Monday, April 9, 2012

Obama puts taxes at center of campaign fight

With his Republican opponent now almost certain to be Mitt Romney, a multi-millionaire, President Barack Obama

is trying to put fairer taxes at the center of his re-election campaign, but a new poll suggests the message may fall flat in swing states.

Obama will talk about taxes in Florida on Tuesday when he delivers a speech in support of the "Buffett Rule," a measure to insure a 30 percent tax on income over $1 million earned by wealthy Americans.

Vice President Joe Biden will travel to the battleground state of New Hampshire on Thursday also to discuss taxes. The Obama campaign sees the issue as a weak point for Romney, a former private equity executive and ex-governor of Massachusetts.

"Middle class families are taking it on the chin right now and they don't see others doing their fair share," Wisconsin Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin said in a conference call set up by the Obama campaign.

But Obama's push on tax fairness may be falling on deaf ears in the swing states where the November 6 election will likely be decided.

In 12 battleground states, 80 percent of independent voters lacking strong views on either Obama or Romney said they prefer a candidate who focuses on creating economic opportunity rather than reducing income inequality, according to a poll by the moderate Democratic group Third Way released on Monday.

All the same, Obama leads probable Republican presidential candidate Romney by 35 percent to 29 percent among the same group of "swing independents" in the poll.

Obama's renewed focus on tax rates comes as the White House stares down foreboding economic news elsewhere.

High gasoline prices hovering near $4 a gallon are set to remain a hurdle to re-election for Obama and hiring slowed in March, though the unemployment rate dipped to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent.

"President Obama and his team are desperate to avoid talking about last Friday's incredibly weak jobs report, which is why they create sideshows to distract people from what really matters," said Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney.

"Apparently, the only job the White House is interested in saving belongs to Obama. Everyone else will have to continue to suffer. Mitt Romney is running for president to put America back to work," she added.


Democrats in Congress are working with the White House to call attention to low tax rates paid by wealthy Americans.

On April 16, the Senate will take up the "Buffett Rule" although it is unlikely to be approved as Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to bring the issue to a full vote.

The proposal is named after billionaire investor and Obama supporter Warren Buffett who has said it is unfair that he pays a lower effective tax rate than many ordinary Americans, including his secretary.

So central is Buffett's case to the White House's tax message that his secretary Debbie Bosanek sat alongside first lady Michelle Obama during the State of the Union speech in January to make the point that secretaries can pay a higher tax rate than their rich bosses, who often earn most of their money from investments rather than a paycheck.

Obama's proposed change in tax policy would raise $47 billion in revenue over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional score keeper.

As well as increasing revenue and possibly appealing to middle-class voters, the Obama campaign's focus on taxes has the added benefit of taking direct aim at Romney

In January, Romney came under criticism, even from within the Republican Party, for paying a low tax rate. He later released his tax returns from 2010 and 2011, showing that he paid an effective tax rate of 14.5 percent during the two-year period.

Romney earns most of his income from investment profits, dividends and interest.

The Romney campaign team says it is happy to discuss taxes and their candidate's plans to lower rates across the board.

Republicans accuse Obama of trying to start class warfare by targeting the rich.

"This is kind of like spring training," said one Republican operative familiar with the Romney campaign. "The Democrats are trying out different lines on taxes. If they want to argue over whether we want to lower taxes or not, that is fine with the Romney folks."

The Obama campaign has called for Romney to release the last 23 years of his tax returns — the number Obama's team says Romney provided to former presidential candidate John McCain in 2008 when he was being considered as a running mate.

Last week, Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told MSNBC that Romney's financial disclosures were "sufficient." During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama released his own tax returns dating back to 2000.

Obama campaign chief slams Romney ‘hypocrisy' on Harvard, out-of-touch attacks

With the presidential campaign in full "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" swing, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign manager Jim Messina on Monday accused Mitt Romney of "hypocrisy" for his attacks on the president as a member of a coddled, out-of-touch, Harvard-educated elite.

"I would brand it simply hypocrisy," Messina told reporters on a conference call. "Romney is also a Harvard graduate."

And Messina mocked Romney's attack as "a little difficult when he's shopping for car elevators" -- a knock on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's plans to include one in a beachfront California home.

The Obama strategist's comments came on a call designed to promote legislation to implement the "Buffett Rule," a measure inspired by billionaire investor Warren Buffett's claim that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. The proposal, crafted by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, aims to ensure that Americans making $1 million per year or more pay at least 30 percent of that income in taxes. The Senate will vote on the measure April 16 -- and it is expected to fail.

But that won't necessarily dull its edge as a political weapon to embarrass Romney, who has made a series of verbal campaign-trail gaffes seen as reinforcing the notion that his vast wealth has left him out of touch with average Americans. Romney, who opposes the legislation, is "the beneficiary of a broken tax system and he wants to keep it that way," said Messina. "Why should Mitt Romney pay a lower tax rate than average Americans?"The former Massachusetts governor and multimillionaire investor recently released his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, which show he paid an effective tax rate of roughly 14 percent on income of more than $40 million.

"That's what this Buffett Rule fight is about," Messina said on the conference call.

With Obama set to make the case for the Buffett Rule at an event in Florida on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney disputed the notion that the president was targeting Romney, saying he supported the proposed tax change "long before it was evident who might emerge as the nominee for the other party."

"I think that we hope it will pass. I think that every senator who votes on it will have to examine for himself or herself whether or not they want to vote for a bill that says millionaires and billionaires should not pay taxes on their income at a lower rate than middle-class Americans, or vote against it. And they will have to explain to their constituents why they don't agree with that principle," said Carney. "That's what votes do -- they put senators on record."

