Sunday, April 8, 2012

Israeli chess master Boris Gelfand is aiming high

Before mounting his challenge to become world chess champion, Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand is heading for the rarefied atmosphere of the Alps.
Boris Gelfand has one month left before the biggest chess match of his life - a battle for the world chess championship - but first, the Belarus-born Israeli chess grandmaster is going to the Alps.

Not for a vacation, of course.He is leaving for Austria tomorrow with several of his chess coaches for a final bout of intensive chess practice that will also include altitude training. Advocates say the practice gives endurance athletes a competitive advantage and increases mental alertness because they retain a higher concentration of red blood cells for up to two weeks when they return to lower altitude for competition.

Gelfand, who is 43, will be playing against the current world chess champion, Viswanathan Anand of India, in Moscow. The Israeli player qualified for the 12-game match, which will take place May 10-31, after beating Alexander Grischuk of Russia last year.

"Boris Gelfand is an asset to Israeli sports and a model of excellence," Israel Chess Federation chairman Moshe Shalev said yesterday. "The country must invest resources into what we are really good at: the Israeli mind."

Israelis often don't afford chess masters the honor they get in countries that value chess more highly.

"In many places around the world, the term 'chess master' brings respect," said Gelfand. "In Israel, they mostly ask: 'Great, and what's your profession, what do you do?' I hope that there will be more respect here for professional chess players and their achievements."

Over the last few months, Gelfand has been spending eight to 10 hours a day training for the championship match ("from 11 A.M. to 11 P.M., with breaks," as he put it ). He has several trainers, including grandmaster Alexander Huzman, whom he has been working with for 20 years - longevity that is almost unheard of in the chess world.

"Both Huzman and I are motivated to work and make progress, and that motivation has not disappeared over the years," said Gelfand. "I was lucky to have a trainer with such in-depth understanding of chess and endless motivation to succeed."

In addition to securing (or retaining, in Anand's case ) the title of world chess champion, the winner of the match also gets $1.53 million. But just getting to the table is lucrative, as well as prestigious: The loser gets $1.02 million.

The championship match - the first one held in Russia since the 1985 match between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov - will be getting a lot of attention around the world.

Tens of millions of people will be watching the match on hundreds of chess websites around the world, Shalev said. "Dozens of television crews will cover the match between the representative of India, a nation of 1.4 billion, where Anand is considered a national hero, and the representative of 7.5 million Israelis, who wish Gelfand good luck."

The match is a milestone for Israeli chess, said Yoel Geva, the deputy chairman of the Israel Chess Federation.

"It never occurred to me that 40 years after the big match between Boris Spassky and Robert Fischer, I would get excited at the very thought that an Israeli representative would take part in the [championship] match," said Geva. "We are very proud that the most accomplished sport in Israel has reached such a milestone."

Gelfand and Anand have played more than 30 games against each other, and they appear to have been almost evenly matched, with Anand winning just one game more than his Israeli rival.

"He's a fast-thinking player," said Gelfand, adding that Anand also has very good intuition. "In any case, I will try to get him to make a mistake. All the components of the game are important - from the opening to the ending - but a strong nervous system is also very important."

Gelfand recommends teaching children chess from the age of 5 or 6, as he has done with his daughter. If Israeli parents follow his lead, perhaps their children won't eventually be asking chess masters what they spend their days doing.

"Boris Gelfand's advancement to a match for the title is a wonderful present for Israel, and we must appreciate its great significance," said the captain of the Israeli chess team, Alon Greenfeld. "The rise of chess in Holland, the United States and India leaves a lot of room for us too."

"We must appreciate the asset," he said.

VOA Interview: Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel

During the Bosnian war, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel advocated for Western intervention to end the bloodshed, and visited the region to meet with warring leaders and investigate the conditions in prison camps. On the 20th anniversary of the start of the devastating siege of Sarajevo, VOA's Bosnian Service spoke to Wiesel about his efforts.

Obama to Introduce TV Showing of Classic Film

U.S. President Barack Obama will make a special introduction to an upcoming broadcast of the classic U.S. motion picture To Kill a Mockingbird.

Cable television's USA Network is airing a fully restored version of the film Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the film's release.

The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name published two years earlier. The novel's reclusive author, Harper Lee, issued a statement saying she is deeply honored the president is introducing the film to a national audience.

The story, set in a small town in the southern U.S. state of Alabama during the Great Depression, tells the story of Atticus Finch, a white lawyer defending a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman.

The novel earned Lee a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, while the film earned three Academy Awards, including the Best Actor award for Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Finch.

Lee, who based the character on her father, says she is "proud to know that Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch lives on - in a world that needs him now more than ever.”

Newsweek poll looks at race in America

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

U.S. 3 Reasons Not to Panic About the March Jobs Report

Job growth slipped significantly last month, but not all of the numbers are cause for worry (just yet)
Underwhelming, disappointing and mediocre. Call it what you will, but the 120,000 jobs added in March is indubitably not a reason to cheer. The figure came in well below expectations, not to mention well below the average of 246,000 jobs added in each of the previous three months.

Given the rocky recovery, it may be easy to see sputtering job growth as a reason to fear the worst. Here are a few reasons to fret a little less about the slowdown.
The Unemployment Rate Is Still Falling

No, not just the drop in headline unemployment, which fell from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent from February to March. In fact, this decline, aside from being small, is also due in part to the labor force shrinking slightly to 154.7 million, a 164,000-person drop. That's because the unemployment rate is calculated as a percentage of the total labor force, not the total population.

More meaningful, however, may be the change in the U-6 unemployment rate, which takes into account the unemployed population, plus discouraged workers, people employed part-time for economic reasons, and other marginally attached workers—those who want a job and searched for one in the last 12 months, but are not currently in the labor force. This rate fell from 14.9 percent to 14.5 percent in March, a substantial drop. U-6 unemployment has come down considerably from its recent peak of 17.2 percent in October 2009. And another strong improvement now—even while the headline numbers disappoint—suggests that the labor market is still improving on a deeper level.
Sunscreen in February

In terms of raw, unadjusted jobs numbers, March normally sees a jump in job growth, as warmer weather makes for more hiring. But when the nation experiences one of its warmest winters on record, it can throw off the usual seasonal hiring pattern.

"The unusually warm winter likely shifted some hiring into the first two months of the year and wreaked havoc with the seasonal factor; therefore, the 212,000 average monthly gain recorded over the first three months of 2012 paint a more accurate picture of the labor market." says Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director at Moody's Analytics, in an analysis of the figures. "This is solid growth that will slowly absorb the unemployed and attract new workers into the labor market."
"While the report was disappointing, it is also a reminder that the data are extremely volatile," says Joel Naroff, president and chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors, in a commentary on the figures. "Thus, we shouldn't obsess over any one monthly change, whether it is good or bad."

A longer trend of disappointing hiring would be much more worrisome, and that doesn't currently look likely. Various other indicators do not suggest a slipping recovery: jobless claims continue to decline and Americans have been spending more, which has certainly greased the wheels of the economy. Koropeckyj also points to solid consumer confidence, as well as a decline in planned layoffs.

"Weaker than expected March gains should not cause alarm since a number of other measures provide corroborating evidence of a slowly improving labor market," she says.

Russian communists vs. NATO.

