Monday, March 19, 2012

Michelle Obama to Letterman: ‘This isn’t ‘Oprah’! Where are the laughs?’

Michelle Obama made her first appearance on the "Late Show With David Letterman" on Monday. And during a discussion about the importance of family, the first lady told Letterman about her father.

"My father had multiple sclerosis," she said. "I never knew him to be able to walk, but my dad worked so hard and he loved us so much, and I think from him I learned just absolute, complete unconditional love, the notion that kids really don't need anything but to know that their parents adore them."

She continued: "We had rules, we had boundaries, but there wasn't anything my dad wouldn't do for us, and, uh--don't make me cry. This isn't 'Oprah'! It's supposed to be 'Letterman.' What's up? Where are the laughs?"

"Did somebody tell you this was 'Oprah'?" Letterman joked. "Is that why you're here? Oh my, someone misled the first lady."

Earlier in the show, Letterman tried to wrangle some presidential gossip out of her, but the first lady did not take the bait.

"Hypothetically speaking, at the end of the day, has your husband ever come home and said to you, 'Oh, that John Boehner, what an idiot'?" Letterman asked.

"It has never happened, never, never," she replied. "He is always upbeat, particularly about Congress."

While it was her first "Late Show" appearance, the first lady is no stranger to late-night talk shows. In January, Michelle appeared on "The Tonight Show," telling Jay Leno that the president likes to sing to her at home in the White House.

"He does have a beautiful voice, and he sings to me all the time," Mrs. Obama told Leno. "He doesn't hesitate to show off his lungs to his wife."

Saudi ban on women in sports is shocking

Spring's here, but it's hard to be hopeful when another International Women's Day has been ushered in among the challenges that women continue to face.

But what really riled me last week was an article tucked into the sports section. Apparently there are subversive elements among Saudi womanhood - the "shameless girls" who, as intrepid members of the Jeddah United women's basketball team, just want to dribble down the court and shoot hoops.

I read this shocking item after a long day at work during which I repeated the unglamorous preventive health drill that we can all recite in our sleep: coaxing, cajoling and counselling recalcitrant couch potatoes to heave their sluggish bodies into the vertical position to walk, run or bike. Whatever it takes for their sclerotic arteries to reverse the inexorable slide towards a heart attack or stroke is fine with me.

Waiting for my daughter at the pool, I was struck by the sage advice from the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars who justified the ban on sports for women because "it will lead to following in the footsteps of the devil." To prevent such moral decline, there are no gym facilities for girls at Saudi state schools, nor is teaching physical education permissible.

The real clincher comes from a cleric who refuses to be coy. He explains that the excessive "movement and jumping" that characterizes vigorous sport might cause hymenal tears and compromise girl's virginity. Ah, there we have it. The steadfast quest to control women's bodies.

Recall the dearth of women in sport across history. The ancient Olympics must have been a stirring spectacle but women were absent - classical Greeks even reserved citizenship for men.

Women have been kept off playing fields forever because of notions of female frailty. The rough and tumble of the physical realm is simply inconsistent with womanly dignity. Finally, the idea of women moving for the simple joy of sport - the exhilaration of diving into a blue jewel of a lake on a July day, the sublime agony of reaching the pinnacle of a mountain, surrounded by the majesty of silent peaks - the experiences which make the heart dance and the spirit soar - these moments are merely hammer blows eroding the mystique of female purity.


These baseless arguments are simply code for control. Let common sense prevail over common nonsense. Exercise is a cure for just about anything that ails the human body or spirit. Until its benefits can be transformed into pill form, I'll keep proselytizing for physical activity.

Here's to Jeddah United - keep your hoop dreams. To sorrowful sheiks everywhere, my daughter passed her exam - she's officially a lifeguard.

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Thousands of Bahrainis attend funeral of anti-regime protester

Press TV

Thousands of Bahrainis have attended the funeral procession of an anti-government protester killed by Saudi-backed regime forces near the capital, Manama.

Bahraini demonstrators also chanted slogans against the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty and Saudi Arabia on Monday as they mourned for 27-year old Sabri Mahfud, who died one day earlier due to inhalation of tear gas fired by regime forces on protesters north of Manama.