Romney campaign communications director Gail Gitcho hit back at the White House, calling Obama "the first president in history to openly campaign for re-election on a platform of higher taxes."

"He has already raised taxes on millions of Americans, but he won't stop there. He wants to raise taxes on millions more by taxing small businesses and job creators. We appreciate the Obama campaign reinforcing Mitt Romney's platform of lowering tax rates across the board in order to jumpstart this bad Obama economy," she said in a statement.

Titanic 3D Movie Review: Beyond The Trailer

U.S. tells North Korea not to carry out nuclear test

The United States urged North Korea on Monday not conduct a nuclear test or launch a satellite and called on China to exert its influence over its neighbor to try to ward off such "provocative actions."

North Korea, which is pressing ahead with plans for a satellite launch despite U.S. and regional appeals that it desist, is also preparing a third nuclear test, South Korean news reports said on Sunday.

Another nuclear test is bound to scare neighbors and infuriate the West, which has long sought to curb the North's nuclear ambitions.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified intelligence source as saying North Korea was "clandestinely preparing a nuclear test" at the same location as the first two.

The State Department repeated its advice to the North not to launch a satellite, saying this would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and a February 29 denuclearization agreement.

"Our position remains: don't do it," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "North Korea's launch of a missile would be highly provocative, it would pose a threat to regional security and it would be inconsistent with its recent undertakings to refrain from any kind of long-range missile launches."

Nuland told reporters a third North Korean nuclear test "would be equally bad if not worse."

She declined comment on whether the United States also had reason to believe that the North might be preparing a nuclear test, saying she could not discuss intelligence matters.

North Korea, which three years ago pulled out of six-party disarmament talks on its nuclear program, agreed in February to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile launches in return for food aid, opening the way to a possible resumption of the negotiations.

But that has all unraveled with the North's rocket launch planned for this month, probably between Thursday and the following Monday. The North says it is merely sending a weather satellite into space, but South Korea and the United States say it is a ballistic missile test.

The United States has called on China, the closest that North Korea has to an ally, to exert such influence as it has with Pyongyang, a point Nuland made again on Monday.

"We believe, in particular, that China joins us in its interest in seeing a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and we are continuing to encourage China to act more effectively in that interest," she said.

Pakistan welcomes Indian offer for assistance

Pakistan on Monday applauded Indian offer for assistance in rescue operation being carried out in Siachen’s Gyari sector to recover more than hundred soldiers trapped in an avalanche.

The Foreign Office said on Monday that Pakistan appreciated Indian offer and termed it as a good gesture.

The Foreign Office spokesman noted that the issue of avalanche incident was discussed during the meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

An avalanche swept through battalion headquarters in Siachen Glacier on Saturday morning.

US rescuer team already reached Pakistan to assist ongoing operation to pull 135 soldiers and civilians under 80 feel avalanche.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office also welcomed step by Indian Supreme court for granting bail to Pakistani scientist Dr Khalil Chishty.

Talking to a private news channel, FO spokesman Abdul Basit said that this was also a positive step taken by Indian government and Pakistani government welcomes this goodwill gesture.

Sources said Dr Chishty’s case was discussed at Sunday’s lunch meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari during the latter’s one-day India visit. Pakistani officials have urged India to set Dr Chishty, free, the sources said

Pakistan: Let olive branch grow

In what is widely perceived as a significant goodwill move, Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, paid a one-day trip to India on Sunday to discuss a wide range of issues with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Zardari's visit, though a private one, was the first visit to India by Pakistan's head of state since 2005, and is the latest sign of improving relations between the two former archrivals.
His trip was more than just symbolic, as Zardari invited Singh to visit Pakistan, and the Indian prime minister accepted the invitation. Frequent exchanges at high-levels will help build the mutual trust that is desperately needed to overcome the territorial and trade disputes that keep souring their relations.
The international community has warmly welcomed the improvement in ties between two countries that have fought three wars since they gained independence from British rule in 1947.
Peaceful coexistence between the two countries is indispensable for the region.
As two nuclear-armed heavyweights on the South Asian subcontinent, Islamabad and New Delhi have a shared responsibility to help maintain regional stability and promote regional harmony. For the benefit of their two peoples and those in the region at large, they should continue to work for a durable peace.
As a close neighbor to both India and Pakistan, China is pleased to see the two countries improving their ties, and hopes Islamabad and New Delhi will continue to build on their positive momentum.
Beijing attaches great importance to maintaining good-neighborly relations with both countries and fully supports their reconciliation. China and Pakistan have been "all-weather friends" over the past decades and it has been cooperating with India both bilaterally and under the framework of BRICS, the bloc of five major emerging economies that also includes Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
Pakistan said in February that it would phase out major restrictions on Indian imports by the end of the year, this is also positive as increased trade between the two countries will not only boost their economies but also bring tangible benefits to the two peoples.

New Focus on Pakistan’s Acid Attacks


KARACHI, Pakistan — Fakhra Younas went under the surgeon’s knife 38 times, hoping to repair the gruesome damage inflicted by a vengeful Pakistani man who had doused her face in acid a decade earlier, virtually melting her mouth, nose and ears.

The painful medical marathon took place in Rome, a distant city that offered Ms. Younas refuge, the generosity of strangers and a modicum of healing. She found an outlet in writing a memoir and making fearless public appearances. But while Italian doctors worked on her facial scars, some wounds refused to close.