Russian Communists protested plans to create a NATO cargo transit base on the Volga river, calling it an "ulcer" on Russia's territory. About 1,500 people gathered in the central Pushkin Square in Moscow with red balloons, flags and banners, while smaller rallies were held in many regional cities to protest what Communists call a "betrayal" of national interests. Russia recently said that it was looking into NATO's request to use the Vostochny airport near Ulyanovsk, a city about 900 kilometres (550 miles) east of Moscow, as a transit hub for non-lethal cargo shipped from Afghanistan. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov attacked "NATO occupation of the Volga" and on Saturday called upon supporters to foil the plans to set up the base, which he said would become "a major drug trafficking point." "An ulcer is forming in the center of Russia, which will not only be a transit base for military cargo, but also one of the main drug dens on our territory," Zyuganov said at the rally. "We have to say a decisive 'No' to this betrayal of national interests," he said.

Balochistan in media: ‘Coverage lacks in-depth analysis’

The Express Tribune

With the temperature rising in Balochistan, the surprising lack of coverage of terrorist incidents in the region is the subject of a report released by media monitoring agency Intermedia on Saturday.
Titled “How Pakistani Media Reports Terrorism-related conflict — Media Content Monitoring & Analysis (January-March 2012)”, the report states that though “terrorism in Balochistan is directly linked to an ongoing political conflict and the media coverage lacks an in-depth analysis of the situation.”
From Balochistan, 123 stories of terrorism were published in the monitored newspapers while 15 aired on monitored TV reporting channels. Target killing and armed fighting incidents were frequent, with approximately 33% of published content focusing on bombings or target killings. Approximately, 74% of the published stories reported loss of lives.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas and frontier regions were principally featured in terrorism related stories with 161 in monitored newspapers and 17 stories aired TV networks. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa featured 143 times in terrorism related stories in newspapers and 51 aired on TV.
“Over 91% of the news items published in the monitored papers were simple news stories. The number of analytical pieces, editorials and columns on the theme were dismally low,” said the report.
The report added that 98% of all published stories were of a “reactive nature, suggesting that the media only reacted to events with simple news coverage instead of tasking with enterprise, investigative stories.”
About the priority given to the terrorism related news stories in the newspapers, the report revealed that 78 news items on terrorism were published on front pages of monitored papers. On TV, 37 terrorism related stories opened the 9 o’clock news bulletin as top news and 105 aired among the top 10 news stories of the bulletins.
According to a pre-defined scale to measure news quality, 20% of published stories were rated poorly, 42% average and the remaining were rated well. On TV, around 31% of the stories were rated average while 41% were rated good, said the report.
The Islamabad and ICT zones did not appear frequently in the news. Among 28 stories published from the region, 57% reported incidents of target killings, 64% of the reported victims were ordinary citizens and 75% of the stories reported loss of lives.

Explicit Support of Terrorists by Some Countries Hinders Annan's Mission, Violates International Laws

The Syrian Human Rights Network (SHRN) said that the explicit support for armed terrorist groups which was announced by some countries such as Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar hinders the mission of UN Envoy Kofi Annan and thus hinders international resolution on Syria.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the SHRN said that this support constitutes blatant international hypocrisy and an attempt to assume control of international decision, stressing that the US hegemony over international resolutions have stripped them of their credibility, making them part of double-standards policies and consecrating unipolar policy.

The statement stressed that guarantees of withdrawing armed aspects must be presented to the Syrian government before such guarantees are asked of it, as ending violence is achieved by ending its causes.

The SHRN said that the Syrian Army and law-enforcement forces are present in cities to protect civilians from terrorism, violence and violations carried out by armed groups, and that locals often demanded that the army enter their towns and remain there to protect them.

The statement said that supporting armed terrorist groups – be it under any name or pretext – violates international humanitarian law, the Rome Convention, and the UN Counter-Terrorism Resolution no. 1373.

President arrives in Pakistan

President Asif Ali Zardari has arrived in Pakistan after a day-long trip to India.
During his visit to India, Zardari held a key meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and invited him to visit Pakistan. Manmohan accepted the president’s invitation and promised to visit Pakistan in September.President Zardari also visited shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and offered "Fateha" and laid floral wreath. He also donated 1 million dollars for the committee of the shrine.

Karachi violence takes economic toll

A bloody wave of violence sweeping Karachi has claimed hundreds of lives this year, and experts say it is also taking a punishing financial toll on the city that is Pakistan’s economic heartbeat.

Pakistan’s biggest city has escaped the worst of the four-year Islamist bombing campaign that has plagued other parts of the country, but it is wracked with crime and political and ethnic bloodshed.

Last year nearly 1,800 lives were lost as drug, land, gun and extortion mafias linked to ethnically-based political parties threatened to plunge the city of 17 million people into urban anarchy.

More than 300 people have been killed in violence in Karachi in the last three months, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

With each political or sectarian killing, parts of the city go into lockdown as armed men take to the streets seeking reprisals, prompting residents to flee to safety and shops, markets and schools to close.

Ateeq Mir, the chairman of the Karachi Markets Alliance, said the city was closed for “six full days” last week -- when at least 24 people were killed in violence and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the city's main political party, called a day of mourning for a slain activist.

“Our traders have lost the business of more than 20 billion rupees ($220 million) while our industrialists lost at least 45 billion ($495 million),” he told AFP.

Karachi is vital to Pakistan's economy, contributing 42 percent of GDP, 70 percent of income tax revenue and 62 percent of sales tax revenue, but Mir compared the situation to the country's insurgency-wracked northwest.

“Karachi has become an urban Waziristan where the government has lost its writ,” he said.

“The city is divided among several areas, each is governed by the dominant militant mafia.”

Economist A.B. Shahid said Karachi's contribution to GDP amounted to around 16 billion rupees a day, and its daily tax revenues to two billion.

“Karachi is Pakistan's economic engine, whenever it shuts, it affects the whole economy. Its taxes and industrial and services sectors feed the exchequer and its port being the gateway gives life to the rest of the country,” he told AFP.

“If one wants to cripple Pakistan's economy, one should do nothing but to get Karachi paralysed.”

Market analysts say disturbances in Karachi are affecting foreign investment as well.

“Most multinationals are based in Karachi, and it has a negative impact when their bosses watch pitched battles on their TV screens in the streets of Karachi,” said Mohammad Sohail, the head of Topline Securities brokerage.

He said foreign investment in Pakistan stood at $5.4 billion four years ago, which shrank to $1.6 billion last year and is expected to further reduce to a maximum of $1 billion in the financial year ending on June 30.

Officials admit growing security concerns and targeted killings tarnish Karachi’s attraction for foreign investors and risk driving business away.

The American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad last May was another punishing blow to Pakistan’s depleted image, raising renewed questions about whether anyone in authority had colluded with Al-Qaeda.

“Local industrialists, mainly textile businessmen, are shifting their investments to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia because of law and order and energy shortages.” said a government minister on condition of anonymity.

The authorities say they are doing their best to tackle the rampant unrest, but admit they have limited means at their disposal.

Sharfuddin Memon, spokesman for the home department of Sindh province, of which Karachi is capital, admitted there were not enough policemen in the city but said they punch above their weight in terms of foiling crime and attacks.

The decades since independence in 1947 have seen Karachi transformed into a patchwork of Pakistan's different ethnic groups -- Mohajirs, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Punjabis and Baloch -- as migrants from all over the country have come in search of a better life.

Millions in the city rely on daily piece work to make a living, and every day lost to violence or shutdowns is a day without income.

