Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Music, an Old Tradition in Afghanistan

Afghan music is linked with music of former times in the region. Looking at the achievements in Aryan culture, once can see that music and dancing has been common in Veda era in the geography of the land that is now called Afghanistan. Poetry has also been deeply rooted in the families, a tradition that has passed from generation to generation.

China slams US Tibet resolution

The foreign ministry Wednesday slammed a resolution approved Tuesday by a US Senate committee on Beijing's policy in the Tibet Autonomous Region, accusing some lawmakers in Washington of interfering in China's internal affairs. "The Chinese government is committed to protecting the legitimate rights and interests of people of all ethnic groups, and the protection of citizens' religious freedom," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. "Some US legislators are inverting black and white, confusing right and wrong, in an attempt to use Tibet-related issues to interfere in China's internal affairs. China is firmly against that," Hong added. The resolution, approved by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said the committee deplores "Beijing's repressive policies targeting Tibetans," AFP reported, adding that the resolution had been sent to the full Senate, which is likely to pass it soon. The approval came on the same day that Hong accused the Dalai Lama and his associates of planning a self-immolation in New Delhi on Monday, which resulted in the death of a 27-year-old Tibetan. Beijing has condemned the Dalai Lama clique for a string of self-immolations that has broken out in Tibetan areas in the provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai in recent months. Wu Zegang, chief of the Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, where most of the self-immolations occurred, told the Xinhua News Agency that police have investigated self-immolations in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu in recent months, finding that the victims were used by separatists to create chaos. Li Xiaojun, an official at the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, wrote in the Hindustan Times on Tuesday that the Dalai Lama had said he could notcall self-immolation a wrongful action. "His words amount to encouragement of self-immolation. The ulterior motive of the Dalai Lama in giving tacit support to those engaging in self-immolation is to stage his coming to power," Li wrote. Xiong Kunxin, a professor of ethnic theory and policy at the Minzu University of China, said the self-immolation cases showed that some Tibetans lack understanding of their own religion and are easily misled by separatists who use the region for their own political gains."The government has carried out a series of beneficial policies to improve the livelihood of the Tibetan people. It needs to continue promoting the importance of social stability and the Buddhist doctrine of 'no killing' among Tibetans," Xiong told the Global Times. Wednesday marked the 53rd anniversary of the emancipation of 1 million serfs following the central government's democratic reform in Tibet on March 28, 1959. According to official statistics, the autonomous region's gross domestic product climbed to 60.6 billion yuan ($9.6 billion) in 2011, 94 times the level of 1959. Du Yongbin, a research scholar with the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing, said that in recent decades, the two-way population flow between the inland and Tibet has been active. "Many Tibetans work and live in the inland cities and have contributed to both the promotion of Tibetan culture and national integration," Du said. Qiangba Puncog, top legislator of the Tibet Autonomous Region, admitted in an interview with Wednesday that the autonomous region faces severe challenges in anti-separation efforts. He said that the autonomous region is trying to establish a long-term stability maintenance mechanism by enhancing ideology, implementing a stability work responsibility system and raising the living standards of the people. Regarding a previous Tibet Daily report, which quoted an official as saying that portraits of national leaders will be put on to walls in monasteries, Qiangba said the portraits will be displayed on a voluntary basis. "It is very natural to send portraits as gifts among the Tibetans. Portraits of Mao Zedong is seen in the homes of many Tibetan families, who admire those who contribute to our country and our people," he said.