On March 17, after a decade of pining for Pakistan, a country she loved even though its justice system had failed her terribly, Ms. Younas climbed to the sixth-floor balcony of her apartment building in the southern suburbs of Rome and jumped. She was 33.

News of her death filtered back to her home city, Karachi. And by the time her coffin arrived for burial, a storm of outrage had been whipped up — one framed by a glittering Hollywood success.

On Feb. 28, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Karachi filmmaker, won Pakistan’s first Academy Award, for “Saving Face,” a documentary that focuses in gritty detail on victims of acid violence like Ms. Younas. Despite the film’s disturbing topic, the Oscar gave Pakistanis a welcome shot of national pride, while focusing attention on a social ill.

Acid is the preferred weapon of vindictive men against women accused of disloyalty or disobedience. Common in several Asian countries, acid attacks in Pakistan grew sharply in number in 2011, to 150 from 65 in 2010, although some advocacy workers said the increase stemmed largely from better reporting.

The death of Ms. Younas galvanized the Pakistani news media. In Parliament, lawmakers vowed to take action, while one political leader called for a criminal investigation into the case to be reopened. But legal experts were skeptical that would happen, because the man Ms. Younas long accused of the attack — her ex-husband, Bilal Khar — was acquitted at trial nine years ago.

Unlike most men accused in acid attacks, Mr. Khar comes from a wealthy, powerful background. His family owns vast swaths of rich farmland in Punjab Province; his father, Mustafa, is a former provincial governor; his first cousin Hina Rabbani Khar is Pakistan’s foreign minister. In recent weeks, Mr. Khar appeared on television several times to defend his reputation. “My hands are clean,” he said during one broadcast.

The appearances won him little public sympathy, with critics saying that the case exemplified how Pakistan’s rich frequently evade justice. Yet there was a ringing contrast between the howls of condemnation and the virtual silence that greeted Ms. Younas after she was attacked a decade ago. And it raised a question: When this clamor has receded, will Pakistan’s next acid victims stand a better chance of obtaining justice?

Deep-rooted social prejudice and misogyny were part of her story. Born to a heroin-addicted mother on Napier Road, Karachi’s red-light district, by puberty Ms. Younas was a working “dancing girl” — a euphemism for prostitute. She had a son when she was 15. Then, in 1997, at 18, she achieved the vice girl’s version of the Pakistani dream: she married a client, Bilal Khar, who came from the other side of the tracks.

But the marriage collapsed after three years, amid allegations of domestic violence, and Ms. Younas fled to her mother’s home on Napier Road. She was sleeping there in May 2000 when two men burst into the apartment; one cast a bottle of liquid over her face and chest. Ms. Younas struggled and screamed, but it was too late: the acid fused her lips, melted her breasts and destroyed one eye. During a three-month stay in a hospital, she came close to death.

“She had two little holes for her nostrils, and her mouth was so melted that only a straw could fit in,” said Tehmina Durrani, a prominent Lahore figure who championed the case. Ms. Durrani had her own reasons for tackling the Khars — she had divorced Bilal’s father, Mustafa, and had written a searing memoir of the marriage titled “My Feudal Lord.”

Other Pakistanis, however, showed little interest in the case. Newspapers, even liberal ones, gave the story scant coverage. Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government dragged its heels over issuing a passport to Ms. Younas, concerned that the case would hurt Pakistan’s image.

Mr. Khar went on the run, and was declared a fugitive in early 2002. But when the trial started a year later, after Mr. Khar had been caught and arrested, the case quickly crumbled. Although four witnesses testified to seeing him enter Ms. Younas’s home the night of the attack, all later retracted their statements. Earlier, they had complained of intimidation by Mr. Khar, but the judge paid little notice, and in December 2003 he dismissed the case.

In one recent television interview, Mr. Khar described himself as the victim of a “media trial.” He pleaded for privacy to protect his three daughters, who, he said, were facing awkward questions over the case at school.

“You should be considerate about that,” he chided the host.

Ms. Younas was not present for the acquittal in 2003; she had left for Rome with her son, Noman. There, over a decade, she slowly rebuilt her life. The Italian government granted her political asylum; the city authorities offered her an apartment; and a Milan cosmetics company paid for her surgery.

Dr. Valerio Cervelli, a plastic surgeon who led the work, said it was difficult at first “because her lower lip was attached to her torso, she had no neck, and her eyes were permanently open.” Complicating matters, she ignored postoperative advice. “She was so headstrong, so independent,” he said.

Still, things improved: by the 38th operation, in early 2011, Ms. Younas could move her mouth and one eye. Her once strikingly beautiful face, although still charred, had regained some of its shape. She had learned Italian, befriended local traders and co-written a memoir, “Il Volto Cancellato,” or “The Erased Face,” which brought in some income.

She ventured outside fearlessly, armed only with a bawdy sense of humor ingrained on the streets of Karachi. During a soccer match in Rome, when the noise grew too loud, Ms. Younas turned to fellow fans and “threatened to throw her false ear at them,” Ms. Durrani recalled with a chuckle.

But the grueling operations extracted a heavy physical and psychological toll, said Rachele Bonani, an aid worker who helped her. And, Ms. Bonani added, “she always wanted to go home.” But a return to Pakistan was out of the question for Ms. Younas, partly for security reasons: friends worried that her life would be in danger.

She vented her frustration at the local Pakistani Embassy. About two years ago, according to several accounts, Ms. Younas turned up, demanding to meet the ambassador. A heated confrontation developed during which “security was called,” a senior embassy employee said in an e-mail. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Ms. Younas was persuaded to leave the building voluntarily; Ms. Durrani insists that she was forcefully ejected by the Italian police, who later apologized.