Fruit seller Mohammad Haleem, 34, said the unrest was making it hard to make ends meet.

“I could not earn livelihood for my five kids for most of the last week as it was dangerous to go outside,” said Mohammad Haleem, 34, a fruit vendor.

“It is getting too difficult for me to take a loan to feed my kids as the lenders are themselves in distress.”

PAKISTAN: No inquiry has yet been initiated in to the case of the torture to death of a school teacher

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the recent ruthless, barbaric, and torturous murder of Mr Abdul Qudoos Ahmad, a school teacher, Ahmadi religious group of Islam. The AHRC calls on the Pakistan government to immediately bring the perpetrators to justice.

The level of ruthless barbarity seen in this murder is unacceptable and seldom. It is common knowledge that Ahmadis are mercilessly targeted in Pakistan but the veracity of this murder has taken the persecution of Ahmadis beyond all limits. Whilst the Government of Pakistan persists in denying any form of state sponsored persecution, this incident shows that nothing is further from the truth. This incident proves the state machinery, police and authorities were all complicit in this murder.

Mr Abdul Qudoos Ahmad, was a school teacher and the president of the Nusrat Abad Area of Chenab Nagar (Rabwah). As has been previously reported, he was kept in illegal detention by the police for 45 days during which he was tortured without mercy. The torture included the victim being hung upside down by his ankles for long periods. On other occasions he was forced to lay flat on his back while a heavy wooden roller, similar to those used to flatten cricket pitches, was rolled over his body. His captors stood on either side making sure he could not escape the torment. Please see the urgent appeal;

He was taken into custody by the police on 10 February 2012 and was kept in a private torture cell of the police until 26 March when his condition deteriorated due to the severe torture he endured. He remained in police custody for 45 days without any charges being laid against him and was not officially arrested. Attempts were made to force him to confess to the murder of one, Muhammad Yousuf, a stamp-paper seller from the Nusrat Abad area who was murdered a few months earlier. The details of the incident are that Muhammad Yousuf’s son asked for Mr Qudoos to be brought to the police station for questioning. Without any reason, the complainant chose to name Mr Qudoos in a request to the district police officer and he was arrested on 10 February 2012. However, his arrest was not formally registered. When contacted the police said they knew Mr Qudoos was also innocent and that they would free him soon but had to keep him there for some reason or the other.

On 17 March the police transferred Mr Qudoos to another location. Ten days after taking him away, they brought him back and asked one of his friends to come and collect him. His friend was asked to sign a plain piece of paper declaring that he was taking Mr Qudoos back. Mr Qudoos was not very well so his friend promptly took him to hospital. It then transpired that after taking him away to another location he was subjected to extreme torture. This affected his health adversely and he had blood in his stools, he vomited blood and his kidneys were affected. Mr Qudoos stated that he was taken away in the dark of the night to another place five hours drive away where he was subjected to extreme torture. The torturers kept saying to him to name members of the Ahmadiyya Leadership in Rabwah so they could falsely charge them with being involved in the murder and by doing so he would be set free. Among the names they suggested were some Directors of the Ahmadiyya Leadership and others. They also tried to get him to sign some papers which he did not. They would say it was the first time they had got hold of an Ahmadi office-holder and then tortured him. During the torture they used abusive language towards the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Founder and leadership. When Mr Qudoos’s health deteriorated they provided some medical treatment and brought him back to Rabwah police station. Later, in the ICU of Fazl e Umer hospital he was given continuous blood. On 29 March he again started vomiting blood and his lungs were affected. He passed away on 30 March. There had been preparations to take him to Tahir Heart Institute but he had suffered from internal injuries due to the torture and passed away.

During the illegal detention Mr. Qudoos was denied access to any legal assistance. The police officials continued the torture throughout the illegal detention and when Mr. Qudoos' physical condition deteriorated due to the heartless and callous treatment the police forced a family member to place his signature of a piece of blank paper and take him back home. Mr. Qudoos was released on 26 March, 2012 and his family sought immediate medical attention for him.

His brother-in-law who visited him regularly at the hospital states that Mr. Qudoos had related to him that on the night of 17 March he was taken away from Rabwah and tortured brutally. He said that the police station in-charge and the investigative officer both tortured him. He also said that at one point high ranking police officers sat on chairs in a circle and gave him some papers saying it was his statement and that he should sign it. The papers cited false allegations against some central figures of the Ahmadiyya Leadership, so Mr. Qudoos refused to sign. He was told that such and such people were involved in the murder and if he signed the papers he would be set free. Mr. Qudoos refused saying it was not his statement and it was also not factual. When Mr. Qudoos twice refused to sign they threw him to the floor and started hitting him and continually demanded him to comply. They put him through a range of brutal physical torture techniques as well as put him through sleep deprivation. As soon as he would fall asleep they would start beating him up. There was a well-known villain in the cells with him. If they hit him five times, they would hit Mr. Qudoos twenty five times. At one point his health declined so they gave him some medicinal treatment but as soon as he was better they re-started the torture. They taunted him to call his superiors from London or Rabwah to come and save him and used abusive language for elders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Mr Qudoos said he endured the physical torture but was agonised when they used abusive language. He was also not fed regularly.

Typically, as is the practice of the police in Pakistan, the version filed by the police named only two subordinate officers in their report. SHO Khadim Hussain of the Chenab Nagar police registered a police case only against sub inspectors, Sujhat Ali and Manazar Ali, under sections 302, 148, 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code. In this manner, impunity was assured to the real murderers including SHO Khadim Hussain and other police officials.

This criminal act by the district police has been covered up under the guise of releasing Mr. Qudoos to hide the illegal behaviour of the police. It is also incredible to learn that the Punjab government has yet not started any investigation in to the incident of arbitrary detention, torture and misuse of police power against the concerned police officers. It is a very well known fact the provincial government and particularly the provincial law minister have connections with Muslim fundamentalists groups and banned Islamic organizations who are very much against the Ahmadis and who have been involved in the killings of Ahmadis and Shias, the second largest Muslim sect.

This was an organised and coordinated attempt to sever the leadership of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Pakistan from its members by conspiring to get Mr. Qudoos to implicate the leadership of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Pakistan in this murder but this did not work. Mr Qudoos paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life.

A judicial inquiry into the illegal detention and torture of Mr Qudoos should be immediately conducted and all the officials of the Chenab Nagar police station and district police officer (DPO) should be prosecuted on the charges of torture and the murder of this innocent man.

Pakistan: Ahmadis under threat

Daily Times
It seems that state officials are taking advantage of the discriminatory status of Ahmedis to freely brutalise members of the community. Police officials continuously persecute these people because of their status as a declared non-Muslim community on one pretext or another. The brutal murder of Abdul Qudoos Ahmed, 43, an Ahmedi schoolteacher and president of the Nusratabad chapter of the Ahmadiyya sect at the hands of policemen at the Chenab Nagar police station through unremitting torture has increased the toll of atrocities being committed against Ahmedis with impunity. The fact that they have been declared non-Muslims does not deprive them of their rights as citizens. They are citizens of Pakistan and protection of their rights is the responsibility of the government. However, the government’s role has been regretfully indifferent, as it does not do anything to stop the inhuman treatment, socio-economic segregation and persecution of the members belonging to this minority group. Some office bearers of the government in fact appear supportive of all such discriminatory practices.