Mahfud died a day after another Bahraini, 41-year-old Ja’far Jassim Radhi, also died after inhaling tear gas in the village of al-Muqsha. Witnesses say regime forces attacked Radhi's funeral, which was held on Sunday, after mourners chanted anti-government slogans and condemned violence used by security forces to disperse demonstrations.

Bahraini troops heavily rely on tear gas and stun grenades to disperse peaceful anti-government protesters. Several Bahraini civilians, mostly senior citizens and kids, have also died from asphyxia after regime troops fired tear gas in residential areas and into homes in violation of international standards that Bahrain is a signatory to.

Amnesty International has warned about the Bahraini government's misuse of tear gas against anti-regime protesters and has called for an investigation into the tear gas-related deaths.

Bahrainis have been staging demonstrations since mid-February 2011, demanding political reform and a constitutional monarchy, a demand that later changed to an outright call for the ouster of the ruling Al Khalifa family following its brutal crackdown on popular protests.

Scores of people have also been killed and many others have been injured in the Saudi-backed crackdown on peaceful protesters in Bahrain.

Pakistan : More schools destroyed


WITH military claims that the battle against extremists in the northwest is meeting with success, certain optimistic circles think that militancy is being brought under control. This false sense of security should give way to a realistic view. The militants are very much present as evidenced in the coordinated attacks on schools at five different locations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Friday and Saturday. Explosive devices were set off at three boys’ schools in Dhoda and Zer Janu villages in Lakki Marwat district and in the Babozai area of Katlang tehsil in Mardan district; a government high school was destroyed in Khaddi village in Swabi district; and a primary school was blown up in the Kotangi Marchoongi area of Kohat district. While police have started investigation, the reality is that the extremists have been targeting educational institutions since the beginning of their campaign many years ago, and continue to do so.

The coordinated nature of the bombings demonstrates that despite security operations, the militant network remains strong. With the scope of their target increasing to include boys’ schools, the militants have proved that it is not merely girls’ education that they oppose, as some members of these outfits have claimed, but education — and development — in general. These attacks should constitute an urgent and renewed reminder to the administration that the threat posed by the militants is far from over. The military operations may have succeeded in clearing out certain pockets, but much more is needed to neutralise the whole network of militants. Meanwhile, the ANP-led administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa must buttress the military’s efforts with an efficient civilian security apparatus. Attacks on ‘soft’ targets such as educational institutions are often opportunistic crimes (even though they fit into the militants’ overall strategy of terror and retrogression), which civilian forces such as the police with their knowledge of the area are better positioned to control. The only long-term solution lies in an effective civilian security network stepping in after the withdrawal of the military. Bringing a battle-hit area and populace back to normalcy is a complex and multifaceted task, but it must be undertaken urgently.

Afghan killings fallout could see troop return within weeks:Retired general

As the attorney for an Army soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians prepared to meet his client for the first time Monday, a retired U.S. general suggested the fallout from the massacre could see American troops begin to return home from Afghanistan within weeks.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales stands accused of a shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, allegations that have significantly heightened already tense U.S.-Afghan relations and intensified a debate about whether to pull American troops ahead of 2014 planned withdrawal.

Following the March 11 shootings in two neighboring villages just outside a U.S. outpost in the Panjwai district, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded troops withdraw from villages and return to their bases. He said relations between the two countries were "at the end of their rope."

If U.S. troops are not allowed to return to the villages and resume their mission, "the United States mission is changed," retired Maj. Gen. James A. "Spider" Marks, a former commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, told CNN's Don Lemon on Sunday."Our commanders on the ground will determine that probably within about another week. Within a couple of weeks, it would not be unusual if there has not been a change in our posture inside those bases, that you can see forces coming back. It's not inconceivable that that could happen."

Karzai is pressing for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces by 2013, a year ahead of an agreed upon plan.

President Barack Obama has made clear he intends to stick to the timetable set by NATO, though he is facing a growing demand inside and outside the United States to bring troops home early.

Afghans are demanding that the suspect in the shootings be returned to face trial in the country where the crime allegedly occurred, even as villagers and lawmakers question the U.S. military's account of what happened.

