Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saudi overtures

By Amir Oren

Israel and Saudi Arabia have a mutual enemy, Iran, and a mutual buttress, the United States. Dialogue between them will help both countries and promote a diplomatic agreement in the region.

Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Salman, was the guest last week of his American counterpart Leon Panetta and, in an unusual step, was also hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama. On the agenda: Iran and the unrest in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia's neighbor and the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, the American naval power in the Persian Gulf.

The number 3 man in the Saudi ruling house could soon move to the top. He is young and healthy - everything is relative - compared to his half-brother, King Abdullah, 89, and Crown Prince Nayef, 79. The Americans have been working hard for many years to foster ties with the Saudi security forces. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, headed from 2001 to 2003 a delegation of advisors to the Saudi National Guard.A thin veneer of stability purchased with oil money covers a well that threatens to swallow a thousand wealthy princes. In a population of 27 million people, 5.5 million do not have Saudi citizenship. The unemployment rate among young people in the kingdom is 30 percent and the literacy rate is only 80 percent.

That is the background to the interesting message directed at Israel through an article published by a Saudi general in the American military magazine Joint Force Quarterly. Since a senior officer, a brigadier general in the royal family, does not pretend not to have the authority to reflect the conservative stand of the regime and does not publish for his own amusement statements and conclusions with diplomatic significance, it seems that Saudi Arabia is thus hesitatingly and conditionally courting Israel. The condition: that there be movement toward an agreement in the spirit of that promoted by Saudi King Abdullah. If Israel moves in this direction, he wrote as long as a decade ago, Saudi Arabia must express willingness for peace with Israel and influence the rest of the Arab world in this direction.

This time he went one step further. He praised President Shimon Peres and called for "encouraging Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs to get to know each other at least initially over the Internet while discussing sports, photography and other common interests - including peace prospects."

The general-prince-Ph.d. is His Royal Highness Naef Bin Ahmed Al-Saud, who holds advanced degrees from Georgetown University and Cambridge. His military expertise: strategic planning and special operations, international diplomacy and cyber warfare. When he studied at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., among his classmates was Israel Air Force officer Zeev Snir, now a brigadier general in the IAF reserves, who, at the end of his studies was appointed the IAF's chief procurement officer and currently heads the security establishment's special means branch.

Naef is sensitive to the impact of social processes on the Saudi regime. In 2002, also in an article in the Joint Forces Quarterly, he predicted that "Riyadh has found it prudent to modernize its military and acquire advanced weapons. But future increases in population require allocating considerable resources to meet domestic needs such as education, housing and medical services." He also wrote that the Saudi rulers would lose their credibility if they did not take public opinion into consideration.

This month, in the same quarterly, Naef scrutinizes social protest in Israel from an angle that is of great interest to the kingdom's rulers - the social network's role in organizing protests but also in assisting police and security services in monitoring them.

Saudi Arabia has prepared itself to push back a wave of the Arab Spring if it comes to its shores, and it wants very much to learn the lessons of last summer's protests in Israel, as well as those of the riots in Britain in August. "The Kingdom's leadership has been observing developments in Israel as a test of social media's effectiveness in organizing non-violent protest to create significant shifts in security and economic policy," he wrote in the Joint Forces Quarterly.

Naef is trying to persuade his readers that the Saudi government's monitoring of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and text messages has a legal foundation similar to that in the West and in "the world's largest democracy, India."

He also justifies Israeli opposition to the arrival of foreign agitators by boat or plane. "Ultimately, Western leaders do not want to see 'social media' sources organize large protests erupting in Riyadh or downtown Beijing," causing chain reactions that would lead to the collapse of Western economies.

There is a thread here that is begging to be followed. Israel and Saudi Arabia have a mutual enemy, Iran, and a mutual buttress, the United States. Dialogue between them, perhaps beginning with military people like Naef, will help both countries and promote a diplomatic agreement in the region.

Saudi Arabia: Dancing To Israel’s Tune

The fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has joined the vicious triangle of the United States, Israel and Britain to destabilize the Islamic Republic of Iran and put pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program is not a secret anymore. The Saudi officials have openly stated their opposition to Iran’s access to peaceful nuclear energy and even have boastfully promised to make up for the amount of crude oil which the EU member states will be losing after imposing a multilateral oil embargo against Iran which is seen as an effort to force Iran into giving up its nuclear rights.

The Saudis are officially considered to be among the Muslim states which don’t recognize the Israeli regime; however, they haven’t hesitated to publicize their ties with the Israeli officials during the recent years, especially when it comes to their cooperation with Tel Aviv against Iran.

