Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beauty of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Support in U.S. for Afghan War Drops Sharply, Poll Finds

After a series of violent episodes and setbacks, support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped sharply among both Republicans and Democrats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old.

The increased disillusionment was even more pronounced when respondents were asked their impressions of how the war was going. The poll found that 68 percent thought the fighting was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly,” compared with 42 percent who had those impressions in November.

The latest poll was conducted by telephone from March 21 to 25 with 986 adults nationwide. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The Times/CBS News poll was consistent with other surveys this month that showed a drop in support for the war. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 60 percent of respondents said the war in Afghanistan had not been worth the fighting, while 57 percent in a Pew Research Center poll said that the United States should bring home American troops as soon as possible. In a Gallup/USA Today poll, 50 percent of respondents said the United States should speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Negative impressions of the war have grown among Republicans as well as Democrats, according to the Times/CBS News poll. Among Republicans, 60 percent said the war was going somewhat or very badly, compared with 40 percent in November. Among Democrats, 68 percent said the war was going somewhat or very badly, compared with 38 percent in November. But the poll found that Republicans were more likely to want to stay in Afghanistan for as long as it would take to stabilize the situation: 3 in 10 said the United States should stay, compared with 2 in 10 independents and 1 in 10 Democrats.

Republicans themselves are divided, however, over when to leave, with a plurality, 40 percent, saying the United States should withdraw earlier than the end of 2014, when under an agreement with the Afghan government all American troops are to be out of the country.

The poll comes as the White House is weighing options for speeding up troop withdrawals and in the wake of bad news from the battlefield, including accusations that a United States Army staff sergeant killed 17 Afghan civilians and violence set off by the burning last month of Korans by American troops.

The poll also follows a number of high-profile killings of American troops by their Afghan partners — a trend that the top American commander in Afghanistan suggested on Monday was likely to continue.

“It is a characteristic of this kind of warfare,” Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. He said that in a counterinsurgency conflict like the one in Afghanistan, where American forces are fighting insurgents while training Afghan security forces, “the enemy’s going to do all that they can to disrupt both the counterinsurgency operation, but also disrupt the integrity of the indigenous forces.” American commanders say that the Taliban have in some cases infiltrated Afghan security forces to attack Americans, but that most cases are a result of personal disputes between Afghans and their American trainers.

In follow-up interviews, a number of poll respondents said they were weary after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, and impatient with the slow progress of Afghan security forces. “I think we should speed up when we’re bringing our troops home,” said Melisa Clemmons, 52, a Republican and a coordinator for a wireless carrier system from Summerville, S.C. “If we’ve been there as many years as we’ve been there, what’s another two years going to get us?” she asked, adding, “These Afghanistan people are turning around and shooting our people. Why is it taking this long for the Afghan troops to be policing themselves?”

Paul Fisher, 53, a Republican from Grapevine, Tex., who works in the pharmaceutical business, said the United States should no longer be involved in the war, although he opposed setting a specific timetable. “After a while enough is enough, and we need to get out and move on and let Afghanistan stand on its own merits,” he said.

Peter Feaver of Duke University, who has long studied public opinion about war and worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, said that in his view there would be more support for the war if President Obama talked more about it. “He has not expended much political capital in defense of his policy,” Mr. Feaver said. “He doesn’t talk about winning in 2014; he talks about leaving in 2014. In a sense that protects him from an attack from the left, but I would think it has the pernicious effect of softening political support for the existing policy.”

The drop in support for the war among Republican poll respondents mirrors reassessments of the war among the party’s presidential candidates, traditionally more hawkish than Democrats. Newt Gingrich declared this month that it was time to leave Afghanistan, while Rick Santorum said that one option would be to withdraw even earlier than the Obama administration’s timeline. Mitt Romney has been more equivocal, although he said last summer that it was “time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, as soon as our generals think it’s O.K.”

Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution who is close to American commanders in Afghanistan, said that the opinion polls reflected a lack of awareness of the current policy, which calls for slowly turning over portions of the country to Afghan security forces, like the southern provinces, where American troops have tamped down the violence.