U.S. officials have said that Bales left his outpost and single-handedly carried out the killings in the villages that left nine children, three women and four men dead.

One villager, Ali Ahmed, told CNN there were multiple attackers, who had come into a home before dawn, asking his uncle where the Taliban were and shot him dead. Another villager, a boy, claimed it was just one person.

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States insisted that his nation trusts the U.S. investigation into the rampage. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised Karzai a full investigation and said the United States will bring the shooter to justice.

Bales is currently being held at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the military is preparing charges.

"You couldn't imagine a more difficult case, I don't think," John Henry Browne, Bales' civilian attorney, told reporters shortly after arriving Sunday at the Kansas City, Missouri, airport.

"This case has political ramifications. It has legal ramifications. It has social ramifications."

Accounts from the military, Bales' family, friends and neighbors paint a portrait of a man who bore scars from wounds he received during previous combat tours to Iraq but remained passionately committed to service to his country, deploying to Afghanistan in January.Bales suffered a traumatic brain injury during a roadside bomb explosion and lost part of his foot in separate tours in Iraq, his attorney has said.

In between deployments, he settled down with his wife and their two young children near Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Washington.

Family friends who knew Bales growing up in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, Ohio, couldn't reconcile the allegations against the man they described as "quiet" and "very nice."

But the accounts also show a man facing enormous financial pressure, being forced to put his Lake Tapps home on the market last week while another property was foreclosed.

The family owned a townhouse in a modest, middle-class neighborhood in Auburn, about 30 minutes from the base, before purchasing a house in 2006 for $280,000 near Lake Tapps, according to realty records.

Tim Burgess, whose Auburn townhouse shared a wall with that of the Bales family, described his former neighbor as "a really good guy (who) just wanted to serve."

"I know he just wanted to go back and serve overseas, that was his goal," Burgess recalled from their conversations, while noting the two hadn't spoken in about five years.

Robert Baggett, president of the Riverpark Homeowners Association, said after the Bales moved out there were occasional renters.

But several years ago, their townhouse was foreclosed upon, according to Baggett and Burgess. The Bales also didn't pay homeowners association fees for "at least three or four years," said Baggett.

"We don't know what happened," Baggett said of the Bales and their Auburn property, which Sunday had a notice posted on its door that read "Do Not Occupy."

Balochistan: Terror in Mand

Editorial:The Baloch Hal

In yet another act of senseless use of violence against innocent civilians, armed men killed five Punjabi laborers in the border town of Mand Bulo in Kech district. While no group has still claimed responsibility for the mass murder, this tragic incident traces its roots to a similar attack by the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) on February 15 in which seven construction workers were killed in the same district of Kech (formerly known as Turbat).

There are conflicting reports what the Punjabi citizens were doing in Kech. One account of the incident says they had freshly returned from Iran after performing pilgrimage while another accounts suggests that they were planning to illegally cross the Iranian border so that they could eventually go to Europe from there. Every year, thousands of people, mainly unemployed youth from the Punjab province, attempt to cross the Pakistan-Iran border. Some of them succeed while most of them are detained by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani has rightly condemned the incident and asked responsible authorities to take action against criminals responsible for this ugly episode. Considering the previous undetected attacks on unarmed Punjabi and Urdu-speaking people in Balochistan, one sees little hope that the Balochistan government will do anything to bring the murderers to justice.

As the self-proclaimed Baloch nationalists continue to brutally target kill innocent settlers, they seem to have embarked upon the final chapter of their movement.With these killings, we see a sad but destined end of the Baloch nationalists coming as was witnessed in Sri Lanka in case of the Tamil Tigers. There is no political philosophy or movement more valuable than human life. Every movement that is based on hatred against humanity and sponsors violence should be condemned and discouraged. The Baloch movement is not an exception to the rule. Lack of protest to these killings from moderate nationalist groups such as the Balochistan National Party, National Party and the Jamori Watan Party sadly reminds us that the true and ideological nationalists have given in to a bunch of apolitical, violent criminals who violate Baloch cultural, historical and political traditions by employing violence to the members of the working class. The Baloch movement has either been hijacked by this group of hardliners or it has simply become an umbrella for all criminal sections of the society to pursue their personal goals under the pretext of nationalism.

