Monday, April 2, 2012

Remarkable Wines From Strife-Surrounded Vineyards

IN his 72 years, Serge Hochar has produced 53 vintages of Château Musar, a wine that has enthralled several generations only partly because of its unusual provenance, the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
On a whirlwind visit to New York last week, he conducted a late-night tasting at the Blue Ribbon wine bar, poured wines at a dinner at the Spotted Pig and led a lunchtime serving of older vintages at the John Dory, all in less than 48 hours. At the Spotted Pig, Mr. Hochar shared some of his hard-earned wisdom with a predominantly young crowd, which seemed to hang on every word. “I know nothing about wine,” he said. “I know how to make wine, but I know nothing about wine, and each day I discover that I know less.” It was an unusual message in a world that seems so wedded to technical facts and certainty. Far more often wine discussions center on easily discernable questions of pH and acidity, the source of wood for barrels, fermentation temperatures and viticultural techniques. But Mr. Hochar, slender and natty in a gray suit and red tie, was having none of that. Instead, he spoke in gnomic phrases, which perhaps did little to further an understanding of precisely how Musar is made, but did much to explain why his audience, and I, find his wines compelling. “He’s like a philosopher in a way,” said Christy Frank, who discovered Musar as a business school student and now runs a wine shop, Frankly Wines, in TriBeCa, which is adorned with an image of Musar in stained glass. “I love that he never answers the question he’s asked but always takes it to another level and makes it about life rather than about wine.” The wines themselves are remarkable. The red, a blend of cabernet sauvignon with cinsault and carignan, is like an otherworldly Bordeaux, rich, ripe, lightly spicy with its own peculiar funk that people tend to love or hate. The white is even more unusual, made of obaideh and merwah, ancient indigenous grapes. Both are complex and worthy of long aging. But just as significant was the Musar story. Through the decades of strife that engulfed Lebanon, Mr. Hochar continued making his family’s wines. Aside from the general astonishment that wines so good could come from so unheralded a viticultural source, Château Musar became an emblem of perseverance and human achievement in the wake of dehumanizing conflict. Now, as Lebanon has quieted down, a new generation has fallen in love with the wines of Musar. The wines themselves exert their charms, of course, but much of the allure comes from Mr. Hochar’s way of doing business, of making his own rules and persuading his audience through the power of his charisma. At the Spotted Pig dinner, for example, he insisted on reversing the usual order of food and wine service. After beginning with appetizers and Musar’s Jeune Rosé and Jeune Blanc, which Mr. Hochar described as modern wines made at the behest of Musar’s winemaker, the next course was char-grilled lamb with Swiss chard, zaatar yogurt and a compote of black olives and tomatoes, served with three vintages of Musar red. This was followed by quail marinated in cinnamon and saffron, served with three vintages of Musar white. “Once you taste the wines, you’ll understand why my white is my biggest red,” he explained. It’s the sort of wisdom that endears him to fans, like Carla Rzeszewski, the wine director at the Spotted Pig, who, with the chef, April Bloomfield, spent four days putting together the brilliant menu to go with the wines. “I think I fell in love with these wines before I knew Serge,” Ms. Rzeszewski said. “But I think the wine follows the winemaker, if the wine is honest and true and raw.” Of the three reds, all delicious with the lamb, the 2001 was lovely, pure and very young, all elbows and knees. The 2000 had a touch of characteristic funk to it, yet seemed even more disjointed than the ’01. By contrast the 1993 was mellow and fully integrated, with a core of fruit augmented by subtle earthy, almost animal aromas and an attractive funkiness that seemed to stem primarily from volatile acidity, or V.A., a quality that when too pronounced can be a flaw. But Mr. Hochar sees it differently. “Wine is such a complex thing, and V.A. is part of wine,” Mr. Hochar said. “If you have none, it’s a flaw. It’s part of fermentation. It’s a question of balance. Life is harmony.” After the reds came the quail and the white wines. Indeed, as Mr. Hochar suggested, they were bigger than the reds — not more alcoholic, but richer. Served at room temperature, their texture and opaque complexity reminded me of good white Bordeaux or the white Riojas of López de Heredia. The ’04 had a slightly honeyed quality yet was stone dry. The ’03 offered more mineral flavors, while the ’01 seemed to lack a bit of harmony. Best of all was an older white served with the cheese, a gorgeous 1975 that had the same sweet-yet-dry quality as the ’04. “As they grow older, they grow younger,” Mr. Hochar said. The one consistent thing about the wines is how inconsistent they are, as Mr. Hochar might say. Each vintage is profoundly individual, partly, no doubt, because wine from Lebanon, one of the oldest wine regions in the world, is so unusual, and partly because Mr. Hochar makes so little use of modern winemaking techniques, which might serve to file away Musar’s distinctive edges. “The dimension of taste in Lebanon is different than anywhere else,” he said. “Not better, but different. Better has no meaning.” In a world full of wines trying to be the best, many people find it refreshing to see a wine simply trying to be itself. “Everybody is hungry for something that’s just honest,” Ms. Rzeszewski said, “that’s forthcoming about where it comes from, instead of just being polished.”

Myanmar's Suu Kyi hopes victory is dawn of new era

Myanmar election officials confirmed Monday that Aung San Suu Kyi's
opposition party won a landslide victory in historic by-elections. The democracy icon said she hopes the vote will mark the start of a new era for the long-repressed country. Suu Kyi spoke to thousands of cheering supporters who gathered outside her party's headquarters a day after the closely watched balloting. "The success we are having is the success of the people," Suu Kyi said, as the sea of supporters chanted her name and thrust their hands in the air to flash "V'' for victory signs. The state Election Commission confirmed that her National League for Democracy had swept to a victory that will put it at the head of a small opposition bloc in the military-dominated parliament. State radio and television broadcast the commission's announcement that the NLD had won 40 of the 45 seats at stake. Results from five constituencies in remote areas were not yet reported. The NLD's own count gave it 43 seats, while it awaited results from one constituency in distant Shan state. It failed to contest one constituency after its candidate was disqualified. "It is not so much our triumph as a triumph of the people who have decided that they have to be involved in the political process in this country," Suu Kyi said. "We hope this will be the beginning of a new era." The Nobel Peace Prize laureate will take public office for the first time and lead the NLD in parliament, where it will hold just about 6 percent of the seats. The victory, however, marks a major milestone in the Southeast Asian nation, which is emerging from a ruthless era of military rule, and is an astonishing reversal of fortune for a woman who became one of the world's most prominent prisoners of conscience. Nay Zin Latt, an adviser to President Thein Sein, told The Associated Press that he was "not really surprised that the NLD had won a majority of seats" in the by-election. Asked if Suu Kyi might be given a Cabinet post, he said: "Everything is possible. She could be given any position of responsibility because of her capacity." The victories for Suu Kyi's party included all four seats up for grabs in the capital, Naypyitaw, which is populated by civil servants, in an embarrassing sign of defeat for the government. An official from the Election Commission said full results from remote areas were expected by midweek. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The former military junta had kept Suu Kyi imprisoned in her lakeside home for the better part of two decades. When she was finally released in late 2010, just after a general election which many deemed neither free nor fair, few could have imagined she would so quickly make the leap from democracy advocate to elected official — a victory her supporters hope will open the way for a potential presidential run in 2015. But Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has changed dramatically over that time. The junta finally ceded power last year, and although many of its leaders merely swapped their military uniforms for civilian suits, they stunned even their staunchest critics by releasing political prisoners, signing cease-fires with rebels, relaxing press censorship and opening a direct dialogue with Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991 while under house arrest. Hoping to convince the international community of its progress, Myanmar invited dozens of election observers to monitor the vote and granted visas to hundreds of foreign journalists. Suu Kyi said Friday that campaigning had been marred by irregularities and could not be considered fair — allegations her party reiterated Sunday. Malgorzata Wasilewska, head of the European Union's observer team, called the voting process "convincing enough" but stopped short of declaring it credible yet. "In the polling stations that I visited ... I saw plenty of good practice and good will, which is very important," she said. The United States and the European Union have said that the fairness of the voting will be a major factor in their decision on whether to lift economic sanctions that were imposed to penalize the former junta. The White House called the election an "important step" in the country's democratic transformation. "We hope it is an indication that the government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency, and reform," it said in a statement. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the participation of candidates from various parties, including the National League for Democracy, "another significant step toward a better future for Myanmar" and acknowledged "the courage and vision of President Thein Sein, which has made such progress possible," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. "Despite some complaints of irregularities during the voting, key stakeholders in Myanmar, including political parties, have stressed to the U.N. team their strong belief that these by-elections are a boost for the ongoing reforms and a very important step towards a more peaceful and democratic future in Myanmar," Nesirky said, adding that a U.N. team had witnessed voting in some constituencies. The topdown revolution has left Myanmar befuddled and wondering how it happened — or at least, why now? One theory says the military-backed regime had long been desperate for legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions, and its leadership had quietly recognized that their impoverished country had fallen far behind the rest of skyscraper-rich Asia. Sunday's by-election was called to fill 45 vacant seats in Myanmar's 664-member bicameral assembly and regional parliaments, and the military-backed government had little to lose by holding it. The last vote had already been engineered in their favor — the army was allotted 25 percent of the seats, and the ruling party won most of the rest. "The real danger of the by-elections is the overblown expectations many in the West have cast on them," said David Scott Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar for Human Rights Watch. "The hard work really does start afterward," he said. "Constitutional reform, legal reform, tackling systemic corruption, sustainable economic development, continued human rights challenges ... will take many years."