Global oil prices may see drastic fluctuations

According to research findings released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, global oil prices will fluctuate around the benchmark scope of 79 U.S. dollars to 90 U.S. dollars in 2012. The oil prices will usually return this interval after a single deviation unless a significant permanent change in the world's economic and political structure occurs, according to the academy. Domestic demand for oil is increasing year by year due to the vigorous development of China’s economy. However, domestic oil production is not keeping up with the increasing demands and is even stagnating. Therefore, China has to rely on crude oil imports to meet its demands. The ratio of dependence on foreign crude oil import was above 50 percent in 2009 and will probably reach 55 percent this year. According to this research, global crude oil prices will be subject to the following factors in 2012: political configuration in the Middle East, the E.U. debt crisis, economic downturn in the United States and the prospects of emerging economies. The political changes in the Middle East, the world's oil depot, will undoubtedly affect oil prices. Although the Libyan war has ended, it is still unknown whether the domino effect from the unrest will end in this area. As to global crude oil prices, the increasingly fierce E.U. debt crisis must affect oil demand. The prices may go down further if the risks in finance spread to economic entities, causing the downturn of the European economy and slowing the pace of the global economic recovery.The United States remains the world's leading player. Its pricing in U.S. dollars has further put international crude oil under the thumb of the economic situation and policy of the United States, which shows us a self-regulating ability higher than that of Europe in spite of series impacts from credit rating downgrade to high unemployment. The Federal Reserve may introduce new similar quantitative easing policies to expand its money flow in 2012. However, the United States may not make a big impact on oil prices under lower pressure of dollar devaluation and minor possibility of economic growth surprises. Emerging economies present a good economic trend amid inflation in 2011 — especially China and India. Both countries have maintained very high economic growth rates and are important driving forces for international economic growth. Now, China and India still show a powerful economic growth inertia which will enable a relatively high growth speed in 2012. For global oil prices, an active demand from such emerging economies for crude oil will boost the oil market. However, the oil prices will not be as low as that of early 2009. According to this research, crude oil prices may have larger drastic fluctuations in 2012 compared with 2010, as driven by political and economic uncertainties. Whether it will reach peak or bottom depends on the occurrence of breaking incidents concerning international political and economic trends, such as the breakout of a new round of The Middle East war or sudden changes in the euro zone. For China, oil production should continue to maintain a relatively stable level. Due to economic slowdown, crude oil imports may increase at a lower rate. But the ratio of dependence on imports will also continue to rise to 56 percent, with an import volume of more than 250 million tons in 2012. The key contradiction in oil production and marketing will remain a hot potato in the short term and remains a controversial issue in 2012 because of multi-stakeholder entanglements and the complexity of the matter, notwithstanding an imperative adjustment to the pricing mechanism.

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

By ELISABETH BUMILLER and ALLISON KOPICKI WASHINGTON — 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.

U.K. Women hardest hit by govt. job cuts

Over two-thirds of the employees in local government and schools who have lost their jobs since the general election in 2010 are women, warns the GMB union. A new study by the public services union on the latest official figures for employment in councils between the first quarter of 2010 and the third quarter of 2011, showed that there are 36 councils in England and Wales where the fall in the number of women jobs accounts for 100%. The report also said that of the 210,470 total jobs lost in local government since 2010, 68.2% were among women, including 75% in the southeast, 72.7% in the east of England, 69.8% in the southwest, 60.7% in London, and 57.3% in the East Midlands. "Women suffering like this is a direct result of the government cuts in public spending. This was entirely predictable because the public sector employs more women than men," said GMB's national officer for equalities Kamaljeet Jandu. “The drop in the number of women employed in the public sector means a serious loss of income from employment to women. Many households depend on having income from two wage earners to pay the mortgage and the household bills.”

Obama seeks to defuse controversy over "open mic" missile remarks

U.S. President Barack Obama responds to questions about the ''open mic'' incident in which he told the Russian President he would have more flexibility to deal with arms issues after the U.S. election.