“I honestly believe if more people understood that there is a strategy and intended sequence of events with an end in sight, they would be tolerant,” Mr. O’Hanlon said. “The overall image of this war is of U.S. troops mired in quicksand and getting blown up and arbitrarily waiting until 2014 to come home. Of course you’d be against it.”

Among poll respondents, 44 percent said that the United States should withdraw sooner than 2014, while 33 percent said the administration should stick to the current timetable, 17 percent said the United States should stay as long as it would take to stabilize the current situation and 3 percent said the United States should withdraw now.

Obama's Open Mic Remark, Romney's Pounce, and Medvedev's Hollywood Joke

Global polio emergency might be declared in Pakistan in 3 months

The Express Tribune

Global polio emergency would be declared in Pakistan if the situation is not improved within three months time particularly in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), said World Health Organisation (WHO) team leader in Pakistan Wahab Alanesi.
Speaking during a meeting organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the government of Balochistan regarding polio cases in the province, Alanesi said global polio emergency situation would bar Pakistani nationals from travelling anywhere in the world.
Present at the meeting, different speakers expressed their dissatisfaction towards polio campaign teams, media, politicians and other officials involved in anti-polio drive.
As many as 14 cases of polio were reported in Pakistan, five from Fata, four from K-P, two each from Sindh and Balochistan, while one case in Punjab. There are around 400,000 children at risk of getting infected with polio virus in three districts of Balochistan.
“These three districts [Quetta, Pishin and Qila Abdullah] have also jeopardised the neighbouring districts as virus was detected in nearby areas where no cases were reported earlier,” he added.
“Pakistan, along with Nigeria and Afghanistan, had failed to eradicate police virus till now. Though, only two cases have been so far reported but Balochistan is at high risk as the region had 73 reported cases in 2011,” he said, adding that most of the cases were reported due to inaccessibility or teams had failed to reach the areas.
He also mentioned that lack of awareness, propaganda against anti-polio drive or refusal to get vaccinated were not the main hurdles faced during the anti-polio campaign.
“Media is not playing its due role in anti-polio drive,” he stated.
The WHO team leader further revealed that there was a dramatic rise in reported polio cases in 2011 as 73 new cases were reported in a single year, which was almost equal to all the cases reported from 2005 to 2010.
Yusuf Bezinjo of Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) said that most of the polio cases were reported in Pashtun dominated areas while a few in pre-dominantly Baloch areas. “The religious scholars and local leaders in Pashtun areas must come forward and spread awareness about this incurable disease,” he said.

Peshawar attack injures 3

Will Saudi women make Olympics debut?

One of the great Olympic ideals is the importance of taking part, bringing together athletes of all backgrounds from all around the world.

But not everyone has had the chance to compete. Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries -- along with Qatar and Brunei -- which have never sent female athletes to an Olympic Games.

That may change in London this year after a groundbreaking meeting with Olympic and Saudi officials, but it raises a bigger question -- are the Arab kingdom's women actually ready to compete in top international sporting competitions?

The plan, at this stage, is to send Saudi women to the UK capital for the July 27-August 12 event. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) met with Saudi Arabian Olympic officials this week.Olympic dreams elude Saudi women
"A list of potential female athletes for the Games was presented. This will now be studied by the IOC together with the relevant International Sports Federations in order to assess the level of each athlete," ran a statement on the IOC's website.

It's a significant development, says Rima Maktabi, host of CNN's Inside the Middle East, but the move might come a bit too late for Saudi Arabia's female athletes.

"When you talk to Saudi women, even those who are professionals, they tell you that they are not even qualified," Maktabi said.

"We're not even close," says Lina Al-Maeena, co-founder of Jeddah United Sports Company.

"At this point, we are trying to make it on a national level, integrate into public schools and then maybe compete on a regional level before we even think of the Olympics," Al-Maeena, who is also captain of the Saudi women's basketball team, told CNN.

Al-Maeena says that Qatar and Brunei's non-participation at the Beijing Olympics four years ago wasn't because they didn't allow women to compete, but rather their female athletes just weren't at the required Olympic standard.