We have repeatedly warned the Baloch nationalists that they are not immune to international laws. They are not only undermining their own cause but are also increasingly embarrassing the supporters of Balochistan, such as human rights activists, journalists and lawyers, who have stood for many years with the Baloch for whatever their democratic demands have been. These friends of Balochistan have even gone to the extent of totally and unconditionally supporting the Baloch right to self-determination. Is this (embarrassment) all the nationalists have got to offer to their friends in return of their support?

The Baloch nationalist movement lacks internal accountability. No one knows who feeds these nonsensical doctrines in the minds of the youths to encourage target killing of people who do not share the same ethnicity with them. A further alarming trend among the Balochs is the quick acceptance of conspiracy theories. They are even worse than Pakistani mullahs when it comes to embracing and trusting conspiracy theories. Some defend these killings of settlers as a ‘justified reaction’ while the others call every victim as an “ISI agent”. Worst still, if one criticizes such brutal killings, one also gets labelled as an ISI agent too.This is a deplorable level of political immaturity. This is not how political movements run. Politics and rigidity do not, and of course cannot, go side by side. Those who can’t play politics resort to guns and those who don’t know how to use a gun end of killing innocent people.

Al-Qaeda offers another example of failure of using violence as a tool to get support for the ‘oppressed people”. It made religion a tool to justify its terrorist activities. It chose verse after verse from the Quran to provide a pretext for whatever it was doing. Did the free world give in to Al-Qaeda excuses? Of courses not. Nationalism is surely not as appealing as religion to mass population. If religion failed, rather was collectively defeated, when it was used to defend terrorist attacks we see no reason for nationalism to have solid footing to justify acts of terror.

We would once again like to call upon the nationalist leadership to abandon these disgraceful operations. They must respect human rights because they have remained a victim of extraordinary human rights violations by Islamabad. Those who are pushing the Baloch movement to the brink of being declared a terrorist movement are surely not the friends of Balochistan.

PM Gilani voices mistrust over 7-member contempt case bench

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed mistrust over the seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC) hearing the contempt of court case against him, SAMAA reports Monday.

The PM Gilani says he acknowledges the apex court; but, he declines to do so for the bench hearing the contempt case.

The PM Gilani said the January 10 verdict of the seven-judge bench mirrors the pre-calculated approach of the bench against him, noting the verdict stands in violation of the right of fair trial as he was not given any chance of hearing prior to the verdict.

The Article-10A of the Constitution entitles every citizen with the right of fair trial, he added.

It should be mentioned here that the PM Gilani’s counsel Aitezaz Ahsan filed today a 24-page rejoinder in the contempt case through MS Khattak, Advocate on Record.

Later on this afternoon, the premier called an emergency meeting of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) core group to discuss multiple issues including the rejoinder filed in contempt case.

Declining to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to re-open graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, the PM Gilani asserted in his rejoinder that the President of the State cannot be thrown before any foreign magistrate.

The court should send the matter to the Parliament, the PM Gilani’s statement said.

Russia Demands Nato Not Leave Afghanistan Unstable

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said international military forces must remain in Afghanistan until they properly fulfill the UN Security Council mandate they entered the country with, insisting that Russia had a right to demand this, during an interview with TOLOnews.

Lavrov said the Nato-led mission entered Afghanistan with a mandate to establish a stable government and an adequate defence force, and they should not leave until that job is done.

"We see it from the point of international law. The presence of the international stabilisation force in Afghanistan has been mandated by the UN Security Council. The mandate is clear. They must fulfill this mandate before they leave, and before they leave, they must report to the Security Council that the mandate has been fulfilled," Lavrov said during a Moscow-based interview with TOLOnews.

"Everyone understands that by the time the international forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Afghan government itself must possess the capabilities to maintain law and order and to be able to address all security problems inside the country."

He said Russia had a right to demand for the mandate to properly implement because of its support of the Nato-led mission in providing transit possibilities through Russian territories.

"I think the Northern Route has become the major supply route for Isaf in Afghanistan - I think two third of deliveries are done by the northern route," he said.