The police had picked up Qudoos Ahmed on February 10 without any warrant to interrogate him in a murder case. They kept him in illegal custody for 35 days and released him on March 26 only after his condition had become too critical to sustain their torture any further. His family was pressurised not to take up the matter. However, a case was later registered against two sub-inspectors of the said police station, clearly saving the skins of the SHO and the DSP who ‘surprisingly enough’ remained unaware of Ahmed’s custody during all this period.

The police’s absolute brutality has sent shivers down everyone’s spine that believes in humanity. The Asian Human Rights Commission has expressed its concern over the murder and plight of the non-Muslims in Pakistan who face unrelenting discrimination at every step of their lives. Reports keep surfacing in this regard, highlighting the rising religious fanaticism and intolerance in our society, indeed a dangerous place for the religious minorities. It is time to check this fast growing lethal trend by taking necessary measures to assure all the non-Muslims of their social, economic, legal and political rights in Pakistan. The government has to condemn extremism and rampant brutal activities against minorities. In Ahmed’s murder case, a judicial inquiry should be held to bring the real culprits to book and send a strong message to all the saboteurs of harmony.

US helps Pakistan search for 135 buried in snow

The U.S. sent a team of experts Sunday to help Pakistan search for 135 people buried a day earlier by a massive avalanche that engulfed a military complex in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border.
At least 240 Pakistani troops and civilians worked at the site of the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, said the army. But they struggled to dig through some 25 meters (80 feet) of snow, boulders and mud that slid down the mountain early Saturday morning.
Pakistani army spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas said Sunday evening that it was unclear whether any of the people who were buried are still alive. At least 124 soldiers from the 6th Northern Light Infantry Battalion and 11 civilian contractors are missing.
"Miracles have been seen and trapped people were rescued after days ... so the nation shall pray for the trapped soldiers," Abbas said in an interview on Geo TV.
Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the site Sunday to supervise rescue operations.
The U.S. sent a team of eight experts to Islamabad to provide technical assistance, said the Pakistani army. Pakistan will consult with the team to determine what help is needed to expedite the rescue operation.
The American assistance comes at a tense time between the two countries and could help improve relations following American airstrikes in November that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two posts along the Afghan border.
Pakistan retaliated by closing its border crossings to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Pakistani parliament is currently debating a new framework for relations with the U.S. that Washington hopes will lead to the reopening of the supply line. But that outcome is uncertain given the level of anti-American sentiment in the country.
The avalanche in Siachen, which is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan, highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
The thousands of soldiers from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been posted at elevations of up to 6,700 meters (22,000 feet) and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a cease-fire in 2003. The glacier is known as the world's highest battlefield.
Abbas, the army spokesman, said the headquarters that was buried was located in an area previously believed to be safe. At an altitude of around 4,500 meters (15,000 feet), it is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to more remote outposts.
More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.
Conflict there began in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the 78-kilometer (49-mile)-long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim the territory. Pakistan also deployed its troops. Both armies remain entrenched despite the cease-fire, costing the poverty-stricken countries many millions of dollars each year.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

Saudis 'won't endorse' female athletes in London

Human Rights Watch has again criticised Saudi Arabia after a leading official reportedly ruled out the possibility of female athletes being sent to the 2012 Games in London.
“If the International Olympic Committee was looking for an official affirmation of Saudi discrimination against women in sports, the minister in charge just gave it,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The comments came as Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, head of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, was quoted by local media as saying the Gulf kingdom would not endorse female athletes.

Saudi women are free to participate on their own and the presidency’s role will be limited to ensuring that their participation conforms with Islamic Sharia law, Prince Nawaf said, according to the newspaper Al-Riyadh.

“It is impossible to square Saudi discrimination against women with the noble values of the Olympic Charter,” Wilcke said.

Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to put Saudi discrimination against women in sport on the agenda of its next executive board meeting in Quebec on May 23.

“The time is running out for hope that dialogue with Saudi authorities will lead to a change in discriminatory policies,” Wilcke said.

“As far as the International Olympic Committee is concerned, it’s the National Olympic Committees that send the athletes,” an IOC spokeswoman said in an interview. The “primary objective,” of an NOC is to put a delegation together and send them to the Games, she added.

Discussions between the Lausanne, Switzerland IOC and the Saudi Olympic authority about whether the kingdom will send women to the Olympics for the first time “are still going on,” the spokeswoman said. “It is not a no.”

The London Olympics start July 27.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei were the only nations not to send women athletes to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Qatar and Brunei are both expected to send female athletes this time round.

Earlier this month, the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics said they were “confident” Saudi Arabia will send female athletes following a “constructive meeting” with representatives from the Gulf kingdom.

In a statement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee had submitted to them a list of potential female competitors.

The IOC confirmed that it had held talks with the Saudis in Lausanne last week in which both female participation and the conservative kingdom’s “culture and traditions” were discussed.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch in February published a report criticising the systematic exclusion of women from sporting activities in Saudi Arabia.

Qatar, which is bidding for the right to host the 2020 Olympics, has already announced its firm intention to send female competitors to London.

Saudi Arabia's Syrian jihad

By Joshua Jacobs

If there was any doubt as to Saudi intentions in Syria, that veil was ripped away on Sunday at the Istanbul "Friends of Syria" conference. The Saudis and their Gulf allies spearheaded an effort to create a formalized pay structure for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and privately ruminated on the possibility of setting up official supply conduits to forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This decision went much further than what the West, or even neighboring Turkey, seemed willing to embrace. But while the United States and her allies are wary of seeing Syria become a sectarian battleground, the power brokers in Riyadh are enthusiastically hurtling towards it.

When the Syrian uprising began last March, Saudi Arabia was in a state of panic. The revolution in Egypt, the uprising in Bahrain, and the bubbling civil war in Yemen consumed attention and cultivated a manic siege mentality. This fear and clarion call for stability stymied any potential efforts at exploiting the regional chaos. However as the Saudi domestic and geopolitical situation began to stabilize, they began to look hungrily at the potential opportunity in Syria.

The shift onto the offensive began in early August when King Abdullah tested the waters by staking out a position as the first Arab leader to castigate the Assad regime. While the Saudis escalated their rhetoric and began lobbying in Arab diplomatic circles, they also began to unchain their clerical soft power. A steady stream of firebrand clerics and senior religious officials began to take to the airwaves with official Saudi sanction to excoriate the Assad regime and encourage pious Muslims to strive against it. Clerics like Sheikh Adnan al-Arour, a Syrian-born Salafist preacher who has called for a jihad against the Assad regime have been given prime time coverage. The influence of these clerics and the increasing connection between them and fighters in Syria is evidenced by communiques from armed groups like the 'Supporters of God Brigade' in Hama which declared allegiance to al-Arour.

To experienced Saudi watchers the escalating religious rhetoric being encouraged in the Kingdom may seem perplexing. For much of the past decade the Saudi government has worked to muzzle and regulate the ability of clerics to make calls for jihad, reinforcing the doctrine that such an action is only valid if endorsed by the King and his senior religious authorities. This was done to suppress the flow of recruits not only to al-Qaeda but to insurgent groups in Iraq and Yemen. However the Saudi decision is a sign that they are once again willing to embrace one of the most potent weapons in the Kingdom's arsenal, state directed jihad.

It is one of the most tried and true weapons the Kingdom possesses having utilized it to fight Nasser in Yemen, the Serbs in Bosnia, and of course the Soviets in Afghanistan to name just a few. The Saudis have clearly made the calculus that the potential fruits of toppling Assad, and enthroning a Sunni aligned regime in Damascus are well worth the political risk.