Obama lawyer asks Supreme Court to save healthcare law

The Obama administration's top courtroom lawyer made an impassioned plea on Wednesday for the Supreme Court to save President Barack Obama's healthcare law, capping three days of historic arguments that left it unclear how the nine justices would rule. Having peppered lawyers for and against the law with questions for more than six hours over the three days, the justices withdrew to their chambers to begin up to three months of deliberation expected to yield a decision by late June. Obama's healthcare overhaul, signed into law two years ago, is his signature domestic policy achievement. It remains a divisive issue among Americans and is likely to be a key issue ahead of the November 6 election in which he seeks a second term. The justices took up two issues on the last day of arguments on Wednesday: whether the rest of the law could stand if the centerpiece requirement that most Americans get insurance or face a penalty is struck down; and the validity of expanding the state-federal Medicaid healthcare program for the poor. After what critics called a poor performance on Tuesday, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing for the administration, closed his case with an emotional request that the justices uphold the law. Verrilli cited millions of people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer who would get health insurance under the law. Congress made a judgment in passing the law, Verrilli said. "Maybe they were right, maybe they weren't." But he said the court should respect the policy judgment made by democratically elected lawmakers in their decades-long struggle to help millions of uninsured. The law, which constitutes the $2.6 trillion U.S. healthcare system's biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years, seeks to provide health insurance to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans and to slow down soaring medical costs. Unlike healthcare in other rich countries, the U.S. system is a patchwork of private insurance and restrictive government programs that has left tens of millions of people uninsured. The United States pays more on healthcare per person than any other country. Critics of the law say it meddles too much in the lives of individuals and in the business of the states. They say that if the federal government can force people to buy health insurance, it would be able to force people to, for example, purchase American-made cars or join health clubs. 'FUNNY CONCEPTION OF LIBERTY' Twenty-six of the 50 U.S. states and a small business trade group challenged the law in court. The lawyer for the states fighting the law, Paul Clement, told the court: "I would respectfully suggest that it's a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not." The fate of the wide-ranging law, including the mandate that most Americans buy health insurance by 2014, likely is in the hands of two key justices - Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy, who often casts the decisive vote. The court appeared sharply divided along ideological lines, with the five Republican-appointed conservatives doubting the law would survive and the four Democratic-appointed liberals offering a strong defense for the statute. If even one of the conservative justices joins the liberal wing on the court, the law would be upheld. If the conservatives stay united, the law would fall. The states challenging the law say the rest of Obama's healthcare overhaul must go if the court strikes the insurance requirement. Clement, their lawyer, told the justices that the so-called individual mandate to obtain insurance or face a penalty was "essential to the entire scheme." 'TAKE THE HEART OUT' That sentiment was shared by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who said that if the individual mandate was struck down, the entire law must go. "My approach would be if you take the heart out of the statute, the statute is gone," he said. Chief Justice Roberts said the court would have difficulty figuring out what Congress really wanted to survive from the law because of horse-trading that went on when lawmakers crafted the legislation. The law was passed when Obama's fellow Democrats controlled both houses of Congress after a contentious fight with Republicans dead set against it. Roberts also noted that the law had two purposes in its title, "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," and said it would be tough if not impossible to discern Congress' intent. "That's just an inquiry that you can't carry out," he said. Kennedy voiced concern about possible unintended consequences in the form of huge costs to insurance companies if the mandate - which would bring millions of healthy young people into the healthcare system and spread out costs - was invalidated alone. "We would be exercising the judicial power if one ... provision was stricken and the others remained to impose a risk on insurance companies that Congress had never intended," Kennedy said. "By reason of this court, we would have a new regime that Congress did not provide for, did not consider." The four liberal justices expressed deep reservations about tossing out the sweeping law that has hundreds of other provisions, some of them already in effect. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the four and an Obama appointee to the court, asked whether the court should allow Congress to decide what to do next. "What's wrong with leaving it in the hands of people who should be fixing this, not us?" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg went further. She said many parts of the law had not been challenged in court. "Why make Congress redo those?" Another Obama administration lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, told the court that if the mandate was struck down, only two key provisions would also have to fall, those related to coverage for people's pre-existing conditions and limiting costs for those patients with a past medical history. The justices are expected to meet in private on Friday to discuss the issues heard during the arguments this week and take a preliminary secret vote on how they plan to rule. The justices then will begin drafting their written opinions in the private confines of their chambers. The justices also reviewed whether Congress violated the Constitution by prodding states to dramatically expand the state-federal Medicaid healthcare program for the poor, providing coverage for an estimated 17 million Americans. There did not appear to be a majority supporting the challenge to that expansion but like all of the issues in the case, the court appeared deeply divided along ideological lines. Ginsburg said that while 26 states oppose the expansion, other states welcome it. Scalia asked the politics of the states for and against the federal healthcare funds, to which Clement acknowledged the Republican-led states were against it and Democratic-led states favored it. A Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Wednesday found that 65 percent of respondents favored some kind of U.S. healthcare overhaul - 44 percent of them backing the Obama healthcare law and an additional 21 percent wishing it went further. The rest, 35 percent, said they opposed the law and major changes to healthcare generally. The crowd of supporters and opponents of the law outside the court was smaller and more subdued on Wednesday compared to the noisy demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday. There are many more provisions in the law aside from the mandate that people obtain insurance. It prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions, dropping coverage when people get sick or imposing higher costs on women and older people. It extends coverage to the uninsured through federally subsidized health insurance exchanges and a dramatic expansion of Medicaid. It bans lifetime limits on insurance coverage, allows young adults to remain on parents' insurance plans through age 26 and requires preventive services including free mammograms for women. The White House said on Wednesday it was not working on a contingency plan in the event that the court strikes down all or part of the law, saying it is confident that the statute is constitutional. Shares of health insurers were mixed in afternoon trading, with the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index of insurers down 1.1 percent, generally in line with declines for the broader market. Shares of hospital chains were lower, with Community Health Systems down 2.5 percent and Tenet Healthcare off 3.9 percent. The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