"We believe this is our contribution to fulfill the mandate which the international forces received from the Security Council and we have the right to demand this mandate, to which we contribute, is implemented before the operation is over."

Lavrov said Russia was especially concerned about the growing insurgency in the north of Afghanistan which had previously been more stable as terrorists were pushing further north and infiltrating Russia's Central Asian neighbours.

He said that the US plan to maintain military bases in Afghanistan after 2014 was illogical and would not help regional instability, suggesting the plan was tantamount to a failed Nato mission.

"It's strange that while insisting that in 2014 the American troops, Nato troops I assume, will leave Afghanistan, at the same time Washington is discussing with Afghanistan very purposefully about establishing four or five military bases for the post 2014 period," he said.

"If you need the military presence, then you are continuing to implement the mandate of the Security Council. If you don't want to implement the mandate of the Security Council or if you believe that you have implemented the mandate already, but still want to establish and keep the military bases, I don't think that's logical."

"We want to understand what the reason is for it and why this is needed. We don't think it would be helpful for the stability in the region."
Lavrov said Russia supported all efforts towards "national reconciliation" in Afghanistan but refused to be drawn specifically on whether the Afghan government should engage in talks with the Taliban, saying it was not Russia's place to give assessments of the political discussions going on within a sovereign country.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa unsafe for foreigners

Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is unsafe for foreigners and "this sorry state of affairs is unlikely to improve", a daily said on Monday.

An editorial in the News International pointed out that the circumstances surrounding the freeing of a pair of Swiss hostages last Thursday remains unclear since reports differ as to "whether they were released by their captors after the payment of a ransom or they made good their own escape".

Olivier Och and Daniela Widmer were kidnapped last July in Baluchistan.
The editorial said: "They will disappear into obscurity, but other hostages remain and the problem is now considered so severe as to warrant the issuance of fresh guidelines for foreigners wishing to visit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa".

The provincial government has issued fresh security directives for NGOs and their foreign employees.

Al Qaeda has said it will not free an elderly American development expert kidnapped in Lahore in August last year until its demands are met, said the daily.

Pak: `Khyber Pakhtunkhwa unsafe for foreigners`
"Other westerners are also in the hands of unknown groups, their whereabouts a mystery and their fates uncertain.

"Whether they are tourists or are engaged in humanitarian or relief work, Pakistan is officially at least as far as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is concerned unsafe for foreigners. This sorry state of affairs is unlikely to improve as extremism tightens its grip and westerners are tarred with the same brush being assumed to be American (or simply 'foreign spies') and thus fair game," it added.

Legendary actor Muhammad Ali’s 6th death anniversary on March 19

The News

The 6th death anniversary of legendry film actor of Pakistan Muhammad Ali falls on Monday March 19. He had passed away on March 19, 2006 and was laid to rest in Lahore.
Muhammad Ali was born in a religious family in Rampure‚ India on April 19‚ 1931. His first film was Shakir, which was renamed as ‘Charagh Jalta Raha’, in which he chose to work as villain. However he got his breakthrough as one of the successful actors of his time through his film "Khamosh Raho" released in 1964.
His family had migrated soon after partition from India to Hyderabad, Sindh‚ and after some days‚ they moved to Multan. He joined school there in 7th class‚ then soon in 9th class due to his intelligence.

He passed Matric from Millat High School Multan and moved back to Hyderabad. His house was in a street near Firdous Cinema‚ Hyderabad.

He passed B.A. from City College Hyderabad. He got many prizes for best speaker.
His elder brother Irshad Ali was doing service as a broadcaster in Radio Pakistan Hyderabad‚ so Muhammad Ali also joined Radio Hyderabad as a broadcaster in 1956. Here he worked in Radio dramas and recorded many programs for children.

Sitara-i-Imtiaz for Muhammad Qavi Khan

President Asif Ali Zardari has approved conferment of Sitara-i-Imtiaz upon renowned actor Muhammad Qavi Khan in recognition of his services in the field of performing arts.
Mohammad Qavi Khan is among the few artists who have earned great fame in all the fields of performing arts. Starting his career in 1952 from Radio Pakistan and earning Life Time Achievement Award, he was the first hero of TV drama when Pakistan Television was started in 1964.