“She gave up on justice,” Ms. Durrani said. “She gave up on the fact that she could ever come back. She knew how she would be treated.”

Since Ms. Younas’s death, those close to her have recalled signs of deep-rooted depression. Her son, Noman, said he was not surprised by the suicide, because she had tried twice before to kill herself.

“It was a bad time for her, because of a lot of things. I guess she had her reasons,” he said in a telephone interview.

Now in his first year of high school, Noman, 15, is in the care of an Italian family. He says he does not intend to return to Pakistan.

Pakistani advocacy workers point to promising signs that future acid victims will be treated better. Legal reforms enacted last year mandate stiff penalties, including a minimum 14-year sentence and a one million rupee ($11,100) fine for attackers. A new Acid and Burn Crime Bill, due to come before Parliament soon, provides for better police investigations, trials and victim treatment. Further off, there are plans to regulate the sale of nitric and hydrochloric acids.

Some experts, however, worry that a notoriously weak police force and lower-court system in Pakistan could undercut any legal revolution.

“It’s a systemic problem,” said Faisal Siddiqi, a lawyer who works with acid victims. “Regardless of the laws you bring, if you are poor and a woman, you will not get justice from the courts in Pakistan.”

Ms. Younas never saw “Saving Face,” but was buoyed by the acclaim it received, friends said.

On Monday, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, the filmmaker, said: “The tragedy is that it took a film and a suicide to bring the problem of acid violence to the national consciousness. Sometimes it takes extremes for a nation to wake up to what’s wrong within its borders.

“Now I just hope that the man who is responsible for this will face justice,” she added.

Despite the film’s success, Ms. Younas’s friends say it could not overcome her sense of isolation, heightened by the pain that the attacker who had stolen her beauty and crushed her life remained free.

“Had she been a politician’s daughter or a general’s daughter, then we would have seen what would have happened,” Ms. Durrani said. “But who was going to fight for a dancing girl?”

Six members of Hazara community killed in Quetta firing incident

The Express Tribune News

Six people were shot dead and three others wounded when armed assailants on two motorbikes opened fire at a shoe shop on Prince Road in Quetta on Monday night.
According to police, the victims were sitting inside a shoe-making store on the main intersection located on Prince and Masjid road, when they were attacked.
The attackers managed to flee from the scene after committing the crime.
“All the victims belonged to Hazara community and it appears to be a case of targeted sectarian killing,” Deputy Inspector General Police (DIG-Operations) Quetta Qazi Wahid told The Express Tribune.
The assailants on two motorbikes escaped after opening fire on the shoe-makers. Resultantly, four people died on the spot while two others received multiple bullet wounds.
A heavy contingent of police rushed to the spot and cordoned off the area.
The dead and injured were taken to Provincial Sandeman Hosptial. “At least six dead bodies and three injured were brought here,” doctors at the hospital said.
The deceased were identified as Mama Karim, Mohammad Hassan, Saeed Ahmed, Qurban Ali, Nadir Ali and Shabir Hussain while injured as Yunus, Lala Musa and Ustad Hadi.
A score of people belonging to Hazara Community reached the hospital and registered their protest by raising slogans against the government and law enforcing agencies over their failure to protect the life and property of civilians.
A group angry protestors also blocked the Jinnah Road and forced shops in the area to shut down. Some people armed with sophisticated weapons harassed the doctors and journalists and surrounded the hospital. An Express News reporter, Arif Mehmood, sustained minor injuries during a stampede at the hospital after some people brandished weapons.
A passer-by identified Nor Azam received bullet wounds when some people resorted to aerial firing as they condemned the killing.
However, security forces and police reached the hospital and controlled the situation.
DIG operations Qazi Wahid said police were investigating the incident and will interview the shopkeepers who were present there when incident took place.

Why are English and American novels today so gutless?

The great Bengali thinker Rabindranath Tagore

, born 150 years ago, was a passionate political author. Sadly, literary writers today seem to have no time for politics

The past sometimes shames us. At least, visitors this weekend to Dartington Hall in the south Devon town of Totnes must have come away feeling taunted by history. Because while the festival they attended was celebrating the life of Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bengali artist and thinker born 150 years ago, it also cast a shard of light on a gaping, and usually unremarked upon, hole in today's culture. You glimpsed it every time a musician performed one of Tagore's songs urging fellow Indians not to give up their struggle against British rule, and you confronted it directly in discussions of the poet's political and social campaigning. Because what his legacy draws attention to is a creature so rare in today's culture as to be semi-endangered: the political author.

Even the most casual acquaintance with Tagore's work cannot escape his politics. His novels attacked the oppression of women; his essays warned about environmental degradation; he argued with Gandhi about what an independent India should look like; and he delivered lectures in America on the evils of nationalism ("at $700 per scold", as one newspaper sniped). Nor was the poet all talk: a believer in educational reform, he established a school, then a university in the Bengali countryside. They have grown vastly since, although students reportedly still take their lessons sat under trees. Even the venue for this weekend's festival, Dartington Hall, was a 500-year old wreck – until a couple of western Tagoreans bought it and, at his urging, transformed it into a centre for learning and agricultural work and to reinvigorate an impoverished rural community.

The first Asian recipient of a Nobel prize for literature, Tagore was an exceptional figure – but he was not alone. Another Bengali, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, won huge success for his stories criticising India's caste and class system; while Mulk Raj Anand published novels titled Untouchable and Coolie. As for Tagore's western contemporaries, they were just as engaged with their politics and society. Spanish civil-war combatant Orwell is the most striking example, but there was also Spender, Auden and Pound.