Karachi burns & bleeds: ANP observes mourning, transport out

Two ANP workers have been killed by unknown miscreants in Karachi.Once again, the law and order situation has become tense after the incident. Restlessness and agitation have gripped the city as angry protesters started threwing stones on vehicles in Lasbela and Gurumander and torched six vehicles in different localities.
Heavy contingents of police and Rangers have been deployed in sensitive areas. Rangers have been given full authority for maintenance of law and order in the city but it also could not control the situation. Gunmen and arsonists have been on the rampage in Karachi for a couple of days now. Yesterday, at least eight people were killed and dozens of vehicles set alight. The ANP has announced a day of mourning on Thursday. On the other hand, the organisation of private schools has decided that all schools in Karachi would remain shut. Similarly, transport would also stay off the roads. The unrest was sparked by the murder of a party worker and his brother late Monday, reviving fears that the city of 18 million could return to horrifying levels of violence that left more than 1,700 people dead last year. The MQM, which represents the Urdu-speaking majority and sits in President Asif Ali Zardari s governing coalition, denied any responsibility. ANP, which has similar portfolio, also denies involvement in violence.

PML-N responsible for protest

Holding PML-N leadership responsible for the mass protests against power outages and the subsequent harm done to public property, Governor Sardar Latif Khan Khosa on Monday warned Nawaz party to stay away from political gimmicks under the garb of protests against loadshedding. In a press statement issued from Governor House, Khosa said that PML-N leadership was behind the damage caused to public property during mass protests in different cities. He believed that PML-N leadership was provoking people to come out on streets and set public property on fire. The governor said it was a matter of grave concern that people were damaging public property only for having political differences with the federal government. He said that provinces had also been authorised to generate electricity as a result of the 18th amendment, but no body was questioning them for not adding even a single MW into the national grid in the past two years. He asked Punjab government how many power projects it had initiated in the last two years since the passage of 18th amendment in April 2010. He warned PML-N leadership to stay away from what he called ‘siyasi khhail tamasha’ (political gimmicks) and pay heed to resolution of peoples’ problems.

'PML-N govt failed to deliver in Punjab'

THE NEWS Senior Federal Minister for Production Chudhary Pervez Elahi said on Wednesday that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had failed to deliver and solve the problems of the people of Punjab. Addressing elders and notables of Attock division, Pervez Elahi criticized the PML-N leader for inciting the people for civil disobedience, and taking to streets. "Many projects initiated by the Pakistan Muslim League-Q for the uplift and welfare of the people have been stopped by the PML-N government," he alleged. Recounting the achievements during his tenure as Punjab Chief Minister, he said work on around 37 social sector projects was launched including Rescue-122 Service, which had helped around 1.7 million people so far. He said around 300 patrolling posts were set up by his government across the province to maintain law and order. Besides, it had a plan to increase the number of posts to 600. But, the "Khadam Ala" stopped the development work on a number of project initiated by the PML-Q government, he alleged. Pervez Elahi said around Rs 15 to 20 billion have been wasted in the name of 'Sasti Roti'. There was around Rs.100 billion in the kitty when the PML-Q left the Punjab government, while the province is now Rs 500 billion deficit, he added. He was of the view that Punjab's economy had been badly affected due to the poor policies of the PML-N government. Pervez Elahi said his government had upgraded around 64,000 schools and provided free of cost books to deserving children besides appointment of around 75,000 teachers. During his tenure the literacy rate in Punjab was 62 percent, which has unfortunately declined now, he added. He alleged that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was not appointing teachers in 42 colleges of the province established by his government. He said around 37,000 km roads were constructed during his tenure while many development projects were launched for the uplift of the Southern Punjab. Pervez Elahi thanked people of Attock for electing him as Member of National Assembly and assured them that all available resources would be utilized to solve the problems of the area. Former Nazim of Attock Maj Thair Saddiq said uninterrupted electric supply would be ensured in the area. Criticizing the policies of Punjab government, he said the PML-N had not initiated even a single worth-mentioning project for welfare of the people in the province.