Pakistan: Basant Lal’s concern over rise in kidnapping Hindus

The forced conversion into Islam and increasing incidents of kidnappings creating a deep sense of insecurity among the Hindu community in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan, said Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Basant Lal Gulshan.
As many as four girls and three boys of Hindu community forcibly converted into Islam in 2011 and the community is not raising their voice out of fear. “At least 50 Hindu families have migrated from Quetta alone,” he told the Express Tribune. “The families migrated to interior Balochistan and Sindh because situation is worst in Quetta where rights of minorities are not protected.”
According to Mr. Gulshan, the cases of forced conversion into Islam were reported in Loralai, Chaman and Sibi but there has been no investigation into any case.
He also criticized the Balochistan Government for its lack of interest on this crucial issue. “I took up the issue with Chief Minister and also spoke on the floor of the house. They are not sincere and serious in addressing the grievances of minorities.”
Commenting on increasing incidents of kidnapping for ransom in Balochistan, Basant Lal Gulshan said around 25 people belonging to his community were kidnapped in 2012. “There were 55 cases of kidnappings of Hindu people in last year while this year we are witnessing a sharp rise in this menace,” he added.
Dr. Rajesh Kumar, a pharmacist, was kidnapped in broad daylight in front of Bolan Medical College Complex in Quetta one and half month ago and his whereabouts is yet to be traced.
According to a rough estimate, around 200,000 Hindu people are residing in different parts of Balochistan and most of them area businessmen and traders. “Hindus are considered soft target and easy earning for criminals,” the Minister added.
Responding to a query that he is also part of Balochistan Cabinet and his reservations are not being listened, he said what he can do is to raise the voice of his community. “My colleagues in Cabinet often say that this is not happening only with Hindu people. They justify the kidnapping for ransom in some way, he claimed. Muslims are also being kidnapped,” he said, adding that government should have to show seriousness and take some concrete steps otherwise it will give bad name to our country in the world.
Human Rights Organization of Pakistan (HRCP), Balochistan chapter in his statement expressed strong resentment over the kidnapping of Hindu people and asked the government to improve the situation by curbing this menace. Rajesh Kumar was also member of HRCP Balochistan Chapter.
They blamed powerful and influential people of behind the business of kidnapping for ransom.

Senate chairman declares Shahbaz Sharif ‘mentally unstable’

The Express Tribune

The newly elected chairman senate, Nayyar Bukhari, proclaimed the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, ‘mentally unstable’, on a visit to Garhi Khuda Bux on Sunday.

Bukhari said that Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), was under tremendous political pressure and that was the reason behind his statements against President Asif Ali Zardari. “There was nothing in the President’s fifth parliamentary address that could not be ‘understood’,” said Bukhari in rebuttal to the opposition’s comments.

Bukhari said that the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian has entered into its fifth year, which is also the year of the general elections. He accused the party’s political opponents of not acknowledging the government’s achievements during the last four years.

Paying tributes to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, he said that both the leaders sacrificed their lives for democracy and the constitution. He thanked Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and leaders of other coalition parties for their confidence in him, while assuring that he would perform his duties to the best of his abilities.

Earlier, the chairman senate paid his respects at the mazars of the Bhutto family. The Larkana deputy commissioner, Abdul Aleem Lashari, and Naudero House media coordinator, Ghulam Mustafa Leghari, accompanied Bukhari.

Pakistan Govt ready for referendum in Balochistan

Daily Times

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Sunday the government was willing to take any initiative within the constitution, including holding a referendum in Balochistan, to determine the wish of people of the province.

Talking to reporters, the prime minister said the army was not conducting any operation in Balochistan. However, he added, the Frontier Constabulary (FC) was in the province on the provincial government’s request. Any provincial government can call the FC to maintain order and “the force’s presence in Balochistan is not an extraordinary step”, he said.

Expressing his commitment to resolve the Balochistan issue, Gilani said the government would act according to desires of Baloch people.

The prime minister said he had meetings with the army chief, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general and newly elected senators from Balochistan in order to devise a strategy to deal with the province’s problems.