Pakistan: Denial of human rights

The Express Tribune
It is humiliating for any law-abiding Muslim of Pakistan to know that Hindu marriages are not registered officially in the country, which leaves the Hindu community completely exposed to malpractices of false conversion and forcible marriage. A protest gathering by Scheduled Caste Rights Movement (SCRM) in front of the Karachi Press Club on March 30, saw a demonstrating Hindu woman saying: “In 2011, a bill was presented in the National Assembly to pass a law to register Hindu marriages but so far it has seen no progress. Hindu women are being constantly victimised. In the absence of a marriage law, they remain deprived of basic social, political and economic rights”. When a Hindu is subjected to incidents of abduction, forced conversion and deprivation of benefits from any government scheme, there is nothing anyone can do to safeguard their rights. One complaint that has arisen to the top of the rostrum of discriminations was expressed by a Hindu woman of Rahimyar Khan from Punjab: “For the past 60 years, Hindu women have been discriminated against. Girls and even married women are being abducted and later remarried to non-Hindus, which goes unnoticed because there is no law to protect us”. To protect their young girls Hindu parents preemptively marry them at a very early age. In 2010, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that at least 25 Hindu girls were abducted and converted by force every month. Finding themselves thrown at the mercy of unconscionable Muslims, Hindus are leaving Pakistan, thus bringing the total population from 16 per cent in 1947 to a mere two per cent today. Since 2008, more than 10 Sindhi Hindu families have migrated to other countries every month. The eight to ten Hindu families who migrate from Pakistan to India every month belong to the well-off stratum; those left behind are the lowest of the low, deserving of the compassion of Pakistan’s overwhelming Muslim majority. However, the state is blind to this reality. The three million Hindus, as per the 1998 census are still the largest religious minority in Pakistan, most of them located in Karachi, Mirpurkhas and Sukkur regions of Sindh. There was a time when Sindh was known as the most tolerant province in Pakistan, its people bound together by language and the Sufi tradition, respectful of each other’s faith. With the rise of extremism and the weakening of the writ of the state through proxy jihad and non-state actors all over Pakistan, including Sindh, the Hindu community has come under pressure. No one cares that the Constitution is being violated by the malpractices endured by the non-Muslims. Not even the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, restoring the 1973 Constitution to its original shape — which corrected the deceptively altered text of the 1949 Objectives Resolution in respect of the minorities — has woken the government up to the situation. The courts, looking into cases of alleged abduction and conversion followed by marriage to Muslims, are rendered helpless by the yet-to-be rationalised right to convert, backed by an aggressive clergy. One hopes that the government and the Federal Shariat Court are moved by humanity and take note of what is happening themselves. The ground reality fact is that individuals of a community who are brought to such a low level of survival will try to ameliorate their condition by converting. This in itself is enough to outlaw freewheeling conversions. Christians in Punjab are subject to the same evil practices and many have resorted to false conversion to avoid the fallout of a rapidly criminalising majority community. The Hindus will benefit greatly if this negative social trend among Muslims is arrested through the registration of Hindu marriage, with the assurance that conversion of a non-Muslim married woman will be accepted only after the dissolution of her earlier marriage. Today, the state does not recognise the Hindu marriage and, therefore, displays a lack of respect for the sanctity of this minority community.

Wooing the youth through laptops

THE Punjab government’s initiative of laptops distribution among universities and colleges’ top merit students is being well-taken as an overwhelming number of students have been involved in the process for the last few months. Those, who have received laptops, are jubilant, while those left out are expecting to get the systems in the next phase. While another class of students who initially qualified to reflect on the list of selected candidates on Punjab government’s website and later denied the laptops are highly agitated – and agitating. Apart from several students, many PML-N opponents and neutral citizens protest that why the PML-N is using public resources to advance its political agenda. In Lahore, the first laptop distribution ceremony at Punjab University has consumed millions of rupees — either to be paid by the Punjab University or the Punjab government. The only speech by PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif was nothing but to woo the youth, who are most likely to play a vital role in next elections – by polling their votes. Sharif castigated his major opponents — PPP led by Asif Ali Zardari and PTI led by Imran Khan — and said the PML-N was the only party that would fetch the nation out of crisis. He even kept on asking students to check PML-N previous tenures’ achievements and success stories on the laptops given to them. While he criticized the PPP for corruption and economic backwardness of Pakistanis, Sharif conveniently ignored the money used to hold the laptops distribution ceremony which eventually allowed him to address a crowed of over 20,000 students and their parents as part of his ongoing forthcoming election campaign. He also wooed the youth by committing that the Punjab government would procure some 300,000 laptops in the next budget and if the youth would support it for a “historic win” in next elections, it would procure one million laptops for top merit students across the country. Although the Lahore High Court has restrained the Punjab University to spend even a single penny on the ceremony — a “political jalsa” in nature, the people ask if it is fair that the money spent by the Punjab government on the purchase of laptops be used by the political party in power in Punjab. Presence of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif at the function might have justified the spending by the Punjab government, they opined. On the other hand, one cannot criticise the PU vice-chancellor for allocating the money in the context that he is a subordinate and ordered to do so as is the case in all other universities and other public departments, including education boards, which were funding to hold functions, lunches and dinners and then keep on adjusting expenditures. Even various campaigns are funded by public sector departments. However, the dark side of this situation is that all those at the helm of affairs of public sector departments feel privileged in facilitating their political bosses. At Punjab University, the LHC order had led to the “blocking” of T-Shirts and Caps (for which Rs6.5 million were allocated), badges and leaflets (having an allocation of Rs400,000 and Rs175,000, respectively). Either these promotional materials were never procured or dumped. However, the money for tentage (allocation of Rs15 million), banners and streamers (allocation of Rs5 million), sound system (allocation of Rs2 million) and music master (Rs60,000) was spent. It is hoped that whatever the money spent by the PU will be refunded. The second function of laptops distribution at King Edward Medical University was again met the same fate as the ceremony was chaired by PML-N MNA Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, who however, intentionally restrained himself from speaking politics – perhaps due to criticism already in the air. The KEMU had allocated some Rs7 million for the ceremony. As many as 12 more laptops distribution ceremonies have been scheduled in universities, medical colleges, autonomous and public colleges in the city that conclude at University of Engineering and Technology on April 7. In all, some 43,329 laptops will be distributed among students in Lahore. Still on the brighter side of the picture, hundreds of students are protesting and demanding that they should also be given laptops. An overwhelming number of such students belong to afternoon and evening classes in universities, particularly Punjab University, who had gone through a long and tedious process of registration as the government continued revising criteria