Top US commanders meet Pak Army chief

The US and Pakistan on Wednesday resumed their high-level military contacts for the first time since a deadly cross-border NATO strike in the country's restive tribal belt killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year. The meeting between Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the top US commander in the region, Gen James Mattis, and the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Allen took place in Islamabad, a day after President Barack Obama met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Seoul during a nuclear summit. "The focus of the meeting was to discuss the US Pakistani military relationship," Pentagon Press Secretary, George Little, told reporters in Washington."We are hopeful that ground supplies routes would open in the near future, which is important to our effort in Afghanistan," he said. Though this is the first visit to Islamabad by a senior US military official since November 26 incident, but there has been high level contacts between the military officials of the two countries, he said. "We believe very strongly that the relationship with Pakistan is very important," Little said adding that these meetings are reflections of American efforts in this regard. As the Parliamentary review continues, Little said, the US is open to dialogue with Pakistan in reopening of the supply routes. Obama met Gilani on the sidelines of the nuclear summit in Seoul, South Korea, yesterday. The US President said his country and Pakistan are seeking a balanced partnership that respects Islamabad's sovereignty "but also respects our concerns with respect to our national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past." "It is the first high-level meeting after (the NATO air strike) and will focus on the inquiry into the incident and improvements in border coordination procedures," a Pakistani military spokesman said in Islamabad, prior to the meeting. Gilani had ordered a parliamentary review of Pakistan's ties with the US and NATO after November's air strike, which the American military has said was unintentional. The Pakistani military has rejected this stand and called for action against those responsible for the attack. Pakistan closed all routes used to transport supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan after the air strike and forced American personnel to vacate Shamsi airbase in Balochistan province, believed to be a hub for CIA-operated drones

Afghan women jailed for 'moral crimes': rights group

Hundreds of Afghan women

are languishing in prison for so-called moral crimes, which include running away from home and having sex outside marriage, campaign group Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
The report released in Kabul, "I Had to Run Away", called for them to be freed and said President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government had failed to fulfil its obligations under international human rights laws.
"It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The group estimated there are a total of 400 women in prison and girls in juvenile detention facilities having been accused or convicted of offences including "running away", which is not a crime under the Afghan penal code.
"Some women and girls have been convicted of zina -- sex outside of marriage -- after being raped or forced into prostitution," it added.
"Judges often convict solely on the basis of 'confessions' given in the absence of lawyers and 'signed' without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years."
In a deeply conservative society many of the 58 inmates interviewed for the report expressed fears that they could be murdered by their families for reasons of "honour" after they were released.
HRW quoted one 17-year-old inmate named as Khalida P, imprisoned for running away with a boy her parents had forbidden her to marry, as saying: "My parents come every week on visiting day. Every time they tell me that very soon they will pay the prison staff to give me to them, and then they will kill me."
The report also cited a woman sentenced to three years in prison after fleeing a father-in-law who raped her and had her brother murdered as saying: "I am happy in here. Here I am not afraid because I know no-one is coming in the night to kill me."
Karzai has regularly issued pardons for women convicted of "moral crimes", but HRW researcher Heather Barr said: "It's nice that he does this but it doesn't make up for something that's an injustice in the first place.
"It doesn't give you back the months or years you have spent in prison, it doesn't change the fact that so many of these women and girls are at risk of honour killings because they have been convicted of these crimes."
The position of women in Afghanistan has improved dramatically since the fall of the Taliban, with the number of girls in education soaring.
But as the Americans and the Afghan government have pursued peace efforts with the Taliban, women are increasingly concerned that gains in their rights may be compromised in a bid to end the costly and deadly war.
This month Karzai endorsed an edict by the Ulema Council, the country's highest Islamic authority, saying that women were worth less than men.
It said women should avoid "mingling with strange men in various social activities such as education, in bazaars, in offices and other aspects of life", effectively implying that women should not go to university or to work.
It also stated that "teasing, harassing and beating women" was prohibited "without a sharia-compliant reason" -- leaving open the suggestion that in some circumstances, domestic abuse was appropriate.
Barr said that with the West preparing to scale down its presence in Afghanistan, Karzai was looking to "put a more conservative foot forward" and send signals to both the Taliban and powerful traditionalist Afghans "as he tries to assess how he's going to survive the next couple of years".
Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi played down the HRW report. "Over the past decade conditions for women have significantly improved," he said. "The constitution and other laws of Afghanistan defend the rights of women."
But he added: "We can't deny there still are problems faced by women, Afghanistan is a war-torn country."