Allying with the Zionist regime and betraying a Muslim friend with which it had long maintained sound and reasonable ties can be considered as a manifestation of Saudis’ miscalculations and their erroneous analyses about the position of Iran in the international community; a position which has been bolstered with the unexpectedly massive participation of Iranians in the recent parliamentary elections in early March, showing people’s solidarity and steadfastness in the face of harsh economic sanctions and paralyzing political pressures.

Recent WikiLeaks reports suggest that Saudi officials have been working closely with Mossad to step up pressure against Iran and gathering intelligence about the country’s nuclear program.

In the Stratfor (a Texas-based global intelligence firm) emails leaked by WikiLeaks and obtained by the Beirut-based Al Akhbar newspaper, it was revealed the Saudi Arabia reached out to the Mossad, which assisted the Kingdom with, as Al Akhbar reports, “intelligence collection and advice on Iran.”

According to a source quoted in the emails, “Several enterprising Mossad officers, both past and present, are making a bundle selling the Saudis everything from security equipment, intelligence and consultation.”

There are also credible reports indicating that Mossad chief has recently visited Saudi Arabia and talked to Saudi officials about the possible plans for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities and the role the Arab nation can play in this dangerous anti-Iranian scenario.

As written by Haaretz, “the talks conducted in Saudi Arabia with the head of Israel’s espionage agency dealt with Iran and its nuclear program. The account follows a series of recent reports on increasing secret cooperation between Israel and the Saudis, including defense coordination on matters related to possible military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

Another report by the Times of London revealed that in 2010 and during the course of a Saudi military exercise, air defense system operations were halted for a few hours to rehearse a scenario whereby Israeli fighter planes would cross Saudi Arabian air space en route to an attack on Iran.

Other independent media reports also confirmed that Israeli air force planes and helicopters have recently landed in Saudi Arabia for the purpose of positioning warfare and equipment there to be used in a possible military assault on Iran. Actually, it’s one of the plans of the Israeli officials to use the airspace of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s southwestern neighbor, for launching an attack against the country’s nuclear installations and seemingly, the Saudis are not reluctant for giving a green light to Tel Aviv in this regard.

In retrospect, the Saudi officials have expressively and explicitly denounced Iran’s nuclear program and called on the U.S. and its European officials to tighten the noose of economic sanctions around their Muslim neighbor as if they’re unaware of the fact that several IAEA and NIE reports have confirmed that Iran is not, and has not been after nuclear weapons and has never diverted from the path of using nuclear technology for peaceful ends.

Two years ago, in a joint press conference with his American counterpart, the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi al-Faisal said that economic sanctions cannot guarantee that Iran will retreat from its nuclear program and a more effective solution is needed for the “threats posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Al-Faisal described sanctions as a long-term solution and said the perceived threat coming from Iran is more pressing. “We see the issue in the shorter term because we are closer to the threat. We need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution,” he said. The Saudi prince did not specify any short-term resolution, but it seems that his implied option, which he did not rule out, is a military intervention in Iran.

The Saudis are also trying to convince the U.S. and Europe that Iran’s nuclear program poses a threat to their security and should be hindered as soon as possible. That’s why many U.S. and European officials state in their bilateral meetings with the Saudi officials that a “nuclear-armed Iran” is harmful to the security of the Persian Gulf.

“I understand the Arab world cannot allow that Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the leader of opposition party in the German parliament and former foreign minister in a February meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

The Saudi kingdom’s hostility toward Iran, however, has gone beyond the pale. In the recent months that war rhetoric and economic sanctions against Tehran have been swaying in the sky, the Saudi officials have sent signals that they’re ready to offset any shortfall that may happen in the crude oil market after the EU member states’ foreign ministers reached an agreement to impose an oil embargo on Iran which will come into effect in early July.

According to an Associated Press report, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said on March 14 that his country and other oil exporters are ready to offset any shortfalls in supply because of market volatility, an apparent reference to showdowns with Iran over its nuclear program.

At any rate, the stance which Riyadh has adopted against Tehran is absolutely in line with the anti-Iranian policies of the Israeli regime. They’re dancing to Israel’s tune and performing what Tel Aviv desires the most: isolating Iran, ramping up pressure against the people and creating discord between them to persuade them to rise against the government. However, what is clear is that such pressures cannot bring Iranians to their knees and will only unveil the true face of the enemies of this nation. Over the course of three decades since the victory of Islamic revolution, Iran has been constantly the target of enmity and belligerence by the global superpowers and their allies, so the recent antagonistic policies and hostilities of Saudi Arabia are nothing new or surprising.