Health concerns: In Charsadda, marble factories pose threat to life

The Express Tribune
A local body established for the protection of farmers’ rights has demanded that the government immediately shut down marble factories in Shabqadar, Charsadda district. Residents complain that the factories drain sewage into the main canals, contaminating water meant for consumption and irrigation. At a public meeting held in village Aranda on Sunday, residents said waste from marble factories in the area is drained into the Michini canal. Siraj, the head of the committee, said there are around 35 marble factories in the villages of Khwajazai and Daryab Koroona. “It’s not only damaging for the crops but people in these villages have started suffering from health problems.” He said children, who used the canal for swimming, are suffering from skin diseases, typhoid, and hepatitis. Mohabat Khan, a farmer, said his cattle died after it drank water from the canal. “Four of my goats and a cow have died.” The residents said they took up the issue with government officials, but in vain. “Our complaints fell on deaf ears when we approached the district coordination officer and executive district officer of Charsadda,” said resident Muhammad Islam. Lands turning arid Nearly 2,000 acres of land is irrigated by the Michini canal. Crops like wheat, sugarcane and some vegetables are grown in the area, but the land is becoming arid with each passing day. Local farmers claim that the villagers paid Rs0.2 million to the Irrigation Department to block the channel for the sewage, but nothing has happened so far. “We will not pay them in the future due to their non-cooperative attitude,” said an elder from the locality, Siana Khan. A government officer said the department had sent an application to the local SHO to register an FIR against 12 factory owners under Section 19 of the Environmental Protection Act, but the SHO refused to register the case.

Laptop scheme a scam? Punjab Chief Minister’s Free Laptop Scheme

As the laptop
distribution continues on various campuses of Lahore, the beneficiaries of this scheme flock the IT markets for laptop related services including operating system changes and software installations. The walls and notice boards in educational campuses are flooded with the advertisements like “Install Windows on your laptop”, “Get MS Office and Windows Media Player”. The laptops are given with Linux-based operating system Ubuntu installed on it. Even the operating systems installed have upgraded versions available easily but the laptops came by default with Ubuntu 10.10 version while currently Ubuntu 12.04 is being used. However unfamiliarity of students with Linux-based OS has created a hoax amongst them and they are shifting to Microsoft Operating Systems Windows 7 or XP. Educational campuses surveys disclose that the rate of Windows installation is varied across institutes and ranges between Rs 150 and Rs 500. Similarly, in IT markets, the price for similar services varies from Rs 200 to Rs 500, while licensed versions of Windows 7 Professional installation costs some Rs 12,000 to Rs 13,000 per laptop. Contrary to these genuine softwares, their pirated versions are easily available on a Rs 50 DVD. Students usually cannot afford that much prices while at the same time they fear the pirated versions may harm their laptops that is why they prefer to get the windows installed from IT experts. A Pakistan Today survey showed mostly people advertising their services use these pirated versions and are earning quite a good bit of money out of it. Yumna Munir, a student of Hailey College of Commerce, said that she had got Windows installed by a person who had placed an ad on her college’s notice board for Rs 500. The advertiser fooled the young lady by claiming that he had installed the genuine Windows 7 on her laptop that she recently got through the Punjab Chief Minister’s Free Laptop Scheme. An advertisement near M.A.O College reads “Get Windows 7 or XP for Rs 500 with full drivers and softwares on Shahbaz Sharif’s Laptops”. The advertisement states the service would be provided at door step. Following the package details, there were written two cell phone numbers to contact for hiring the service. IT gurus point out that the Punjab government smartly tried to comply with the intellectual property rights by offering free laptops with pre-installed Linux-based open source operating system, Ubuntu. But the government should understand that in Pakistan IT growth is based on Microsoft led products, like Windows and Office applications, they maintained. Commenting on the Chief Minister Laptop scheme hardware, IT wizards indicate that though the machine processor is relatively based on new technology, it is slower than the latest iSeries processors. They point out that Dell Inspiron, the laptop given to students, is equipped with Intel Pentium B950 dual-core processor, which is designed for entry-level machines. Though, it is based on Sandy Bridge architecture, but many of the features, like Turbo Boost for the CPU part, Hyper Threading, AES, Virtualization (VT-x and VT-d), Trusted Execution or Intel Quick Sync, are deactivated. A simple web search on Google also presents a similar picture about the laptops. A processor benchmarking website ( reveals that the processor installed in the Dell Inspiron n4050 is the most sluggish processor available in the market. The benchmark chart topper common CPUs indicates that the processor these laptops hhave in them, Intel Pentium B950 2.10GHz, is slower from most common processors, Corei5-2400, Core i7870, AMD Phenom II X6, Corei7-2630QM, Corei7 950, Core i7 960, Core i5-2500K, Core i7-2670!M, Core i7-2600 and Core i7-2600K.

China’s unique value

Beijing’s recent choice of avoiding US pressure and stepping away from the Iran pipeline notwithstanding, its relationship with Pakistan is unique indeed, primarily because the political equation has been made to revolve around long term development arrangements. Those familiar with the six-decade long relationship were neither surprised by Islamabad’s silence at the pullout nor by the pleasantness at Boao, where the two sides committed to raising bilateral trade to $15 billion. Truth be told, China is a far more valuable resource for Pakistan than the other way around. The Chinese embrace of Pakistan comes not just from the latter’s role long ago as a facilitator in engagement with the west. Their’s hasn’t been a culture that celebrates sentiment for some time now. They realise well Pakistan’s geostrategic significance (hence the bridge-chapter), more so now than ever, when the most potent threat of the 21st century will either stem from or be contained by it. Apart from China, the PM’s engagement with delegations from Iran and Kazakhstan were particularly instructive. The Iran pipeline is definitely on, which means further engagement in energy projects should follow. But the offer of access to short sea routes to Kazakhstan will gain a vital reciprocal foothold in central Asia, which must partner with Pakistan on more than just an economic level to counter the challenges ahead. The menace of terror has already declared both a common enemy, with signs that their theatre of war will spread further across the continent. In sum, while the government’s performance on the home front finds little praise, its position on South Asia seems far sighted and to Pakistan’s benefit. The Chinese factor is by far the most crucial. Even as it let discretion be the better part of valor in the Iran pipeline specific faceoff with America, it is ever ready to help friends in time of need, no matter how tall the opposition. We must build on our unique relationship with China.

Obama says he remains confident health care law will be upheld by high court
President Barack Obama offered a firm defense of his health care law, saying Monday he remains confident that the law will be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and warning that “unelected” justices should not overturn the will of Congress. “We are confident that this will be upheld because it should be upheld,” Obama said during a joint news conference with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Obama said bluntly: “It’s constitutional.”Obama’s assessment came a week after the health care law pushed by his administration faced skepticism from conservative justices during three days of oral arguments, raising questions over whether the president’s signature accomplishment will remain intact. “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress,” Obama said. “I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench is judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint.” “That an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, here’s a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this court will recognize that, and not take that step,” Obama said. The president said “there’s not only an economic element to this, and a legal element to this, but there’s a human element to this. And I hope that is not forgotten in this political debate.” Conservative justices raised questions about Congress’ power to force people to buy health insurance, a key part of the new law, suggesting problems for the insurance requirement and possibly the entire law. The White House has defended the health care law, noting its benefits for young people who can remain on their parents’ health insurance for a longer period of time and seniors who pay less for prescription drugs.