Look for their equivalents in England or America now, and you'll be disappointed. Some politically committed authors immediately come to mind, such as Dave Eggers – for his novels on Sudanese refugees and post-Katrina New Orleans, and his establishment of children's reading groups – but the paucity of their number reinforces how few there are. India is subject to a similar lack: Arundhati Roy is the stand-out example of the author-turned-activist, but the fact that she has not written a novel after 1997's The God of Small Things suggests that she has traded fiction for campaigning.

Indeed, readers wanting fiction that offers up political or social commentary are hardly drowning in paperbacks. Plenty of authors can slip in cute references to the internet or the other stuff of everyday life. But what's striking about the novels that address themselves directly to society is how the authors often fail to sustain them as full-blooded fiction. Joshua Ferris' novel of office life, Then We Came to the End, and Gary Shteyngart's satire on consumerist America, Super Sad True Love Story, are both superb depictions of social landscapes for the first 100 pages or so. But in both cases it's as if delving into so much reality has tuckered out the authors and they have run out of energy to deliver an actual plot.

What I'm complaining about here is not just the lack of options on the three-for-two table. This is a time when, from the environment to the economy to the hollowing-out of so many public institutions, there are many big crises that need addressing – and not just by the desiccated imaginations of frontbench MPs or in 800-word columns. At the point when we need people of all disciplines and none to offer their say, the artists are missing. In the 1920s and 30s, Tagore helped place the perimeter on what would be possible in an independent India. In Britain or America or India today, our social boundaries are defined by the market and ever more diffident politicians.

Of course there are exceptions. In Scotland, James Robertson and Pat Kane and other artists do address themselves to national concerns. And in English theatre, such as the Tricycle or the National, audiences can still see openly political work. But English and American novels are particularly gutless.

Some of this is down to how economics and politics have been cordoned off from the rest of society: as stuff best left to the experts and the careerists. But literature too has been professionalised, so that authors now go from their creative-writing MAs to their novels to their relentless promotional work. Contemporary literary writers, it sometimes seems to me, are so tightly wedged behind their Apples that they have no time for politics. Unless you count signing the odd letter to the broadsheets as a political activity.

Yet the desire for a more imaginative politics hasn't gone away, as is clear from the Occupy movements or the student sit-ins, or the numbers that turn out on a Sunday morning in Totnes to listen to a talk about Tagore's activism.

In one of his most celebrated poems in Gitanjali, Tagore called for a country: "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/...Where the world has not been broken up into fragments/ By narrow domestic walls ... Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way/ Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit." That warning against the comfort of small thinking remains relevant today.

Jailed Bahraini rights activist Khawaja feared dead

The lawyer of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike for over two months to protest against his detention, says the Bahraini rights activist is feared dead.

Al-Khawaja’s lawyer Mohammed al-Jeshi said on Monday that Bahraini authorities have turned down repeated requests to contact him since yesterday and that no information was available on Khawaja's health.

"Authorities have been refusing since yesterday (Sunday) all requests, made by myself and by his family, to visit or contact al-Khawaja," al-Jeshi told AFP.

"We fear that he might have passed away as there is no excuse for them to prevent us from visiting or contacting him," he added.

Manama authorities have yet to response to allegations that Khawaja has died in prison.

Khawaja, the co-founder and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, began a hunger strike in early February to protest against the life sentence he received last year and Manama’s ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests.

Bahrainis have held several demonstrations in support of him after his refused to eat, urging the government to release him.

Amnesty International has also called for the ‘immediate and unconditional release’ of al-Khawaja, considering him a ‘prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.’

Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison by a military court last April for "plotting to overthrow the government" but according to Amnesty, his conviction was based on a confession he made under duress, and no evidence was presented showing he had used or advocated violence during the mass anti-regime protests.

Meanwhile, protesters have gathered outside the United Nations headquarters in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, calling on the international community to support the revolution in Bahrain.

Protesters, police clash in heart of Tunis

Police used tear gas and truncheons to disperse protesters seeking to march Monday along the Tunisian capital’s main boulevard despite a ban on demonstrations there. Some of the protesters hurled bricks in response.
Bourguiba Avenue has been the main site for protests since Tunisians overthrew their longtime dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a year ago. But last week, authorities barred marches along the thoroughfare because of what they described as threats to “public order.”

The ban followed weeks of rival demonstrations between groups calling for and against the implementation of Islamic law in the Arab country, which was staunchly secular under the former regime but now has a moderate Islamist party leading the government.

Some 2,000 people from civil society organizations and labor unions tried to march along the tree-line street Monday in honor of Martyr’s Day, which marks when French colonial troops in 1938 open fired on demonstrators calling for a constitution.

Amid the tear gas and bricks, some riot police chased demonstrators down adjacent roads. There was no exact count on people wounded.

An attempted demonstration by unemployed university graduates on Saturday also was violently dispersed.

The labor movement and many civil society organizations who made up the demonstration Monday have been opposed to the new government run by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party that dominated elections in October.

“It was us who defended them when they were repressed under Ben Ali and today, now that they are in power, they repress us with the same practices of the old regime,” said Moufda Belghith of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women.

While Tunisia has seen a political flowering over the past year with the emergence of dozens of political parties and also nearly constant demonstrations, the economy has suffered from strikes that have paralyzed the industrial sector and drop in tourists.