While the Istanbul conference marked what could arguably be termed the beginning of an overt state of conflict between Riyadh and Damascus, the signs have been building for months that the covert war has been in full swing. Reports that Saudi agents have been working in Jordan and Iraq to finance smuggling routes appear to have a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence, and is certainly a view endorsed by those taking part in such activities on the ground. While unsubstantiated and likely untrue accusations that Saudi Arabia has played a role in the spate of suicide attacks in Damascus belie a more likely fear that the Kingdom is strengthening its ties amongst Islamist groups in Syria.

The danger of course is that while Saudi Arabia embarks on its jihad to topple Assad, it will get free reign in picking the winners and losers amongst the opposition. This will have the effect of distorting the movement by strengthening ideologically allied Islamist groups at the expense of moderates and secularists. Indeed there is a worrying precedent in Afghanistan where the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency altered the political landscape by controlling who did or did not receive support. If the Western powers, Turkey included, voluntarily stand aside and let Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies unilaterally control the process of arming the opposition, then they might find themselves appalled at the result.

The international community as a whole should be cautious in the manner that it approaches intervention in Syria. Footing responsibility to Saudi Arabia and her allies risks ideologically poisoning the opposition movement as Sunni religious groups receive disproportionate support and other groups adapt their message to receive support. If the United States and her Western allies are committed to supporting the Syrian revolution, they cannot afford to sit back and do it through intermediaries.

BAHRIAN: Hunger striker's daughter: Father having trouble breathing

The daughter of a prominent human rights activist on a two-month hunger strike in Bahrain said Sunday that her father was having trouble breathing and was being harassed by hospital staff and security guards.
Zainab al-Khawaja, who was arrested again for trying to see her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, told CNN she had spoken with him Saturday night.

"There were very long pauses," she told CNN. "He was trying to breathe between every word."
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is protesting the life sentence he received for his role in anti-government demonstrations that continue to roil his country. Sunday marked the 60th day of his hunger strike and the first anniversary of his arrest.She said her father said he told guards that he would live with pride whether it was in or out of prison.
"His tone and the way he was speaking was like he was saying goodbye. We're not sure if we'll ever see him again," his daughter said.
She went Saturday to the military hospital where her father is being held. She had done the same Thursday night, was arrested for assaulting a public officer and later released.
Government spokesman Abdul-Aziz al-Khalifa said Sunday that the daughter was detained after she started "shouting her head off" and "being rude." She was charged with "disturbing the peace in a general hospital and insulting members of the security force here and all the guards in the hospital," he said.
As to the daughter's comments on how her father is being treated, the spokesman said he finds it "very hard to believe that the hospital staff would treat him that way." He said he had full faith in the staff and that her story is an "exaggeration."
Zainab al-Khawaja said security guards took her outside and tied her hands and legs to a wheelchair. She was taken to a military base and interrogated and again questioned at a police station.
She said she was charged with insulting an official and then released after signing a document saying she would appear at a public prosecution office when requested to do so.
The government spokesman declined to comment on how the guards may have detained her, or on her treatment.
Meanwhile Sunday, Bahraini authorities said they will not hand over Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja to Denmark as requested.
Bahrain's Supreme Judiciary Council said he did not meet the conditions stipulated in its criminal procedures law to hand over the accused to foreign countries, the Bahrain News Agency reported.
Al-Khawaja had lived once in Denmark and holds Danish citizenship.
Al-Khalifa said Saturday that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was in stable condition and receiving "the utmost care that is available."
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights -- a group Abdulhadi al-Khawaja founded -- said he had recently threatened his guards that he would stop drinking water, in addition to continuing his hunger strike, unless his treatment improved.
Records showed that al-Khawaja had lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and had a low hemoglobin level, though not critically low, the government said. He was also reportedly taking fluids, mineral supplements, glucose and juice on a daily basis.
Al-Khawaja was arrested in April 2011 for his role in anti-government protests that began a month earlier with demands for political reform and greater freedoms in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority nation.
Opposition groups say more than 1,000 people -- mainly Shiites -- were detained for allegedly taking part.
In June, Bahrain found Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and seven other Shiite opposition activists guilty of plotting to overthrow the country's Sunni royal family.
In November, an independent inquiry commissioned by the king confirmed that security forces had tortured and used excessive force against civilians arrested during the crackdown and that thousands of workers were allegedly fired for participating in the protests.
Since then, demonstrators and police have continued to clash.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja can appeal his life sentence during a hearing April 23, the government said.

Obama taps conservative line in health care battle

It may be too little too late, but the Obama administration is leveraging conservative legal ideas to win support from Supreme Court justices -- and the general public -- for its signature health care law.
President Barack Obama last week predicted the Supreme Court would uphold the controversial law as constitutional, saying the justices would not take the "unprecedented, extraordinary step" of dumping a law approved by a "democratically elected Congress." Obama even invoked the conservative mantra on "judicial restraint" and "judicial activism," and how conservatives traditionally decry "an unelected group" of judges overturning "a duly constituted and passed law." Obama's comments evoked a demand by a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that the administration submit a memo to the court on whether the administration believes that federal courts can review legislative action.
Attorney General Eric Holder complied and filed a report confirming that courts have that power. "There is no dispute that courts properly review the constitutionality of acts of Congress," Holder wrote. His letter was filed in precise obedience to the court's demands, which included a noon deadline, a three-page length, single spacing and an explicit reference to the president's statement.
At the end of three days of oral arguments at the Supreme Court on March 28, Obama's chief lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, appealed for judicial restraint.
The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, "was a judgment of policy that democratically accountable branches of this government made by their best lights," he said. "I would urge this court to respect that judgment."
The dueling concepts of judicial restraint and judicial activism harken to towering Supreme Court figures of the past century such as Felix Frankfurter and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Last century, conservatives seized on the overarching idea, unelected judges should not legislate from the bench, as a way of attacking blockbuster liberal precedents of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Among them: Brown v. Board of Education, striking down school segregation; Miranda v. Arizona, requiring police to advise suspects of their right to remain silent and get legal help; and Roe v. Wade, which decriminalized abortion.
Republican presidents from Richard Nixon onward used judicial restraint as their benchmark for Supreme Court nominees.
Although many of those precedents came to be accepted across the political spectrum, some, like Roe v. Wade, did not. For conservatives, Roe v. Wade became a poster child for liberal "activist" judges who extended rights beyond what the text of the Constitution permitted.
But the waters got muddied in recent years as liberals appropriated the restraint-activist paradigm to castigate conservative justices striking down laws that the liberals liked.
So, as the justices fashion their ruling on health care for public release by the end of June, legal experts are not surprised that Team Obama has harnessed conservative language to defend the law.
"Politically, people are becoming a bit desensitized to the charge of `activism,' " said Kermit Roosevelt III, law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. For partisans on either side, "a decision is `activist' when it's wrong, and not `activist' when it's right." And in any case, Obama's plea last week fell on deaf ears at the court. Justices typically vote on a case the Friday after oral arguments, a timetable suggesting they were already preparing an opinion plus possible concurrences and dissents.
"The president's remarks were strange," said Frank B. Cross, a University of Texas law professor. "He's not going to influence the court. He's playing politics; that's what presidents do." But regardless of timing, the points are valid, said Vincent Bonventre, law professor at Albany (N.Y.) Law School who believes the law should be upheld."The conservatives' own philosophy suggests they should uphold Obamacare," Bonventre said. Respect for court precedents and deference to elected officials are "fundamental principles of conservative justices." During oral arguments last month, the Obama legal team focused on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is deemed the most likely of the five-justice conservative wing to jump ship and vote with the four liberal justices to uphold the law.
Kennedy, a Sacramento, Calif., native, is an accidental justice who won Senate confirmation in 1988 only after President Ronald Reagan saw two previous nominees, including conservative champion Robert Bork, crash and burn.
Since then, Kennedy has generally voted with conservatives but also has switched sides in notable cases including the 1992 ruling upholding Roe v. Wade, and the 2003 decision striking down Texas' sodomy law.
With the 2005 retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Kennedy has become the court's main swing vote.
"All the justices weigh cases on the merits," said Michael Dorf, a one-time Kennedy law clerk who is a law professor at Cornell University. But Kennedy's "scale on the merits is closest to being in the middle."
Kennedy used a 1995 San Antonio case, U.S. v. Lopez, to stake out his embrace of federalism -- the Founding Fathers' concept of powers divided between the federal government and the states -- and how it protects individual liberty.
In that case, the justices ruled a federal law banning guns in school zones went beyond the Constitution's restriction of congressional regulatory power to matters of interstate commerce. The law had been used to prosecute Edison High School senior Alfonso Lopez Jr., who had brought a loaded .38 caliber handgun to school.
The Lopez decision reiterated the court's dividing line on when an act of Congress breeches the Constitution's interstate commerce wall: "Where economic activity substantially affects interstate commerce, legislation regulating that activity will be sustained." In five separate instances during oral arguments on the health care law, Verrilli cited the Lopez language in arguing that Obamacare does, in fact, involve "economic activity with substantial effects on interstate commerce." Whether this swayed Kennedy's vote remains to be seen. During arguments, Kennedy appeared to harbor deep reservations about the law but also signaled concern about how uncompensated care for the uninsured shifts costs to those with health insurance "in a way that is not true in other industries." The health care law seeks to end cost shifting by requiring virtually everyone to have health insurance. Opponents say this mandate, like the law at issue in Lopez, goes beyond the constitutional limits.
"It sounds like (Kennedy) was trying to make up his mind how to do it," said Dorf. Although he cherishes federalism, Kennedy is "sensitive that you can't throw the clock back to 1789."