Obama has 9-point lead over Romney in swing states

A new Gallup poll shows that
President Obama has opened up his largest lead over Mitt Romney to date, both nationally and among voters in a dozen key November battlegrounds. Obama's 51% to 42% lead among registered voters in 12 "swing states" is his first over Romney in the USA Today/Gallup poll. Romney led in those states 48% to 46% in the previous survey in mid-February. Driving that advantage is a significant gender gap. The two are statistically tied among men, with Romney's 48% to 47% lead within the margin of error. But among women, Obama has a 54% to 36% lead. The poll's findings come after a period in which women's health issues, more specifically access to contraception through health insurance, became a major issue in the presidential campaign. Among women voters in swing states, healthcare was the top issue respondents said would influence their vote for president, followed by gas prices and unemployment. Among men, the top issue was the deficit and national debt. Healthcare ranked third, and unemployment ranked fifth. Romney acknowledged Sunday that he has "work to do" to get his message out to women during a campaign stop in Wisconsin. "We have work to do, to make sure we take our message to the women of America, so they understand how we're going to get good jobs and we're going to have a bright economic future for them and for their kids. And make sure that these distortions that the Democrats throw in are clarified and the truth is heard," Romney said, according to Politico. Obama was favored among women voters by a margin of 56% to 43% over John McCain in 2008, according to the national exit poll. The 12 states identified as "swing states" in the USA Today/Gallup poll are Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Among all registered voters nationwide, Obama's lead over Romney is 49% to 45%. In February, the two men were tied 47% to 47%. Obama leads 48% to 40% among registered voters who identified as independents.
The data showed a sharp decline in enthusiasm among Romney supporters. In January, 56% of Romney voters said they were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting, compared with 50% of Obama voters who said the same. Now, just 43% of Romney voters say they're enthusiastic about voting, compared with 46% of Obama voters who say so. The national poll of 901 registered voters was conducted from March 25-26. The swing state poll was conducted from March 20-26 among 933 registered voters.

Eurozone unemployment hits all-time high

Unemployment across the 17-nation eurozone hit a record high of 10.8 per cent in February, up from 10.7 per cent the previous month, according to official figures. The data released on Monday represent the highest level since the introduction of the single currency in 1999. Official eurozone unemployment figures Spain 23.6 per cent Greece 21.0 per cent France 10.0 per cent Italy 9.3 per cent Germany 5.7 per cent The Eurostat data agency estimated that more than 17.1 million men and women were out of work in February after the ranks of the unemployed rose by 1.48 million compared with February 2011. The eurozone's unemployment rate has risen for 10 consecutive months, as nations across the region enforce austerity measures to fend off the two-year-old debt crisis. Eurozone leaders have vowed to install growth and job-creation strategies to counter a looming recession. They insist that budget cuts and structural reforms must continue to restore market confidence. The unemployment rate rose in 18 European Union states and fell in eight others compared to a year ago. Spain remained the nation with the highest rate at 23.6 per cent, followed by Greece at 21 per cent. The states with the lowest rates were Austria at 4.2 per cent, the Netherlands at 4.9, Luxembourg at 5.2 per cent and Germany with a 5.7 per cent jobless rate. Entering recession The new unemployment record followed a separate report confirming that manufacturing activity in Europe shrank in February. It is the eighth month in a row that the Purchasing Manager's Index has been below 50, which indicates contraction. France was particularly weak, with manufacturing activity falling to the lowest level in almost three years. Economists agree that the eurozone area is probably in recession. "It looks odds-on that eurozone GDP contracted again in the first quarter of 2012, thereby moving into recession," said Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight. "And the prospects for the second quarter of 2012 currently hardly look rosy," said Archer.

Failure of Istanbul Meeting, Ankara Hostile Towards Syrian Protester against Meeting

The majority of the Turkish media highlighted the failure of the so-called "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul despite the attempts of pro-government media to show the opposite.Writers specialized in the international affairs underlined that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu failed to persuade the participants in the meeting to issue concrete decisions against Syria. Turkish TV channels and newspapers talked about the aggressive and provocative stance of the Turkish security forces against the Syrian pro-government protesters in Istanbul who condemned the meeting. The renown Turkish journalist Asli Aydintash from Milliyet Newspaper asked " what democratic message could Ankara send to President Bashar al-Assad through the democracy of burner pepper gas, which couldn't stand the shouting of only thirty people." Cumhuriyet newspaper revealed that foreign ministers of western countries, including the USA, Britain and Germany refused a Turkish proposal on granting the UN special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, two weeks only for his mission, as they also rejected another Turkish proposal on arming the opposition and the militia of the so called "Free Army" and granting monetary aid. The participants of the Meeting also ruled out discussing the idea of establishing a buffer zone on the Turkish-Syrian border.

Syria Agrees to Cease-Fire on April 10, Annan Says

Syria’s government has promised that its armed forces would stop shooting and withdraw from population centers by April 10, the special emissary attempting to end the violent year-old uprising in Syria told the United Nations Security Council on Monday. The special emissary, Kofi Annan, also told the Security Council that his team had held constructive talks with anti-government forces in the Syria conflict as part of an attempt to gain their adherence to his cease-fire plan. It is widely expected that rebels would wait for the Syria government’s forces to stop shooting before they would agree to reciprocate. It was unclear whether the latest diplomatic scrambling represented a meaningful breakthrough in efforts to halt the Syria conflict, which has left more than 9,000 people dead since President Bashar al-Assad moved to crush political opposition inspired by the Arab Spring movement in March 2011. The Syrian government’s commitment came a day after a large gathering of nations, including many Arab nations and the United States, moved closer to a direct intervention in the conflict by agreeing to provide equipment and money to the array of rebel forces seeking to end President Assad’s grip on power. The “Friends of Syria” conference in Turkey was assailed by Mr. Assad’s government as an “enemies of Syria” plot, intended to undermine Mr. Annan’s effort, and as the equivalent of an act of war on Syria. Mr. Annan, the former secretary general appointed by the United Nations and Arab League to seek a negotiated end to the uprising in Syria, spoke to the Security Council privately over a videolink from Geneva. The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, who is the current president of the Security Council, briefed reporters afterward on Mr. Annan’s discussions. She said Mr. Annan had urged the Syrian government to immediately begin implementing his plan — as it had previously agreed to do — and that the Syrian government had pledged to adhere to the cease-fire and troop pullback provisions of Mr. Annan’s plan by April 10. “That commitment was provided by the Syrian authorities,” Ms. Rice told reporters. Speaking as the representative of the United States, however, she expressed skepticism that the Syrian government would honor such a pledge. “We have seen promises made and promises broken,” she said. “We have seen commitments to end violence followed by massive intensification of violence. The proof is in the actions, not the words.” She also said that United Nations peacekeeping arm would begin planning for how to monitor a cease-fire in Syria, even though many necessary elements of such a monitoring — most notably the Syrian government’s agreement — were not resolved. Asked how the United Nations could ensure compliance with Mr. Annan’s plan between now and April 10, she responded: “You know the issue. That hasn’t been permitted because of the circumstances.” Mr. Annan’s cease-fire proposal received a large credibility boost last month when it was unanimously endorsed by the Security Council, including Russia and China, longtime defenders of Mr. Assad that thwarted previous efforts by the council to stop the bloodshed in the Syria conflict. The current plan by Mr. Annan calls for a U.N.-supervised ceasefire by all parties, withdrawal of soldiers and heavy weapons from cities, delivery of humanitarian aid, release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists and the right to peacefully demonstrate and assemble.

Russia rejects deadlines for Annan's Syria peace plan

Russia today rejected Arab and Western calls for a deadline to be set for the Syrian regime's implementation of a peace plan put forward by international mediator Kofi Annan.
"Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said while on a visit to the former Soviet nation of Armenia. Lavrov added that only the UN Security Council, where Russia wields veto power, could put any time restrictions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's compliance with the six-point initiative. "Annan has a Security Council mandate and it is up to the UN Security Council to decide who is complying with this plan and how," he said. The so-called "Friends of Syria" meeting of Arab and Western nations in Istanbul agreed this weekend to ask the UN to give Assad a deadline to cooperate with Annan's solution to the year-long conflict. The plan itself demands that Assad pull out his forces from major flashpoint cities and introduce a daily two-hour ceasefire that could let aid workers deliver supplies and treat the thousands of injured civilians. But it puts forward no time frame in which Assad has to comply. Lavrov said the peace plan would not work unless rebel forces also agreed to halt fire. "The demands should be put to all sides of the barricades," Lavrov said. "We intend to be friends with both sides in Syria," he added in reference to Russia's past support for Assad.