Syria supports UNSC resolution on deployment of monitors

Syria has voiced support for the UN Security Council resolution on the deployment of observers to monitor the ceasefire brokered by the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Syria's UN envoy said on Saturday that Damascus is committed to implementing a six-point peace plan proposed by Annan, in an effort to bring an end to one-year unrest in the country.

Bashar Jaafari also called on regional countries to stop providing safe havens for armed groups.

He said such moves spread terrorism in Syria and countries that support armed gangs are responsible for the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, members of the United Nation Security Council approved a resolution that calls on the Syrian government to allow an advance team of up to 30 unarmed observers into Syria within days to monitor the ceasefire that took effect two days ago.

In violation of the ceasefire, armed groups in Syria launched rocket attacks on a neighborhood in the restive city of Homs today. The armed men also killed two government law enforcement officers who were on patrol.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March and many people, including security forces, have lost their lives in the violence.

The West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of killing the protesters. But Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

Hundreds Kg Of Narcotic Discovered In Kandahar

NATO forces reported from discovering of 1090 Kg of narcotics in Kandahar province yesterday.
These narcotics have been discovered in an operation by Afghan and NATO forces from outskirts of Zheri district.
According to NATO press release to BNA, these narcotics were belonged to armed Taliban.
NATO said that during this operation no one has been arrested.

Poppy Farms Destroyed In Kandahar

More than 2000 jiribs of lands were cleaned from poppy bushes in Kandahar province yesterday.
A responsible of anti-narcotic Dept. of Kandahar said to BNA, this program started a week ago and has planned to clean all areas of this province from poppy pushes.
According to the source, from starting the program up to now more than 2000 jiribs of poppy farms were destroyed in Zeri, Panjwai, Maiwand Shawalikoit and Arghandab districts.
According to another reports, local in charges of Nimroz province said that hundreds jiribs of poppy farms were cleaned from poppy bushes in that province yesterday.
This program was started in the center and other districts of Nimroz province and concluded yesterday.
Fazel Omar Ajmal spokesman of Nimrooz governor said to BNA, at least 734 jiribs of poppy farms were cleaned in this operation.
According to Ajmal, these farms located in Khash, Chakhansoor, and Charborjak areas of Zaranj city.

Afghan woman sets sights on presidency

Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi expects harsh and possibly violent opposition as her campaign gets underway to replace Hamid Karzai in the 2014 presidential elections.

Clinton says G8 welcomes ceasefire in Syria

Obama calls Romney's immigration stance "troublesome"

President Barack Obama attacked Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Saturday over his stance on illegal immigrants and promised to pursue broad immigration reform if he wins another term.

On a three-day visit to Colombia for a summit with Latin American leaders, Obama is hoping to court Hispanic voters back home whose support could be crucial to him in the November 6 election.

The Democratic president wants to fight an impression that he has neglected Latin America and failed to push hard enough on comprehensive immigration reform.

Obama said in an interview with Univision that Romney's support of Arizona's tough immigration law was "very troublesome."

"We now have a Republican nominee who said that the Arizona laws are a model for the country," Obama said, referring to Republican front-runner Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

"These are laws that potentially would allow someone to be stopped and picked up and asked where their citizenship papers are based on an assumption," Obama said in the interview, which was taped in Cartagena on Friday.

The Arizona law, signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in 2010, calls on state and local police to check the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally and to pursue deportation aggressively.

Pressed on whether he would promise to move forward on immigration reform quickly if he gets re-elected, Obama blamed Republicans for the inaction so far and added, "I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term. I want to try this year."

Obama enjoys a big advantage with Latino voters, who tend to favor Democratic candidates and backed him by a margin of two-to-one in his 2008 race against Republican John McCain.

However, Obama hopes to avoid any erosion of support from these voters in battleground states like Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, where Latinos make up a large portion of the population.

Status of Afghan women threatens Hillary Clinton's legacy

The secretary of State has devoted herself to the issue, but gains made may be reversed as Afghanistan's conservatives become more powerful in the West's wake.

In the final months of her tenure as secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton is fighting a long retreat on a cause close to her heart, and to her legacy — the status of Afghan women.

Clinton embraced the cause long before the first U.S. troops landed in the country, and as secretary of State she has brought Afghan women worldwide attention, political power and unbending promises of American support.

"We will not abandon you," she pledged.

But now, with U.S. officials laying plans to remove most troops in two years, the Afghan government and other institutions appear to be adjusting their positions on women's rights to accommodate conservative factions. Restrictions on women have made a comeback.

"Most of women's important achievements over the last decade are likely to be reversed," predicted a bleak report issued last month by the Afghan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, a nonprofit in Kabul funded by Western governments and private groups.