To a query about the role of ISI in politics, Gilani said the agency was an important national institution but it should not be controversial. “As far as closure of the political wing of the ISI is concerned, I have not had a meeting with new ISI DG and, therefore, could not say any thing about it.”

The prime minister faces imprisonment for his failure to obey the Supreme Court’s order of writing a letter to Swiss authorities for re-opening of graft cases President Asif Ali Zardari.

He told reporters he would happily resign if this could help resolve the controversy, asking, “Will my resignation be enough? Because the new prime minister will also have to face the similar situation?”

He said the president enjoyed immunity under the constitution. Even the president himself could not remove the immunity that had been granted to him by parliament, the prime minister said.

He said the Supreme Court should refer the issue of immunity to parliament for its reconsideration.

About the future of Pak-US ties, Gilani said that it had been established since long that new rules of engagement were needed in relations with the US. He added parliament would decide on Pakistan’s new terms of relationship with Washington.

Commenting on the Most Favoured Nation for India, the prime minister said that Pakistan could not afford a war with India and it was taking decisions in the larger national interests. “When China, the US and rest of the world is establishing trade relations with India, why shouldn’t Pakistan do so?” he asked.

Gilani alleged that the Punjab government was against the formation of Saraiki province, but the federal government would strive to fulfil constitutional rights of the people of southern Punjab.

Asia is world's top weapons importer

Asia leads the world when it comes to weapon imports, according to a study released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Globally the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons was 24 percent higher in the period 2007-11 compared to the 2002-06 period, the report said.

Over the past five years, Asia and Oceania accounted for 44 percent in volume of conventional arms imports, the institute said.

That compared with 19 percent for Europe, 17 percent for the Middle East, 11 percent for North and South America, and 9 percent for Africa, said the report.

India was the biggest arms importer in the period covered, 2007-11, accounting for 10 percent in weapons volume.

It was followed by South Korea (6 percent), China and Pakistan (both 5 percent), and Singapore (4 percent), according to the independent institute which specialises in arms control and disarmament matters.

These five countries accounted for almost a third, 30 percent, of the volume of international arms imports, said SIPRI.

"India's imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11," SIPRI said.

"Notable deliveries of combat aircraft during 2007-11 included 120 Su-30MKs and 16 MiG-29Ks from Russia and 20 Jaguar Ss from the United Kingdom," it said.

While India was the world's largest importer, its neighbour and sometime foe Pakistan was the third largest.

Pakistan took delivery of "a significant quantity of combat aircraft during this period: 50 JF-17s from China and 30 F-16s," the report added.

Both countries "have taken and will continue to take delivery of large quantities of tanks," it also noted.

"Major Asian importing states are seeking to develop their own arms industries and decrease their reliance on external sources of supply," said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.

China, which in 2006 and 2007 was the world's top arms importer, has now dropped to fourth place.

"The decline in the volume of Chinese imports coincides with the improvements in China's arms industry and rising arms exports," according to the report.

But "while the volume of China's arms exports is increasing, this is largely a result of Pakistan importing more arms from China," it added.

"China has not yet achieved a major breakthrough in any other significant market."

China is however the sixth largest world exporter of weapons behind the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain.

In Europe, Greece was the largest importer between 2007 and 2011, the institute said.

Between 2002 and 2011, Syria increased its imports of weapons by 580 percent -- the bulk supplied by Russia -- while Venezuela boosted its imports over the same period by 555 percent, it reported.

Throughout the Middle East as a whole, weapons imports decreased by eight percent over the period of the survey.

However SIPRI warned "this trend will soon be reversed."

Tunisia, where mass protests ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali early last year, launched the so-called Arab Spring and inspired similar movements in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.

"During 2011, the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria used imported weapons in the suppression of peaceful demonstrations among other alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

"The transfer of arms to states affected by the Arab Spring has provoked public and parliamentary debate in a number of supplier states," the report said.

The volume of deliveries of "major conventional weapons" to African nations increased by a massive 110 percent in 2007-2011 over the previous five-year period, with deliveries to North Africa up by 273 percent.

Morocco saw its own imports increase by 443 percent, the report added.