Read more:

Diplomacy over Zardari's India visit

Afghanistan to Launch its First Space Satellite

Afghanistan's first ever space satellite will be installed within the next six months, according to Afghan Minister of Communication and Information Technology Amir Zai Sangin.

Sangin stressed at a press conference in Kabul on Sunday that the new satellite would give Afghanistan a greater connection to the world.

It will also enable production of digital broadcasting for Afghan media - a government priority, he added.

"We will start the installation process of the satellite very soon. It's our priority to solve broadcasting issues and bring all our districts under coverage," Sangin said.

He emphasised that the country was facing a shortage of frequencies for TV stations, but the new satellite would help resolve the problem once digital broadcasting was introduced.

The position of the satellite, expected to be in orbit within six months, will be 50 degrees East.

Meanwhile, Afghan internet providers will be issued ‘Wimax' licenses, Sangin said, adding that it would give Afghans access to faster internet services.

"By distributing Wimax and 3G licenses, the problem of slow internet connections will be tackled," he told reporters.

Afghan night raids: Kabul signs deal with US forces

The Afghan government has signed a deal on the conduct of night raids by US special forces, bringing the operations under Afghan leadership.

Under the agreement signed by the Afghan defence minister and the US commander, US forces will play a supporting role in the raids.

The US military say night raids are a valuable way of finding and detaining suspected militants.

But many Afghans say the raids violate privacy and disrespect women.

The operations, currently carried out by Nato and Afghan special forces, have been a growing cause of friction between the Afghan government and the US military.

'We own the night'
The agreement comes ahead of the planned withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says the Afghan government wants to ensure that these operations are entirely led by its forces and that they give explicit permission for other troops to take part.

A senior Afghan general told the BBC that while the insurgents had the upper hand in daylight, "we [Afghan National Security Forces] and Nato own the night.

"These night raids have broken the backbone of the the Taliban and various other insurgent groups," the general said.

The deal will also allow Afghan judges to review the operations and decide whether to hold detainees after the raid.

Afghan officials told the BBC that last-minute discussions were still taking place over interrogation of detainees.

Why I support Baluchistan

By Dana Rohrabacher

There has been quite a stir since I introduced a resolution this year calling for recognition of the right to self-determination by the people of Baluchistan. I drafted the measure after a Feb. 8 hearing by the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations that exposed horrific violations of human rights by Pakistan security forces in Baluchistan. The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have verified and denounced the extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, disappearances, illegal detention and torture being used by Pakistani authorities to suppress Baluch aspirations to control their own affairs.

Some allege that my willingness to raise this subject has harmed U.S.-Pakistan relations. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has condemned the legislation. Pakistan’s Foreign Office twice summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Islamabad to protest the resolution. Pakistani media have published a host of angry editorials, and street protests greeted a U.S. congressional delegation to Islamabad shortly after I introduced House Concurrent Resolution 104.

Well, to paraphrase Shakespeare, methinks Islamabad doth protest too much. In fact, Pakistani elites are upset not about lies but the truth.

Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest province in area and lies in the south, near Iran and Afghanistan. It is replete with natural resources and treated like a colonial possession. Its natural gas, gold, uranium and copper are exploited for the benefit of the ruling elite in Islamabad; meanwhile, the Baluch people remain desperately poor. The province includes the port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, which China has been developing and may turn into a naval base. The Baluch have been dispossessed of land and fishing as a result, while construction jobs and land grants have gone to Pakistanis from other provinces.

First carved up in 1871 by Persia and Britain, the area has a distinct identity that dates to ancient times. In 1947, the ruler of the nominally sovereign and largely autonomous Baluch state of Kalat, which was established in the 17th century, declared independence as the British empire gave way to the nations of India and Pakistan. The Pakistani army marched into Kalat and ended this brief national independence. A popular uprising against this takeover was crushed in 1950. Subsequent revolts in 1958, 1973 and 2005 — the last of which is ongoing — and the Pakistani army’s use of terror tactics against Baluch civilians, indicate continued popular discontent against rule by Islamabad.

With this resolution, I do not seek to single out Pakistan. I have long championed the principle of self-determination. For example, every Pakistani ambassador to the United States for the past 20 years is well aware of my support for the Kashmiri people. Indeed, at the Feb. 8 House subcommittee hearing on Baluchistan, I compared Baluchistan to Kashmir. In 1995, I introduced a resolution that stated in part: “a cycle of violence exists in Kashmir as a result of the Indian Government’s refusal to permit the people of Kashmir to exercise their right to self-determination.”

This is consistent with my commitment to support freedom and people’s right to control their own destiny in accordance with their cultural values and sense of identity. There are many good people in Pakistan who understand that the abuse of human rights by security forces in Baluchistan is a stain on the honor of their country. Such heavy-handed oppression is also counterproductive. It drives people away.