This puts Clinton in a tough spot. Among senior U.S. officials, none is more closely associated with women's rights: When prominent Afghan women are alarmed by developments at home, they often fire off emails to Clinton's staff.

"She has been a very strong conscience of the world on this issue," said Wazhma Frogh, director of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security in the Afghan capital, Kabul. "We have leaned on her help in the past, and we are looking to her help for our future."

Clinton insists that the United States views women's rights as a nonnegotiable "red line." At a recent meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, she insisted that "any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all. It is a figment that will not last.... We will not waver on this point."

Yet administration officials also acknowledge sharp limits to what America can do. Even future U.S. funding to help women is uncertain.

Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador at large for women and a longtime Clinton aide, said that American officials remain influential and will do all they can.

"But this is going to be in the end an Afghan-led process," she said. "Ultimately, it is going to be the Afghans who are in the driver's seat. We can't see the future. This is a work in progress — we don't know — we hope it will be progress."

Senior U.S. officials see Afghanistan as an intractable foreign policy mess that will only get worse as long as large numbers of U.S. troops remain in the country. Winding down the U.S. commitment has become an overriding priority.

As America's chief diplomat, Clinton has won praise not only from liberals, but also from conservatives. Gallup polls have found she is the nation's most admired woman for each of the last 10 years.

Clinton has signaled that she will step down as top U.S. diplomat early next year, and the fate of Afghan women may not be clear until long after her departure. Even so, a reversal on women's rights would be a blow to Clinton's legacy.

"People will identify her with whatever happens," said Shamila Chaudhary, who was National Security Council advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan until late last year and is now with the Eurasia Group research firm in Washington. "There's a huge reputational risk in this for her."

Clinton's advocacy for women in Afghanistan goes back to her time in the Senate before the Sept . 11 attacks, when the world was horrified to see how the Taliban regime had marginalized women.

Clinton pushed for guaranteed seats for women in the Afghan parliament and other government bodies and has made sure that the United States has amply funded programs to supportwomen's healthand education, businesses, legal clinics and shelters. Clinton was among the Western officials who lobbied the Afghan government to set up a women's ministry and enact a tough law barring violence against women.

Her efforts have contributed to Afghan women's gains. Over the last decade, women's life expectancy there has increased from 42 to 64 years, and the number of girls in school has gone from 10,000 to 2.5 million.

But two months ago, the country's top religious body, the Ulema Council, issued an edict that men are "fundamental" and women "secondary," and barred women from mingling with men in schools or the workplace. Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to embrace the ruling, setting off an international outcry.

When Clinton called Karzai on March 8 to demand an explanation, Karzai said the ruling was only "advisory" and insisted that he stood by the Afghan Constitution's guarantees of equality for women.

Yet the incident was widely seen as proof that Karzai and other Afghan institutions have started to position themselves for the more conservative era they see ahead.

Karzai "has a lot to lose if he can't find a way to reach an accommodation with the Taliban," said Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch in Kabul. "The consequences for him of moving against women's rights are probably a lot less serious."

Clinton's pressure helped gain women nine seats in the High Peace Council, a body appointed to help direct the negotiations with the Taliban. But so far, Afghan women have been largely shut out of the preliminary talks, former First Lady Laura Bush, another advocate for the women's cause, said during the meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council.

There are other trouble signs. Dozens of mixed-gender and girls schools have been destroyed by insurgents in recent years, including 74 in 2010 alone, Amnesty International says. Prominent female politicians have been killed and others face growing threats of violence, Amnesty says.

U.S. spending for Afghan women, like other aid, has begun to decline, women's advocates say. Although the administration is committed to long-term development aid to Afghanistan, Verveer acknowledged that decisions on such appropriations "will be a negotiation between the administration and the Congress."

Although Clinton has remained focused on women's rights, others in the Obama administration have concentrated most on security goals, starting with winning Taliban commitments to break off ties with Al Qaeda, say current and former U.S. officials.

If the negotiators are able to work out an agreement on security and other key issues, "the final deal won't be held up by a disagreement over women's rights," Chaudhary predicted. "No way."

Pakistan weapons ban 'no bar to NATO convoys'

Pakistan's insistence that no arms transit through its territory to Afghanistan is largely a gesture to quell domestic anti-US sentiment and will not hinder the resumption of NATO convoys, analysts say.
Islamabad stopped NATO supplies travelling overland from its southern Karachi port to Afghanistan in November amid public outrage after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a US air strike on a border post.
Western officials were keen for Pakistan to commit to reopening the supply lines to landlocked Afghanistan before a NATO summit in Chicago next month.
A new framework for engaging with the US approved by Pakistani lawmakers late on Thursday was silent on the resumption of NATO convoys but said Pakistani soil must not be used to transport arms or ammunition to Afghanistan.
Analysts said this condition -- missing from an earlier draft of the framework -- would not hinder the reopening of NATO routes, as the convoys were mainly used to carry "non-lethal" supplies.
"There is no past evidence that weapons were transported via Pakistan ground routes," Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.