Palestinian woman held for alleged Facebook insult

Rights activists say a Palestinian university lecturer has been detained on accusations that her Facebook page insulted President Mahmoud Abbas. Hadeel Hneiti of the al-Haq rights group said Monday that Palestinian security forces arrested Ismat Abdul-Khaleq after they found writing on her Facebook page accusing Abbas of being a traitor and demanding he resign. Hneiti said the 37-year-old Abdul-Khaleq was taken into custody Wednesday. Abdul-Khaleq's detention is the latest in what activists say is growing intolerance of criticism. They say the government has been heavily monitoring Facebook. A newspaper reporter has been held on suspicion of defamation since last week, and two other reporters were briefly interrogated last week over their writings. The public prosecutor has said Abdul-Khaleq's comments were defamatory.

Syria media slams "Friends of Syria" meeting as deformed

Official Syrian media launched on Monday a scathing criticism on the "Friends of Syria" conference held a day earlier in Turkey's Istanbul, describing it as deformed and an attempt to "bury the mission of Arab League (AL)-UN joint envoy Kofi Annan." Al-Thawra daily said the conference was an attempt to " circumvent political solution and to bury Annan's mission." Al-Baath newspaper said in an editorial titled "a new failure" that the conference had turned into a "platform for aggressive and provocative statements against Syria that encourage more bloodshed. " It said the conference was an attempt to "blow up and derail" Annan's mission, adding "it was normal for this deformed conference to fail ... as the participants would be obliged sooner or later to acknowledge that the steadfastness of the Syrians throughout the past months and their gathering around their leadership ... have enable Syria to go beyond the crisis, fall all bets and win the battle." Tishrin daily said the conference has consolidated the presence of a regional and international orientation that runs counter to the content of Annan's initiative. "There is an orientation towards a field and political escalation ... to slam doors before any political solution to the crisis." it said, adding that this stance has raised a question about Annan's position towards these practices and policies that impede the success of his mission. Tishrin also criticized some countries' decision to arm and submit financial aids to the Syrian opposition, saying "this demonstrate the size of foreign involvement in fueling events in Syria." On Sunday, representatives from more than 80 countries voiced support for the Syrian opposition as they met in the Turkish city of Istanbul, seeking to mount international pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to stop the year-long violence and agree on a peaceful political transition. The meeting agreed to recognize the opposition broad-based Syrian National Council (SNC) as a legitimate representative of all Syrians and an umbrella organization for Syrian opposition groups. The conference also vowed to render all possible assistance, both technical advice and direct support, to a Syria-led political process that is peaceful, orderly and stable. It also agreed to continue and increase, as a matter of urgency, its assistance, including funding and financial support, to meet the needs of the Syrian people. Washington will offer another 12 million U.S. dollars in humanitarian aid for Syria's embattled population, and will also provide communication equipment to help the opposition forces evade government attacks. Earlier, UN-AL joint envoy on Syria Kofi Annan garnered support for his plan from almost all world leaders, which calls for an end to violence by all parties, a proposal for a cease-fire initiated by the Syrian government, a daily halt in fighting for the delivery of humanitarian aid and treatment for the wounded, as well as talks between the government and opposition. Syria has officially approved the plan but denied to pull troops from restive cities until peace and stability are restored in these areas. The Syrian government blames the year-long crisis on armed groups working out a foreign conspiracy. Syria's ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jae'farri said Saturday that more than 6,000 Syrians were killed by gunshots of armed groups which, he said, have also kidnapped more than 1,500 others since the start of unrest in Syria in mid March 2011. He added that the deaths include 204 women and 56 children, 478 policemen, 2,088 army personnel and security agents. The United Nations said last week the number of people killed since the unrest began in March last year has exceeded 9,000.

U.S Supreme Court OKs strip searches for even minor offenses

The Supreme Court refused Monday to limit strip searches of new jail inmates, even those arrested for minor traffic offenses. Dividing 5-4 along ideological lines, the high court said jail guards needed the full authority to closely search everyone who is entering a jail in order to maintain safety and security. It would be “unworkable,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, to make an exception for persons who are arrested for minor offenses. County jails often must process hundreds of new inmates a day, he said. "Experience shows that people arrested for minor offense have tried to smuggle prohibited items into jail," Kennedy said. And officials cannot take such a risk, he added. The decision is a defeat for civil liberties groups and a New Jersey man who was strip-searched twice after he was stopped on a highway and taken to jail over an unpaid fine. Albert Florence was held for six days and finally released when he showed the fine had already been paid before he was arrested. He then sued county jail officials for violating his privacy and subjecting him to a humiliating strip search. A judge ruled in his favor, but he lost before the U.S. Court of Appeals. In delivering his opinion, Kennedy said violent criminals sometimes are arrested for minor traffic offenses. He cited the example of Timothy McVeigh,the man who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. He was stopped and taken to jail for a traffic violation. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined with Kennedy. In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said it was unreasonable to subject possibly innocent persons to humiliating searches, particularly when they are not suspected of a serious crime. "In my view, such a search of an individual arrested for a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence is an unreasonable search forbidden by the 4th Amendment," he wrote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan agreed. The case was Florence vs. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County.

China Sees U.S. as Competitor and Declining Power, Insider Says

The senior leadership of the Chinese government increasingly views the competition between the United States and China as a zero-sum game, with China the likely long-range winner if the American economy and domestic political system continue to stumble, according to an influential Chinese policy analyst. China views the United States as a declining power, but at the same time believes that Washington is trying to fight back to undermine, and even disrupt, the economic and military growth that point to China’s becoming the world’s most powerful country, according to the analyst, Wang Jisi, the co-author of “Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust,” a monograph published this week by the Brookings Institution in Washington and the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University. Mr. Wang, who has an insider’s view of Chinese foreign policy from his positions on advisory boards of the Chinese Communist Party and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contributed an assessment of Chinese policy toward the United States. Kenneth Lieberthal, the director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings, and a former member of the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, wrote the appraisal of Washington’s attitude toward China. In a joint conclusion, the authors say the level of strategic distrust between the two countries has become so corrosive that if not corrected the two countries risk becoming open antagonists. The United States is no longer seen as “that awesome, nor is it trustworthy, and its example to the world and admonitions to China should therefore be much discounted,” Mr. Wang writes of the general view of China’s leadership. In contrast, China has mounting self-confidence in its own economic and military strides, particularly the closing power gap since the start of the Iraq war. In 2003, he argues, America’s gross domestic product was eight times as large as China’s, but today it is less than three times as large. The candid writing by Mr. Wang is striking because of his influence and access, in Washington as well as in Beijing. Mr. Wang, who is dean of Peking University’s School of International Studies and a guest professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, has wide access to senior American policy makers, making him an unusual repository of information about the thinking in both countries. Mr. Wang said he did not seek approval from the Chinese government to write the study, nor did he consult government officials about it. It is fairly rare for a Chinese analyst who is not part of the strident nationalistic drumbeat to strip away the official talk by both the United States and China about mutual cooperation. Both Mr. Wang and Mr. Lieberthal argue that beneath the surface, both countries see deep dangers and threatening motivations in the policies of the other. Mr. Wang writes that the Chinese leadership, backed by the domestic news media and the education system, believes that China’s turn in the world has arrived, and that it is the United States that is “on the wrong side of history.” In sum, the period of “keeping a low profile,” a dictum coined by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1989, and continued until now by the outgoing President Hu Jintao, is over, Mr. Wang warns. “It is now a question of how many years, rather than how many decades, before China replaces the United States as the largest economy in the world,” he adds. China’s financial successes, starting with weathering the 1998 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, and the execution of events like the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai Expo in 2010, contrast with America’s “alarming” deficit, sluggish economic recovery and polarized domestic politics, Mr. Wang says. He does not address head on the far superior strength of the United States in military weaponry. But he notes that Beijing has developed advanced rocketry and space technology and sophisticated weapons systems without the “United States or the U.S.-led world order.” In the face of China’s strengths, and worries that the United States will be displaced from its premier position in the world, Washington is engaged in a host of activities, including stepped-up spying by American planes and ships along China’s borders that angers the Chinese, particularly its military, Mr. Wang writes. Promotion of human rights in China by American-supported nongovernmental organizations is viewed as an effort to “Westernize” the country and directly undermine the Communist Party, a stance the party will not stand for, he says. China’s increasing confidence that it will prevail in the long run against the United States is backed, in part, by Mr. Lieberthal’s appraisal of American policy toward China. Mr. Lieberthal cites findings from American intelligence based on internal discussions among crucial Chinese officials that these officials assume “very much a zero-sum approach” when discussing issues directly and indirectly related to United States-China relations. Because these are privileged communications not intended for public consumption, American officials interpret them to be “particularly revealing of China’s ‘real’ objectives,” Mr. Lieberthal writes. In turn, American law enforcement officials see an alarming increase in Chinese counterespionage and cyberattacks against the United States that they have concluded are directed by the Chinese authorities to gather information of national interest. At a seminar last week at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where Brookings funds a study center, Mr. Lieberthal said there was an increasing belief on both sides that the two countries would be “antagonistic in 15 years.” That would mean major military expenditures by both countries to deter the other, and pushing other countries to take sides. “The worst case is that this could lead to actual armed conflict, although that is by no means a necessary consequence of mutual antagonism,” Mr. Lieberthal said in an interview.