"We will need a long time," she concedes.

Saudi Arabia is a conservative country which has historically failed to promote women's participation in sport, says Christoph Wilcke of Human Rights Watch.

"Government policy hasn't been effectively challenged -- there is a predominant conservative view in society that doesn't afford women equality in a number of issues, including sports," Wilcke, senior researcher in the organization's Middle East and North Africa Division, told CNN.

The IOC says an assessment of each athlete's capabilities will make up part of a formal proposal which will be submitted to the IOC Executive Board next meeting which takes place in Quebec in May.

"The IOC is confident that Saudi Arabia is working to include women athletes and officials at the Olympic Games in London in accordance with the International Federations' rules," the IOC said.

Wilcke believes the move is a "very positive" development.

"I think international public pressure by the IOC and public media pressure helped get us where we are today," he said. "The goal has to be trying to open up the possibilities, the access for women to sports in Saudi Arabia."

But he added a note of caution.

"The female participation in the Olympics is a symbolic leap forward, but in order for it not to remain symbolic it's really for the Saudi authorities to start acting," Wilcke said.

"If sporting opportunities truly increase, I think it will have a broader impact on life for women."

Maktabi said recent Saudi government reforms, aimed at putting more women in the workforce, gave them encouragement for a greater role in society.

"There is high unemployment, it is 17% across Saudi Arabia -- 7% among men, and 28% among women," she said.

"But it is interesting that 55-57% of the university graduates are women. So Saudi women are ready. This decision is quite symbolic -- even if it's only on the sports level, it will reflect on all levels in Saudi Arabia, on the economy.

"Definitely it will get women more involved. However, women are battling with conservative views. Many people in Saudi Arabia think it's un-Islamic to work, un-Islamic to be in sports.

"Even some of these ladies I saw, among the sports team, they had to veil just to prove that they are conservative, very Islamic and traditional, but that they can play sports and compete internationally."

Syria accepts UN peace proposal


Syria has accepted a six-point peace plan that was proposed by Kofi Annan and backed by the UN Security Council, Annan said in a statement issued by his spokesman in Beijing today.

Mr Annan, the joint special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, "views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," the statement said.

But implementation of the plan will be key and Mr Annan would be working with all parties at all levels to ensure it was implemented, the statement added.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops crossed into Lebanon today, destroying farm buildings and clashing with Syrian rebels who had taken refuge there, residents and local security sources said.

They said Syrian forces crossed a few hundred metres into Lebanese territory. A security source in Beirut said clashes had taken place near the poorly marked border but did not confirm Syrian troops had entered Lebanon.

Shells hit north Lebanon last week and residents say Syrian troops have briefly crossed the frontier while pursuing fleeing rebels in recent months.

"More than 35 Syrian soldiers came across the border and started to destroy houses," said Abu Ahmed (63) a resident of the mainly Sunni Muslim rural mountain area of al-Qaa.

Another resident said that the soldiers, some travelling in armoured personnel vehicles, fired rocket-propelled grenades and exchanged heavy machinegun fire with rebels. He said soldiers destroyed one house with a bulldozer.

The Lebanese army blocked off the area, where hundreds of Syrian refugees - some of them active members of the rebel Free Syrian Army - have fled a year-long revolt by mostly Sunni Muslim dissidents against President Bashar al-Assad, a member of Syria's Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

Residents said the Syrian troops remained 200-500 metres inside Lebanese territory. Lebanon has had a complicated relationship with Syria, which continues to exercise some influence over its neighbour despite the 2005 departure of thousands of Syrian troops and intelligence operatives from Lebanese soil.

Syria said yesterday that armed "terrorist groups" in Syria have been receiving weapons from supporters in Lebanon.

"Experts, officials and observers are unanimous that weapons are being smuggled into Syrian territory from bordering States, including Lebanon," Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said in a letter sent last week to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The End of “Pakistan Day” in Balochistan?


It seems that the forced marriage between Balochistan and Pakistan is not working anymore. When countries reach such a critical stage when their citizens assertively whine about state-sponsored torture and brutality, the best thing for the governments in such circumstances is to ensure damage control.