Afghan Women Protest Against Violence


A young women's movement marched through Kabul's streets on Saturday

to protest violence against women.

About 30 women represented the fledgling organisation, Young Women for Change, with carrying banners saying "Where is Justice?"

The group read a statement in front of Parliament at the end of the march which began with a list of this year's brutal acts of violence carried out against women, and the lack of justice in following up the perpetrators.

"Since Nawroz, New Year, at least five women have been killed in Afghanistan. Three women were killed in Herat, one of whom was beheaded by her husband. Another woman was killed by her husband in Khost and another was hanged after the unjust decision of the tribal court in Paktya," the statement began.

"Halima, 17, was nearly beaten to death by her husband."

The group called on men to take a stand against the violence.

"Injustice to one woman is injustice to all women, including your female family members. Raise your voices!" it said.

The statement called on the country's lawmakers to ensure that justice was brought to bear on the crimes, including the release of all women were in jail despite being victims of rape.

The peaceful march stretched from the Dehmazang area of Kabul city and ended in front of the Parliament building near Darulaman.

Afghan police secured the areas through which the march passed.

One of the protestors told TOLOnews: "The government should take necessary actions against the violators. These women should not be forgotten."

Another protestor said: "There was violence against women during the Taliban time, and it exists even now. Despite democracy, nothing has been done to prevent violence against women."

The women warned that if the government remained silent on violence against women, they would start protesting in front of the Presidential Palace.

Honour killing: Divorced girl shot dead for ‘bringing bad name’

The Express Tribune

A 21-year-old divorced girl was shot dead by her cousin who alleged that she had a suspicious character, in the locality of Dhoop Sarri in the Sheikhupura district, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The deceased girl, Mehwish, had married Imran, a resident of Bhikhi, but Imran divorced her some time ago claiming that she had a suspicious character, said Investigation Officer (IO) Nawaz Bhatti.
Police said that Karamat, cousin of the deceased, entered the house of the girl’s late father and opened fire on her after exchanging some harsh words with her and telling her that she was the cause of insult for his family.
An FIR was registered at Police Station Housing Colony on the complaint of Kausar Bibi, mother of the deceased, against Karamat on the charge of section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code, said Station House Officer (SHO) Inspector Zahid Khan.
The girl was buried after an autopsy was conducted at the District Headquarter Hospital’s postmortem house, but no arrest has been made yet, the police officials stated.
The SHO and the IO claimed that various raids have been conducted in different places but all in vain, however they claimed that the accused will be arrested shortly and all possible measures have been adopted in this regard.

Seraiki province: Zardari orders Gilani to initiate consultative process

The Express Tribune

President Asif Ali Zardari has called upon Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to immediately start consultative process with all the political parties with a view to make a separate Seraiki province in South Punjab, said a press release on Saturday.
The president said this during his meeting with the delegation of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) lawyer forum at the Prime Minister’s House Multan.
Spokesperson to the President Senator Farhatullah Babar, while giving details of the meetings held today, said that the president maintained that this was not politics but was meant to respect and honour the aspiration of the people of South Punjab who have been feeling deprived for the last sixty years and were demanding their just rights.
The president said that the PPP promised to give identity to the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and we fulfilled our promise.
“Similarly we gave rights to our Balochi brothers and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.” Now, he said, we have promised the people of this belt to cater to their aspirations and we would do our best to honour our commitment.
He said that the people of this area have every right to demand and have their own province and the party leadership respected their wishes and aspirations. He added that this was the right time to give what people have been asking for so long.
“If giving rights to the people is a crime, we will continue to commit such crimes,” Senator Babar quoted the president as saying.
Zardari is on his first visit to Multan, where the Prime Minister House is his temporary residence.
Strict security measures have been taken and Multan has been declared a red alert zone for the president’s arrival.
All political leaders of PPP southern Punjab were called to Multan for the final decision on the Seraiki province.
As per sources, PPP has completed the constitutional framework and all paperwork for the creation of a Seraiki province.
Earlier, PPP southern Punjab President Makhdum Shahabuddin had said that the president will be announcing the creation of a Seraiki province after the senate elections, adding that he would be doing so in person.