Bahrain jails 10 protesters for attending uprising anniversary rally

press tv reporting

A Bahraini court has handed down jail terms to 10 anti-government demonstrators for taking part in a protest rally marking the first anniversary of the country’s uprising.

Russia may send observers to Syria as part of UN mission: deputy FM

Russia doesn't rule out the possibility to send its observers to Syria as part of a UN monitoring mission, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Monday.

"Now we are considering such a possibility," Gatilov said, adding that he could not say anything concrete as the decision "is quite serious and requires additional work."

The details of the UN mission, including its mandate, size and national composition, have not been decided yet, Gatilov said.

Meanwhile, the diplomat stressed Moscow is "actively working with Damascus" in order to launch a sooner political process on a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis.

He also stressed any attempts to impose outside decisions on Syria would only escalate tensions in the country.

"All must respect Syria's sovereignty, and violence must be stopped," Gatilov said.

The diplomat also defended the right of veto in the UN Security Council, calling it a guarantee against "erosion of state sovereignty."

"The authority of the UN Security Council must be impeccable. The veto is not a privilege and not an instrument of pressure, but a guarantee of making balanced decisions," Gatilov said.

Russia, jointly with China, vetoed in February a U.N. draft resolution that backed a plan to promote regime change in the West Asian country.

Moscow reiterated its stance several times that a political solution is the best option for the Syrian crisis and warned against any foreign intervention in the country's internal affairs.

Civilian majority in Pakistan wants peace with India

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in India yesterday for a private visit, the first trip to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005. While some analysts believe this is just a small gesture, many believe the visit signals efforts on both sides to normalize their relationship. Can the two warm up their relations? What's the role of the US in India-Pakistan ties? Global Times (GT) reporter Chen Chenchen talked to M.D. Nalapat (Nalapat), director and professor of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal University in India, on these issues.

M.D. Nalapat (Nalapat), director and professor of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal University in India

GT: Do you agree that Zardari's visit actually represents a strong will from both sides to warm up the relationship?

Nalapat: There are two Pakistans. The first is the moderate majority that wants peace and religious harmony, and which therefore seeks to have a friendly relationship with India.

Unless Pakistan taps into the India growth story, there is no way that it can replicate the 1960s rates of growth, which at the time were much greater than India's.

However, the military in Pakistan still has a non-business agenda with India, that focuses on making India give Pakistan concessions on territory that Delhi has not agreed to for six decades, and which are politically impossible to make.

Zardari represents the moderate, pragmatic view. His intention is to take forward steps that would increase economic and other contact between India and Pakistan, so that an atmosphere can be created for amicable resolution of all issues.

Because the Pakistani army and the extremist groups in Pakistan are opposed to him, he will have a difficult time convincing the entire Pakistan establishment that peace can only come about after prosperity does.

However, his Indian interlocutors appreciate his stand, and welcome the visit.
GT: How do you assess the US' role in the India-Pakistan relationship? Some say the US, with its "return to Asia" strategy, generally plays a positive role in India-Pakistan ties, because the US needs both countries on side. What's your view?

Nalapat: The US has played a very negative role in India-Pakistan relations, by constantly interfering in the internal affairs of both countries, besides seeking to insert itself into all bilateral issues.

By its open advocacy of the Pakistan position until the 9/11 attacks, Washington encouraged hardliners in Pakistan to refuse to normalize its ties with India till territory was surrendered in exchange.

Any effort to re-draw boundaries in the region is doomed to fail, and by backing Pakistan, the US ensured that India-Pakistan relations remained tense. While the US talks of Asia, it does so as a co-partner of Europe, a continent that has had an unhappy history in Asia as a result of colonization for more than three centuries.

Unless the dynamic of Asian-US relations becomes the same as the chemistry of European-US relations, Washington will continue to be a self-interested, de-stabilizing force in Asia.

In my view, this is the reason why the US is no longer the most influential player in Asia. Since 2010, and the meltdown in confidence in the US and EU that accompanies the financial meltdown, today relations between Delhi and Islamabad are much better than between Islamabad and Washington.

GT: Can the US act to balance the needs of India and Pakistan?

Nalapat: India and Pakistan have congruent interests. It is only because the false theories of US and UK conflict resolution specialists have been swallowed by the rest of the world that there is a perception of "objective rifts" between the two countries. Objectively, the two countries have everything to gain from better relations.

As for the US, this is a power that, like its financial markets, looks for short-term gains to the exclusion of everything else.

When it is convenient for Washington to have higher tensions between Delhi and Islamabad, it will adopt policies that create such tensions. When it seeks to cool things down, it pushes for friendly ties.

Given the vacillation and opportunism of US policy, it would be folly for India or Pakistan to base its own course of action on the basis of advice from Washington. Rather than "balance," the US tilts first to one side, then to the other. Although these days the tilt is toward India, till recently it was firmly in the direction of Pakistan.

Former US Vice President Dick Cheney was even responsible for outsourcing the war against the Taliban to the Pakistan army, and as a consequence, the US is mistrusted in Afghanistan.

GT: If another India-Pakistan conflict erupted, would the US face the collapse of its anti-terrorist front in this region?

Nalapat: Should conflict erupt, it would only be because events will force India, the US and Afghanistan to take a common position against extremist elements that has sanctuary in Pakistan. It will no longer be just an India-Pakistan conflict, the way it was in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999. The conflict would involve other powers, both from far away and from the region.

Hence, rather than face a collapse of its anti-terrorist front, the US would instead be able to continue the conflict with India as an ally. Such a partnership may arise if the situation in Pakistan deteriorates to a level where the civilian government is powerless against the extremists.