Prominent Pakistani acid victim commits suicide

Pakistani acid attack victim Fakhra Younus had endured more than three dozen surgeries over more than a decade to repair her severely damaged face and body when she finally decided life was no longer worth living.
The 33-year-old former dancing girl — who was allegedly attacked by her then-husband, an ex-parliamentarian and son of a political powerhouse — jumped from the sixth floor of a building in Rome, where she had been living and receiving treatment.
Her March 17 suicide and the return of her body to Pakistan on Sunday reignited furor over the case, which received significant international attention at the time of the attack. Her death came less than a month after a Pakistani filmmaker won the country's first Oscar for a documentary about acid attack victims.
Younus' story not only drives home the woeful plight of many women in conservative Muslim Pakistan, it is also a reminder of how the country's rich and powerful operate with impunity. Younus' ex-husband, Bilal Khar, was eventually acquitted, but many believe he used his connections to escape the law's grip — a common occurrence in Pakistan.
More than 8,500 acid attacks, forced marriages and other forms of violence against women were reported in Pakistan in 2011, according to The Aurat Foundation, a women's rights organization. Because the group relied mostly on media reports, the figure is likely an undercount.
"The saddest part is that she realized that the system in Pakistan was never going to provide her with relief or remedy," Nayyar Shabana Kiyani, an activist at The Aurat Foundation, said of Younus. "She was totally disappointed that there was no justice available to her."
Younus was a teenage dancing girl working in the red light district of the southern city of Karachi when she met her future husband, the son of Ghulam Mustafa Khar, a former governor of Pakistan's largest province, Punjab. The unusual pairing was the younger Khar's third marriage. He was in his mid-30s at the time.
The couple was married for three years, but Younus eventually left him because he allegedly physically and verbally abused her. She claimed that he came to her mother's house while she was sleeping in May 2000 and poured acid all over her in the presence of her 5-year-old son from a different man.
Tehmina Du4rrani, Ghulam Mustafa Khar's ex-wife and his son's stepmother, became an advocate for Younus after the attack, drawing international attention to the case. She said that Younus' injuries were the worst she had ever seen on an acid attack victim.
"So many times we thought she would die in the night because her nose was melted and she couldn't breathe," said Durrani, who wrote a book about her own allegedly abusive relationship with the elder Khar. "We used to put a straw in the little bit of her mouth that was left because the rest was all melted together."
She said Younus, whose life had always been hard, became a liability to her family, for whom she was once a source of income.
"Her life was a parched stretch of hard rock on which nothing bloomed," Durrani wrote in a column in The News after Younus' suicide.
Younus' ex-husband grew up in starkly different circumstances, amid the wealth and power of the country's feudal elite, and counts Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar as a cousin.
Bilal Khar once again denied carrying out the acid attack in a TV interview following her suicide, suggesting a different man with the same name committed the crime. He claimed Younus killed herself because she didn't have enough money, not because of her horrific injuries, and criticized the media for hounding him about the issue.
"You people should be a little considerate," said Khar. "I have three daughters and when they go to school people tease them."
In February, Younus said in one of her last interviews that powerful Pakistanis brutally treat ordinary citizens and "don't know how painful they make others' lives."
"I want such people to be treated in the same way" as they treat people whose lives they ruin, she told Geo TV over the telephone from Rome.
Younus was energized when the Pakistani government enacted a new set of laws last year that explicitly criminalized acid attacks and mandated that convicted attackers would serve a minimum sentence of 14 years, said Durrani. She hoped to return someday to get justice once her health stabilized.
"She said, 'When I come back, I will reopen the case, and I'll fight myself,' and she was a fighter," Durrani said.
Durrani had to battle with both Younus' ex-husband and the government to send her to Italy, where the Italian government paid for her treatment and provided her money to live on and send her child to school. Pakistani officials argued that sending Younus to Italy would give the country a bad name, Durrani said.
Younus was happy when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for her documentary about acid attack victims in February, but was worried about being forgotten since she wasn't profiled in the film, said Durrani.
Durrani said Younus' case should be a reminder that the Pakistani government needs to do much more to prevent acid attacks and other forms of violence against women, and also help the victims.
"I think this whole country should be extremely embarrassed that a foreign country took responsibility for a Pakistani citizen for 13 years because we could give her nothing, not justice, not security," said Durrani.