Off and on, we read statements of people from rural areas of Balochistan in our news columns complaining that the Government had ignored their respective areas and the people are denied basic facilities and services even after a lapse of six decades. Mostly complaints are now against the chosen representatives of the people who are made masters of all the uplift schemes—Rs 250 million during the current fiscal year. They had been asked to identify schemes from Public Sector Development Programme worth around Rs 200 million and Rs 50 million for their MPAs development fund. Thus Rs 250 millions are at the disposal of each MPA, the bulk money of the NFC Award is at the disposal of the MPAs with no monitoring and no check and balance from any corner.
Two senior citizens and highly respectable notables from Ahmedwal, a huge human settlement near Naushki, and its surrounding area visited this office and informed the details about the uplift schemes and claimed massive corruption which had no parallel in the political history of Balochistan. The complaints included that the contracts were awarded at the whims of the chosen representatives and there is no transparency in it. In most of the cases, all the proposed work had been done on papers only and not on the ground and the officials is asked to make the payment or face transfer. Thus the public servants are intimidated specifically if they resisted in releasing the funds to the dubious characters.
Secondly, the students from the girls schools are the clear victims because their teachers are aliens and not from their respective villages or from neighbourhood. The outsiders are appointed as teachers in the schools and in the initiating period, they report to the schools for a month and two and later on they become ‘ghost teachers’ merely drawing salaries with the help of officials. All the teachers appointed on the recommendations from the chosen representatives or very powerful personalities. Local teachers are ignored merely because they had no one to defend their interest in the Government or in the administration.
Thirdly, the healthcare is in complete shambles and local doctors—from top to bottom—are fleecing the patients and their relatives on different pretext and rendering no service to the ailing humanity. Money motive is dominating in the healthcare system in Naushki and its surrounding where the patients and their relatives are fleeced with both hands. Government hospital and dispensaries are good for nothing and the official doctors rarely report to their duty. Some doctors do attend the hospital merely to recruit more and more patients for their private clinics. There is a need for improvement in good governance and the Chief Minister should institute an inquiry or make monitoring the schemes compulsory in the interest of transparency and judicious use of public money. The resources the province got under the NFC Award should not be allowed to go waste. It is a crime against the society and humanity and this crime should be checked on priority basis.
We hope that the Prime Minister of Pakistan will induct the Prime Minister’s Inspection Team in monitoring all the schemes concluded by the MPAs or through the Planning and Development Department of Balochistan. They should ensure that the money got from the Federal Government are spent on welfare of the people and it should not be allowed to go into pockets of the individuals, mainly influential people, including Ministers. The Federal Finance Minister should take a serious notice to this fact that the resources Balochistan got had not been properly utilized. He should dispatch high powered teams of experts and officials to see whether the public money had been used judiciously or not.

Pakistan: Disappointing level of agricultural tax receipts

While there is increasing demand at various forums to raise additional resources from the agricultural sector, the position on the ground is not only disappointing but continues to worsen with the passage of time.

According to a summary prepared by the Finance Division for the consideration of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), it was pathetic to note that tax receipts from the agricultural sector had fallen as low as 0.8 percent of the total receipts of the provinces in 2009-10, as compared to 3.4 percent during the year 2000-01.

The dismal situation could be gauged from the fact that receipts from this source have declined even in nominal terms despite a sharp increase in agricultural incomes due to expansion in output and rise in the prices of agricultural products.

Aggregate agricultural income tax of the provinces stood at Rs 1,243 million in 2000-01 while their total receipts amounted to Rs 36,917 million.

By 2009-10, total provincial tax receipts had gone up by more than three times to Rs 111,974 million while agriculture taxes of all the four provinces had declined to only Rs 938 million.

It was also frustrating to observe that agricultural taxes over the years have been falling despite continuing pressure from the international financial institutions and the promises of the provincial governments to mount the needed efforts.

These amounted to 2.6 percent of the total provincial receipts in 2001-02, 2.2 percent in 2002-03, 2.3 percent in 2003-04, 1.6 percent in 2004-05, 1.2 percent in 2005-06, 1.2 percent in 2006-07 and continue to be at 0.8 percent since then.

It was also sad to see that all the provinces have slowed down their efforts for mobilisation of agricultural income tax and are responsible for such a sorry state of affairs.

Agriculture income tax as a percentage of total tax receipts in Punjab, Sindh and KP declined to 1.2 percent, 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent in 2009-10 as compared to 3.2 percent, 5.1 percent and 0.7 percent respectively in 2000-01.

In Balochistan, the amount of agriculture tax was zero in 2009-10 as compared to 0.3 percent in 2001-02.
It may be recalled that several attempts have been made in the past to make at least a beginning in mobilising a reasonable level of tax revenues from the agricultural sector.