President Clinton Hopes Trayvon Martin Case Leads to Reappraisal of 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

Former President Bill Clinton said the "tragedy" of the killing of Trayvon Martin should cause a re-thinking of the "Stand Your Ground" law. "There are different stories being told," the former president said, "so the first thing I have to say is that it's important to find out the facts." Clinton continued "but to me, beyond the incredible personal tragedy- this young man was not armed, he clearly presented no threat to anybody's life - is, the most important thing I've read was from the former police chief in Florida in the community, he was one of many law enforcement officers testifying against that Stand Your Ground law. And he said, you know this is going to create all kinds of problems. And it's going to be almost impossible to prove what was in someone's mind when a certain thing happened." Clinton said "people have always had a right to have a handgun in their home- to protect their homes- then we've seen this breathtaking expansion of the concealed weapons laws in America moving from the late 90's into this decade, far - if you will - to the extreme that America had ever been on these. "And now the Stand Your Ground law," he continued. "I think the law is going to create real problems because anyone can - anyone who doesn't have a criminal background, anyone not prohibited by the Brady Bill and caught by the checks - can basically be a part of a neighborhood watch where they have a concealed weapon whether they had proper law enforcement training or not. And whether they've had any experience in conflict situations with people or not. "So I hope this will lead to a reappraisal of the Stand Your Ground laws," President Clinton said, "and I hope that the truth will come out and that the tragedy of this young man's loss will not be in vain- it's just terrible. Whatever the facts were - all these people trying to jump on him and talking about some mistake he made in his life- that's irrelevant because unarmed person who was killed on the street by a gun. And so I hope justice will be done in this case but I hope that the larger justice that would somehow redeem a portion of this terrible loss." He said: "the American people should re-examine their position on that and ask: Is this really worth it? Are we really all that much safer taking the chance that this kind of thing could happen over and over and over again?" The president made his comments in an exclusive interview with ABC News focused on his work with Clinton Global Initiative University.

Hillary Clinton criticizes Romney's remarks on Russia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit back Sunday against Mitt Romney's comments this week that Russia is America's main "geopolitical foe." Labeling Romney's words as "dated, "Clinton said in an interview with CNN there were more pressing matters of concern in global affairs. "I think it's somewhat dated to be looking backwards instead of being realistic about where we agree, where we don't agree, "Clinton told CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty. On Monday, Romney set off a firestorm of criticism when he described Russia as the country's primary enemy. "In terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that's on the Security Council, and as of course a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe," Romney said on CNN's "The Situation Room." Romney's rivals, Republicans and Democrats alike, immediately jumped on his remarks and used them as an opportunity to paint the candidate as out of touch on foreign policy issues. Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, also faulted Romney for the comment, saying it was "reminiscent of Hollywood." While in Turkey for a conference on Sunday, Clinton held back from diving too heavily into politics but argued Russia no longer posed the threat it did in the 20th century. "If you take a look at the world today, we have a lot of problems that are not leftovers from the past, but are of the moment, "Clinton said, pointing to Iran and its suspected nuclear development program as an example. "In many of the areas where we are working to solve problems, Russia has been an ally." Echoing those sentiments, Vice President Joe Biden also weighed in Sunday on Romney's comments. "Romney acts like he thinks the Cold War's still on,Russiais still our major adversary. I don't know where he's been," Biden said on the CBS program "Face the Nation." The vice president pointed to Russia's cooperation in transmitting material to troops in Afghanistan, as well as its participation in sanctions against Iran. "This is not 1956," he added. Responding to the barrage of attacks over his comments, Romney's campaign put out a statement earlier in the week defending the candidate's position on Russia. "In contrast to President Obama, Governor Romney is clear-eyed about the geopolitical challenges Russia poses," Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said in a statement. "Russia's nuclear arsenal, its energy resources, its geographic position astride Europe and Asia, the veto it wields on the UN Security Council, and the creeping authoritarianism of its government make Russiaa unique geopolitical problem that frustrates progress on numerous issues of vital concern to the United States."

Bill Clinton: Obama can argue he steadied economy

Former President Bill Clinton says he believes President Barack Obama can win re-election if he can persuade voters he steadied a shaky economy. Clinton tells ABC's "Good Morning America" he believes likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney will have a difficult time reconciling positions he's taken during the primary season with what he'll say against Obama in the fall. video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player Clinton was asked if Obama can argue that Americans are better off than they were four years ago, as he argued in winning re-election in 1996. He replies that if Obama can't make that case, "it is only because of the financial collapse that occurred in September 2008" before Obama took office. Clinton says Obama can assert that "we put a floor under the recession and kept it from becoming a depression."

Afghanistan not to face financial crisis in 2014
Afghan Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhelwal has dispelled the impression that Afghanistan will plunge into a major financial crisis after the foreign military pullout in 2014. He said the government is working hard to find alternatives to compensate for any reduction in the foreign aid to Afghanistan after 2014. "The withdrawal of the foreign forces in 2014 will 100 per cent have an impact, but no crisis will take place as some people outside the country claim. Some are expressing concern that the people will sell their homes and land, but such a situation will not happen. Be assured that 2014 and 2015 will also come and our situation in that time will be better than now," Zakhelwal told Tolo News Channel. "The way the aid is spent must change so that it can have a greater level of impact. The significance of the aid money spent outside the government budget is very low. Therefore, any reduction in the aid money will be compensated for to an extent by increasing the effectiveness of the aid. Secondly, we have very much tightened limitations in the government’s ordinary budget spending. We must bring the spending under control. Thirdly, we must pay more attention to our mining sector to increase our revenue. Fortunately, the interest of major companies of the world has very much increased in our major mines and this can help increase our internal revenue. We will meanwhile pay attention to the investments that could help us rely on ourselves. Some alternatives will, God willing, come," he added. The minister said that his government was pinning its hopes on the next international’s donor conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo in July this year to fund Afghanistan for many years after 2014. The minister said: "The importance of this summit lies in getting the long-term commitment of the international community for their long-term aid to our development and ordinary spending after the reduction of the international forces in Afghanistan in 2014. We hope that the continuation of aid will not be dependent on their military presence here. To become sure, the Tokyo summit will be held so that they make written and specific commitment for us on this." "After the Kabul conference, we worked on development programmes. At the Bonn Conference, we announced our programmes until 2025, and in the Tokyo conference, we will make our programmes more specific and specify project costs. We will make it clear how much revenue we will have during this period and the gap between our revenue and our necessary development and ordinary spending." Asked how much the Afghan government would be able to meet its commitments such as establishing good governance and fighting administrative corruption in order to receive the foreign aid, the minister said: "To be realistic, the Afghan government has met the majority of its commitments. In the Kabul and London conferences, we made 35 commitments, and we have met nearly 30 of the commitments. Afghanistan’s financial management is one of our major achievements and it is the increase in our revenue. Transparency in the mining contracts and reforms in the Ministry of Agriculture such as land management is one of our major achievements. These are the achievements. These are reforms that at the same time reduce corruption. Our revenue has increased from 150 to 200 per cent in the past two or three years which shows that we have done something for this."