Obama pulls out front of Romney and Santorum in key states, a Quinnipiac University Poll shows

President Barack Obama has pulled out front of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in Florida and Ohio, a Quinnipiac University Poll out Wednesday shows, while Pennsylvania remains too close to call.
Here's what the numbers show about the three battleground states:
Florida: Obama tops Romney 49 — 42 percent, and he beats Santorum 50 — 37 percent.
Ohio: Obama leads Romney 47 — 41 percent, and he is out front of Santorum 47 — 40 percent.
Pennsylvania, which is Santorum's home state: Obama edges Romney 45 — 42 percent, and he tops Santorum 48 — 41 percent.
Two months ago Obama and Romney were in a statistical tie in Ohio and Florida.
Women voters are making a difference for Obama, according to the poll. They back the president 6 to 19 percentage points in the three states. Most matchups among men are too close to call.
"President Barack Obama is on a roll in the key swing states. If the election were today, he would carry at least two states. And if history repeats itself, that means he would be re-elected," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"The biggest reason for the president's improving prospects probably is the economy. Roughly six in 10 voters in all three states think the economy is recovering. Moreover, voters blame the oil companies and oil-producing countries for the rise in gasoline prices and only about one in six voters blame them on President Obama."
No candidate has won the White House since 1960 without carrying at least two of these states.
The three Quinnipiac University Polls, conducted March 20 — 26, have a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

After 30 years, Japanese singer sings 'Gandhara in Pakistan' correctly

US generals in Pakistan for talks

Two top US generals will on Wednesday hold talks with the Pakistan army chief in the first such meeting since air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers four months ago, the Pakistan army said.
General James Mattis, the head of US Central Command, and General John Allen, the US commander in Afghanistan, had arrived in Pakistan and would meet army chief General Ashfaq Kayani later Wednesday, a Pakistani official said.
The November 26 strikes, for which the United States has so far refused to apologise, prompted Pakistan to shut its Afghan border to NATO supplies and evict American personnel from an air base reportedly used in its drone war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The Pakistani army said the meeting would focus "on the inquiry into the incident and improvements in border coordination procedures".
A Pakistani security official, speaking to AFP confirmed that the American generals had arrived in Pakistan, but declined to give any further information until after the meeting had taken place later in the afternoon.
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama met Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at a nuclear summit in Seoul, and vowed to rescue their troubled alliance which almost ruptured over months of mistrust and recriminations.
It was the highest-level exchange between the two sides since the killing of Osama bin Laden in a clandestine US raid on Pakistan last May, which humiliated Pakistan and raised fresh questions about its allegiance in the war on terror.

Shahbaz violating constitutional status

Federal Minister for Information Firdous Ashiq Awan said Shahbaz Sharif was violating constitution.
She also declared Punjab Chief Minister trade union leader.
While addressing a press conference, she said that Shahbaz Sharif was violating the Constitution. She said that he was propagating for his vested interests and hatching conspiracies against country for his popularity.
She also requested to the Supreme Court and High Court to take notice of the loss of government property caused by PML-N workers led by party leadership.
She said that the President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani were contesting the case of Pakistan on international level while the PML-N was attacking government properties under the patronage of police.