For instance, all the provincial governments had promulgated agricultural income tax laws in 2000 to streamline the procedures for tax collection from this sector.

Although the tax laws were almost identical, there were certain differences in rates of taxation and bases in each province, particularly under the 1st Schedule.

However, under the 2nd Schedule of Agricultural Income Tax, the applicable rates were almost uniform.

Under this Schedule, an income of Rs 80,000 was exempted from the tax, while tax rate of 5 percent was envisaged on total income if it did not exceed Rs 100,000.

As is usual, progressive taxation was also applied with the rise in incomes from this source.

For instance, where the total income exceeded Rs 300,000, an amount of Rs 22,500 plus 15 percent of the amount exceeding Rs 300,000 was to be collected as taxes.

Actual tax collections show that provincial governments either don't want to confront the influential lobby of agriculturists or don't have the capacity to collect taxes.

It could also be the result of complacency or a combination of all these factors.

Provincial governments have not only not made any progress on the matter but even failed to make income tax returns mandatory for effective recovery of taxes on agricultural incomes.
However, whatever the reasons, the existing agriculture income tax policy and practice is now widely perceived not only as a distortion of country's tax system but also as an acute source of inequity.

It is really mind boggling that while ordinary people like salaried persons comply with the income tax laws and are often harassed by income tax staff, agriculturists earning high incomes continue to be practically outside the tax net.

Obviously, this is open discrimination between the sectors and individuals by the state and would further promote the culture of evasion and non-compliance.

The problem has become more acute with the shifting of incomes and wealth from the urban to rural areas in the recent years due to the high prices of agricultural products.

Also, the provinces need to make extra efforts for tax mobilisation after the 7th NFC Award because the Federal Government was struggling in meeting the country's debt servicing and defence needs and development expenditures should now be mainly the responsibility of provincial governments.
It must be recognised, however, that while the provinces have been quite callous, the Federal Government has been persistent in its advice and often offered assistance in capacity-building to mount the needed effort.

The CCI had formed a committee, comprising finance and agriculture ministers, to suggest proposals for harmonisation of agricultural income tax a year ago and more recently the Federal Finance Minister had again raised the issue of provincial efforts for resource mobilisation, especially in the area of agricultural income tax during a quarterly meeting in December, 2010.

The Federal Government is again convening a meeting of the NFC in the last week of this month to review the implementation of the 7th Award and push for uniform rates and strategy for effective imposition of agricultural income tax by the provinces in the next financial year.

Hopefully, the provinces would be able to rise to the occasion and not only develop a consensus on the matter but undertake effective policies to really ensure equity in taxation and mobilise much higher level of resources to meet their increasing expenditure requirements.

Failing this, the economy of the country would continue to suffer the consequences of a highly flawed and skewed tax regime.

Pakistan: 11 new ministers sworn in Allied parties ignored, Gondal to replace Firdous

The government on Friday included five new federal ministers and 10 ministers of state in the federal cabinet.
With the induction of new ministers the Federal cabinet comprises of 34 federal ministers, 14 state ministers and six special advisors, whereas few new faces would be added to the Federal Cabinet soon.
Reliable sources disclosed that Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Firdous Aashiq Awan was being replaced by the former Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture Nazar Mohammad Gondal.
The sources said that even the newly selected ministers were not aware of the fact till the eleventh hour that they were being chosen for the federal cabinet, and were informed suddenly.
All the 11 newly inducted federal ministers and ministers of state in the Cabinet belonged to the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and coalition partners including Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) were given no share.
President Asif Ali Zardari administered oath to the newly inducted cabinet members here at a ceremony.
The new ministers would be allotted portfolios later on.
Qamar Zaman Kaira, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Farzana Raja, Rana Farooq Saeed and Nazar Gondal took oath as federal ministers while Raheela Baloch, Abbas Khan Afridi, Mozzam Ali Jatoi, Malik Ammad Khan, Tasnim Ahmad Qureshi, Syed Samsam Ali Bokhari & Malik Azmat Khan took oath as ministers of state.
Earlier, the federal cabinet comprised 29 federal ministers including Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Makhdoom Amin Faheem, Arbab Almagir, Ahmad Mukhtar, Hina Rabbani Khar, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Wajahat Hussain, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Hazar Khan Bajarani, Firdous Ashiq Awan, A Rehman Malik, Mian Manzoor Wattoo, Farooq Naek, Khuda Bux Rajar, Israrullah Zehri, Samina Khalid Ghurki, Farooq Sattar, Dr. Asim Hussain, Babar Ghauri, Muhammad Umar Gorgage, Ghous Bux Mehar, Anwar Ali Cheema, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Syed Khurshid Shah, Changez Khan Jamali, Shaukat Ullah, Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Syed Naveed Qamar.