GT: How do you see the prospects of the US-India-Pakistan relationship and its potential impact on China?

Nalapat: The US is in the process of abandoning its reliance on the Pakistan army and coming closer to India's policy of giving preference to the civilian government.

Because India respects the civilian government, it treats the Zardari visit with great seriousness and respect, unlike the US. Today, the only global power that gives more weight to the Pakistan army rather than the civilian side is China.

Should Beijing continue with such a policy, there would naturally be tensions with India and the US. However, should China join India, Afghanistan and the US in seeking to ensure civilian supremacy in Pakistan rather than military dominance, then Beijing can join hands with Washington and Delhi in helping the civilian government in Islamabad to resist the extremists that have been trained by the army since the time of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq more than three decades ago.

India invests $11 billion in Afghan natural resources

India the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan is roposing what may become Afghanistan’s biggest foreign investment: $11 billion to build an iron mine, steel mill and railroad. India has already played a vital role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan in the past one decade after the fall of the Taliban regime, having spent $1.5 billion on Afghan roads, power lines, schools and the parliament
Raja Mohan, a senior fellow at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi quoted by the Tampa Bay Times said, “India is showing its commitment to an unprecedented ambition and role in Afghanistan.”
Mr. Mohan further added, “Stabilizing the northwest of the subcontinent, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is absolutely India’s top foreign policy priority, because most of our threats come from there.”
India’s planned Afghan iron mine would help companies such as Jindal Steel & Power and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam by giving them shares in an estimated 1.8 billion tons of ore, for which global prices have more than doubled in the past three years. Afghanistan may see its geographic and economic isolation reduced as India follows China in promising money to build the country’s first major railroads.
As Afghan anger over the shooting of 17 civilians by an American soldier last month increases calls for an accelerated U.S. exit, India is seeking to position itself as a rival to China in investment in Afghanistan and as an anti-Taliban force to help the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Ali Jalali, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington and a former Afghan interior minister said, “The Indian and Chinese investments will contribute to Afghanistan’s stability” as the U.S. withdraws its main combat forces between now and 2014.
“They not only will bring jobs and infrastructure, but these two powerful governments will have a greater direct interest in seeing that all actors in Afghanistan behave moderately,” Jalali said in New Delhi.

Procurement of laptops: Punjab govt accused of violating rules

Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) has brought to the notice of Planning & Development Department, Government of Punjab allegations of violation of Punjab Procurement Rules, (PPR) 2009 in the procurement of 110,000 laptops by the Punjab Government, incurring a loss of at least Rs 1.7 billion.

In a letter sent to the Secretary, Planning & Development Department, Government of Punjab, Ali Tahir on April 6, TIP Adviser, Syed Adil Gilani has citing a number of serious allegations reported in print media on April 6, 2012 in this regard.

He requested the Secretary to examine the allegations. According to Punjab Procurement Rules, 2009, P&D Department was obliged to issue tender documents comprising detailed specifications, evaluation criteria and other documents complying with Rule No 23. He also sought tender documents to examine whether the Rule was applied or not.

The allegations such as direct procurement from company should have been made or government opened a back-to-back LC to favour the supplier are not correct. However, P&D Department may clarify the allegations such as indirect reference that the specifications of laptops in the tender were different from those procured (like i3 or i5 processors were specified in tender, while the machine provided by the government runs on Pentium-D processor) and laptops distributed by the provincial government do not carry any guarantee, or the prices are 70% higher than market costs needs detailed report.

Adil Gilani pointed out that the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its Judgment on RPPs announced on March 30, 2012, rescinded and declared all RPP Contacts awarded in 2006 as well as in 2008 as illegal and against 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. Most significant consideration for every department of the Government must be the best economical mode of meeting the public needs.

"The contracts of all the RPPs - solicited and unsolicited,

signed off or operational, right from BHIKKI & SHARAQPUR up to PIRANGHAIB, NAUDERO-I & NAUDERO-II were entered into in contravention of law/PPRA Rules, which, besides suffering from other irregularities, violated the principle of transparency and fair and open competition, therefore, the same are declared to be non-transparent, illegal and void ab initio. Consequently, the contracts of RPPs are ordered to be rescinded forthwith and all the persons responsible for the same are liable to be dealt with for civil and criminal action in accordance with law," TIP quoted from the judgement.

Being a member of Punjab PPRA Board, "your responsibilities are more than other procuring departments, as you need to be role model of PPRA complaint department," he said.

Copies of the letter have been forwarded for information to: Chief Minister, Punjab, Lahore, Chief Justice, Lahore High Court, Lahore, and Managing Director, PPRA Punjab, Lahore.