In Balochistan’s context, the government could have saved its face provided that it had agreed that March 23rd was not the right time to celebrate the Pakistan Day in a province where a freedom movement has been gaining momentum. It is not as if that the government functionaries did not know the facts and the ground situation. In fact, all these facts were deliberately kept aside to please the ego of an arrogant military.

We need to address at least three basic questions in the wake of the disgraceful events of March 23rd when Pakistani authorities shut down mobile phone services across Balochistan to ‘protect’ the province from ‘terrorists’.

First, has Balochistan historically been an enthusiastic celebrator of the Pakistan Day?

Second, is Balochistan in the partying mood at a time when the country’s armed forces are blamed for killing at least four hundred disappeared young Baloch activists while still illegally detaining thousands others?

Third, does the Constitution of Pakistan entrust the army and the Frontier Corps (FC) the responsibility to organize, promote and, in worse cases, enforce events on national holidays? Why do we need such activities in the first place? How many countries in the world give their armies the task to make people ‘patriotic citizens’?

All of the above questions need detailed debate. We just know that the Pakistan army is officially provoking the Baloch. Provocation from the army is not something aline to the Baloch who have seen it in worst shapes in the past in the form of arrests, disappearance, torture and murder. The other methods of provocation have also included formation of underground anti-nationalist armed groups, disruption of political and cultural events, registration of fake cases against dissenting political leaders and induction of widespread internet censorship.

In Pakistan, the political leadership has historically remained corrupt but has at least proven itself a lot more wise as compared to the army. The military, on the other hand, has not only created a number of problems but it has also enormously contributed to their further deterioration. In addition, the military has blocked every effort by the political leadership, civil society and the media to at least open a door for reconciliation and resolution of political disputes. The men in khaki remain absolutely disdainful to the idea of peace. They think use of brute face can fix every problem.

The suspension of the entire cell phone service in Balochistan on March 23rd shows that the actual powerful folks who are officially responsible to deal with Balochistan suffer from serious mental illnesses. Their actions must worry us because they can go to the extent of shutting down the whole network of mobile phone service and officially describing every civilian as a ‘terrorist’ or at least ‘terror suspect’ to justify their ignorance and arrogance. Having taken all these ridiculous measures, the non-Baloch-non-Balochistani Commander of the Southern Command tells us that the “active participation of the people of Balochistan…is a slap on the face of all those miscreants who are creating rifts among their own countrymen and doing negative propaganda against the country at the behest of their foreign masters.”

If Islamabad has decided to mark the Pakistan Day in Balochistan in this style from now on, we must be brutally honest and note that the generals have brought an other chapter of Pakistan’s history to an end. As we stand at crossroads of the history, we classify the Pakistan Day celebrations into two categories. First, school children (used to) mark the Pakistan Day by singing national songs and participating in speech contests. Second, the army and FC shut down mobile phone services, censor the internet, influence the electronic media to celebrate the Pakistan day inside garrison and army-administered schools. We know that Baloch children have already discarded the first pattern of history for some years now while the army and FC now take control of the future style of celeberations. We will probably not see any Pakistan Day celebrations in Balochistan in the future where people voluntarily and smilingly participate in national celebrations. Gun is not an appropriate tool to win public hearts nor is the use of brute force the right channel to make citizens love a country.

Patriotism flourishes amid democracy, equality and justice. Balochistan lacks all of the above fundamental reasons to join rest of Pakistan to mark the so-called Pakistan Day.

Who has benefited from ‘forced celebrations” ? Baloch nationalists, of course. Sher Mohammad Bugti, a spokesman for the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), congratulated the entire Baloch nation for Islamabad’s expression of unprecedented desperation,insecurity and possessiveness. We have no option but to trust his claim that Islamabad has become too afraid of the increasing popularity of the Baloch nationalist movement.Even the British, during the colonial days, did not treat the Baloch so disrespectfully and violently as Pakistan is doing today.

These idiotic measures taken by the army will inevitably popularize the nationalist movement in Balochistan in the future.