Ayesha summoned in plea against Hamza


THE Lahore High Court on Friday summoned Ayesha Ahad Malik in connection with a petition she had moved for registration of a case against police torture allegedly at the behest of Hamza Shahbaz and Ali Imran Yousaf, son and son-in-law of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif respectively.

Petitioner Ayesha, who claimed to be wife of Hamza Shahbaz, through her counsel Aftab Ahmad Bajwa, contended that on October 3, 2011 Inspector Attique Dogar, and in-charge investigation Defence-A Police Station Zulifqar Cheema along with 20 other policemen thrashed her outside the sessions courts and snatched her belongings. Later, the police forcibly took her to Racecourse Police Station, she alleged, adding that Ex-IGP Rana Maqbool and Ali Imran Yousaf visited the police station and threatened her with dire consequences if she did not remain silent. She said police again tortured her in presence of both abovementioned persons allegedly at the behest of a top figure of Punjab.

Justice Mazhar Iqbal Sidhu asked the counsel who was the top figure was.

The counsel replied that Hamza Shahbaz was behind all the drama as he had married petitioner Ayesha. The judge asked the counsel to produce Ayesha in the court on the next hearing, April 18. Bajwa further pleaded that the sessions court had ordered police to register case against delinquent police officials but no case had been registered so far.

Eight Shia Muslims gunned down in Quetta

Gunmen on Saturday shot dead eight Shia Muslims in two separate incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta, police said.

Senior police officer Shaukat Ajmad said that assailants opened fire on a car Saturday, killing six people in Quetta, reported the Associated Press.

Minutes later, they shot dead two people in a rickshaw in the same area.

AFP reported that five people were killed while one was wounded in the first incident.

“Two gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire on a taxi cab killing five Shia Muslims and wounding another person,” local police official Ameer Mohammad Dasti told AFP.

He said in the second incident, two gunmen standing on a roadside shot dead two Shias, who passed by them on a motorbike.

A senior local police official Malik Arshad also confirmed the incidents and casualties and said: “The killings were part of sectarian violence in the city.”

Moreover, DawnNews reported that Frontier Constabulary has been deployed in the city to maintain the law and order situation.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Balochistan is rife with militancy and sectarian violence between majority Sunnis and minority Shia Muslims.

Demo held in Islamabad over Shia killings

On Friday, thousands of Pakistanis have staged a demonstration in the capital to express their outrage over the killings of Shia Muslims in the country.

About 2,500 people held a sit-in outside parliament in Islamabad, AFP reported.

The action was organized by the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), a Shia religious party.

Earlier this month, fourteen people were killed and dozens wounded in sectarian violence in northern Pakistan. The incident forced the government to deploy troops and impose a curfew in the northern towns of Gilgit and Chilas.

Human rights groups have vehemently criticized the Pakistani government for its failure to stem the rising tide of violence against the country’s Shia Muslims.

The protesters also called on the government to take immediate action against the forces involved in the sectarian killings and said more demonstrations would be staged if justice is not served.

Demonstrations were also held in the cities of Multan, Muzaffarabad, and Quetta, where protesters chanted slogans condemning the Shia killings.

Anti-Shia militant groups have been engaged in a violent campaign against Shias over the past few years.

Shia Muslims living in the remote Kurram tribal region have been facing a humanitarian crisis since November 2007, when pro-Taliban groups cut off the area from the rest of the country.

Local sources say more than 2,000 Shia Muslims have been killed in the Kurram region since 2007.

Pakistani security forces have been conducting operations against anti-Shia militant groups in the region since the beginning of 2012.

Security forces frequently clash with banned sectarian terrorist groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, which has conducted numerous terrorist operations against Shia Muslims over the past two decades.

US willing to discuss issues, demands raised by Pakistan after ties review completed

With Pakistan finally completing its review of foreign policy, for its part, the US has indicated its willingness to discuss and find a middle ground to address issues raised by the Parliament.
Addressing reporters at the daily press briefing, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that the US wants to discuss the breadth of issues raised in Pakistan’s parliamentary review.
While declining to address the issue of drone strikes, Toner maintained that the US would discuss civilian and counterterrorism cooperation with the Government of Pakistan.
Shahrukh Khan was delayed, not detained
On the subject of Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan being delayed at a New York airport, Toner said that he was delayed while getting off of the plane, but had not been detained, and that the State Department had apologised.
He said that the Indian Embassy had reached out to them on the matter. Toner said that they respected Shahrukh Khan’s work as an actor and as a humanitarian.