The Crime Branch, as expected, filed a formal challan in the Nawab Bugti Murder case with reportedly no evidence attached with the challan submitted in the Sessions Court, Kohlu. The Investigating wing of the Balochistan Police had obeyed the orders formally from the High Court and submitted the challan without mentioning that who had killed Nawab Bugti and his 32 other comrades. According to reports published in our news columns that statement of no one was recorded and attached with the challan. There is no mention that who had killed Nawab Bugti and his other comrades-in-arm. The challan specifically relied on the famous statement of Pervez Musharraf in Quetta only. The police move confirmed the common belief of the people that it is a formality and Government had no intention to implicate any one or bring them to justice. The reasons, 99 per cent of the Pakistani establishment—from A to Z—honestly believed that Nawab Bugti had been rightly targeted and killed. Nawab Bugti and other top Baloch leaders were considered trouble makers. It was the opinion of most of the Pakistani politicians, mainly Mohajirs and Punjabis who viewed Pakistani state from a very different angle. They opposed to grant any constitutional rights to Balochs and Sindhis. The Establishment is still fighting a war against the Baloch people from the past 170 years and there is no let up. The Chosen representatives of the people of Balochistan and Sindh had been complaining that they had not been treated well and their problems and issues were ignored with a specific mindset that Balochs and Sindhis are second class citizens and they have no democratic rights. The Chief Minister of Balochistan claimed that the Federal bureaucracy is flouting the orders and instructions from the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan and discriminating Balochistan in all spheres of human activities. Earlier, other Chief Ministers of Balochistan had made similar statements in the past leveling similar charges against the Federal Bureaucracy or the Establishment. Thus, there is very little chance that the Establishment will change its policy in regard to Nawab Bugti Murder case and bring the culprits to justice.

Four years on, Swat university yet to offer master’s programmes

The Express Tribune

The University of Swat (UoS) students have to face difficulty after graduation as the university has still not introduced a master’s programme after four years of its inception. After they graduate, the students are compelled to seek admission in other universities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which is often a pricey option.
As a result, many students drop out because they cannot afford to pursue higher studies in these out-of-station universities. “It’s ironic that the provincial government makes promises of providing funds, but the university has failed to facilitate the students,” said Kashif Khan, a student.
But this is not the only issue for UoS. The university has no building of its own and the students have to attend classes in hired buildings.
“First, we are forced to study in buildings that are not designed for educational purposes. Secondly, we don’t have hostel and have to rent houses, which is an expensive arrangement,” said Mohammad Ali, a student.
The university’s registrar, Mahboobur Rehman, said that the university has limited resources and cannot initiate more programmes till it is granted additional funds. Local elected representatives have said time and again that they have allocated “huge grants” for the university.

Chinese media upbeat on Zardari’s India visit

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, Chinese media reported Sunday.
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, Xinhua said in its analysis.
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 US 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.

Sectarian violence in G-B

The violence in Karachi remains unchecked because, they say, it stems from a variety of causes including ethnic politics, sectarian jealousies, deeply-entrenched criminal gangs, economic disparities, foreign hand and what not.

If you control one, the others get out of hand.

About the continuing unrest in Balochistan, they say it is because of foreign interference, archaic tribal system, active sub-nationalism, sectarian strife, and intelligence agencies' manoeuvrings.

The ongoing turmoil in Fata region is largely attributed to terrorists, aggravated as it is by host of other factors like narcotics, the kidnapping-for-ransom business, and sectarian and intra-sect rivalries.

But as to why violence periodically raises its head in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, and of late has acquired deadly dimensions, is not difficult to figure out.

It is entirely sectarian-based, completely bereft of all other reasons.

The latest spike in violence in the region's principal city, Gilgit, and Karakorum Highway police checkpoint Chilas is in fact the continuation of the killing spree, set off by massacre last February when unidentified gunmen, in military uniforms, killed dozens of Shia pilgrims in the Kohistan district.
Tuesday morning, an unknown person lobbed a hand-grenade on an Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan) in Gilgit, triggering instant firing from a number of places.

Soon the violence spread to many other cities and towns of Gilgit-Baltistan region including Chilas where large crowds poured onto the streets, killing rivals.

By evening the death toll stood at 14 while four times of that were wounded.

Outgunned the police called in the army which is now controlling some parts of the Gilgit city as tense calm prevails in the region.
That fully conscious of the fact that the sectarian disharmony almost exclusively triggers occasional bouts of violence in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, the local and provincial authorities have not been able to come up with strong, effective counter-measures is certainly frustrating.

No doubt the imposition of curfew and the deployment of soldiers has succeeded in controlling the situation.

But that's no solution of a problem which keeps visiting the place.

The local authorities have to move with an agenda that ranges from effective policing to tough law-enforcement to the involvement of the religious leadership.

One lingering problem in the Gilgit-Baltistan issue as anywhere else in Pakistan, is the politicised police.

It is the curse of our democratic system that political governments try to have their own men in key police positions, be it at the 'thana' level or the appointment of the regional police chief.

Sometime back, the G-B government refused to transfer a police officer in order to circumvent a superior court order that shows how deep-rooted this curse is.

Then there is the issue of a gun culture.

As soon as the bang generated by the hand-grenade was heard, the entire Gilgit city resounded with intense gunfire.

Certainly the entire region is awash with weapons, and some of these must be legal - for our political masters encourage people to have guns, even of prohibited bore.

This must immediately stop.

You cannot ask others to surrender arms when you keep issuing licences.

How callous on the part of Interior Ministry which last January endorsed a proposal seeking issuance of prohibited and non-prohibited bores on the recommendations of MPs.
Even more important than the issues of depoliticising the police force and deweaponisation is the critical role the religious leaders have to play.

Here we are talking of the mortal danger to the very existence of Pakistan, the only state created in the name of Islam, at the hands of extremists who are out to kill and die for what they claim 'in the service of Islam'.

Now is the time for the religious leaders to come forward and forge a common manifesto to fight from the joint platform, the demons of religious extremism.

Given sincerity of action, there is no reason why pristine sectarian harmony is not obtained, particularly in the Gilgit-Baltistan region where the source of violence is clearly detectable.

Of course, the regional political leadership can make the religious leaders' task less arduous by depoliticising the police and deweaponisation.

Frankly, there is no option to quickly and firmly moving in that direction given the strategic geography of the Gilgit-Baltistan.