We should not remain a silent partner to a Pakistani government that engages in monstrous crimes against its people and has been an accomplice to terrorist attacks on Americans, including those of Sept. 11, 2001. The real irritant to U.S.-Pakistan relations is not my resolution but the policies of the Islamabad government and military. Consider the plight of Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani physician who helped lead our Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden. He has been arrested and threatened with a charge of treason. An inquiry commission deemed him a “national criminal” because he helped the United States put an end to the terrorist who plotted the deaths of thousands of Americans.

Islamabad has not only sheltered al-Qaeda but also provided a base of operations for the Taliban, who continue to kill Americans. With one hand officials thumb their noses at us and with the other hand they grab billions in our foreign aid. It is time Washington stopped aiding Pakistan and developed a closer friendship with India and, perhaps, Baluchistan.

I make no apology for submitting a resolution championing the oppressed people of Baluchistan in their dealings with a Pakistani government that has betrayed our trust.

PML-Q questions the motive behind the laptops

Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) members have submitted an adjournment motion in Punjab Assembly against alleged corruption in distribution of laptops by the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The PML members including Amir Sultan Cheema, Qamar Hayat Kathia and Seemal Kamran in their motion said that it is matter of concern that the laptops were bought by Planning and Development Department and Higher Education Department was ignored. They said it was a million dollar question that why the provincial government paid Rs 37,000 for a laptop, whose price is only Rs 20,000. They said the laptops could be bought directly from the vendor but a company, which played a middleman role, was given Rs 1.65 billion benefit and it should be inquired through a committee headed by senior judge of Lahore High Court.

TIP smells ‘Rs 1.7b rat’ in free laptop scheme

The free laptop distribution scheme launched by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was challenged on Saturday, as Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) claimed that the provincial government had violated the Punjab Procurement Rules, 2009, while procuring 110,000 laptops, and had incurred a loss of at least Rs 1.7 billion to the exchequer.
In a letter written to Ali Tahir, provincial secretary of the Punjab Planning and Development Department, TIP Advisor Syed Adil Gilani referred to serious allegations reported in the print media (copy enclosed) on April 6, 2012, citing violations of Punjab Procurement Rules, 2009 in procuring 110,000 laptops.
“TI Pakistan requests the Secretary to please examine the allegations. According to Punjab Procurement Rules, 2009, P&D Department was obliged to issue tender documents comprising of detailed specifications, evaluation criteria and other documents complying with Rule No 23. Kindly provide the tender documents to examine whether Rule No 23 was applied or not,” Gilani said.
“However, the P&D Department may clarify the allegations such as indirect reference that the specifications of laptops in the tender were different than what you have procured (like i3 or i5 processors were specified in the tender, while the machine provided by the government runs on Pentium-D processor) and the laptops distributed by the provincial government do not carry any guarantee, or the prices are 70 percent higher than the market costs, need detailed report,” the TIP adviser said in his letter.
He pointed out that the judgement by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on RPP HRC 7734-G/0930 case announced on March 30, 2012, had rescinded and declared all RPP Contacts awarded in 2006 as well as in 2008, “illegal” and against the PPRA Rules.
“It is important to note that all the executive authorities are bound to enter into contracts for supplies at the least expense to the public exchequer. The most significant consideration for every department of the government must be the best economical mode of meeting the public needs,” he said.
He reminded the P&D secretary that by being a member of Punjab PPRA Board, his responsibilities were greater than other procuring departments, as he needs to be a role model of a PPRA complaint department.
The TI Pakistan is striving to have rule of law in Pakistan, which is the only way to eliminate corruption and have good governance in the country, he added.

Rahul Gandhi agrees to visit Pakistan on Bilawal's invitation

Rahul Gandhi has agreed to visit Pakistan on invitation from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto, Express News reported on Sunday.
Bilawal, who accompanied his father President Asif Ali Zardari on his personal visit to India, met Congress party’s general secretary Rahul during lunch at the residence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
During a joint press conference, Prime Minister Singh also said that he was invited to visit Pakistan by President Zardari and would visit soon.
Bilateral talks
Even though Zardari’s trip was termed as a personal visit, Singh said that he took advantage of his visit to discuss all bilateral issues. “I am very satisfied with the outcome,” he said.
“Relations between India and Pakistan should become normal. That is our common desire. We have a number of issues and we are willing to find practical, pragmatic solutions,” Singh added.

Zardari's India visit expected to boost peace process

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's private visit to India on Sunday will provide an opportunity for the top leaders on the two sides to take stock of latest developments in the peace process that resumed last year after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks though no major announcement is expected from this meeting.

The time the two leaders will spend together will be too brief for any major developments though the meeting comes on the heels of important breakthroughs in normalising trade relations. Also the last time Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari met in Russia, the meeting had not gone well as Manmohan had told Zardari in front of the media to take action on the Mumbai attacks.

There has been much movement in one soft area -- trade -- and things are looking up but the two sides have been unable to address more contentious issues. India remains deeply suspicious about Pakistan's intention to punish those responsible for the Mumbai attacks while Islamabad has significant concerns about New Delhi's plans for Afghanistan and differences over sharing of river waters.

The most prominent of course is the Kashmir issue, for which no solution appears to be in sight. Many still think the four-point formula suggested by former military President Pervez Musharraf was the best course but that is now not acceptable to many in Pakistan. The issue of water has become a major concern in recent years for Pakistan and some have taken advantage of it to spread all sorts of rumours about hundreds of dams being built in India. There is a need for greater clarity through negotiations on this issue. The role of India and Pakistan in Afghanistan should not become part of the formal talks between the two countries as they are currently not even discussing this issue.

President Zardari apparently had a "mannat" (making wish) and that is the ostensible reason for this visit to India to go to the Ajmer shrine. One presidential aide said this visit had been planned for about a year. But any visit, even private, by a top Pakistani leader assumes other dimensions, especially when Zardari plans to meet the Indian Prime Minister. Even brief but background discussions could open new doors and allow both sides to explore new options related to outstanding issues.

There is a large number of people in Pakistan who want better relations with India despite opposition by hard-liner Islamic groups. Among the business community, there are again many who are very enthusiastic about the possibility of greater trade with India. But at the same time, there are groups like the amalgamation of scores of mostly religious groups and individuals known as "Defence of Pakistan Council" which are able to mobilise huge crowds for protests and have targeted India at their protests and rallies. Also in India some fanatics are opposing good relations with Pakistan and the India's Hindu extremist leader Bal Thackeray warned President Zardari Friday against his scheduled visit to India.

There are still pockets in Pakistan which harbour hatred towards India for various reasons, but things can improve. It is now widely believed that the powerful military and the civilian leadership favour stability in the region and desire good relations with India. Certain quarters still are of the opinion that the catch is the military, which has shown no signs of moving away from the Pakistan army chief Gen Kayani described as its " India-centric" role.

The biggest boost to confidence with India would be if Pakistan takes some sort of step to rein in jihad groups or if those responsible for the Mumbai attacks would be properly prosecuted. Many in Pakistan think Mumbai is a closed chapter but trends have shown this is not the case in India.

Obviously, Pakistan wants some sort of assurances on the waters issue. It also wants India to address its concerns about the Indian role in Afghanistan. Many Pakistani leaders have spoken about India's role in the violence-hit southwestern Balochistan province but there has been no proof provided in this regards. However, open discussions can clear the air.