Why are Afghan soldiers murdering their NATO allies?

Personal grievances, battle stress, and domestic problems are behind more attacks by rogue Afghan security forces on NATO troops than are Taliban infiltrators, the coalition said on Monday. Western forces have stepped up security to prevent more attacks, after the killing of 17 foreign soldiers by Afghan security personnel this year, NATO spokesman Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson told reporters. In some cases, that includes increased protection on hand in case more Afghans turn their guns on Western mentors. A series of insider attacks has raised doubts over the ability of local forces to take over security responsibility. "The vast majority (of reasons for attacks) lie in the individual. Personal reasons, personal grievances are one of the major causes," Jacobson told reporters. "One of the things that we are finding is that in many cases there were signs and symptoms that could have been seen, and leadership has to be improved to make sure that those signs are seen in the future, in time before an incident happens." The rise in insider attacks on foreign soldiers has stoked fears that either Afghan soldiers and police have turned against their colleagues, or the security force has been infiltrated by Taliban insurgents. Last month, an Afghan general said the Taliban have a sophisticated system in place to breach Afghanistan's security forces. Attacks by Afghan forces against NATO have grown more frequent as relations between the Kabul government and its western backers has frayed. A U.S. soldier has been charged with killing 17 Afghan civilians in a village massacre last month, and the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a major NATO base in February sparked days of rioting. After the killing of the villagers in Kandahar's Panjwai district, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded foreign soldiers withdraw from the small bases which underpin the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force's anti-insurgency strategy ahead of the expected withdrawal of most foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. U.S. commanders in Panjwai say they have not made any changes to their existing precautions against insider attacks. Jacobson said Afghan counter-intelligence agents were being placed into local police and army units to stop attacks by looking for disgruntled or distressed personnel. "A soldier that returns from leave has to be watched for any changes in his behavior, a soldier that has seen considerable battle stress has to be observed and a soldier who hasn't been on leave for a long time has to be looked at," Jacobson said.

ANP demands military to rescue Karachi

Awami National Party (ANP) Sindh President Shahi Syed on Sunday demanded the government launch an indiscriminate and immediate military operation in Karachi to curb target killings. Talking to Daily Times at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House, he also rejected the impression of Talibanisation of Karachi, saying that the Sindh chief and home ministers were responsible to maintain order in the city. Senator Syed said there might be some people who had a soft corner for the Taliban “but as a whole, there is no Talibanisation of Karachi as being portrayed by some political forces”. “The ANP condemns the killing of people from ethno-linguistic group, sect or race.” He said that although Interior Minister Rehman Malik had been trying to restore peace in Karachi, it was not the task of one individual. “It is responsibility of Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and Home Minister Manzoor Wasan to maintain peace in the city.” He said the situation would turn to normalcy when the chief minister and home minister called for reports on Karachi’s security on a daily basis. The senator said the ANP was not happy with the role of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in maintaining order in Karachi. In other provinces however, he added, the coalition alliance was working fine. “When the PPP has failed to protect the lives of its own polling agents, how could it provide protection to the general public in Karachi?” Senator Syed said the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Norani, ANP and Muhajir Qaumi Movement-Afaq had joined hands to rid Karachi of terrorism and target killings. “The option to tune this ‘city alliance’ into a political alliance cannot be ruled out. However, the final decision will be taken after reviewing the ground situation of city’s affairs,” said the senator, who is also president of the ANP’s Sindh chapter. He said that there had been “75 percent decrease” in incidents of terrorism and extremism across the country during the ANP’s rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “A major success for the ANP in the province was repatriation of 25,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) to their homes despite the party facing tough challenges at the hands of extremist and terrorist elements,” Senator Syed said. He said that the priority of the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was to invest in power sector to rid people of electricity crisis. For the purpose, he added, Rs 40 billion had been allocated for power generation. Giving details of power projects launched by the ANP, Syed said that the ANP would also start working on the construction of three small dams in the province by June. Commenting on the Defence of Pakistan Council (Difa-e-Pakistan Council), the ANP leader said it was the same old team of former military dictator and “innovator of division” Gen (r) Ziaul Haq. He said the council was following the policies of Gen (r) Zia, adding that banned outfits and people facing murder charges were part of the group. Senator Syed rejected the census campaign in Karachi, saying, “the ongoing census is not fair and independent and the ANP condemns it at Karachi level”. He alleged that in some areas, activists of the MQM were influencing the census process. “Whereas in other parts, entire streets were missed by the census commission, which is unfair,” the ANP leader said. He said the ANP had decided to move the Supreme Court against improper census in Karachi. Asked to suggest an immediate solution to unrest in Karachi, Senator Syed said that the only solution was to launch an immediate and indiscriminate military operation in Karachi. He said that terrorists and killers from any sect or political force should be detained and brought to the court of justice for taking the lives of innocent people.

Largest hospital in Balochistan turns into sewerage pool

Bolan Medical Complex, the largest public sector hospital of Balochistan has not only been lacking clean water since the past three days but is also the chaos brought upon by sewerage water entering the main premises of the hospital and wards. Heaps of garbage, overflowing gutters and lack of other facilities have turned the hospital into a hub of problems and miseries.The hospital’s toilets were too filthy for anyone to be able to use them. A medicine budget of Rs.130 million has been allocated annually for the Bolan Medical Complex but mismanagement has caused this hospital to face dire circumstances. The patients and their relatives are purchasing water from outside and while in the hospital, they remain vulnerable to any diseases that could be brought upon by the polluted water in the premises. Currently more than a 1,000 patients are in the hospital for treatment.

Khyber IDPs

EVER SINCE the menace of militancy raised its head in the north-western parts of the country, those who have lost the most have been the residents of these areas. Estimates of how many people have been displaced from which area have been piecemeal and sporadic. Nevertheless, estimates that include the exodus from Swat, Bajaur and other areas from as far back as 2009 indicate that at the very least, 2.7 million people were forced to flee their localities (two-thirds are believed to have returned after the government declared their areas as safe). Now comes the news that in the current round of fighting, over 100,000 people have fled Khyber Agency since Jan 20. According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, since March 17, on average 2,000 families have been arriving at the Jalozai camp near Peshawar — daily. These are alarming figures, made all the more so by the fact that a military operation of sorts has been under way in Khyber Agency since 2009. Holding out is Mangal Bagh, head of the Lashkar-i-Islam. The group continues to control certain areas of Bara and Tirah and attacks security forces. Reportedly, the problem lies with the nature of the military operation which, observers say, is piecemeal and has been mismanaged. Meanwhile, the use of tactics such as shelling by security forces means that an unknown number of civilians continue to die while everyone who is in a position to flee does so. Many of the uncounted find refuge with relatives in other parts of the country, while those at camps such as Jalozai face a future that is uncertain at best. This cycle of misery needs to be brought to an end. If a rethink in military strategy is what is needed, then so be it. The area’s people have been held hostage to violence for long enough and as in the case of the IDPs of Swat and Bajaur, they need to return to their homes. Meanwhile, there is a need for credible data about the scale of the dislocation seen in the northwest and how that is affecting the country’s

Pakistan: The displaced
Pakistan is once more seeing many thousands of people move out from the tribal belt. The latest exodus has gone almost unnoticed in a country which has become accustomed to mass displacements on account of the ongoing conflict in the tribal areas. In a recent press release issued from Geneva, the UNHCR said that since January this year, 100,000 people had been displaced — almost all of them from Khyber Agency. The situation in Khyber is complex given that rival militias are locked in battle with each other as well as against the state. Most of the people fleeing the area because of conflict or because they have been asked to evacuate have headed to the Jalozai camp at Nowshera or to other such camps. As in the past, many have moved in with relatives in various areas. While the UN and other bodies continue to provide aid and assistance to these IDPs, their condition is far from good. Life in camps is never easy and these unfortunate people have been forced into it too often. It is time this disruption of lives ended. Some means need to be found to bring an end to the constant unrest we still see in the tribal belt so that the displaced can return home and resume lives that have been shattered time and time again.

