channel were on the ground, he furthered. He said that the said literary convention was meant for the promotion of Pashto language and literature and spreading of knowledge side by side inculcation a spirit of go ahead.

Another feather in PPP’s cap


The lawmakers from the treasury benches on Saturday called the presidential address a landmark achievement, which they believed would strengthen democratic process in the country.

Awami National Party (ANP) President Asfandyar Wali Khan said President Asif Zardari’s speech was reflective of a joint vision of the coalition partners.

“We welcome this speech. However, it is disturbing that those who have been criticising the president throughout the entire year could not even listen to him,” he added.

Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim said President Zardari’s fifth address to the joint parliamentary session would help strengthen the democratic process in the country. He said the problems faced by the government were grave, adding that the next government would resolve them.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majid termed the speech a ‘national address’ and said this would strengthen the democratic process in the country. Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker Dr Farooq Sattar said the country’s prosperity lies in a strong democratic system and the president’s fifth address would further strengthen the system.

Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leader Faisal Saleh Hayat said the president had given a roadmap to the government. He said the president had become the first elected president to address parliament five times. ANP lawmaker Bushra Gohar said the president should be congratulated for addressing parliament for the fifth consecutive year.

President Zardari : Now parliament is in the driving seat: president

Recounting the achievements of the government, President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday showered praise on the embattled Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, lauding his political sagacity for skilfully managing the crises confronting the ruling coalition over the last four years.

“Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani deserves our unqualified appreciation for his political wisdom in handling various challenges with courage and perseverance,” Zardari said amidst bench-thumping by the treasury members, while acknowledging Gilani’s loyalty to him and the Pakistan People’s Party (PP) for refusing to write a letter to Swiss authorities, and accepting to go to jail for contempt of court.
Spelling out his vision about the country’s foreign policy, Zardari said the parliamentary oversight and democratic accountability was a new and important facet of Pakistan’s foreign policy, and the government was committed to maintain its bilateral relations with all countries on the principles of mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality. “We fully support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process in Afghanistan… Important steps have been taken to open up trade between India and Pakistan. But we must also address difficult issues including that of Jammu and Kashmir dispute ... Pakistan and China have a unique relationship which is deeply rooted and mutually beneficial. My eight visits to China are a manifestation of taking this relationship to new heights,” he said.

The president said that relations with the United States were multi-dimensional and important. Terming 2011 as a challenging year, he said that Pakistan sought meaningful engagement with the US on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect.
“We are looking forward to your recommendations for re-engaging with the United States,” the president addressed the parliamentarians. However, the president skipped any special reference to relations with Saudi Arabia, saying Pakistan enjoyed close and fraternal relations with all brotherly Islamic countries. About the economic sector, Zardari said his government had inherited an ailing economy and that external shocks due to global recession had created a huge fiscal imbalance. “Over the last four years, the elected government took difficult decisions to get out of a threatening situation, maintain economic stability and bring prosperity to our citizens. We gave relief to our vulnerable segments. We have shown great discipline to reduce government expenditures. We have mobilised domestic tax revenues to lessen our dependence on others and to give better services and projects to our people,” he added. Giving an overview on the government’s achievements on democracy, the president said the world could see that “the march of democracy goes on in Pakistan”. “That our institutions are working. Together we are creating history. While a lot more needs to be done, a strong beginning has been made. We Pakistanis can be proud of our young democracy,” he added.
Referring to the next general elections, President Zardari said the government had moved further to make democracy more transparent and to ensure that the elections were free and fair. He said the 20th Amendment ensures the independence of the Election Commission and the selection of an impartial caretaker government through a process of consultation in the parliament. “We are starting a new parliamentary year. During this period, we will see free and fair elections,” he added.
Referring to the situation in Balochistan, the president said the government had taken special measures to develop the province, end its sense of deprivation and bring it at par with other provinces. Zardari said he had apologised to the people of Balochistan for the wrongs done to them in the past, and the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan project was being implemented to mitigate feelings of being left out. “But we recognise that much more needs to be done to heal the wounds of the past, and we are willing to go an extra mile to engage in dialogue with our Baloch brothers,” he said.