The biggest fear everyone has is another Mumbai-like attack or scenario. Otherwise, all the latest developments in India-Pakistan relations have been positive. But with this bilateral relationship, it is hard to predict anything. Things were worsening rapidly when the Mumbai attacks occurred. Moreover, external factors can influence the relationship, like the issue of 10 million U.S. dollars bounty for Hafiz Saeed, leader of the banned outfit Jamaat- ud-Dawa,has already cast a shadow on Zardari's planned visit. Saeed's group had been accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks.

Although President Zardari is paying a private visit, it has assumed great importance and interest in both countries which could further strengthen the approach to find out solution to regional problems in the region without any foreign intervention.

Pakistan has already been pursuing this policy. The country's leaders visited Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey in recent months, and leaders from those countries also visited Pakistan. The visit to India is also a step forward to achieve the goal to explore solution of regional issues in the region.

Zardari visits shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti

Zardari visited shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti amid tight security on Sunday.

President Zardari visited shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and offered "Fateha" and laid floral wreath. Zardari also donated 1 million dollars for the committee of the shrine.

The shrine had also been vacated during the time when the president offered his prayers in the presence of khadims and other members of the shrine board.

Security has been tightened including deployment of special units atop high-rise buildings and along the route.

The Rajasthan city of Ajmer had already been turned into a fortress for the President Zardari who along with his son Bilawal and other delegation members offered prayers at the Sufi shrine.

Earlier Zardari met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Manmohan agrees to visit Pakistan

President Asif Ali Zardari met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the latter's official residence. The meeting was termed as ‘fruitful’ by both leaders. Following the one on one meeting, President Zardari and Prime Minister Singh addressed the media.

President Zardari thanked PM Manmohan for hosting him though he was on a private visit.

'I thank PM Manmohan Singh for hosting me as I am on a private visit. India and Pakistan are neighbours and would like to have better relations.'

He said his meeting with the Indian PM was fruitful and they discussed all issues concerning both countries.

Manmohan said he had a very friendly and constructive dialogue on all bilateral issues adding that he is very satisfied with Zardari's visit.

Sindh said that President Zardari had invited him to Pakistan and he will be very happy to visit at a convenient time.

This was President Zardari’s first visit to India as President of Pakistan. Upon arrival Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal received the president at the airport. Bansal also accompanied Zardari to the Ajmer shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Zardari headed straight to the PM's official residence at 7 Race Course Road for the one-on-one talks.

The president's delegation to New Delhi comprised of Chairman of Pakistan People's Party and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and his personal and security staff.

President Zardari is the first Pakistani head of state to visit India in seven years after the visit of President Pervez Musharraf in 2005.

Rahul Gandhi, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to share table at PM's lunch

Times of India

A highlight of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's luncheon meeting with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday will be the interaction between Rahul Gandhi and Zardari's 24-year-old son Bilawal, both heirs apparent in their respective parties. While no separate meeting is scheduled, the two young leaders are expected to have a discussion over lunch that will also be attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior Cabinet ministers.

Even though the interaction will be on the sidelines of what is being touted as an informal meeting between Singh and Zardari with no structured agenda, it is drawing parallels with the 1988 SAARC summit meeting between Bilawal's mother Benazir Bhutto and Rahul's father Rajiv Gandhi - the two assassinated leaders, who were then seen as having the potential to break fresh ground. Despite an age gap between them, it is expected that Rahul and Bilawal will hit it off due to similar past experiences.

"This will be their first meeting and they will have enough time over lunch to talk and get to know each other better," said a government official, adding that Rahul is expected to be seated opposite Bilawal, who became the chairman of PPP at the age of 19, during lunch.

Sources said that apart from Bilawal, Zardari will also be accompanied by interior minister Rehman Malik, and a few other "male relatives". Other Indian ministers who will be present at the lunch are finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, Union home minister P Chidambaram and defence minister A K Antony. NSA Shivshankar Menon will also be present. Other guests include Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and senior BJP leader L K Advani. Minister for parliamentary affairs and water resources Pawan Kumar Bansal will be the minister-in-waiting for Zardari, and will receive him at the airport.

The lunch is also expected to be a fine culinary experience for leaders from both the countries with dishes from across the border also on the menu. The spread includes jaitooni murg seekh, kareli dal gosht, tori bhujia, sarson ke phool, makai palak, paneer jalfrezi, avail, vegetarian shami, murg kofta makhni and sikandari khusk raan. Desserts will comprise gur ka sandesh, phirni and blueberry mousse.

Singh accepts Zardari’s invitation to visit Pakistan

President Asif Ali Zardari became the first Pakistani head of state since 2005 to visit India on Sunday for a one-day trip he described as “very fruitful” in improving ties between the two countries.

During a visit billed as private but of great diplomatic significance, Zardari lunched with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and invited him to visit Pakistan.

The meeting has received a cautious welcome from analysts who see it as another sign of improving relations between the neighbours.

“We have had some very fruitful bilateral talks together,” Zardari said at a joint news conference during the first presidential trip to India since Pervez Musharraf visited seven years ago.

“We would like to have better relations with India. We spoke on all topics that we could,” added Zardari, who is accompanied by a large 40 member delegation including Interior Minister Rehman Malik and 25 members of his family, including his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and daughters Asifa and Bakhtawar.

The lunch —with kebabs and curries from all over India, including the disputed region of Kashmir —was preceded by a 40-minute private conversation between the two leaders.

“I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit,” Singh told reporters.

“President Zardari has invited me to visit Pakistan and I’d be very happy to visit Pakistan at a mutually convenient date.”

He stressed that relations between the countries “should become normal. That is our common desire.”

Analysts expected little progress on Sunday on sensitive topics such as Kashmir or the presence of anti-India militant groups in Pakistan.

Both were discussed, along with “the activities of Hafiz Saeed” and ways to increase trade between the countries, India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters.

“Both felt that we need to move forward step by step,” Mathai said of the talks between the leaders, which will be followed by meetings between home and trade ministers in the coming months.

Zardari later flied to a Sufi shrine in the town of Ajmer, 350 kilometres (220 miles) southwest of New Delhi, where he is visiting the renowned complex of mosques built around a tomb commemorating a saint who died in 1236.

Every day, thousands of believers visit the shrine of Sufi saint Moinudin Chishti inAjmer.

Zardari reaches Ajmer to offer prayers, tight security at the dargah

After a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has reached Ajmer to offer prayers at the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.

The authorities have made elaborate security arrangements in Ajmer for Zardari's visit.

Residents whose houses face the dargah have been asked to keep their windows shut while the Pakistan president is inside the shrine on Sunday afternoon.

A police official said people residing near the dargah have already been given a list of dos and don'ts.

All the stores catering to pilgrims situated along a one kilometre-long narrow lane leading to the shrine will have to shut shop between 1.30pm and 6pm. Devotees have been barred from visiting the shrine from 2pm to 6pm, except for the khadims or shrine caretakers, who will help Zardari perform prayers.

Vehicular movement around the shrine will also be halted during the half an hour that Zardari is to spend at the dargah.

A senior police official said that over 3,000 policemen have been deployed around the shrine, which is 12 km away from the Ajmer helipad where Zardari will land in a helicopter from Jaipur.

"We have stationed around 80 police personnel inside the dargah, while the same number of police personnel will be deputed at the highrise buildings surrounding it," the official, who declined to give his name, said.

"We have told the people to shut their windows when Zardari is inside the complex," the official said.

The Rajasthan government has deputed six superintendents of police to oversee the deployment of over 3,000 policemen.