China’s enemy is our enemy

The Express Tribune
Pakistan and China moved in lockstep a notch higher than their “time-tested” and “all-weather” friendship status on Sunday when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani declared that “China’s enemy is our enemy”.
“China’s friend is our friend, and China’s enemy is our enemy,” he said in a meeting with the host country’s Executive Vice Premier Li Keqiang at the State Guest House on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia. “We consider China’s security as our own security,” Gilani said as he renewed support for Beijing’s position on Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Li reciprocated Gilani’s sentiments. “No matter what changes take place at the international level, we will uphold Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. “China supports Pakistan’s role in regional and international affairs.” Beijing’s reiteration of support for Pakistan’s territorial integrity came weeks after US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives seeking independence for the insurgency-hit Balochistan. Premier Gilani thanked Li for his country’s ringing endorsement of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Islamabad gives high importance to the security of Chinese citizens on its soil, he said and added that he was personally monitoring the process to provide them extensive protection. A Chinese woman was shot dead in Peshawar in February. The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed that they killed her to “avenge the atrocities carried out by Chinese security forces” on Muslims in Xinjiang. But PM Gilani renewed Pakistan’s support for China’s position on the Muslim-majority region. He condemned the recent ‘terrorist acts’ in Kashgar, Xinjiang, and said that Pakistan considered the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a common threat to both countries. Last month, gunmen stabbed 13 people to death in Xinjiang in an attack that Chinese officials blamed on ETIM separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan and who were allegedly trained in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Officially, Beijing avoided criticism of Pakistan though. About foreign policy, Gilani said Pakistan is mindful of the importance of maintaining a working engagement with the United States but would not compromise its sovereignty and national dignity. He referred to his meeting with the US President Barack Obama in Seoul, where he told him that Pakistan’s parliament would set the contours of future relations with the US. China is engaged in a large number of projects in Pakistan, especially in the energy and infrastructure development sectors. Gilani said Islamabad would appreciate if Beijing also helps in the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project and on the construction of small- and medium-sized dams. He also sought cooperation from the Chinese side on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Washington has issued several veiled threats about economic curbs if the Iran gas pipeline is not cancelled. But Premier Gilani renewed his country’s resolve to not abandon the project – which is so vital to overcome the burgeoning energy crisis that has sparked violent protests and rioting in the country. “Realisation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project will open new vistas of cooperation,” Gilani told Iranian Vice President Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh in a separate meeting on the fringes of the Boao Forum. “Pakistan is currently facing energy shortage,” Gilani said and added that 1,000 megawatts of electricity being supplied from Iran to Balochistan would prove helpful in overcoming the crisis. Gilani said there was a need to address the issues of narcotics and drug trafficking in the region. He added that Pakistan considers Jundullah as a terrorist outfit. Iran has blamed the Sunni insurgent group, which is based in its Sistan-o-Balochistan province, for stoking violence in the country. Jundullah is rumoured to have sanctuaries in southwestern Pakistan. On the regional front, Gilani said Pakistan wants to maintain good ties with its neighbours, including Iran, Afghanistan, China and India and called for joint efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. He also renewed support for Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear technology. Western powers contest Tehran’s nuclear programme and allege that the Islamic Republic is secretly developing an atomic bomb.

‘Countries faced with terrorism should invest in education’

Daily Times
Dutch Ambassador to Pakistan Gajus Scheltema has said that terrorism could be eliminated from the society if quality education is imparted to the people. Scheltema, who was on a short visit to Karachi, expressed these views while talking to the senior journalists here at a local hotel the other day. He further said, “I strongly feel that if a country succeeds in prospering, terrorism would itself lose its roots.” Talking particularly about Pakistan, he said that a sense of insecurity was prevailing as an impact of terrorism and nation has to eradicate it itself. He further said that it was time for Pakistani society to set its dimension. Scheltema said although he found it very difficult judging the country, people in Pakistan including representatives of politico- religious parties were very polite and nice. To a question about foreign impacts of terrorism, he said that terrorism in Pakistan was not an outcome of 9/11 but a product of imbalance in religious, political and social viewpoints. In response to a question about drone attacks and some cases in Afghanistan in which coalition forces targeted innocent citizens in wedding ceremonies, he said that they (citizens) were killed in mistaken drone attacks so these examples, known as collateral damage, do not fulfill the definition of terrorism, however the opponents of coalition forces were terrorists as they kill intentionally, he added. When asked about the Dutch model of progress, he said that they had been a trading nation for long. He said, “Trade is the key to prosperity,” adding that terrorism could also be curbed through trade, particularly export. He further said that the core reason behind Dutch progress was its traders’ yearning for foreign investment opportunities. Responding to a question about Pak-Netherlands bilateral relations, he said that the relations between two countries were in transitional phase. The Dutch government supports Pakistan in its bid to enhance Pakistani exports, he added. He further said that it would be mutually benefiting for both countries, as an economically strong Pakistan would be a great market for Netherlands. Scheltema further said that neighbouring countries were considered as best markets and Pakistani government was moving in the right direction by enhancing trade relations with India. It would not only support the economy of the country but also help increase the trust level for increasing prosperity at both sides of the border, he said. Talking about the energy sector, he said that energy crises were very critical in the country and Pakistan has to mend investment-friendly climate inside the country, if it wants itself out of crises. Political uncertainty and deteriorating law and order situation are the core obstacles that hinder foreign investments, he maintained. Scheltema was of the view that lack of investment was one of the core reasons behind energy crisis in Pakistan.

Lahore Traders’ strike

The strike call given by the PML-N-sponsored Qaumi Tajir Ittehad in Lahore the other day to protest against crippling power outages, both scheduled and unscheduled, has fizzled out. This despite the fact that the rally taken out covered the distance from the historic Muslim Masjid, Lahori Gate, to Bhaati Gate — the PML-N’s bastion of support. The strike/rally was the latest of a string of protests by PML-N against the federal government. The wholesale markets that observed a complete shutter down included Akbari Mandi, Badami Bagh, Mochi Gate, Circular Road, Shah Alam and Urdu Bazaar, though the Hall Road, Defence, Johar Town and Iqbal Town markets remained open. So did Liberty. Interestingly, the market closure seemed to follow a definite pattern: markets located in posh peripheral city areas, by and large, disregarded the strike call, but those in localities closer to the old Lahore heeded it. The mixed response from the traders, considered the PML-N’s support base, may reflect the wisdom of the bazaar that load shedding is already affecting their businesses and earnings. A strike would only add to this loss of income, while not making any difference as far as power outages are concerned. The other day, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, in an attempt to garner political capital, had alleged discrimination against Punjab in load shedding, a charge that flew in the face of objective reality, as the power crisis is a countrywide phenomenon, with Karachi, the country’s financial and industrial hub, being as much hit by the energy crisis as Lahore, if not worse. Thanks to the abiding energy crisis, aided and abetted by an incompetent bureaucracy, the country’s projected growth rate has plummeted to three to four percent. Instead of indulging in a blame game, the stakeholders must develop consensus on a national programme to pull the country out of the vortex of the energy crisis. Strikes and unrest will only further damage the economy. Let us stop playing politics on this national crisis. Parliament can be the best forum to resolve national issues, if a spirit of consensus and mutual accommodation is allowed to guide our thinking and actions. The partial response given to the strike called by PML-N seems to show both popular pragmatism and the people’s emotional fatigue. Let us build this sentiment into a positive force to put the country and its economy back on the rails.

President Zardari to visit Punjab on April 4

President Asif Ali Zardari has summoned People's party Punjab parliamentary session on April 4.During the People s party (Punjab) parliamentary session, the President will address the members of assembly at Governor House.Sources say that President is likely to meet party leadership and workers usirng his visit. Key party decisions are also expected during these meetings. Earlier, the partly leadership requested the President to meet party leaders and workers in Lahore.